White mistflower, Shrubby boneset (Ageratina havanensis): A Seasonal Look

Is this fresh snow, newly laden upon branches?

While suggestive of frosty stuff, these white fluffs are instead the wonderful cotton-like flower clusters of White mistflowerAgeratina havanensis, glorious in autumn blooming.

White mistflower, also known as Shrubby boneset and Havana snakeroot, is a native Texas shrub, ranging from the Edwards Plateau region of Texas to northern Mexico.  It’s promoted as appropriate for growing zones 7-11.  In colder areas, the mistflower is deciduous, but retains some, or all, foliage further south.  My White mistflower hasn’t been deciduous for several years, though prolonged hard freezes have stripped the shrub of most, if not all, of its foliage in past years.  Best with more, rather than less, sun, this mistflower blooms fairly well in partial sun (some direct morning, with afternoon dappled), like what exists in my back garden.

The arched branches are obvious in this photo.

White mistflower is not a shrub that should be regularly pruned, nor pruned formally, as its many slender, arching limbs create a casual effect in the garden.  The prettiest mistflower shrubs I’ve seen have all been situated on slopes, in full sun, cascading in frothy waves over rocks.  My one shrub grows under the canopy of a deciduous oak tree, in moderately heavy clay soil and on a flat surface.  To counter the amorphous form of mistflower, I’ve planted some structural companions.

The Softleaf yucca provides a structural  contrast to the meandering ways of the White mistflower.

The tiny flowers are borne in terminal clusters and cover the shrub for 3-4 weeks in the fall.  I don’t always prune my shrub back after winter, so I can usually count on enjoying a few spring blooms.  The flower clusters flush pink just before they open in full and they are pollinator magnets.

Migrating Monarch butterflies adore these tiny flowers! I’ve counted as many as 20 on my shrub.

As do the honeybees!

This Tachinid fly also loves the White mistflower blooms, along with Frostweed blooms–both boast  white flowers in autumn.

There are many kinds of pollinators who visit the mistflower blooms:  bees (native and honey), a variety of butterflies and moths, flies, and hummingbirds.   The White mistflower is also the host plant for Rawson’s Metalmark butterfly. When blooming, the flower clusters blanket the back garden with a sweet/spicy fragrance.  The flowers and pollinators that White mistflower attracts are the primary reasons this shrub is a desired garden addition, but it’s also water-wise and somewhat deer resistant.

My biggest problem with White mistflower is that birds love to flit through the shrub, eating insects along the branches, and once it’s time for spring pruning, I don’t posses the heart to whack it back to the ground.  I like shrubs that provide cover for the birds, and since mine rarely looses all its leaves, I’m reluctant to completely cut the shrub back. The result is that over the past few years, my mistflower has grown quite large and unwieldy.

I remedied my aversion to mistflower pruning late this past spring:  I pruned the mistflower down to about 12 inches and moved it to a slightly different spot where it will receive a smidge more sun.  By pruning this growing season, I’ll have a tidier shrub in autumn.  I’ll pinky swear to be a better mistflower gardener in the future.

I will prune the White mistflower in late winter.

I will prune the White mistflower in late winter.

I will prune the White mistflower in late winter.

There!  I’m sure that will do the trick for me!

The beauty of the blooms last well into December, as the seed heads are also attractive.

Still in flower, some seed heads are beginning to form.

The spent blooms-to-seed heads become a warm, toasty color, retaining their fun fuzz factor, and are decorative until a hard freeze and/or winter winds scatter them.  I usually spot a few seedlings in spring and summer and have shared many with other gardeners.

Post bloom period, the seed heads are attractive–less bright white, more muted.

The foliage thins as temperatures drop and sunlight diminishes.

Once a hard, lasting freeze happens, the shrub drops all remaining leaves and is dormant for until late February or early March.  (That’s here in Austin–further north, dormancy will last longer, south of Austin, foliage will flush out earlier, or may remain evergreen.)

 

October, November and even December are peak points of interest for the White mistflower, but it’s a lovely plant during other times of the growing season.  In spring, brilliant foliage adds to the greening of the garden.

When I prune my mistflower, the shrub bounces back quickly, limbs shooting upwards and arching gracefully as time march towards summer.  A few scattered blossom clusters appear in late spring/early summer, though it’s only a pale preview of the fall blossom show.

During summer, the shrub is tough–never wilting in heat, nor languishing in drought.

But it’s in the fall that the mistflower demands attention–and gets it!

I’m thrilled when buds begin developing!

The blooms never disappoint!

 

White mistflower is an easy plant to grow.  It requires minimal watering (after it’s established), is an excellent wildlife and pollinator plant, and provides mostly year-round  interest.  If you garden in Texas, it’s a must-have shrub for the native plant lover and wildlife provider.  It’s probably evergreen, or nearly so, in South Texas, deciduous in north Texas, something in-between in Central Texas.  It’s lovely everywhere!  If you garden elsewhere, check out your county extension agent’s office and local gardening community for information about this valuable shrub.

In spring and summer: White mistflower is full and lush and provides cover for wildlife:

This is an early spring (March?) shot after a hard pruning in February.

In autumn: snowy, fuzzy beauty abounds!

Here, the blooms are developing, but not quite open.

The flower clusters appear to weigh down the limbs.

In late fall and winter, seed heads are attractive.  The shrub may or may not be evergreen, it simply depends on where it’s planted.

 

Frost Again

A few weeks ago I wrote about the whimsical ice art produced by FrostweedVerbesina virginica, typically revealed by the season’s first hard freeze; you can read about this winter’s ice art unveiling in my garden here.  I was coldly, but pleasantly surprised this past weekend to see more Frostweed ice sculptures after Central Texas–and my garden–plummeted to 20ºF (-6ºC).

