Plants of the Week: August 7
Guest Author: Fabienne Adler, 2023 Summer Intern
We’re in that mid-summer spot known as the big hot lull, with early summer stunners looking like stage performers past their prime, and autumn up-and-comers still in the dressing room. If you’re not a hydrangea person, you might be getting antsy. One way to make this time period bearable is to forget about blooms and find solace in good foliage— the kind that can take monsoon-level humidity and record-high temperatures. Here are three plants from our campus that are holding themselves up flawlessly under the August sky.
The first two feature in the Harry Wood Courtyard Garden, a space that somehow always keeps its cool. Tricyrtis formosana ‘Autumn Glow’ is a glorious toad lily, hailing—you guessed it—from the moist edges of Taiwan’s subtropical forests. It has darling little purple flowers reminiscent of speckled orchids and is just beginning to bloom now, but its foliage is already just the thing. With vigorous, upright stems and bright green leaves attractively rimmed in gold, this toad lily’s texture and color are refreshingly sharp. This shade lover likes it moist (but not soggy) and prefers a humus-rich soil. It is wonderfully unpalatable to deer, and will spread into sizable colonies. Photo credit: F. Adler.
On to another delightful woodland beast: Polygonatum odoratum ‘Byakko’. This Solomon seal cultivar is named after Japan’s mythical white tiger, guardian of the West. As its leaves mature, they present a truly striking variegation: the bottom half of each leaf turns pure white, in sharp contrast to the other half’s classic green hue. The two colors mingle, brushstroke-like, with a most pleasant effect. Like all Polygonatum, white tiger prefers dappled shade and organically rich, well-drained, moist soils. Under these conditions, it will slowly spread by rhizomes. Variegated shade plants run the gamut from gently understated to, dare we say, tacky, but this one truly roars. Photo credit: F. Adler.
On to a grass that definitely stands its ground. Sporobolus heterolepis (prairie dropseed) is thriving in a couple of sunny beds adjacent to the previously mentioned Harry Wood Courtyard Garden. Like most summer grasses, this midwest native likes it hot and even dry, and is not fussy about soil. It forms elegant mounds— about 15 inches tall and just a bit wider. Its slender, gently arching, tender-green foliage looks soft and attractive. Panicles of tiny flowers are now beginning to burst like lacy fireworks above the light-catching blades, and flutter softly in the breeze—Enough said. Photo credit: F. Adler.