Gelsemium sempervirens

2018 – Carolina Jessamine

Carolina Jessamine is a 10 to 20-foot-long, twining evergreen vine native to the southeastern United States.  As it is a southern species, in southeastern Pennsylvania it is best to use the cold-hardy variety called ‘Margarita’ and plant it in a location where it will be protected from harsh winter winds.

Gelsemium is among the first plants to bloom every year – a welcome sign that winter is over and the long-awaited spectacle of spring is about to begin.  The bright yellow, trumpet shaped flowers are very attractive and their sweet, candy-like fragrance can be enjoyed from a distance, though you should never pass up an opportunity to get a close-up sniff.

This vine will grow best, and will flower most profusely in moist, well-drained soils and full, bright sun.  It is highly deer resistant and looks wonderful grown on a trellis, arbor, pergola, fence or wall and even makes a good porch cover.  If desired, prune immediately after flowering to control its height.

Amsonia hubrichtii

2017 – Hubricht’s Bluestar

This beautiful clump forming, herbaceous perennial has many noteworthy characteristics making it an excellent choice as a green ribbon native plant.  It is a member of the Dogbane plant family or Apocynaceae.  One trait expressed by members of this family is a milky/latex sap.  Due to this, A. hubrichtii is not preferred by deer.  It is known for its elegant powdery blue star shaped flowers which grow in clusters at the ends of the stems.  These delicate flowers make an appearance in late spring around April and last until the end of May sometimes even longer.  The foliage is another notable characteristic.  These thin, filamentous leaves grow along the stem in an alternate fashion.  They are a beautiful green during the growing season and turn to a stunning yellow during the fall.  This foliage can bring nice texture and color to any garden.

Native to south-central United States Amsonia hubrichtii can grow to about 3 feet tall and spreads 2-3 feet at maturity. This plant is ideal for many different garden situations and is very low maintenance.  It performs best in well drained, rich soil but can tolerate a wide range of conditions.  A. hubrichtii produces the best fall color in full sun however blooms may persist longer if given some afternoon shade. It is also notable that Amsonia is the preferred nectar source for Mourning Cloaks and other early butterflies. Sometimes the plant may grow too tall and flop over.  In order to prevent this, it is recommended that you cut back the stems about a 1/3 after its done blooming.

Solidago rugosa

2016 – Wrinkleleaf Goldenrod

Wrinkleleaf goldenrod, like other goldenrods, has a long panicle of yellow ray and disk florets characteristic of the Aster Family Asteraceae. But there are a few key features which distinguish Solidago rugosa from the other Solidago species. The central stem, which can reach 1-5 feet, is covered in tiny hairs or pubescence. The upper surface of the foliage has a wrinkled appearance due to the indentations of the leaf veins. Hence, the common name Wrinkleleaf goldenrod. The 4 inch long and 1 ½ inch wide leaves alternate along the stem. The leaves have toothed edges. The foliage is often dull and slightly hairy.

You can see wrinkleleaf goldenrod in bloom from midsummer into early autumn with a bloom period lasting between 1-2 months. The blooms of wrinkleleaf goldenrod attract an array of insects including bees, wasps, flies, butterflies, skippers and beetles. The caterpillars of many moth species feed on goldenrod as do many insects. Insectivorous birds feed on the insects which feed on wrinkeleaf goldenrod. Wrinkleleaf goldenrod grows best in full sun, moist well-drained, slightly acidic spots. Wrinkleleaf goldenrod makes a great addition to a naturalized perennial garden.

Symphyotrichum leave

2016 – Smooth Aster

Smooth blue aster, a wildflower and a member of the Aster Family Asteraceae, is a lovely addition to a full sun perennial garden. At maturity, smooth blue aster can reach between 1 ½ to 3 feet in height and has an erect growth habit. The leaves are up to 6 inches long and 1 ¼ inches wide. One key identification feature is that the foliage is sessile, meaning no petiole or stem. The leaf margins are smooth-edged. Another distinguishing feature is the absence of hairs found along the stem and the leaves.

One trick to remember the common name of this plant is that the stem and the leaves are smooth. The blooming period occurs from late summer to early autumn, lasting about 3-4 weeks. Smooth aster will remain erect during bloom time, and it has some tolerance for hot, dry weather. The nectar and pollen of the blue and yellow flower heads attract honey bees, bumblebees, wasps, flies, butterflies, and skippers. Smooth aster can be susceptible to powdery mildew, but good air circulation should prevent the fungus from developing. Plant smooth aster in a spot in the garden where it can receive full sun, has well-drained soil, and will not be crowded out by taller or more aggressive plants.

Asclepias tuberosa

2015 – Butterflyweed

Asclepias tuberosa, commonly known as Butterflyweed, is a species of milkweed that has both extremely attractive flowers as well as important ecological values. As a larval host for the Monarch (Danaus plexippus) and Queen (Danbaus gilippus) butterflies, this plant is vital for their life cycle. Butterflyweed also serves as a great nectar source for honeybees and a variety of native bees.

This tuberous, native perennial can grow 1.5 to 2 feet tall, making it great for the edges of perennial wildflower beds. Clusters of orange flowers bloom from June through August. Butterflyweed grows best in full sun and dry to moist soil although it can withstand drought and still performs well in poor soils. Just like most milkweeds, this species can be susceptible to aphids, but it is deer resistant. This milkweed is native from Maine to Florida, and west to Utah and California, leaving it native to all but 6 of the contiguous United States. It is hardy in zones 3-9.