Blue Blossoms in September

Blue color is everlastingly appointed by the Deity to be a source of delight.

 John Ruskin


 I’m going to take a detour from the traditional autumn asters and goldenrods into the less common Bottle Gentian and Blue Lobelia, both in bloom in September with brilliant sapphire blossoms.

The Chicago Botanic Garden has three connecting native plant gardens: a prairie garden, a woodland garden, and a habitat garden.  All three are exceptionally well-designed and would not be out of place in anyone’s neighborhood.  I’m going to show you some photographs of the above flowers that are in bloom now in the Habitat Garden.

This duck sculpture marks the Habitat Garden.

One of the most stunning features of the Habitat Garden in the multi-stemmed Hop Hornbeam, otherwise know as Blue Beech or Musclewood.  This pictures shows you why the second two names came about.


Blue Beech (Carpinus caroliniana) is an uncommon understory tree that is found in nature in mesic woods.  It more often grows with a single trunk, but is most stunning when grown with multible stems.  The serrated leaves, which somewhat resemble those of the elm tree, turn to gorgeous gold and scarlet in fall (pictures in a week or two).


I wonder if the designer of this garden took the color theme from the name of this tree.  I’ve seen the garden in early May and early September and blue flowers–Virginia Bluebells and Jacob’s Ladder in May and Bottle Gentian and Great Blue Lobelia in September–were prevalent.











In the above photo, Bottle Gentian thrives within a matrix of Sensitive Fern.  I have never grown Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis)–I can only tell you what I have read.  It is a fast colonizer found in marshes, fens, wooded wetlands, muddy borders of shaded ponds, and in moist soil in mesic woods.  The 2’ tall, broad triangular fronds make a splendid groundcover in moist, shady soil.  Where does it get its name?  It’s sensitive to dry soil and the first frost.  Has anyone had experience with Sensitive Fern?  Let us know.

The cobalt blue blossoms of Bottle Gentian are arresting!









This is not a budded blossom–it is in full bloom.  The only insect strong enough to open the flower is the bumble bee, shown above.

Clusters of flowers rest in nests of tiered leaves on the stems and at the top, in bloom from late August (in some years) through the end of October.  Bottle Gentian (Gentiana andrewsii) thrives in full sun or light shade in moist soil; it doesn’t handle drought well.  In the wild, it is found in moist prairie remnants, prairie swales, seepage areas, and fens.












Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) and Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) bloom at the edge of a pond among the sword leaves of Blue Flag (Iris virginica shrevei) in the Habitat Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden.




A close-up photo of Great Blue Lobelia curtesy of Jim Cudney.  These sprung up along his creek after a controlled burn.


The  sapphire blue tubular blossoms of Great Blue Lobelia grow alternately on crowded 1-4’ spikes, sometimes with side branches, in bloom from late July through early October.  Plant it in moist soil, rain gardens, pond shores, or stream banks.  It is found in similar areas in the wild.  Happily, it will reseed itself readily.








The berries of Smooth Solomon’s Seal  (Polygonatum canaliculatum) provide one more touch of blue in the Habitat Garden.  Its May-June, creamy white bells turn to deep indigo blue berries in fall that dangle beneath its graceful arch.  Solomon’s Seal is common, found in woodlands, fencerows, and under telephone wires.  Plant it under shade trees in your yard along with other woodland plants.

I urge all of you to make a trip to the Chicago Botanic Garden in the next couple of weeks to see this spectacular jewel of a garden.

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