Plant Spotlights

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Plant experiences and insights from Delaware County Master Gardeners...

Coneflowers July 2021

Terri Litchfield, Delaware County Master Gardener

What comes to mind when you picture coneflowers? Purple Coneflower? Orange Coneflower? Upright Prairie Coneflower? These three examples, all from the Aster family, Asteraceae, represent the three genera of plants native to Ohio with “Coneflower” in their common names. “Cone,” of course, is a reference to the center disk of the flower head.

ECHINACEAS: According to the USDA P.L.A.N.T.S. Database, Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea, is the only species of Echinacea native to Ohio while nationwide there are nine native species. This plant is also known by the following common names: snakeroot, Kansas snakeroot, narrow-leaved purple coneflower, scurvy root, comb flower, black susans, and hedgehog. Hedgehog seems a quite descriptive name for this particular coneflower and Echinacea comes from the Greek word for hedgehog. Plants are attractive to both nectar and seed seekers.

RUDBECKIAS: Orange Coneflower, Rudbeckia fulgida, is sometimes called Black-eyed Susan, and “Goldsturm” is a popular cultivar. Two other Rudbeckias also go by the common name Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta which is a biennial that self-seeds easily, and Rudbeckia triloba, also known as Brown-eyed Susan, which can grow to 5’. Two other native Rudbeckias which may be familiar to Ohio gardeners are Rudbeckia grandiflora (Tall Coneflower) and Rudbeckia laciniata (Cutleaf or Green-headed Coneflower).

RATIBIDAS: The two Ohio native Ratibidas are Ratibida columnifera (Upright Prairie Coneflower or Mexican Hat) and Ratibida pinnata (Pinnate Prairie Coneflower or Gray-headed Coneflower). Although from the same genus, these two species have quite different forms. Upright Prairie Coneflower grows 1-2’ in height while Gray-headed Coneflower can reach 5’.

One final species of a fourth genus of coneflowers native to states south of Ohio and further west is Dracopis amplexicaulis or Clasping Coneflower.

What do you think of when you hear “coneflowers”? Echinaceas, Rudbeckias, Ratibidas, and Dracopis are all Ohio or regionally native possibilities.

Purple Coneflower
(Echinacea purpurea)

Black-eyed Susan
(Rudbeckia hirta)

Green-headed Coneflower
(Rudbeckia laciniata)

Brown-eyed Susan
(Rudbeckia triloba)

Gray-headed Coneflower,
(Ratibida pinnata)

Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) June 2021

Laura Rosenheck, Delaware County Master Gardener

I grew Butterfly Weed from seed for the first time last growing season to attract Monarch butterflies and to provide a food source for their caterpillars. After a 30-day cold and moist stratification period, I started the seeds under grow lights in my basement in early spring and, by May, I had about 5 plants at least 6 inches tall ready for transfer to an east-facing bed I had dedicated in the back of my house. Once planted outdoors, the small plants thrived with little to no extra maintenance from me. Boy, what a spectacle these plants provided! Not only did they provide color interest in my yard, but they also at-tracted so much life to my garden – it was so fun to watch!

Butterfly Weed is a perennial with a low mounded profile that can make as many as 20 stems at an average height of 2 feet when mature and planted in an ideal location. The flowers are most often a distinctive bright orange but there is some variation in flower color, from deep red-orange to yellow. The leaves are somewhat narrow, up to 1” and tapered, with no stem and dark green in color. Its dis-tinctive color and the absence of the typical milky white sap that other Milkweed species have make identification easy.

This is a great Milkweed for a sunny location in a dry area. It prefers sandy, loamy or rocky limestone soils in full fun and blooms June-August. It is hardy from zone 3 to 9. It tends to be deer resistant, though seem to heavily attract the butterflies, bees, birds and aphids! The vivid orange color and abil-ity to attract and sustain butterflies make this plant a well-known favorite for all types of gardens.

In older plants, the long tap root can extend down many feet. Due to this deep, drought-tolerant tap root, it can be late to emerge in the spring, so be patient. Butterfly Weed can be transplanted if dug carefully during dormancy but if the tap root breaks off, they will regrow. At the end of the growing sea-son, seed pods may be cut or twisted off to stop seeding or use twist ties or rubber bands to bind the pods for seed collection. In addition to artificial stratification, seeds may be sowed directly in the fall. Butterfly Weed may be divided by using a sharp knife to slice down the length of the root. Every piece that has at least one eye, some of the taproot, and a few side roots is a viable division.

Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)