Thursday, October 13, 2011

Seeing Familiar Friends in a New Light

While bicycling recently on the beautiful Withlacoochee Trail, I was treated to the spectacular sight of masses of native dotted horsemint in full bloom on either side of the trail, which runs 46 miles through the Withlacoochee State Forest. When it blooms in such profusion, horsemint is a showstopper. Ironically, I hardly even notice it the rest of the year, even in my own garden.

Muhly grass in bloom is a thing of beauty
The same is true for many of the fall bloomers in my yard. Take muhly grass, another native readily adaptable to home landscapes. Without its spectacular feathery pink plumes it just looks like a rather unkempt clump of tall grass. Handsome, yes. A head tuner? Not so much.  But when it blooms, as mine is finally doing, it demands your attention! I have been looking forward to its debut for weeks.

Ditto for my cassia shrubs, which are just now setting those bright yellow flower clusters that will keep blooming right though winter. Or the native yellowtop wildflowers shown below, also resplendent with golden crowns.

Even the very drab native poinsettia, which pops up unbidden all over my butterfly garden, looks truly lovely with its delicate red face. This Florida version of Indian paintbrush brings some early holiday cheer to the garden!

But this year's award for impressive fall color has to go to my narrowleaf (swamp) sunflowers.They are at glorious peak bloom right now, helped by last weekend's slow, soaking rains, and they are fully 12 feet tall. Indeed, in the many years I have grown this native wildflower, I have never seen it reach such towering heights. Giant sunflowers, yes, but this native wildflower species, no. Perhaps its astounding growth is a result of the abundance of rainfall at my home this summer. Maybe it's my compost-enriched soil. Who knows? But these yellow flowers are soaring above my 6-foot back fence like giraffes. 
Narrowleaf sunflowers towering over my 6-foot fence

I have even had neighbors walking by my house comment on them. I had to stake and tie them to the fence just to keep them from toppling over!

I like to cut the sunflowers and put them in vases in my house -- although short-lived, they brighten up any space. As you can imagine, I practically need a javelin to reach them this year. 

A nursery grower who raises swamp sunflowers told me I can keep them from getting so out of control next fall by pruning them in mid-July. This will limit their growth to a reasonable 5 or 6 feet, while still allowing plenty of time for the flower buds to form.

Definitely a game plan for next year. In the meantime, I'll continue to marvel at my "sunflowers on steroids" and hope that my back yard isn't cited for interference with commercial air space! 

What familiar friends do you look forward to seeing anew in the fall in your garden?


  1. Wow! Those sunflowers are amazing! Thanks for sharing.

  2. They sure are, Daisy. We just look at them and marvel. My husband measured them last night and the tallest are 14 feet!