Here is Part Two of my survey of the native plants that have grown in my yard. Part One covered trees, shrubs and vines. This part covers herbaceous plants, including grasses, sedges, ferns and club mosses. CLICK ON PHOTOS TO ENLARGE.
Round-lobed Hepatica (Hepatica nobilis)
Although the field guides tell us that this plant is a native of southern New England, I went many years before I actually saw it in the wild, and it wasn’t anywhere near eastern Massachusetts. Until a couple of years ago, it didn’t matter, because I couldn’t find it for sale anywhere. Then I saw it at Garden in the Woods and brought it home. It is probably the earliest bloomer in the yard – often blooming in the last week of March. The composition of the soil determines the color of the flowers, which range from white to pink to purple to blue. Mine are white, with maybe a tinge of pink.
Rue Anemone (Anemonella thalictroides)
With its delicate white flowers and interestingly-shaped leaves, this is another early bloomer. Although it has survived many years, it has not exactly thrived, so I was surprised to discover a patch of it growing about 100 feet away.
Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana)
We planted all our berries for the wildlife, but we were so excited when the first tiny wild strawberries emerged that we had to taste a few. Little bursts of intense flavor. These have tended to stray from where I first planted them, almost as if they have used up that area and need to move to fresh ground.
Red Baneberry (Actaea rubra)
A delicate tuft of whitish flowers emerges late in April or early in May. By the end of June, this tuft has transformed into a club of lipstick-red berries that the animals slowly pick off all summer.
Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum)
These pretty plants have pink-purple flowers and attractive deeply-cut foliage. The seed capsule (see photo) is a Medieval contraption that flings the seeds across the yard, where another plant will arise. I planted two originally and one died after a year or two, but the remaining plant has been spreading its seed steadily.
Heartleaf Alexander (Zizia aptera)
This was a mistake. I meant to get Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea), which is common in Massachusetts woods, but I bought this one instead. It is native to the middle Atlantic states, but it seems to be doing OK here, so I bent the rules and left it.
Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum pubescens)
Spreading slowing by underground rhizome, tiny greenish-yellow flowers hanging down from the stems, going almost unnoticed, Solomon’s Seal is the epitome of the subtle woodland flora. Instead of the big, showy flowers you find at garden centers or in environments with lots more sun and/or moisture, these woodland plants conserve their resources and excel in understatement.
Wild Oats (Uvularia sessifolia)
This plant has three common names: wild oats, merry bells, and sessile bellwort. (I’ve always though the latter name would be good for a character in a British farce – Cecil Bellwort.) When they first emerge, the plants look just like miniature Solomon’s seals. But then the pale, anything-but-merry, drooping flowers appear in late April and they take on a whole different character. Then, later in the spring, the bizarre seed pod appears like some kind of geometric goiter.
Canada Mayflower (Maianthemum canadense)
An extremely common herb of the oak-hickory forest, Canada mayflower often forms huge patches. It is also called ‘false lily-of-the-valley’, but the irony is that lily-of-the-valley is a non-native that spreads invasively, including into our yard, from other peoples’ gardens.
Wild Columbine (Aquilegia Canadensis)
I’ve never seen these in eastern Massachusetts, so I’m bending my rules a little by bringing them into the yard. Nevertheless, it is a beautiful, unusual flower and I couldn’t resist. And I did see them growing on a hilltop in Connecticut.
Wild Sarsparilla (Aralia nudicaulis)
This is one of the most common herbs of the southern New England woodland. Its leaves are everywhere, but it takes a little detective work to find the flowers, which are contained on a separate stalk and are hiding underneath the leaves. Each globe of tiny flowers looks like an exploding firework.
Daisy Fleabane (Erigeron annuus)
Another volunteer that I go back and forth about. It has a weedy appearance, but it does brighten up the yard during some periods when almost nothing else is in bloom.
Philadelphia Fleabane (Erigeron philadelphicus)
Another volunteer fleabane that blooms slightly later in the season.
Whorled Loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia)
This is one of my personal favorites. It spreads by underground rhizomes, like many woodland plants, but it is showier than most. The yellow flowers with the red markings inside, often perched atop the whorled leaves, stare out like peering eyes, looking in all directions.
Purple Milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens)
This is an endangered species in Massachusetts, and I am proud to create more habitat for it to flourish. The flowers have a much deeper color than the common milkweed, with a much less aggressive habit, spreading by seed instead of underground rhizome. The insects love them.
Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)
I grew these from seed – first using small containers indoors, then transplanting the seedlings into the yard. The flowers are a startling neon orange. They’ve been slowly spreading to create a healthy patch in a sunny spot at the turn of the path.
Blue-stemmed Goldenrod (Solidago caesia)
Also called wreath goldenrod for the way the flowers wind around the stem, this is a common roadside native in eastern Massachusetts, and I have to exert some control over it to ensure it does not take over. It is the only goldenrod that can thrive in shady conditions. Still, when they bloom in the fall, they bring a welcome resurgence of color to the fading yard.
