Category Archives: Butterflies

The Prairie Ecologist Article Lessons From a Project to Improve Prairie Quality – Part 1: Patch-Burn Grazing, Plant Diversity, and Butterflies

We recently completed a large multi-year restoration and management project at our Platte River Prairies. Our specific objectives were to improve habitat quality for various at-risk prairie species and evaluate the impacts of our management on at-risk butterflies – particularly regal fritillaries. The project was supported by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, who funded our work with two State Wildlife Grants (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service money). Over five years, we conducted fire/grazing management in our prairies and enhanced plant diversity through overseeding and seedling plugs. We measured the results of that work by measuring changes in prairie plant communities and by looking at the use of our prairies by regal fritillaries and other butterflies.

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We’ve worked hard to get plant diversity in our restored prairies, including this one. We wanted to know whether or not our management was maintaining that diversity, and also how it was affecting butterflies. The prairie shown here was being grazed at the time of the photo – July 2009. The Nature Conservancy’s Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

The following is a brief summary of the major lessons we’ve gleaned from the fire/grazing component of the project, including implications for future management and restoration work. I will summarize the overseeding/seedling work in a separate upcoming post. If you want more details, you can see our entire final report to the funding agencies here. As a warning, the report is 14 pages long, with an additional 21 pages of Appendices, full of tables and graphs.

What We Did
Between 2008 and 2012, we treated over 1,500 acres of prairie with varying applications of patch-burn grazing management. During that time, we altered the timing of burning and the intensity of grazing from year to year, and included years of complete rest from grazing in some prairies. For the purposes of this project, we evaluated the results of our work in two main ways:

– We measured changes in plant diversity and mean floristic quality.

– We conducted three years of butterfly surveys to evaluate how regal fritillaries and other butterfly species responded to our restoration and management work.

What We Learned

Here are the seven major lessons we learned from this project. Some of this information has been covered in previous blog posts, so in addition to providing you the link to our full final report for this project, I am also providing links to blog posts in which I covered these topics more completely.

1. During our use of prescribed fire and grazing, plant diversity and mean floristic quality have been either stable or increasing in most of our prairies. This holds up when looking at both short-term (3-4 years) and longer term (up to 10 years) data sets. In addition to collecting data on the overall plant community, we also tracked individual plant species. Even conservative forbs (those most vulnerable to prairie degradation) are maintaining stable populations.

With a few exceptions, we haven’t been able to compare patch-burn grazing against other management techniques (fire only, other grazing systems, etc.) in our prairies, so we can’t say our patch-burn grazing is better at promoting plant diversity than those other alternatives. However, we have been able to increase or maintain plant diversity while creating a mosaic of habitat patches that we think benefits a wide range of plant and animal species.

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Patch-burn grazing helps us maintain diverse plant communities while also creating patchy habitat that benefits many insect and animal species.

2. Periodic complete exclusion of grazing appears to be important to prevent annual grazing of a few plant species. Within our patch-burn grazing systems, cattle mostly constrain their grazing within recently burned patches to the exclusion of unburned areas. However there are a few plant species that cattle appear to seek out and graze regardless of whether they are in burned or unburned patches. These include common and showy milkweed (Asclepias syriaca and A. speciosa), Canada milkvetch (Astragalus canadensis), and entire-leaved rosinweed (Silphium integrifolium).

All three plant species are still surviving in prairies that have been grazed annually for 10 years or more, but the vast majority of individuals within each species are being grazed each year before they can flower. If that continues, they will probably disappear over time, as existing plants die off without replacing themselves. To prevent this, we are building periodic exclusion of grazing into each of our pastures, either by pulling cattle out of the pasture for a whole year now and then, or by using electric fence exclosures that shift in location from year to year.

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Rosinweed is often targeted by cattle regardless of whether it’s in a burned or unburned patch. Completely excluding cattle from prairies now and then allows rosinweed and a few other cattle favorites to bloom and recover their vigor.

3. We can increase plant diversity in prairies dominated by invasive grasses, but it is less important to measure the extent of invasive grasses than it is to measure plant diversity. I dealt with this topic extensively in a recent post on Kentucky bluegrass, so I’ll skip over most of it here. Basically, we’ve found that we can increase plant diversity without necessarily decreasing the frequency or abundance of invasive grasses. Because of that, measuring the invasive grasses might indicate a failure in our management, even though we’re achieving our ultimate objective.

4. Butterflies are nectaring primarily on ”weedy” wildflower species in our prairies. Again, I’ve dealt with this in a previous post. Essentially, regal fritillaries and most other butterfly species in our prairies are primarily nectaring on hoary vervain (Verbena stricta), thistles (Carduus nutans and various Cirsium species), and milkweeds (Asclepias species) – which are considered to be weeds by many people. Those “weeds” appear to be awfully important to butterflies and other pollinators.

