ASTERACEAE, The Aster family
I’m nearly too overwhelmed with life and moving and aggressive exploration of new city to write about a plant today. Maybe I’ll pick an old favorite. What’s a nice fall blooming plant? One of my Minnesota favorites is White snakeroot. It’s a native plant that grows in shade or partial sun. It’s is kind of weedy- the fluffy seeds blow everywhere and send up seedlings, and it can spread a bit underground as well. I think its common name comes from the serpentine appearance of the thick white roots. A close relative of the annual Ageratum, Floss flower, and Eupatorium purpureum, Joy-Pye weed, it has upward facing clusters of button-like composite flowers. This arrangement makes it a great landing pad for butterflies.
Though the books say to give these types of plants lots of water and rich soil, they can really be pushed. I’ve found white snakeroot to be great in dry shade. Like many native plants, it is tolerant of Juglone, the chemical produced by Black walnut trees. Growing 2 to 4 feet tall, it gives height and color at a time of year when it is really needed. The garden beneath the walnut on Albert was mainly a spring garden- at one point there were well over a thousand bulbs in the 10 x 40 foot area, making a non-stop show from the first snowdrops in March to the long stemmed tulips in May. The location, east-facing under deciduous trees on a low bank, was perfect for bulbs- it was dry and shady in summer and was sunny and warm in spring.
The first time I saw White snakeroot was in the raspberry patch in the garden on Hoyt. During the summer it grew up in the shade of the canes, them in autumn it would pop up and bloom above them. The hill behind the house changed a lot over the years. When I was little it was open and grassy, with bergamot and sumacs scattered. Along the edges were wild plums, and things that escaped from people’s gardens, like Chinese lanterns. Pheasants nested in the long perennial rye grass and the surprised sound of their call is something I immediately recognize and associate with that time and place. Later the sumacs covered the hill and trees started growing up- walnuts, elm and ash. There were red twigged dogwoods and a few asparagus plants, and lots of rabbits. One year there was construction nearby and enormous caterpillar tractors drove through the street easement that goes through the middle of the wooded space, destroying everything in their path. As indignant as we were, the land has healed, though like any ‘open’ space, it’s under threat. In more recent years, there are deer, and Elderberries and Solomon’s seal have sprung up.