Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Nursery Available Native Annuals & Biennials in New England

Commercial annuals are bred and selected for such things as appearance (bloom and habit), disease resistance, consistent performance and rate of growth. In a conventional annual planting these are desirable traits, since you won’t have to weed out random plants the following year. Ability to survive in an unmanaged habitat is not an important factor for a six pack of impatiens. Many of the more spectacular annuals feature double blooms, which tend to be sterile. These produce no seed to continue the species and therefore have less wildlife value (also less pollen production). Check out ‘Bringing Nature Home’ by Douglas Tallamy for an in deeper discussion of why fully functional native plants are so important.
As I mentioned in the previous entry, to get the true species seed is the best source. However many of us lack the time, inclination or resources to locate and grow our own plants. The lists that follow contain a few plants which I have seen available in retail nurseries that are or are close to North American annual and biennial species. These lists include plants that have been horticulturally improved or breed for use in garden environments. Selection of less hybridized forms (e.g. single, rather than double flower forms) may improve chances of production of viable seed. (Unless noted there is evidence that these plants can produce viable seed and reproduce on their own in the Northeastern US - see the link to USDA Plants Database to get information of the distribution of plants growing wild in the US and Canada.)

Native to Northeast – native to New England
There aren’t many of these out there that I know of, so this is a short list.

Helianthus annuus, Annual Sunflower, had its origins in western North America but was spread across the continent by Native Americans on account of its food value. There are many highly cultivated forms available. (These are sensitive to root disturbance, but are easy from seed.)

Hibiscus moscheutos, Wild Cotton, can grow as a perennial shrub, but is also reported to grow as an annual. This is most commonly available as a cultivar or a hybrid form.

Rudbeckia hirta, Black-eyed Susan, is an annual or biennial (it dies after a season of blooming). Many fancy cultivars are available.

Native Annuals and Biennials from other parts of North American (including Mexico)
This list contains North American native annuals and biennials that have a good possibility of returning by self-seeding and are available as plants in retail nurseries.

Bidens ferulifolia, Apache Beggar Ticks, originally from the Southwest and has been cultivated into a compact freely blooming annual. I’ve seen this returning from seed in the Boston area and gave it a try this past season (2009) – we’ll see.

Cosmos bipinnatus, Garden Cosmos, had it origins in Arizona and throughout Mexico. There are a huge number of cultivars of this plant. I have seen the single-blooming forms returning from cracks in sidewalks around here (Eastern Massachusetts).

Gaillardia pulchella, Annual Blanket Flower, is another Southwestern native. In the nursery trade there are many cultivars of G. pulchella and its hybrid, G. x grandiflora (G. pulchella + C. aristata, the perennial blanket flower). I got some seed for the straight species from the Wildflower Center in Austin, TX for 2010.

Gaura lindheimeri, Lindheimer’s Beeblossum, is a short-lived perennial in the Northeast US. This plant may be too freely reseeding for many gardeners. It is a Texas-Louisiana native. Several cultivars are available in shades of pink to white.

Melampodium paludosum (actually M. divaricatum), Medallion Flower, is originally from Mexico. There are several cultivars in production. I tried this last year and was not too impressed. A report from the Missouri Botanical Garden indicates that this plant will self-seed in their climate.

Salvia farinacea, Mealycup Sage, is a perennial in its native range around Texas, but treated as a bedding annual in the north. I have had this return from seed in my garden. There are several cultivars sold ranging from near-white to deep blue.

I could include the zinnias from the Southwest US and Mexico, but many of these have undergone extensive breeding. I might consider the ‘Old Mexico’ cultivar of Mexican Zinnia (Z. haagaeana), as it is sometimes listed as an ‘Heirloom’ variety.

I would like to hear for any of you if you know of other natives in the nursery trade, as well as what is available in other regions of the country.


Carole said...

Curtis, welcome to blogland! It's so nice to see another native plant lover here. I'm looking forward to seeing where you'll take us on your journey here.

Ellen Sousa said...

hi Curtis - enjoying your blog which I recently found! Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) is annual in New England, and although it's not really an ornamental like Black-eyed Susan, it is a magnet for hummingbirds and the flowers are fun to pop (hence the common name 'touch-me-knot'). It grows in damp shady areas around here and we always let it grow for the hummers.