5. Regal fritillary populations appear to survive well under patch-burn grazing management despite some mortality from fire. This was one of our most important findings from this project, and it backs up similar results from Ray Moranz from Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, and Iowa prairies. In fact, we worked with Ray to mimic his survey techniques to allow us to compare results more easily. In our prairies, we are certainly killing regal fritillary caterpillars with our spring burns. However, regals are doing very well in the unburned portions of our sites, which make up 2/3 to ¾ of the total area in most years. Could we have higher numbers of regals if we weren’t burning? Maybe, but we’d certainly see decreases in other species we also think are important, and it’d be much more challenging to keep invasive and aggressive plants at bay and create heterogeneous habitat structure.

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It was valuable to look at our prairies through the eyes of regal fritillary butterflies. We gained a greater appreciation for the importance of “weedy” plants such as the hoary vervain shown here. We also saw how well our restored prairies complement our remnants.

6. Our restored (formerly cropped) prairies appear to be complementing our degraded remnant (unplowed) prairies in terms of nectar resources. Most regal fritillary production – egg laying, larval feeding, and emergence as adults – seems to occur in thatchy portions of our remnant prairies, where we have high populations of violets (the sole food plant for larvae). However, once the adults emerge from their chrysalises and mate, they tend to spend much more time in our restored prairies, where the abundance of nectar plants is much higher. Since the main objective of our restoration work is to increase the effective size and function of our fragmented remnant prairies, this result is very encouraging.

7. While we looked only at butterflies for this project, we did some work with bees over the same period, and as we synthesize all of our pollinator work there are some apparent lessons that emerge. We know that to maintain plant diversity, it’s important to allow all desired plant species to bloom and complete their life cycles periodically. Because plant species respond differently to management treatments, that means varying those treatments from year to year. However, from a pollinator standpoint, it’s also important to stagger those management treatments across the landscape to maximize the availability and diversity of blooming plants for pollinators at any one time.

Because most bees, for example, have a very limited range of travel from their nest, haying or burning an entire 200 acre prairie at once would mean that the only plant species available for bees are those that do well under that management treatment. Since many bees are specialists on certain flower species, that can have important consequences for those bees, as well as for bees that need a variety of flower species in order to maintain steady food supplies. For bees and other pollinators (and likely many other species) it’s probably important to scatter a range of management treatments across space so that wherever a bee nests, there is a large variety of flowers available to it. However, I don’t know how to decide how many management units to use within a prairie, or how big each should be. I’ll explore this topic more in a future blog post.

Summary

As always, we still have a lot to learn about how to manage prairies for the diversity of species that live in them, as well as for overall ecological resilience. However, this project helped us better understand the impacts of our fire and grazing management on plant diversity and floristic quality. More importantly, it pushed us to look at the impacts of our management through the eyes of species other than plants – particularly butterflies. Overall, I think we’re doing well for both plants and butterflies, but we also learned some lessons that will help us tweak our management to benefit both.

Article From The Prairie Ecologist Website By Chris Helzer

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Cedar Valley Home & Garden Article Going native: Start your own wildflower garden from scratch

Going native: Start your own wildflower garden from scratch

The coneflower is a given when compiling lists of popular wildflowers.

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This prairie plant is beloved for its easy-going nature and long-lasting daisy-like blossoms blooms. It attracts bees, butterflies and other insects into the garden, and it’s fun to watch goldfinches dangling upside down dining on seeds plucked from spent heads.

Narrow-leafed purple coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia) is an Iowa native, along with pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida) and purple conflower (Echinacea purpurea). A few areas of Iowa, mostly on our western edge, you’ll find the yellow prairie coneflower (Ratibida columnifera) and the grey-headed prairie coneflower (Ratibida pinnata).

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Black-eyed and brown-eyed Susans are prized, along with columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) with its cheerful red and yellow nodding blooms, wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) and butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa). New England aster (Symphyotricum novae-angliae, previously Aster novae-angliae) is among my personal favorites, and the first type of aster I ever planted. Monarchs passing through my fall garden find it a valuable source of nectar (and a landing pad to rest).

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Search out a source for high-quality seeds and plants that are suited to your growing conditions — location, soil type, sun exposure, etc. The National Garden Bureau, which has declared 2013 the “Year of the Wildflower,” also suggests tracking down fact sheets and publications geared toward your geographic region, such as the Xerces Society (www.xerces.org) and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s extensive database that can be searched by state (www.wildflower.org). Iowa State University Extension also has good resources for wildflower information.

