Featured Native Plants
Foxglove beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis)
Penstemon digitalis, or Foxglove Beardtongue, is a native perennial with attractive masses of white flowers that bloom atop tall sturdy stems up to 4 feet in height. The visual appeal of bursts of white tubular/cup flowers can be heightened by planting them in groups of 3-7 plants, creating a mass effect reflective of how it grows in the wild. Because Penstemon digitalis produces tall sturdy spikes of showy flower clusters, you may want to plant them behind border plants in your rain garden or meadow. Combined with coneflowers and salvias to vary the heights, it creates further interest and a sense of movement. These eye-catching bunches of white blooms make a dramatic visual statement and attract insect pollinators. These insects, in turn, attract birds pursuing the pollinators for a high-protein snack. June through mid-summer, you can observe these tall blooms at the new Pollinator Garden at Hastings Park (established in spring 2023) on the corner of Worthen Road and Massachusetts Avenue, Lexington.
Showy clumps of white Penstemon digitalis blooms
The fused petals and sepals create a tubular flower shape, into which bees travel for a nectar reward, gathering pollen as they go.
Thin purple "nectar guides" are visible, directing bees deeper into the flower.
Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis)
Early spring flowers--shaped like pea blooms! (© GD Bebeau)
Delighful heart-shaped flowers follow the blooms. (© GD Bebeau)
Redbud produces an abundance of blooms when planted in full sun. (© GD Bebeau)
Redbud seedpods. (© GD Bebeau)
Goldenrod (Solidago species)
Sweet goldenrod (© UMass)
Wreath goldenrod (AKA blue-stemmed goldenrod).
A goldenrod stem gall, with developing fly larva inside. Could be a bird's winter meal.
Goldenrod is a flashy fall flower!
Sweet goldenrod or anise-scented goldenrod (Solidago odora) is a 2- to 4-foot-tall perennial with an upright form and a rich, anise scent. It thrives in dry, sandy, open woods in the northeast. It has a clump-forming habit, with a spread of 1 to 2 feet. The flowers, which appear in late July, are fragrant and can be used as cut flowers.
Showy goldenrod with bumble bee visitors
A locust borer adult feeds on goldenrod pollen. This beetle species mimics bee and wasp coloration. It does not sting.
Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)
Spicebush has sometimes been referred to as the “forsythia of the wilds” because its early yellow spring flowers that make the shrub stand out in the landscape. However, the flowers of Spicebush, while interesting and lovely, are certainly less striking than those of Forsythia. On the other hand, the wildlife value of Spicebush is much higher than that of the non-native Forsythia. Many animals, including birds, feed on various parts of Spicebush. The plant leaves are also a host for the caterpillar stage of several butterfly species, including Spicebush Swallowtail, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, and the Promethea silkmoth.
Providing an important early spring floral resource for insects.
Common Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)
A female winterberry flower
Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)
New England Asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae)
Doug Tallamy, University of Delaware entomologist and author, tells us that among perennial species, asters and goldenrods support the most diverse native pollinators. These two plants probably already occupy a place in your garden as they are both prolific common wildflowers found in the New England area. This month we would like to focus on New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae.)
Culver's Root (Veronicastrum virginicum)
Culver’s Root (Veronicastrum virginicum) is an impressive native perennial plant found in moist meadows and open woods throughout the eastern United States. The genus name is a combination of Veronica and the suffix astrum ("false") and refers to the plant's resemblance to the Veronicas. It is the only species of Veronicastrum in North America. The common name Culver’s Root derives from a pioneer physician of the late 17th and early 18th centuries, Doctor Culver, who advocated for medicinal uses of the roots.
Milkweed (Asclepias spp.)
Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) with bee.
Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is a hardy perennial native to Canada and much of the eastern United States. Common milkweed supports more than 450 insects including flies, beetles, ants, bees, wasps, and butterflies. It is an important food source for monarch butterfly caterpillars, in particular.
It thrives in full sun and has a preference for moist soil. But it also tolerates dry conditions. The plant becomes two to six feet tall, with large gray-green leaves and pale purple-pink flowers. It is a beautiful plant. However, it is an aggressive grower and often not recommended for smaller or more formal gardens. In addition to spreading by seeds, it has underground rhizomes that allow it to spread to unwanted places. Thus, it is best planted in meadows or other areas where it has room to grow.
Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) with bee and Monarch butterfly.
Swamp or rose milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)
Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), also known as Rose Milkweed, prefers medium to wet garden soil and full sun or partial shade. In the wild, it is often found growing near the edges of ponds, lakes, streams, or along ditches. Compared to the common milkweed, this is a well-behaved plant that forms clumps and does not spread by rhizomes. It grows 2 to 4 feet tall and produces beautiful deep rose-pink flowers in mid- through late summer. Along with Common Milkweed, this may be the most beneficial milkweed plant for the Monarch butterfly, which feeds on its flowers and lays its eggs on the plant.
Amelanchier or Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.)
Amelanchier canadensis in a Lexington home garden.