As I step out the door into my backyard, I can feel a nip in the air on this late summer morning. The sky is an unbelievably bright blue with a just a few small puffy clouds overhead. This is one of those days we long for in the upper Midwest, pleasantly cool temperatures, no bugs and bright sunshine. A mist is rising off of the little lake behind our house and I notice how completely still the air is, not a ripple on the water except for the wake made by a couple of mallard ducks.
As I make my way over to check for ripe tomatoes, I notice a Ruby-throated hummingbird visiting some our native wildflowers. I stop for a moment to watch and I observe the hummer as it drinks the nectar from one of my native plants called Jewelweed. Soon I spot another hummingbird on the other side of the flower bed also sipping nectar from this interesting plant.
Phlox – Jewelweed – Rose
The hummingbirds love the sucrose based nectar of the Jewelweed. Flowers have differing amounts of sucrose (table sugar), glucose and fructose in their nectar. The volatile aromas that emit from flowers help to attract birds, bees and moths to help with pollination. Scientists have also found that all twenty amino acids found in protein have been identified in various flower nectars. This is an important time for the hummingbird fledglings because many of their favorite flowers such as columbine, and monarda have stopped flowering. The Jewelweed nectar supplies crucial nutrition at this time for the fragile young birds as they get ready for their migration south. The hummingbirds dart from flower to flower and then in a flurry they head straight up into the sky and disappear from view. Just like that, they were gone, but I felt very lucky to have been able to enjoy those few moments with one of our most delightful garden visitors.
While the hummingbirds enjoyed the high-calorie nectar provided by this native wildflower, the Jewelweed plants have also benefited from the hummingbirds visit. The rapid wing beats cause the pollen to shake onto the hummingbirds and the hummers deposit the pollen on to the next flower. As I gather my tomatoes and return to the house, I think back on how empty this yard was when we first moved here about 15 years ago.
What attracted me to this lot were the tall mature trees and the lake behind the house. There were a few larger shrubs and then grass … lots of grass. After we stopped mowing a 15 foot buffer area from the lake edge and let an area outside the fence turn into a woodland garden, I started to encounter strange plants I’d never seen before. Some I was familiar with, such as Goldenrod, Virginia Creeper, Milkweed and Turtlehead, but others were new to me. I began reading about plants that were native in this area before I removed anything. I noticed one plant with small golden odd shaped flowers that the bees and hummingbirds seemed to relish.
It turned out to be Jewelweed, its bright golden flowers dotted with orange hang from stem tips which branch out from an almost transparent stalk. The flowers are shaped almost like a miniature cornucopia. Thin green seed pods extend from other stem tips. They are often called touch-me-not because when dry the seed pod will explode when touched and can project its seeds up to six feet away! That must be how they got the “weed” part attached to their name! They are prolific plants and in full sun with plenty of water they can grow up to four feet tall. In shadier areas they stay under two feet in height. The plants are very easy to remove and make wonderful compost if they start to crowd your other plants. They are an annual plant here and grow from seeds every year. Jewelweed is a very valuable native plant and can be used by us humans to lessen the sting of nettles and the itch of poison ivy by rubbing its juice on the afflicted area. In fact, all three plants are often seen growing in the same location.
Pink Turtlehead – Zigzag Goldenrod
Native plants are a joy to have in my yard for several reasons. First of all they naturally supply nutrients and cover to a variety of animals and insects. Native plants and wildflowers require minimal work on my part to maintain. They are ideally suited to my climate; therefore they usually do not need additional water or fertilizer. Many native plants will happily grow alongside your garden flowers with no fuss. They will enhance not only your enjoyment of the garden but also your wildlife’s.
Luckily my property had many hidden native plants here all along. I didn’t even have to plant them! We simply stopped mowing down to the lake edge and remarkably the plants started coming back. Over the years I have added many more native plants to my garden with great success. If you would like to find native plants that grow in your area, I recommend the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center or the National Wildlife Federation Native Beauties sites. You too can experience the joy of growing native plants and wildflowers!
Have you thought about growing native plants in your garden?
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