What’s Blooming Now – July 3, 2019




Helianthus annuus, the common sunflower, is a large annual form of the genus Helianthus grown as a crop for its edible oil and edible fruits. This sunflower species is also used as wild bird food, as livestock forage (as a meal or a silage plant), in some industrial applications, and as an ornamental in domestic gardens. The plant was first domesticated in the Americas.

Wild Helianthus annuus is a widely branched annual plant with many flower heads. The domestic sunflower, however, often possesses only a single large inflorescence (flower head) atop an unbranched stem. The name sunflower may derive from the flower’s head’s shape, which resembles the sun, or from the impression that the blooming plant appears to slowly turn its flower towards the sun as the latter moves across the sky on a daily basis.

Sunflower “whole seed” (fruit) are sold as a snack food, raw or after roasting in ovens, with or without salt and/or seasonings added. Sunflowers can be processed into a peanut butter alternative, sunflower butter. In Germany, it is mixed with rye flour to make Sonnenblumenkernbrot (literally: sunflower whole seed bread), which is quite popular in German-speaking Europe. It is also sold as food for birds and can be used directly in cooking and salads.

Traditionally, several Native American groups planted sunflowers on the north edges of their gardens as a “fourth sister” to the better-known three sisters combination of corn, beans, and squash. Native Americans had multiple uses for sunflowers in the past, such as in bread, medical ointments, dyes, and body paints.

Sunflower oil, extracted from the seeds, is used for cooking, as a carrier oil and to produce margarine and biodiesel, as it is cheaper than olive oil. The cake remaining after the seeds have been processed for oil is used as a livestock feed. The hulls resulting from the dehulling of the seeds before oil extraction can also be fed to domestic animals.

Some recently developed cultivars have drooping heads. These cultivars are less attractive to gardeners growing the flowers as ornamental plants, but appeal to farmers because they reduce bird damage and losses from some plant diseases. Sunflowers also produce latex and are the subject of experiments to improve their suitability as an alternative crop for producing hypoallergenic rubber.

Sunflowers can be used in phytoremediation to extract toxic ingredients from the soil, such as lead, arsenic, and uranium, and used in rhizofiltration to neutralize radionuclides and other toxic ingredients and harmful bacteria from water. They were used to remove caesium-137 and strontium-90 from a nearby pond after the Chernobyl disaster and a similar campaign was mounted in response to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.

Blazing Star – Gay Feather – Liatris

Liatris spicata is an herbaceous perennial flowering plant in the sunflower and daisy family Asteraceae. It is native to eastern North America where it grows in moist prairies and sedge meadows. The plants have tall spikes of purple flowers resembling bottle brushes or feathers that grow one to five feet tall. The species grows from the Midwest to the East Coast, eastern and western Canada.

To grow from seed, start in early spring either indoors or outside. Germination takes 20–45 days. When leaves appear, divide in large clumps. Plants should be spaced 12-15 inches apart. Spacing allows sun and air to help with potential diseases such as stem rot (Sclerotinia sclerotiorum), leaf spots (Phyllosticta liatridis, Septoria liatridis), rusts (Coleosporium laciniariae, Puccinia liatridis), powdery mildew (Erysiphe cichoracearum), and wilt (Verticillium albo-atrum). When growing from seed, blooms do not usually appear until the second year.

In gardens, Liatris spicata works well planted individually, as a border, and because of its vertical form, it contrasts well with mounded and broad-leaf plants. In informal gardens, large sweeps of plantings work well. The flowers either fresh or dried work well as cut flowers and have a vanilla scent when dried.

Role in Ecosystems

Liatris spicata is excellent for attracting pollinators and beneficial insects. These include butterflies such as the monarch, tiger swallowtail, clouded sulphur, orange sulphur, gray hairstreak, Aphrodite fritillary, painted lady, red admiral, and wood nymphs. The flowers attract bumblebees, digger bees (Anthophorini), long-horned bees (Melissodes spp.), leaf-cutting bees (Megachile spp.), skippers, and birds including hummingbirds. Caterpillars of the rare glorious flower moth (Schinia gloriosa) and liatris flower moth (Schinia sanguinea) feed on the flowers and seeds. Caterpillars of the liatris borer moth (Carmenta anthracipennis) bore through the plant’s stems. Groundhogs, rabbits, and voles also eat these plants. Deer are less likely to eat Liatris spicata than other plants and therefore considered deer-resistant, although deer will eat almost anything when food is scarce.

Medicinal Uses

Liatris spicata was historically used medicinally by Native Americans for its carminative, diuretic, stimulant, sudorific, and expectorant properties. In addition to these uses, the Cherokee used the plant as an analgesic for pain in the back and limbs and the Menominee used it for a “weak heart.” The root of the plant is the part most often used. Native Americans also used the plant to treat swelling, abdominal pain and spasms/colic, and snake bites. Currently, the plant is used for a sore throat by gargling an infusion, as an herbal insect repellent, and in potpourri.

Russian Sage

Perovskia atriplicifolia, commonly called Russian sage, is a flowering herbaceous perennial. Although not a member of Salvia, the genus of other plants commonly called sage, it is closely related to them. It is native to the steppes and hills of southwestern and central Asia. Successful over a wide range of climate and soil conditions, it has since become popular and widely planted. It has an upright habit with square stems and grey-green leaves that yield a distinctive odor when crushed. It is best known for its flowers. Its flowering season extends from summer to autumn, with blue to violet blossoms arranged into showy, branched panicles.

