With the 2020 election behind us, it’s time for citizen gardeners to cast a more fun vote: for the 2021 Unofficial Pollinator Plant of the Year.

On the heels of Cowpen daisy (2019) and Gregg’s purple mistflower (2020), the candidates for this year’s under-appreciated pollinator plant are:

Frostweed, Verbesina virginica, and Gayfeather, Liatris mucronata.

The goal of anointing a reigning pollinator plant each year is to bring much needed attention to some of nature’s best, but overlooked, multi-tasking plants.

Of course they are beautiful–but they also serve the ecosystem by providing nectar for bees, butterflies and others, seeds for birds and mammals, and shelter for much wildlife.

Queens on Frostweed, Llano River  Photo by Monika Maeckle

 

gayfeather and monarch

Monarch on Gayfeather. Photo by Native American Seed

The Unofficial Pollinator Plant of the Year initiative, started in 2019 by the Texas Butterfly Ranch, came about to raise awareness of these unsung plant heroes of the pollinator garden. Many worthy, native plants are commercially inaccessible–ONLY available during seasonal pop-up plant sales. If you miss these occasional plant sales, you’re out of luck.

Commercial and retail nurseries cite “lack of demand” as the reason these plants are absent from 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. We encourage you to request these plants when shopping to stock your landscape.

Frostweed’s intriguing ice crystals. Photo by Native American Seed

Now, a little about the candidates….

Both of these late season nectar plants bloom in the fall and offer fuel for migrating monarchs and other butterflies and insects. Both are drought tolerant and available in seed form, but generally not found as containerized plants–something we’d like to see change.

Frostweed puts out lush white umbels of composite flowers–irresistible to pollinators, since they can sit in place and nectar on multiple blossoms at once. The plant can reach 6 – 8 feet in height and can be gregarious. It grows in shade or sun, spreads through seeds and rhizomes, and pulls a unique trick of nature, which has resulted in its common name.

When the first freeze hits, Frostweed splits its stems and its phloem oozes from the stalk, creating lovely and unusual ice crystals, a phenomenon known as crystallofolia. The unusual habit is stunning to view, but you must go early in the day, because the ice sculptures melt quickly as the sun warms them up.

Gayfeather in full bloom. Photo by Native American Seed

 

Less rambunctious Gayfeather has its own charms.

Sprays of purple composite flowers adorn a long terminal spike and make it another draw for bees, butterflies and other insects. It grows 1 – 3 feet in height and blooms August through December. Birds enjoy its seeds in the winter and it’s known to have an extremely long tap root. It requires full sun and thrives in calcerous soils.

So…a difficult choice, but what do you say?

Please vote here. We’ll report results in early February.

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