2020 Unofficial Pollinator Plant of the Year: Gregg’s mistflower

The votes are in for 2020’s Unofficial Pollinator Plant of the Year, and the winner is…Gregg’s mistflower, Conoclinium greggii.

The Texas native perennial with fluffy lavender blooms carried our informal poll when pitted against Frostweed, Verbesina virginicaits lesser known pollinator plant colleague. The final tally as of 10 PM Feb. 1? Gregg’s mistflower 127, Frostweed 105.

“Many people still don’t know about Gregg’s mistflower,” said Lee Marlowe, sustainable landscape ecologist at the San Antonio River Authority (SARA) and 2020 president of San Antonio’s Native Plant Society chapter. Marlowe nominated Gregg’s mistflower.

“It’s such an easy plant to grow if you have some sun, it comes alive with butterflies in the fall year after year, and is easy to care for,” she said.

Honeybee on Cowpen daisy, the 2019 Unofficial Pollinator Plant of the Year. Photo by Monika Maeckle

The Unofficial Pollinator Plant of the Year initiative, started in 2019 by the Texas Butterfly Ranch, came about to raise awareness of the unsung plant heroes of the pollinator garden. Many worthy, native plants are commercially unavailable, often only accessible during seasonal pop-up plant sales. Commercial and retail nurseries cite “lack of demand” as the reason for these plants’ absence in their stores. Our Unofficial Pollinator Plant of the Year citizen gardener effort aims to create demand that will result in more native plants at gardening centers, local nurseries and big box stores.

Among its attributes, Gregg’s mist flower’s light purple blossoms work as a butterfly magnet. Some have called it “butterfly crack” because the plant produces natural compounds that are poisonous to livestock and human beings–but irresistible and necessary to the reproduction of Queen butterflies, a close relative of monarchs.

As Ray Conroe explained in a post on the Native Plant Society webpage,

“Gregg’s mistflower produces a natural compound called intermedine, which is a pyrrolizidine alkaloid (PA for short). PA’s occur in many plants and are well known to ranchers, being very poisonous to livestock (and humans) as they serve to protect the plants from grazing. However, it turns out that intermedine isn’t poisonous to queen butterflies, but is essential to their reproduction. When you see queens nectaring on Gregg’s mistflower, over 90% of them are males happily imbibing intermedine with the nectar. Then they convert part of the intermedine to a smaller molecule named danaidone which is a sex attractant pheromone that draws in the females. During mating, the male queen passes the remaining unchanged intermedine to the female as a “nuptial gift” that once again manifests itself as a toxin, this time rendering her eggs unpalatable to predators! Thus as the butterfly pollinates the flower, the flower provides a molecule that in two ways enables the butterfly to reproduce!”

Monarchs and Queens take turns on Gregg’s mist flower at the San Antonio River Authority’s Euclid St. pollinator garden. Photo by Lee Marlowe

When shopping for plants for your spring garden, choose Gregg’s mistflower.  If you don’t find it, help raise awareness by asking local plant suppliers to stock Conoclinium greggii. Every time you visit your favorite local nursery, big box store, or gardening center, ask the sales clerk or plant buyer: “Do you have Gregg’s mistflower? I’ve been hearing so much about it.”

Seeds are available online, but not as common as we’d like. That said, the plant is easy to propagate from seed, cuttings or by division.

“It’s just knowing the right time to do it,” said Drake White, owner of the Nectar Bar, a landscaping and native plant supplier in San Antonio. “Now is a perfect time to separate clumps and take cuttings to root.”

Depending on growing conditions, Gregg’s mistflower can be quite gregarious. If it gets out of control, just dig up a few plugs and move elsewhere. Or pot it up and give to friends. Gregg’s mistflower dies back in winter, but will spring back to life as soon as the soil warms up. It blooms March – November, requires little water and thrives in a variety of soils. Great as an alternative groundcover.

Because it grows in any soil, has a long  blooming period, tolerates shade but also likes full sun, longtime San Antonio landscaper Charles Bartlett of Green Haven Industries ranks Gregg’s mistflower “a carefree pollinator favorite.”

Pollinators welcome at the Texas Butterfly Ranch! Signs available in our shop. Photo by Monika Maeckle

Our successful 300for300 initiative demonstrated that when gardeners take action, we can make a difference. In 2018, we set out to create 300 pollinator gardens for San Antonio’s 300th birthday. By December 31, we had pledges for 325 gardens, exceeding our goal by almost 10 percent.

Then we pushed for 500 gardens by 2020. We surpassed that goal on January 1 and today have 528 pollinator habitats pledged. Check out the map of our pollinator habitats pledged here. Want to join our initiative? Pledge to plant a pollinator garden by registering.

Gregg’s mistflower joins Cowpen Daisy as our second Unofficial Pollinator Plant of the Year. For more info and growing tips, check out our Resources page.

TOP PHOTO:  Queen on Gregg’s mistflower. By Lee Marlowe

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9 Responses

  1. Carolyn Grissom
    | Reply

    My Greg’s Blue Mistflower grows to six or more feet. Why am I reading that it grows to 18”? I live in Sugar Land, Tx.

    • L
      | Reply

      I don’t see anything that tells me if you have received other answers to your question about the height of greggs mistflower. I am not an expert but I do have experience with native gardens in north central Texas and RGV. In RGV we had turk’s cap as tall as the eve of the house. In Denton County it tops out at about 3′. However, our Gregg’s Mistflower in RGV did top out at about 2′ even though it never froze. So that is not much of an answer except that latitude matters as well as growing conditions.

      • Carolyn Grissom
        | Reply

        Certainly a good point. Thanks very much!

  2. Lynne
    | Reply

    Is Gregg’s mist flower the same as blue mist flower?

  3. Liz Ellis
    | Reply

    I love Gregg’s mist and always had a lot of Monarch butterflies at my old location. Need to get some more if we can find room.

  4. L Francis
    | Reply

    I had a bed of this plant about 18″ X 6′ along my front sidewalk when we lived in Rio Grande Valley. Covered in Queens, it was a wonderful welcome to anyone who came to our front door. It was about 18″ tall. I am wondering why you said it worked as a ground cover. I consider ground cover to be walkable and not much taller than mowed grass would be.

  5. Carolyn Martin
    | Reply

    Come to the San Antonio Botanical Garden plant sales. We always have Gregg’s mistflower available. But come early as it goes fast. The spring sale dates are March 7-9, April 18-19 and May 16-17. All sales are 10-5 at the entrance to the Garden. No need to pay Garden admittance to shop at the sale. Come join us.

  6. Misti
    | Reply

    Ahh, man! I was hoping for the frostweed! Only because it thrives in my garden and I don’t have enough sun for mist flower!

    • Monika Maeckle
      | Reply

      Frostweed in 2021!

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