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The Top Ten Wildflowers
To Grow In Your Backyard

By Jill M. Rohrbach, travel writer Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

MOUNTAIN VIEW - Wildflowers are advantageous in the garden for more reasons than their beauty. Their price is right and some of them attract butterflies and hummingbirds as well.

Well-known gardener and author Carl Hunter discussed which wildflowers are the best at attracting winged species at the recent 13th annual Heritage Herb Spring Extravaganza at the Ozark Folk Center State Park in Mountain View. The theme was

Purple Coneflower
Purple Coneflower

"Beneficial Plants, Bugs and Butterflies."

Each spring and fall when gardens are at their best, the center hosts a special herb dinner and seminar weekend for herb gardening enthusiasts. Special guests -- herbists, garden designers, authors and chefs -- come straight from the pages of the nation's favorite herb and gardening magazines.

Hunter has 160 species of wildflowers in his yard. "Growing wildflowers is so much cheaper," he explains. Additionally, some wildflowers can bloom for eight months. "You just don't get that with cultivated plants."

When placing wildflowers in an ornamental garden, Hunter recommends tall plants along the fence line or in the middle of a round or square garden. Then plant gradually lower growing plants down to the front of the border. He says "You only need about 10 species" to landscape for butterflies or for a nice look.

His top 10 list of wildflowers that attract butterflies and hummingbirds are:

Common Garden Phlox. "I would say that's number one for butterflies," says Hunter of the perennial Phlox paniculata. He adds, "This state has 1000 wildflowers out there. Butterflies go to [garden phlox] first almost every time." Phlox grows naturally at the headwaters of rivers such as the White River. When growing it from seed,

Hunter suggests not seeding it heavily. Bloom time is approximately July through October.

Summer Phlox or Pink Phlox. "Phlox is a complicated group." Hunter says this phlox can be Thrown out in the grass and it will grow. "There are a lot of shades to this."

Butterfly Weed. The Butterfly Weed is of the Milkweed Family. This species is important for monarchs. Hunter suggests buying it in a pot from a nursery because "they have a huge tap root that's hard to dig up in the wild." But, he adds, "it's said to thrive on neglect." The flowering period is May through September, approximately.

Cardinal Flower or Lobelia. The Lobelia Cardinalis is a member of the Bellflower Family. "A lobelia, tame or wild, has three petals down and two petals up." Its bloom time is about July through October.

New England Aster. Of the Aster Family, the Aster novae-angliae flowers from about August through October. While Hunter chooses this specific variety, he says "many asters attract butterflies." The New England Aster is the tallest of the Ozark asters.

Black-Eyed Susan. The botanical name for the plant is Rudbeckia hirta and it is of the Aster Family. Its bloom time is about May through October. "They move all around and don't stay where they're planted," he explains. But, Hunter says there is a new species called Goldstrum that has some orange color and will stay where put.

Purple Coneflower. The Echinacea purpurea has been in cultivation for 50 years, says Hunter. It is also of the Aster Family and flowers from about May through October.

Mountain Mint. Pycnanthemum tenuifoium's common name is Slender Mountain Mint. Another species of mountain mint is Hairy Mountain Mint or Pycnanthemum pilosum. Both occur in the same habitat. "The leaves look like they're frosted when in bloom," says Hunter. "Not every butterfly likes it but a couple species do."

American Basket Flower. This flower is kin to the Bachelor button. It's an easily grown annual that re-seeds itself.

Liatris. There are eight species of the genus Liatris that grow in the Ozarks. They are of the Aster Family. Hunter particularly likes Liatris pycnostachya or Gayfeather. Its long feathery plume won't wilt for weeks as a cut flower, he says. Its bloom time is July through October, approximately.

Other butterfly-attracting wildflowers that Hunter likes include thistles, Ironweed, Goldenrod, Narrow-leafed Sunflower, Joe-Pye Weed, Obedient Plant or False Dragonhead, Queen Anne's Lace, and Nine Bark.

"You can mix all these things together," says Hunter.

He reminds gardeners that it is against the law to dig on any roadside, corps lake or state and federal park. "So collect the seed instead. It's better anyway," he adds.

Plant seeds of perennials in the fall by following the directions on the package. Or if the seed has been collected, contact the local county extension service office for planting information. Hunter says perennial plants can be set out in the fall or in the spring. January is a good month to plant seeds in pots indoors and April is a good month to transplant them to the outdoors, he adds.

For successful growing of plants, Hunter recommends applying fertilizer at a low rate if plants become pale, yellowish or do not seem to grow well. Gardeners should also pull or hoe grass and weeds. Hunter suggests using "Poast," "Ornamec 170" or "Hi-Yield Grass Killer" for grass control. Plants should also be watered enough to keep soil moist so plants can grow and bloom well.

Hunter suggests buying from local growers because they can help fit individual needs.

Hunter's popular field guides include Wildflowers of Arkansas, Trees, Shrubs, and Vines of Arkansas, and Autumn Leaves and Berries. He was employed by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission for 25 years before retiring to this second career.


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