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One of the first flowers every child draws in kindergarten is the daisy. Perhaps because of the simplicity of the petals’ design or maybe because the daisy shape is the first recognized as a ‘flower.’ I think we love them as children because they are cheerful, it is easy to pick a handful, and no one seems to mind the picking.

Double shasta daisy ‘Aglaia’

There are many daisies and daisy-like flowers and all come from the huge Asteraceae family of sunflowers, mums, dandelions, dahlia, and coneflowers, to name a few. One of the most popular daisies is the roadside wildflower, Chrysanthemum leucanthemum (also Leucanthemum vulgare), or the Oxeye daisy with its white petals and yellow centers.

This common daisy comes from Eurpose and the name derives from Anglo-Saxon for day’s eye. The botanical name is contradictory. Anthemum come from the Greek word ‘anthos’ meaning flower. Chrys comes from ‘chrysos,’ or gold, and leuc means white, so you have the white flowered gold flower. In some places this plant is considered a noxious weed, and although not poisonous, cows won’t eat it, so daisies in hay spells trouble for farmers.

Historically, the daisy was used as a medicine and cosmetic, most often as a soothing lotion. Another common name, Marguerite or Margaret daisy, comes from the 14th century when Margaret of Anjou married King Henry VI of England. Her wedding robes were embroidered with oxeye daisies.

The Shasta daisy is the white daisy most of us grow in our gardens. It’s flower is larger than the wild variety, and it is a bit better behaved. Luther Burbank hybridized this daisy. It used to be Chrysanthemum x superbum, but has been reclassified as Leucanthemum x superbum. As gardeners are the never satisfied with what they have, the hybridizers are developing pale yellow varieties.

Easy to obtain and easy to grow, Shasta daisies deserve their popularity. They also seem to like our Michigan climate. In soils that are very rich, Shastas grow tall and lanky, and the stems fall to the ground, but here they tend to stay more compact and well behaved all season long. They fit in with almost any style of garden from formal to more natural plantings. Their colors blend with many color schemes, and can even help harmonize less compatible colors.

All Shasta daisies need full sun and well-drained soil. They like moist soil, but thrive in less perfect conditions. There are many cultivars available, differing mostly in height, size of flower, and when they start blooming. There are both single and double flowered types available. ‘Polaris,’ and ‘Alaska’ are two of the oldest and most common single cultivars, and remains a great garden plants.
The 2003 Perennial of the Year as named by the Perennial Plant Association is the Shasta daisy cultivar ‘Becky.’ It has 3” flowers and blooms from July through September if the old flowers are removed.

If you don’t deadhead your flowers, or if they get lanky, cut back the stems to just above the bottom leaves. New leaves will quickly emerge from the plant’s base, and sometimes it resumes flowering. They like to be divided every two or three years, so you will soon have masses of daisies to pick. If you catch children picking your Shasta daisies, don’t scold; instead, take a moment to teach them the old divination game, picking petals to ‘he loves me, he loves me not.’

echinacea

Purple Coneflower

In 1980 I traveled down Highway 54 in Missouri. Wild purple coneflowers lined the roadside in waves of pink flowers that resembled shooting stars headed for the heavens. The long pink petals fell back from the orange seed head in wavy rays. The beautiful flowers seemed to float above the tall roadside grass. At the time I wondered why it was call purple rather than pink coneflower, but that’s just one of its mysteries.

Ten years later they were gone. The coneflower, or Echinacea, had become a ‘cure’ for weak immune systems and AIDS had become a prevalent disease. Coneflowers roots became a valuable commodity. A friend told me it took one year to empty the roadside of coneflowers. Diggers waited until the plants bloomed, then dug them wherever they spotted the flowers, filling trucks with plants taken from public property. At that time Missouri had no law against digging roadside wildflowers.

Coneflowers are vestige plants of the prairies that once stretched across America. They have a long history as medical plants. Native Americans used the roots of this wildflower for everything from snakebite to cleansing rites for ceremonial rituals. European settlers soon used the coneflower as a blood purifier to cure a wide variety of ailments such as unidentified infections and ailments.

As garden plants, the mid-to-late summer flowers of Purple Coneflower punctuate the border with large, vivid blossoms on three-foot stems. The orange cones contrast with the pink petals in an unusual color harmony among flowers. As prairie plants, coneflowers thrive where many plants fail. Coneflowers grow from zone 4 to zone 8 with equal ease. They withstand drought, love hot sunny sites, and don’t need regular applications of fertilizer.

