Life & Style
12 Native Flowers Are Easy from Seed
The great spangled fritillary butterfly nectars on wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) and many other flowers. The fritillary caterpillar, however, depends upon the presence of native violets (Viola soraria). (Photo courtesy of Kathy Connolly )
Partridge pea: Partridge pea is dubbed a “pollinator powerhouse” by the Native Plant Trust. (Photo courtesy of Kathy Connolly )
The common violets in and around lawns are high-value native plants. They are a larval host for the caterpillar of the fritillary caterpillar. (Photo courtesy of Kathy Connolly )
Yarrow volunteers in a wide variety of unlikely places, including roadside ditches. All we need to do is leave it alone; it has great value for a variety of pollinators. (Photo courtesy of Kathy Connolly )
Some seeds are easy to grow in the ground, including those of native plants.
I vividly recall, in the summer before kindergarten, watching my first marigolds and zinnias sprout, grow, and flower. As more summers came along, I had further easy victories with cosmos, poppies, bachelor’s buttons, nasturtiums, sunflowers, and morning glories. The adults in my life wisely gave me easy seeds. Success bred confidence and good memories.
But looking back, I can’t ignore the facts: None were native plants. Plants with regional roots were simply not part of the conversation.
Now we’re surrounded with messages about the importance of native plants to birds and pollinators. Is anyone teaching kids, or adults, for that matter, about easy-from-seed natives? For that matter, does anyone know which native plant seeds you can buy for a couple of dollars, scratch into minimally prepared soil, wait for a spell, and get results?
I looked around for useful lists, and, finding none, asked expert native plant propagator Dan Jaffe Wilder. He is co-author of the 2018 book Native Plants for New England Gardens, as well as a horticulturist and propagator for Norcross Wildlife Sanctuary in Wales, Massachusetts (www.norcrosswildlife.org).
“My top three plants for direct seeding would be black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), spotted bee balm (Monarda punctata), and partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata),” Jaffe Wilder says. “There are several goldenrods that could make the list as well. Two of my favorites are wreath goldenrod (Solidago caesia) and downy goldenrod (Solidago puberula).”
All those plants do well in average sunny to partly sunny settings. Once past the seedling establishment stage, furthermore, they are remarkably drought tolerant. (Note: Goldenrod is not the source of fall allergies. Ragweed takes that honor!)
Jaffe Wilder continues, “If you need some shade species, I’d add white wood aster (Eurybia divaricata) and white snakeroot (Ageratina altissima). For wetter sites in part shade, I suggest cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) or orange forget-me-not (Impatiens capensis).” Aside from the bees and butterflies they attract, both plants are nectar sources for hummingbirds. Also, some people use orange forget-me-not (often called jewelweed) as a mosquito repellent as well as a salve for poison ivy.
Don’t Pull These Plants
Some high-value natives seed themselves. All we need do is avoid pulling them.
Consider the virtues of the violet (Viola soraria) in and around neighborhood lawns, for instance. They’re so common that some consider them weeds. These natives form dense mats, persist through the growing season, are very deer- and rabbit-resistant, and grow in various site conditions. They provide critical early forage for queen bumblebees. What is more, standard lawn violets are larval hosts for great spangled fritillary butterflies. For more information about the ecological value of native violets, see Penn State Extension’s fact sheet at extension.psu.edu. There are other native violets worth considering, including American dogtooth violet (Viola labradorica).
White yarrow (Achillea millefolium) pops up everywhere along the shoreline. It’s a high-value plant for multiple native bees, according to pollinator ecologists at the Xerces Society (www.Xerces.org). It is also a nectar source for numerous butterflies and moths.
Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) is another frequent roadside and garden volunteer. Its long-lived flowers provide nectar for hummingbirds, bees, moths, and butterflies, and, when the flowers die, seeds for birds.
Here’s the irony: Because native plants are still newcomers to many parts of the horticulture trade, seeds can be hard to find. One of the very few companies that collect and sell regional-ecotype seeds is www.WildSeedProject.net of Portland, Maine. Regional seeds often have valuable adaptations and are considered a gold standard for ecological restoration.
Native plant seeds are the centerpiece of several catalogs, including www.prairienursery.com and www.prairiemoon.com. If you need to buy in bulk, try www.ErnstSeed.com in Meadville, Pennsylvania, which carries some regional ecotypes.
Don’t forget to search the online catalogs of Connecticut seed companies, which also feature a wide variety of native plant seeds: www.HartSeed.com, www.NESeed.com, and www.SelectSeeds.com. Finally, if you want to check the native status of any plant, visit GoBotany.NativePlantTrust.org and enter the common or botanical name.
Are you ready for success with seeds? You’ll love the results from these 12 native flowers, and so will your fellow creatures.
Be Sure to Get the Right Ones
In the order they appeared in this article, here are 12 natives to sow directly into prepared soil. Be sure to check the botanical names, both genus and species, to get the plants described in this article.
• Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
• Spotted bee balm (Monarda punctata)
• Partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata)
• Wreath goldenrod (Solidago caesia)
• Downy goldenrod (Solidago puberula)
• White wood aster (Eurybia divaricata)
• White snakeroot (Ageratina altissima)
• Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
• Orange forget-me-not, a.k.a jewelweed (Impatiens capensis)
• Common violet (Viola soraria)
• White yarrow, (Achillea millefolium)
• Anise hyssop, (Agastache foeniculum)
Kathy Connolly is a writer and speaker on horticulture, landscape design, and ecology from Old Saybrook. Reach her by email or join her newsletter through her website www.SpeakingofLandscapes.com.