Plants by season: Summer
Black Cohosh - Actaea racemosa
Black cohosh grows in slightly acidic soil, and prefers full to partial shade, doing best with a couple of hours of early morning sun. It grows from 4’ to 6’ tall, with stalks of small creamy white blooms in June/July. The flowers are known to repel bugs, and it is sometimes known as “bugbane”. It prefers rich soil and is slow growing; it also benefits from protection from high winds. The roots of the black cohosh were used medicinally by Native Americans and it is still used today to alleviate uncomfortable symptoms of menopause and menstruation and to induce labor.
Boneset - Eupatorium perfoliatum
Boneset is comprised of one unbranched stem which grows from 2’ to 4’ tall. The bases of the leaves often grow together, surrounding the stem and making it look as if the stem pierces through them. White flowers appear in late summer. Boneset has a fibrous root system which spreads to create small colonies. It is primarily a wetland plant and prefers rich, moist soil and partial shade. It has been used medicinally to break fevers and for gastrointestinal problems. Parts of the plant provide food for the larvae of the lined ruby tiger moth, burdock borer moth, three-lined flower moth, blackberry looper, geometrid moth, and clymene moth.
Bottlebrush Grass - Elymus hystrix
This native of the eastern United States is a delicate grass that prefers the filtered light and rich soil of the woodlands, and is often found growing with sugar maples, ash, and basswood. It is named for the seed head, which is about the size and shape of a bottlebrush. The leaves are sparse and a gray-green color, and it is a cool-season grass, which means most of its growth occurs in the spring and fall. Bottlebrush grass is a host plant for the northern pearly eye butterfly as well as a number of moths.
Brown-Eyed Susan - Rudbeckia triloba
The brown-eyed Susan was not originally native to central New York, but has naturalized to our area and its blooms are a welcome sight in the native garden in the fall. (The only rudbeckia that goes back to pre-colonial times at Clark Reservation is R. laciniata, the very tall cut-leaved coneflower.) The other two types of rudbeckias that we see in central New York in the summer have naturalized to our area; they are the shorter R. fulgida and taller R. hirta, which both go by the popular name “black-eyed Susan”. The brown-eyed Susan will grow 2’ to 3’ tall and branches far more than other rudbeckis species, spreading up to 2’ wide. It does best in somewhat moist soil in full sun, but will tolerate partial shade, and reseeds freely.
Butterfly Weed - Asclepias tuberosa
Butterfly weed is one of several species of milkweed native to the northeastern United States, all of which are the only species of plant that the Monarch butterfly caterpillar can use to reproduce. Unlike common milkweed, butterfly weed has a thick tuberous rhizome which was used by Native Americans for pulmonary ailments. It grows from 1.5 to 2 feet tall and prefers full sun and does best in hot, dry conditions, even growing in gravel or in cracks between rocks. Butterfly weed has bright orange flowers in early to midsummer. Easily propagated from seed, it takes a year or two to bloom, and it is becoming more and more common in gardens.
Canadian Anemone - Anemone canadensis
This plant can be found in woodland areas and does best in dry dappled shade. The leaves grow about 6” high, with the 1 – 1.5” white flowers blooming in early summer on thin stems up to 2’ tall. The Canadian anemone spreads by rhizomes and can be aggressive, forming colonies. Because all parts of the plant are toxic, deer and other mammals do not normally eat it, as the foliage can irritate their gastrointestinal tract.
Common Evening Primrose - Oenothera biennis
The evening primrose is named for its flowers, which are partially or fully closed during the day and open in the evening. It is a biennial, living for two years; it grows a basal rosette of leaves during the first year, and then sends up flower spikes the second year which can grow to 6’ tall. The plants flowers from June through October; the flowers last only a couple of days. Evening primrose is widely considered to be a “weed”, primarily due to its aggressive reseeding. However, it has been used by Native Americans for a wide variety of medicinal purposes. Both leaves and roots have also been used for food.
Common Milkweed - Asclepias syriaca
Common milkweed and other milkweed species are named for Asklepios, the Greek god of medicine. It grows up to 5’ tall and can be very aggressive. Common milkweed is perhaps best known for being the plant that feeds Monarch caterpillars; however, there are a number of other milkweed species native to our area that the Monarch caterpillars can feed on (e.g., Butterfly Weed, Pink (Swamp) Milkweed). Common Milkweed has been losing habitat due to development, which has contributed to the decline of not only the monarch butterfly, but other insect species as well. Over 450 species of insect feed on common milkweed. Lately a tropical milkweed has been introduced by nurseries into American yards due to the demand for milkweed; monarch caterpillars can eat it, but it eventually kills them. More on tropical milkweed at https://xerces.org/2018/04/19/tropical-milkweed-a-no-grow/.
Common Three-seeded Mercury - Acalypha rhomboidea
This plant (also known as “copperleaf”) is another native plant that is often considered a “weed”, yet it provides food for a wide variety of wildlife. The younger leaves have a reddish tint when they first sprout, turning green as they mature. It grows from 8” to 24” in height and is a member of the spurge family; however, it lacks the milky sap of most spurges. It is native to the eastern half of North America, and prefers full sun and disturbed areas, but will grow aggressively in a wide variety of light, moisture, and soil conditions. It blooms from midsummer to fall. Flowers are very small and cluster at the base of the leaf stems, so they are difficult to see without moving the leaves.