To create your own wildflower garden, follow these NGB suggestions:

1. Prepare the soil by removing weeds and other unwanted vegetation. If the soil is compacted, till lightly so the soil is loose and germinating seeds can put down roots. A bow rake is great for loosening the top layer of soil. Digging or roto-tilling too deep will bring up weed seeds and other plants that will need to be removed later to avoid competing with the wildflower seeds. While it may not be practical or necessary to amend the soil before planting wildflowers, you can add organic matter such as compost or well-rotted manure before planting depending on the site.

2. Wildflower seed and seed mixes can be planted in either spring or fall. Spring rains help seeds germinate and plants get established before many weeds have a chance to grow. In cold climates, a dormant seeding of wildflowers can be done in the fall when temperatures are low enough that seed will not germinate until weather warms up the following spring, similar to what happens in nature. Some seeds, especially many of our native perennial wildflower species, need a chilling period to break their dormancy. This is provided naturally by the change in temperatures from winter into spring.

3. Scatter seeds by hand or with a small spreader. Seeds can be raked into the soil or lightly covered with soil. Water thoroughly right after planting and keep seeds and seedlings moist for about 4-6 weeks. Gradually reduce watering as seedlings develop. Identify and remove weed seedlings as soon as possible since they will compete with wildflowers for water, nutrients and space. For dormant seeding, watering after planting seeds is not necessary.

Care & feeding

Annual flowers are more abundant at first because they grow and flower quickly. Perennial plants will follow and eventually become established; many annual and perennial plants may reseed themselves.

Year one: Not all seeds will germinate right away, especially perennial wildflowers. Don’t be disappointed if there is no “instant” meadow. For more immediate results combine seeding wildflowers with planting a few container-grown plants. Plants will quickly get established and compete with weeds that may appear.

Identify and remove weeds when small to prevent spreading. Wildflowers may need additional water if rainfall is sparse, especially during extended heat spells. Avoid cutting flowers so they can seed and fill in the garden next year.

Year two: You’ll see new plants from seed that didn’t germinate the first year. Water if rainfall is inadequate, especially in spring or hot we ather. Remove weeds as they appear. As flowers become established, weeding will lessen. Fill in bare spots with seed or container-grown plants.

Year three and beyond: Minimal maintenance; remove weeds that may move in. Move plants that are too close or overcrowded and use them to fill in bare spots or sow more seeds. You may need to water if there is an extended period of heat. Fertilizing is generally not required.

In the garden setting, you can mulch around plants with compost or well-rotted manure. Mowing or cutting wildflowers to about 6 inches high will spread seeds and keep the garden looking neat. You can dig or rake the soil to regenerate a wildflower garden by improving contact between soil and seeds that have dropped to the ground.

Article Taken From Cedar Valley Home & Garden Website

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Earthyman Responds to a Customers Question on Advice on Planting Butterfly Milkweed : Asclepias Tuberosa Seeds

Question:  Hi.  I recently received 6 packets from you of Butterfly milkweed.  Could you provide some advice on planting?  I have a small flower garden ( full sun,) as well as 15 acres of various prairie plants and grasses. Began as all  switchgrass but I am slowly planting more and more grasses and forbs. Thanks.  Stan

Butterfly Milkweed

Response: Stan, you may start the seeds indoors after you have moist stratified them. Place the seeds in a zip lock back mixed with moist vermiculite. Leave them in a refrigerator for 30 days. Remove and plant in open flats or small pots with sterile soil medium at a depth of 1/8th to 1/4th inch. They must receive considerable light and warmth to adequately develop. Once they have started to form the white root, they can be transplanted to your garden or field. Keep the competition down from weeds and other plants. They prefer well drained to excessively drained soils in full sun. They do well in rocky poor soils with maximum exposure to the sun and wind. If you want to do a dormant seeding, you may spread the seed now or anytime the ground is exposed. Make sure your seeds are not on frozen ground as they may wash away. Wait until the ground thaws and spread your seed but only lightly cover with a sprinkling of soil or compost no deeper than 1/8 to 1/4 inch. Nature can then freeze and thaw offering the best stratification. Once plants are mature, you must be very careful when you attempt to transplant as the roots are very massive and at least 90% of the roots should be dug with plant and immediately transplanted. You should start seeing blooms the second year and thereafter the plants will grow much stronger and have many blooms in the following years. If your plants, for some reason die or disappear the following year after planting, they are probably in a poorly adaptable site for this species.

Thanks,

Howard aka “Earthyman”

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Helping You Create Your Own Natural Beauty

Howard Bright
800-291-2143
1878 Old Mission Drive
Harpers Ferry, IA 52146

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Why Are Some Wild flowers Highly Scented with Brightly Colored Petals?

Thought You Might Enjoy this Q&A From Ask.com regarding Wildflowers

Question: Why Are Some Wild flowers Highly Scented with Brightly Coloured Petals?

