There's so much that changes in the MG landscape throughout the year...we thought a plant trial and garden blog was the best way to start sharing "what's new" and "what's happening with all those new varieties" with you! Visit often for updates on how trial plants are performing in the gardens and to see photos throughout the season as we grow and change!

Welcome to the Midwest Groundcovers Landscape Blog

Welcome to the Midwest Groundcovers Landscape Blog
Astilbe 'Vision in Red' with Hosta 'Patriot' and Carex 'Ice Dance'

Monday, January 26, 2009

Woodland plants, American Beauties

Hello again,
In this episode, I'll take a deeper look at the plants that make the woods so beautiful in spring. Now, I can't go over everything, but I can at least cover the plants Midwest Groundcovers, LLC carries. Entering 2008, I had little interest for these plants. I've been to the Morton Arboretum at least 100 times, and never noticed the woodland ephemerals. Though I missed them again this year, I've heard the display at the Morton is fantastic. I've learned this year that things in life will change. And they have changed greatly for me this year. Through these changes, I have taken a greater appreciation for what is in my local surroundings. I've been told that falling in love makes you appreciate everything a little more. I agree. I just wish I would have appreciated them sooner, or fallen in love sooner if the same effect could have been achieved.
One thing about me is that I like to take on a new challenge every year. Nobody knows everything about plants, so I figure if I try and learn a new product group every year and really study it, that would be good for my head. This year was the woodland plants. Later in the year I turned to the prairie, but that will be covered later. Here is what I've found this year.
Okay, so this isn't the native one. This is Polygonatum falcatum 'Variegatum'. I don't have the best picture in the world of the Polygonatum biflorum, but thought you could at least get the gist of it with the pairs of flowers dangling so gently under the foliage of this plant. The native species would be very similar, but without the variegation. This likes moisture and good drainage. Raccoons like to eat the seeds from these, so planting these could keep them out of your garbage!!! Overall, a nice solid plant for the woodland garden. And if you wanted the variegated one, that would work well in the same circumstances.
Mertensia virginica
This has to be the most recognizable of the woodland wildflowers. Going dormant in summer, this plant spends it's energy in April or May flowering like crazy in wet wooded areas. A trip to the Morton Arboretum in late April will not fail to inspire. It is all over their grounds, but best in the area close to Lake Marmo on the west side of the Arboretum. In our landscape, we planted close to 100 near our creek in the woods. There was variation in the plants, so I'll be looking forward to seeing the white, lavender, and blue Virginia Bluebells this spring. Hopefully they will naturalize and form a dense colony.
Asarum canadense
One of my first trips to the woods to see these plants was met with surprise when we found a large colony of this plant. I really didn't think of it as being a huge deal, but our friend from Philly(Dale Hendricks) thought it to be quite amazing. This is a phenomenal groundcover for deep shade. The plant is a) native b) stoloniferous, so it makes nice sized clumps, and c) did I say it was native so that there is no debate on whether or not it is invasive. Foliage is an iridescent green, shining from different angles. It only grows 3-6" tall, so it works well as a native groundcover. You will not be disappointed if you try it!
Geranium maculatum
I have to admit that when I was first introduced to this plant, I thought it was nothing special. Sometimes, plant geeks are wrong you know. This has to be one of the best plants for a woodland planting. If you have not been to Johnson's Mound in Elburn, IL, you are missing out. The woods are covered in these plants. It's an otherworldly feeling walking amongst thousands of pink flowers with Jack in the Pulpits peeking out from below, watching the action and catching a glimpse of the best artwork known to man. What's best about it is the variation from plant to plant. There really is something to that "maintaining biodiversity" argument. If we were to lose all these variations, it'd be like losing an original Salvador Dali artwork. It would be catastrophic! Nonetheless, there were several variations that I thought would be great additions to the ornamental world, but I know better than to take them from the wild.
Cimicifuga racemosa, aka Actaea racemosa
I promise this is the last year of us listing it with two names. The "new" name is Actaea racemosa. What I like most about this plant is that it blooms a little later than other plants in the woods. The 24" mounds of foliage are very attractive and Astilbe-like. The wands of flowers then shoot 4-6' above the foliage for an amazing display. En masse, it is wonderful. Flowers are white and very fragrant as well. Cimicifuga in Latin means bug repellent. That should mean that this would be a plant for those that don't want any bees, bugs or anything attracted to the flowers. While bees may still frequent the plants, at least the amount of other flying insects may go down.
