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Fern leaf yarrow is a herbaceous perennial native to the Causcasus, Afghanistan, and central Asia. It is a member of the aster family, Asteraceae, that also includes daisies, sunflower, and lettuce. Growing 3-4′ tall plants form attractive mounds of basal foliage with deeply divided  pinnate leaves that are fern-like, hairy, aromatic and up to 10″ long. The  flowerheads consist of tiny yellow ray surrounding a center of tiny yellow disc flowers. and appear in dense flattened compound corymbs up to 5″ across on stiff, erect stems in summer. Flowerheads are good in both fresh and dried arrangements. The genus name, Achilles, honors the hero of the Trojan Wars in Greek mythology who is said to have used the plant medicinally to stop bleeding and heal the woulds of his soldiers. The epithet, filipendula, is the diminutive of the Latin words filum meaning thread, and pendulus, meaning hanging, and refers to the leaves.
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Genus: Heucheras for the Garden

‘Palace Purple’

The genus Heuchera is in the saxifrage family, Saxifragaceae, that also includes foamflower (tiarella), pigsqueak, and false spirea (Astilbe).  It consists of over fifty species of herbaceous perennials that are native to North America but only a few are cultivated in gardens.  Heucheras are long lived and some are grown for their ornamental foliage  while other are grown for their attractive flowers.  All are evergreen except in very cold climates.  Growing from stout woody crowns with fibrous roots, plants have rounded to kidney shaped basal leaves are carried on long petioles to form a mound.  They may be lobed and toothed, zoned or mottled, and usually hairy.  The bell-shaped flowers are carried on wiry stems in racemes or panicles well above the foliage and range in color from white to pink and red. Petals may be small or absent but the sepals provide blooms. Heucheras like full sun or partial shade and need shade where summers are hot.  Soil should be organically rich and very well-drained.  Propagation is by seed or division.  Deadheading prolongs bloom time, winter mulching in cold climates reduces heaving, and division every 3-5 years rejuvenates plants.  The genus name Heuchera honors Johann Heinrich von Heucher (1677-1747) who was a botanist, physician, and medicinal plant expert at Wittenberg University, Germany. [click to continue…]

Native to Mexico and South America, this herbaceous tender perennial is a member of the amaranth family, Amaranthaceae, that also includes beets, spinach, celosia, and gomphrena. It grows 6-12″ tall and has erect to procumbent stems.  The obvate leaves taper at the base, are up to 1′ long, and are usually green blotched with a various colors including brown, copper, orange, purple, red, or yellow.  Globe-like clusters of  small, apetalous, white to cream colored flowers appear in axils of the leaves from fall into winter but are not ornamentally important.  Joseph’s coat has been popular since Victorian times for  its attractive foliage and because it can be clipped and shaped within 6″ of the ground for use as an edger and in elaborate planting designs.  Plants also do well indoors if given bright light, and consistently moist, well-drained soil. Many cultivars have been developed that vary most significantly in leaf color and shape and plant  height.  The genus name, Alternanthera, comes from the Latin word alternus meaning alternating and the Greek word anthos meaning flower but later used to refer to the pollen bearing part of the flower.  The term refers to the arrangement of the anthers in the flowers. The specific epithet, ficoidea, comes from Latin word  for fig tree, and means fig-like. [click to continue…]

Book Review: Fabulous Frogs

Linda Glaser’s book, Fabulous Frogs, introduces young readers to the life cycle, behavior, and appearance of frogs in general with a focus on leopard frogs, spring peepers, and bull frogs. We learn about six different sounds frogs sing, spawning, tadpole development, escape from predators, and food getting. A four page question and answer section explores the topic in greater depth for those that are interested and contains such items as the differences between frogs and toads, the role of frogs in the environment, and ways the frogs can be protected from environmental hazards. [click to continue…]

Shakespeare’s Garden: Thistle

Carduus nutansThistle refers to plants that have leaves with sharp prickles on the margins. Most of them are in the sunflower family, Asteraceae, and are native to Europe and Asia.. There are some thistles that are not in the sunflower family, however, including Russian thistle (Salsola spp) and Mexican prickly poppy (Argemone mexicana). The term thistle is often used to refer only to plants in the genera Carduus, Cirsium, or Onopordum. Many thistles are troublesome weeds. They thrive in disturbed areas and crowd out native species. A few are good garden plants, provide sustenance for bees, can be made into fodder for cattle, or are used in medicine or cheese making. [click to continue…]

Also called dwarf thistle and silver thistle, this short-lived herbaceous perennial is a native of alpine regions of central and southern Europe where it grows in poor soil in dry sandy pastures and rocky slopes, especially on limestone.  It is a member of the aster family, Asteraceae, that also includes daisy, yarrow, and lettuce.  Plants grow from a tap root and form a rosette of spiny, pinnately lobed leaves 6″ high and 12″ across. Over time, the number of rosettes increase to form a large plant up to 3′ across.  In late summer to early fall each rosette produces a 4″ wide papery flowerhead that is almost stalkless and composed of  silvery-white ray flowers around a center of yellow-brown tubular disc flowers.  The  flowerhead closes up in wet weather.  In addition, the flowerhead can be eaten like an artichoke.  Stemless carline thistle is a good choice for a rock garden, alpine garden or wall planting.  The genus name, Carlina, honors Charlemagne ( Carolus Magnus in Latin) because he is said to have been offered the plant by an angel to cure the bubonic plague that was devastating his troops.  The specific epithet, acaulis, is the Greek prefix a, meaning the not, and the Latin word caulis, meaning stalk of a plant, and refers to the almost stalkless flower. [click to continue…]