The species has a long history of use in traditional medicine in its native range, where it is employed as a treatment for a variety of ailments. This has led to the investigation of its phytochemistry. Its flowers can be eaten in salads or crushed for dye-making, and the plant has been considered for potential use in the phytoremediation of contaminated soil.

Perovskia atriplicifolia has a long history of use in traditional medicine, especially as an antipyretic. It has also been employed as an antiparasitic and analgesic in Tibet,[80] and smoked elsewhere as a euphoriant. In Balochistan, Pakistan, a decoction of the plant’s leaves and flowers has been considered an anti-diabetic medication and a treatment for dysentery.

In addition to its use in folk medicine, P. atriplicifolia is sometimes used in Russia to flavor a vodka-based cocktail. Its flowers are eaten in parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan, including Kashmir, adding a sweet flavor to salads; they can also be crushed to yield a blue colorant that can be employed in cosmetics or as a textile dye. This species is considered a candidate for use in phytoremediation because of its rapid growth, tolerance for harsh conditions, and ability to accumulate toxic heavy metals from polluted soil.

‘Autumn Joy,’ ‘Autumn Fire’ or ‘Brilliant’ Sedum

This sturdy perennial is as tough as they come. Clumping foliage displays large, plate-like flower clusters that start pink, then gracefully age to rosy russet-red in the fall. A fine addition to the rock garden or mixed border. Succulent foliage will die back to the ground in cold winter regions but will re-emerge in early spring.

This plant is native from eastern Europe to China and Japan, but has been introduced in many other parts of the world including areas of the U.S. where it has escaped gardens and naturalized in some eastern and central States including New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, North Carolina, Georgia, Wisconsin, and Louisiana.

This plant was formerly known by the synonymous name of Sedum spectabile and continues to be listed and sold in commerce by some nurseries under this name. However, at one point in the recent past, some of the taller sedums, including Sedum spectabile, were separated from the genus Sedum by some authorities and assigned to the genus Hylotelephium.

The common name of stonecrop is in reference to the fact that many hylotelephiums and sedums are typically found in the wild growing on rocky or stony ledges.


These plants are large tropical and subtropical perennial herbs with a rhizomatous rootstock. The broad, flat, alternate leaves that are such a feature of this plant, grow out of a stem in a long, narrow roll and then unfurl. The leaves are typically solid green, but some cultivars have brownish, maroon, or even variegated leaves.

The flowers are typically red, orange, or yellow or any combination of those colors, and are aggregated in inflorescences that are spikes or panicles (thyrses). Although gardeners enjoy these odd flowers, nature really intended them to attract pollinators collecting nectar and pollen, such as bees, hummingbirds, sunbirds, and bats. Because they attract these pollinators, Canna makes a great addition to pollinator gardens and wildlife habitat strategy.

Canna has been cultivated by Native Americans in tropical America for thousands of years and was one of the earliest domesticated plants in the Americas. The genus is native to tropical and subtropical regions of the New World, from the southern United States (southern South Carolina west to southern Texas) and south to northern Argentina. Canna indica has become naturalized in many tropical areas around the world, is a difficult plant to remove, and is invasive in some places.

Cannas grow from swollen underground stems, correctly known as rhizomes, which store starch, and this is the main attraction of the plant to agriculture, having the largest starch particles of all plant life. The rhizomes of cannas are rich in starch, and it has many uses in agriculture. Every part of the plant has commercial value, rhizomes for starch (consumption by humans and livestock), stems and foliage for animal fodder, young shoots as a vegetable, and young seeds as an addition to tortillas.

Other Uses:

The seeds are used as beads in jewelry. In more remote regions of India, cannas are fermented to produce alcohol. A purple dye is obtained from the seed. Smoke from the burning leaves is said to be insecticidal. Cannas are used to extract many undesirable pollutants in a wetland environment as they have a high tolerance to contaminants.

A fiber obtained from the leaves is used for making paper. The leaves are harvested in late summer after the plant has flowered, they are scraped to remove the outer skin, and are then soaked in water for two hours prior to cooking. The fibers are cooked for 24 hours with lye and then beaten in a blender. They make a light tan brown paper.

In Thailand, cannas are a traditional gift for Father’s Day.

In Vietnam, canna starch is used to make cellophane noodles known as a miến dong.

Hardy Hibiscus – Rose Mallow

An outstanding flowering shrub that provides welcome color in summer. Large, colorful flowers highlight this vigorous grower. Bright green foliage backs bright flowers for increased contrast. It is found in wetlands and along the riverine systems of the eastern United States from Texas to the Atlantic states, its territory extending northward to southern Ontario.

There exist in nature numerous forms, and petal colors range from pure white to deep rose, and most have an eye of deep maroon. The taxonomic consensus is lacking for the nomenclature of the multiple subspecies.

This is a popular garden plant. Numerous hybrids of the native North American Hibiscus species have been released by the commercial nursery trade. In cultivation, the species or the hybrids can be used in bog gardens or other water features. They are attractive and have wildlife value for nectar-feeders and birds.

Many cold-hardy hibiscus cultivars are hybrids of H. moscheutos, H. coccineus, H. laevis, H. militaris, and H. palustris, with indeterminate genetic contributions from each parent species.

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Mike Newberger

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