The 2018 January ice, snow and bitterly cold weather (for Lowcountry standards) showed that native plants sometimes have a clear advantage over non-native species.
Palmetto palms showed little, if any, cold damage, while the leaves of Mexican fan palms turned completely brown, and several in my neighborhood froze to death.
To help with this article, I asked two friends for lists of long-blooming plants. Pastor Kris Litman-Koon is the past president of the Midlands Chapter of the South Carolina Native Plant Society (scnps.org), and David Manger owns Roots and Shoots Nursery in West Ashley (www.rootsandshootsnursery.com).
Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) was on both lists. This twining vine is evergreen (“semper virens") and blooms most of the year, which makes it one of our most floriferous native plants. Coral honeysuckle attracts hummingbirds, bees and butterflies. This vine is vigorous enough to cover a pergola.
Kris Litman-Koon's list
- Georgia savory (Clinopodium georgianum) is a mint with lavender blooms in the fall that can last into the winter. “I've found it to be great to plant along sidewalks, not only because it is low-lying but mostly because my neighbors learned that they could stop, pick a leaf, crush it and smell an aroma similar to fresh peppermint. Bumblebees love the flowers,” he said.
- Rough goldenrod "Fireworks" (Solidago rugosa) takes about two years to mature. Like other goldenrods, it blooms in autumn. This small shrub “looks like a photo of an exploding yellow firework” when the branches billow over in the wind.
- White false indigo (Baptisia alba) blooms in the spring. “It has white blooms that the bees love, and after the blooms fall off, it still has an interesting look," Litman-Koon said. "Once frost settles in, the plant turns black and dies. However, in early spring you will notice something that looks like asparagus shoots coming out of the ground that open to display its lovely blooms once again. This plant hybridizes easily with other Baptisia species, so please grow Baptisia alba in South Carolina so that the wild populations remain pure.”
- Lanceleaf coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata), a relative of the sunflower, has yellow to slightly orange flowers that last all summer. Coreopsis can be grown from seed that has been refrigerated to simulate overwintering, a process known as cold stratification. Seeds planted late in spring still produce plants that bloom in summer.
“For cold stratification, I've either mixed the seeds with moist sand, or I've placed the seeds in a damp paper towel," he said. "For both methods, I sealed them in plastic containers and placed them in the refrigerator. I saw positive results both ways. If the seeds start to sprout before the month is up, go ahead and plant them.”
David Manger’s list
- Turk's cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) with its unique tubular, scarlet flowers is a Southern heritage plant, according to "The Southern Living Gardening Book" (first edition, 1998). Unlike other hibiscus, Turk’s cap prefers part to full shade and is drought tolerant.
- Black-eyed Susan or orange coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida) is the native version of ‘Goldsturm’ rudbeckia, a widely planted perennial. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, TX (www.wildflower.org) describes it as “easy and trouble-free.” Like coreopsis, the seeds need a three-month cold treatment to induce them to germinate.
- Red salvia (Salvia coccinea) has pale green, heart-shaped leaves and loose spikes of scarlet flowers. It prefers sandy soil but tolerates some shade. Hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies are attracted to this native sage.
- Piedmont azalea (Rhododendron canescens) is also at home in the Lowcountry. The one-inch pink flowers are very showy in the spring. This shrub will form large clumps in an acidic, well-drained spot. All parts of the plant are poisonous to humans, cats and dogs.
- Climbing aster (Ampelaster carolinianus) is a 6- to 12-foot vine, an unusual form for an aster. The pinkish-lavender flowers look like typical native asters with narrow petals and greenish-golden centers. As is typical of asters, this plant needs full sun, but climbing aster tolerates moist soil. It is “spectacular” in the fall.
Finally, it’s important to note that not all native plants are deer resistant. (Deer had to eat something before gardeners moved to South Carolina.) Fortunately, Georgia savory, white false indigo, red sage and coral honeysuckle are not browsed by deer.