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Garden Q&A: The perfect flower for Fourth of July and misshapen strawberries

Garden Q&A: The perfect flower for Fourth of July and misshapen strawberries
Called "striking" and "wonderful" by plant guru Allan Armitage, spigelia marylandica is may be the perfect Fourth of July flower. (Ellen Nibali / For The Baltimore Sun)

What’s a good 4th of July plant choice? Not an annual, but perennial.

What could be better than a native American flower that looks like fireworks? Yellow stars with a red tail — a regular “rocket’s red glare.” When plant guru Allan Armitage calls Spigelia marylandica “striking,” “stop in your tracks,” “wonderful,” you know you’re on to something.

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Easy, pest free and long-blooming, spigelia enjoys partial to full shade, spreading slowly into a substantial 18” tall plant, producing just enough seedlings that you’re happy to see them. It enjoys moderately moist soil, but soil needn’t be wet all the time. Established plants tolerate some drought.

This is another plant that Europeans go gaga over, and we’re still asking, “What’s spigelia?” Deer resistant. Plant it in the front of gardens or wild areas, all the better to be starry-eyed.

Why do I have weird-shaped strawberries? Hardly any look like a normal strawberry this year. They seem to taste okay.

Though a strawberry looks like a single entity, each strawberry is actually an aggregate fruit. This means that a flower has as many as 500 ovules that need to be pollinated to make a single berry.

Think of the seeds (achenes) on the outside of a berry. The more ovules pollinated, the bigger the berry. Unless all the ovules are pollinated evenly, berries are misshapen and seeds are different sizes.

Though strawberry flowers are pollinated by wind and rain since they have both male and female flower parts, they make a better strawberry when bees pollinate, too. Up to 16-25 bee visits go into a good strawberry.

When weather is stormy, cold or rainy during bloom time, bee visits decline or halt. Not much you can do about that, but do insure your landscape is pollinator friendly (no toxins, lots of blooms.) Tarnished plant bugs feed on flowers and deform strawberries, too, but in that case seeds will be the same size.

University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information at extension.umd.edu/hgic. Click “Ask Maryland’s Gardening Experts” to send questions and photos.

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