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There comes a time about now in New Orleans when Spring feels almost gone and the beautiful displays of the very first native flowers are going to seed.  Some of them will continue to bloom for some time, but the first flowers have faded, dried and turned brown….ripe for collecting!  On almost every plant out there, it is best to wait until seeds have completely dried on the plant before collecting them (just like nature would do it).  It also makes the job much easier.  If the seedheads are not completely dry, it might help to lay them out on a sheet pan and store them in paper bags to be sure they won't mold once put away.

Of course, you don't have to collect seeds from your plants.  One of the best reasons to grow natives is that the seeds provide valuable nutrition to birds and other animals.  You can absolutely leave the seeds on the plant to disburse themselves naturally, especially if you would like some to volunteer in that same spot next year.  We like to do a bit of both.  With native plants often in short supply, it’s nice to save some seeds to scatter out in another space or plant in containers, or better yet, to share with others.  We have heard it said that you should plant seeds when nature would have planted them.  That may still mean that they don't sprout until nature would have them sprout, and you still may not have new plants until next Spring.  Seed germination varies widely and by circumstance….no better time to start learning!

Just a few native plants that we are collecting dried seed from right now in late May are Winecups, Callirhoe species, Columbine, and Coreopsis lanceolata because it is one of the earliest Coreopsis and therefore almost finished its cycle.

Callirhoe
Callirhoe seedhead
Callirhoe seeds

Winecups are one of the showiest natives because of their brilliant pink color.  They are also very deep-rooted, long-lived and resilient plants that can tolerate full, blasting roadside-type sun and poor soil.  They bloom over an extended period but as new flowers are still blooming, some seeds are already ready to collect.

 

Prunella, Heals-All or Self-Heal, has a long history and has become one of our favorite low spreading, perennial natives.  The flowers are nearly finished now and the flower bracts are drying in place almost ready to harvest for future sowings.

Prunella
Prunella flower bract after drying

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These dried bracts are very tenacious and hang on for a long time, unlike some other plants, so there’s no rush to collect….they will be there in a few weeks just the same and the drier ALL of the seedheads are,  the better for collecting and storing.

Columbine is a delightful and showy early Spring native for us.  Hinckley’s Columbine has large yellow blooms while Columbine candensis has red and yellow smaller blooms.

Hinckley's columbine
Columbine canadensis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Either species has just about finished and many of their seedheads will be dry and ready to tip over and dump out shiny black seeds.

Columbine seedpod
Columbine seeds are shiny and black and pour right out of the dry pod

Lastly, if you were lucky enough to have been to one of our Native Plant Giveaways this Spring, you may have walked away with one of our earliest native Coreopsis species, C. lanceolata.

Lance-leafed Coreopsis has large, toothed, bright yellow flowers and makes a great show.  It’s dry seedheads pour out dozens of dark brown seeds when you turn them upside down. This is how they readily re-seed more plants into your garden and they will easily grow wherever you scatter them.

 

Coreopsis lanceolata
Coreopsis seedhead

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seeds from Coreopsis spill out of the dried seedhead

There are so many more blooming plants to come in the next few months and surely many that might be ready now that we did not cover…..what are you collecting seeds from right now in your native garden?

 

Crazy for Coreopsis
by Tammany Baumgarten

Native gardeners are crazy for Coreopsis!  There are 13 species of Coreopsis, pronounced “core-ee-OP-siss,” that are native to Louisiana and all are long-blooming, sturdy, good wildlife plants that add weeks of color to our Louisiana gardens starting very early in the Spring.  Some Coreopsis are annuals that live and die in one season while others are perennial and can last for many years.  One common name for Coreopsis is Tickseed, which may refer to the dark, shiny seeds of some of them or the potential for the seeds to stick to skin or clothing.  Indeed, it is very easy to collect seed from these plants and easy to grow them, making them a perfect plant to share and popular in wildflower and pollinator mixes.

Coreopsis is a favorite of the horticulture industry and while lots of breeding work has produced many named selections and cultivars of this plant, there are several straight species that are adaptable, beautiful plants for a sunny, well-drained garden.  Sometimes, in breeding efforts to make a plant more appealing to people, wildlife benefits can be compromised, making plants less useful to insects, bees and birds.  Using straight species, just as they occur in the wild, ensures that your plants will have all of the natural wildlife benefits that nature intended.

Two of the more common species of Coreopsis used in gardens are C. lanceolata and C. tinctoriaCoreopsis lanceolata, Lance-leaf Coreopsis, is perennial and has large, pure golden yellow flowers.  It grows about 12-16” tall and is an early bloomer, beginning in late March and going through June.  Like most of our Coreopsis, it prefers well-drained sunny spaces and happily re-seeds, sometimes creating large colonies.  In early April, Lance-leaf Coreopsis in combination with other Coreopsis species like C. pubescens and C. intermedia can be seen in late Spring and early summer on Louisiana roadsides in the piney regions of the state.

Coreopsis tinctoria, also known as Plains Coreopsis, is an annual species, lasting only one season, and can be seen growing wild on disturbed roadside areas, but is also a gardener’s favorite.  These fast-growing plants can be direct seeded into garden beds and pots or planted out as plants.  They always reward with a multitude of bi-colored flowers with yellow petals, red-brown at the base and brown center discs.  The flowers are carried above airy, finely cut foliage on tall plants at 2-4 feet.  They respond very well to pinching or cutting back when young to produce a denser, more branched plant. There are variations of C. tinctoria that present very pale yellow, ivory or mahogany red petals.  Again, C. tinctoria prefers well drained and full-sun situations and can handle poorer soils.  It is easy to collect seed or just allow this plant to re-seed itself in the garden.

Coreopsis are the perfect plants for wildflower gardens, meadows, pollinator gardens, naturalistic and native plantings.  A combination of species will provide weeks of color early in the growing season.  They do fine in poorer soils, and tolerate our heat and humidity well if given a well-drained situation. Many species of pollinators, especially native bees, will use Coreopsis and at least two moths use it as a host plant.  In addition, the seeds may also be eaten by birds.  Native gardeners are crazy for Coreopsis and it’s easy to see why!

The Native Plant Initiative of Greater New Orleans is hosting two Crazy for Coreopsis native plant giveaways in the GNO area, February 20th and 27th.  Each family will receive one or more FREE native Coreopsis plants as supplies last.  Go to npi-gno.org for locations, times and other details.