Friday, December 10, 2010

Bluebeard...and Optimism

This was my Bluebeard (Caryopteris x clandonensis) on 26 October (photos by Gary):

And here it was on 20 November, still hanging on:

And now, as of early December, the plant is pretty much toast. 

But when it comes to flowers, I have a special place in my heart for fall flowers.  Everyone raves and oohs and ahhs about the first flowers in the spring (I'm one of them, too).  But as spring gives way to summer, the explosion of color slows down; by mid-to-late summer, the slow-down is pronounced.  And by fall, only a few optimistic and patient flowering plants are putting out their flowers.

It's the optimism, I guess.  Even though winter is just around the corner, the plants that in an evolutionary sense have committed to fall blooming as their niche are just getting started.  They compress a potential entire growing season's worth of time into a few weeks late in the year, when little else is blooming. 

It's a good strategy, evolution-wise.  Obviously it works in a functional sense, and the bees and butterflies respond to pollinate.  But it's still the optimism that impresses me most.

From the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, some scientific facts about the cultivated plant from the verbena family, native to southeastern Asia:

Butterflies have become an important consideration for many gardeners, so the plants chosen for flowery borders often reflects this interest. One of the best for attracting butterflies and bees in late summer and fall is Bluebeard, Caryopteris x clandonensis.

Bluebeard, or as sometimes called blue spirea, is a dieback shrub; a plant with a cold-hardy, woody base and tender branches. It grows as far north as Chicago where plants can reach three feet tall and wide by summer’s end, but the slender stems at the top freeze back during the winter.

The inch-long elliptic, opposite leaves are green, gray or golden, according to the cultivar. Blue, lavender or purple flowers are borne in terminal or axillary cymes in late summer and fall. The five petals of the flowers are short lived, but the protruding stamens persist and give flowering plants a kind of bearded look.

Caryopteris are tough, drought-tolerant plants that do best in sunny sites with good, well-drained soil. They flower on new growth each spring, so the easiest way to ensure good flowering is to cut plants back to stubs in late winter.

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