Monkshood & Snakeroot for a Fall Finale

What a luscious October afternoon! I looked out my back window and was drawn, as I always am this time in autumn, to the furthest corner of the garden, where a little fall scene unfolds that I treasure more because it’s a secret. Want to see it?  Let’s take a little stroll past the messy pots on the deck with their various sedums and swishing sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula) out into the garden past the table and chairs that haven’t been used since… when? August?

Janet Davis-garden-autumn

Keep going to where the lovely chartreuse Tiger Eyes sumac (Rhus typhina ‘Bailtiger’) is currently doing its Hollywood star thing in brilliant apricot…..

Tiger Eye Sumac-Rhus typhina 'Bailtiger'-fall color

But what’s this scene, just behind it?

Tiger Eye Sumac-snakeroot-monkshood-Janet Davis

Yes, two stalwarts of the autumn garden – and I mean autumn, fall, October!  Autumn monkshood (Aconitum carmichaelii ‘Arendsii’) and autumn snakeroot (Actaea simplex), aka fall bugbane. Each year, they flower at the same time, and enjoy identical conditions in my garden, i.e. the most moisture-retentive soil (lowest corner of the garden by a few inches), with reasonable midday sunshine but dappled shade a good portion of the day. The fragrance of the snakeroot is fabulous, something a little soft and incense-like, or reminiscent of talcum powder (in the nicest way).  Colour-wise, I love blue and white, from the earliest anemones-with-scilla in April to this shimmering, assertive finale.

Janet Davis-Actaea simplex & Aconitum carmichaelii 'Arendsii'

And did I mention pollinators? As in bumble bees of different species, honey bees……

Pollinators-autumn garden-fall snakeroot & monkshood-

(WHO has the beehives near my house? I’d love to know)…..

Honey bees-Apis mellifera-Actaea simplex-fall snaekroot

……hover flies…..

Hover-fly on fall snakeroot-Actaea simplex

….and paper wasps, below, as well as ants and cucumber beetles.

Paper wasp on fall snakeroot-Actaea simplex

Monkshood is deadly poisonous, but its pollen seems to be an attraction for bumble bees and honey bees once the asters have finished up.

Bombus-Fall Monkshood-Aconitum carmichaelii 'Arendsii'

Finally, do note that the snakeroot is not any of those fancy-schmancy dark-leaved cultivars like ‘Brunette’, but the straight species with plain-Jane-green-foliage,. And that it used to be called Cimicifuga, but the gene sequencers have now moved it into Actaea.  It is a lovely plant and should be used much, much more.

My Cups Runneth Over (With Bees)….

(Hmmm. I just re-read my title and almost changed it, but decided not to. Snicker away – I’m going with “cups”.)

My second yellow-gold blog for July (the first was on companion plants for blackeyed susans) honours another composite prairie perennial that has pride of place in my meadows at Lake Muskoka.  Cup plant or Indian cup (Silphium perfoliatum) gets both its common name and Latin specific epithet from the way the leaves encircle the stem, thus making the stem appear to pierce the foliage – i.e. a ‘perfoliate’ habit.

Silphium perfofliatum-cottage

This clasping leaf arrangement creates a kind of ‘cup’ in which water can collect after rains, supposedly providing drinking water for birds and insects. Alas, insects are often found floating in the water, with some experts suggesting that it may actually act as a deterrent against insect pests that might climb up the stem.

Perfoliate leaves-Silphium perfoliatum

While it is a fabulous native, indigenous to moist woods and prairies in much of mid and east North America, including my province Ontario, its tendency to colonize makes it problematic. In fact, though it is classified as “threatened and endangered”in Michigan, it is “potentially invasive” and banned for sale in Connecticut. I received my fleshy roots from the compost bins of Toronto’s beautiful Spadina House gardens, and the gardeners gave me fair warning that it was invasive, and hard to dig up to control its spread. So I don’t; I merely enjoy it and give thanks for it when the bumble bees are nectaring on the big yellow flowers.

Bombus impatiens on Silphium perfoliatum

Here are bumble bees in action, along with a surprise visitor for whom those itty-bitty leaf pools are no deterrent, when tasty cup plant seedheads are the rewards for ascending that thick stem.

Honey bees love cup plant as well. There are no apiaries near my cottage on Lake Muskoka, but I photographed this one in the meadows at Miriam Goldberger’s Wildflower Farm an hour so south.

Honey Bee on Silphium perfoliatum

Butterflies like the monarch enjoy cup plant, too.

Monarch on Silphium perfoliatum (1)

I grow cup plants near my stairs so I can photograph the pollinators at eye level.

Silphium perfoliatum

But they’re in my meadows as well. Though they prefer adqequate moisture in the soil, they are surprisingly drought-tolerant (as they’ve had to be this hot, dry summer), but will develop yellow leaves and stunted flowers in time. Here’s a colony below my bedroom window amidst sweet blackeyed susans (Rudbeckia subtomentosa) still to come into flower.

Silphium perfoliatum in meadow

They make good companions to gray-headed coneflowers (Ratibida pinnata), which bloom at the same time.

Silphium perfoliatum & Ratibida pinnata

They are easily the tallest perennials I grow. Last summer (a season of good rains), I lay down the loftiest stems so I could do a measurement. Yes, 9 feet.

Silphium - 9 feet

I leave you with a little narrated tour…..

….and a cottage bouquet showing cup plant flowers in the bottom tier, surrounded by summer flowers like ratibida, perovskia, liatris and goldenrod.  Yellow/gold for July 2016, over and out.

Bouquet-Cup Plant & friends