The palm-leaf mistflower is bringing in so many butterflies it is hard to get the visitors inside at the National Butterfly Center. The visitors get out of the car and then have a speechless look as they sit and stare at hundreds of butterflies that seem perched or are swirling about every blooming flower stalk.
I have been hesitant writing about this plant because it takes some searching to find it. When I saw the Missouri Botanical Garden website bragging on it I decided it was time to tout the virtues of this incredible plant. Perhaps doing so will help get it distributed more widely throughout the trade.
The palm-leaf mistflower is native to Texas, New Mexico and Arizona and is cold hardy through zone 7. Elsewhere treat it as an annual and perhaps even a re-seeding annual. It is amazing for the length of bloom time and its ability to attract butterflies. Known botanically as Conolinium greggii you'll find this plant among the easiest to grow perennials in the garden. You'll also notice that it brings that welcome color of blue that everyone searches for, to use in the flower border.
Palm-leaf mistflower sometimes known as Gregg's mistflower has cool blue ageratum like flowers borne on two-foot tall plants. The leaves are deeply dissected giving it even more landscape appeal. Unbelievably it is in full bloom now at our garden and will keep up this frenzy until fall. In colder regions such as zone 7, it will bloom during the hot summer from late June through October. They not only attract Queen and Monarch butterflies but all kinds of Sulphurs, Skippers, Crescents and the beautiful Bordered Patch.
The palm-leaf mistflower is one of those perennials known to do a little spreading by roots. You won't mind this a bit as it will give you more plants to spread around the garden. It has virtually no pests, and the welcome Rawlson's Metalmark butterfly uses it as a host plant.
With the blue flowers ever-present you may want to consider planting in combination with the yellow-orange lantana, or one of the various rudbeckias. Pink flowered Salvia coccinea would also look great even though I am partial to the complementary color scheme using orange to yellow flowers.
Since it does spread some it has the ability to be used as a blooming groundcover. Here at the National Butterfly Center we've planted it in bold informal drifts. We are now combining it with the yellow Silky Gold version of the tropical milkweed Asclepias curassavica along with All Around Purple gomphrena and the new tall hot pink Fireworks gomphrena.
Once you get your plants, or seeds select a site with a lot of sun and prepare the soil by loosening with the addition of compost or other organic matter. This soil preparation pays dividends by letting the roots get established quickly and providing good drainage and aeration. Tough natives like the palm-leaf mistflower will make you wonder why it isn't for sale at every garden center.
Norman Winter is executive director of The National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, and author of "Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South" and "Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden." Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org