Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Wildflower Wednesday: Wishful Thinking

I’ll be honest—I don’t have any wildflowers blooming right now to show you. But I have been contemplating those that will be hopefully making an appearance soon.

The wildflowers here in my garden are indigenous to shortgrass prairie/savanna ecosystems. What are those ecosystems exactly? Well, shortgrass prairies are just what they sound like. They’re dominated by smaller grasses, sedges and forbs that can thrive in the nutrient-poor mix of clay and gravel found here in this part of northern Illinois. These are not the lush prairies of common imagination with eight-foot-tall big bluestem and switchgrass. But they are beautiful and resilient in their own right, particularly for their ability to make ecological lemonade out of our geological lemons.

Savannas are (or rather, were) open groves of trees, the true embodiment of “dry shade.” Before settlement of northern Illinois, these ecosystems were defined by oaks and hickories. But these were soon felled for agriculture and now our savanna-like conditions are generally caused by mature maples in suburban settings. Luckily, most savanna plants have evolved to survive in partial shade and compete with tree roots, making these the perfect garden plants for modern-day savanna settings like my front yard, which is half shaded by a large red maple.

OK, so that’s the backstory. Now what wildflowers will be making an appearance this spring? Unfortunately my conditions are too dry currently for trilliums, Virginia bluebells and other popular ephemerals. But, under the leafless tree canopy there will be shooting stars (Dodecatheon meadia).

(My apologies for the lousy picture; shooting star is to the middle left.)

These lovely little plants have pinkish, reflexed petals that inspired their name. Their basal foliage disappears by summer. I think mine might be too dry, and I may have to move them this year after they bloom.

Prairie smoke (Geum triflorum) will hopefully be blooming in my south border this spring. This low-growing plant has reddish-pink flowers that look like a puff of trailing smoke—definitely one of the most unique early-season wildflowers! I planted a bunch of them last year when I created this border; if they’re happy I’ll get to enjoy more of their blooms this year.

(A tentative bud of prairie smoke.)

Lastly, I’m hoping to see pasque flowers (Anemone patens) in the spring, but I don’t have a picture to show you because mine have never bloomed to date. These small purple flowers like full sun and dry soil, which is precisely what I’ve given them in the front border near my herbs (which like the same conditions). For two or three years now they’ve sent up pretty palmate foliage and nothing more. If this spring results in another no-show, I’m going to have to move them. They may be suffering from bad winter drainage, which doomed my lavender plant in the same location.

What early-blooming wildflowers are you looking forward to? Are you fortunate enough to have trilliums? If so, I’m jealous. Wildflower Wednesday is most graciously hosted by Gail at Clay and Limestone…check there for posts with wildflowers actually blooming!


Gail said...

Rose, Thank you for educating me about short grass prairies~It does sound like a beautiful ecosystem. It's so smart to embrace what we have~I really got frustrated pushing the rock up that hill and embraced clay and limestone and the indigenous natives. Less heartbreak! I think you could grow cedar glade plants~Shooting Star thrives in that ecosystem. gail

Rose said...

No trilliums here, but I am envious of your Prairie Smoke--I do hope they produce some blooms for you this year. Very informative and interesting post, Rose; until not long ago, I really didn't know much about the prairie at all, and I'm still learning.

Had I remembered Wildflower Wednesday this time, my title might have been the same as yours, because there certainly aren't wildflowers here right now:)

garden girl said...

I was out with George this morning imagining spring green and blooms in place of snow. The wildflowers I'm looking forward to most this spring are the ones I brought back from my Mom's last spring - sure hope they come back!

I also hope to see some blooms on our prairie smoke. This will be their third year, hopefully the first with blooms.

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