Polite Wildness: Well Behaved Wildflowers for Small Spaces

Prairie Dropseed and Pale Purple Coneflower utilized in a formal walkway

Prairie Dropseed and Pale Purple Coneflower utilized in a formal walkway

Often after I give a talk a woe-be-gotten gardener will wait patiently to speak with me only to confess that as much as she’d love to grow wildflowers she doesn’t have space for their wild and wonton ways. I am always happy to inform her that there is a small army of well-behaved perennial North American wildflowers that do not sprawl via underground rhizomes or self-sow aggressively.

Clump-forming and oh so polite Prairie Dropseed works beautifully in formal, contemporary designs.

Clump-forming and oh so polite Prairie Dropseed works beautifully in formal, contemporary designs.

The advantages of using native plants in formal designs or small garden spaces are plentiful! Drastically reduced need for inputs: no watering – once established; no fertilization or deadheading required, no soil amendment required at any time! In addition, the ecological benefits are compelling; wildflowers attract the beneficial insects that destroy bad bugs and support native pollinator populations including the beloved Monarch butterfly.

Pasque Flowers (Anemone patens) are a welcome sight in a small, urban garden.

Pasque Flowers (Anemone patens) are a welcome sight in a small, urban garden.

 Personalized Gardening Solutions  – Whatever kinds of conditions you are facing, even extreme ones like compact clay, pure beach sand or nutrient depleted soils, the Wildflower Farm Seed Selector Tool is a shining beacon of helpfulness.  http://www.wildflowerfarm.com/index.php?route=product/category&path=66 Simply input your conditions and you’ll get a list of all the wildflowers and native grasses that thrive in the exact conditions of your site.

The following clump-forming native perennials perform equally well in compact urban gardens or formal gardens. Each species will bloom for a month or longer, has attractive foliage and is extremely garden-worthy in all respects.

Spring time Golden Alexander (Zizia aurea), Pasque Flowers (Anemone patens), Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon white & pink) Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum), Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis), Native Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), Beardtongue (Penstemon grandiflorus)

Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum) partners well with late blooming tulips in the Springtime garden.

Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum) partners well with late blooming tulips in the Springtime garden.

 Summer Sweet Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia subtomentosa), Butterfly weed (Asclepius tuberosa), Red Milkweed (Asclepius incarnata), Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea), Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida)

Sweet Black Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia subtomentosa) form larger and larger clumps each year.

Sweet Black Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia subtomentosa) form larger and larger clumps each year.

 

Tennessee Coneflower is shorter than other Coneflowers and blooms for several months!

Tennessee Coneflower is shorter than other Coneflowers and blooms for several months!

Late Summer Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) , Ozark Coneflower (Echinacea paradoxa),  Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), Tennessee Coneflower (Echinacea tennessensis),  Prairie Blazing Star (Liatris pnychnostachya) , Meadow Blazing Star (Liatris ligulistylus), Culver’s Root, (Veronica virginicum)   Ironweed (Vernonia  fasciculata ) , Sweet Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum)   Nodding Wild Onion (Allium cernuum) , Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccifolium) , Wild Quinine ({Parthenium integrifolium), Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia syphilitica) , Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)

New York Ironweed (Vernonia) produces stunning spikes of rich purple blooms.

New York Ironweed (Vernonia) produces stunning spikes of rich purple blooms.

 

Rich blue spikes of Great Blue Lobelia add drama to a large or small formal border.

Rich blue spikes of Great Blue Lobelia add drama to a large or small formal border.

Fall Rough Blazing Star (Liatris aspera), Sky Blue Aster (Symphyotrichum oolentangiense), Showy Goldenrod (Solidago speciosa), Stiff Goldenrod (Oligoneuron rigidum), Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepsis)

Showy Goldenrod is a clump-forming, non-aggressive addition to the fall garden.

Showy Goldenrod is a clump-forming, non-aggressive addition to the fall garden.

