Chesapeake Native Flowers: A Blue Streak


Blue flowers calm and brighten shady and sunny locales, harmonize with pinks and purples, or contrast with yellows, reds and oranges. However you plant them, it’s hard to go wrong. These perennial blue flowers all take sun or part shade though some do better in one rather than the other and that is noted.  These are listed in order of bloom time and take you from spring through fall.




Wild hyacinth (Camassia scilloides)


This spring blooming bulb sends up two to three foot spikes of lavender blue flowers in early spring. While the flowers last for a short while, they are really majestic while in bloom. These prefer moist soils. They are like daffodils in that their scrappy foliage needs to be left after the bloom is gone to allow the bulb to replenish energy for the following year. The camassia native to the east coast is rarely found in nurseries so mail order is the best bet for finding this bulb. This is an excellent native alternative for Spanish and English bluebells (Hyacinthoides Hispanica).



Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica)

This ephemeral emerges with thick green leaves and purple buds that say spring is here! The lush plants create a green carpet with 1 to 2′ high flower stalks. They have a fairly long period of bloom and once finished, the foliage slowly turns yellow and dies.  By that time, late spring and early summer plants have taken over.  Bluebells prefer moist soils.  Because these are ephemeral, they can be hard to find out of the spring season. If you are interested in these, one route is to place a request with your favorite native pant or mail order nursery to be notified once they are available. Some will take orders now for next spring. These bluebells are a native alternative to spring blooming brunnera (Brunnera macrophylla).



Dwarf crested iris (Iris Cristata)

These short spring blooming iris are easy to grow and, in addition to blue blooms, short sword like foliage sticks around all summer and provides a nice shade of bluish green.  They are short — around 6″ tall or so. In conditions they like, they will spread into a colony.  These grow in sun or part shade and need medium moisture. These iris are fairly widely available.

Amsonia (Amsonia tabernaemontana)

Amsonia, also called blue dogbane or eastern bluestar, is often grown for its brilliant yellow fall foliage. Blue flowers in May are a bonus. This easy to grow plant needs a few years to get established. Once it does, it will really do its thing with little to no maintenance.  This perennial can be grown in part shade as well though the late fall color seems stronger with more sun. It also grows in dry to moist soils. Amsonia is commonly available.



Blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium)

This one to two foot high perennial has tons of tiny bright blue flowers once established. The photo above shows new plants. This photo from the Missouri Botanical Garden gives you a much better feel for the actual flowers. In my experience, the more sun it gets, the more flowers it yields. It is also reported to self seed readily though I have not experienced that. It grows best with average moisture levels. This plant is readily available.


Baptisia (Baptisia australis)

This is one of the true blue standouts. Spikes of blue flowers appear in May and June. Baptisia take a few years to get established but once they do, the flowers are gorgeous and the blue green foliage stays fresh looking all summer long.  Please note this plant does not like to be moved once it is in its growing spot. In my experience, this means if you move it, you will kill it. It has to do with the deep root system. This will grow and bloom in part shade but thrives in full sun – meaning more flowers and more upright foliage. It’s also grows well in clay soils. Baptisia is commonly sold in nurseries. These are great native alternatives to foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) and the notoriously difficult to grow in our area, lupines (Lupinus x hybrids).



Spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana)

Spiderwort, sometimes called spider lily, is fairly common because it is easy to grow and adapts to a variety of shade, sun and moisture levels.  It blooms from May through June or July with purply blue flowers that open for the day and close at night.  In my experience, the more sun it gets, the more blooms you get. It grows up to two to three feet tall.  The plant has a grass-like texture so you may want to place it where other plants will take over in July and August as the foliage can get rangy after the blooms fade.



Blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica)

This spiky blue flower is stunning in part shade or sun and moist soils. Once it finds a spot it likes, read a moist location, it will reseed each year and spread.  There is something magical about this tall blue flower that emerges from a low rosette in shady spots in July, August and into September. It also attracts bees and butterflies like crazy. This is another plant that is available in nurseries once it starts to bloom. You can often find it more readily from mail order sources.



Bluewood Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae)

This native blue aster provides two to three foot high clouds or drifts of tiny blue flowers in late summer through fall.  It flowers well into the very late fall as shown above. It grows in sun or part shade and can take dry soils — all great attributes. I grow this but tend to put it in locations where it is not too noticeable as it is a little lackluster looking without blooms.  It’s great to plant in a mix with coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana) or another perennial that has good upright structure to disguise the asters until they bloom. Asters are commonly sold throughout the growing season.


A moment of zen:


We want you to be as excited about planting Chesapeake natives as we are. “Plant This or That” gives you a native alternative to popular plants. Other posts highlight really fabulous fauna native to the Chesapeake.

Nuts for Natives, avid gardener, Baltimore City admirer, Chesapeake Bay Watershed restoration enthusiast, and public service fan.

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