Prairie View

Monday, July 31, 2017

Prairie Petunia

On our way to the wedding on Saturday, I saw wildflowers along the road that I didn't recognize while driving by.  We  had just crossed the railroad, driving north on Herren Road.  On the east side of the road, in the sharp angle of the corner of Marvin Nisly's field were lavender flowers, appearing singly and about the size of a quarter.

I had to wait till the next day on the way home from church to stop and check them out further.  I still didn't recognize them, even close up, although I noted that the flowers were petunia-shaped.  I consulted my field guides after I got home, and I believe that the flowers are Ruellia humilis, or Prairie Petunia.  Here's a page with pictures and information.

The plants are perennial.  They are actually not related to the garden-variety petunias, in spite of the common name and the similarity of the blooms.

Buckeye butterflies use Prairie Petunia as a larval host plant.  In other words, if you find worms munching on the leaves, you probably should leave them alone if you want to enjoy the Buckeye butterflies that the worms will transform into.

One of the unusual things I noticed about the flowering branch that I brought home is that it appeared to have very fine strings attached all along the leafy stems.  I knew where they came from when the first flower dropped off the branch I had cut, and, to my surprise, a long string pulled right out of the base of the flower trumpet and stayed attached to the stem.  One of the pictures on the cited page shows the strings.

I wish there were some way of protecting that patch of Prairie Petunias.  What if Marvin posted a "Do Not Mow" sign?  What if Jeff conveniently delayed lowering his mower deck when he mowed the ditch in that area?  I personally think that preserving this patch of wildflowers has merit.

I've had my eyes peeled for wildflowers for most of 65 years, and this is the very first time I've seen these flowers in this area--or anywhere else (they're widely distributed).  Any flower that blooms this cheerfully after the punishing heat and drought we've had recently deserves all the survival help we can offer.

If you live in this area, I hope you take the opportunity to drive by and to enjoy the Prairie Petunias.  If you know of other local patches of these flowers, you're welcome to post that here as well.

In other wildflower news, the Ironweed that grows in the ditch along our property is at its loveliest right now.  This seems to be earlier than most of the Ironweed around here blooms.  On Saturday when I especially noticed it, the blooms were full of nectaring butterflies.


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