Sky Blue Asters are airy, self-contained pockets of color for the fall garden.

Sky Blue Asters are airy, self-contained pockets of color for the fall garden.

Delusions of Shrubbery Several tall, wide and well-behaved wildflowers are firmly convinced they are well-behaved shrubs – Blue False Indigo (Baptisia australis) , White False Indigo (Baptisia alba) , Wild Senna (Senna hebecarpa )  - All have lush, attractive foliage and showy blooms .White and Blue False Indigos bloom in early summer and Wild Senna in mid to late summertime.

White False Indigo's striking purple stems and white blooms add drama in the early summer border.

White False Indigo’s striking purple stems and white blooms add drama in the early summer border.

 

shrub-like Wild Senna adds exotic bloom and foliage to the summer garden.

shrub-like Wild Senna adds exotic bloom and foliage to the summer garden.

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“They’re not weeds!”

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Ironweed

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Butterflyweed

Some rather lovely plants have had the unfortunate experience of being named some sort of weed.  Butterflyweed, milkweed, ironweed, and Joe pye weed to name a few.

At Wildflower Farm we sell the seeds for seven wildflower species whose name contains the word ‘weed’.

 

In fact, a weed is only a plant that is growing where you don’t want it to.  So while your neighbour may be on a rampant mission to eradicate all common milkweed in his yard, you are planting more every year.  Your neighbour’s milkweeds are weeds and yours are not.  To each his (or her) own.

It’s a common occurrence at our house when the weedwhacker gets fired up…

“Don’t cut down my flowers!”

“You mean the weeds growing in the driveway?”

“They’re not weeds, they’re black-eyed Susans!”

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So as I was driving this past weekend and I saw what looked like Joe pye weed growing in the ditches and up on the banks that run alongside the road, I wondered to myself, how many people drive past here and see these purple beauties growing here? And how many just look and see a weedy slope?

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Joe pye weed flowers attract lots of hungry insects. Soldier beetles especially love the later season snack as they gear up for mating season.

And this week, during some more than exciting dog adventures that included mini toads and more deer flies than I could count on both hands, I saw more Joe pye weed running along the sides of the trail.  Intermixed with some monarda, white yarrow, black-eyed Susan, and evening primrose, the Joe pye weed looks right at home.

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monarda, black-eyed Susan, common evening primrose, and white yarrow

 

More than likely, the Joe pye weed is helping to stabilize the trail banks that lead to an ephemeral stream that had a bit of water after our five days of rain.

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The faint purple of the Joe pye weed and the yellow goldenrod that have taken over the low lying banks of the walking trail keep the soil from eroding.

 

About Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum)

Growing 6-10 feet tall, Joe pye weed will bloom summer into fall.  Grows well in full sun and part shade, requires minimal maintenance, and a dry to medium soil (like I said, it’s growing on its own in the hot, sunny, dry slopes alongside the road and in the fairly moist areas alongside the trail).

Another great feature – butterfly magnet!  Offering a late season pollen and nectar snack, Joe pye weed will be a welcome stopover for many native insects as they gear up to mate, fly south, or overwinter here.

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This great spangled fritillary spent some time hopping between a few Joe pye weed flowers before settling down here for a snack or maybe just a rest.

 

Finally, a few weeks back, Ann sent us a photo of the Joe pye weed she has growing in her backyard.  She bought two 6 inch plants from Wildflower Farm four years ago when live plants were still available.  Today, her plants are, well, a little bit taller than 6 inches and they are beautiful!  Way to go Ann!

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What native plants do you have growing in your gardens?

 

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EVIL ME!!! Enabling Your Wildflower Addiction…..

Glorious Yellow Coneflowers and Prairie Blazingstars!!!

Glorious Yellow Coneflowers and Prairie Blazingstars!!!

