Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): A Seasonal Look

The joy of summer green and beauty of cool white are accurate descriptors of the Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, in my garden.   Gifted to me as a passalong plant some 20 odd years ago, it is a plant that is lovely to view and easy to grow.

A member of the Asteraceae (Aster) family, common Yarrow grows throughout a large area of continental North America.  According to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (LBJWC) plant data base, the plant is classified as both a single species with varieties and as multiple distinct species. 

My guess is that mine is the true native variety, considering how long I’ve had the plant (hybrids and cultivars are now more readily available than when I was given my Yarrow starts) and that the blooms are a natural snowy white, rather than hybrid pink or yellow.  Yarrow’s fine foliage is 5-6  inches tall and acts as a lacy ground cover for most of the year.   In early spring, the graceful low-growing foliage grows anew and also sends bloom stalks upward to meet the spring sky.  In time, buds appear at the terminal ends of multiple branches.

Depending upon sun amounts received, Yarrow bloom stalks can reach upwards to three feet.  Mine all grow with some shade, which is ideal for Yarrow. While Yarrow is a great plant for shade or part shade, in my experience, deep shade will render the plant a full-time, evergreen ground cover, but it abandons all attempts at blooming.

But with some sun, the garden benefits from both beautiful foliage and flowers.

By May and throughout June, the disk flowers open for pollinator business and gardener admiration.

Most of the pollinators I see on Yarrow are of a diminutive sort; these include many types of flies, tiny native bees, and the smaller butterflies.

This Horsefly-like Carpenter bee is one of the larger pollinators to visit my Yarrow blooms.

 

I grow Yarrow in several areas of my garden and it’s complementary to other members of a perennial garden.

Additionally, Yarrow adds a prairie quality to the summer garden.   The prime bloom time lasts about 6-8 weeks, but even when the flowers fade, Yarrow remains handsome.

 

Into July, a toasty quality appears on Yarrow as the pure white flowers go to seed. As summer settles in with its heat and glaring sun, the flowers decline, seeds develops and Yarrow’s pure white tops turn tan and toasty.

The white Yarrow blooms are hard to improve upon, but as the plant undergoes its seasonal evolution, I don’t mind the transition from blooms to seed.  It’s a gradual transition and the plant remains attractive for most of summer.

I’ve seen House Finches and Lesser Goldfinches nibbling at the Yarrow seeds, so along with it acting as a good pollinator plant, other wildlife benefit from this perennial as its growing season advances.

Yarrow’s flower-to-seed heads beauty doesn’t last forever, though. Typically, by the time the flowers are long done and the seed heads are crumbling, the bloom stalks are also bent with age and environmental impacts.  After all, they’ve held aloft sweet blooms and nutty seeds for many to enjoy through spring thunder and wind storms and searing summer sun.   Bottom line:  Yarrow is messy by late summer.

Sometimes, parts of the foliage turns brown in sympathy with the beige seed heads.

Once the bloom stalks have flopped for good, I cut them back.   There’s no real art or skill with this pruning, it’s just about cutting the now-brown stalks at or near the ground, which usually reveals new ground cover growth settling in place for the coming seasons:  autumn, winter, spring.

In the above photo, the remains of pruned stalks lie disguarded outside of the garden’s limestone border; you can see new Yarrow foliage emerged on the other side of the limestone.  This foliage will be the basis of the ground cover which will flush out during autumn and remain evergreen in winter.

In especially dry summers and/or if I haven’t irrigated, the new ground cover foliage endures a breaking-in period where it’s sparse and ratty looking; Yarrow down-time usually occurs in August.  Fortunately, the ugly duckling phase doesn’t last long,  because the foliage quickly greens up and fills in with help from the shorter days and regular rainfall that September normally brings.

 

While Yarrow flowers produce seeds (those finches are eating something!), the only spread I’ve observed is with the roots of established plants.  In this shot, the foliage has crept out of the border of the garden and into a walkway.  I’m tolerant of this creeping action–to a point.  When I’ve had enough of Yarrow’s teen-like testing of boundaries, I simply dig out the offenders and toss them into the compost bin or give to another gardener.  With healthy attached roots and a smidge of extra watering, Yarrow transplants easily.

