Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Spring Plant Sale Preview: Spotted Beebalm, Eastern Teaberry and Cardinal Flower

cardinal flower
By Annie Yang
Photos by Jason Holmes

Spotted beebalms, eastern teaberries and cardinal flowers are not only attractive plants, they also have interesting histories of cultural, folkloric and medicinal uses. Whatever their practical attributes, their unique physical traits can add color and personality to your garden.

You can find them all at our Spring Plant Sale on April 1 from 8 a.m. to noon.  Gardens members get 10 percent off all plants at the sale, as well as first dibs via our Member Preview Sale on Friday from 4 to 6 p.m. Urge your friends and family to join as well, so you can shop together! Learn more about the sale and membership here.

Lobelia cardinalis (cardinal flower)

Cardinal flower in the
Spring Woodland Garden.
The bright red robes of Roman Catholic cardinals were the inspiration for Lobelia cardinalis, commonly called cardinal flower. Its scarlet and brighter red tones add drama to any garden.

Cardinal flower prefers rich, medium to wet soil in partial to full shade. Although a relatively low maintenance plant otherwise, it requires constant moisture. In areas with hotter summers, such as North Carolina, Lobelia cardinalis welcomes some afternoon shade. Long tubular flowers will attract butterflies and hummingbirds to your garden. Perhaps a little ironically, this plant is not attractive to Northern cardinals, despite a similarity in name.

Cardinal flower plants can grow from 1 to 3 feet tall. You can find it growing at Duke Gardens in the Spring Woodland Garden, where it thrives in the moist banks of the stream and rain garden. If you have a woodland garden, consider planting them at the edge, where they are especially attractive.

Spotted beebalm. 
Monarda punctata (spotted beebalm)

Monarda punctata's medicinal properties were used by the Meskwaki, Mohegan and other tribes to drive away illnesses. But you can take advantage of its pleasing smell to attract many pollinators to your garden.

Native to eastern Canada, the eastern United States, and northeastern Mexico, spotted beebalm thrives in full sun to part shade and in dry, sandy soils with mildly acidic to mildly alkaline pH levels. While drought-tolerant, this species wouldn’t mind some watering during the summer to help promote blooming. Spotted beebalm does best when sheared once a year after particularly brutal frosts or in the spring. The shallow root systems benefit from added leaf mold and compost.

spotted beebalm
With creamy white flowers specked with purple and pinkish bracts, Monarda punctata brightens up any garden and invites beautiful butterflies and beneficial wasps with its sweet nectar. Thymol, the same chemical that makes spotted beebalm so attractive as an herbal remedy, also repels mites and other pests. Spotted beebalm can get a little aggressive, but the occasional pruning is a small price to pay for all the benefits this plant brings to your garden.

Gaultheria procumbens (eastern teaberry)

A plant of many names, Gaultheria procumbens goes by eastern teaberry, checkerberry, boxberry, drunkards, American wintergreen, wax cluster, spicy wintergreen and youngster, among numerous other identifications. See photo here.

Gaultheria procumbens produces bright red berries that will last throughout winter. Oil extracted from lovely green leaves was once used to relieve common aches and pains. The oil of wintergreen is additionally used as flavoring in chewing gum, candy, and toothpaste. Be aware that as valuable and useful the eastern teaberry is to humans, some animals depend on its berries and leaves during the winter as an important food source.

Gaultheria procumbens is native to the eastern woodlands of the United States, and it grows best in organically rich, acidic, moist soil. Eastern teaberry can tolerate even heavy shade, but it grows and flowers best in sunny openings with partial shade. This evergreen shrub spreads over time, making for great ground cover in a garden, and gets along with other acid-loving shrubs, such as azaleas and rhododendrons.

SPRING PLANT SALE: Saturday, April 1, 8 a.m. to noon. Free admission & parking. Please bring wagons/carts and boxes if you have them.

MEMBER PREVIEW SALE: Friday, March 31, 4-6 p.m. Sign up or renew your membership online in advance or on site. Your support helps Duke Gardens preserve the Duke and Durham communities and visitors from around the world with educational programs and nationally acclaimed horticultural design. Thank you!

Blogger Annie Yang is a Duke freshman and a work-study marketing assistant at Duke Gardens. Jason Holmes is curator of the Doris Duke Center Gardens.

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