The fields surrounding my house are turning yellow and I know it must be August. I experience the passing of the seasons by what plants are coming into bloom and now it is the goldenrodsâ€™ turn. Familiarity can bring indifference and my neighbors often ignore the flowers but I cannot. I can find at least three species with little effort and probably more close by.
I have sometimes overheard gardeners state that yellow is not allowed in their garden and I canâ€™t understand why. What will freshen their border after midsummer, I wonder? I look forward to the arrival of old friends such as Heleniums, Helianthus, and Rudbeckias and wish their visit could be longer. I see yellow as a warm up to the traditional russets, golds, and burgundies of autumn.
A current favorite are Silphiums. I grew up in an urban area with a tiny yard so it isnâ€™t a surprise that I am enamored with large plants and the Silphiums are certainly that. Some can be giants and I often experience the odd feeling that the plants are looking down at me, reversing the usual inspection. My garden is treeless, relentlessly windy, and often dry. This matches the Great Plains home of these American natives and they have thrived in my garden as few others have. These are long-lived plants and I look forward to growing older together. I have heard their towering stalks of yellow daisies can reseed with abandon but I have yet to discover seedlings from my four-year-old plantings. I am indifferent to deadheading and leave garden clean up for spring so I donâ€™t know if I am doing something right or wrong.
These plants are real characters and each species has a different common name. Compass plant gets its name by the way it orients its leaves north and south. My plant must be directionally challenged because I have not noticed a strong tendency for any direction. When I first heard the name I imagined my old Boy Scout compass on a lanyard around its stalk. Its name S. laciniatum describes the basal leaves and their large size with deep incisions and pronounced lobes look more like they belong to a tropical fern or cycad than a hardy perennial.
The leaves of Cup plant intersect the stem so tightly they can hold water. It is said that birds will drink from them but I have not seen them. Its name S. perfoliatum describes the illusion of the stems perforating their way through the leaves. Everything about this plant is big and it dominates the plants around it as it increases its bulk each year. I wish I had dozens of them, truth be told.
My last Silphium is Rosinweed. The sap in stems and exuded leaf pores lend it its name. I havenâ€™t noticed that phenomenon so I should probably run out there to see if this is true. Itâ€™s raining as I write this though, so I will put it off for another time. The leaves on this one are much smaller than the other two and there are many more of them, covering the stems liberally from ground to flowers. I look forward to its flowers because the paler yellow has a fragile quality that I have only seen in some cactus.
Rosinweedâ€™s botanical name is S. integrifolium, which describes the leaves as â€œentireâ€. Someone missed the boat on that one, as it seems too generic of a name. Part of the naming and classifying of plants is based on the earliest reference of the plant and accuracy is sometimes not what you hope it could be. An example is common milkweed whose species name is syriacus, referencing Syria. The inventor of the classifying system, Carl Linnaeus, in the mistaken belief that it originated in the Middle East, misnamed this American native.
There are many more Silphiums out there and I hope to bed them out as I find them. They have more personality than most plants and I welcome them all.