Their pervasive fragrance and gaudy color suggests an overdressed matron wearing too much cheap perfume, as these plants often become too much in the landscape.


Dick Young

Kane county Wild Plants & Natural Areas




Dick Young was referring to Dame’s Rocket (Hesperus matronalis) in bloom now along partially shaded roadsides, railroad tracks, and other waste places.     Commonly called “Wild Phlox” because of its resemblance from a distance to Garden Phlox, its 4-petaled flowers identify it as a member of the mustard family rather than the Phlox family that has 5-petaled flowers.  It was introduced from Europe into American gardens  in the 17th century and has since escaped cultivation.   A biennial,  it will flower, produce seed–lots of seed–, and die by midsummer.  The seed germinates easily, producing a rosette the first year and flowers the 2nd year.   The plants are prolific bloomers and produce large quantities of seed from May into July, developing large colonies. . Although it is not yet a large-scale invasive, it can spread rapidly from seed and form dense patches. Its impacts are not yet well known; in fact, it is not yet widely recognized as an invasive species in the Midwest.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture has declared it a noxious weed. Three states, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Colorado and have banned it.

Does it displace native plants?  The only areas I see it growing in the wild, along country roads and railroad tracks, the native plants have long-since been displaced by other invasives.  In Forest Preserves and private property, it should be prevented from going to seed by cutting the spent flowers off, which may have to be done more than once. It’s prolific seeding habit gives it the potential to be another Garlic Mustard.

Beware!  Dame’s Rocket seed is frequently included in “Meadow in a Can” along with other Eurasian biennials.  Avoid this altogether.

I’ve heard from several friends that  live on large naturalized properties that they have more invasive Dame’s Rocket this spring than ever before.


The Phlox genus is native only to the United States; 2 species are in bloom right now:

Wild Blue Phlox in woodlands and Prairie Phlox in prairies.

Wild Blue Phlox (Phlox divaricata) has been in bloom in our woodlands for several weeks now.


Clusters of fragrant, deep lavender, 5-petaled flowers bloom at the top of 8-12” wiry stems clothed with dark green, opposite, lance-shaped leaves.  If happy, it will spread itself around abundantly.  Unfortunately, I have tried for over 10 yeas to grow it in my savanna garden, but without success.  It always peters out after a couple of years.  I can only guess it needs more shade than I can give it.

Abundant in the wild, it is found in woodlands throughout the Chicago region.  The most prolific stand I have ever seen is in Bliss Woods in Sugar Grove, growing in an open White Oak woods.


Prairie Phlox at Horlock Hill Prairie in St. Charles

Prairie Phlox (Phlox pilosa) blooms in dry prairie remnants in May and June.  Dick Young tells us  that “it was once one of our great prairie dramas, producing breathtaking seas of pink and lavender on the rolling, dry prairie swells.”

A tight, spherical cluster of pink trumpets blooms at the top of a 12-15” hairy stem, from mid-May through June.  Plant it in a well-drained situation, such as a slope or terraced hillside along with Heart-leaved Meadow Parsnip (Zizia aptera), in bloom now also.

Unlike the alien Dame’s Rocket,  all species of phlox attract butterflies to their nectar, especially Swallowtails, Painted Ladies, and Sulfurs.


What’s that?  You would rather have something tall and pink?  Then how about Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum), currently flowering in woodlands and wildflower gardens.

Clusters of lavender-pink, 5-petaled flowers bloom at the top of 1-2’ hairy stems that rise from the long-stemmed, segmented palmate basal leaves,  It sows itself with wanton abandonment, but never crowds out other plants.  The soft green leaves turn scarlet in fall.

An astonishing amount of Wild Geranium are in bloom now in Burnidge Forest Preserve on the west side of Elgin.

In honor of Preservation Month, the City of Elgin and the Historic Preservation Commission are sponsoring a Walking Tour of Burnidge Forest Preserve, this coming Sunday.   Plan on attending–I guarantee you will find it rewarding beyond measure.

Sunday, May 20, 2012 at 1:30

Walking Tour of the Burnidge Forest Preserve

A 90-minute walking tour of the glacial features and habitats of Burnidge Forest Preserve lead by Mary Alice Masonick. Elgin’s Burnidge Forest Preserve abounds with the evidence of glacial features such as kettles and moraines. Join us for a hike in this beautiful terrain, as we enjoy the May wild flowers, singing birds, and calling amphibians.

For more information contact: Mary Alice Masonick at Location: Meet at the Burnidge Forest Preserve parking lot off of Coombs Rd. Time: 1:30 p.m. Co-sponsored by: Friends of Burnidge Forest Preserve



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6 Responses to Roadsides

  1. Celia Larsen May 18, 2012 at 5:53 pm #

    I love Wild Geranium. Do you know of any specific ways it benefits wildlife? I wonder if it has escaped form European gardens. I could imagine it becoming weedy/invasive in other parts of the world…

    • Celia Larsen May 18, 2012 at 5:55 pm #

      I hope you correct typos :). *from* European gardens, I meant…

    • PatHill May 19, 2012 at 7:46 am #

      Native bees are attracted to Wild Geranium and no, it would not be invasive in Europe or anyplace else. Interesting question, though–I’ll answer it in detail in my post next week.

  2. guloguloguy May 18, 2012 at 10:05 pm #

    While weeding out the Non-Native species:
    To help you remember to differentiate between the Native Phlox species, vs the Alien Invasive species “Dames Rockets”, (Hesperis matronalis);

    Remember this rhyme” about the flower petals:

    “Those with FIVE we’ll leave alive; Those with four must live NO MORE!”

  3. Diane Hilscher May 20, 2012 at 5:18 pm #

    Yesterday I enjoyed watching a fat native bumblebee in the many wild geranium flowers blooming in my woodland edge. When landing, each flower bobbed down once gracefully with the weight, then right up when the bee quickly left, rather like feeding on a trampoline. The wild geranium really is prolific this year, seeding itself into new areas. Easy to edit out – or move, though to minimize wilting it must be done very quickly and watered right in.

    Prairie phlox has a wide moister tolerance, not only in dry prairies but mesic, even wet-mesic. It therefore makes a very nice rain garden plant, especially when inter-planted with grasses or other sturdy forbs that keep it more upright. Deer like it less than woodland phlox, both sweetly fragrant.

  4. Benia Zouras June 9, 2012 at 1:37 pm #

    Pat, I am not sure end what changed, but I can no longer see any of your photos in your posts. They are all just showing a question mark symbol in their place. Is it on your end or mine? I have no trouble with any other blogs.

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