Thimble Flower

Thimble flower (Anemone cylindrica) seedhead
Thimble flower (Anemone cylindrica) seedhead with plumose seeds


Thimble flower is a native Anemone species more frequently found west of Minnesota in dry sunny habitats from British Columbia and Alberta to new Mexico and Kansas but growing as far east as Indiana and southern Ontario in suitable habitat (Cochrane and Iltis 2000). The plants pictured here are growing in my prairie plant garden and came originally from seeds collected from a roadside along the rocky bluffs in Duluth, Minnesota. Several other prairie species grew at that same location including porcupine grass (Stipa spartea), wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), yellow flax (Linum sulcatum), owls clover (Orthocarpus luteus), licorice mint (Agastache foeniculum), tall cinquefoil (Potentilla arguta), prairie cinquefoil (Potentilla pensylvanica), fasle sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides), Flodman’s thistle (Cirsium flodmanii), false penny-royal (Hedeoma hispida), purple prairie clover (Dalea purpurea), and heath aster (Aster ericoides). All of these species and several others with prairie affinities had been noticed and documented between 1930 and 1940 from this location and several others on the bluffs along the same road. Their origins are unknown but it is doubtful they were intentionally planted as species like thimble flower, owl’s clover, prairie cinquefoil, tall cinquefoil, yellow flax, and false penny-royal are not large or showy plants.

Before roadwork obliterated much of this site I was able to collect plants and seeds of some species. Today, in my prairie plant garden there are clumps of licorice mint, false sunflower, wild bergamot, porcupine grass, purple prairie clover, and heath aster with the thimble flower. Mixed in with these are blazing star plants (Liatris aspera and L. pychnostachya), prairie rose (Rosa arkansana), golden banner (Thermopsis rhombifolia), white sage (Artemisia ludoviciana), and little blue-stem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium) rescued from trails slated for “improvement” or being destroyed by ATV’s. I’ve added a few more species over the years which I found along railroad grades. One was a species of porcupine grass which I have been unable to identify to species. Another was a species of wild ground cherry (Physalis heterophylla) which is a perennial plant unlike the garden variety. Some rescued plants (the two cinquefoils, owl’s clover) lived for a while but then disappeared as more robust perennials filled in the bare spots where they grew. Others (white sage) became weedy and had to be thinned. Some (wild bergamot, licorice mint) took years to establish and spread. But a balance of sorts has been arrived at for now and each year from June to September there is a subtle display of colors and textures to enjoy.


Thimble flower (anemone cylindrica)
Thimble flower (Anemone cylindrica)


References Cited or Consulted

Cochrane, T. S. and Iltis, H. H. (2000). Technical Bulletin No. 191. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and University of Wisconsin-Madison Herbarium.

Lakela, O. (1965). A Flora of Northeastern Minnesota. University of Minnesota Press.

Downy Phlox

Downy phlox (Phlox pillosa)
Downy phlox (Phlox pilosa)


Downy phlox (Phlox pilosa) is an inhabitant of jack pine barrens such as those in Washburn County, Wisconsin where it occurs with other drought tolerant species on sandy soils with only a thin layer of organic matter. It is short plant (to 0.5 meter) with long-linear, fuzzy (“pilose”) leaves arranged in opposite pairs along the stem. The pale lavender to pink fragrant flowers are borne at the top of the stems and appear from May to early June.

Downy phlox is easily grown in gardens with rapidly draining coarse or sandy soil in full sun. New plants can be started from seed planted in the fall where the plants are to be grown. Stolons (the leaves are rounded on these) that have rooted can be carefully cut from the parent plant and replanted. Growth is slow whether propagation is by seed or divisions made from rooted stolons. Too much shade or competition from faster growing plants is not tolerated by downy phlox. Downy phlox does best along the outer edges of the flower garden or in prairie plant gardens with short grasses and forbs. In prairie gardens it is a good idea to burn the grasses every few years in the spring. Burning will create open spaces where downy phlox and other shade intolerant forbs may grow.

Phlox flowers are attractive nectar sources for hummingbirds, many species of butterflies, and white-lined sphinx and clearwing moths (Sphingidae). Besides being a nectar source downy phlox is also the exclusive larval host plant for the phlox moth (Schinia indiana) which is scarce throughout its range owing to the near destruction of native prairies. The larva of phlox moth bore into the flowers and eat them but later eat the developing fruit from the outside. Their development is slow and takes almost a full year from egg to adult moth.

I have planted a few purchased downy phlox in one of my flower gardens. Their increase has been slow and although sphingid moths visit the flowers I have not yet seen any phlox moths. This is hardly surprising given that I live far from any large populations of downy phlox and jack pine barrens habitat. But maybe some day they will arrive.

A Healthy Lawn



A healthy lawn is one full of dandelions. And plantain, mayweed, speedwell, chicory, violets, white clover, gill-over-the-ground, and red and yellow hawkweeds. And some grass, too. Such a lawn is home to butterflies, moths, and bumblebees, ants and beetles, and all sorts of birds and safe to play on.

In Praise of Old Plants

Oriental poppy
Oriental poppy


When my parents bought this homestead some 45 years ago there were no gardens vegetable or otherwise. There were a few specimens of cultivated plants in the yard, however. Common lilac, pink honeysuckle, horseradish, rhubarb, Oriental poppy, clove currant, a fluffy white peony and a fluffy red peony, and a light pink flowered Sedum spectabile. I think that these plants may have been here at least three decades before we moved in. They are still here today. The honeysuckle is the only original plant the rest are cuttings taken and propagated over the years. The lilac was nearly wiped out, it is a weedy bush, but I’ve decided to plant it someplace near the yard where it won’t get too out of control. I miss its fragrant clusters of purple flowers. The horseradish has become a weed but I probably should not have run it over with the tiller a few years ago. These and the others are tough plants capable of surviving our brutally cold winters followed by summers that can be hot one week and almost freezing the next. Whoever planted them wanted to add a bit colorĀ and fragranceĀ to their yard that wouldn’t be demanding. And they wanted some fresh food like rhubarb and horseradish that would thrive even with minimal cultivation. So, I’ve decided that I will keep them all, even the lilac and honeysuckle, as historical plant specimens to be passed on to any future owners of this property. My own legacy of plants will include many kinds of apples, blueberries, currants, and many new flowers both wild and cultivated. I hope that these will enliven the surroundings of whoever follows me.