Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Eastern Bluestar - Amsonia tabernaemontana
Eastern bluestar (Amsonia tabernaemontana) is our other native bluestar, and it differs in many significant respects to fringed bluestar (A. ciliata). Though both species are deciduous perennials, eastern bluestar is native to deciduous woodland understories where it receives reduced light during most of the year and a bit of extra moisture and soil fertility. Eastern bluestar occurs naturally only in extreme north Florida, but is rather common to our north from New York to Texas.
Eastern bluestar emerges in mid-spring and quickly reaches its mature height of 2-3 feet. Established plants often form multiple stems, but each is rather lanky and often bends a bit with the weight of the developing flowerheads. The leaves are lanceolate and occur all the way to the top of the stems.
Flowering occurs in late spring. Large clusters are formed at the tip of each stem and they range in color from white to pale blue. As is normal for the genus, the petals flare into a star-like pattern from a thin central tube. Because this wildflower occurs in shadier habitats than fringed bluestar, they are not visited as frequently by butterflies but are still wonderful attractors for pollinating insects.
Eastern bluestar has never been offered by member nurseries of AFNN- the Association of Florida Native Nurseries (to the best of my knowledge), but is widely grown by regional wildflower nurseries that specialize in native plants. We purchased ours for our Pinellas County landscape from one of those many years ago and they have thrived to date. We have no plans to propagate it at Hawthorn Hill, but it is a very worthy addition to a mixed wildflower and fern understory planted beneath a deciduous canopy. Our plants have been very forgiving of droughty conditions and average soil.
Plant this wildflower in small clusters of 3-5 for best effect. It mixes well with other deciduous woodland wildflowers such as woodland phlox (Phlox divaricata), violets (Viola spp.), wild gingers (Asarum spp.), jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triplyllum), columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), and the like. I would recommend also adding some of the shorter native ferns - Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides), southern lady fern (Athyrium felix-femina), and ebony spleenwort (Asplenium platyneuron). Its rather short blooming time and not exceptionally beautful foliage structure and more than compensated by its bright color. We have enjoyed our plants and look forward to their return each spring.