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Under used or little known native perennials for the garden

‘Mardi Gras’ sneezeweed’s palette of yellowish, orange-red flowers mix well with black-eyed Susan and larkspur in the late summer garden. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

‘Mardi Gras’ sneezeweed’s palette of yellowish, orange-red flowers mix well with black-eyed Susan and larkspur in the late summer garden. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Not too long ago, I put together a program about native plants. On the list, of course, were coneflower, black-eyed Susan and aster, common plants we all recognize as native species.

That got me thinking about the native plants that are lesser known and planted. Here are three perennials:

Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale) has attracted the attention of plant breeders the last few years, which has resulted in new cultivars on the market. The common name comes from the plant’s crushed, dried leaves’ use as pseudo snuff.

Frequently listed as a later blooming perennial, mine usually starts its show in mid-July and continues into September. Sneezeweed does best in full sun, average soil that is more moist than dry. This is a good plant for rain gardens or swales. It also is deer resistant.

Found throughout the United States, sneezeweed’s daisy-like, scalloped edged flowers raised centers attract butterflies, bees and other pollinating insects. It also is a long-lasting cut flower. Depending on the cultivar, sneezeweed’s height ranges from 18 inches to 4 feet and about 1 foot wide.

Cultivars to consider: Mardi Gras, Moerheim Beauty, Red Jewel and Short ‘n’ Sassy.

Butterflies and bees visit the flowers of ‘Honeysong Purple’ stokes aster. Photo courtesy perennialresource.com

Butterflies and bees visit the flowers of ‘Honeysong Purple’ stokes aster. Photo courtesy perennialresource.com

Stokes aster (Stokesia laevis), native to the southeast United States, is another long-bloomer, usually starting in late May and continuing well into July. This low-growing plant is found in wetlands and other moist areas in nature, but once established in the garden, it is drought tolerant. Stokes aster does best in full sun and well-drained soil.

Butterflies and bees like the flowers, but rabbits do not. This is not a strong-stemmed plant and tends to be a bit more prostrate rather than upright. It usually is 12 to 15 inches tall and wide, so plant in the front of the border for a better show. Stokes aster is a lovely cut flower. Cultivars to consider: Colorwheel, Blue Danube, Peachie’s Pick and Honeysong Purple.

‘Hot Lips’ turtlehead thrives in full sun to partly shady wet areas. Photo courtesy Monrovia

‘Hot Lips’ turtlehead thrives in full sun to partly shady wet areas. Photo courtesy Monrovia

Turtlehead (Chelone) can be a problem solver for partly shady areas with wet soil, rich in organic matter. Also tolerant of full sun, turtleheads are found in the eastern United States. The flowers of turtlehead are what give the plant its common name. C. glabra is white; C. obliqua and C. lyonii are red.

Hummingbirds and bumblebees pollinate these plants, which bloom mid- to late summer. They get 1 to 3 feet tall and spread by rhizomes to form a colony up to 20 inches wide. This habit makes turtlehead a good choice for soil retention and use in rain gardens or swales. Turtlehead also can be cut for indoor arrangements. Besides the straight species, the only readily available cultivar is ‘Hot Lips’, reputed to be deer resistant.

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