Cool Purples for the Summer Flowerbed

      On these hot days of summer, it’s nice to have some cooler colors in the flowerbed instead of bright reds, oranges and yellows.  Here are three native plants that bloom in cool, restful purple and are at their peak right now.  As a reminder, native plants are those found in a particular area prior to European settlement and usually need less fertilizer, water and maintenance than imported plants.

      None of these three are flowers that shout, “Look at me!”  You might have to walk right up to them in order to appreciate them properly.

      Blue Vervain.grows 2-5 feet tall.  Tiny purple flowers form a ruffle around the base of sharp cone-shaped centers from July until October.  The plant’s form is reminiscent of a chandelier.  Bright green leaves are narrow and toothed.  Blue Vervain prefers moist or wet soil in a sunny area so plant it in a low wet spot in the yard or next to a pond, bog or wet meadow.

      Blue Vervain is host to the Buckeye butterfly and is a nectar plant for many other butterflies as well as hummingbirds.  Goldfinches, juncos and other birds enjoy the seeds.

      Next up is Obedient Plant, also called False Dragonhead.  The name “obedient” comes from the fact that you can gently bend the flowerheads and they will stay where you’ve bent them.  “Dragonhead” comes from the shape of the flower spike which is similar in shape to the head of an imaginary dragon.  The spikes of two-lipped light purple or pink flowers bloom from late July until October.

      Obedient plant grows 2-5 feet tall in sun or light shade in dry or moist well-drained soil.  It is in the mint family, and like most others in that family, it spreads by creeping rhizomes which cover the ground thickly. It attracts hummingbirds and bees but is avoided by deer and rabbits.

      The final purple star of the warm weather flowerbed is Heal-All.  Also a member of the mint family, Heal-All also as a ground cover.  In fact, it can be walked on and mowed repeatedly and it will still produce the same lovely flowers.  Just like Blue Vervain, the light purple lipped flowers form a ruffle around a center cone, but the cone of Heal-All is much wider at 1 ¼ inches and is rounded on top.  Heal-All blooms from June to October and if left un-mown, can reach 20 inches in height.

      Heal-All is so named for the traditional belief that a tea made from the leaves or flowers cured many diseases.

      It should be noted that while Heal-All is considered a native plant, some consider it a lawn weed.  The DNR rates native plants with a “co-efficient of conservatism” that indicates the probability that a particular plant would be found in an un-degraded natural community.  Heal-All rates very low and is most often found in disturbed sites.  Sources other than the Wisconsin DNR do not consider Heal-All to be a native plant.

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