Window Shopping for Wildflowers

If, like me you’ve got an addiction to the beauty and low maintenance ways of wildflowers you’re constantly scoping out native plants to feed your wildflower need. Late summer is loaded with wildflower beauty!!  Allow me to enable your wildflower addiction with the following 10 wildflower recommendations:

Wildflower Workhorses

These beauties demonstrate enormous vigor and versatility. All are long-blooming and happy to grow in sun or shade. Not fussy in the least, these easy going plants thrive in sandy soil, loam and even compacted clay.

Oxe-Eye Sunflowers bloom prolifically all summer long and make excellent cut flowers.

Oxe-Eye Sunflowers bloom prolifically all summer long and make excellent cut flowers.

Oxe Eye Sunflowers (Heliopsis helianthoides) Bright eyed and bushy tailed these perennial native sunflowers bloom their hearts out for you all the live-long summer.

Monarda, Bergamot or BeeBalm - are all common names for Monarda fistulosa.

Monarda, Bergamot or BeeBalm – are all common names for Monarda fistulosa.

Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) Thriving on neglect, these pollinator magnets smell delicious. Their soft, mauve blossoms belong in every garden.

You can't go wrong with Wild Quinine!

You can’t go wrong with Wild Quinine!

Wild Quinine (Parthenium integrifolium) I’ve often confessed my allegiance to Wild Quinine in my many public speaking presentations and in my book, Taming Wildflowers and with good reason. Thick, wide, cream-coloured blossoms on a sturdy stem make Wild Quinine the perfect plant to include in any garden or vase. Wild Quinine serves equally well as the primary design element in an all-white garden or soft colored bouquet or as a background blossom that highlights brightly colored flowers. I LOVE Wild Quinine.

Yellow Coneflower are stunning in the summertime garden!

Yellow Coneflower are stunning in the summertime garden!

Yellow Coneflower  (Ratibida pinnata) Magnificent plants in the summertime garden, Yellow Coneflower’s cheery bright yellow petals brighten a late season garden immeasurably!!

Wildflowers for Super Sunny Sandy Spots

There’s something magical and downright impressive about plants that grow in pure gravel. With zero need for watering, these high performance plants are perfect for rockeries, scree and sand dune gardens. Here are a few of my favourites:

A colourful wave of pink delight - that's Wine Cups!

A colourful wave of pink delight – that’s Wine Cups!

Wine Cups (Calliroe involucrata) If you enjoy cascading waves of bright pink flowers that bloom all summer long in the blazing heat and never require watering then you will adore Wine Cups! Deep tap roots help wine cups bloom prolifically all summer long. I grow them in my hilly rock garden, also called a scree. If I had a stone wall in a sunny spot of my garden I’d plant wine cups and enjoy their pink cascading waves of beauty enhancing my handsome stone wall all summer long.

Delicate Dotted Mint thrives on neglect.

Delicate Dotted Mint thrives on neglect.

Dotted Mint (Monarda punctata) Happy to miraculously grow in pure gravel, I am blown away by Dotted Mint’s oh so subtle interplay between soft pink and cream petals. Check out the complexity of its three-tiered blossom – a masterpiece of floral engineering. Dotted Mint is a structural marvel. How awesome!!!

After the first hard frost Little Bluestem's colour turns to a subtle shade of dusty pink.

After the first hard frost Little Bluestem’s colour turns to a subtle shade of dusty pink.

Little Bluestem's blades are blue, green, grey and a bit of turquoise in just the right light.

Little Bluestem’s blades are blue, green, grey and a bit of turquoise in just the right light.

Little Bluestem  (Schizachyrium scoparium)– My go-to decorative native grass, Little Blue Stem contributes visually to any and all gardening styles. If you have a relaxed, meadow style garden plant Little Blue in swaths. I’ll often design it into sleek, highly structured decorative grass gardens and include swaths of bright orange Butterfly Weed which grows to approximately the same height as Little Blue.  I see hints of turquoise in Little Blue’s handsome blue, green, grey blades. In fall Little Blue transforms into an ethereal dusty pink mass that sways in the wind.

