Perennials with Interesting Flowers
by Don Janssen, Extension Educator
Home gardeners can choose from many species and varieties of perennials. Perennials differ in growth habit, size, leaf morphology, and other characteristics. Sometimes what sets one perennial apart is its interesting flower. Below is a list of perennials with unusual flowers.
For interesting late spring bloom, try Columbine (Aquilegia hybrids). The foliage is blue-green, softly pubescent, and dissected. The flower is composed of five petals and five sepals. The petals have backward projecting spurs which contain a honey-like substance. The sepals are shorter than the petals and may be the same color or a contrasting color. Colors for the sepals and petals include red, pink, yellow, blue, white, and purple. This plant grows to 1 to 3 feet tall by 1 foot wide. It prefers full sun to partial shade and well-drained soil.
For moist soils, Pink Turtlehead (Chelone lyonii) is an excellent selection. Turtlehead has dark green foliage and a dense, upright growth habit. In late summer to early fall, hooded pink flowers appear at the end of the stems. Pink turtlehead gets its name from the resemblance of the flowers to the head of a turtle with its mouth open. Generally, the plant is 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide. Partial shade to full sun and a consistently moist to wet, organic soil are ideal conditions for growth.
Gas Plant (Dictamnus albus) gets its name from the plants' ability to produce a volatile gas. The pinnate, 3-inch-long leaves give off a lemon fragrance when crushed. The large, showy, terminal racemes appear in late spring to early summer. Colors range from white to pink to rose-violet. This plant will grow to a height of 2 to 3 feet and an equal width. Gas plant prefers a sunny location with moderately fertile soil.
Sea Holly (Eryngium amethystinum) has rigid, deeply cut, spiny, silvery foliage. The blue flowers appear in heads that are 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch in diameter. Long, spear-like bracts surround the heads. Blooms appear in midsummer. Sea holly prefers full sun and sandy, dry areas.
Beebalm (Monarda didyma) has foliage that is serrate and aromatic and stems that are square. Two-to three-inch, tubular flowers occur in dense heads from late spring to summer. Deadheading promotes bloom. This plant grows to a height of 2 to 4 feet with a spread of 3 feet. Beebalm prefers full sun and good soil moisture. Beebalm can be used in naturalized areas and to attract bees and butterflies.
For late summer bloom, try Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana). The spear-like, serrated leaves are green in the growing season and sometimes crimson or red in the fall. The stems are square. The flowers appear in spikes spaced in four vertical rows. Flower colors include rose, purple, and white. The plant grows to a height of 2 to 4 feet and a width of 3 feet. The ideal site includes sun to partial shade and moist, acidic soils. Obedient plant gets its name from the ability of individual flowers to be twisted on the stem and then remain as arranged.
Balloon Flower (Platycodon grandiflorus) has serrated, dark green leaves that are 1 to 3 inches long with short petioles. The saucer-shaped flowers appear in summer in lavender, blue, pink, and white. Several double-flowering varieties are available. The plant has 2-to 3-foot erect growth. Balloon flower prefers sun to part shade and well-drained, slightly acid soil.
Another perennial with late summer to early fall bloom is Toad Lily (Tricyrtis hirta). The foliage is 3 to 4 inches long, pubescent, and parallel-veined. The flower is pale lilac to white with dark purple spots. Plants possess an upright growth habit, are 2 to 3 feet tall, and are 2 feet wide. Toad lily prefers part shade and moist, well-drained soils high in organic matter.
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