Saving the Bloomin' Bluestar
The Shawnee News-Star Gardening Article April 15th2020
Becky Emerson Carlberg
As I write this on a blustery cold Easter afternoon, theprediction is freezing or below freezing temperatures for the next threenights. Talk about taking it to the line. The last average frost date is April 15thin OKC. My garden Iris are tall with purple/blueblooms, the nitrogen-fixing black locust trees are covered in dangling creamywhite flower clusters, small peaches near the back door are larger than thesize of peas, and my lovely Eastern Bluestar is in bloom. Great.
The Bluestar hasn't read when it is supposed to bloomaccording to the gardening literature. Theclusters of pale blue flowers are raising their heads to the sky, expectingwarm spring temperatures since they're programmed to bloom mid-spring tosummer. The beautiful flowers are timedto open at the same time as the pollinators visit in greater numbers.
The Ruby-throated Hummingbird scouts are now in ourarea. The front line of migration hasmade it past Kansas to New Jersey. Blackchinned hummers have been spotted in western TX into OK. Because of the late cold snap, this is a goodtime to put out your hummingbird feeders if you haven't already. Help boost the native flower nectar levelsthat these little guys are now drinking.
The Bluestar flowers attract hummingbirds as well as long-tonguedhummingbird moths, butterflies, carpenter bees and others. Not deer norrabbits. They leave the entire plantalone. A member of the dogbane family, theBluestar and other relatives had their DNA sequenced and are now also includedwith the milkweeds. Yes, plants with distastefultoxic alkaloids and/or glycosides. In this group are specific plants forparticular larvae. The Coral Hairstreakbutterfly caterpillar munches on the Bluestar. Milkweeds are the only plants Monarch caterpillars eat. Speaking of, I watched a Monarch flitterhaphazardly to the north just ahead of the strong Easter day Arctic cold front determinedto bring back winter for a few days. Poor baby. Other Monarchs were seen inboth Tulsa and Edmond on April 10th. They're here.
Don't mow and let the milkweeds grow!
The Eastern Bluestar (Amsonia tabernaemontana) also goes byCommon Bluestar, Willowleaf and Blue Dogbane. The genus name Amsonia is to honor Dr. Charles Amson, a physician fromGloucester, Virginia (1760). Thetabernaemontana (tab-er-nay-MON-tah-nuh) is for Dr. Jakob Theodor van (Bergzabern)Tabernaemontanus. The multifaced man wasa physician, botanist and herbalist who lived from 1525 to1590 in the Rhinelandarea of Germany. He Latinized his lastname Bergzabern to the much easier to remember and pronounce Tabernaemontanus (meansmountain tavern). I'd like to think Dr.Amson and his friend saw the gorgeous blue Amsonia flowers in Virginia and hisfriend recommended the good doctor's name as the genus. The species name commemorates the 'father ofGerman botany' Dr. mountain saloon.
Native range of the Eastern Bluestar is New Jersey toFlorida, westward ho from Illinois south to Texas. The herbaceous perennial is resilient andadaptable, requires little maintenance, likes sun, tolerates drought, butthrives in moist well-drained soils. Dark green leaves are ovalish or lance-shapedgrowing along lengthy tall stems. A mature plant may measure 3 feet by 3feet. Plants develop a cool vase-shapedgrowth habit. The striking sky-blue star-shapedflowers form in clusters on the ends of stems. The plant may become leggy inpartial shade, so either get out the stakes or prune from one-third to one-halfstem length after flowering to encourage mounding. Another bonus. In the autumn the leaves change to yellow.
Amsonias (genus name of the Bluestar) work well is so manygardens: native gardens, rain gardens,butterfly gardens, wildlife gardens, and prairie gardens. They are butterfly nectar and butterfly hostplants. Placed in borders or containers,planted as accents, liberally scattered in wetlands and wildlife gardens, the Bluestarspull their weight as spectacular landscape natives. The American Horticultural Society hasselected the Eastern Bluestar as one of their 75 Great Plants for AmericanGardeners. About 20 Bluestar specieshave been identified, but only 3 to 4 are cultivated.
My Eastern Bluestar came from Bustani Plant Farm,Stillwater, OK. Bustani is scheduled toopen April 16th to June 6th, but I would check firstbefore going. Most plant nurseries areopen, but control the number of customers present at one time.
There you have it. Gofind your Bluestars. My Eastern Bluestaris loaded with future blooms but if you're looking for mine, you'll not find itoutdoors at the moment. The Bluestar,pot and all, has been trucked into the greenhouse where it will 'warm' its heelsuntil winter goes. Wish I could havemoved in the peach tree.