Loam and Damp Dirt Lovers

If you’ve got luscious dark and loamy soil you owe it to yourself to grow swaths of these three exquisite wildflowers:

Ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata) Ironweed boasts the richest, boldest deep purple flowers imaginable. End of story.

Ironweed has very strong stems and a stunning purple flower.

Ironweed has very strong stems and a stunning purple flower.

Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia syphilitia) Great Blue Lobelia sports blue spikes that are vastly easier to grow than its finicky sibling the red Cardinal Flower. And who doesn’t appreciate blue in the garden?

Great Blue Lobelia is beautifully easy to grow!

Great Blue Lobelia is beautifully easy to grow!

Dramatic purple spikes of Prairie Blazingstar, the tallest of the Blazingstar family.

Dramatic purple spikes of Prairie Blazingstar, the tallest of the Blazingstar family.

Prairie Blazingstar (Liatris pycnostachya) Like all Liatris, Prairie Blazingstar blooms from the top down. This gorgeous purple spike offers drama and vivid color in the summer garden.

To find more wildflowers that will love your soil, sun and moisture conditions you’ll appreciate this handy wildflower seed selector tool:

Get Growing!!!

Plant wildflower seeds in late fall and let nature do the heavy lifting!  When wildflower seeds fall to the ground, their shells get roughed up all winter then they can successfully germinate in moist, warm spring soil.  Nature programs many wildflowers to require winter sowing or cold moist stratification before they’ll begin to grow. This fall simply plant wildflower seeds into a pot or into the ground and let snow and freezing temperatures do the rest. Or, instead, you can replicate winter conditions by planting wildflower seeds in a damp growing medium in small pots. Refrigerate the planted seeds for 4-6 weeks then place them in warm, moist, spring like conditions and they’ll germinate for you!!! If you’d like to learn more about germinating wildflowers from seed check out the chapter on “Making Wildflower Babies” in my book, Taming Wildflowers.

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Don’t Bother Me!!! I’m Bouqueting…….

 

 

 

 

 

My favorite pastimes in life are gardening, reading, dancing, enjoying the company of friends and family and bouqueting.  If bouqueting’s not a real word, as far as I’m concerned it should be!

This morning I set out to fashion a single beautiful blog-worthy bouquet to demonstrate “My Top Ten Wildflowers for Cutting.”Things did start out innocently enough.

Phase I of my first bouquet included: Prairie Blazingstar, Wild Quinine and Culver's Root

Phase I of my first bouquet included: Prairie Blazingstar, Wild Quinine and Culver’s Root

But in my experience, bouquets are like potato chips – I can’t pick just one……

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Allow me to introduce you to all four wildflower bouquets.

Bouquet 1: White: Culver's Root, Wild Quinine; Yellow: Oxe Eye Sunflower, Black Eyed Susan; Purple: Purple Coneflower, Anise Hyssop, Prairie Blazingstar; Orange: Butterflyweed

Bouquet 1: White: Culver’s Root, Wild Quinine; Yellow: Oxe Eye Sunflower, Black Eyed Susan; Purple: Purple Coneflower, Anise Hyssop, Prairie Blazingstar; Orange: Butterflyweed

Closer look at Bouquet 1

Closer look at Bouquet 1

Bouquet 2: Orange/Red/Yellow: Blanketflower; Purple: Ironweed,Purple Prairie Clover and Purple Coneflower early bloom phase; Yellow: Stiff Goldenrod

Bouquet 2: Orange/Red/Yellow: Blanketflower; Purple: Ironweed,Purple Prairie Clover and Purple Coneflower early bloom phase; Yellow: Stiff Goldenrod

Stiff Goldenrod is an awesome filler; Purple Ironweed performs beautifully as a cut flower and you can NEVER go wrong with Blanketflower!!

