Two Quiet Natives for Your Garden – Blue Vervain and Boneset

      It’s not necessary that every flowering plant in your garden screams, “Look at me!”  Sometimes your eyes and brain need a place to rest.  Here are two plants native to Wisconsin that offer beauty but don’t flaunt it quite as boldly as others.  These are also good choices if you are in the process of transitioning to an entirely native planting.

      Blue vervain and boneset are both sturdy perennial plants that will fill empty spaces in a garden and support other plants both physically and aesthetically.

      Blue vervain (Verbena hastata) is a 3-5’ tall narrow plant that blooms from early July into fall with small, dark blue to purple candelabra-like spikes of flowers.  The leaves are toothed and slightly rough.  As a cut flower it would be appropriate for a very large bouquet that includes other late summer bloomers and grasses.  Blue vervain prefers full sun does best in moist soil.  A boggy or low spot or a rain garden would be ideal.

      Common boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) also prefers moist soil in a sunny spot.  It grows 2-4’ tall. The leaves are rough in texture but very pleasing to the eye.  They are fused around the stem, so it appears that the stem is piercing each set of pointed leaves which together form an elongated diamond.

      Boneset blooms beginning in early July and produces several clumps of fuzzy white flowers atop each stem.  This flower would do fine in a bouquet and the flower heads can be dried for use in art and craft endeavors.  Every year I anxiously await the bloom of boneset, only to realize once again, “Oh right, that’s all there is.”  Somehow it seems that such a robust plant with such a promising beginning should produce a flower with a little more wow.  Over the years though, I’ve grown to appreciate boneset as part of the larger landscape. 

      The following is not intended as medical advice, just an item of interest.  Boneset gets its name from the use of its leaves in a tea by Native Americans and early settlers to cure “breakbone fever” – known today as dengue fever – which is characterized by severe aching down to the bones.  An alternative explanation for the name is that when early herbal doctors observed the stems appearing to grow right through the leaves, they thought it signified that wrapping the leaves as bandages around splints would help to heal broken bones.

      Above I referenced transitioning a garden to native plants.  What are native plants and why should they be used in a landscape?  Native plants are those that grew in a particular location prior to European settlement.  Without exception they offer higher wildlife benefit than do imported plants and cultivars.  They have adapted over hundreds or thousands of years to local climate and soils, so once established, they require little care in the form of watering, staking and fertilizing.  Quiet beauty and little care – win, win!

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