Category Archives: The Flora Forum

Here you’ll find our favorite plant profiles. We’ll get a glimpse to a plethora of plants, all with their own unique histories, preferences, interactions, and ways of being as they continue their epic journey upon the earth. Sort of like people, right?

Prairie Dropseed

Family:  Poaceae

Scientific Name:  Sporobolus heterolepis

This perennial prairie grass is native to the Central and Eastern United States and Canada.  It requires full sun and prefers well-drained soils.  For that reason, it’s also extremely drought-tolerant.  Prairie Dropseed occurs commonly in prairies and along roads and gets its name from the tiny rounded seeds which drop to the ground in autumn.

Watch for: Small clumps of this grass with fine, hair-like green leaves up to 20 inches long that form an arching foliage mound  2-3 feet tall.  Foliage turns golden/orange in the fall, and a light bronze in winter.  Prairie Dropseed blooms in late summer, forming open, branching flower panicles on slender stems which rise well above the foliage clump.  Flowers are rusty-tan and noted for their unique fragrance (notes of coriander).

Other names: Northern Dropseed

History: Sporobolus heterolepis is a native Minnesota species.  It was one of the first plants used in prairie restorations as it is heat and drought tolerant and does well in habitats with naturally-occurring fires.  Native Americans ground the seeds of Prairie Dropseed to make a tasty flour.

Tidbits: Prairie Dropseed is a favorite of small rodents, which burrow in the tufts of leaves.  It’s a larval food plant of the Leonard’s Skipper butterfly and the nutrition-packed seeds attract birds throughout the winter.

Gardens/Cultivation: An attractive plant for any raingarden or green roof, Sporobolus heterolepis is slow growing and requires little maintenance.  It serves as great ground cover for hot, dry areas and is considered by many to be the most handsome of the prairie grasses, due partly to its “tidy size”.  This grass should be planted 18-24″ apart.

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 Sources: 

Missouri Botanical Garden.  http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=f680

North Creek Nurseries.  http://www.northcreeknurseries.com/plantName

Prairie Moon Nursery.  http://www.prairiemoon.com/seeds/grasses-sedges-rushes

Queen of the Prairie

Family:  Rosaceae

Scientific Name: Filipendula rubra

Queen of the Prairie is a rare, native perennial that favors high quality habitat.  Named filum for “thread” and pendulus for “hanging”, this plant’s name refers to some species’ small tubers strung together by fibrous roots.  It thrives in full sun, wet to moderate moisture, and sandy to loamy soil and is often seen in meadows, prairies, and woods.

Watch for: An erect perennial, 3-6 feet tall.  The flower is a showy pink inflorescence on a long naked stalk and blooms June-July.  While blooming, the flowers look a lot like wind-tossed pink fluff. The central stem is smooth and has a tendency to look reddish in the sunlight.  Leaves are alternate, compound, and can be up to 2 feet long.  Each leaf has 1-7 palmate leaflets with coarsely dentate margins.

Other names: Filipendula

History: The root of this native Minnesota species has been used throughout history to treat various heart troubles and has also been used as a love medicine as it’s considered an herbal aphrodisiac.  In addition, it can be used to treat skin rashes as the root has a high tannin content.

Tidbits: The Queen of the Prairie is a very interesting plant.  It produces pollen favored by bees, beetles, and flies, but doesn’t create any nectar!  It’s also very useful for restoring fields as it is an indicator of high quality habitats.

Gardens/Cultivation: Filipendula rubra prefers the cooler climate of the Great Lake region to hot, dry summer heat.  Leaves can become spotted from foliar disease, but the plant is otherwise not subject to diseases or fungus and the foliage is not commonly eaten by deer or other herbivores.  Deadheading is not necessary as the flower heads are decorative and it does little to encourage rebloom.  If division is necessary, it’s best to divide this plant in the fall.

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 Sources:

Illinoise Wildflowers Database: http://www.illinoiswildflowers.info

Smith, Huron.  1928.  Ethnobotany of the Meskwaki Indians.  Bulletin of the Public Museum of the City of Milwaukee 4:175-326.

