The plant that is currently putting on the most spectacular show in the Johnson’s backyard is a pass-along plant known as swamp sunflower (Helianthus angustifolia). As is the case with many of the pass-along plants growing in our yard, it is not a plant my wife and I had on our list of plants that we wanted to incorporate into our backyard landscape. However, now that it has established itself, we are glad that it is a member of our plant community.
This Georgia native is extremely hardy. The woman that gave me the plant simply pulled a handful plants up by their rhizomes and handed them to me. When I told her I did not have any way to keep them from drying out until I got home, she told me not to worry about it.
When I arrived home several hours later, I soaked the rhizomes in a bucket of water and placed them in the ground. Honestly, I did not think they had any chance of surviving. Much to our surprise, they did not die and now, several years later have expanded into a patch some 10-feet long.
Swamp sunflower is a perennial that reaches a height of 8-10′. This fall-bloomer produces a wealth of 2-3″ golden daisy like blooms.
One thing that has endeared it to us is the fact that, in addition of adding beauty to our yard, it feeds a wide range of wildlife. For example, swamp sunflower is a host plant for the gorgeous silvery checkerspot butterfly. In addition, it is an important source of a food for a wide range of pollinators, including honeybees and bumblebees. Although it is touted as a butterfly plant, we see far more bees and other pollinators visiting swamp sunflower’s showy yellow blossoms than butterflies. Despite the fact it has the reputation of providing monarchs with food on their fall migration, we have never seen a monarch on our plants.
Once frost ends swamp sunflower’s blooming season, its seeds are relished by waxwings and other birds that feed on seeds.
The plant requires little water and is relatively pest-free. The only thing that I do to the plants is remove their dead stalks in winter after birds have consumed all of its seeds.
Since it will spread via underground rhizomes, I suspect that sometime down the road, to keep the swamp sunflower patch from extending beyond the place we have designated for it, I am going to have to remove some of the underground rhizomes growing extending beyond the fringes of the stand.
This is one pass-along plant that might be a perfect fit for your yard. If it is, I hope a friend or neighbor will share it with you.
In a recent blog concerning partridge pea, I mentioned that it might be difficult to find partridge pea plants at a nursery this time of year. Well, as it turns out, one of our fellow bloggers wrote that she had recently seen potted partridge pea plants at the Shady Oak Butterfly Farm located in the north central Florida town of Brooker.
If you are looking for a source of this valuable native plant, you might find it worthwhile to check out this establishment. The address for the facility is shadyoakbutterflyfarm.com. Even if they have sold out the plant since the response was sent, I think you will find it worthwhile to visit their website. The colorful site is full of information about their butterfly operation as well as plants of value to butterflies. They do offer mail order services.
One of the reasons I enjoy watching wildlife in my yard is every time I walk out the backdoor I have a chance of making a new discovery. It does not matter whether or not anybody else has made this discovery elsewhere. The important thing is it is new to me. Finding it in my own yard makes it extra special.
I would like to take a moment to tell you about my most recent discovery.
Each year my wife scatters globe amaranth seeds in large containers sitting on our deck. She grows globe amaranth because it bears beautiful flowers that attract a bevy of different wild pollinators such as butterflies. In addition, the plant does not require a lot of water, plant pests rarely bother it, and it blooms profusely from summer into autumn.
For weeks, we have been noticing the papery remains of tiny amaranth blooms littering the deck and nearby rail alongside one of our pots containing globe amaranth plants. We suspected that birds were the responsible for the scattered flowers. Our suspicion proved to be correct. Recently while I was drinking my second cup of coffee and gazing out the window over the kitchen sink, I saw a group of globe amaranth plants violently shaking. When I focused my attention on those particular plants I realized a female cardinal had landed on them and was pulling apart their globe shaped flower heads. After tearing apart several blossoms to reach the tiny seeds hidden inside, the bird snipped off an entire flower head and flew away. Shortly thereafter a male cardinal arrived and ate his fare share of the globe amaranth seeds.
Wow! To say the least, we are elated to find that a container full of globe amaranth plants provides foods for butterflies, bees, butterflies, and cardinals. Who knows what else is visiting our globe amaranth plants? What I do know is we are going continue watching the plants in hopes of discovering if anything else is benefitting from them.