Pineapple sage is an interesting annual that is currently in full bloom, providing a rare splash of color late in the gardening season.

Earlier this week, I was visiting a neighbor and noticed an eye-catching plant in rare form for this time of year.  It was filled with abundant red blooms that almost glowed against the backdrop of green leaves behind it.  Whorls of the tiny flowers filled the spiky stalks that jutted out in all directions, creating a display that no human or pollinator could miss. 

 Daffodils are one of many bulbs that need to be planted in fall for an early spring flowering display.

As the last asters of the year are wrapping up their flower display and monarchs are migrating through to more southern latitudes, spring flowers aren’t always at the center of attention for most gardeners.  However, now is the time to set the stage for some of the most beautiful and early blooms of spring. 

Fall is actually the ideal time to plant spring flowering bulbs.  These amazing plant structures are tiny powerhouses of energy that can be planted now to explode with flowers and foliage as spring temperatures awaken them next year. 

The star shaped flowers of New England aster provide a much needed floral resource for migrating pollinators, like the monarch butterfly.

Fall flowers are some of the best of the year since they take a whole season of waiting to finally display their splendor.  Beyond their beauty, they provide a valuable food source for pollinators late in the growing, which can be especially important for migrating species such as the monarch butterfly. 

Zinnias are spectacular annuals that produce abundant blooms throughout the season.

Landscaping is typically designed to provide functional beauty to our yards and community spaces by brightening up the build environment with plant life.  While beauty can lie in the form of interesting foliage, brilliant fall color, or unique growth habit, flowers are always the showstoppers of the growing season.  In fact, many gardeners plan their entire landscape based on flowering displays. 

This purple coneflower is infected with aster yellows, which produce odd and deformed flowers that can actually be interestingly attractive at times, but must be controlled to limit infection of other susceptible species in the landscape.

It is always interesting to observe plant diseases and try to unravel the mystery of how a particular plant became infected and to look toward solutions.  So many of these ailments have an incredibly fascinating path to infection, often including multiple species when you consider the pathogen, host and potential vector species. 

Wild columbine is in bloom this week across central Illinois

This past Saturday, we celebrated 15 new graduates of our Master Naturalist Training. The graduation day festivities included group presentations to showcase outreach projects they worked together to develop over the past few months. There were some very well-developed projects presented, and all did a great job of relating science and nature to their target audience.

Gymnosperms, like this Colorado blue spruce, are a group of nonflowering plants that emerged several hundred million years before flowering plants (angiosperms) entered the evolutionary history of the plant kingdom.

The plant kingdom has not always had the diversity we know today.  It has taken hundreds of millions of years of evolution to bring about the diverse, complex group of flowering plants known as angiosperms.  And for many millions of years prior to the emergence of angiosperms, the plant kingdom consisted of primarily of gymnosperms.  

The yellow lady’s slipper orchid is an Illinois native that can be grown in cultivation. Photo credit: Chris Benda.

Over the past 200 years or so, orchids have went from a mysterious and challenging plant, barely sustained in cultivation, to a fixture in many homes and businesses. Today, easy-care varieties of these beautiful flowering houseplants can be purchased just about anywhere, including the supermarket checkout lane.  In the last decade, plants in the orchid family have become highest selling potted plants in the US horticulture industry, exceeding the previous leader, poinsettias.

Saucer magnolia is currently in full bloom in our area with an abundance of white to pinkish, showy flowers

Although spring was late coming this year, it has finally sprung, and with it both star magnolia (Magnolia stellata) and saucer magnolia (Magnolia x soulangeana) are in bloom. These beautiful ornamental trees, native to Asia, provide about a month of spectacular flowers each spring. They are some of the first landscape plants in our area to deliver such a showy display; truly one of the most endorsing signs that spring is finally here.