USDA Plants Database: http://plants.usda.gov

Dwarf Bush Honeysuckle

Family:  Caprifoliaceae

Scientific Name: Diervilla lonicera

A fast-growing deciduous shrub, the Dwarf Bush Honeysuckle is insensitive to changes in light and is found in woody, shaded sites as well as exposed, rocky sites.  It grows well in sandy, dry, and slightly acidic soils.  It is often found growing among Jack Pine (Pinus banksiana) and Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea). 

Watch for: Small, mound-shaped shrub to 3 feet tall.  Exfoliating bark reveals orange inner bark.  Dark-green simple, opposite, and pointy leaves change from yellow to red in autumn and small.  Bell-shaped flowers are yellow-green in early summer, becoming orange or purplish-red as the season continues.

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Oxeye Sunflower

Family:  Asteraceae

Scientific Name: Heliopsis helianthoides

A native perennial in Minnesota, most often found in full sunlight and dry to moderate soil conditions in prairies, roadsides, edges of fields and open woods.  It is a vigorously growing plant, and considered a weed by some.

Watch for: Opposite leaves with coarsely serrated margins with leaf blades that vary in shape from oval to lance-shaped.  The stem is smooth and flowers have an orange-yellow center disk with yellow ray flowers.  The plant grows to about 3-4′ tall.

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Ohio Spiderwort

Family: Commelinaceae

Scientific NameTradescantia ohiensis

Native early summer perennial favoring slightly dry to moist habitats.  Often found along the south side of ditches, in prairies and in meadows.

Watch for: Thick, round stem, about 2-4 feet tall with long, linear leaves up to 15″.  The flowers bloom from May-July, are light to blue violet and occur in small clusters at the top of the plant.  Each flower has 3 rounded petals, 6 bright yellow anthers, and fine violet hairs near the base.  Also look for two small, green bracts under every flower.

Other names: Confederate spiderwort, Bluejacket

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Switchgrass

Family: Poaceae (Grasses)

Scientific Name: Panicum virgatum

Native warm season perennial grass favoring dry to moist habitats, especially along shores, but occurs naturally on prairies, oak and pine woodlands, and in marshes as well.

Watch for: Coarse, tall grass up to 6.5 feet that grows in clumps and a beige inflorescence flower from July to October which branches out in a pyramidal shape. Leaves are linear, smooth, obviously veined and range from 8-20 inches in length.

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Blue Flag Iris

Family: Iridaceae

Scientific Name: Iris versicolor

Native emergent summer perennial favoring marshes, wet meadows, forested wetlands and shorelines.

Watch for:  Large blue to blue-violet showy flowers from May to July.  Flowers often contain some yellow, green or white coloring. Leaves are long, thin, pointed and fold down the middle.

Other names: Harlequin Blue Flag, Blue Flag and Northern Blue Flag

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Wild Columbine

Family: Ranunculaceae (Buttercup family)

Scientific Name: Aquilegia canadensis

Native and hardy early spring perennial which favors a variety of habitats including dry or even low woodlands, meadows, roadsides, peat bogs and bluffs

 Watch for: Red and yellow downward facing flowers which have a tubular shape.  Inside petals are yellow and outward sepals are red.  Compound leaves are divided into 3 leaflets, each with a mitten-like shape.

Other names: Red columbine, American columbine, jack-in-trousers

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Compass Plant

                           

  Family: Asteraceae (Sunflower)

Scientific Name: Silphium laciniatum

Course, hairy perennial herb with large woody root stocks, 3 to 10 ft tall, usually with a single, unbranched stem. Likes open prairies, and roadsides in areas of mild disturbance.

Watch for: Yellow, bell-shaped ray flowers in high numbers on the plant. Leaves are coursely toothed, alternate, and resemble narrow strips or lobes.

Other names: Rosin Weed, Gum Weed, Pilot Weed.

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Culver’s Root

Family: Scrophulariaceae (Figwort)

Scientific Name: Veronicastrum virginicum

Native, colonizing wildflower from 3-6′ tall that grows in rich woods and moist prairies. Has a central taproot as well as underground running rhizome roots.

Watch for: Toothed, lance-shaped leaves, 3 to 7 whorled leaves per node, white  or pale pink flowers in dense spikes at the ends of branches.

Other names: Bowman’s root, Physic Root, Black Snake Root, Tall Speedwell, Leptandra, and Whorly Wort.  Read more »