Baby’s breath is a herbaceous perennial  native to central and eastern Europe and central and western Asia but naturalized in North America and  is now considered invasive from new Brunswick to British Columbia, south to Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, and California where it grows in grasslands, dunes, abandon fields, ditches and other open areas. Plants grow 2-4′ tall from a deep root system and have highly branched stems with swollen leaf nodes.  The gray-green leaves  are narrow and up to 4″ long. The white bell-shaped flowers are 1/4- 1/8″ wide and have 5 petals. A single plant can produce up to 13,700 seeds in a year and once established can quickly spread.  Plants like full sun and medium dry, well-drained, basic (7.0-7.5) soil in USDA Hardiness Zones 3-9

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Also known as apple of Peru, apple of Sodom, Peruvian bluebell, this annual is native to northwest Argentina, Bolivia, north and central Chile, and Peru where it grows in disturbed sites and waste areas. It is a member of the nightshade family, Solonaceae, that also includes potato, tomato, and eggplant. The plants grow up to 4′ tall and have spreading branches bearing ovate, mid-green leaves with toothed margins. In summer 2″ wide bell-shaped flowers appear and may be blue and white, violet, or white. They remain open for only a couple of hours each day and at the end of the bloom period each flower gives way to a green lantern-like fruit resembling the inflated fruits of Chinese lantern. Unlike Chinese lanterns, however, the fruits split open to reveal a shiny brown ball of seeds. Plants are grown to add interest to a border or for the fruits which dry well. Since the seeds of shoo-fly plant are often included in bird seed mixes, plants pop up unexpectedly in gardens and can  become weedy.  The genus name, Nicandra, honors an ancient Greek scientist, Nycander, who wrote treatises on plants over 2000 years ago.  The species name, physalodes, comes from the Greek words eidos meaning form, and physallis, meaning bladder, and refers to the resemblance of the fruit to the bladder-like fruit of the genus Physalis, the Chinese lantern and tomatillo.   [click to continue…]

Native to Mexico, this tender evergreen or deciduous perennial shrub is often grown as an annual or houseplant.  It is a member of the loosestrife family, Lytharaceae, that also includes crepe myrtle, pomegranate and henna.    Plants grow 3-5′ tall from a rhizomatous root system and are densely branched with arching red stems.  The  3-6″ long lanceolate leaves are rough textured and have a  cream-colored midrib.  From late summer to fall 2″ long tubular flowers appear in the upper leaf axils.  Each flower consists of fused sepals that emerge yellow but turn orange from the base giving the flower  a two-tone appearance.  Tiny petals are located on the lip of the tube and long exerted stamens exude a sticky substance.  Candy corn plant is the hardiest of the Cupheas and can be grown outdoors in zones 8 and warmer but may die down in the fall in the colder areas.  The flowers are attractive to hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies and plants are a good choice for wildlife and butterfly gardens as well as borders, baskets, and containers.  Plants can be brought indoors in the fall and overwintered in an area with bright light, temperatures in the 60s, and reduced watering.  The genus name, Cuphea, flower comes from the Greek word kyphos meaning curved and refers to the curved seed capsule.  The specific epithet, micropetala, comes from the Greek word micros meaning small and the New Latin word petalum meaning petal, and refers to the minute inconspicuous petals of the flowers.

Type: Deciduous or evergreen perennial shrub

Outstanding Feature: Flowers


Growth Rate:Rapid

Bloom: Two inch long tubular yellow flowers turning orange from the base and with long exerted stamens exuding a sticky substance; late summer into fall

Size: 3-5′ H x 3’W

Light: Full sun to partial shade

Soil: Average, medium moist, well-drained; somewhat drought tolerant once established

Hardiness: Zones 8-11 (but dies back in colder areas of this range)

Care: Cut back hard in late winter or early spring to encourage bushiness.

Pests and Diseases: None of significance but  whiteflies, aphids and root rot can be problems.

Propagation: Seed, cuttings, division



Also called golden everlasting, this short-lived tender perennial or annual is native to Australia where it grows in grasslands. It is a member of the aster family, Asteraceae, that also includes daisies, yarrow and lettuce. Growing up to 5′ tall, strawflower has gray green lanceolate leaves up to 5″ long and daisy-like flowerheads 1-3″ across consisting of yellow disc flowers surrounded by petal-like papery bracts that resemble petals. The bracts of the species are white tinged with pink but cultivars are available that are deep red, pink, terracotta, orange, and pale yellow. Other cultivars vary in height and bract count.The flowers a good in the vase both fresh and dried. The genus name, Xerochrysanum, comes from the Greek words xeros meaning dry and khrusos meaning golden, referring to the major characteristics of the flowerheads. The specific epithet, bracteatum, is the New Latin word meaning having bracts and refers to the petal like structures of the flowerheads. [click to continue…]