Friday, November 2, 2012

Not Yet Native of the Week: Queen-of-the-Prairie

Newly emerged Meadowhawk (Sympetrum sp.) on Queen-of-the-Prairie
The last two weeks have been bleak in central Alberta. The sun has been seldom seen and the cold abnormal. The pancake ice on the River is already accumulating in the bends. Except for the leaves flash-frozen on the trees and the still brown jackrabbits, the Home Bug Garden looks very much like it is mid-winter.
Early winter catches plants and pond napping
The pond and bubbler worked their usual  magic with the migratory warblers and sparrows this Fall. Now except for a junco or two the migrants are gone, but the Black-capped Chickadees, House Finches, and a Blue Jay still visit the bubbler in late afternoon. It seems a bath is a pleasure even in the subzero snow. So, I've left the bubbler valiantly bubbling on. I'll have to shut it down before it seizes up, but at the moment it is not going gently into the long winter night.
And it will be a long winter night: 6-7 months until things green-up again. So why wait to start remembering the pleasures of the summer gone? Queen-of-the-Prairie (Filipendula rubra (Hill) B.L. Rob.), also known as Meadowsweet, was one of those pleasures, as it has been every summer since 2005. Planted in heavy clay soil between the pond and the north side of the house, where little else will grow, the single pot has expanded to cover 4-5 square meters and offsets have been moved to three other equally difficult spots.
Meadowsweet grows tall - 2-3 metres - and tends to sprawl
In spite of the feet-of-clay, rather coarse foliage, and a tendency to sprawl, Queen-of-the-Prairie can be quite regal. Our plants get maybe 2-3 hours of direct light in mid-summer, but manage to climb to almost 3 metres some years. A bit of sprawling (towards the sun) and under 2.5 metres is more common.
A royal plume to brighten the July-August garden
The plants are usually in full bloom by the second or third week of July and highly attractive to pollinators. That said, I haven't found any seedlings. Queen-of-the-Prairie is a bog or wet meadow plant, so the conditions may not be right for seedlings, but ours is spreading vegetatively at a moderate pace. I've been considering it for planting alongside the dugout at our pasture in the country, but the Global Compendium of Weeds lists Queen-of-the-Prairie as "casual alien, garden thug, naturalized". I understand the first and third terms - indeed they are defined in the Introduction to the Global Compendium of Weeds. So although Queen-of-the Prairie has become naturalized in eastern Canada, no one is terribly upset, yet. The middle term, "garden thug", is not defined in the Introduction and seems to be a bit of xenophobic editorializing.  
Garden Thug or Endangered Native, it is all in the context
As the Northern Shade Gardener noted in the comments to the last 'Not yet native' post, although the Home Bug Garden isn't blessed/plagued with English Daisy seedlings, her garden recruits a few each year. Weediness is in the eyes of the beholder, and ecosystems would experience constant change even if human beings had never evolved, but who would want to be responsible for introducing an environmental weed? 
Weedy and not yet attractive - the new dugout in our Gopher Hill pasture
Queen-of-the-Prairie is an endangered or threatened plant in several states in the US, its somewhat magical 'native' range. In its naturalized range in eastern Canada, this meadowsweet doesn't seem to have anyone up in arms. So in no sense is Queen-of-the-Prairie a noxious or even an inconvenient weed. Yet, it does not grow in Alberta without human intervention. At the moment, a noxious weed, Canada Thistle, is the dominant plant on the shores of our dugout. We are required, by law, to control this weed. By far the best way to control a weed is to plant something that can shade it out, steal its water, and prevent it from setting seed.
Spider wasp hunting on the disturbed dugout soil among thistle leaves
Tigre beetles and spider wasps find this rather ugly gash in the landscape an attractive hunting ground. No matter, by the end of next year the shore will be filled in with plants and the hunters will need to find another disturbed spot. So, should we try the non-native Queen-of-the-Prairie as a replacement for the thistle? If you follow the links in this post, you will know as much as I do. Consider this the first Home Bug Garden Not-yet-Native-of-the-Week challenge: let me know what you think.

1 comment:

  1. Your dug out pond has so much potential...I think it is already a welcomed sight, but I can imagine how much better it will be.

    Your queen of the prairie looks is on my wish list, but maybe I should move it up closer to the top.

    The bubbler looks cool especially with the snow. I plan to add something just a little similar concealed among the rocks of my planned stream bed.

    Gotta go...and explore your blog some more. :)