They are easily grown from seed, but the plants take two years to reach flowering size. Most garden centers carry pot-grown plants, usually already in flower. Transplanting doesn’t seem to bother them anymore than the type of soil in which they are planted. Known as ‘clay busters,’ coneflowers grow in clay as well as sandy soils like mine.

Hybridizers produced a cultivar ‘Magnus’ with petals that extended nearly straight out from the cone rather than drooping, making the flower appear more daisy-like. Since ‘Magus,’ the hybridizers have gone wild with new cultivars in amazing colors like the orange petals of ‘Tiki Torch,’ the green, stubby petals of ‘Green Envy,’ and the yellow petals of ‘Sunrise,’ plus they have produced some blossom configurations that look like a mum flower on top of the regular coneflower like the cerise red ‘Razzmatazz,’ and the green ‘Coconut Lime.’

The foliage has never been as attractive as the flowers. The large leaves have serrated edges and are coated with fine hairs. They look coarse and can be attacked by mildew making them even more unattractive. If mildew is a problem in your area, try growing some of the mildew resistant cultivars available.

This is a great plant for any garden and although blooms throughout the summer sparkles especially in late summer and fall.

As soon as the weather turns good I start walking the road along my property–a one and a half mile round trip. During these treks I like to keep track of the wildflowers along the way. After ten years of regular walks, I still find new flowers. This week I noticed Cardamine diphylla, also known as Dentaria diphylla, or by the common names of toothwort, pepperroot or crinkleroot. That’s a lot of naming, but the four petaled flower does look a little like baby teeth, doesn’t it? Or perhaps for the tooth-edged leaves?

Actually, I discovered the roots were chewed to relieve toothache, and teas made out of the roots were supposed to help flu and colds, therefore, toothwort. Pepperwort because the rhizome roots are sharp, pungent or peppery in taste. Herbalists are still promoting the plant’s medicinal value on the web. Others suggest it as a good addition to salads, or sauces. I’m guessing the European colonists learned about toothwort from Native Americans who seemed to also have used it as a food crop. Since Cardamine diphylla is from the mustard family, known for its pungency as wells as its four-petaled flowers, that might be very true. Edible Wild Plants has more information about toothwort and even for its inclusion in horseradish sauce.

Whether for a medicinal or culinary use, many roots must need to be harvested to whip up even a little quantity for any recipe. The plant is small, only growing about eight inches. You might guess from my comments that I didn’t dig the plant up to taste. I’d rather see them grow along my roadside and just purchase pepper or horseradish, or whatever I need from the grocery store. I suppose it is called crinkleroot because the roots are crinkled?

These plants grow in the early spring in damp, wooded areas before the trees leaf out. They bloom and spread seeds, and then disappear for the rest of the summer. The genus name Dentaria, which refers to teeth, is often included in the Cardamine genus; the diphylla means two leaves. Although their broad leaves looks like more because they are three-lobed, the flower stalk bears only two leaves.

There is another native toothwort, which I have not discovered along my road, the cutleaf toothwort, Dentaria lacinata, which blooms after the trees have leafed out. Its leaves are deeply cut so look much thinner. If you live east of the Mississippi River, you might see either of these wildflowers on walks in your woodlands.

The bloodroot (Sanquinaria canadensis) are just beginning to bloom along the road in a wooded depression. Their fat palm-shaped leaves emerge from the ground furled in tight spears, and their blooms spring up not much higher than six inches. These small native glories of the spring also make wonderful garden plants. I have some that I purchases a few years ago in my woodland garden. They are starting to spread. I think I’ll buy more to help them along the way. If you decide you want some, just be sure that you buy your rootstock from a reliable nursery and don’t dig them out of the wild.

According to Armitage’s Herbaceous Perennial Plants the rootstock has a yellowish-red sap when cut. He says, “The sap was used by the Indians as a dye for coloring and war paint(517).” That’s interesting, isn’t it?

They are very hardy plants but ephemeral in that the foliage dies back in summer. Shade is important, as is springtime moisture. They can be divided after their blooms have died off, but I still think I’ll just buy some more.

Armitage, Allan. Herbaceous Perennial Plants. Varsity Press, Inc. Georgia. 1989.

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