Top Answer: Some wild flowers are highly scented with brightly colored petals so as to attract pollinators like insects and birds. The pollinators feed on the nectar and help in distribution from pollen grains from anthers to stigma of the same plant or another plant. This enables continuation of reproduction.

Ion Exchange, Inc.

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UNI student helps return cropland to native prairie Article from The Gazette

Researchers assessing benefits of converting grasses to biofuel

Tall Grass Mix

WASHBURN — University of Northern Iowa professor Mark Myers considered it a “theoretical exercise” when he assigned his wildlife ecology and management students to develop a habitat management plan for a local site.

But, said Myers, Jarrett Pfrimmer, 25, of North Liberty, “took the assignment to heart,” and a year later, prairie grass was growing on 20 acres of former cropland along a Cedar River tributary.

“I did not think he could make it happen in that short a time,” said Myers, who is working with Pfrimmer on another major project with the potential to restore natural functions of the Cedar River watershed — research to determine the feasibility of native prairie as a biofuel.

Pfrimmer, who will complete work on his master’s degree next month, said he worked with the Black Hawk County Soil and Water Conservation District to line up cost-share funding for the stream buffer project.

The Boone native said he also took advantage of expertise at UNI’s Tallgrass Prairie Center to plan and execute the 120-foot wide buffer strips on both sides of Dry Run Creek, which flows past the UNI campus en route to the Cedar River.

Seeded a year ago, the native vegetation will become well established next year, greatly reducing erosion from the former farm fields, improving the quality of the water flowing into the Cedar and providing habitat for songbirds, pheasants and other wildlife.

The absorbent grass also will play a small role in reducing the crest of future Cedar River floods.

“Every little bit helps” when it comes to watersheds’ ability to store and slowly release floodwaters, said State Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, a leader in legislative efforts to improve watershed management.

Small-scale improvements like the two Black Hawk County projects can help create a mindset and policies “that will help buy down flood peaks for those of us downstream,” Hogg said.

In addition to the Cedar Falls stream buffer project, Pfrimmer has worked with Myers and others to assess the benefits of converting cropland into a prairie biomass production site at the 593-acre Cedar River Natural Resource Area about 10 miles south of Waterloo.

On flood plain land that had formerly been leased for row crop production, the researchers established 48 test plots, each seeded with one of four types of native vegetation ranging from switch grass alone to a mix of 32 species of grasses, legumes, forbs and sedges.

Those plantings were equally distributed among three distinct soil types, enabling the researchers to control all key factors contributing to the productivity of native grass not only as a source of energy but also as habitat for birds, butterflies and other wildlife.

The research got off to a rocky start with the historic Cedar River flood of 2008 wiping out the initial seeding. The plots were reseeded in 2009, burned in 2011 and finally harvested in April, compressed into 550-pound rectangular bales, with an average yield of 4 tons per acre.

About 150 of those bales were later pelletized for an upcoming test burn by Cedar Falls Utilities. “We’re looking to find out how well it burns for energy generation,” said Daryl Smith of the UNI Tallgrass Prairie Center, a partner in the research.

Researchers have suggested that cultivation of low-input, high-diversity grassland biomass could have significant energy and environmental advantages over corn-based ethanol, according to Myers.

While it remains to be seen whether the energy yield would justify conversion of marginal farmland to production of native vegetation for use as an energy source, biofuel production with diverse mixtures of native prairie vegetation “contributes to the maintenance of biodiversity in agricultural landscapes,” the researchers concluded.

Grassland birds and butterflies quickly found and colonized the test plots, according to Myers.

Pfrimmer, who has led bird data collection efforts, will soon complete his master’s thesis on “Bird Use of Heterogenous Native Prairie Biofuel Production Plots.”

In each of the past two years, he has found at least 100 delicate nests hidden among the grass stems by species such as the sedge wren, dickcissel, grasshopper sparrow and lark sparrow. Pheasants and turkeys also have moved into the grass, he said.

“We are starting to see different bird communities established in the plots in accordance with their preferences for the vegetation mix and even the soil types,” Pfrimmer said.

Article taken From The Gazette Newspaper

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[IOWA-INSECTS] Monarch butterfly research story

Here in SE MN I noticed the same lack of Monarchs in mid-summer. We also had robust milkweeds with very few larvae. I heard from (entomologically oriented) folks in NE MN that in June they saw far more Monarchs than usual, but with their relatively low population of milkweeds the Monarch seemed to overload the larval food plant. Then in August the flight of Monarchs here in SE MN was the lowest I have every seen.

Joel Dunnette

 

On Tue, Nov 6, 2012 at 8:21 PM, Bruce And Georgeann <crazcoot@evertek.net> wrote:
I have been following this topic and want to ask about another angle of the past summer’s Monarch slump -at least it was in Nw Iowa.

