Lovely in Lavender

Yes, I was inspired by “Pretty in Pink,” I admit it. I wanted to write a tribute to the Blue Mistflower in my garden, but since I titled my previous post “Blue September,” I wanted to avoid using the word again. And so we have “Lovely in Lavender.” I’m not sure why I feel compelled to keep writing color-themed posts lately. Maybe it’s because the beginning of autumn always reminds me that winter isn’t far behind, and most of the vibrant colors will be erased from the landscape for months. So let’s celebrate it while we’ve got it!

Peck’s skipper on mistflower

Blue Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum) doesn’t look blue to me; it’s more like a light shade of purple, or lavender. It’s not a native plant in the northwest corner of Ohio, but it was here when I moved into this house, and it IS native to southeastern Ohio, so I think that’s good enough reason to keep it. And to be honest, even if it wasn’t native to any part of my state, I’d probably keep this one. It’s an amazing pollinator magnet, drawing lots of butterflies and skippers, bees, and moths.

Speaking of moths, I found this diurnal Yellow-collared Scape Moth feeding on it today.

Yellow-collared scape moth on mistflower

Some gardeners would scoff at a plant that spreads aggressively like this one does, but that’s part of the reason I like it. I can easily pull out the plants I don’t want, or dig them and give them to friends. I think one of my friends kept it in a pot after I gave him some a couple years ago, and that’s a good way to keep it from spreading.

Peck’s skipper (L) and Fiery skipper, on mistflower

If you’re a flower gardener you already know this, but one of the best parts of growing perennial plants is being able to share them with your friends. When I walk around my garden I’m reminded of how many of my plants were given to me from the gardens of my friends. And I love going to my neighbor’s garden and seeing plants I gave her. It feels like the plants keep us all connected in a way social media can only dream of.

By the way, have you heard of the superstitition that says it’s bad luck to thank someone for giving you a cutting or division of a plant from their garden? Some people believe that expressing thanks will cause the original plant to die. I had never heard this until a few years ago. Would you be upset if someone thanked you for a plant?

American Lady butterfly on mistflower

Mistflower starts blooming in early August and keeps going strong into early October, giving me lots of time to enjoy the numerous butterflies flitting all over it. It’s so strange though, because the growing requirements for this plant indicate that it needs regular watering and moist soil, and yet I have never watered it in the five years I’ve lived here, and it’s doing great. It’s on the south side of my house that gets direct sun all day long, and yet it doesn’t need watering, even in the heat of August. Even stranger is the fact that my soil is sandy, which should mean that it dries out faster than other types of soil. Isn’t that crazy?

Monarch butterfly on mistflower – they’re officially listed as endangered now, sadly

This picture of a monarch feeding on mistflower is bittersweet now that they are officially listed as an endangered species. I wish more people would add a few milkweed plants to their gardens to help keep this species from disappearing forever. It’s such a simple way to give them a hand, and it’s so rewarding when you can watch them laying eggs and see the gorgeous caterpillars munching on milkweed leaves.

Monarchs roosting during migration, Wauseon, OH – 9-21-22

Yesterday my friend Kate alerted me to the presence of some migrating monarchs in a small town about 45 minutes west of Toledo. So we hopped in the car and went to see if we could find them. A local news report had mentioned that there were 50 butterflies in the woods in a particular park, so we went there and started walking in the woods looking for them. I didn’t have much hope of finding such a small roost, but shortly after we got into the woods we saw a few butterflies floating over us. Just singles though, and we didn’t see them going up into any roosts. But a short time later we found bunches of them hanging from tree branches and on tree trunks in a clearing in the middle of the woods, with sunlight shining down on them. We made half-hearted attempts to count them, and I came up with at least 500, and there were likely many more than that.

Monarchs on tree trunks in a clearing, Wauseon, OH 9-21-22

We had a lovely time just standing amongst them and enjoying their fairy-like presence, but I later realized that there’s a strong possibility that many of them died last night. On our drive to this location, we’d passed through a heavy thunderstorm, so these butterflies were likely soaking wet and needing to dry off. And the temperature dropped sharply last night; I’ve read that they can’t fly unless they can warm their bodies to 55F. Today was very cold and windy, so even if they made it through the night, I wonder if they managed to take flight. I know that’s a sad thought, but it’s a fact that insects live very short lives filled with peril.

I’ll end with this short video clip of the roosting monarchs from yesterday, and hope by sharing it I’ll motivate someone else to plant some milkweed to help these beautiful butterflies. Thanks for reading.

22 comments

  1. Thank you for introducing me to Mistflower – beautiful! Purple/lavender and blue are my favorite flower colors. Beautiful photos, as always, Kim.

