I’m not all about natives. You know that. I grow named cultivars of roses, phlox, daylilies, crapemyrtles and pretty much anything else which will grow and bloom in Oklahoma.
While grappling and pulling some this afternoon, I noticed many of the native flowers in my garden perform a kind of double duty. Whether you believe in God, evolution, or a mixture of the two, a lot of native plants seem to be created to help out multiple creatures. Take butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa, a/k/a pleurisy root. It is part of the Milkweed (Asclepiadaceae) family, and Monarch caterpillars can’t seem to get enough of it. Further, when it is blooming, nearly every butterfly is attracted to its bright orange umbels. In the past, this plant was also ground into a powder and used as an asthma remedy to reduce inflammation in bronchial tissues (although there is no strong evidence it worked well). It is still being used as an expectorant. In high doses, like all milkweeds, it is poisonous. Butterfly weed is easily grown from seed.
Another double duty beauty is passion flower vine, Passiflora spp., which has such an otherworldly bloom it is used by THX Sound as part of its advertisement in theaters before the movies start. Some of these vines are native to the southern United States and are beautiful and important nectar sources. The hardy blue passion flower, Passiflora caerulea, can be grown as a perennial to USDA Zone 7. I grow it for the flowers, but also has a larval food source for the different species of orange fritillary butterflies. Most often I see the Gulf Fritillary in my country garden. Passiflora incarnata is also native to Oklahoma and can be found in untilled fields. Some of the passion flowers produce edible fruit which is pressed into juice for humans. Once again, a plant can have many uses.
What about the humble native purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea, before hybridizers turned it into a coat of many different colors? We know it’s used as a cold remedy, and although science can’t prove its worth, almost everyone I know takes it at the first sign of sniffles. Do you ever wonder which part of the plant is in your tincture or cold capsules? It’s the root which is considered most effective. Beloved by honeybees, it is also a larval food source for the Silvery Checkerspot and some moths. From the damage on my Echinacea and Rudbeckia spp., there must be a lot of Silvery Checkerspots in the world, and they like the buffet here. Sometimes, the caterpillars are so plentiful, they nearly eat the plants to the ground so I must take matters into my own hands. I don’t spray. I just squish some of them.
Don’t hate me.
Speaking of Rudbeckia, the perennial and annual black-eyed Susans are also plants which do more than just bloom beautifully. They too feed the Checkerspots, and have tons of nectar for all types of insects. Rudbeckia hirta, the fuzzy leaved annual is still used medicinally although it is poisonous to cattle. I have several different types of Susans in my garden, and without them the summer border would be very dull indeed. There are many cultivars of Rudbeckia hirta, including ‘Irish Eyes’ which has green cones and ‘Indian Summer’ which is a deeper orange color. I would like to ‘Cherry Brandy’ sometime. All are easily grown from seed. Most of mine are the perennial type, Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’ which I divide and move all over the beds and borders. The other Susans come back from seed and over time, they’ve gone native with paler yellow rays.
Vernonia fasciculata, smooth ironweed is also a part of my meadow bed and honestly much easier to grow than Liatris Gaertn. ex Schreb., blazing star (which likes a much drier soil). I’ve come to rely on ironweed for its height and spiky appearance. According to the Prairie Wildflowers of Illinois website, smooth ironweed’s
“flowers attract long-tongued bees, butterflies, and skippers primarily. Other visitors include bee flies and Halictid bees. These insects seek nectar, although bees also collect pollen. Among the long-tongued bees, are such visitors as bumblebees, Epeoline cuckoo bees, Miner bees, and large Leaf-Cutting bees. An oligolectic bee of Ironweeds is Melissodes vernoniae. The caterpillars of several moths feed on Ironweed, including Grammia parthenice (Parthenice Tiger Moth) and Perigea xanthioides (Red Groundling). Caterpillars that bore into the roots or stems of Ironweed include Papaipema cerussata (Ironweed Borer Moth), Carmenta bassiformis (Eupatorium Borer Moth), and some Polygrammodes spp. (Pyralid Moths).”
All good reasons to grow this plant even it wasn’t also beautiful. From Customary Uses of Ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata) by the Yuchi in Eastern Oklahoma, USA, by Jason Baird Jackson, I learned that the Yuchi North American Indians, used the stem, root and blooms as part of its medicinal and ceremonial practices.
These are just a few of the uses for native plants which are still grown in many gardens. I’m sure I could find numerous other examples, and I may do this as a continuing series. Which plants pull double duty in your garden?
Note: I am not suggesting you use any of the above plants in a medicinal capacity, and if you do, please do your own research. I don’t want any of you to poison yourselves. Just sayin’.
If you get a chance please take a gander at my Lowe’s Garden Grow Along post on interesting containers. It can be done.