The Monarch Butterflies, were a real concern here this year. We had quite good numbers showing up in early spring – in fact the dates were record early arrivals for us. And I witnessed egg laying in the pasture…even photographed eggs as they were so obvious. But the thing that really puzzled and concerned me was we had no egg hatches and no caterpillars all summer! I have never, in my life, “Not” seen a Caterpillar all spring, summer or fall!!!???!!! Why after finding eggs, I could later not find larva?

Then the summer was “scant” as far as Monarchs were concerned. Nearly none, just a handful all summer. This should not have been the case here, we had the largest crop of Asclepias (milkweeds) that I’ve ever seen here…we had A. tuberosa(Butterfly Milkweed) in record numbers…they were stunning all over the county…even the area farmers were asking me what that “orange plant” is showing up everywhere! We had way more A. syriaca (Common Milkweed) than I care to see here – the neighborhood is coated with seed parachutes from our pasture…not a real “good neighbor” relations maker with the local farmers. We also had a good share (but down slightly from past years) of A. verticillata (Whorled Milkweed) and a small compliment of A. incarnata (Swamp Milkweed) in the ditches out front.

I witnessed a lone Monarch laying eggs on some Common Milkweed outside the studio windows in late August and tried keeping an eye on them – they were gone after just 3 days!? I don’t know of “egg” eaters in the insect world but maybe something is going on? I know of parasitic wasps in caterpillars – but saw NO CATERPILLARS all summer (as I said before). I haven’t the foggiest idea what is going on?

This fall we had virtually no Monarch roosts here – we usually have 150-500 individuals roost here each fall. 13 was our high number in a roost this fall…”6″ was the other high day…”high” used very sarcastically…

Some folks following this have raised issue with the drought hurting the mid section of the continent’s Monarch survival…I’m sure that has some bearing. They also have raised issue with GMO crops. But it does nothing to explain a local phenomenon like we’ve been experiencing here…eggs laid but no hatching, no larva…with an abundance of food source for larva and adult stages. We do not spray insecticides here on the acreage, but I have no knowledge of GMO crops or spraying issues in the surrounding area, so I can’t speak to that.

Am I imagining things or is there anyone else raising these kinds of observations or concerns? …Bruce Morrison, SE O’Brien County

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2013: Year of the Wildflower Article By National Garden Bureau

Wildflowers are one of Mother Nature’s loveliest gifts. Their changing panorama of colors, shapes, sizes and heights provides delight throughout the seasons. Wildflowers can be used anywhere. In the home landscape they are ideal for creating colorful beds and borders, as well as offering a lower-maintenance alternative for large areas or replacing turf grass. Wildflowers can be planted to cover large, open areas or assist in the recovery of a landscape that has been damaged or destroyed by the actions of people, a natural disaster, or the spread of invasive plants.

WHAT IS A WILDFLOWER?

Wildflower is not an exact term that is well defined. Some people say a wildflower is a plant that was not intentionally seeded or planted and grows without cultivation. Others classify a wildflower as any plant growing without the help of man regardless of the plant’s country of origin. Still others define a wildflower as a plant found in a specific geographic area that was grown from seed or plants also from that area.

Wildflowers and other plants that were growing before European settlement in what we now call the United States, Canada and Mexico are called native plants or indigenous species. Other plants, often referred to as exotics or aliens, were originally brought here from another part of the world. Many exotic species including flowers, grasses, trees and shrubs are among our favorite garden plants. A few, including some wildflowers, have escaped and become established as part of a local environment or naturalized. Some exotic species have even become invasive and are considered noxious weeds that need to be eradicated.

HISTORY OF WILDFLOWERS

Many of our favorite wildflowers have been growing in European gardens for centuries. Even some of our native wildflowers enjoyed more popularity in Europe than in the U.S. where they went unnoticed by gardeners. When early explorers came to North America, they discovered the bounty of plants growing in the New World. They eagerly brought many of these plants back to Europe where they were sought after by gardeners wanting something new and different for their gardens.

During colonial times, ornamental flowers were often grown in the Pleasure Garden or Pleasure-Ground, the designation for the flower garden. President George Washington had flower gardens at his home but most of his written notes were about the trees and shrubs he planted at Mt. Vernon, One native wildflower that Washington did plant and record was Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis). He probably grew many foreign or exotic flowers since Washington avidly collected and traded plants with correspondents in Europe.

Cardinal Flower

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President Thomas Jefferson, an avid horticulturist, plant collector and seed saver, grew wildflowers in his garden. He also noted planting Cardinal Flower after it was recommended by his nurseryman friend, Bernard McMahon, who included it in his 1806 book “The American Gardener’s Calendar”, the first horticultural reference for American gardeners. While Cardinal Flower may have been one of the first trendy plants in the New World, it’s interesting that this North American native wildflower was introduced in Britain in 1626, more than 150 years before being mentioned in American references. McMahon noted “Here we cultivate many foreign trifles and neglect the profusion of beauties so bountifully bestowed upon us by the hand of nature.”