    I was especially delighted with the Monarch photos. I’ve enjoyed watching them move through my area in Vermont – I spied a single one this morning; it’s getting cold here in Vermont at night – but have yet to find them roosting. I’ve noted spots where I’m most likely to see them flying in the early morning – east-facing stands of maples, next to open fields with some Milkweed where the sun’s warmth arrives earliest. It’s probably too late this year, but next year I’ll venture into the tree cover, see if I can find a roost. Thankfully, there’s lots of Milkweed here. I saw Monarch caterpillars munching on the Milkweed leaves this summer, a promising sign!

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  2. Beautiful photos! I’ve missed the Pecks and Fiery Skippers this year in my backyard; wondering if it has been our crazy weather. So delighted to see them here! Thank you for sharing! Cindy šŸ™‚

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    • Thanks, Cindy! I have lots of Pecks every year, but usually just a few of the Fiery skippers. It’s always interesting to notice and try to figure out the reasons for year-to-year fluctuations in a particular spot, isn’t it?

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  3. How fantastic to see those Monarchs!
    I planted some Mistflower when we moved here two years ago (definitely not native to the UK!) it flowered too late for any pollinators. This year growth is very poor, guess it doesn’t like our climate.

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    • Yes, it was lovely to see the monarch roost, even though it was a rather small one. A few years ago we had hundreds of thousands of them roosting along the shores of Lake Erie. I’ll never forget that day — they had come down in a big storm, and I went to Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge to see them. The wind and rain were pelting my car and I wasn’t able to get out for many photos, but I couldn’t believe how those seemingly fragile insects were able to hold on to the branches during that storm. Nature is amazing!

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  4. Being from Southern Ohio originally, I do recall seeing Blue Mistflower in abundance at times but you have educated me on the name! I never knew the name. What a rare treat to get to see all those Monarchs roosting that way. I would love to help out with the milkweed but given it is not a native here, am pretty sure it wouldn’t work. A colleague of my husband’s used to say about our early ancestors ‘life was brutal and brief’. I’m so glad I get to live now, even with some of the world’s miseries as they are. And finally, I had a great aunt who would look in horror if someone thanked her or anyone within earshot for a plant! She had many of these old superstitions, and I remember them occasionally but certainly wouldn’t be upset if someone thanked me for a plant. The plants that others have given me starts from are like the recipes people have given me, whenever I see them I think of the person who shared it. Thanks for a thought provoking post, Kim.

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    • Now you’ve made me curious about the monarch and milkweeds in Australia, Ardys. I always check iNaturalist.org to see which species have been reported in a particular location, and the only Asclepias species (milkweed) reported in Australia is the tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica), and as you say, it’s not a native plant. But that’s where the monarch butterflies lay their eggs in Oz, I guess. I also found a nice article about the movements of the monarch butterflies around Australia — if you’re curious, it’s https://australian.museum/learn/animals/insects/wanderer-butterfly/#:~:text=The%20Wanderer%20or%20Monarch%20Butterfly,in%20Australia%20since%20about%201871. Thanks for prompting me to look it up!

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      • Thank you for the link to the Australia Museum and the info about Monarchs. I’ve actually been to that museum! I honestly can’t remember if I’ve seen Monarchs here when we have traveled down south or if I just know them so well from Ohio. I didn’t know there is a milkweed here, though, so you prompted me to go and have a look for a photo so now I will know what it is when I see it! So funny that the pods are called ‘hairy balls and bishop’s balls’ šŸ˜† Thank you Kim…what a good blog can do!!

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  5. Love those Mistflowers because they bloom after much of the summer flowers are gone. I am going to try and buy some next year if I can find them here.

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  6. I really like our mistflower. We must not have as much of it as we used to; I didn’t notice it this year, I wonder if it is blooming right now. I need to go take a look.

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  7. I’m so glad you wrote about this plant, Kim! And I think “Lovely in Lavender” is a perfect description. It’s everywhere at my place now — my own fault for not pulling out more of the starts earlier in the season. That said, I do love seeing the pollinators on it!

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    • Hi Judy! Yes, it sure does spread fast, doesn’t it? Mine has spread to almost half of my front border…I’ll draw the line at the halfway mark and start spreading it around to (unsuspecting!) friends later.

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  8. They’re lovely flowers. We don’t have the saying about not thanking someone for a plant in Lancashire, but my sweetheart often says it. I’ve witnessed quite a few local restaurant staff looking very worried when he has handed them his empty plate and told them he only ate his to be polite, too.

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    • Oh my, that sounds like his ‘polite’ way of telling them that the food wasn’t good! Or maybe I’m misunderstanding his intent? Anyway, thanks for reading and taking the time to leave a comment.

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      • That’s the joking way they have of saying it was excellent. Their plate has to be empty. But what you thought is how it is understood over here. He has to explain every time.

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