Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Praise for a giant swamp thing

Rudbeckia maxima, aka swamp coneflower and giant coneflower, grows in roadside ditches all over East Texas. Here they are in late May, surging forth gloriously along a country road south of Tyler. If I was standing out there in the photo with them, you’d see the bloom stalks over my head—they are about 6’ tall (but I am not).

As spectacular as the blooms are, my favorite part of the plant is the leaves. Here is the rosette of a swamp coneflower in the garden today. The big leaves are blue green and they will stay this lush and cabbage-colored through the winter. This is different from other Rudbeckias which go dormant as miniscule and miserable-looking rosettes during winter.

Swamp coneflowers do have a period of looking seedy in the late summer when they are all about the stalky old flowerheads. I want to attract finches so I tolerate the gangly seedheads. Post Hurricane Ike, I cut them back and new growth sprang up soon after. Sorry finches, wherever you are.

Though it grows in low wet spots in the wild, swamp coneflower will do just fine in regular garden soil. My five are in an un-irrigated, slightly built-up planting bed. Louisiana iris, switch grass, and native crinum lilies are also dual citizens of the swamp and flower bed. If I had a big raingarden in a sunny spot, I would happily add them together with more swamp coneflowers.

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