I have a soft spot for weeds. I get asked on a weekly occurrence if a plant is a weed or a flower. I know it is frustrating to answer a question with a question but I like to ask the client if it is growing where it belongs. When you think about it bluegrass is a weed in a flower bed and a purple coneflower is a weed in the middle of the lawn. It’s all about perspective.
The last few blogs I’ve talked about ironweed, Joe-Pye weed, goldenrod and ragweed (an actual weed). This week I want to touch on two more: whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillata), and partridge pea (Cassia chamaecrista).
Partridge pea is a plant that I hold dear to my heart.
This annual flower used to belong in the Caesalpiniaceae family but has been recently moved to the bean family, Fabaceae. Like most plants in the bean family it will help add nitrogen to the soil. It can be found from the central US to the East and Southeast. If you look closely you will see a resemblance to the sensitive plant. And much like that plant the leaves will fold up when disturbed. Not as dramatic as the sensitive plant but enough to make it difficult to press for an herbarium collection. Yes, I’ve had the pleasure of trying to press this particular plant for my undergrad Local Flora class at Northwest Missouri State University. Needless to say it only took a few tries to get it done. The plant blooms late June through most of August growing in full sun about 18″-24″ tall. This plant doesn’t offer nectar to visiting pollinators but is a great source of pollen for bumble bees, digger bees, leafcutter bees, and long-horned bees. Flowers only last for a day.
Whorled milkweed is another often overlooked perennial that is found in our state.
Most people only pay attention to the common milkweed and this one is left out of the limelight. This native perennial is a late season bloom compared to some of the other milkweed and is in flower now. It does best in full sun and dry locations. Unlike their cousins the flowers are small and white and the foliage is needle-like. It isn’t flashy but it is still an attractive pollinator friendly plant to add to any perennial garden. It is not offered in cultivation so you would need to start this one from seed. Once established it isn’t uncommon to see this plant form small colonies. One of the best attributes of this plant is the long bloom time. Some reports have it blooming for up to two months.
Both of these plants are not considered a traditional ornamental that we would add to our landscape. However, we need to take in consideration of the local flora and the habitat that they support.