The Shawnee News-Star Weekender August 17th 2019 Becky Emerson Carlberg Lindheimer's beeblossoms, Clockweed, White Gaura, Pink Gaura, Indian feather, or Whirling butterflies, what do you call it?  Gaura in our area is usually tall, short or velvety.  The tall Gaura species spend a good deal of time growing during the spring, but as we arrive […]

The Shawnee News-Star Weekender August 17th 2019

Fairland Pond

Becky Emerson Carlberg

Lindheimer's beeblossoms, Clockweed, White Gaura, PinkGaura, Indian feather, or Whirling butterflies, what do you call it?  Gaura in our area is usually tall, short orvelvety.  The tall Gaura species spend a good deal of time growing duringthe spring, but as we arrive at the hottest time of the year, Gaura explodes inflowers. 

Gaura  could stem from the Greek word for superb. In India, Gaura is a girl's name referring to fair woman or the Hindu Goddess of love and devotion. In 2007 three botanists decided most of the  Gaura  species should be moved into the Evening Primrose group, doing away with  lovely name of Gaura. Even though we still call them  Gaura, their official Latin scientific name is  Oenothera. Still sounds Greek to me.  

Tall Gaura

The native Tall Gaura (Oenothera filiformis, Gauralongiformis or G. biennis) is an annual or biennial that may top 6 feet inheight. These plants can be used in xeriscaping as they tolerate dry conditionsonce they get going, although their native region is the Mississippi RiverBasin. From rosettes of leaves erect stalks emerge and branch up into thinstemmed flower spikes. The blooms are asymmetrical: four white petals lined upin row with eight stamens jutting out and curving down, somewhat resembling abutterfly. As each bloom matures through the night during its brief appearance,it becomes pink by morning. Pollinators with long tongues, such as bumblebeesand metallic bees, can reach Gaura nectar, but they must be fast.  The flowers close down as the day heatsup.  Late in the afternoon another set offlowers open and bloom through the night. Small thick-bodied Noctuid moths,often called owlet moths, fly in. You may have encountered its larval state asthe notorious cutworm, but if you are a kind thoughtful person and allow themtheir space, these little guys perform a valuable service at night after theyget their wings.

Small Gaura (Oenothera suffulta), fondly calledKisses, struggle to reach 3 feet in height. Small Gaura prefers to live in Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. Lizardtail, Willow Gaura or Velvety Gaura (Oenothera curtiflora, Gauraparviflora) is a very tall sinewy streamlined plant with one soft hairystem that towers over 10 feet, ending in a spike of flowers at the very tip.  This Gaura grows along the Shawnee airportfence. Originally it focused its energies only in the central United States, buthas spread beyond its native range to become a pest (in the words of those whodon't appreciate a good dependable native plant) in other places.

The highly touted nursery Gaura was the 2009 Oklahoma ProvenGaura 'Siskiyou pink' (Oenothera lindheimeri). This drought tolerant Gaurahas pink blossoms on 3-4 foot tall stems. If you are a diligent gardener andremove the spent floral spikes, this plant will continue blooming into thefall. It is considered a perennial, but a nasty winter can do in this native ofsouthern Louisiana and Texas.

Most Gaura want to form thick colonies and their deep woody taproots help them survive hostile summer conditions. They are an ideal nativeplant for your city and country gardens, don't need much water and attractbutterflies, birds and other insects.

Although Gaura is currently thriving at my house, I am notthere.  This past week, my fracturedpatella and I have been in the Baltimore, Maryland area.  The trees grow much taller, the daytimetemperatures have been in the 80's, the nights in the low 60's and everythingis quite green. Growing around the centerpiece of the neighborhood, a smallpond, are dozens of common milkweed plants (Asclepias syriaca) with thick immaturegreen pointy pods. If you wait until the pods are mature, carefully remove thegrayish brown shell.  The seeds insideare arranged like scales of a pinecone and even look like a pinecone.

Let's not forget another fluffy seed pod producer, Kapok (Ceiba pentandra), the giant 150 foot rainforest tree growing in Mexico, Central/South America and Indonesia.   It dwarfs all other trees in the area.   The 6 to 8 inch woody seed pods contain seeds which resemble small cotton bolls arranged on a corn cob.   The feathery floss is called Java or silk cotton and weighs much less than cotton. Cotton and Kapok historically were used as stuffing for pillows.   Kapok fibers have a waxy coat to help repel water, trap air bubbles and were used in life jackets.   Kapok does not clump.   Even today many teddy bears have this as a filling instead of polyester.

Common Milkweed with seed pods

Milkweed and Kapok share a common history. Indonesian Kapoksupply, the usual filler for life preservers, was cut off during World War II.  Milkweed pod floss had been discovered to be sixtimes more buoyant than cork. Truckloads of milkweed pods were collected, muchof it by rural schoolchildren, processed and used.

Cut back on plastic, help the Earth, and fill your pillows,quilts, duvets and life jackets with milkweed floss! 

Maryland is nicknamed 'America in Miniature.'   The state has pine-covered mountains to the west, marshlands in the center around Chesapeake Bay and sand dunes to the east. I was in the Piedmont Plateau Province with its own distinctive topography. Along roads, ditches and excavated areas the rocks shimmer and glitter.   The hillsides in this part of Maryland contain numerous crystals of quartzite.   Originally quartz sandstone, some powerful heating and compression from moving plates of earth squeezed the rocks into mosaics of quartz crystals. Rock faces are glassy instead of sandpapery. Quartzite, usually white to gray, can also be pink due to iron oxide. Very resistant to chemical weathering, these rocks form ridges and hilltops with thin soil.

Backyard Quartzite

The quartzite in this region is used in landscaping, driveways or as road guards to prevent vehicles from driving into yards or mailboxes.   Behind the house quartzite had been piled up behind a retainer wall from previous patio construction. The Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon) had covered the collection like Kudzu.   I pulled away some of the grass to discover this magnificent huge white quartzite boulder with colorful mineral veins.   Beside it laid a large flat greyish white rock, also of quartzite. During the process parts of an old birdbath were resurrected, recycled and put to use as bird/squirrel seed holders. My projects: Free the rocks, rip out the Bermuda grass and tackle the enormous clay pot by the patio. It too was overflowing with Bermuda. Hosta plants were discovered growing below.   Surprise.  

Naked Ladies

Another surprise. The leaves of these plants sprout in thespring then die down. The pink blooms unexpectedly pop up months later. Thisweek, in central Maryland, the beautiful clusters of pink tube flowers on longpurple stems have suddenly appeared. The Naked Ladies (Amaryllis belladonna) aremaking their appearance.  They bloomedearly August at my house and lasted all of 3 days in the heat.  These are the true Amaryllis.  Hope a few surprised you at your housewherever you are!