Lance-leaf Goldenrod (Euthamia graminifolia)
Also called flat-top goldenrod, these slim volunteers arrived after we took down a row of Norway maples at the back of the yard, thus letting in the morning sun. I’ve tried to confine them over by the fence, but they tend to come up where they will. Butterflies flock to them.
Whorled Wood Aster (Oclemena acuminatus)
A common aster of the wooded areas in eastern Massachusetts, the flowers are not showy, and the leaves are not actually whorled – they just appear so from above due to their placement on the stem.
White Wood Aster (Eurybia divaricata)
Another common wood aster that spreads slowly around the yard.
Common Blue Wood Aster (Symphotrichum cordifolium)
Also called heart-leaved aster, this large, leafy volunteer spreads like wildfire, and would quickly obscure everything else in the yard if allowed. Over the years, I have imposed various restrictions on this plant, and each year I need to impose more limits. The problem is the thousands of tiny white or light-blue composite flowers that bloom in the fall – each one contains a myriad of even tinier seeds that spread easily around the yard.
Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia)
Considered by many to be a lawn weed, this native is a volunteer that can become aggressive, but i have decided to let it go a little wild every spring, and then I do a fair amount of eradication in summer, when the leaves grow to enormous size. There are blue and white varieties growing side by side.
Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera pubescens)
The only member of the orchid family that is native to New England (please tell me if I’m wrong, fellow bloggers), I’ve only seen it once in the wild – in a forest glade outside New Milford, Connecticut. When I finally found it for sale, I bought two and planted them in the fall. They came up in the spring and flowered (see photos), but didn’t make it through the winter.
Starflower (Trientalis borealis)
One of my favorite denizens of the oak-hickory forest floor, Its lucky seven leaflets and petals are extremely rare numbers in the world of plants. I couldn’t find any for sale, so I transplanted some from my sister’s home in Maine (I’m sure we could debate the ethics of this for hours). They died without even flowering.
Indian Cucumber Root (Medeola virginiana)
Another Maine transplant, this is a wonderful plant that produces a whorl of leaves the first year, and in the second year, another, smaller whorl above it, with bizarre flowers that remind me of little spaceships. These flourished for a number of years, but I think they were outcompeted by the invasive lesser celandine.
Indian Tobacco (Lobelia inflata)
This is one of those native volunteers that I have debated about over the years. Like certain other species that show up occasionally (daisy fleabane, pokeweed, beggar ticks), it is a weed (in the technical sense) that colonizes disturbed areas and rarely forms part of an established, integrated plant community. On the other hand, its tiny light-blue flowers bloom in mid-summer, when most of the garden is green, and its puffy seed pods are mildly amusing.
Interrupted Fern (Osmunda claytoniana)
I really took a chance with these. They are almost always found in much moister areas than my yard, but I hoped they could adapt, and I was right. I put them right up against the fence, a very shady spot, but also the lowest part of the yard, and therefore the wettest. The name ‘interrupted’ comes from the appearance of the fronds from a distance – it looks like there are gaps in the foliage. Actually, unlike other ferns, which store their spores on the backsides of the fronds, the interrupted fern has evolved separate fertile fronds that look like shrunken, brown versions of the regular fronds and contain all the spores. Like all the ferns in our yard, it grows in clumps, which are much easier to manage than spreading ferns such as hayscented fern, which I’ve seen spread to cover entire forest floors.
Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)
This fern gets its name from its evergreen habit. You will see the fronds of Christmas ferns -by now lying flat on the ground – in the middle of winter when the snow melts, still leathery and rich green, They are among the hardiest ferns, and survive in dry, shady spots in our yard.
Marginal Wood Fern (Dryopteris marginalis)
This fern is very attractive – a darker green than most. Its name come from the arrangement of the spores on the backs of the fronds – they are meticulously arranged along the margins.
Witchgrass (Panicum capillare)
Another volunteer native grass.
Pennsylvania Sedge (Carex pensylvanica)
Not surprisingly, most of the grass species that we use for our lawns are not native to New England. When I was walking the woods of eastern Massachusetts, I kept coming across a type of grass that looked a lot like lawn grass. It turns out it isn’t a grass at all, but a sedge: Pennsylvania sedge. I decided that although I don’t believe in traditional, labor and resource intensive lawns, a ‘lawn’ of Pa. sedge would be a nice alternative. In addition to the area where I planted it, over the years, it has filled in bare spots all over the yard. Plus the flowers are quite attractive.
Hairy-leaved Sedge (Carex hirsutella)
Another volunteer sedge – no pictures.
Awl-fruited Sedge (Carex stipata)
Still another volunteer sedge.
Ground Pine (Lycopodium obscurum)
Ground Cedar (Lycopodium complanatum)
Club mosses are primitive plants that evolved before flowering plants. At the time of the dinosaurs, they grew over a hundred feet high. Miniature versions of those giants are still common in New England woods – they look a little like Bonsai trees. I was thrilled to find a native plant nursery that sold two varieties that I often saw on my woodland walks. Unfortunately, neither of them survived more than a season in my yard. It may be that they need some special soil fungus to survive, or perhaps it was just too dry. The photo is of ground cedar.