Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

Cut-leaved Prairie Dock: The Littlest Yoda

silphium-terebinthinaceum-var.-pinnatifidum-640

After the long Winter of assaultive weather, the weather of Spring is benign encouragement.  Nature rouses itself to greet the warming sun, each plant giving thanks in its own way.

 

This little dude is one of the great daisies of the continent:  Prairie Dock.  As the weather warms, you'll see why it got that name.  Right now, what's important is that last Spring it was just a small first-year plant.  A rookie.  But this Spring is its first growing season after its first hard Winter in New England. 

 

And so it's a winner already.  It's here, it's alive, it's ready to take on whatever's coming.  With a gesture of Rocky-Balboa-meets-Yoda, it struts out the victory.

 

 

Here's how to grow this quirky Prairie Dock:

 

Latin Name

Silphium terebinthinaceum var. pinnatifidum

Common Name

Cut-leaf Prairie Dock

Family

Asteraceae, the aster family.

What kind of plant is it?

Herbaceous hardy perennial.

Hardiness

Zones 4 - 8

Habit

A large basal rosette of long and fairly low many-fingered leaves that are reminiscent of the coarse fronds of the rabbit's-foot fern.  Seemingly from a different plant entirely—even a different planet—thick and mostly leafless flower stalks soar as high as ten feet each Summer.

Rate of Growth

Slow for the first three years.

Size in ten years

A clump two to three feet wide.

Texture

The leaves are coarsely ferny; the flower stalks are pure Dr. Seuss spikes many times the height of the mound of foliage.

Grown for

the amusing juxtaposition of the sky-high stalks of yellow daisy flowers arising from a mound of large ferny leaves from a perennial that isn't a fern at all, and is as happy in the withering Summer heat and drought of its native US midwest as it is in the deep freezes of Winter.

 

Flowering season

High Summer: July into August.

Culture

Full sun in almost any soil, from lean and dry to rich.  Slow to establish as the plant seems to put more energy into growing a deep and woody forked taproot, which is what enables it to thrive in the challenging Midwest climate.

How to handle it

A perennial for the long-term.  Plant where it can grow undisturbed indefinitely.  The intriguing but comparatively low-to-the-ground foliage would suggest placement at the front of a bed, whereas the extraordinarily tall spikes of yellow daisies give the plant presence at the back of even the deepest borders.  But then you'd miss the foliage.  The flowerspikes have few leaves on their stems, though, and don't block the view of plants in back.  So go ahead: Plant Prairie Dock right at the front.

Downsides

Best with all possible sun, dawn to dusk, which helps the vertiginously-tall flower stems grow—and remain—straight upward.  Even so, they sometimes welcome a couple of thick stakes to stay pleasingly relaxed but still firmly upright.  Can self-seed a bit, more in some gardens than others. 

Variants

As we'll see, this is the rare cut-leaf variety of Prairie Dock.  The species of Prairie Dock itself has straight-edges leaves of banana size; it's equally astonishing and as tall in bloom, too.  Many other species of silphium are also easy and unusual stars of the Summer and Fall garden. 

 

Foliage is sometimes uniquely large or arrayed.  The leaves of one species are even larger and coarsely ferny—and tend to align North-South.  The leaves of another are fused across the flowering stems, making water-trapping cups. 

 

Whatever the foliage, the flowers are always daisies, two or three inches across, and yellow except in a very rare white-flowered species native to Texas.

Availability

The half-dozen or so mainstream species and varieties are readily available from mail-order nurseries specializing in natives of the American prairies and the midwest.  Sometimes found in retail garden centers too.   

Propagation

Division and seeds

Native habitat

Central Canada and the US.


 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
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