Other plants in Jefferson’s garden may have been from the 290 native plants described and collected by Meriwether Lewis during the Lewis and Clark Voyage of Discovery in the early 1800’s. More than half of the plants were new discoveries to white people including Lewis Flax (Linum lewisii) (one of many plant species named after either Lewis or Clark) and Scarlet Globemallow (Sphaeralcea coccinea). They also described Blanketflower (Gaillardia aristata) and Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea).

Informal and wildflower gardens became fashionable with the publication of The Wild Garden in 1870 by England’s William Robinson who described them as “a delightful feature of a place”. This style of garden contrasted with the highly manicured and formal designs that had been popular in American and Europe. Wild gardens featured hardy, herbaceous plants, including both native and exotic species. They were designed and placed where they would thrive with little additional care.

The cottage and old-fashioned gardens of the 1800’s also included a few native perennial wildflowers but mostly focused on designs that included peonies, hollyhocks, phlox, roses, violets and other European favorites. By the end of the 1800’s many landscape designers began to emphasize hardy herbaceous plants in recognition of their lower maintenance. Noted horticulturist and botanist Liberty Hyde Bailey wrote, “The interest in native plants has never been so great as now.”

Wildflowers and native plants have continued to attract attention throughout U.S. gardening history. They are currently experiencing a resurgence in popularity by both gardeners and public officials for their beauty and their valuable contributions to the environment.

WHY PLANT WILDFLOWERS

A garden of wildflowers offers benefits to both the gardener and the environment. Once established, properly chosen wildflowers require less maintenance than traditional landscape plantings which can mean less watering, fertilizing, pest control and mowing. Some plants have deep root systems that prevent water run off and soil erosion, and enable them to withstand drought. Their growth also brings earthworms and beneficial soil microorganisms to enhance soil health. And colorful blossoms can be arranged into lovely, casual bouquets that brighten the home.

Flowers provide nectar and pollen sources for bees, butterflies and other pollinators, while ripened seeds are a food source for birds and wildlife. Current research suggests that native plants and flowers might be more attractive to native bees than exotic flowers. Even a small area in a garden or landscape planted with wildflowers that bloom at varying times throughout the growing season helps attract and support pollinators.

SOME POPULAR PERENNIAL WILDFLOWERS

Many of these beautiful yet hard-working plants are equally at home in garden beds and borders as they are in larger wildflower plantings and restoration projects. Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), California poppy (Eschscholzia californica), columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), and black-eyed or brown-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia triloba and R. hirta) are among the popular wildflowers planted by American gardeners, all of which happen to be native to the U.S.

One of the most admired wildflowers is Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). It is native to the Midwestern prairies and dry, open woods of the Southeast but can be found in gardens from Maine to California because it is fairly adaptable to most types of soil and does well even in dry conditions. Plants flower from late spring to early fall attracting butterflies and bees to the large, purple, daisy-like flowers. After the long-lasting blooms drop their petals, the distinctive seed heads develop and provide food for goldfinches and other birds. (Zones 3-8)

Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) is native to a large part of the country including the Northeast, Midwest and Rocky Mountain region. Also called Beebalm, the whorls of pink to lilac colored flowers open in summer to attract bees, hummingbirds and a variety of other pollinating insects. It gets the name Wild Bergamot from the aromatic leaves that have a scent reminiscent of the bergamot orange tree of Europe. Monarda had many medicinal uses to the Native Americans. Today the leaves are often used to make tea. Plants do best in dry open areas and woodlands but can grow in moist soils as long as they are well drained. (Zones 3-9)

Eastern Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) despite its species name is native to the East and Midwest U.S. as well as eastern Canada. It is one of about 30 species of Columbine found in North America. Columbine is often found in a shady woodland setting though they have a deep taproot that enables them to grow in dry sites. The colorful red and yellow flowers that open in spring and summer are a favorite of hummingbirds. Blue Columbine or Rocky Mountain Blue Columbine (Aquilegia caerulea) has beautiful blue and white flowers and is one of the many columbines found in the western U.S. It is the state flower of Colorado. (Zones 3-9)

New England Aster (Symphyotricum novae-angliae, previously Aster novae-angliae) is a favorite of many gardeners for the beautiful violet-purple flowers that cover the plant in fall. Its native range is from New England all the way west to the Rocky Mountains and as far south as Tennessee and North Carolina. Plants grow best in areas with full sun and moist but well-drained soils. Valuable in the garden and any wildflower planting for its late season color, New England aster is also a nectar source for Monarch butterflies as well as attracting native bees and pollinators. (Zones 3-7)

