The Green Thumb
by Long Hwa-shu
A few years ago at the farmer’s market in Waukegan, there was a young man selling a strange-looking young plant. I asked him about it and he told me it was the Queen of the Prairie. It didn’t look that royal to me.
But the name–more than the look of the plant, impressed me, so I bought it for a few dollars. My wife planted it on a mound in the front yard. For years nothing happened. It grew slowly and we thought it had died a couple times.
But all of sudden, early this summer it grew straight up – taller and taller apparently because of the plentiful rain. Soon it started to bloom beautifully with light pinkish-purple fluffs about four inches across, each resembling cotton candy. They are so showy that I cut some blooms and put them in a vase. They are a beauty to behold and so far have lasted much longer than any of my roses and peonies.
They give out little or no fragrance. But it is the shape, the look and the tiny, delicate petals that have fascinated us.
The Queen of the Prairie is native to Minnesota and can grow as tall as six feet. Ours is more than five feet and still growing.
My research shows that the flowers don’t create nectar but produce plenty of pollen that attracts bees and other insects. The root is said to have been used to treat certain heart troubles and as a herbal aphrodisiac. I’ll leave that to those who may need it.
But we’re waiting for the fruits to form after the blooms. They are supposed to be reddish. Whether they’ll attract birds remains to be seen. These unknowns are intriguing, which is part of the fun of gardening.
The Queen of the Prairie prefers full or partial sun and wet to moist conditions. The Chicago area climate apparently suits it just fine. The leaves with coarse, dentate leaflets may become spotted from foliar disease but the plant is known to be otherwise trouble-free.
We’re glad we bought the plant because of its name at the time. It certainly is befitting its name, the Queen of the Prairie. No other native American plant, come to think of it, can dethrone her.