The Shawnee News-Star Gardening April 17th 2019 Becky Emerson Carlberg Shouldn't be. These early bright yellow flowers provide food for bees at a time little else is blooming.  A dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) has 40 to 100 tiny flowers which provide pollen and nectar. The flowers soon turn into fluffy alien globes that release lighter than […]

The Shawnee News-Star Gardening April 17th 2019

Becky Emerson Carlberg

Shouldn't be. These early bright yellow flowers provide foodfor bees at a time little else is blooming. A dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) has40 to 100 tiny flowers which provide pollen and nectar. The flowers soon turninto fluffy alien globes that release lighter than air seed umbrellas.  Be creative and leave strips or patches ofthese cheerful flowers in your lawns. Mow early morning or late evening whenthe flowers are closed and the little foragers are not around. Pollinators areresponsible for 30% of the food you eat. Ecosuperior says:  Dandelions feed pollinators so let them grow!

Some people just have a built-in abhorrence to dandelions.They're cool flowers and join many others this time of year that surface andbloom.  Take the prairie loving Narrow-leavedpuccoon (Lithospermum incisum) forexample.  The rugged brilliant yellowtube flowers clustered at the top of a short stem of each plant open in timefor the early hummingbirds and Monarchs. They are designed specifically forlong-tongued nectar drinkers.  In theborage family, the puccoon leaves feed grasshoppers, beetle and moth larvae.   

Least Bluets (Houstoniapusilla), native plants in the coffee family, produce blue flowers withfour petals only ¼' across.  The ubiquitousBluets form mats of gorgeous color where they have been allowed to go wild andhave not been mowed.  Small insects suchas bees find these flowers.  TheTennessee Wholesale Nursery thinks enough of these little spring blues thatthey sell the Least Bluet plant year-round.

The Southern Dewberry (Rubustrivialis), rose family member native to the southern US, is another groundcover.  This bramble employs horizontalstems that ramble along the roadsides and ditches instead of investing energyin countless little plants.  Wherever thestem touches the ground, a small root soon dives in. Five petal white flowersin bloom always precede their larger blackberry cousins.  The small blackberry-like fruits ripen wellbefore the larger blackberries, so one can enjoy an extended purple berryseason.

Common Vetch (Viciasativa) has running or climbing vines that use tendrils to wrap around theirown leaves in order to climb higher than surrounding plants.  It produces light purple pea-like flowers;after all, it is in the pea/bean family of nitrogen fixers.  Pea flowers are rather unique with a largebanner petal, 2 smaller wing petals and at the bottom a cupped 'keel' of 2fused petals. The origin of common vetch is hard to track since the plant hasgone global, but the Finnish think it came from the Mediterranean area.

Henbit (Lamiumamplexicaule) or Giraffe head is amint(4 sided stems) liked by chickens and hummingbirds.  An early spring plant that originally came fromEurope and Asia, it has established itself in the eastern half of the US.  The heart-shaped frilly smooth leaves claspthe main stem from where small tube-like purple flowers extend.  Henbit can be confused with its cousin Purpledeadnettle (Lamium purpureum), butthis plant has larger triangle shaped leaves with hairs on short stems. Confusingly,its' common name is red henbit!  Apoultice can be made with the Purple deadnettle leaves to stop bleeding.  The deadnettle forms vivid purple carpets inthe landscape and is a good pollen source for bees. All parts of Henbit andPurple deadnettle are edible raw or cooked.

Spring Beauty (Claytoniavirginica) pops up with small knots of light pink flowers with dark pinkveins only a few inches tall.  Coveringthe eastern half of the US, these natives of the purslane family sprout fromcorms (swollen bases of stems that store starch.  The corms are said to have a sweet chestnutflavor.   Spring Beauty does best inmoist organic soils. 

These early spring arrivals often fly under the radar.  They show up, do their thing and virtuallydisappear for the rest of the year. Ephemeral beauties to enjoy that briefly brighten your life through ourunstable spring times.  Vital plants thatfeed the bees, butterflies and wildlife as they make the jump into spring.

Don't just stop with spring plants.  For other tough Oklahoma native plants, checkout three established Oklahoma plant centers in our area.  Wild Things Nursery in Seminole was startedin 2002.  Prairie Wind Nursery in Normanhas been going strong since 1990.  Bustani Plant Farm at Stillwater, in operationfor 15 years, is now open through first of June, Tuesdays through Saturdays. Yearafter year these nurseries select and grow a diverse collection of plants that cansurvive in Oklahoma.

May 11th is the Multi-County Master GardenerPlant and Whatever Sale. Come and check out the enormous selection.  It opens at 9 am and ends early afternoon atthe Pottawatomie County Extension Center, 14001 Acme Road in Shawnee. Lots ofMaster Gardeners will be on hand to help you. Come early for the best stuff.