August is yellow

– Posted in: Native/Invasive, Plant info

roadside goldenrod Photo by Kathy Purdy on August 16, 2006The 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 goldenrods’ 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 can’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 isn’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 don’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 haven’t noticed that phenomenon so I should probably run out there to see if this is true. It’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.

Rosinweed’s botanical name is S. integrifolium, which describes the leaves as “entire”. 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.

About the Author

I started in 1977 growing plants at wholesale nurseries and a wholesale seed company in California. In 1992 I started volunteering (in the nursery, of course!) at Strybing Arboretum in San Francisco where I met my wife. My wife is originally from upstate and we moved here in 2002. It took at least two years of living here for me to fully understand our property and to take advantage and work with our microclimate. Although growing zone maps show us to be in 5, we are realistically a 4b. I am inordinately proud, in a smarmy kind of way, of how many of the plants we brought with us have thrived. Coming from a zone 9 has been quite an adjustment for all of us. But we are thriving and enjoy the beauty and what the land gives us everyday. USDA Hardiness Zone: 4b/5a Location: rural; Central Leatherstocking near Cooperstown, New York Geographic type: riverine valley Soil type: Chenango alluvial – shallow clay and highly stony Experience level: 28 years professionally wholesale and retail, no longer in the business Particular interests: native plants and ecosystems, flowering and berry producing shrubs, home-grown foods, maples, birches, willows, ornamental grasses, filipendulas, iris, ligularias, persicarias, asclepias, artemisia, asters, arisaemas, hardy geraniums, euphorbias, eupatoriums, origanums, lysimachias, eryngiums, lilies, and visiting nurseries

In the end, this may be the most important thing about frost: Frost slows us down. In spring, it tempers our eagerness. In fall, it brings closure and rest. In our gotta-go world–where every nanosecond seems to count–slowness can be a great gift. So rather than see Jack Frost as an adversary, you could choose to greet him as a friend.

~Philip Harnden in A Gardener’s Guide to Frost: Outwit the Weather and Extend the Spring and Fall Seasons

Comments on this entry are closed.

Kathy August 23, 2006, 3:10 pm

I have a patch of Goldenrods now blooming in my garden – I ransplanted then to my yard from a construction site about 4 years ago. Most of my visitors give them the eye, but only a few have asked about my “weeds” — really people, they are terrific in cut arrangements and the definition of a weed is simply any plant that is unwanted — be it an expensiive rose or lowly wild grass.

Sarah August 21, 2006, 3:50 pm

I remember golden rod in my grandparents garden in the Cotswolds. The same with purple asters which were known as Michelmas daisies so I was delighted to find my favorite fall flowers growing everywhere when I moved to Canada. There is a difference between weeds and wild flowers.

M Sinclair Stevens (Texas) August 20, 2006, 12:42 am

Down here, August is brown. We’ll have to wait until October for the goldenrods. So far this month 16 days have reached 100 degrees or higher. This is not normal even for us. Keep teasing us with news of fall.

By the way, goldenrod is all the rage across the pond. Solidago ‘Gardone’ won an RHS Award of Garden Merit in 2002. Over here Solidago altissima is the state flower of Kentucky. I don’t see why Paula considers it a weed.

Paula August 19, 2006, 4:53 pm

The yellow flowers above look like Goldenrod. Sure is beautiful but technically a weed I think. We have lots of hostas and groundcovers at great prices. Please check out our website

Lisa Z August 16, 2006, 10:37 am

I used to be one of those “yellow flower” snobs until last year at about this time when my garden looked like it was starting to fade my friend’s garden was still bright and sunny, filled with Rudbeckias, Silphiums, Helianthus,etc. So I took the clue and planted some of these varieties last fall and now this year they have brightened up the garden enormously and make the Hibiscus, Sedum and Dahlias not seem like a garden “after thought” . Thanks for mentioning the beautiful Silphiums..