Curled and swirled outwardly from the fractured and frayed epidermis of the stems, the ice is fragile, usually melting within a few hours as the Texas sun warms.

In the shady parts of my garden, the ribbons of frost remained a testament to the chilly weekend.

Even in sun-warmed spots, the ice art endured through Sunday, mid-day.

Some years, the Frostweed ice capades never materialize because temperatures don’t reach the freezing point. In other years when temperatures have fallen just to freezing, but no lower, and then later a deeper freeze occurs, the sap in the Frostweed acclimatizes so that the immediate and dramatic burst-freeze-ice curl doesn’t happen. In those years, it’s just plain old un-frosty Frostweed sticks amongst the downed, brown discarded leaves until it’s time to prune the sticks and rake the leaves.

This year, with temperatures swinging wildly from 80ºF to 20ºF and back again, the Frostweed proved its worth for the winter garden–at its base,

…and at its crown.

…and in a vase.

Texas Native Plant Week

Not that I need an excuse to extol the virtues of utilizing Texas native plants in the home garden, but this week, October 16-22, is the official week to celebrate our beautiful native plants here in Texas. So, here goes!

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White tropical sage (Salvia coccinea) with Big muhly (Muhlenbergia lindheimeri)

I’ve gardened with native plants for more than 20 years.

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Gregg’s mistflower (Conoclinium greggii)

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Inland sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium), in autumn

And why not?  They’re easy to grow, with minimal effort in maintenance and watering.

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Frostweed (Verbesina virginica) and Rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala)

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Red tropical sage (Salvia coccinea)

Plus, they’re lovely.

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Henry Duelberg Sage (Salvia farinacea ‘Henry Duelberg’) with Purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea)

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American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)

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Lindheimer’s senna (Senna lindheimeriana) and Frostweed

Throughout North America (and probably, most parts of the world) native plants and the wildlife relying on them, are declining due to habitat destruction, the proliferation of invasive plants, widespread use of chemicals in industrial agriculture and urban gardens, and the changing climate.

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Barbados Cherry (Malpighia glabra) and Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

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Pigeonberry (Rivina humilis)

The individual gardener can’t solve all of those issues, nor completely reverse the damage done by decades of inappropriate land management, but we can do our part to repair the world in our own outdoor spaces.  One real way to heal the Earth and provide for its inhabitants is by growing native plants.

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Frostweed with nectaring honeybees, Texan Crescent and Grey Hairstreak butterflies

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Texas Crescent butterflies on Blue mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum)

Planting native trees, perennials, grasses, and annuals provides habitat required for wildlife to exist and beauty for the gardener to enjoy.

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Honeybee on Rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala)

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Green anole lizard on foliage of Frostweed (Verbesina virginica)

Once native plants are in play, it’s remarkable how interesting the garden becomes.

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Native bee (Megachile, Leafcutter ssp?) on Plateau goldeneye (Viguiera dentata)

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Endemic wildlife–pollinators, birds, reptiles, and other critters–can’t thrive in the typical American landscape of sterile, mono-culture turf–there’s nothing for them to eat, nor refuge for raising young.  But when native plants are grown, a diversity of wildlife results because wildlife native to a specific region shares biological synchronicity with plants from that region.   Plants are certainly pretty enough, but when clouds of butterflies are in the garden, or the sweet songs of birds are a constant, you know that you’ve hit the true native plants sweet spot:  the garden is living and alive, which is what a garden should be.

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Yellow bells (Tacoma stans)

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Honeybee on Frostweed (Verbesina virginica)

Are native plants free of work?  No, like any worthwhile effort, self-education is a must and there will be some maintenance in a native plants garden. But eschewing the sterile lawn and needy exotic annuals and perennials in favor of regionally appropriate native plants with their full palette of color and texture, inspires life and dynamism in the  garden through seasonal change and accompanying wildlife.

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Red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora)

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American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)

In some communities, it’s challenging to find native plants for purchase, but more nurseries than ever are stocking natives because consumers are demanding them.   Utilizing online nurseries for seed purchases, involvement in local native plant societies for information and plant/seed exchanges, and perusing gardening blogs and related websites, as well as studying books on plants and design basics, are good places to begin learning about the value, beauty, and how-tos of growing and gardening with native plants.  Check out the Garden Resources section of this blog for a by-no-means comprehensive list of websites useful for learning about native plants, wildlife and water-wise gardening, and related subjects.

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Big red sage (Salvia penstemonoides)

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Inland sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) in early summer

Autumn in Texas, at least for the southern and eastern parts of the state, is a good time to plant native trees and perennials and to sow wildflower seeds.  Winter is an excellent time to study garden design principles and plan for implementation for your new gardens, pathways, and sitting areas.  Gardening is a process–a wandering path, if you will–and transformation from a turf-centered lawn to a living, blooming, berrying garden, takes time. You will make mistakes, but that’s how you learn.  Take your time, connect with like-minded gardeners, and enjoy the native garden ride.

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White tropical sage (Salvia coccinea)

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Rock rose with Zexmenia (Wedelia texana)

It can seem daunting to completely change the garden modus operandi by switching from a “traditional” high-maintenance, turf-loving landscape to one based on native plants.  But even if you can’t convert your entire property to a native habitat, adding  a pollinator garden or two, planting native shade trees, and/or native shrubs for birds, is a good start in moving toward a native landscape. You will see a difference almost immediately as you add native plants to your property:  there will be color and life and it’s likely that you won’t spend as much time working in the garden as you do enjoying the garden.  Isn’t that what a garden should be?

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Texas Crescent butterfly on Blue mistflower

So, go native!  Plant native!  Celebrate Texas native plants–this week, and for months and years to come!

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Big muhly (Muhlenbergia lindheimeri) with blooming Plateau goldeneye