Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Beware this Cheerful Flower!

Tonight I thought I'd highlight the lovely, yet dreaded Heliopsis helianthoides, aka 'Ox Eye Sunflower,' which has become a pretty, but aggressively invasive thug in our front beds, as well as around the other garden areas in our yard. Yes, it's a midwestern native, deceptively pretty, makes an excellent cut flower, and blooms basically non-stop from June to frost ... but if space is at a premium in your sunnier parts of the perennial border (as it is in ours), think twice (then twice more) about letting it loose in your garden! Because, when left to its own devices it is (much like Daleks) bent on world domination, and will just march right over more valued plants, and as in the second photo, it will even pop right up in the middle of a well entrenched (and also invasive) patch of Lysimachia ... a true rogue's rogue that needs to be at least well controlled, if not downright eradicated, which is what we are currently attempting to do in our garden.

Granted, it was here when we first moved in ten years ago, and since there were very few flowers here to speak of, we thought it pretty and decided to just let it grow at will ... that is, until about the fourth year here when we started to realize what thug potential it had. I guess our first clue should have been how quickly it horned in on our newly developing Monarda stand, which we were pampering to keep it thriving. So, we thought, we'll just thin it a bit here and there and keep some around because we really did find it pretty. Big mistake. Don't believe these deluded gardeners at Dave's Garden, because Heliopsis cannot be appeased, and if you give it a spot and try to contain it there, you'll just be setting yourself up for an invasion that you will be battling for years, as we have been for the last 4-5 years!

Several years ago, after digging up huge clumps and pulling the hundreds of seedlings that came up every year, we had a Garden Council Meeting of the Elders (Me, Fernymoss and The Pups) and decided to vote it out of the garden. Unfortunately, unlike certain reality shows, it didn't just leave peacefully, and continues to kick, scream and generally connive to maintain a presence in the garden to this day. This year, though, we're hoping to achieve victory at least in the front beds and the only other area where it's rampant is in the wild back corner bed, where it's under serious competition with two kinds of Monarda, Phlox paniculata and others. We're going to go at it there as well, but we're really focusing this summer on eradicating it out front.

I'm sure that, even so, we'll still be pulling seedlings for a few years and we can live with that, because when they're young, they're much easier to deal with than plants that have had a chance to dig in and bloom, thus perpetuating the cycle. I speculate that some of you may be thinking, well, I could just cut the flowers for inside or deadhead it to keep it from going to seed ... Good luck with that, and let me know how that works out! (From the been there, done that, dept.) It blooms so profusely that, unless you have unlimited gardening time (which we don't due to work and such), that's a true fool's errand.... My advice is: if this shows up in your garden, don't succumb to its superficial charms, just dig it up and get it far away from your garden. We won't even compost this in our compost, and promptly send it to the city compost in a garden waste bag. We have plenty of other lovely yellow flowers (Rudbeckias anyone?) that we will not miss it one bit, and will just chalk it up as yet another plant that seduced us for some reason or other and then proceeded to force its invasive agenda upon us.

For certain situations, this could be a really useful plant IF you have areas that need to be filled in with just anything that looks pretty, but for a relatively small urban plot such as ours, there's just no room for co-existence, given the many things we would love to have growing here, but lack the space for them. Maybe you have an ugly ditch? It grows great there, along with other natives in Iowa. A fenceline that needs disguising? Yep, it could work there too. However, if you're more prone to a structured, formal type of gardening (and we are not, as you well know), don't let this anywhere near your sunny areas! In this instance I will agree with the Dalek war cry: EX-TER-MIN-ATE!

I know that every gardener has rueful memories of well intentioned planting of certain charming thugs and has lived to regret the decision in later years ... for us, we've had a number, including planting Yellow Tansy (for its flea repellent properties), Feverfew (aka, Fevermany) for its herbal value, and Agastache 'Mexican Mint' just to name a few. And after about five years, we've pretty much eliminated most traces of them from the garden. I (and I think other gardeners) would be curious to hear what some of your 'I thought it was pretty and then it took over!' experiences have been in your gardens, so let us know your thoughts in the comments ....

Photos by Fernymoss, taken July 17, 2008.


Gail said...

uh oh ! I think I planted this guy! This is the problem with my Bouquet of Bloom Tags garden journal system...
I can't easily put my hands on the tag without being distracted by all the other tags! Must go remove it!

Thank you for clarifying the Dalek war cry as a creature from Dr Who! I was wondering which sci-fi show it was from.

You have convinced me to EX-TER-MIN-ATE! the plant!


Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

I recognized the Dalek thing, LOL! For me it was/is Asclepia syricaca, the common Milkweed. I love the flowers & their fantastic vanilla scent & that it is a native host for Monarchs, but...I too have a very small front garden. This garden's too small for the both of us. I'm in the process of Ex-ter-min-ate-ing it this year. Trying to confine it failed miserably.

Iowa Victory Gardener said...

Hi Gail,
How on earth did you come by it? I can see it sneaking in from another garden (we've inadvertently 'infected' a few gardens when giving away coneflowers and Monarda), but I hope you didn't pay for it! But to be fair, at mobot.org they did say that there are less aggressive varieties, but still.... If I had a couple of huge meadows, I would welcome it, just not here!

Had to throw in the Dr. Who ref just for fun. I've never been a fanatic until the new incarnation, which is one of the best sci-fi shows I've seen in years. Especially David Tennant...

BTW, you have to do the EX-TER-MIN-ATE! in a really tinny and machiny sounding voice, lol.

Iowa Victory Gardener said...

What's not to hate about the Daleks? (Unless it's the über scary Cybermen!)

Your Asclepia, we don't have but we still have lots of Monarchs who come for the other stuff, especially the Zinnias. I have some struggling 'Buttefly Weed' (don't think it's the same asclepia?) that certainly belies its name!

Get that Kopper King yet, eh? :-)

olivia said...

They have these all over the public garden ... this year it seems like they're taking over the beds.

Iowa Victory Gardener said...

Hi Olivia,
I do suppose they knew what they were dealing with ... or at least hope so! Like I said, it is pretty and looks good among other plants when it's not walking all over them, hehe.

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