After a summer like this one, there are times when I am simply amazed that any plants survived. When I find plants that have thrived, they are true cause for celebration! This post is to honor those hardy plants that not only made it through the heat and drought with no special extra care, but those that have bloomed boldly and/or look particularly healthy as we head into the unknown winter.
In the pasture/restoring prairie areas and draw, I first want to give a shout out to the common ragweed (Ambrosia artemesiifolia) and giant ragweed (Ambrosia trifida). The plants aren't as tall as usual, especially the giant ragweed, but they had many blooms and should be loaded with seeds - so important because of the high value of their seed as food for wildlife. (In the photo above, taken in early September, Greg is posing by the giant ragweed in the draw. Normally these plants would be well over his head - as high as 10-12 feet in some years. This year they barely reached his waist.) As harsh as the weather's been through the growing season, I'm so glad that there is at least some plentiful, healthy seed to help the wild animals make it through the winter.
Also out in the pasture/restoring prairie areas, the dotted gayfeather (Liatris punctata) was adorned with many flowers this September - we had more plants, each with more individual bloom spikes, than we've had yet since we lived here!
Not as showy, but still interesting, the false boneset (Brickellia eupatorioides) was also much more prevalent than I've seen it before. The flowers are small and off-white, looking quite a bit like little threads gathered together in a small pom-pom. It doesn't take them long to turn into seed heads, complete with white "feathers," forming larger, round puffs that absolutely shine in the light when backlit by the sun.
Another flower that wasn't wildly showy, but seemed more abundant than in most years, was the heath aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides). The plants and even the flowers seemed smaller than usual, but conversely the plants were more abundant. They formed small white drifts among the grasses that almost looked like light drifts of snow and fed small armies of insect pollinators during the heat of the day when little else was blooming.
Moving out of our yard and into the wider landscape, the sunflowers (Helianthus spp.) were amazing this year. Maybe it was just that so many of the other plants were brown and dry and/or stunted, but the sunflowers seemed to glow even more brightly and golden than in most years. I'm planning on gathering seeds (tomorrow?) to increase the number of sunflowers on our property. They are simply too pretty and too hardy not to establish decent colonies on our property.
In the garden, of course, the aromatic asters (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium) have been astounding, as were the Wichita Mountains goldenrod (Solidago 'Wichita Mountains'). The sand love grass (Eragrostis trichodes) has loved the summer this year, too. (In fact, if anyone would like a seedling or two or ten of the latter, I have plenty to pass around!)
Most of the other natives are doing fine. The rose verbena (Verbena canadensis) required a little extra water during the worst of the heat and drought, as did the summer phlox (Phlox paniculata), but both appear to have survived without any serious problem. Next year, of course, I'll be able to tell a little more certainly about survival rates, but I have reasonable confidence that my prairie flowers will, for the most part, be fine.
It certainly hasn't been the prettiest year in the garden or on the prairie, but there's always next year!