A Gift of Remembrance

A couple years ago, knowing my propensity for starting plants from seed, my friend Connie Hoge brought over several boxes of old seeds that she had never gotten around to starting, as a gift and a challenge.  Seeing as they were in parchment envelopes with typed labels with only a few seeds inside, I surmise these came from her interactions with other garden people at horticultural events she attended. And most of these packages were several years old. I dutifully set out to try to germinate everything. Quite a few never did anything, even with vernalization. But some *did* break dormancy.

I kept watching this one plant that I had set out in my sunny, dryish sidewalk bed that gets a lot of reflected heat from the all the stone. It looked for all the world like I was growing a yucca: dusty pale blue-green leaves with saw toothed edges. Then it began throwing this spike into the air with little silvery ball-buds on it. Not until it bloomed with tiny white blossoms, was I able to find a picture and identify the plant.

Colloquially, it is called Rattlesnake Master or Erngium yuccifolium, a native of tall grass prairies, It’s kind of an architectural statement in a garden rather than pretty and it attracts various beneficial predatory insects and small pollinators. Butterlies also like it-Buckeyes and Hairstreaks, for example. It is hardy to our area (zones 3-8) and mine was blooming in July. It is apparently quite low maintenance and  prefers dryish, sandy soils. My soil is shallow and rocky and that works too.

This plant doesn’t transplant well due to taproots, so it’s going to stay put. Here’s the habit it assumes, note the sword-like leaves.

Another Eryngium you may be familiar with is Miss WiIlmott’s Ghost, whose seeds were surreptitiously sprinkled in other’s gardens  by Gertrude Jekyll.

Eryngium giganteum (by peganum)