Goat's Beard - Aruncus dioicus
This North American perennial does best in partial shade in moist conditions, although it will tolerate normal soils. Growing from 3’ to 5’ tall, the feathery leaves and flower spikes make a striking addition to the home garden, and is somewhat similar to the astilbe in appearance. It blooms from late May through midsummer. Goat’s beard is dioecious, and needs both a male and a female plant in order to reproduce. It is a member of the rose family, and can spread underground by rhizomes. The ground root of this plant has been used for bee stings and to reduce bleeding.
Harebell - Campanula rotundifolia
The Harebell (sometimes called “Bluebell”) is native to many habitats in the northern hemisphere, and is often associated with Scotland. It can withstand a wide variety of moisture and soil conditions. It is a small plant, with the wiry stems reaching only about 12” tall and flowers about 1” across. A dye from this plant was used for tartans in Scotland, and is the symbol of the MacDonald clan. In Europe the plant is thought to have minor medicinal value.
Herb Robert - Geranium robertianum
Another plant that is commonly known as a “weed”, this low-growing plant seeks out moist, partially-shaded calcium-rich sites such as Clark Reservation. However, it can be found in almost any conditions. An annual, it is very common in central New York, and is found mainly in sites where the soil has been disturbed. The flowers appear from June to October, and are very small (.25” to .5” in diameter). It is native to most of North American except for the deep southern and central midwestern states. Because the same plant is also native to areas of Europe, its North American nativity is not universally agreed upon.
Indian Hemp (Dogbane) - Apocynum cannabinum
In the same family as milkweed, Indian hemp has been used for rope, baskets, snares, and fishing nets due to its strong yet silky fibers. The plant has been used for a wide range of medicinal purposes, but can be toxic if ingested without proper preparation. It contains cardiac glycosides, which are chemicals that inhibit the function of the heart muscle. The extensive root system of this plant has been employed to provide slope and streambank stabilization and for erosion control. Like common milkweed, Indian hemp is a very aggressive plant and spreads underground through its roots.
Northern Bush Honeysuckle - Diervilla lonicera
Northern bush honeysuckle grows up to three feet tall and is very adaptable, thriving in a variety of soils and light conditions. New leaves in the spring emerge in tones of copper and bronze, gradually turning green as they mature. Yellow flowers open in early summer and the nectar is particularly popular with butterflies and hummingbird moths. Later in summer the flowers turn a deeper yellow and then change to a peach or red color. Bush honeysuckle blooms until late summer; foliage turns yellow and red in the fall. It spreads through stoloniferous roots and eventually forms clonal colonies.
Swamp Milkweed - Asclepias incarnata
Swamp milkweed is native to the eastern two-thirds of North American and found naturally in wet areas. Although it prefers moist soil, it will also grow in average conditions and can tolerate heavy clay soil. It prefers full sun to partial shade, and the flowers are fragrant. As a native milkweed, it is a host plant for the Monarch caterpillar and butterfly. The downy part of the seeds is six times more buoyant than cork and five times warmer than wool; it was grown in quantity to use as stuffing in life jackets and pillows during World War II. Swamp milkweed was once widely used to treat lung conditions, but can be toxic when taken in large doses. It’s tough, stringy stem has been used to make rope and twine.
Tall Meadow Rue - Thalictrum pubescens
Growing up to 6’ tall, tall meadow rue has small white blossoms in midsummer, blooming later than the shorter early meadow rue. It is in the buttercup family, with decorative foliage similar to that of columbines. The delicate flowers are small, but grow in large fluffy clusters and last for quite a while. Although it prefers moist soil, it will grow well in normal soil as well, and prefers sun or dappled shade. In full shade, it will be shorter, only getting to 3’ or so. In full sun, moisture will need to be maintained.
Tall Thimbleweed - Anemone virginiana
Tall thimbleweed is found in woodlands in dappled shade, and blooms at a time when few other woodland plants are blooming. Deer tend to leave this plant alone, as it contains a poisonous substance which can cause blistering in the mouth and digestive tract. It is a very versatile plant and will tolerate a wide variety of light and soil conditions. The base of the plant is about 12” tall, with the flowers rising another foot or so above it. The seed heads are thimble-shaped, which is where the name comes from, and after bursting they fluff out like cotton.
Wild Bergamot - Monarda fistulosa
Wild bergamot grows to about 2’ tall, and blooms in June; it prefers full sun, but will tolerate light shade. The blooms are usually various shades of lavender. This plants spreads through rhizomes and can be aggressive under the right conditions. It is easily reproduced by seeds, which appear in the fall; once they are dried, they can be sowed immediately for germination the following spring. Wild bergamot has been widely used by many Native American tribes for colds, abdominal issues, infections, and headaches, and bergamot tea is still used today. The plant is in the mint family, and the crushed leaves and stems have a pleasant, minty odor. Because of this, most mammals do not eat it.
Yarrow - Achillea millefolium
The base of the yarrow plant grows up about 8-9” tall, with the stems of the white flowers reaching up to foot higher in June. It prefers well-drained soil and is drought-tolerant. Although it is available at nurseries in a variety of colors, research is beginning to reveal that insects will often reject a native plant when the blooms or leaves are not the original color. The plant can be very aggressive in full sun, and rapidly spreads through rhizomes. This plant has been used by Native Americans as a pain reliever and a stimulant, and as a tea to induce sleep.
Yellow Woodsorrel - Oxalis grandis
Yellow woodsorrel is perennial native to the eastern United States; New York is at the northernmost point of its range. It is a low-growing plant (under 1’) that can easily be mistaken for a type of clover (many species of which are not native to New York). The leaves, unlike clover, and large heart-shaped, and often have a very thin purple border. This plant is usually found in disturbed soil in full sun, and can cause stomach upset to g razing animals. Small 1/2” flowers appear in June.