Beautiful Native Plants

Blog HOME ***Our team of bloggers writes about all aspects of ecosystem gardening, from native plants to pollinators and wildlife.***

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Can you spot the rayless sunflowers in this bed? There are about 20 flower heads blooming.

As I discussed in Adventures in Creating a Native Garden back in June 2013, I’d planted some rayless sunflowers (Helianthus radula) as part of the native garden.  Now that they are blooming, I have to say that I’m a bit underwhelmed.  Their beauty is too subtle to enjoy from afar and they do not stand out in this bed.

I do like the look of this native bed in this fall.  The Elliot’s love grasses (Eragrostis elliottii) have filled in, blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum) are dazzling in the mornings and the volunteer goldenrods (Solidago spp.) provide an excellent backdrop.

The Florida flame azaleas (Rhododendron austrinum) that had six-inch root balls did not do well. I watered them extensively for several weeks, but then we were away during the heat of the summer. I’d hoped that the summer rains and our area-wide irrigation would keep them going, but one is dead and the other may make it, but it’s lost all its leaves and has leafed out again on some of the branches.  So I’ll try again with a native azalea or two later this fall.

Rayless sunflower

A native bee collects pollen from the disc florets of the rayless sunflower.

Rayless sunflower  is unique among Florida’s many sunflower species because it’s missing the showy ray florets that look like petals.  While these flower heads may not be especially attractive to us, you will find that they are attractive to butterflies, native bees, and other pollinators.  To them, nectar is much more attractive than physical beauty. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

Rayless sunflower occurs throughout Florida in a wide diversity of habitat types; from well-drained sandy uplands to seasonally wet pine flatwoods and savannahs.  They do best in open areas with ample sunlight. In addition to Florida, the rayless sunflower is also native from South Carolina to Louisiana.  So if you garden in the deep south, add these carefree pollinator plants to your native garden spaces.

A green anole climbs the stem of the rayless sunflower looking for a meal. Notice the hairy stems and basal leaves–this is why the species name is “radula,” which means rasping or rough.

Blue curls are glorious in the morning and are swarming with native bees, but by early afternoon they are gone. It’s a prolific reseeder–all the blue curls in this bed volunteered.

The mixture of floral types is attractive. In this photo you see blue stem grass, dotted horsemint, scarlet sage, blue curls and the rayless sunflower.

There is only one dotted horsemint plant (Monarda punctata) in this bed, but it will probably spread by reseeding and rhizome spread. It attracts a wide variety of pollinators including this 1.5″ long scoliid wasp (Campsomeris quadrimaculata).

The goldenrods are just starting to open. When they do, the pollinators will have even more choices.

Be sure to visit my June post, Adventures in Creating a Native Garden, for how I removed a 12 x 14 foot section of lawn to build this beautiful and effective pollinator garden.  But of course, the pollinators don’t care if I think it’s beautiful; from their compound eyes it is.

So is it beautiful or not?

Fall is a great time for gardening projects like removing lawn,
so what are you waiting for?

© Ginny Stibolt