BY CAROL BISHOP MILLER / Huntsville, Alabama, USDA Zone 7
Southern wildflower enthusiasts will find two books especially useful. Touted as the first full-color, comprehensive field guide to the state’s wildflowers, Jack B. Carman’s Wildflowers of Tennessee (Highland Rim Press, 2001) is a skillfully photographed, authoritatively written aid to identifying and appreciating the native flora of this physiographically varied state.
In Gardening with the Native Plants of Tennessee: The Spirit of Place (University of Tennessee Press, 2002), Margie Hunter profiles hundreds of gardenworthy native plants and assists the ecologically sensitive gardener in growing plants reflective of the region’s natural heritage. She continuously updates her books at www.gardeningwithnativeplants.com.
Too often, native plants live in danger, as humans and nonnative plants intrude upon their natural habitat. One way to help conserve our native plants is to welcome them into our gardens. Along with a small band of volunteers, I decided to try this strategy for the native plants living in peril just beyond my backyard.
The 30 or so wooded acres behind my house had been drastically altered by an allconsuming invasion of Asian winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima). Adding insult to injury, last year bulldozers showed up and plowed a winding road through the middle, in preparation for the construction of a new subdivision. In March, in search of a suitable site for the Huntsville Wildflower Society to conduct a scheduled rescue mission, I sought permission from the property’s owners for our group to dig whatever native wildflowers we could find there. To my delighted relief, they agreed, provided I draw up a paper for participants to sign, releasing the owners from liability if any of us were injured during the dig. (While I was at it, I saw to it that signees also held the wildflower society blameless should the day’s endeavors result in snakebite, fatal drilling by the resident pair of pileated woodpeckers, or similar misfortune.)
Eight members showed up for our dig, equipped with tools and plastic grocery bags. Some intended to dig for their own gardens, but most of us dug for the Huntsville Botanical Garden’s upcoming annual plant sale. Because of the well-established understory of honeysuckle, the site held but a smattering of the rich native flora found on other parts of the mountain. The one wildflower still thriving by the hundreds beneath the gloomy honeysuckle mantle was Trillium cuneatum, also known as whippoorwill flower, large toadshade, sweet Betsy, or (gulp!) bloody butcher. Crouching in the brush, we dug for two hours, then, after a quick picnic in my backyard, we headed for the botanical garden to pot up our rescued plants. We potted for hours, putting the small, young plants into four-inch pots, and the larger ones three to a gallon-size pot. When we were finished, we counted our haul. No wonder we were pooped. We’d dug and potted over 450 trilliums! And yet we’d not made a perceptible dent in the population on site.
Some of the trilliums left over after the plant sale were held in the botanical garden’s wildflower nursery area to await the following year’s sale. Others were planted along the garden’s nature trail, where, we trust, they’ll prosper and impress visitors with their beauty and vigor for decades to come. The woodpeckers should be so lucky. H
An herbaceous, spring-flowering perennial common to the wooded uplands of seven southeastern states, this large (to 18 inches) trillium is easy to grow in USDA Zones 5-9. It prefers moist, well-drained, humus-rich soil and protection from strong sun and wind. Trillium cuneatum is sessile— that is, the flower sits directly atop the whorl of leaves, or bracts, without a stalk. Its leaves are broad and mottled, and the three-petaled flowers, each shaped rather like a candle flame, range in color from greenish yellow to brown or maroon. Fragrance can be sweetly fruity to musty to downright stinky. When the mealy seed capsule ruptures, ants feast on the elaisomes (the fleshy tissue attached to the seeds) before discarding the seeds underground, where they germinate. Notoriously slow to propagate and grow to blooming size, trilliums are often poached from the wild. When purchasing these and other native plants, it is wise to investigate your supplier. Sources, page 96.