California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica) is perennial in its native California but grown as an annual in colder climates. Spanish explorers who saw the California hillsides covered with the golden orange poppies called the area the Land of Fire. It was introduced into European gardens in the 1830’s. California Poppy has golden-orange, silky, saucer-shaped flowers that open during the day and close at night or on cloudy days. Plants bloom best in the cool weather of spring and fall. In mild climates it will bloom several times during the year. In colder climates, it may self-seed in the spring and flower again in the fall. California Poppy is the state flower of California. (Zones 8-10)

While some perennial wildflowers adapt to a range of growing conditions and will grow throughout the U.S., other wildflowers prefer a specific region of the country or very specific environmental conditions. Chocolate Flower (Berlandiera lyrata) is a delightful treasure with cute, yellow, daisy-like flowers that exude the smell of chocolate in the morning. However, it is native to the dry parts of Kansas, Colorado and south to Arizona into Mexico so it loves hot sun and poor dry soils. Grow it in soil that’s even halfway decent and it gets leggy and flops over. (Zones 5-9)

Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja sp.) is another much admired wildflower that seems to grow without care in its native environment that ranges throughout North America depending on the species. It derives its name from the striking orange-crimson spikes that appear in spring and resemble a brush dipped in paint. However, Indian Paintbrush can be difficult to grow from seed and establish in the garden. They are considered hemi-parasitic which means they need to grow in close proximity to other wildflowers and grasses. Indian Paintbrush produces roots that attach themselves to a range of plants that grow nearby to obtain some nourishment. Without these host plants, Indian Paintbrush declines and eventually dies. It is a challenge for even experienced gardeners but could surprise you if planted in the right conditions. (Zones 3-9)

HOW TO GROW WILDFLOWERS

Liberty Hyde Bailey once said “A garden requires patient labor and attention. Plants do not grow merely to satisfy ambitions or to fulfill good intentions. They thrive because someone expended effort on them.”

Growing wildflowers requires the same type of care as traditional ornamental plants. Start with high quality seed and healthy plants. Be sure to select varieties that are suited to your conditions. Wildflowers will grow and bloom best when the environmental conditions meet their requirements. Sun exposure, availability (or lack) of moisture, and soil type all affect plant growth.

HOW TO CHOOSE WILDFLOWERS

Before purchasing seed or plants, think about what you are trying to achieve with your planting. If you want only native wildflowers in your garden find out what is native to your region and what type of growing conditions are needed. Do you want to attract bees and other pollinators or encourage butterflies to visit your garden? Look for plants that produce the type of flowers preferred by these insects. Are you interested in a garden that is filled with color from spring to fall? Choose a mix that has a variety of flowers and bloom times.

Some wildflowers have very specific soil, water, light, temperature and fertility requirements and won’t grow outside of a specific geographic range or set of conditions. Others are easier to grow because they have adapted to a wide range of environments. Does the plant like full sun, partial sun or a shaded location? Does it require constant moisture or will the plant survive periods of drought during the year? Does the plant like rich, fertile soil or does it grow better in a poor soil with lower fertility. Choose plant varieties that are matched to the conditions of your site.

Many types of wildflower mixes are available from seed suppliers. Some mixes contain only native wildflowers and may be formulated to grow in a defined geographic region or climate. Other mixes contain varieties that are both native and exotic. Some mixes have a balance of annual and perennial species to provide fast color and long-term beauty. Other mixes contain mostly annual flowers for a quick-growing wildflower garden. Not all of the wildflowers contained in mixes will grow in every garden but there are usually enough different types in each mix to provide a nice variety. Remember that successful wildflower gardens are created over many years as plants that are best adapted to your garden conditions become established and thrive.

There are many sources available to help you find the best native wildflowers for your garden. The Xerces Society (www.xerces.org) has several fact sheets and publications that suggest good native plants for geographic regions in the U.S. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center has an extensive database of commercially available native plants that can be searched to provide recommendations by state (www.wildflower.org). Local native plant societies and government organizations are also good sources of regional information.

PREPARING THE SOIL

The next step in creating an eye-catching field of flowers is to prepare the soil by removing weeds and other unwanted vegetation. If the soil is compacted, till lightly so the soil is loose and germinating seeds can put down roots. A bow rake is great for loosening the top layer of soil. Digging or roto-tilling too deep will bring up weed seeds and other plants that will need to be removed later to avoid competing with the wildflower seeds. While it may not be practical or necessary to amend the soil before planting wildflowers, you can add organic matter such as compost or well-rotted manure before planting depending on the site.

