Four for Early Summer
In my mind, summer begins with the blooming of Wild Quinine (Parthenium integrifolium) in early June. Its flowers are arranged in a flat-topped corymb that blooms at the top of 1 1/2 to 4’ tall stems, evocative of the flat prairie from where it comes. It puts on a longer show than any other prairie flower, looking as fresh in August as it does in June. In nature it is found in both loamy and sandy soils; also in upland savanna.
A tea from Wild Quinine has been used to to treat fevers–another common name for the plant is American Feverfew. During World War I, when supplies of the tropical quinine were cut off, there was a brief commercial trade in Wild Quinine plants. ( Doug Ladd, Tallgrass Prairie Wildflowers.)
It’s joined a week later by Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida). Not as familiar to us as the widely available Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), Pale Purple Coneflower is taller, up to 3’, has narrower leaves, and blooms earlier with brighter pink, drooping petal-like ray flowers that surround a prominent red-brown cone. It is found in dry prairies, limestone glades, and along railroad tracks. It is not long-lived in rich soil. Then Butterfly Weed adds its brilliant blossoms to the pallet. Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa), so named because of its attractiveness to Monarch and other butterflies, is one of the most conspicuous flowers of the prairie. It forms a 1‘ to 2’ stiff, upright clump of vibrant orange, flat-topped flower clusters that grow wider and showier every year. If happy, it will seed itself about. Mine do, but always next to a sidewalk, driveway, or street curb.
And finally, Prairie Coreopsis starts its long summer bloom. The golden-yellow daisy flowers of Prairie Coreopsis (Coreopsis palmata) bloom at the top of 1-3’ stiff stems. Spreading by rhizomes, it makes luminous patches of sunshine through dry or sandy prairies from mid-June to mid-July. Its unique, narrow. stiff leaves divide in the middle into a trident. Because of its aggressiveness, I wait to introduce it into a garden that is well established,
The same combination of plants decorate Geneva River Park in late June. The forbs are growing in a matrix of Side-oats Grama (Bouteloua curtipendula).
A flagstone wall at Geneva River Park. All these plants are calciphites.
Schulenberg Prairie at Morton Arboretum 7/5/2008. Many Pale Purple Coneflower and Prairie Coreopsis grow here; but not much Wild Quinine or Butterfly Weed. There are also huge swaths of Leadplant, which I have never been able to grow successfully in my gardens.
Entrance Garden at the Morton Arboretum Visitor Center. Pale Purple Coneflower, Butterfly Weed, and Prairie Coreopsis grow in a matrix of Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolis heterolepis). This can easily be adapted to the home garden. All four of these plants must have a well-drained situation in mesic, dry, or sandy soil; Wild Quinine, Pale Purple Coneflower, and Prairie Coreopsis require full sun. Butterfly Weed also likes full sun, but is native to sandy Black Oak savannas, as well. My house was built in 1927 before developers scraped away topsoil when building a house; I have rich mesic soil without clay. A good reason to buy a pre-World War II house.