1 of 3
Butterfly magnet. Joe-pye weed and its relatives draw well.
2 of 3
Monarch magnet: Goldenrod.
3 of 3
Intense color: The Turk’s-cap.
Blue Ridge Parkway Favorites For Your Garden
Here’s a highly subjective list of 15 favorite wildflowers you’ll find blooming along the Blue Ridge Parkway – from diminutive trout lily and bloodroot, whose cheerful yellow and white blooms signal the end of winter, to the goldenrods and asters that appear as the growing season draws to its close.
I decided not to include shrubs or vines in this list – and could as easily have chosen 15 other equally enchanting species. But this list focuses on plants that are readily available from native plant nurseries and garden centers (please do not transplant wildflowers from their native habitats), and provides a range of plants, in terms of size, bloom color and season, and soil and sun requirements. Latin names are provided for exactitude. Native plants promote biodiversity. And they’re beautiful. Add some (or some more) to your yard this year.
1. TROUT LILY (aka Adder’s Tongue, Dog-Tooth Violet) Erythronium americanum Lily family
Bloom period/color; height: Early spring, yellow; 4-10 in.
Requirements: Shade to filtered sun, moist to dry rich woodland soil
Of note: This is the first flower I search for in my woods each spring. Its common name derives from its mottled leaves, reminiscent of a trout’s back.
2. BLOODROOT Sanguinaria canadensis Poppy family
Bloom period/color; height: Early spring, white; 3-6 in. in bloom (taller later)
Requirements: Shade, moist to average rich woodland soil.
Of note: Furled leaves embrace the bloom stalk of this delicate, white-petaled plant, whose flowers open wide on sunny days, then close in late afternoon. Theroots’ red juice, once used as war paint, gives bloodroot its name.
3. DUTCHMAN'S BREECHES Dicentra cucullaria Poppy family
Bloom period/color; height: Early spring, white; 6-10 in.
Requirements: Partial shade to filtered light, moist to average, rich woodland soil.
Of Note: Lacy, fernlike leaves spread beneath clusters of dangling flowers that look like pantaloons hung on a clothesline. Two close relatives – Squirrel Corn (D.canadensis) and pink-flowered Wild Bleeding Heart (D. eximia) – are also good choices for a woodland garden.
4. CRESTED DWARF IRIS (aka Dwarf Crested or Crested Iris) Iris cristata Iris family.
Bloom period/color; height: Spring, light violet; 2-8 in.
Requirements: Light to partial shade, rich woodland soil.
Of note: This miniature wild iris with short-lived, delicate blooms spreads with age. Its close relative, Dwarf Iris (I.verna), is another alternative.
5. WILD COLUMBINE Aquilegia canadensis Buttercup family
Bloom period/color; height: Spring to early summer, scarlet with tinges of yellow; 1-3 ft.
Requirements: Rocky, wooded or open shade, soil on the dry side.
Of note: When hummingbirds return in your yard, comb the woods for columbine (or vice versa).
The bloom period of this delicate-looking but hardy plant coincides with the return of hummingbirds, who frequent its tubular flowers.
6. WILD GERANIUM Geranium maculatum Geranium family
Bloom period/color; height: Late spring to early summer, rose-purple; 1-2 ft.
Requirements: Dry to moist soil, deep shade to full sun.
Of note: An easy-to-carefor plant with long-lived spicily fragrant flowers that appear singly, or in loose clusters, the wild geranium or “cranesbill” is so named for its fruit’s resemblance to a beak.
7. SOLOMON'S SEAL Polygonatum sp.Lily family
Bloom period/color; height: Mid-spring to early summer, pale green; 1-6 ft.
Requirements: Deep to light shade, dry to moist soil.
Of note: There are several Solomon’s Seal species (P.canaliculatum, P.pubescens, P.biflorum), all with gracefully arching stems, luminous green foliage and dangling bell-like flowers. In fall, golden brown leaves arch over its blue-black berries. Name derives from round scars along rootstock. Variegated cultivars available.
