Early Blooming Native: Phlox subulata
Creeping Phlox, or
, is a little shocking in spring. Or at least it strikes
that way. As an isolated "stand" (a little short to call it a 'stand,' but there you go!), it appears as a mound of small blossoms, daintily draping itself over rocks--a typical garden application--inviting all passing pollinators in for a sip. Charming!
is also known as "Moss Pink," "Rock Pink" and "Moss Phlox." In this neck of the woods, it's called Creeping Phlox. And it is everywhere. Usually in humungous multi-colored masses that are ingesting whole slopes or garden beds in an alarming fashion. Hence my fear of phlox!
Seriously, this is not an invasive plant. It pulls up readily if you need to. It transplants easily. It provides early-season sustenance for pollinators galore. Butterflies, bees, moths and even the occasional hummingbird will make use of this pantry full of pollen. The foliage is evergreen. And in zone 6b/7a (currently in debate!), it is mildew resistant and pest-free. It is a terrific plant for erosion control and grows in nearly all of the East and Northeast of the United States. (Not the Southeast, unfortunately!) Poor soil does not intimidate it.
P. subulata comes in various shades of pale pink to lavender, and rarely in white. The leaves have been described as "needle-like," but they really don't strike me as that skinny and they certainly aren't sharp. You can tromp all over it in your bare feet without fear of "needle-like" foliage. [Bees, however, are an entirely 'nother matter!] The greatest strength of the species is the diversity of pollinators it supports. This is the key difference between big box exotics and native plants. The exotics may perform well, but they support far fewer species than do the native plants that evolved along with our native insects. You may not find this plant at the local big box--or even your local nursery. But check out a Tailgate Market at this time of year and you'll no doubt have the opportunity to pick some up at a great price!