 

By autumn, brilliant green, ferny foliage returns and the groundcover is set for the upcoming cool seasons.

I’ve experienced no insect or disease problems with Yarrow and it’s a drought tolerant plant.   Another plus with planting Yarrow is that it is deer resistant.  Its foliage and flowers are fragrant and has been used for medicinal purposes.  I’m not big on cut flowers, but Yarrow is a nice addition to a vase.

Because it’s somewhat statuesque from April to August and low-to-the ground for the rest of the year, care should be exercised when considering placement of Yarrow:  it works in the back of a bed during its peak blooming time, but will be unseen for the remainder of the year. My solution has been to plant all my Yarrow along pathways and pair it with similar sized plants.

Whether you purchase Yarrow or it’s given to you as a passalong plant, treasure it!  Yarrow is easy to grow and lovely to look at.

In Spring:

 

Summer:

My sweet old dog, Asher, enjoying the garden one afternoon, several years ago.  Asher died late last summer.

 

Late Summer:

Yarrow in its ground cover mode planted with Chili pequin (top right) and a container plant (left).

 

Autumn and Winter:

 

 

Good Morning, Sunshine

Golden groundsel, Packera obovata,  is a yellow-flowered perennial.

Its blooms are not orange-yellow, nor are they yellow-green.

Golden groundsel flowers are yellow.

There’s no ambiguity or ambivalence with these blooms: they are yellow, yellow, yellow.

One of the earliest of the spring bloomers here in the Austin area, this perennial pretty delivers a dab of sunshine to shady spots, and for the remainder of the year, carpets those same shady spots as a hardy ground cover.

I like the foliage.  The base foliage–the leaves that you see for 10 months of the year–are composed of oval, serrated-edged leaves which form a dense mat along the ground.  In late January, early February, the plant sends up slender stems along which grow more deeply lobed leaves.    In essence, the plant produces two styles of foliage.

It’s a plant with a two-for-one set of leaves!

As groundsel gears up for its spring show,  the slender flower stems develop clusters of buds which eventually open with radiant yellow blooms.  Viewing these beauties first thing in the morning is as good a wake-up as any strong cup of coffee.  In a garden or along a trail, you can’t miss these shards of sunshine–they demand attention.  Even before my own little patch of groundsel flowered-up, I’d spied a number of groundsels blooming along some urban trails where I hike.

These flowers are not shy and will not be ignored.

While Golden groundsel isn’t host to any particular insect, the flowers are good nectar sources for native bees and butterflies.  Somehow, I didn’t get any photos of the pollinators on my groundsel blooms, though I observed some tiny native Perdita bees.  In early March, I spotted this hairstreak on a groundsel flower at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

On a petal of the flower just below where  the hairstreak nectars, sits another insect. Bee, beetle, or bug, I can’t discern.

The patch of groundsel was growing in full sun and bloomed much earlier than mine.  On that early March day, the blooms appeared to be nearing the end of their cycle.

Just this week, some of my groundsel flowers have begun to seed out.

Snowy, fuzzy seedheads, clearly designed for wind dispersal, have replaced some of the sunny flowers, and many more will follow in similar fashion.  Golden groundsels are in the Asteraceae family of plants and demonstrate the pappus structure of seed development.  The delicate, hairy attachments carry the actual seed aloft on wind, planting themselves in other places and other gardens for future groundsel goodness.

Many of the native Texas plants that I grow seed out prolifically, but not the Golden groundsel.  Even though I allow mine to seed out, I’ve never found any groundsel seedlings in other parts of my garden.  What I have noticed is that my patch is leaning toward its neighbor, a group of iris, as the groundcover part of the plant is steadily creeping into their space.

Or perhaps, it’s the iris which are marching toward the groundsel.  Either way, I plan to expand the range of my groundsel. The groundsel leaves, presumably with roots attached, are outgrowing the original area that I devoted to it.  In late summer or early fall–once we’re out of our tough Texas summer–I’ll remove several of the abutting iris to make room for the groundsel plants.  I love my iris and they bloom for a longer time, but I have plenty of iris in my garden and not nearly enough Golden groundsel.  By transplanting a few more groundsel plants, I’ll welcome to more in my garden.

