And #10 is….

I had the idea of listing my top ten wildflowers when I was asked to do a presentation to a group of Flower Show Judges at their quarterly meeting at the Marietta Garden Center. Since retirement, wildflower hunting has become a passion and I have been fairly successful locating microenvironments and pinpointing blooming time windows for many varieties. The challenge was winnowing the hundreds of choices for a top ten grouping to the select few. I decided to mentally classify wildflower species by color, form, and uniqueness and the result have been published as “My Top Ten Wildflowers” and will become individual blog article subjects as I do a countdown to #1.

Keep in mind as you work your way through this list, that these are my individual choices and are limited to my personal exposure to the multitude of widflowers available as well as my geographical and timing limitations. I welcome your comments and will gladly consider your choices for future modifications to the “top ten”. The Flower Show Judges who viewed the first showing of this topic were near unamimous in voting for their top three of my top ten which gave me both a positive reinforcement and a renewed stimulous to continue searching for new, colorful, and unique additions to the group. Thank you Judges!!!

And #10 is…… Lobelia cardinalis! More commonly known as the Cardinal Flower.

The Cardinal Flower in all its splender!

Thirty-five years ago in Louisville, Kentucky, I began my wildflower searches by escaping from my work office environment to walk vacant fields and suburban wilds and I began mentally registering the number and variety of observed wildflowers. It was the Fall of the year when as I wondered through what turned out to be an environmental niche, I came across an impressive collection or loose family of colorful plants totally ignored by the passing cars of urban America.

A Cardinal Flower spike of brilliant red dominates a field of “weeds”.

The most impressive of this grouping was the Cardinal Flower. Its tall, brilliant red, unique blooms were the last flower visited by migratory hummingbirds as they began their journey southward to Central America and points even further South. If ever there was a flower designed for hummingbirds, here it was. The bright red petals advertised availiability of sips of nectar and the flower throat was thin and long and designed only for the long beak and tongue of hummingbirds. Bees and butterflys, although attracted by the brilliant red splash could never navigate the path toward liquid nourishment. Here was my first major wildflower find! The Cardinal Flower was not alone and those dissapointed non-hummingbird pollinators didn’t have far to look as the Cardinal Flower was the prince of a flower community that catered to all. Mixed with the red was the no less vibrant blue of the Great Blue Lobelia.

Although not as visually enticing as its red cousin, the Blue Lobelia is a beautiful Fall wildflower!

The dancing blue blossoms were not hummingbird specific and native bees and a few late-season butterflys enjoyed the nectarine banquet of this distant relative of the Cardinal Flower. At the feet of this red and blue display were two smaller and less conspicuous members of the Fall flower community. The all-white Snakeroot has an ominous reputation as cows who graze on this widflower produce milk which is slightly poisonous to humans. Legend tells us that Abraham Lincoln’s son was perhaps a victim of Snakeroot tainted milk.

Beware of milk from cows who munch on Snakeroot!

Another low-lying Fall bloomer is the Mist Flower. Its puffs of lavender blossoms add a pleasant touch to the edges of woods which are beginning to accumulate fallen leaves and spent summer plants.

The Mist Flower is a low-growing addition to the Fall natural landscape.

In the middle of these fields sprout three taller Fall denizens. The Ironweed pokes its deep purple blossoms four feet upward only to be dwarfed by the six foot tall spray of pinkish-lavender known as the Joe Pye Weed.

The Ironweed gets its name from its rough tough stalks which defy lawn mowers and weed pullers.

I have no idea who Joe Pye could have been but his name lingers on every Fall in fields across the midwest and South.

Joe Pye Weeds in profusion!

Sprinkled here and there are slightly smaller “weeds” with sprays of white flowers known as the Eupatorium or more commonly as Boneset. The unique name refers to the habit of the lone stalk perforating or growing through a paired leaf cluster. This unique growing pattern gave medieval and pioneer families the idea that this plant and its juices must be good for helping broken bones repair themselves hence the name “bone set”. I am not sure modern physicians would agree but the name persists.

Note the peculiar”stalk through the leaf” structure of Boneset.

All this wildflower splendor is dominated by the Cardinal Flower and as you can tell, the first visual brush with my #10 choice opened a tapestry of fellow wildflowers and the unending search and chase had begun. I was hooked!

Proof positive!

If the Cardinal Flower was a mere #10, what could possibly be the nine more brilliant, more unique wildflowers that make up this intriging list? Stay tuned tomorrow for #9 which is found in a totally different microenvirment and time window.

3 thoughts on “And #10 is….

  1. the cardinal flower and the mist flower – new ones for me


  2. Two of my favorite late summer wildflowers!


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