Summer is coming to an end and the monarch migration is approaching Oklahoma. In our FREE tours this month we’ll look at some of the plants that butterflies use as a nectar source to fuel their flight down south. Some of the plants even host caterpillars and attract other pollinators as well. Tours depart from the Visitor Center at 1 p.m. on Friday September 9, and at 10 a.m. on Saturday September 24.
Here are the plants we’ll be looking for:
Common Name: Tall Bell Flower
Botanical Name: Campanula Americana
Tall bellflower is a true biennial; seeds that germinate will grow for a year as a small clump of leaves, grow tall and flower the next year then die. Be sure to let the flowers fade and go to seed each year if you want to have this plant in your garden each year. This native bellflower may grow as tall as five feet before opening its light blue flowers in July. It is particularly attractive to bumblebees.
Common Name: Frostweed
Botanical Name: Verbesina virignica
Frostweed is a native wild flower that blooms in very late summer and early fall, just in time to provide a nectar source for migrating monarch butterflies. Its white flowers are also highly attractive to bees and other pollinators. They can grow from 3 to 6 feet high and have interesting “wings” all along the stems. The most curious and fantastic show from these plants occurs in the winter when they are dormant and not even growing. When night temperatures are below freezing, the base of the stems will start to “grow” ribbons of ice that melt in the morning sun light. So be sure to get up early and look for these fleeting frost flowers.
Common Name: Verbena
Botanical Name: Verbena rigida ‘Santos’
This perennial comes from South America and is a reliable grower in hot and humid climates. Plants form low sprawling mounds and produce clusters of bright purple flowers on long slender stems. Flowers are attractive to butterflies and other pollinators and are produced from late spring until fall.
Common Name: Blue Mist Flower
Botanical Name: Conoclinium coelestinum
Mistflower is a must-have garden perennial for any fan of butterflies. Fluffy powder blue flowers appear atop this 2 foot tall plant from late summer to late October and attract hordes of butterflies. As a native of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, it’s sure to thrive in the heat of Oklahoma’s summers.
Common Name: Chastetree
Botanical Name: Vitex agnus-castus Blue PuffballTM
Other varieties of this flowering shrub quickly grow 20 or more feet high, but Blue PuffballTM is a true dwarf. It stays in a very tidy mound of three to four feet tall and wide. The deep blue flowers appear in June and continue into autumn. Chastree can get a lot of deadwood in severe winters, but will grow back from the base in spring very quickly. It flowers on new growth, so winter die-back and hard pruning won’t affect the flower display at all.
Common Name: Glossy Abelia
Botanical Name: Abelia x grandiflora ‘Rose Creek’
This shrub flowers abundantly from midsummer into the depths of autumn. It will be covered in large amounts of sweet smelling pale pink flowers. When the flowers fade and drop off the rosy pink sepals remain and provide just as much color. The variety ‘Rose Creek’ has a pink tone to new growth and an overall compact and tidy size and form.
Common Name: Butterfly Weed
Botanical Name: Asclepias tuberosa
This beautiful milkweed is a native of Oklahoma. Its ability to attract butterflies and other pollinators with its brightly-colored flowers and copious amounts of nectar is unparalleled. Monarch butterflies seek out this plant and other milkweeds as a larval host plant. The orange flowers appear in early summer and last until fall. It might grow like a weed, needing little care or water, but it is very worthy of any ornamental garden.
Common Name: Russian Sage
Botanical Name: Salvia yangii
Admired for both its silvery-gray foliage and lavender flowers, Russian sage is a low input, high output perennial. Russian sage will rarely need watered once established and is a heavy bloomer from summer to fall. The semi-woody stems can be left through the winter but should be trimmed back 6 to 8 inches from the ground in spring. Although it is not a sage for culinary use, it has a similar pleasant aroma. Russian sage grows to a height of 3-4 feet, but there are several shorter cultivars as well. It is great in mass but also a superb companion for perennials and ornamental grasses.
Common Name: Chastetree
Botanical Name: Vitex agnus-castus ‘Shoal Creek’
The chastetree can quickly grow to over 20 feet high and wide in the heat of Oklahoma. An abundance of lilac flowers grace the plant in midsummer, followed by attractive gray seed heads. It flowers on the current year’s growth, so it can be easily pruned to a manageable size without sacrificing blooms. The cultivar ‘Shoal Creek’ has vigorous growth and larger, more intense blue-purple flowers than other varieties.