Thursday, June 4, 2009


I know that wallflower is a plant, but my wallflower is acting just like a wallflower, the human kind. It’s one plant, sitting there all alone in the bed atop my stone retaining wall among lots of fritillary, peony, anise hyssop, and snow-in-summer plants.

Still, the plant is very unwallfloweresque in broadcasting its presence with egg-yolk orange flowers that practically jump out (visually) amongst its more subdued neighbors. The flowers have the sweet scent for which wallflowers are so famous, although I have to admit they smell to me too much like baby powder, which is fine on a baby but not on a flower.

It’s not my fault that my wallflower is a wallflower. Last year I sowed many seeds and ended up planting out a slew of plants, so my one plant was supposed to have neighbors. Wallflowers are generally short-lived perennials around here, evidently very short-lived on my wall, except for that one remaining plant.

Our hot summers don’t suit wallflowers so I don’t expect to see this lonely wallflower again next year.


You have to get your nose right into a wallflower bloom to smell it. On the other hand, if a wonderful, sweet scent is filling the air all around you, look up. Is it a bird? No. Is it a plane? No. It’s black locust trees, now in a profusion of blooms.

Here’s a tree that, to me, challenges the “invasive plant” paradigm. Black locust is native to the U.S., but is treated as a “non-native invasive.” And that highlights the fact that “native” or “non-native” depends on where you draw your lines. Black locust is more specifically native to the southeast part of the country. Is black locust, then, truly native at your grandma’s house in Georgia? Not necessarily, because even in the southeast, only certain habitats are suitable.

Black locust has been planted and spread over much of the country. One reason it has established so successfully everywhere is because its roots can take nitrogen from the air and use it to feed the growing tree. Another reason is because it sprouts from spreading roots and cut stumps. It seeds readily because its large, fragrant blossoms compete well with other plants for bees (black locust honey is particularly dark and rich). And the tree is also all over the place because it has been widely planted for it’s wood, which is one of the best for burning and is as rot-resistant as pressure-treated, commercial lumber.

All these are the reasons, and more, are why I love black locust. The trees also cast a pleasant, dappled shade and the blossoms dangle in white chains similarly to those of wisteria.

I have my own, very small locust grove, a 50 foot by 15 foot wide clump of trees from which I harvest 6-inch-diameter posts every few years for use around the garden. Here, it takes about a decade for sprouts to reach that size, but I now have a continuous, though small, supply. But how many arbors and fences can I build?


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