Wildflower Meadow at Washington Tower

September 1, 2014


… Flowers on the hillside

blooming crazy

-Bob Dylan

Echinacea purpurea

Dylan’s words are an apt description, for mid-summer days, at our wildflower meadow at Washington Tower.  This wildflower meadow was established in 2007, at this prominent, one-acre location, and includes a wide range of native shrubs, wildflowers, and grasses. Here is a brief sampling of some of the August blooming flowers, for bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and you to enjoy.  Purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea, is a popular, long-lasting, daisy-like, flower. The center disk of each flower actually holds a composite of florets, surrounded by reflexed to drooping ray flowers, often a purplish- pink color The genus name is derived from the Greek word echino, for sea urchin, alluding to the spiny, conical, central disk. These are favorite flowers of butterflies, bees, and other insects, and its seeds are eaten by goldfinches, and other species of birds.

Echinacea purpurea w painted lady

The butterfly was there

                before any human art was made..

                                -Avis Harley

Brown-eyed Susan or branched coneflower, Rudbeckia triloba, this genus was originally classified by Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), the father of binomial nomenclature, and named to honor Olaf Rudbeck (1660-1740), Swedish professor of botany.  Its two-inch flowers of golden yellow rays, circle around a brown center. The seeds produced by Rudbeckia are food for various species of birds. This is one of several different species of Rudbeckia found growing throughout our landscape. This often self-sows effectively, and should increase its population in this meadow over time.

Rudbeckia triloba

Knowledge never learned of schools,

Of the wild bees morning chase

Of the wild-flower’s time and place

-John Greenleaf Whittier

Butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa, is a one-to-three-foot, small shrub, which displays intricate, clustered, orange, or yellow, flowers. The genus name commemorates Asklepios, the Greek god of medicine.  Though it is a milkweed, the stems do not have milky sap. Hummingbirds are also attracted to these flowers.

Asclepias tuberosa w leucanthemum

Finding them butterfly weed when I came

                The mower in the dew had loved them thus,

By leaving them to flourish…

                -Robert Frost

Common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, grows three-to-six-feet tall, has broad, thick, oval leaves, with a grayish color on their underside.  The umbels of multiple pink, shades of rose, or lavender colored flowers, have a soft, sweet fragrance. The fertilized flowers produce distinctive erect, pointed, gray-green, seed pods which spilt open and spill countless wispy silk-like seeds in the autumn. This especially attracts monarch butterflies, and these leaves are the only food their caterpillars (larvae) will eat, thus, critical for the survival of monarchs.

Asclepias w great spangled fritillary

though I throw my gasp after a monarch there is no hitch,

                no hitching either to its serape…

                                Mina Loy + Arthur Craven

Spotted mint, Monarda punctata, this thyme-scented member of the mint family, LAMIACEAE, attracts hummingbirds, as well as butterflies and bees. The genus name honors Nicolas Monardes (1493-1588), Spanish physician, botanist, famous for his 1574 book, Medical study of the products imported from our West Indian possessions. The one-inch, yellow, flowers are spotted with purple, and are ringed with larger, showy white, pink, or lilac bracts.

Monarda punctata fl

Where the hummingbird drops in

                to wet his whistle…

-Paul Muldoon

Monarda punctata

Shrubby cinquefoil, Potentilla  fruticosa ‘Pink Beauty’,  is a one-to-three-foot tall, shrub in the rose family, ROSACEAE,  which bears small, pink flowers, at the ends of the branches, throughout most of the summer.  This is within a large genus, having 300 species, found across the northern continents. The genus name is from the Latin potens, for powerful, and refers to some of these plants used as medicines during the Middle Ages.  This is another good choice for attracting butterflies, and bees. The larvae of skipper butterflies eat these leaves.

…On noiseless wing a ‘wildered butterfly,

                Seeking with memories grown dim o’er night

                Some resting flower of yesterday’s delight



Leadplant, Amorpha canescens, is a one-to-three-foot tall, shrub in the pea family, FABACEAE, which displays four-to-eight-inch, spike-like clusters of small purple flowers, with gold anthers. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center webpage states that, “The genus name, from the Greek amorphous (formless or deformed), alludes to the fact that the flower, with only a single petal (the banner or standard), is unlike typical pea flowers of the family.” Canescens is a botanical Latin term meaning “becoming gray”, and aptly alludes to the compound leaves which have a dense pubescence, giving the plant a grayish appearance.

All of the above wildflower meadow plants, and many more not discussed here, are drought tolerant, provide wildlife food and habitat, as well as enhance and diversify our picturesque beauty, which helps fulfill that part of our mission; to maintain and improve the landscape, horticulture, and natural resources. On your next visit to Mount Auburn, be sure to enjoy this special area, within our noteworthy landscape.


One summer day,

 I chanced to stray

To a garden of flowers blooming wild.

It took me once more

To the dear days of yore

And a spot that I loved as a child….

                -Cole Porter


About the Author: Jim Gorman

Visitor Services Assistant View all posts by Jim Gorman →


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