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On Gardening: Meet rain garden stars, including rattlesnake master

October 13, 2014

The Ruby-throated hummingbird, also considered a pollinator, can be seen feeding on the Liatris or blazing star.

Rattlesnake master, common boneset and blazing star donít sound like the names of key ingredients to a garden that would bring out the camera, but that is precisely what is happening. These or just three that have-helped create what some might consider a pollinator haven. Since they are plants that are for the most part native from Texas to Canada means that you can do it, too; your season of bloom just may be a little adjusted.

These plants are part of a cooperative demonstration Rain Garden at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens, where I am director.. While the garden might not make the cover of Fine Gardening it would certainly be worthy of being featured in a publication dedicated to bees and butterflies.

If you arenít familiar with the Rain Garden concept, picture a shallow, bowl-shaped plant bed that collects stormwater runoff from roofs, paved roads, driveways, sidewalks, and other hard surfaces. In our case the rain water runoff is from a large pavilion and directed to our small garden.

In the real world these hard surfaces often contribute pollutants such as fertilizers, pesticides, oil, and pet waste to the runoff, which is then washed into our coastal waterways. Stormwater runoff pollutants harm plants and wildlife and could contaminate our drinking water supply.

A rain gardenís basin collects and holds stormwater for a short period of time, usually less than 24 hours. The soil absorbs the water and any pollutant particles. Plants like the boneset and rattlesnake master have roots that help filter out the pollutants while providing water to the stems and leaves. The water evaporates back into the atmosphere from the plants.

By using native plants like these, rain gardens provide important habitat to a broad array of wildlife, including bees, butterflies, spiders, frogs, toads, lizards and birds. Even though our demonstration Rain Garden is small it is like a miniature zoo, creating excitement and photo opportunities for those of all age groups. Since these are natives that are adapted to the climate and soils, they require less water and need little or no fertilizers and pesticides which is a plus for the environment.

The common boneset is known botanically as Eupatorium perfoliatium. It looks like it is a white Joe Pye weed and reaches 6-feet tall blooming at what is the peak of our butterfly season. There are hundreds of bees and wasps hitting on the flowers but prized butterflies like the Great Purple Hairstreak, Red-banded Hairstreak and Buckeye are all visible.

This wonderful plant is in need of a Madison Avenue PR firm. The name boneset is just not marketable for such a butterfly magnet. On the other hand I suppose Rattlesnake Master wonít make the cash register ring either. Does it prevent rattlesnakes, help you tame-them or even perhaps attract them? The truth is this plant was used to treat snakebites.

The one thing I can say is it is a plant of rare beauty. It is known botanically as Eryngium yuccafolium. It is actually in the carrot or parsley family and easily reaches 4 to 5 feet in height. The foliage does resemble that of the yucca. The flowers are incredible white round balls or globes that might resemble thistles. They are among the best for bringing in pollinators.

With the white boneset and white rattlesnake master flowers the large purple flowers of the blazing star is a great-complement. The blazing star known botanically as Liatris spicata is often overlooked in the world of bees and butterflies but this aster relative related to Joe Pye and the boneset is ideally suited to the Rain Garden or the Backyard Wildlife Habitat.

Rain Gardens planted with the best and showiest plants native to your area combine the benefits of reducing stormwater runoff with the appeal and beauty of a garden. I hope you might give it a try. Follow me on twitter @CGBGgardenguru.

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Associated Press