Arranging Native Plants

Dateline: October 13, 2011*

Ok, the title might lead you to believe I was going to talk landscape design, but the truth is, today I’m talking about making floral arrangements using Florida Native Plants.

No shortage of decorating supplies in the meadow section at my place

At this time of year, I always clip pieces from my various plant offerings and gather them into a very fancy vase (a.k.a. an old plastic nut container) to place on my patio table. This year I used Southern Bayberry sprigs (Morella cerifera) as the starting basis. I chose the sprigs from my male bayberries that I guess should really be called “bay”, since male shrubs are without the berries!

The rich green color of the leaves is the perfect backdrop for other plants. For height and a light feathery feel, I added a couple of Dog Fennel sprigs (Eupatorium capillifolium) which also provides good contrast of lighter green against the bayberry. For bold color I added generous amounts of Goldenrod (Solidago spp) in varying heights. Bluestem grasses (Andropogon spp) help with contrast and dried seedheads from various sedges provide warm autumn tones. I chose Bahaman Aster (Symphyotrichum bahamense) and Spanish Needles (Bidens alba) for white flowers. Tall Elephantsfoot (Elephantopus elatus) can be used in bloom and even the dried seedheads provide interest, this also is true of Sweetbroom (Scoparia dulcis). The final bold choice of this particular display is Pineland Chaffhead (Carphephorus carnosus) which is a beautiful lavender-purple color that dries nicely to provide autumn tones with its seedheads.

A native plant floral arrangement really brightens up a patio setting

This initial arrangement lasts at least a week and a good part of it becomes more interesting as it ages. I replace any plants that begin to whither with fresh. Some other possible additions that weren’t included this time include Blue Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum), Silkgrass (Pityopsis sp.) and Lopsided Indiangrass (Sorghastrum secundum). Things that failed were Shyleaf (Aeschynomene americana) which seemed good in theory because it has nice shades of green and rust leaves, but it holds up to its common name and the leaves wouldn’t open again even when left alone in the vase water.

My next venture was to create natural bird feeders. I started this about two years ago when I was inspired by @kerrifar who does nature photography and had a wreath creation of her own in her yard to attract the birds featured in her photoshoots. As the base, I use grapevines that are easy to gather at this time of year…they are downright unruly at my place, so cutting back is a necessity. What better way to recycle? If you fashion the vines into a wreath immediately upon cutting, you don’t even need anything to hold it together. Just weave the vines around and around to form a circle and they will hold in place naturally with some of the tendrils grasping each other. Next, I add sprigs of Bushy Bluestem Grass (Andropogon glomeratus) which will go to seed as quickly as the next day. Bayberry is again chosen, but this time I use sprigs from the female shrubs because the berries are ripening to a beautiful blue and are a favorite of birds. These sprigs also smell heavenly!

I gather all my supplies to make the wreath

I wrapped the wreath with the vine of some Greenbrier (Smilax spp.) to provide additional berries. The cardinals are particularly enamoured with the Smilax this year, spending a great deal of time back in the palmetto scrub where the vines are climbing high into the trees. I finished up this years’ starting wreath with some Dogfennel because I like the look of it, and it may also harbor some nice juicy spiders that the birds will love. It also lasts a long time.

Ready for the birds

Other good choices for a natural bird feeder wreath are Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) with it’s bright purple berries, Dahoon Holly (Ilex cassine) with the rich red berries, and many dried seedheads, especially Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). In the past I’ve also used sprigs from Gallberry (Ilex glabra). Although the birds have access to all these plants right “off the vine”, it still is a fun way to decorate for autumn while providing for wildlife. It helps provide for my own senses.

The final thing I do is cut some of my Bushy Bluestem at the base. These grasses are over six feet tall. I lash the bunch together, and use as a free alternative to the cornstalks they sell. Equally as effective, saves me money and the birds still get the benefits.

Autumn at my house: the grasses will turn brown and be more interesting with age

One caveat is that these displays are really best for outdoor use as the grasses easily turn to seed after cutting and can be somewhat messy…what the birds don’t clean up provides easy self-seeded plants for spring arrival! I use different, longer lasting wildflowers in arrangements I bring inside.

So, get moving on those autumn decorating ideas using what nature provides in your very own Native Plant Wildlife Garden.

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on October 13, 2011 at the defunct national blog nativeplantwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

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