MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Features

March 28, 2013

Bundleflowers will bring in birds, bees

— Wildflowers are important to add a light touch to a cottage garden or for building a wildscape area that can help birds thrive. Native trees, flowers and grasses are more adaptive; harsh winter or summer weather cannot keep them down. They provide nectar for insects, attracting pollinators to our vegetable gardens and home-grown fruit.

Most wildflowers take lots of sun but are not very particular about soil quality. Planting native grasses in your garden or shrub row will attract songbirds as well as quail, doves, cardinals, sparrows and other seed-eaters.

Native grasses to consider include: bluegrass, bluestem, bristlegrass, buffalograss, bundleflower, dropseed, gamagrass, grama, lovegrass, and wintergrass.

Illinois bundleflower, or desmanthus illinoensis, is native in USDA zones 5 through 8, most of the central and southern U.S. mainland states. Its range skips the East and West coasts as well as Montana and Nevada.

The butterfly-attracting, one-half-inch wide spring flowers resemble those found on buttonbush. The flowers bloom from May through September. They are white with yellow stamens that extend beyond the flower, making it resemble a bottlebrush flower. The leaves resemble those of a mimosa tree, but the seed pod is unique to bundleflowers.

That seed pod gave bundleflowers another name: wood rose. The dark brown curved pods twist into a cluster, remaining on the plant well into the winter, when wildlife find them. The seeds are a favorite of northern bobwhite quail.

A member of the legume or pea family, bundleflower seeds are highly valued by birds and wildlife as a source of protein during the winter. Easy to grow from seed, bundleflowers can take soil that is dry to wet but not coarse sand or dense clay. At the Missouri Botanical Garden, it is grown in the Rock Garden, and in our yard, it grows well with afternoon protection under the shade of larger plants.

Bundleflower is popular with honeybees, so if the young plants are left alone by foraging rabbits, it can become plentiful in prairies and along country roads through re-seeding. As a legume, it helps build soil fertility and improve soil quality.

This is a plant that requires persistence in research because it is referred to by so many names in books and catalogs, including prairie mimosa, prairie bundleflower, false sensitive plant, sabine Illinois bundleflower, prickle-weed, wood rose, mimosa illinoensis, Reno germplasm Illinois bundleflower and its Latin name, desmanthus.

The “false sensitive plant” name comes from the leaves’ sensitivity. The leaves close inward at night, when they are struck by direct sunlight and when they are touched.

In a single growing season, bundleflowers’ soft stems can grow to 4 feet tall and flop over. Some gardeners consider them weedy or informal and tuck them out of sight.

Because of their soil building qualities, bundleflowers are planted to restore mined land. Native Americans used them for many medicinal purposes. For example, the Pawnees used a tea made from the leaves to relieve itching and the Hopi placed seeds on the eyes for conjunctivitis (pink eye or trachoma).

Bundleweed has no insect or disease problems. The seeds are available from catalogs that are interesting to browse: Native American Seed at www.seedsource.com in the wildflower section, from Native Seed Network at www.nativeseednetwork.org and Roundstone Native Seed at www.roundstoneseed.com.

Seed germination can take two weeks in 65-degree weather, but that time can be shortened by soaking the seeds in hot water overnight. A legume inoculum that is commonly added when planting garden peas can also be used. Plant seeds 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep directly in the garden and keep the soil moist.

Information: The Great Plains Nature Center at www.gpnc.org

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