Some flowers do more than just look pretty


Joe-pye weed can be used to repel mosquitoes. Extracts from New York ironweed have been used to treat stomach ailments. In Asia, varities of crape myrtle are valued for their timber. In Frederick County, they’re blooming and all you need to do is enjoy them.

The joe-pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum) began blooming in late July. This tall perennial is usually found in moist areas around meadows and stream borders. Its native area includes most of the eastern half of America and Southern Canada. Joe-pye weed was named after a Native American who used this plant as a cure for typhus. The foliage of joepye weed (also called purple boneset) can be burned to ward off mosquitoes. This is a very common ornamental and it is a good flower to plant to attract butterflies.


A beautiful addition to the early fall landscape is the cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis). This perennial upright plant produces a distinctive bright red flower.You can often see cardinal flowers growing in lowland areas and stream corridors in full to partial sunlight. Cardinal flowers are also widely grown for their ornamental value and are considered easy to maintain once they become established. Ruby-throated hummingbirds prize the nectar of cardinal flower and derive a lot of energy needed for migration from this beautiful flower.

Credit: US Forest Service - Penny Stritch
Credit: US Forest Service - Alan S. Heilman


Another attractive perennial blossoming in this area now is New York ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis). This tall, herbaceous perennial is found in much the same areas as cardinal flower and joe-pye weed.

Ironweed has an attractive purplish flower that stays in bloom from early August to October. It gets its name from the strong stems that make the plant stand erect throughout the winter. New York ironweed has very rich nectar, which is a favorite of hummingbirds and bees. Extracts from ironweed have been used to cure a number of stomach ailments.

Credit: - Mike Kay


Another late-season bloomer is the crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia Sp.). This tree native to Asia has become a very popular landscape plant because of its graceful form, colorful mottled bark and persistent bloom. Crape myrtles were introduced in Charleston, S.C., in 1790 and quickly became a favorite in southern landscapes. Over the years, horticulturists have been able to breed cold hardiness into these varieties so that crape myrtle is found throughout the country. In Asia, nearly 50 species exist, some of which are valuable timber trees.


This time of year it is not uncommon to see tips of tree branches and leaves turning brown. There may be a number of reasons for this “flagging” of twigs, including insects, disease, squirrels or strong winds that may have broken the branch.

A very common cause of flagging, however, could involve the cicada. Nearly 2,000 species of cicadas are found in temperate and tropical climates. Cicadas are sometimes called locusts, but they are not part of the “grasshopper family.” They are large, flying insects with prominent well-spaced eyes and transparent wings with very distinct veins. Cicadas have a loud buzzing song, usually generated by the male during the courtship ritual. This song can be quite robust, reaching 120 decibels at close range.

After mating, the female cicada cuts a slit in a tree branch to lay her eggs. This egg-laying activity sometimes girdles or breaks the branch, hence the occurrence of flagging in trees. The young nymphs hatch from the eggs in the fall and drop to the ground, where they burrow into the soil.

Some cicadas emerge on a fairly routine schedule annually or in cycles of two to eight years, while others spend a long time underground emerging every 13 to 17 years. It is this longer-lived or periodic cicada that is most famous due to the sheer volume of insects that emerge on 13- to 17-year cycles. The last periodic cicada emergence in Frederick County occurred in 2004. Scientists say cicadas developed the various life cycles as a survival mechanism. Many species of birds eat cicadas and fried cicada is considered a delicacy in China.

Article by Ginny Brace, FCFCDB member

Nature Note for 8/17/2008