Stiff Goldenrod is an awesome filler; Purple Ironweed performs beautifully as a cut flower and you can NEVER go wrong with Blanketflower!!

Bouquet 3: Yellow: Oxe Eye Sunflower and Black Eyed Susan; Pink & White: Dotted Mint; Purple: Purple Coneflower; Grass: Canada Wild Rye

Bouquet 3: Yellow: Oxe Eye Sunflower and Black Eyed Susan; Pink & White: Dotted Mint; Purple: Purple Coneflower; Grass: Canada Wild Rye

Comprised of Left-Overs - Bouquet 4: Purple: Pale Purple Coneflower, Monarda, Prairie Blazingstar, Anise Hyssop; White: Wild Quinine, Culver's Root; Pink/Cream: Dotted Mint; Yellpw: Branched Coneflower, Oxe Eye Sunflower, Black Eyed Susan.

Comprised of Left-Overs – Bouquet 4: Purple: Pale Purple Coneflower, Monarda, Prairie Blazingstar, Anise Hyssop; White: Wild Quinine, Culver’s Root; Pink/Cream: Dotted Mint; Yellpw: Branched Coneflower, Oxe Eye Sunflower, Black Eyed Susan.

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I love having each and every one of these wildflowers in my garden. If you’d like to enjoy them in your garden too, remember that Fall’s the BEST time to seed wildflowers!

 

 

 

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Enter the Echinacea

In a casual stroll about the Wildflower Farm, I started to notice just how many coneflower species are growing amongst the myriad of mid-summer bloomers.  At my home, I have a few growing but they’re late this year and definitely not as far along as the ones at the farm.  I was, however, able to capture a photo of this amazing little jumping spider sitting atop the unopened purple coneflower.

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I love the spiral created beneath this little spider.  Echinacea actually comes from the Greek work echinos which translates to ‘sea urchin’ in reference to the spiky seed head.

 

Back to the farm…

There are five species of true coneflower growing here at the farm.  By true coneflower, I mean those from the Echinacea family.  You should know that all of the coneflowers are excellent for attracting pollinators.  Plus, they provide a high quality food source for the adult monarch butterflies.  Yes, the caterpillars require milkweed to survive but the adults have to eat, too.  They need the energy to mate, lay another batch of eggs for the summer, and, eventually, to make the long journey to Mexico.  Beyond having your garden look great all season long, know that by providing native blooms from spring to fall, you’re supporting several generations of monarchs and many other native species.

And now for the amazing coneflowers here at Wildflower Farm…

Purple Coneflower

The classic coneflower.  Pictured here with a goldenrod crab spider at the edge of one of Wildflower Farm’s meadows, the Purple Coneflower is a beautiful addition to any garden.  Growing well in sand to clay, it can tolerate dry to medium soils and will bring about the birds and the bees.  And the monarchs, swallowtails, soldier beetles…and spiders.

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Pale Purple Coneflower

Definitely the saddest looking of the bunch, the Pale Purple Coneflower just screams Eeyore to me.  The long, narrow petals range in colour from the deep pink you see below to a very light, almost white, pink.

The Pale Purple Coneflower works surprisingly well in arrangements with other tall-stemmed flowers like the Yellow Coneflower, Prairie Blazingstar, and Culver’s Root.  And as an added bonus, it loves the clay.

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Narrow-leaf Coneflower

Looking similar to the Purple Coneflower, the Narrow-leaf Coneflower is stockier with short petals. They will grow 1-3 feet in sandy to loamy soils.  No clay for these guys.

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Ozark Coneflower

The only non-purple/pink coneflower on the list, the Ozark Coneflower originates from Arkansas and Missouri, specifically in the mountainous Ozark regions.

The cone of the Ozark Coneflower is fairly robust and contrasts well with the brilliantly bright yellow petals.  A hardy plant that survives Ontario’s winters, it will grow 3-4 feet tall in everything from sand to clay.

