Hey, My Dogfennel is Buzzing

This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on November 16, 2012 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments and find working links to other stories.

Dogfennel has a graceful look about it
Dogfennel has a graceful look about it

I was walking around the property and was attracted to a loud drone coming from a stand of Dogfennel (Eupatorium capillifolium) that had been bent over from the winds of Hurricane Sandy. The tops of the tall 8-foot+- stalks are mere inches from the ground. This plant is in the same genus as Joepyeweed, Boneset and the Thoroughworts.

Great place to find bird food!
Great place to find bird food!

Yet, it is often snubbed, classified as a weedy pest…it gets no respect. Treated like yet another black sheep of the Asteraceae family. This, of course, is because the plant has an aggressive nature when anywhere near overgrazed or overused lands. Its considered “lack of value” is in large part since it is a concern with those that raise cattle from two perspectives: crowding out better forage and mild toxicity.

“There is no doubt that weed infestations have a detrimental impact on bahiagrass production…
Cattle do not normally feed on Dogfennel, but they may eat it when more suitable forages are lacking. However, the leaves contain low levels of the toxin tremitol, which causes dehydration when ingested by cattle.”

Funny how I cite bahiagrass as the most invasive WEED in my garden. I can only hope that the Dogfennel will one day crowd it out. I suppose different strokes for different folks; but then again, I’m not trying to feed a population of meat eaters.

Bees were bountiful!
Bees were bountiful!

On the other hand, I found a lovely website that gave a different common name as Elegant Feather and shows a nursery that has it available. I’m betting that many hoity-toity gardeners would beat each other to get the best choice of a plant so eloquently named. At that site it is listed as wildlife benefit to butterflies and as deer resistant. Think: What’s in a name? J

examples of a few of the beneficials that dogfennel provides for
examples of a few of the beneficials that dogfennel provides for

I also believe it has good wildlife benefit and wrote a short bit about it a while back:

 ”A sweet smell wafts through the yard as I walk around to take photographs of natural things that catch my eye. It is the scent of Florida native plant, Dogfennel (Eupatorium capillifolium). Considered a weed by many, it is a gold mine for wildlife in my book. It shakes it feathery green head in a light breeze throughout the year showing a graceful elegance and during the fall it goes into bloom producing white flowers which shimmer in the sun and seem to light the way in the dark. The photo shown here reveals a spider and an ambush bug. It is also a favorite of green lynx spiders who raise their young and grasshoppers where it shows little, if no damage from their taking up residence. Ladybugs seem to find plenty to feed on and the birds always stop by for a morning and afternoon snack of what is held within. It is one of the many overlooked wonders for wildlife.”

Perfect hiding places for Dragonflies
Perfect hiding places for Dragonflies

While maybe not a major food player for our wildlife friends, the USDA indicates it as moderate cover for small mammals and terrestrial birds. It also provides a great hiding place for dragonflies. I find many grasshopper nymphs which draw adult birds rifling through the graceful leaves to feed their young in the springtime.

Dozens of bees were sipping and buzzing this week
Dozens of bees were sipping and buzzing this week

And, this brings me back to the noise factor in this particular stand this week. Not a whole lot of things flower at this time of year but Dogfennel rears it pretty silvery head and is providing for BEES! The flowerheads were covered with my buzzing friends and the sound was quite deafening. Just take a look at those orange elbows and tell me this plant isn’t good for our wildlife.

It is also shown as a minor player in Medicinal Uses with the plant applied externally as a remedy for the bites of reptiles and insects. Can be used as a strewing herb and a repellent to discourage insects. There even was an indication that the leaves are edible although maybe not very palatable…the “cook” mentioned she used it as a spice in pickling.

Life cycle of Dogfennel:
Dormancy: January–March
Bolting: April–June
Flowering: September–October
Fruiting: November
Seed dispersal: November–December

Pollinated by wind. Can be divided at roots. The unwanted seedlings pull out easily. After about two years I remove the rootball and let a new one develop either in the same location or I just allow a new stand to grow. I chop off the large stalks after the flowering is done and have some set aside to cut in workable lengths to bunch and tie together for use by solitary bees as homes. I’ll let you know how this potential use works out.

Great hiding spots for spiders to find their lunch
Great hiding spots for spiders to find their lunch

So, maybe this is not a plant you want to seek out to add to your beautiful wildlife garden, but, if the wind blows your way and you see some pop up, why not maintain it in a small area to add something different for your wildlife’s buffet.

One year it served as the "tree" for my holiday greeting
One year it served as the “tree” for my holiday greeting

I keep about a dozen stands around my place where it tows the line with my guidance and even provides nicely as a privacy screen along one fence line. Not for everyone, but if you are feeling wild and carefree, let it grow!

In 2013 I found that praying mantids used it as a nesting location.
In 2013 I found that praying mantids used it as a nesting location.
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