At The North Carolina Arboretum, our mission is to connect people, plants and places. If you’ve been following our social media channels lately, you’ve no doubt noticed the wonderful staff members that have been contributing their “picks” for some of the top plants from across the Arboretum. We will be posting periodical compilations of these plants of interest on our blog, so be sure to check back for more in the coming weeks!

In today’s post, we look back at some of the summer’s highlights from our gardens and grounds:

Jewelweed – Impatiens capensis

Contributor: Kristin Anderson, environmental educator
Date: August 13

“If you’ve been exploring the trails at the Arboretum recently, you may have seen some lovely, bright orange flowers popping out among the green. Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) prefers to grow in moist, semi-shady areas and can be found near streams and swamps. It often forms dense stands and can be very competitive, even with aggressive invasive species like garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata). Favored by hummingbirds, jewelweed is also an excellent pollinator plant.

There are several explanations for this plant’s name: Some claim it refers to the way that dew and raindrops bead up and glisten on the leaves; others say it’s because the blossoms shimmer in the sunlight; and others claim it’s because of its delightfully blue seeds, which are revealed when the seed coats are removed. These seeds are edible and have a nutty flavor, but are especially loved by game birds like ruffed grouse and bobwhites. Jewelweed is in the ‘Touch-me-not’ genus, so the seed pods explode when touched — always a hit among the students in our environmental education programs.

Jewelweed is often found growing near much-dreaded poison ivy. Fortunately, it has been used traditionally among Cherokee, Iroquois, Chippewa and several other indigenous peoples to treat the rashes left by poison ivy and stinging nettle. The sap has also been shown to have antifungal properties and is effective at treating athlete’s foot.

Be sure to look for this remarkable plant and its yellow-blossomed cousin, pale jewelweed (Impatiens pallida) on the way down to our Azalea repository!”

Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)

Contributor: Cat Dillard, volunteer coordinator
Date: June 23

“With its lovely lilac blossom and distinctively aromatic foliage, wild bergamot is one of my favorite native plants. It makes an excellent addition to your herb or pollinator garden and can be found at the Arboretum in the Stream Garden and behind the Baker Exhibit Center at the entrance to the Natural Garden Trail.

These beautifully messy blooms look like exploding lavender fireworks that serve as a beacon for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds! Native to most of North America, it is often cited for its historical medicinal applications among indigenous peoples; oil from the leaves was formerly used to treat respiratory ailments. Like most beebalms, wild bergamot is great for relieving bee or wasp stings and insect bites. Just take a few leaves and bruise them and rub them on the sting, or better yet, make a little poultice! It will relieve the pain right away and help reduce the swelling.

The leaves and flowers also have the spicy flavor of oregano or thyme. This makes them good in savory dishes where you would use a spicy herb. The chopped leaves and flowers can be used in soups, sauces and marinades, or even as garnish on pizza.

The species name, fistulosa, refers to the tube-like structure of its blossoms, which appear from July through September on the forest’s edge throughout our property. So be on the lookout for these natural pompoms to cheer you along the trails!”

Daylily (Hemerocallis ‘Cressida’)

Contributor: Ashlee Lanier, exhibits curator
Date: July 16

“While walking through the Heritage Garden, I couldn’t help but notice the orange Cressida daylilies planted throughout this space. Even on a cloudy summer day, they vividly stand out. Daylilies belong to the genus Hemerocallis and are not true lilies. While they were originally classified within the family Liliaceae, they have several differences that make them stand apart from true lilies: They have a fibrous root system, do not grow from bulbs and are not toxic to humans.

The Greek word hemerocallis consists of the words hemera, meaning “day,” and kallos, meaning “beauty.” The flower of a daylily typically only lasts one day, although some new cultivated varieties may last a tad longer. Not to worry, though, as faded flowers are quickly replaced by new ones.

With over 35,000 daylily cultivars, there is truly no shortage in choosing one for your garden. Daylilies are hardy plants and typically grow 1 to 4 feet in height, and while the blooms featured here are a vibrant orange, they seem to come in almost endless color variations from lavender to gold to white and so on.

There are plenty of beautiful flowers all over the Arboretum, but daylilies are something special.”

Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides ‘Sheridan Spire’)

Contributor: Brad Shore, facilities maintenance manager
Date: July 2

“Working in the Maintenance Department, I am rarely involved with anything associated with plant life at the Arboretum other than providing irrigation water, so when I see something that grabs my attention, I love to do a little research to assist in bringing my own garden at home to life. The dawn redwood was one of those plants for me.

During a portion of my time in the Navy, I was stationed in the Bay Area in California and loved to go see the coastal redwoods and the giant sequoias. After starting work at the Arboretum and becoming familiar with the property, I noticed a handful of trees that looked extremely similar to the famous ones I knew from the West Coast. I did a little digging and learned why: These dawn redwoods were in the same family of trees and were only known from fossils until they were discovered living in a remote part of China in the 1940’s. Now, we have redwood trees growing right here in North Carolina! How cool is that?”

Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

Contributor: George Briggs, Executive Director
Date: June 26

“If ever there was a utility fielder among garden plants, Echinacea purpurea fills the bill. It’s a resilient perennial native to the midwestern and eastern United States, sports striking flowers in a wide range of brilliant colors, attracts pollinators in great variety, doesn’t attract deer and has long been used as a focal point for summer color in the garden or as cut flowers.

While the colors are flamboyant, so too is the floral cone centerpiece from which the genus derives its name. The Greek word echinos refers to a spiny hedgehog or sea-urchin, similar in form to the cone characteristic of most species. Left intact into winter, the cones provide a nice food source of dried seed for birds or for reseeding the following year.

The plant has also been long-used for medicinal purposes, perhaps most notably as an immune booster in fending off colds.

This week is National Pollinator Week. If you like easy gardening, butterflies and finches and have a sunny, well-drained spot, the purple coneflower is an excellent choice for celebrating the occasion.”