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Welcome to My Jungle - July, 2016

It is not surprising that the very fine, soft, bright green feathery leaves of Eupatorium capillifolium 'Elegant Feather' (dog fennel) stumps even some plant nerds as to its identification. Well, at least this plant nerd was stumped. At first glance, it appeared somewhat reminiscent of Amsonia (Blue Star) but taller (5'), and the foliage significantly more soft and fine. If the plant I originally photographed had not been labeled, I would never have identified it on my own because, let's face it, this looks nothing like the more traditional Joe-Pye weed. After a little research (and confirming the label was not in error), I learned the species form of Eupatorium capillifolium can be an invasive weed, but 'Elegant Feather' was selected as a sterile form of this plant, meaning 'Elegant Feather' shouldn't produce seed and become invasive. The flowers of 'Elegant Feather' are rather insignificant, but it's the reddish fall color that makes this such a great clumping accent plant in the fall garden. Disappointingly, 'Elegant Feather' is only reliably hardy to USDA Zone 7 (0⁰F), making this a more reliable choice if used as an annual. But in a protected site, it just might make it through a mild winter?

Recently, I was driving through the neighborhood and my eye caught site of a small tree in bloom—a somewhat rare site this time of year. I knew on closer inspection I would see the telltale long panicles of cream-white, bell-shaped flowers identifying it as Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum). Sourwood is native throughout much of the southeastern United States and is a member of the Heath family (Ericaceae). Although sourwood is hardy in the St Louis area, it requires acidic soils for successful growth, like its cousin the blueberry. Similarly, it also has a shallow root system that does not compete well against any other plants, so it is best to mulch and maintain a weed-free zone 2-3 feet from the base of the trunk, especially during the early years of establishment. The mulch also helps maintain a more uniform soil moisture.

Another tree, though not native, that really stands out in the landscape in early summer, due to its late-blooming characteristic, is the Goldenraintree (Koelreuteria paniculata). This is just a pretty tree. The compound leaves emerge somewhat pinkish-bronze to purple in the spring and mature into a bright green before shifting to yellow in the fall. When in bloom, the tree is stunningly beautiful. Blooms appear in early summer in long, terminal panicles of bright yellow flowers. When the blooms drop (falling like rain), it is like a carpet of yellow under the tree. It should be mentioned that goldenraintree has naturalized in states to the south and in some cases reported as invasive. Being at the northern edge of its hardiness zone (6), that does not seem to be the case in Illinois. So far, naturalized trees have only been observed in Jackson county in Southern Illinois.