8. FIRE PINK (aka Indian Pink) Silene virginica Pink family
Bloom period/color; height: Late spring to mid summer, scarlet pink; 6-20 in.
Requirements: Light shade or filtered sunlight, average/dry soil.
Of note: The five deeply cleft petals of fire pink glow like embers in the summer woods; a relative of Bladder and Starry Campion and the sticky-stemmed Catchflies.
9. TURK'S-CAP LILY Lilium superbum Lily family
Bloom period/color; height: Summer, orange-red; 3-8 ft.
Requirements: Full sun to light shade, moist, humusrich soil.
Of note: Candelabra of towering Turk’s-caps, with their curling, intense orangered petals grace parkway roadsides from June to August. Deer like munching them, so if you have a deer problem, plant something else.
10. BUTTERFLY WEED Asclepias tuberosa Milkweed family
Bloom period/color; height: Summer, orange; 2-3 ft.
Requirements: Full sun, well-drained, dry to average soil (drought tolerant once established).
Of note: One of many milkweeds (with differing soil and sun requirements) that serve as larval host plants for the monarch butterfly; a popular nectaring plant with many butterfly species.
11. CARDINAL FLOWER Lobelia cardinalis Lobelia family
Bloom period/color; height: Mid-summer to fall, scarlet; 2-5 ft.
Requirements: Full sun to partial shade, moist to wet soil.
Of note: Named after bright robes of Roman Catholic cardinals, attracts hummingbirds, effective planted at edge of woodland garden.
12. TURTLEHEAD Chelone sp. Figwort family
Bloom period/color; height: Late summer to fall, rose-pink, white; 1-4 ft.
Requirements: Light shade, moist soil (well or poorly drained).
Of note: There are pink (C. lyonii) and white (C. glabra) varieties of turtlehead, a plant named for its flower’s resemblance to a turtle. Flowers grow on spikes; the wetter the soil, the more sun turtlehead can tolerate.
13. JOE-PYE WEED Eupatorium purpureum Composite family
Bloom period/color; height: Summer to fall, pink/purple; 3-10 ft.
Requirements: Full to filtered sunlight, moist to average soil.
Of note: Whorled leaves and huge flower clusters, this common roadside plant is a magnet for swallowtail and other butterfly species. Though it can tower to 10 ft., shorter cultivars are available. Its many relatives – other Joe-Pyes, Snakeroots and Bonesets – are all popular with butterflies.
14. GOLDENROD Solidago sp. Composite family
Bloom period/color; height: Late summer and fall, yellow; 1-5 ft.
Requirements: Depending on species, goldenrods grow in full sun to shade, moist to dry soils.
Of note: There are dozens of goldenrod species (and cultivars) from which to choose from. Though people blame goldenrod for hay fever, it’s ragweed (that blooms at the same time) that’s the culprit. An excellent plant for butterflies, including migrating monarchs.
15. ASTER Aster sp. Composite family
Bloom period/color; height: Mid-summer to late fall, blue, purple, white; 1-8 ft.
Requirements: Depending on species, asters grow in full sun to shade, moist to dry soils.
Of note: As with goldenrods, there are dozens of asters (and cultivars) to choose from, from the relatively small White Wood Aster (A. divaricatus) for shady spots to the familiar New York (A. novi-belgii) of thickets and swamps and New England Aster (A. novae-angliae) of fields and meadows. Popular with butterflies and important to migrating monarchs.
Want to know more about growing native plants? Here are some books I’ve found very helpful:
“100 Easy-to-Grow Native Plants,” by Lorraine Johnson, Firefly Books, 1999, ISBN 1- 552009-327-1.
“Wildflowers and Native Plants,” by Peter Loewer, Better Homes and Gardens Books, 1995, ISBN 0-696-20211-5.
Several books in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden 21st-Century Gardening Series are also excellent sources of gardening information on native plants. In my library: “Wildflower Gardens,” “Woodland Gardens” (includes native and nonnative plants, but distinguishes between them), and “Native Perennials.” Books are available from the BBG web site at: www.bbg.org