PLANTING FROM SEED

Wildflower seed and seed mixes can be planted in either spring or fall. Spring rains help seeds germinate and plants get established before many weeds have a chance to grow. In warm climates, fall is a good time to plant wildflowers when cooler temperatures and winter moisture provide better conditions for seed germination and growth. In cold climates, a dormant seeding of wildflowers can be done in the fall when temperatures are low enough that seed will not germinate until weather warms up the following spring, similar to what happens in nature. Some seeds, especially many of our native perennial wildflower species, need a chilling period to break their dormancy. This is provided naturally by the change in temperatures from winter into spring.

Scatter seeds by hand or with a small spreader. Seeds can be raked into the soil or lightly covered with soil. Water thoroughly right after planting and keep seeds and seedlings moist for about 4-6 weeks. Gradually reduce watering as seedlings develop. Identify and remove weed seedlings as soon as possible since they will compete with wildflowers for water, nutrients and space. For dormant seeding, watering after planting seeds is not necessary.

CARE OF THE WILDFLOWER GARDEN

A wildflower planting just like a colorful meadow created by Mother Nature will look different from month to month and year to year. Annual flowers are more abundant at first because they grow and flower quickly. In following years perennial plants become established and start flowering, in addition to annual flowers that may reseed themselves.

The first year is a time to help wildflowers get established. Not all seeds will germinate right away but may be waiting for the right environmental conditions before they begin to grow. This is especially true with perennial wildflowers so don’t get discouraged or be disappointed if you don’t have that instant flower meadow. For more immediate results you may want to combine seeding wildflowers with planting a few container-grown plants. Plants will quickly get established and compete with weeds that may appear. Be sure to identify and remove weeds when they are small to prevent them from spreading Depending on needs of your wildflowers provide additional water if rainfall is sparse, especially during periods of extended hot temperatures. Avoid cutting flowers after they bloom so they can go to seed. Seed will drop to the ground and spread to fill in your planting.

During the second year, you may see new plants grow from seeds that didn’t germinate the first year. Water if rainfall is not adequate, especially in the spring. Additional water may be needed in the summer during extreme or extended periods of hot weather. Continue to remove weeds as they appear. As wildflowers become established the need to weed should taper off. Fill in bare spots with additional seed or container-grown plants.

After the third year and beyond your wildflower planting should require minimal maintenance. Remove large weeds that may move in. You may want to move plants that have grown too close and are crowding each other. Use them to fill in bare spots or sow additional seed to cover those spots. Additional water may be needed in the summer during extreme or extended periods of hot weather. Fertilizing is generally not required. In a garden setting, you can mulch around established plants with compost or well-rotted manure. Cutting or mowing wildflowers in fall to a height of about 6 inches will keep the planting looking neat and help spread seeds. Periodically disturbing the soil by digging or raking can also help regenerate a wildflower garden by creating good soil contact with seeds that have fallen to the ground.

Some wildflowers, especially prairie plants and grasses, benefit from being burned every few years. Fire occurs in many ecosystems as a way to get rid of woody plant invaders that move into a site as part of natural plant succession. Fire also helps break the dormancy of some seeds and stimulates the growth of other species. However, burning should only be done by someone with the understanding and expertise to do it safely and effectively. In the home landscape mowing, hoeing, digging and other means of soil disturbance can achieve the same goal.

WHERE TO BUY WILDFLOWERS

Gardeners have many choices when creating a wildflower garden. Local nurseries and garden centers sell both seeds and live plants. Retail, Internet, and catalog seed companies sell wildflowers as individual species and mixes. Many seed companies also sell mixes for a variety of special uses—wildflowers for cutting, fragrance, partial shade, attracting butterflies or pollinating insects, and more.

Digging plants from the wild is not recommended and might be illegal. State and federal laws protect some native plant species that are threatened or endangered. Collecting seed must be done carefully. Removing too much seed could reduce or destroy a wild plant population.

The National Garden Bureau has several members that sell wildflowers including many North American native wildflowers. Choosing the right plants for your wildflower garden will create a beautiful landscape to be enjoyed for many years.

For More Information

Please consider our NGB member companies as authoritative sources for information. Click on direct links to their websites by selecting Member Info from the menu on the left side of our home page. Gardeners looking for seed sources can use the “Shop Our Members” feature at the top of our home page.

Photos can be obtained from the NGB website in the area labeled “Image Downloads”.

The National Garden Bureau recognizes Janis Kieft of Botanical Interests Inc., as the author of this fact sheet and Gene Milstein and Diane Wilson of Applewood Seed as expert contributors. Photography was contributed by Applewood Seed Company.

This Article “Year of the Wildflower” Fact Sheet is provided as a service from the National Garden Bureau.

For All Your Native Wildflowers & Prairie Plants Please Visit Our Website at Ion Exchange, Inc.