Sunday, June 09, 2013

Community Rules: Prairie Larkspur and Friends

Neighborly generosity ruled on Friday evening - Sid, one of my fellow Master Gardeners and also a fellow Clearwater-ian (?!), had called that morning to tell me he had prairie larkspur (Delphinium carolinianum) blooming in his pasture.  Did I want to take a look?

Did I want to take a look?  Heck, yes, I wanted to take a look! I wanted to take a couple pictures, too, if he didn't mind.  He didn't, so we set a time in the evening, when the light would be good, for me to drop by.  At the appointed time, my camera and I made the journey over to Sid's house and off we went on a tour of exploration. 

Sid is a descendant of one of the original homesteaders in the area.  Even more amazing to me is that he and his wife live on land that was actually claimed and homesteaded by his pioneer ancestors.  In a culture often characterized by rootlessness, Sid's roots run deep, right where he, himself, is planted. 

The first thing Sid pointed out to me were three trees, 2 of which he planted as seedlings about 25 years ago.

On the left is a bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa), in the center is a catalpa (Catalpa speciosa), and on the right is an osage orange (Maclura pomifera).  The differing growth patterns of these tree species are so beautifully highlighted here:  the lighter green, large-leaved, upright catalpa in the middle; the young, but soon to be rugged, dark green presence of the bur oak; the gently arching, bright green dignity of the old osage orange, allowed to grow into its natural form, rather than having been hacked back into tortured crippledness.  I'm hoping to get invited back in the winter to take a photo comparing their bare branch structures.

Sid led me up to the catalpa so that I could take a couple photos of its flowers.  They were high enough up in the tree that I couldn't get too close, but Sid snagged a couple individual blooms to let me take in their sweet, rich fragrance.

As we walked on, I saw purple poppymallow, yarrow, spiderwort (with its flowers done for the day), cats claw sensitive brier, and many other prairie natives.  There were several blue Baptisia plants and one large cream Baptisia whose blooms were done for the year.

Then we came upon the prairie larkspur...

and I realized that I had seen it before, from a car window whizzing by as we traveled 60 mph down the road.  However, I'd mistaken the dainty, white spires for a small species of Penstemon.

Up close, the spurs of "larkspur" were obvious in the blossoms

and the dainty, fern-like leaves also reminded me of my domestic larkspur. 

How in the world do those fragile leaves collect enough energy to send up such a large and glorious bloom spike?

In the same general area as the larkspur were many seed heads of another prairie plant it had taken me a long time to find and recognize: Junegrass (Koeleria macrantha).

To be sure that I was identifying this grass properly, several years ago I'd finally purchased a couple plants at the Dyck Arboretum plant sale and placed them in my flower beds.  They've done well there and it's become one of my favorite native grasses to garden with - not too tall, nicely clumping, with attractive seedheads that hang on throughout the year.  It's one of the few cool season grasses in the prairie, too, so it greens up, flowers and seeds earlier than most other grasses here.

There were many other interesting plants in the prairie, but the last one I'll share with you was a glorious blue wild indigo (Baptisia australis).

Walking back up to the house, I happened to see an older blue baptisia bloom spike that was developing seed pods, highlighted against the sun.  In the larger pods were what looked like drops of water - seeds just beginning to develop?  I don't know, but the richness of the colors and the image made me happy, so I'm sharing it here with you.

There is so much beauty around us: in nature, in friends, and in communities.  Here's a mental toast to that beauty in all its many forms!


Gardener on Sherlock Street said...

What a treat. Love the prairie larkspur.
Dose the catalpa make long pods later in the year? Do some people call it a coffee bean tree? We rode our bikes past one this morning and the fragrance was wonderful.
Love those pods in the last photos.

Gaia Gardener: said...

GonSS, yes, the catalpa makes the long skinny pods later in the year. I think the coffee bean tree is probably Kentucky coffee tree, though. It also makes pods, but they are about 6" long, about 1 - 1 1/2" wide and flat. The leaves on Kentucky coffee are huge, doubly compound things whose leaflets look more like "regular" leaves. Both species have a rather austere, gaunt look in the winter.

Jason said...

What a lovely plant, and what a great neighbor. I used to have some Delphinium exaltatum, another native, in my garden. It was doing well and is a beautiful plant also, but then it passed and I never replaced it.