Native to Central Texas, Golden groundsel enjoys a wide distribution throughout North America.  As long as you can find seeds or plants, there’s no reason not to enjoy this lovely plant.  It’s a tough, easy-to-grow perennial with a bright disposition.

Just remember to don your sunglasses when they start blooming.

Curls-n-Caterpillars

I love my curls.

Tiny blue flowers open from the curl.

I also love my caterpillars.

Blue curls, or Caterpillars,  Phacelia congesta, are charming spring garden additions here in Texas and neighbors, Oklahoma and New Mexico.   Native to this region, Blue curls are wildflowers worth having.  A low-growing, deer resistant herb, this springtime bloomer has performed as an annual in my garden.   The ‘curls’ part of the name is because as the diminutive flowers develop and open, they unfurl from a coiled position.  As well, the row of unopened buds evoke the curled position of caterpillars, thus the second of the common names.

Blue curl “caterpillars” flank the open flowers.

I prefer blue curls, but both names are descriptive; it’s an aptly named plant!

I’ve experienced problems with germination–sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t–but on the handful of occasions when the plant successfully seeds out and blossoms to blooming, Blue curls haven’t disappointed. Two years ago during the latter part of winter, I noticed a “weed” growing in a pot in the back garden.

I don’t yank until I’m sure an unknown is an unwanted, so I watched.  During the time that I watched and waited, a friend extolled the virtues of the Blue curls she grows in her garden, kindly offering to me some of her seedlings.  An enthusiastic “yes” was my answer to her offer, and what she gave me was exactly the thing that was growing in the pot.

Blue curls, all around!

I planted the two gifted curls near the bird or wind planted volunteer, and the three individual plants thrived and bloomed in spring.

Caterpillar stage.

Blooming stage!

Such darling flowers: unusual construction (“Compound Cyme” according the the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center), and truly gorgeous in color and form.

I adore blue flowers.  I can only imagine what Blue curls look like, en masse, in a Texas Hill Country field.  For several years, during April and May, I’ve enjoyed viewing a small cluster of these blue beauties growing alongside a bike path that I regularly ride.  City mowers and street construction hasn’t yet destroyed the wildflowers along that particular street.

I also like the foliage of this wildflower;  I’m a sucker for deeply lobed, bright green leaves.

Pre-blossom foliage. The leaves look like those of a tomato plant.

The leaves become a bit tatty toward the end of their days.

Post-blossom foliage.

Two years ago, I dutifully allowed the plants to seed out, then sprinkled the seeds and chaff in various parts of my garden.  The next winter and spring, no Blue Curl seedlings appeared in my garden. Drat–no gorgeous Blue curl wave.  Nada, zilch, nothin’.

I whined to my friend, who graciously supplied me with more seeds. I spread some (not all) of  the seeds out last autumn, and voila!, this spring a grand total of four plants germinated.  One disappeared–subjected, no doubt, to someone’s late night munchies; another, I stepped on and crushed–yes, sometimes I am that careless.  But two survived; I transplanted both to better spots, and they grew to blooming beauty!  Unfortunately, the peak of flowering occurred during the first half of May when I was traveling, though I did get some enjoyment from these pretties as the first dainty blues opened shortly before I left.

In my absence, the pollinators spent a few weeks sipping from Blue curl goodness.  A good pollinator plant, I’ve observed tiny native bees feeding, though the literature suggests that Blue curls attract butterflies, too.

My two Blue curl individuals are now wrapping up their life activities and I will leave them to their own seed dispersal.

I have seeds from my friend and plan to add more to the garden next autumn for spring 2019. I’d love to have a greater number of these sweet little spring wildflowers as they are care-free once germinated, (unless stepped on–ahem), and they fit in a variety of light situations, though probably not deep shade.

But the Blue curls will do whatever they choose to do–and I’ll enjoy what they’re willing to give the garden, and the gardener.

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