Wildflower Favorites

By Tim Smith | June 2, 1997
From Missouri Conservationist: Jun 1997

Missouri's natural landscapes are rich in beautiful wildflowers. From the open, windswept prairies of the Osage plains to the rugged Ozark hills there is a seasonal progression of colorful flowers that have adapted to our climate and soils over the last 10,000 years. Those special places, where native wildflowers still grow in profusion as they did before the state was settled, have long been valued and protected by Missourians.

Over the last decade there has been a growing interest in using native wildflowers in residential landscaping. The same plants that grace our woodlands, prairies and glades can enhance your home landscape with their beauty and their benefits to wildlife. Once established, these plants typically require little or no watering, fertilizing or disease control. With the continuing conversion of natural habitats to other uses, we can help conserve native plants by providing a place for wildflowers in the home landscape.

Featured here are 12 of the most popular native wildflowers that are now being used in flower gardens and other plantings around the home. All are perennials that can add color to your surroundings for years to come. It's easy to see why these beauties are being planted!

Plants of sunny, open habitats

Smooth beard-tongue (Penstemon digitalis)

Flowers: May - July

Look for the showy white flower clusters of smooth beard-tongue in Missouri's prairies, moist alluvial woodlands, roadsides and fallow fields throughout most of the state. In cultivation the species needs sun to partial shade and moist soil. It can grow to 4 feet in height with many stems. The name "beard-tongue" refers to one of the five stamens that is modified into a hairy, tonguelike structure that helps in pollination.

Tickseed coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata)

Flowers: April - July

A plant of rocky prairies, roadsides and glades, tickseed coreopsis grows mostly in the Ozarks. It spreads well from seed and can colonize dry, disturbed areas with poor soil. Plant in locations receiving full sun to partial shade. Stems grow in clumps and reach heights of about two feet. Five other native species of coreopsis grow in Missouri. Some have seeds that can stick to clothing, thus the name "tickseed."

New England aster (Aster novae-angliae)

Flowers: August - October

One of the showiest of our native asters, New England aster grows in moist sites in prairies and in low areas along streams throughout much of Missouri. It is one of our later flowering plants, and its flowers provide nectar for migrating monarch butterflies each fall. This aster grows best with full sun to light shade in moist soil, where it can reach a height of 6 feet. A shorter plant will result from pinching back the stems early in the growing season.

Grayhead coneflower (Ratibida pinnata)

Flowers: May - September

Prairies, edges of forests and roadsides are home to this wildflower throughout Missouri, except for the Bootheel counties. Grayhead coneflower grows well in full sun to light shade, reaching heights of 3 to 5 feet. The clumps of basal leaves stay green late into the fall and reappear early each spring.


Missouri primrose (Oenothera macrocarpa)

Flowers: May - August

Also called glade lily, this plant of Missouri's glades, bluffs and rocky prairies has multiple stems that trail along the ground. Flowers open in the late afternoon for night pollination by moths. Primrose is a favorite for cultivation in rock gardens and other full-sun locations. The large (up to 4 inches across), lemon-yellow flowers make Missouri primrose one of our showiest wildflowers.


Purple prairie clover (Dalea purpurea)

Flowers: May - September

A legume of prairies, glades and other open habitats, purple prairie clover grows wild throughout the state, with the exception of the lowland counties of southeastern Missouri. Clusters of stems grow to 3 feet in height in full sun, even in dry soils. The finely cut leaves are themselves attractive in landscaping. The closely related white prairie clover (Dalea candida) is also popular for home landscapes.

Missouri coneflower (Rudbeckia missouriensis)

Flowers: June - October

Look for this coneflower, also known as Missouri black-eyed Susan, throughout the Ozarks on limestone and dolomite glades and in rocky prairies. It can dominate barren, rocky areas in full sun. In home landscapes, it thrives in well-drained soil with full sun, where it grows to 2 feet in height.





Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Flowers: May - September

A vibrant wildflower, butterfly weed inhabits prairies, glades and rocky, open places such as roadsides throughout the state. It is one of 15 species of milkweed native to Missouri. Older plants have many flowering stems, forming a shrublike growth up to 2.5 feet tall. In addition to being an excellent nectar source for many butterflies, butterfly weed is food for monarch butterfly larva. It grows best in full sun on well-drained soil. A yellow-flowered form of butterfly weed is occasionally found.

Button snakeroot (Liatris pycnostachya)

Flowers: July - October

Most Missourians will recognize the tall, purple spikes of this plant of prairies and rocky, open ground. Also called prairie blazing star or tall gayfeather, it grows wild nearly statewide and is increasingly being grown in cultivation. Bumblebees, butterflies and other insects will be frequent summer visitors to button snakeroot. Grown in full sun in average to moist soils, older plants can produce ten or more flowering stems. The tall stems of button snakeroot can reach heights of 6 feet and may require support to remain erect.

Plants of partially shaded habitats

Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis)

Flowers: July - October

Late summer canoeists often see the brilliant plumes of cardinal flower growing along mud or gravel banks of Ozark streams. Cardinal flower also inhabits other wet sites throughout much of the state. This popular flower is a magnet for hummingbirds, but it also attracts butterflies. In the home landscape, cardinal flower grows to 3 feet tall in moderate shade to full sun in rich, organic soil. Because of its preference for moisture, cardinal flower requires watering through dry periods, unless planted in a moist location.

Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

Flowers: May - October

The large, showy flower heads of purple coneflower can appear in open woodlands throughout most of Missouri. A single older plant can have many stems of flowering heads. The showy flowers produced throughout the summer are a good nectar source for butterflies. Of the several native coneflowers, this species is the most widely grown in cultivation. It grows well in light shade to full sun in average to moist soil. Many gardeners like to use this plant for cut flowers. A related plant, pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida), has similar characteristics but tolerates drier soils.


Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)

Flowers: April - July

This plant grows throughout most of Missouri. Found on limestone or dolomite ledges in the Ozarks, it inhabits moist woodlands and other habitats elsewhere in the state. Columbine will spread readily from seed in flower beds or other plantings. It can tolerate shade or sun in average to moist soils, growing to a height of 3 feet. The red, tubular flowers are a popular nectar source for hummingbirds. A rare variety of columbine has solid yellow flowers.

Related Information

Your local Conservation office or nature center has brochures on these additional topics that may be of interest to you:

  • Native Plants for Landscaping
  • Landscaping for Backyard Wildlife
  • Butterfly Gardening

The Conservation Department videotape, "Landscaping for Wildlife," can be checked out from your local library or purchased by sending $9 to:

Media Library, Missouri Department of Conservation, PO Box 180, Jefferson City MO 65102-0180. Include tax and shipping.

Some bookstores sell the Conservation Department book Missouri Wildflowers, but you can also purchase it directly from the Conservation Department for $9. Write to Missouri Department of Conservation, Fiscal Section, PO Box 180, Jefferson City MO 65102-0180. Include tax and shipping.

To place an order, go to our books and videos page.

For more information on publications call:

(573) 751-4115, ext. 335.

For more information on videos and CD-ROMs call: (573) 751-4115, ext. 205.


Where to get native plants for home landscaping.

Nurseries are making native plants more widely available as their popularity increases. Ask your local nursery manager for Missouri natives or check the yellow pages for wildflower specialty nurseries. Ask for plants from nursery propagated Missouri stock. These plants are grown from seeds or cuttings from Missouri plants and are best adapted to our climate and soils. Never buy plants that are dug from the wild; refusing to do so will protect our heritage of native wildflowers where they live. It is illegal to dig plants from most public lands, including roadsides. A good source for more information on growing wildflowers is the National Wildflower Research Center, 4801 La Crosse Ave., Austin TX 78739, Phone (512) 292-4100.

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Kathy Love
Assistant Editor - Tom Cwynar
Managing Editor - Jim Auckley
Art Editor - Dickson Stauffer
Designer - Tracy Ritter
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Photographer - Jim Rathert
Photographer - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Joan McKee
Staff Writer - Charlotte Overby
Composition - Libby Bode Block
Circulation - Bertha Bainer