Every time I go to the MG Idea Garden to work, I pass by one of my favorite places, Meadowbrook Park with its prairie restoration area. All summer I thought to myself that I would go work in the garden for a couple of hours and then take some time for a walk through this prairie area. But the intense heat of this summer has foiled my plans--by the time I leave the Idea Garden, I am soaked through with perspiration and ready to find a cool spot to sit down, not put on my walking shoes and put in 30 minutes of exercise. As a result, I've seen the big show of prairie blooms only from a distance as I whizzed by in my car.
Last Thursday, though, with Wildflower Wednesday in mind, I stopped, not to walk, but to see what was blooming in late July and to capture a few photographs. One of the most prominent flowers right now is the Gray-headed coneflower, Ratibida pinnata. On one of my first posts about this prairie planting, I misidentified this plant as a Rudbeckia, but a reader kindly corrected me. There are so many native yellow wildflowers, including many varieties of Rudbeckia and Helianthus, that even with my trusty wildflower book, I have trouble seeing the distinctions among them. But once you've become familiar with this coneflower, it's easy to recognize it immediately. The most distinguishing features are their yellow ray flowers which droop downward from a conical disk about 3/4" tall. Before opening, the disks are an ashy gray, which is where they get their name.
The Gray-headed coneflowers grow on slender stalks up to 5 feet tall. Like their counterparts, the purple coneflowers, Echinacea purpurea, the Ratibida are popular with wildlife. In the previous photo, you can see something, possibly goldfinches though I didn't see any on this day, has already devoured some of the seeds from the central disks.
Many of the native plants in this prairie area have already finished blooming, while a few others, such as the ironweed and asters won't be blooming until fall. But one other plant was noticeable on this hot July day. Those who attended the garden bloggers' gathering in Buffalo a few weeks ago raved about the bee balm they saw everywhere, so they will quickly recognize this plant, Wild Bergamot, Monarda fistulosa. Though definitely not as showy as its cultivated relatives, these natives are common throughout the state, not only in restored areas like this one, but also along roadsides.
A member of the mint family, native Monarda can grow up to 5 feet tall with fragrant flowers that form dense round heads.
Many Native American tribes made tea from the flowerheads and leaves to treat colds, fevers, whooping cough, abdominal pain, headaches, and as a stimulant. Chewed leaves were placed on wounds under a bandage to stop the flow of blood. Wild bergamot is still used in herbal teas.
(from Illinois Wildflowers by Don Kurz)
I apologize for the lack of good photos--it was windy on this day, and the blooms wouldn't stop moving. I do have some cultivars of Monarda in my garden, but they're past blooming. And I had hoped to have some native Gray-headed coneflowers of my own to share this year, but they were the victims of a seed mix-up . . . a story for another day.
Wildflower Wednesday was begun by native enthusiast Gail of Clay and Limestone. Do stop by and visit her for more features on some native wildflowers.