Monday Melange–Who Needs Chrysanthemums?

Monday Melange

Who Needs Chrysanthemums?

Serendipity. I didn’t design this, but isn’t it a stunning combination?  Heath Aster (Aster ericoides) and Butterfly Weed seedpods (Asclepias tuberosa) show off against a backdrop of the huge magnificent leaves of Prairie Dock (Silphium  terebinthinaceum).  Prairie Dock bears yellow daisy flowers at the top of 10’ stems in July, but that’s not the main feature.  The enormous spade-shaped leaves are a dramatic accent in a prairie or prairie garden from June through winter.   Always plant it in the foreground, even though the flower stems reach 10’ in height.  It’s the leaves that are the dominant design feature.


More views

Front corner with Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans) to the right of trellis.  Soft, muted colors of early fall.

Front corner with Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolis heterolepis) to the left of trellis.

Back yard savanna and arch.  Faded Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum) in left corner.

Birdbath under arch surrounded by Smooth Blue Aster (Aster laevis).

Short’s Aster under Redbud tree in patio.

The golden centered, lavender-blue daisy flowers of Short’s Aster form an elongated, graceful panicle at the top of 2-4’ stems alternately clothed with long arrow-shaped leaves.  The weight of the flower clusters inevitably causes the plants to lean over giving them a casual, charming look. Short’s Aster begins to bloom mid-September, carrying on through mid-October.  It thrives in savanna or woodland in mesic or dry-mesic conditions, often found in woodland borders, limestone bluffs, rocky open woodlands and slopes, and along woodland paths.  It increases in two different ways: by fluffy seed spread by the wind and by rhizomes that may become clonal–perfect for growing along fences–see below:

Short’s Aster growing along the east side of my patio fence on my neighbor’s side.

Blue-stemmed Goldenrod (Solidago caesia) and a few faded Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia speciosa var. sullivantii) decorate clay pots under the bench next to the brick walk that connects my house to the garage.


One usually views Blue-stemmed  Goldenrod from above- all the leaves and flowers face upward.  This one-sided configuration makes the plant ideal for making wreaths–hence the other common name –Wreath Goldenrod. Its tiny yellow daisies grow in the axils of the leaves; Zigzag Goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis) is the only other Goldenrod with this feature.

As the blossoms mature, the pointed lanceolate leaves hang down from the loosely arching, bloomy purplish-green stems and give a fringed look to the plant.  It spreads slowly by rhizomes, its arched stems never becoming  higher than 2’ tall.  My oldest plant is situated next to the brick walk on the north side of my house next to the back door; the other one, wind-seeded at the other end of  the walk against the south side of the garage, between the brick walk and the garage wall.  It’s in full sun; the other in full shade; I have another in my savanna garden, in partial shade.  In all accounts I have read, it is drought-resistant, which has been my experience, as well.

A shade plant, Blue-stemmed Goldenrod is found in woodlands, shaded dune slopes, shaded bluffs, and sandy Black Oak savannas.  It’s not native to Kane County where I live; in the Midwest it is found in the far eastern counties of Illinois, throughout Indiana, and in most of lower Michigan.

What’s in bloom in your garden this week?


Saturday afternoon, I  “sat for a spell” in my savanna garden and saw:

1.  a Monarch butterfly–only the 3rd one I’ve seen all summer.

2. a Cloudless Sulfur–1st one this year–usually I am inundated with them in


3. a Hummingbird with a white breast–I just read that by fall male Hummingbirds have molted out their pretty red feathers and are identical to the female.  I generally do only see one hummingbird in the fall–migrating, I assume.

None of them lingered; they all hurried on through.

I need to spend more time in my garden just looking.

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9 Responses to Monday Melange–Who Needs Chrysanthemums?

  1. Peggy Timmerman September 24, 2013 at 12:12 pm #

    Hi Pat,

    We have wreath goldenrod blooming in savanna and woodland areas on our property in SW Wisconsin, so it appears to be native here. (Richland County)

    • Pat Hill September 24, 2013 at 12:25 pm #

      Good to know, Peggy. I did not see it listed for anywhere in Minnesota in any of my resources. But we all know plants do what they want to do, not what books say they do.

  2. sue September 24, 2013 at 2:07 pm #

    It’s been a good year for woodland golden rods and the asters. My Zig Zag and Elm Leaf golden rods are arching perfectly. I love the big Prairie Dock leaves for dried arrangements. Happy Fall!!

  3. Suzanne Massion September 24, 2013 at 8:12 pm #

    Right now there’s view to the north of our house into the oaks that’s a sea of White Snake Root mixed up with a pale lavander aster (not sure the variety) and Elm Leaved Goldenrod. The Purple Joe Pye are just dusty looking fluffs, but your images, Pat, make me appreciate them and those big Prairie Dock leaves. Of course, there’s waves of Indian Grass out in the open prairie. I thought I had 3 female Ruby Throated H. Birds, but now I’m not sure. One might be a molted male. Thanks for that info.

  4. Laura Davies September 24, 2013 at 10:43 pm #

    Such interesting info about the Goldenrod – I only knew of the usual kind you see everywhere! Your garden looks absolutely beautiful right now, the Butterfly Weed seed pods are very cool, silly me I thought they were small milkweed pods!!

  5. Monica September 25, 2013 at 7:02 am #

    Actually, the pods in the photo are those of the Butterfly Milkweed, Laura, and so you are right: they are little milkweed pods! That’s the problem with a common name, it may refer to any number of different plants, and different common names often refer to the same plant. As Pat writes, though, the plant’s scientific name is Asclepias tuberosa, Asclepias being the milkweed genus. All plants in this genus feature these distinctive pods, which eventually split down a single seam to release seeds, each of which is carried onto the breeze by its silky filament.

  6. Christie Cunningham September 25, 2013 at 11:13 am #

    Gorgeous as always. I will say, though, that I have a hardy mum that earlier in the summer drives me crazy, but it’s a beautiful collar of lavendar around my garden at this time of year.

    • Pat Hill September 25, 2013 at 4:12 pm #

      I love the old-fashioned, small-flowered chrysanthemums, as well, especially the lavender, and aesthetically, they would fit into a garden like mine. Non-native flowers and plants, however, don’t offer as many ecological services to our area as those that evolved with our climate, animals, and other vegetation. Deep root penetration–sometimes as deep as 15′– that makes new soil, absorbs flood waters, and makes plants drought-proof, and attractiveness to local insects, bees, and butterflies that attract birds are just 2 reasons.

      I would love to have you write something that I can post with you as a guest writer. You are knowledgable, clever, and a humorous writer. You can write anything you want, just so it’s something about plants. You don’t have to agree with with me.

  7. Kevin Hebert September 26, 2013 at 8:45 am #

    Great post, Pat. I never thought of planting Prairie Dock near the front of a garden…but that is a great idea!

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