Native wild columbines, in 'massing' in my garden in North Judson, Indiana. I found wild columbines growing on the lot when I moved in during the early 1990s and moved them around to suit me.

view previous images on Picasa Web

17mar2010 - Native plants in my garden

Andrew Keys at Garden Smackdown issued an interesting challenge: catalog the native plants in your garden. As visitors here know, I (sort of) manage a fairly extensive wild area -- the 'Big Eastern' in Starke County Indiana, and out there, it's all about native plants. I live in a Victorian in the small railroad town of North Judson and my garden there includes natives, but also many old fashioned or heirloom garden plants typical of old houses, and whatever else I feel like watching grow.

So here are the native plants from my garden, in an a disorderly list. No doubt I've forgotten somebody that's dormant right now. 'Native' though, is a continuum - so I'll start out with plants that are native in a purist's sense, and then finish off with other species that are nearly-native, and the failures too.

Really very truly native

Black oak (Quercus velutina). Including one huge, hollow, gnarly veteran, and couple of sapling progeny I've allowed to take root in a couple of places. This was no doubt the dominant species on the site of my home in, say, 1830, when the area would have been a black oak sand savanna. I tend to believe this is the local genotype because it looks like the black oaks in the native woods and because black oak trees are not generally popular in the nursery trade. To me, these factors make it the most precious sort of native plant. When I first moved to my house in the 1990s there were many more of these large oaks in my neighborhood, but many have died -- it was probably partly oak wilt, and partly simply that their mortality rate increases significantly when they are over 100. Removing these huge, heavy trees from among the houses is not easy and not cheap, so there's a downside to everything. Most of the old black oaks being lost from the neighborhood are being replaced by other species. Oak trees are vital anchors of our native woodlands, if you can, make room for an oak tree and preferably something other than the lowly pin oak.

Sassafras (Sassafras albidum). Like the oaks, these are true natives -- I didn't plant them, they did that for me. When it's a tree with the virtues of the sassafras, and one that is difficult to transplant, the challenge is allowing them to grow. People can be such control freaks with their gardens - you know plans and all that. Sassafras are stoloniferous, a factor that is both useful and annoying -- annoying in that you'll have little sassafras shoots popping up in your beds radiating from the bigger stems. Don't be confused, those are very likely the same tree. This can be played to advantage though. Pick where you want the main stem to grow and allow one there, and clip back the others as the main stem gets bigger and taller. The main stem will grab the sunshine and exhibit apical dominance and it will, in time, put out fewer shoots away from the main stem. If you're real fussy you may not like this, but then I have to wonder if you're really that into native. If you live in the Midwest and want to give you landscape an authentic sense of place - sassafras. Let it go.

Juneberry (Amelanchier canadense). The small-tree/shrub of many names: juneberry, shadblow, growing up we called them 'serviceberries' because we were told that pioneers buried the winter's dead when the bloomed. One of the first things I did when I bought my house was collect two amelanchiers from our woods and move them. The bigger one didn't make it, but the smaller one is now well established even though it was smashed by a falling black oak a few years ago. With its roots well established, it quickly grew back. This is the most prominent flowering shrub in native black oak sand woodlands in this area making a brief but lovely display in mid April. They are beautiful in all seasons and the tasty berries in June attract birds - yes and native birds at that. Just as a note, I'm not entirely certain about the species, they are difficult to tell apart.

Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida). I planted a couple of these beloved shrubs, they are not fancy 'improved' specimens, just the wild variety. They are very common in forests in much of Indiana, but uncommon to absent in black oak woodlands. Still, an excellent plant with charming long-lasting flowers and berries relished by south migrating birds in fall.

Redbud (Cercis canadensis). These were planted by a prior owner. They're true natives, especially common along the nearby Yellow and Kankakee Rivers, less so in the uplands areas like where my house is. I love them when they are in bloom, and when they aren't, not so much. However, I've found by diligently pruning an adult specimen to bring out it's character (frankly, to make it look more gnarly), I like them better. They seem to have little or no wildlife value.

Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis). Like lots of old house neighborhoods in the Midwest, there are (or recently have been) homesites near mine that are more or less abandoned, and the people that lived at my house had let things turn a bit jungle-like, and not in a good way. You know, ailanthus (aka 'ghetto palm') and that sort of thing. There were, however, lots of wild columbine growing here and there. Were these true natives, or were they the progeny of plants long ago collected from the wild and grown in, perhaps, a Victorian era garden? No way to tell, and it probably doesn't matter. They are very cultivation friendly, beautiful and long flowering. Hummingbirds love them, though I'm concerned that climate change is taking their flowering out of synch with the birds -- it seems lately the flowers are past peak before the birds arrive. If you're going to use them (and if your soil is sandy, you should consider it), they work best when massed. They will reseed themselves; if you want to get your feet wet growing native wildflowers this one is really easy.

New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae). I got a few starts probably ten years ago and now have a thriving colony. I'm not sure about the seed source for these, but they look like the common wild variety - in the wild they are mostly wetland plants here. A fine late season bloomer, though the plant itself look a little weedy. It helps to pinch it back as you would a mum. Asters seem to adapt well to gardens and there are many fine species. In our native plant garden at the Cabin at Lena Park we've established sky-blue asters (Aster azureus), and many years aga I planted an obscure oak savanna specialist, Aster linerifolious in my mom's garden. It's still doing fine. I'm preparing a spot for that species at my house, maybe next year I'll try that.

Western sunflower (Helianthus occidentalis). I collected a few rhizones of this native perennial sunflower from the extensive colonies in the xeric sand prairies on our property. They require lots of sun, and very well drained, even barren conditions. They are good for a garden because their foliage is low and relatively neat, then in late summer send up a stalk with flowers. They took well, but the results were less than ideal because they always seemed to fall over onto the walk. I'm moving them to another location. Still, a worthwhile candidate, and not one you'll see in suburban mall beds. The spent flowers attract goldfinches.

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). This, of course, is a common weed. But I've found with a little cultivation it is actually a pretty impressive plant, looking a bit like a rubber tree. People often ask me about it 'interesting, what is that?' Ummm, it's a plain old milkweed. The scent of its flowers is unsurpassed, and it's a major attractor for interesting insects in midsummer. I didn't plant them, they did that for me? I merely provided them space to grow. Oh and yes, these are perennial plants. Well known as a host for monarch butteflies.

Butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa). This is the orange milkweed, an excellent and commonly grown native garden plant. Rather easy to grow from seed and well worth it. Butterflies love it.

Common violet (Asclepias papilionacea). The common violet. More of a weed than a garden plant, perhaps. I tolerate some, and pull others out. Not ugly, but too aggressive. There are better wild violet varieties, perhaps I should try bringing some of those in.

Juniper (Juniperus virginiana). A fairly weedy plant, but one of ours has developed into a nice tree. Birds use it for nesting and to escape winter's cold blasts.

Virginia creeper. Not bad for a vine.

Wild grape - Not sure of the species, native but too aggressive. Sadly, I've decided to mostly or entirely remove it, in favor of virginia creeper.

Black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia hirta)- I had a big massing of these in front of my house last summer. Fantastic when blooming, then a bit of a mess.

Spiderwort (Tephrosia virginiana)- One of my favorite wildflowers for gardening, they are common, easy to transplant and bloom profusely (though, alas, mainly in the morning). When they are done blooming, I cut them back to about 8 inches. It doesn't seem to hurt them at all.

Wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicalis)- This woodland understory plant is common in our native woods, particularly under mature oaks. It typically grows in deep leaf litter (and may therefore be vulnerable to invasive earthworm, but that's another story). I've started a colony in an area where I rake my leaves in the fall. I use very little fertilizer in my garden and don't want to remove the leaves - this plant is part of my plan. So far it seems to be working, but it takes awhile to get established. I collected my plants from a huge colony in our woods, I'm not sure if these are available commercially.

Common bracken I introduced these from wild plants when I first moved in. They took quite well, to say the least. Yes, a little too well, though they are quite attractive when fresh. Now I am reducing them, mainly by simply pulling them out. On the plus side, they served well to reclaim an area from non-native plants, and the process of pulling them from areas I'm establishing more desirable species isn't too bad.

Cinnamon fern An excellent fern, but they've been slow to get established. Collected from our woods.

