What’s in Bloom?
This September, there are a variety of unique flowers blooming at Madison Square Park that you are not likely to find in your neighbor’s garden. The horticulture team has selected five currently flowering plants that we think deserve more attention this month.
The genus Caryopteris, or as they are commonly called, Bluebeards, comprises 6 or 7 species, all native to eastern Asia. The species plants were once more common, but it is far more common to grow the accidentally produced hybrid, Caryopteris x clandonensis, which is far more vigorous than the non-hybrid species. In spring, it produces lush, aromantic foliage that lasts through the winter and provides added fragrance to the garden even before it flowers. In late summer through autumn, bluebeards produce profuse clusters of deep blue flowers that lent them their name. These flowers are fragrant, and ring the stems around each node in distinct tiers. Caryopteris flowers are also attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds, and other beneficial pollinators. Bluebeards bloom on new wood, so in areas where they do not die back to the ground in winter they benefit from a hard pruning in early spring.
Chelone lyonii, the pink turtlehead, is an unusual wildflower native to the southeastern US. The original range of C. lyonii is actually rather small, but by escaping from ornamental gardens pink turtlehead has become established throughout New England and New York. Turtleheads are herbaceous perennials, dying back to their roots in winter only to sprout again come spring. Chelone blooms later in the year, with their pink flowers emerging in late summer and lasting through mid-autumn. The flowers resemble those of a snapdragon, and are lined with tiny yellow hairs that give them the appearance of a beard or teeth. The common name, turtlehead, comes from the shape of the flowers, which resemble a turtle’s head peeking out from its shell. Chelone are partial to moist soils and part shade, where they will grow their best and will reseed. In greater shade, they may grow taller and require staking or support from neighboring plants, whereas in full sun they may dry out and so require mulching.
American beautyberry, Callicarpa americana, is a plant so pretty it’s almost unreal. Growing as a deciduous shrub, americna beautyberry loses its leaves once winter frosts come around. In colder areas, the plant will die back to the ground, but it is hardy to zone 6 and will grow back from the roots come spring. C. americana flowers on new wood, so this yearly dieback won’t affect its fruiting. Starting in early summer, Callicarpa produces clusters of rather insignificant white flowers which ring its arching stems. However, once the flowers fade the real ornamental value of this plant is revealed. The fruits ripen from pale yellow to a deep violet or magenta color that is amazing massed plantings. The purple berries last for quite a while, though they do not last cold winter weather. The dreamy color of the fruit is the source of both the common name, beautyberry, and the generic name, Callicarpa, Greek for “beautiful fruit”. A native of forests of the southeastern US, Callicarpa prefers moist clays or sandy soils high in organic matter. Beautyberry is generally a low maintenance plant once established, suffering few diseases and requiring no special care.
Liriope muscari, or lily turf, is a common sight at Madison Square Park. A member of the asparagus family, Liriope resembles turf grass except for its larger size and its ornamental flowers produced in late summer. Liriope spreads by stolons to form clumps, hence its common use as a groundcover or naturalizing plant. Liriope muscari is less aggressive than other species in this genus, and its specific name derives from the resemblance of its flowers to those of the grape hyacinth. L. muscari grows well in shaded areas, making it ideal for covering large spaces under trees where actual turfgrass performs poorly. However, Liriope is not a steppable plant like true turfgrass is, so it is an ersatz substitute for turf functionally. L. muscari is an evergreen plant, though its leaves tend to get damaged and become unattractive in areas with cold winters, where it benefits from a late winter/early spring cutback. The flowers are borne in spikes in late summer and are purple, bearing the likeness of grape hyacinth flowers. The flowers are succeeded by dark purple berries that may last through winter.
‘Painter’s Palette’ Persicaria, Persicaria virginiana ‘Painter’s Palette’, is the final of our featured flowering flora for this month. Part of the genus Persicaria, the knotweeds, this plant is related to several ornamental plants and a number of very common weeds. If you garden, chances are you have seen this plant’s weedy relative, Persicaria maculosa, hiding in-between other plants. Unlike P. maculosa, P. virginiana is grown ornamentally, although it retains the aggressive tendencies of its cousin. Painter’s Palette is upright, with large, variegated leaves that are the source of its common name. In late summer to early autumn, Persicaria develops long flowering racemes that bloom, revealing a number of tiny, reddish-pink flowers that are barely visible except upon closer inspection. The flowering display is best enjoyed in massed groups, and Painter’s Palette works very well when massed or allowed to naturalize into large colonies. P. virginiana is tolerant of both sun and shade; soil moisture is of far more importance to this plant’s growth.