Polemonium reptans
Jacob's Ladder is a very nice addition to the shade garden because it offers very nice blue flowers. They will be available in limited quantities for 2009, so if you need them, order and take them, because they will leave the nursery fast! I would be remiss, if I didn't mention this photo being courtesy of North Creek Nursery.
Back to the plant. Unlike some of the variegated types of Polemonium, this is native and tough. You cannot go wrong. I first fell in love with this one at a state park near Peoria called Jubilee S.P. It was a very nice walk, and it was great to see these mixed with sedges and Trillium while a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker flew from tree to tree above us.
Podophyllum peltatum
This is the other plant all over Jubilee S.P. mixed with Polemonium. It is quite the stately spring ephemeral. They create great stands of umbrella shaped leaves that hide the delicate white flowers beneath. Oh, to be a Morel mushroom and hang out under the leaves of these prehistoric looking plants. In our woodland plantings last year, we have this controlling an eroding bank near a stream. Hopefully it holds the soil well. I think it will form a dense colony and support the bank for years to come. We'll see!
Caulophyllum thalictroides
So by now, you've seen the picture and can probably tell what the most ornamental feature of this plant is! Incredibly blue fruit! The seeds are toxic, so should not be eaten, but very ornamental. In spring, the flowers are an old fashioned chartreuse. They are not the most awe inspiring flowers in the world, but to the plant geeks of the world, we find them scintillating. As the species says, the foliage looks similar to a Thalictrum or meadow rue. It is considered one of the oldest indigenous plant medicines. Native American women would use it a couple weeks before birth to make the birthing process swift and easy. Call your local pharmacist before trying this at home!
Dodecatheon meadia
This is a plant that will make all non-believers, believers. Native plants can look outstanding. I remember an employee here at Midwest Groundcovers that had the opinion that "native plants" meant "weeds." One day he saw a large planting containing many Shooting Stars and asked what great plant it was. When he heard it was a native plant, he was astounded. Every time I look at this plant, I have a hard time believing that this is not some genetically mutated plant developed to look outstanding. It really is native! It does go dormant in summer, so interplanting it with another species is highly recommended. Here at Midwest, I used Ruellia humilis which is a late plant to come out of dormancy. So in spring, the Dodecatheon show off their stuff, and in summer through fall, the Ruellia does her thing. Great combo! You have to try it!
Sanguinaria canadensis
If you remember Vanessa Williams, she sang "Save the Best for Last," you'll realize that I have taken to her philosophy on that. I always try to wait to put my favorite plant until the end. Of course that means my favorite plant in this category. Hopefully it will be a favorite for all! This plant has so many redeeming qualities that I don't know where to start. The white flowers are breathtaking. The purest white I've ever seen on a flower. Seeing woodlands covered in this plant is like going to Neverland and having Tinkerbell teach you to fly. Let's just say it's not something that happens every day. Here at Midwest Groundcovers, we have an amazing colony hidden from the public which once in bloom, will have pictures posted here on this site. I promise. If I don't, call me and ridicule me for forgetting. At another location, I spotted this growing side by side with Dutchman's Breeches or Dicentra cucullaria. I think my favorite part of the plant is when it first emerges. The leaves come first. They emerge tubular, wrapping themselves around the flowers, protecting the flowers from early season frost. Once the flowers are large enough, the foliage unwinds and flattens out making an attractive clump of foliage below amazingly clear white flowers. This is a plant that the creators put together thinking about all the obstacles that it could face. If you only buy one of the woodland greats, this should be it.
I should apologize for waxing poetic on most of these. It's a passion of mine that I don't expect will go away for some time. It's kind of like chocolate. It's either interesting to you or it's not. This one I have found to be remarkable. And I haven't even touched the subject of Trillium, Maianthemum, Trout Lilies and Jewelweed. There is so much to uncover in a walk through the woods. So this spring, check out what nature has to offer you. You'll like it. Until next time, have a great day!

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