chèvrefeuille dioïque

May I Introduce: Glaucous Honeysuckle

Although it is quite common in woods and hedgerows, this native honeysuckle is known to few gardeners.

Glaucous Honeysuckle’s red tubular flowers with yellow anthers, in mid-spring, have the same colour scheme as the much better known Wild Columbine, and it should come as no surprise that ruby-throated hummingbirds are the pollinators it has evolved to attract. The buds are a deep, dark red. This seems like it should be an exciting colour but, in fact, dark red is quiet and hard to spot in the landscape. This may be part of the reason why this vine is so little known. As well, the flower clusters, and the berry clusters which follow, are often partially hidden in a cup formed by the uppermost pair of leaves. The bright red fruits, which ripen in early summer, are, like most soft summer fruits, taken very quickly by birds.

I am amused by the joined, or perfoliate, pairs of leaves, around the flower clusters — they remind me of the Tin Man’s hat. This is a nice vine to plant to by a sitting area, to enjoy the intricate flowers, and their hummingbird pollinators, close-up.

The botanical name for Glaucous Honeysuckle is Lonicera dioica. Dioica as a specific name, should mean that the plant is dioecious, i.e with male flowers and female flowers on separate plants. However, Glaucous Honeysuckle is NOT dioecious. Botanical names are assigned by whomever describes the species first, not necessarily by accuracy.

Glaucous Honeysuckle is a twining vine. It does not have tendrils or other clinging mechanisms. In the wild, it is often found growing as a shrub-like sprawling jumble. Give it a trellis or other support and a tiny push in the right direction, and it shows off its limber and obliging nature. (Limber Honeysuckle is an alternative common name in the U.S.) It is not a tall vine, topping out at about 2 m.

hélianthe de Maximilien

A Portrait of Sunflowers

We went to hear Kerri Weller, of the Ottawa Society of Botanical Artists, at the Nepean Horticultural Society, last Thursday evening, Ms Weller gave a quick overview of the history of botanical art and illustration in Western art. She pointed out a lovely feature of the classic plant portraits by Maria Sybila Merian from the 1700’s: the flowers were painted accompanied by their appropriate pollinators.

After a break, Kerri showed some slides of her own work, briefly illustrating how her style has developed from a more English-modern style – watercolour against a pale, unpainted background — to her current work in oil paint. She, too, likes to position, among her flowers, appropriate pollinators, of which the arbiters of botanical art correctness do not always approve. Kerri brought a few of her absolutely gorgeous canvases to the talk, including one of some yellow daisy-style flowers. Eying the yellow daisies picture, propped on an easel, for the duration of Kerri’s talk, I kept thinking, “That looks a lot like Maximilian’s Sunflower.” Sure enough, when she came to talk about that canvas, Maximilian’s Sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani) was the species she had so beautifully and realistically painted. Kerri kindly gave a word of appreciation to Beaux Arbres, for supplying the plant she painted, and praised the October-blooming Maximilian’s Sunflower for attracting a host of pollinators.


primevère du lac Mistassini

May I Introduce: Dwarf Canadian Primrose

My first encounter with this charming little native primrose was on the wave swept shore of Lake Huron, on the Bruce Peninsula, where limestone pavements shelve incrementally down to the water’s edge. Nestled in tiny, moist cracks in the limestone, never far from the spray, were some small pink flowers with yellow centres, Primula mistassinica. I have since encountered this plant in other locations in eastern Canada, almost anywhere there is damp limestone, such as in seepage areas on limestone cliffs. Primula mistassinica is named for Lake Mistassini, the largest lake in Québec.

Limestone coast of Lake Huron.

Brought into the garden, this little primrose flourishes and has many more flowers in each cluster. The buds form the previous year, visible but nestled deep in the basal rosette of leaves, and ready to bloom very early in spring. This is a charming little plant for a damp spot in a rock garden or a trough.

Dwarf Canadian Primrose
Dwarf Canadian Primrose growing in a seep on a limestone cliff.

When I initially encountered Primula mistassinica, I called it Bird’s Eye Primrose. I have since learned that that name is perhaps better reserved for a very similar species, with a slightly more eastern distribution, Primula laurentiana, and P. mistassinica should be called Dwarf Canadian Primrose, although getting folks, including me, to alter the common names they learned in childhood is not an easy task. From their written description, I find it difficult to know exactly how the species differ. I decided the thing to do would be to grow them side by side. I was able to acquire some wild-collected Bird’s Eye Primrose seed, from the Ontario Rock Garden Society Seed Exchange, in 2018. The little P. laurentiana seedlings have not yet bloomed for me, and, honestly, did not look that different from P. mistassinica for most of the summer. However, by November, there were some differences apparent: Bird’s Eye Primroses have fewer and broader leaves and they are less persistently evergreen, as we can see in the photo below. Both plants have buds in their centres, ready for next spring’s early bloom.