Royal fern Same story as the cinnamon fern. After a few years they are starting to look a little better. Getting the brackens away from them helped.

Ebony spleenwort These little beauties moved in on their own, taking residence in little cracks of the century plus old steps up the hill in front of my house. I took care not to kill them and now they've filled two or three cracks. There's no way I could have done that myself. A few also grow in the shade of some shrubs.

Nearly native

These species are native nearby (at least somewhere in Indiana), but you probably wouldn't have encountered them on the site where my house garden is now, or within say, five miles, in 1830. So that's not really native, is it? I see lots of gardeners saying they are growing native plants when the plant fits in this category, or are 'improved' versions of an actual native. Nothing wrong with either of those (there are lots of Asian plants in my garden) but to me that's a plant of North American origin, not a native plant. I know, picky, picky, picky.

Celandine poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum)- A favorite woodland plant of mine, very common is mesic forest south of here, and also nearer to Lake Michigan. These have really gone native and are reproducing on their own - my north facing sandhill is perfect for them. Highly recommended. It's possible they were missing from this area because they are not well adapted to the fires that often swept across the oak savannas.

Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica)- A similar story as the celandine poppy, but not quite as successful.

Dutchmen's breeches Another mesic forest spring ephemeral I've tried to introduce. They haven't done well, perhaps they need a little more space.

Jack-in-the-Pulpit Yet another mesic forest spring ephemeral I've tried to introduce. I may try again now that I have built up some deeper leaf mulch in a few areas under the big trees.

Trilium grandiflorium Mine are barely hanging on, but they do well in the nearby Indiana dunes, and in my mom's native plant garden just a few blocks away. Perhaps I should try again in my improved leaf mulch. They really are fine plants.

Purple coneflower Native to prairies, but I've never seen one in a native prairie around here. Still, a great garden plant and one that attracts butterlies and goldfinches. I grow an unimproved variety.

Yucca Native perhaps as nearby as southwestern Indiana, but not here. They do very well though. I collected my plants from old house sites on our property.

White pine Native in the Indiana dunes with the closest wild ones perhaps 28 miles north. But could you call them native here? Not really, but certainly closer than a Norway spruce, and white pines do great in the sand (which is, after all, pretty much the same as the dunes). They are probably absent from the native woodlands here primarily due to fire.

The fail department

These are native plants I've tried to grow in my home garden mostly without success.

Wild lupine A major component of the native black oak sand savanna, the wild lupine covered large areas. These have declined tremendously since I was a kid. I've successfully reestablished persistent colonies in appropriate habitat (barren sand, blazing sun) at Big Eastern, but my effort in my garden ended in failure. They grew for a few years, bloomed and started to spread, but the wet summer of 2008 killed them, even though they were growing in pure sand. Probably not enough sun.

Lithospermum caroliniense Puccoons are common and beautiful, persistent flowering forbs in the native sand prairies and savannas on our property. Good luck ever moving one though. I managed to get one to grow for a couple of years but it never flourished and then died. I've never succeeded in establishing a colony.

Liatris Aspera Another abundant forb in our native sand prairies. Not difficult to transplant (move a corm when they are dormant, I take plants that are growing in a trail where they'll be trampled anyway) - it took very well, but in cultivation it grew too big and fell over into a tangled mess. Too much moisture perhaps, or not enough wind. These plants are clearly adaptable to cultivation but they would need (a) sand, (b) full sun from all directions and (c) maybe, wind. A couple of plants may still survive still in my garden, and I've tried moving them to a better spot. Maybe I'll yet get these out of the fail department.

9dec2009 - SoundCloud

I've been experimenting with SoundCloud for audio distribution. I like their configuration for distribution; not so sure about their organization and search systems. It's all very Euro, so there's a lot of boring formulaic techno (seriously, I actually liked techno about 115 years ago...), but that's not SoundCloud's fault, it's open to everyone. One aspect I like is the capability of following an artist or label, Twitter style. That way, you get a notice when an artist you find interesting posts fresh material. To get a taste, here's a link to their Explore Tracks page.

worthy blogs


mainstream news

local news

me, elsewhere

Send me an e-mail.

Edited by Marty Lucas, PO Box 16 North Judson, Indiana 46366 - not responsible for content on other web sites to which we link.