Rain Garden Standouts

Chelone lyonii

, sticking its tongue out.

We've been getting a fair amount of rain lately, which has made the rain garden very happy. And since the late summer bloomers are cooperating for the camera, I thought I'd make some introductions to three of the standouts: cardinal flower, obedient plant, and pink turtlehead.

Now ordinarily, I'd start with cardinal flower, but those of you who aren't familiar with it are dying to know about what kind of plant is called "turtlehead," so we'll start there! This photo (at right) ought to make the appropriateness of the name clear. I mean, what else would you call it? Turtle lips? Turtle tongue?

Pink turtlehead (

Chelone

oblique

 or

Chelone lyonii

--Appalachian Turtlehead) is bitter-tasting (deer resistant!) and a lover of soggy soil. It grows two to four feet tall in part shade and has lance-shaped leaves like a jillion other things. The flower, however, can't be mistaken for anything else. It blooms in August and through to October. A white version (

Chelone glabra

) is the most common in North America. Bumble bees love this plant, and you will love watching them squeeze their big butts into the mouth of this flower!

Lobelia cardinalis

will give hummers a workout!

Chelone must have some moisture to perform well, so if your rain garden is hit by a drought, be sure to pull some water out of the rain barrel for it. This is a great late summer plant for pollinators, particularly our native bees, though it will also attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Since turtlehead is usually only found in "high quality habitats," city dwellers who deal with greater air quality issues may have trouble succeeding with this plant--I would be interested to hear from anyone who has had trouble or success in urban settings. Maybe because of this susceptibility, Chelone obliqua is listed as threatened or endangered in Arkansas, Kentucky, Maryland and Michigan.

Cardinal flower, or

Lobelia cardinalis

, is a must-have plant for hummingbird habitat. It is deer resistant, but it can take a bit to get established in heavy clay soil. Once it does, Cardinal flower can reach up to six feet tall. For pollination, Cardinal flower needs hummingbirds, because the tubular flowers are so long that other critters like bees and butterflies have to work harder than normal to enjoy the nectar! You may find holes near the bottom of the bloom where bees have cut a hole to get to the nectar. Cheaters.

Physostegia virginiana

Cardinal flower will take sun or shade as long as its roots stay moist or wet. It is listed as a threatened species in Florida, and Arizona restricts its "salvage" from wild places. The species is also looking vulnerable in New York state. It blooms from late summer into fall, just as turtlehead does.

Finally, I must mention Obedient Plant (

Physostegia virginiana

).  This is another very deer resistant plant. Are you spotting a trend, here? It also will grow and thrive in nearly solid clay, as long as it is moist. The "obedient" part of its common name comes from the habit of the blooms--if you bend them, they will tend to stay in their new position for a bit before righting themselves. Another common name for it is False Dragonhead, which I would most certainly use if I wanted to make the plant seem more exotic. This plant is not obedient in terms of staying put--it is a member of the mint family. Fortunately, the roots are shallow and it is not as aggressive as true mint!  It attracts hummingbirds, butterflies and bees, though bumblebees are the primary pollinators of this plant.

Physostegia glabra

Obedient plant prefers full or part sun. Like the others in this post, it blooms in late summer through early fall. My

Physostegia glabra

bloomed earlier, and the

P. virginiana

is just getting cranked up, as you can see. Obedient plant is not hard to get established--you should have some to share in no time. As a species, obedient plant is doing pretty well--its status is threatened only in Vermont, though it is listed as a plant of "Special Concern" in Rhode Island.

One interesting note from Floridata--recommended cutting back on the fertilizer with obedient plant. All three of these plants are tough and adaptable. Just plant them and let and let 'em rip!

Sources: Wildflower.org,

USDA Plants

,

Illinois Wildflower Info

,

Floridata

Listening To Other Species

Listening To Other Species

At Jump Off Rock

At Jump Off Rock