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Tennessee Coneflower

A rare plant thought to have gone extinct in the 1960s, the Tennessee Coneflower is unique in that its petals remain upright as it ages.  As you have seen with the other coneflower species, petals that begin pointing upwards at a young age eventually droop downwards over time.

Excellent in sandy soils and also tolerant of clay soils, it is a hardy plant for compact spaces, growing 1-2 feet in height.

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All of the coneflowers need cold, moist stratification or winter to germinate.  Plant them outdoors in the fall or start them indoors in the fridge.  For an extra show after summer has ended, consider leaving the stems standing for the winter.  Birds will eat the seeds and the dark stems and seed heads provide beautiful contrast against winter’s snowy surprises.

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A Trio of Insect Discoveries

A while back I wrote a blog about Aldo Leopold and his love for the Silphium family, in particular the Compass Plant.  With its square stem and unbelievable height of 12 feet, the Compass Plant tends to stop onlookers in their tracks.  Within the same family is the Cup Plant, slightly shorter (but still reaching 10 feet at maturity) with the same square stem.

Being a native prairie plant and sun lover, I was surprised to find the Cup Plant in my messy, unkempt backyard that receives much more shade than sun.  It was purely by coincidence that I spotted the first patch.  It had just rained and I was out enjoying the  fresh post-rain air when I saw a plant holding water.  Stepping in to take a closer look, I saw that the opposite leaves were actually fused together around a square stem.

I was skeptical at first but soon found a few more patches and after doing a quick Google search, came to the conclusion that the leaves and stem were the right shape – it was indeed a Cup Plant: Silphium perfoliatum.  A very young plant, standing only two feet from the ground.

And while this is all interesting and exciting, more than anything, the Cup Plants have given me a reason to visit the backyard more often (I’m waiting to see if they’ll bloom).  This has lead to some pretty fantastic insect finds.

 

A Millipede…

The first was a Narceus americanus, North America’s largest millipede.  With the ability to grow up to 10cm, it’s nothing compared to those found in South America and other tropical regions but for North America’s non-tropical climate, 10cm is pretty impressive.  And I love the way their legs create that rhythmic wave as they walk.  See what I’m talking about in the video below.

They are excellent composters too, devouring rotting leaves, woody debris, and other organic material.  What comes out is a nutrient-rich dream for plants: the nutrients and minerals are accessed much more readily once the material has been processed through the digestive system of the millipede.

 

A Moth…

Then I found this stunning moth in the genus Haploa.  Possibly Haploa lecontei but I can’t be certain as this genus and that particular species is so variable.  This moth, however, was sitting in the cedar bush at about 5:30 in the morning (I can’t believe I was up that early).

The moth itself isn’t anything special in terms of its ecosystem contributions but I’m sure it will be a tasty snack for a passing bat or hungry bird.

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When at rest, the Haploa moths are triangular in shape. Beneath the spotted exterior, colour can range from solid white, yellow, and orange to similar colours with brown or black spots.

 

A Leafhopper…

My third find is actually the reason I chose to write this blog.  The candy-striped leafhopper (Graphocephala coccinea).  Probably not a favourite of many gardeners, the leafhopper’s bright blue and red appearance makes it stand out.  Variations of the candy-striped leafhopper are green and red with a similar pattern.

Like other leafhoppers, the candy-striped leafhopper has been identified as a vector for the bacteria that causes leaf scorch in several tree species and is known to cause leaf curl, discolouration, and premature leaf drop.  In huge numbers, the candy-stripe leafhopper can be a bit of a nuisance but one sitting atop this Cup Plant is ok by me.

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The candy-striped leafhopper (Graphocephala coccinea), like its name suggests, hops between plants, jumping up to 40 times its own body length.  It is the feeding from infected trees then moving to the uninfected that causes the spread of disease.

Take a closer look into your garden as the days start to get warmer.  Think about what you’re seeing. What is its role in the food web? How it is contributing to the ecosystem?

 

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