This Maryland native is one of my favorites with its lipstick red flowers. Unfortunately the deer love it too, so give it some protection. Easily grown in average, medium, well-drained soil in part shade to full shade. It prefers moist, organically rich soils but tolerates dry shade too. We are at the northern edge of its range which extends south to Florida and west to Texas. Hummingbirds seek out this flower. It's in bloom now -- the first week of June.
I used to select the plants for my garden based on their appearance (and maybe price). As a Master Gardener I've gradually learned more about the role of our plant choices in providing habitat that is being lost at alarming rates. Though our part of the world often looks very green, the diversity and quality of habitat is in decline. Most of our wooded areas, for example, are full of invasive species. Often new trees are not able to grow due to heavy deer browsing. If each of us tries to plant natives -- canopy trees, understory trees, shrubs, perennials and groundcover -- we can help mitigate native plant losses.
Why plant a native tree? Here's just one example. The native dogwood (Cornus florda) supports 117 species of native moths and butterflies. The Asian dogwood (Cornus kousa) supports no native insect herbivores (from Dr. Doug Tallamy, University of Delaware entomologist). Often there are very complex relationships between plants and insects, birds and other animals. When a native plant is no longer growing in an area, creatures dependent on that plant are also lost. The web of life unravels.
Mertensia virginica (Virginia bluebells) is a native spring ephemeral plant with bell-shaped sky-blue flowers. In early summer, each fertilized flower produces four seeds and the plant goes dormant until spring. Butterflies and bumblebees pollinate the flowers. It will naturalize when planted in a shady woodland.
Happy 108th Birthday to the poet Theodore Roethke! When the tiny spring flowers push up through the soggy mud and begin to bloom, I think of the words of his 1953 poem The Waking,
Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.
Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me; so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.
You can read the full poem here.
There are so many "close beside" us in this growing and blooming season. As we take time to learn which are which and who is who, we become aware of how abundantly full the earth is. I used to look into the forest and see a tangled mass of green. But by watching, each season I've become better at distinguishing individuals. I look forward to the arrival of my favorites and wish a blessing on their growing. My eyes have also sharpened on my less favored, the many over-reaching invasives that choke out the diversity, the native but voracious poison ivy that only the berry eating birds can love.
Going forward on the blog we will be posting more about the many living beings in our area.