Two Weedy Wildflowers-October 2011
Since it is once again Wildflower Wednesday, the sharing of wildflowers and natives hosted by my dear friend Gail of Clay and Limestone, it has been decided to showcase a couple of lowly weeds. Weeds to some, beautiful native wildflowers to some, invasive horrors to some, but these are plants that I admire and allow some to grow to their full potential here in the Fairegarden. The first is Acalypha virginica var. rhomboidea, shown above rooming nicely with lavender. There is some dispute over the naming, but that is best left to others who seem to have too much time on their hands.
Giving credit where it is due, the brilliant Les of A Tidewater Gardener supplied the identification after a photo was shared on facebook. Sometimes a plant is so poorly thought of, it doesn’t even rate a place in my book, even though it is a native to our area.
Nondescript in the green phase, it is the fall coloration that wins it garden privileges here. The common names of Virgina threeseed mercury, Virginia copperleaf, mercuryweed, threeseeded mercury and wax balls relate to the triple lobes of the seedpod and the turning of the leaf and calyx to a purple/copper color, shining like a red beacon when backlit. It is an annual, growing to about one or two feet tall in my garden. It appears at the edges of garden beds in partial to full sun and most are allowed to grow on and mature to keep the free plants coming year after year.
In fall, it is a standout with painterly warm shades that shine like amber garden jewelry in the lower light. What this plant needs is better PR, a nifty name, possibly including something good to eat, patented, of course, and the big push at garden shows and in magazines. How about Copper Caramel? Sounds like a winner. The Mourning Dove, Swamp Sparrow, and possibly other birds eat the seeds, while rabbits and White-Tailed Deer, among others browse on the foliage, primarily during the summer and fall. It lacks the toxic white latex that is a typical characteristic of other species in the Spurge family (Euphorbiaceae).
This is a tall, ferny plant that is rare in our zone 7a area. It grows more rampantly in warmer climates. It was particularly beautiful where we used to live in Texas, combining well with the purple berries of the native beautyberry along shady pathways. There is a downside to this wind-pollinated plant, dog fennel contains liver-damaging pyrrolizidine alkaloids, so livestock are known to eat all the turf around a stand of it. When crushed, the leaves emit a distinctive odor, not unpleasant to my smeller. The Latin name capill means hair, folium means leaf, and the foliage is quite ferny and beautiful.
Proper siting is necessary for this plant is over six feet tall without heels. Moved while still small to either side of the shed side entrance to the knot garden, a vision of stately structure with an informal vibe is conjured.
Staking was required once the flowering that weighed down the fronds occurred to allow free passage into the knot garden. There is a second, smaller fennel on the other side of the path. Perhaps next year will see the vision come to fruition.
I hope this inspires you to squint your perception of the weeds that grow freely in your own gardens. Used properly, they can be every bit as desirable as the expensive exotics that get all the attention and fanfare. And did I mention that they are free?