Summertime (II)

Sweet joe-pye weed beginning to bloom.

To me, summertime in the garden is all about the promise of autumn. In my garden, sweet joe-pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum) is just coming into bloom. The plants are not expending all that energy to look pretty for us. They’re doing it to attract pollinators, which will allow them to produce seed. For plants, as for most living things, it’s all about the next generation. They do it all for the children.

Little bluestem just stalking out.

Different types of plants have different strategies for reproducing. This picture shows little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), two different individuals with different colorations, just putting up their flower stalks. Little bluestem is one of the dominant plants of the midwestern prairies, but in nature it occurs frequently in the northeast as well. It’s an extremely tough, drought-resistant, deer-resistant plant that grows no more than 3′ high and has beautiful fall color. An excellent choice for the perennial border.

Grasses are pollinated by the wind, not by insects. There are two major groupings of flowering plants, dicots and monocots, named for the number of embryo leaves contained in their seeds. Grasses, bamboos (which are grasses), sedges, palm trees, orchids, and lilies are all monocots. They evolved more recently than dicots, which include most of the trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals we are most familier with.  Take a close look look at the flowers of grasses sometime and see how different they are from the flowers of, say, roses or violets. You’ll have to take a very close look because the flowers are generally quite small.


Purple lovegrass (Eragrostis spectabilis) is just coming into bloom, and this is a sight as spectacular as its species name implies. Note the lavender flower buds. This short grass (6-8″) still grows along roadsides throughout the northeast but is hard to find in nurseries. After looking for it in vain for years, I finally realized that it was growing in my front yard, dug it up, and now enjoy it in my perennial border. Look for roadsides carpeted in lavender haze in late July and early August–that’s purple lovegrass.

Brown-eyed susan just opening its eyes.

Another plant I eagerly anticipate each summer is my favorite Rudbeckia, R. triloba (brown-eyed susan). Isn’t it lovely (this one is the first to open–the flower will be larger in a day or so)? This plant is shorter (usually about 3′) than most other Rudbeckias, the flowers are smaller and Crayola orange-yellow, and they can only be described as adorable. The plant will bloom until first frost.

Unripe seedpods of new jersey tea.

This post is all about fruition (or at least it started out that way), so it’s appropriate to end with a fruit. Do you remember New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus)? This is its fruit capsule, and it’s quite strange looking. Definitely not a member of the rose family! These capsules will gradually turn brown. They contains hundreds of tiny seeds that are typically dispersed by birds and small mammals. The seeds are hard to germinate–like the seeds of many other trees and shrubs, they must pass through the gut of an animal before they can germinate.

We’ll be in southern California for a few days–a completely different climate and environment than my beloved northeast, but I’ll try to check out some native plants and farmer’s markets while I’m there.



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