Bird’s Eye Primrose (left) and Dwarf Canadian Primrose (right).

May I Introduce: Downy Skullcap

While active outdoor gardening is on pause, this is a good time to introduce some wildflowers which may not be known to most gardeners in the Ottawa area.

These flowers may be unfamiliar because they are not native to the the Ottawa Valley, but hail from further south in the USA, as does today’s species, or, perhaps, from the tall-grass remnants from the extreme south west corner of Ontario. Species which are not locally native are obviously not appropriate for ecological restorations. But for gardens? There are arguments for and against restricting your gardening choices to locally native species, which we will leave to another day.

Another reason wildflowers may be unfamiliar to gardeners is that they are confined to highly specific habitats such as alvars or fens. Or they may be diminutive and easily overlooked until they are brought into cultivation in rock gardens and troughs.

Scutellaria

Downy Skullcap (Scutellaria incana)

Downy Skullcap, a fine border plant from the eastern USA, contributes nice blue colour and distinctive flower shape to the late summer garden. The summer leaves are edged with dark purple. Purplish pigments suffuse the leaves in the autumn.

Downy Skullcap autumn foliage.

Some other Skullcap species do occur in the Ottawa area: Marsh Skullcap (Scutellaria galericulata), the curiously named Mad-Dog Skullcap (S. lateriflora), also found in damp areas, and the diminutive (S. parvula) , which grows on alvars, including Ottawa’s Burnt Lands alvar. They all have blue flowers with the distinctive skullcap shape. Closely related, Downy Skullcap is suitable, in showiness and in size and in growing requirements, for a place in a perennial border.

Late Colour in the Hoop House

On a dreary November day, with the golden tamaracks providing the only colour in the landscape, the interior of the hoop house is only a couple of degrees warmer (still quite chilly) but colourful fall leaves still linger. The brightest colour comes from the leaves of Wild Geranium. I like the green and red carpet of Prairie Smoke. The lovely soft apricots of Bowman’s Root have mostly faded to brown but one plant is still glowing.

IMG_1473.JPG
Prairie Smoke
IMG_1490
Bowman’s Root
IMG_1472
Wild Geranium
casse sauvage

Wild Senna Beats the Heat

This tall yellow wildflower loves the heat and seems to laugh at drought. Five or six feet tall on sturdy stems, Wild Senna (Senna hebecarpa) has typical pinnate Pea Family foliage but the individual flowers are more open than typical in the family. Wild Senna belongs to an early-evolved branch of the Pea family tree. The open flowers are very appealing to large bumble bees. fullsizeoutput_3f0

We have also seen hummingbirds visiting the Wild Senna flowers this year. Our hummers are foraging hard this season because so many of our cardinal flowers, the hummingbird favourite, died in the drought, and the wild Spotted Jewelweed along the seasonal stream is a fraction of its usual self.

Wild Senna does not occur in the wild in the Ottawa Valley — it hails from a little further south and occurs in southern Ontario south of Brantford. A lovely yellow butterfly whose caterpillars rely on Wild Senna — the Cloudless Sulphur — also occurs south of here. Wild Senna is an acceptable host plant for some other butterflies, including the Silver Spotted Skipper, that eat a diversity of native plants in the Pea Family, We have an abundance of Silver Spotted Skippers because we have a lot of their main host plant, Black Locust. I would never recommend planting Black Locust, which is an extremely aggressive suckering tree and thorny as all out. We are trying to beat back our Black Locusts. It is nice to know that if we ever succeed in eradicating the Black Locust (not too likely) we can still provide for the Silver Spotter Skippers with a handsome and well-behaved herbaceous flower, the Wild Senna.

Plant Wild Senna at the back of a sunny border. After the flowers finish. thin black pods remain decorative through the autumn. This plant does not need staking, fertilizing, or dividing. It consorts beautifully with tall ornamental grasses.

 

Upland White Aster

All the hot weather in July has brought on the bloom of Upland White Aster and very pretty it is, a neat, relatively low-growing aster, with shining white flowers. I thought I had better label my pots of young Upland White Aster, just in case anyone, inspired by the blooming plants in the garden, wanted to buy a few. So, just to be sure of the spelling of ‘ptarmicoides‘, I googled the species. And found out that ‘ptarmicoides‘ is spelled a-l-b-u-m. As in Oligoneuron album.

Yes, Upland White Aster, which long misled us by insisting on actually being a goldenrod, has been renamed from Solidago ptarmicoides to Oligoneuron album. Sigh heavily. It is still a very pretty white aster.