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Cowpen daisy is a helluva flower by any name
'Drought tolerant' is an understatement for this late-season nectar source
It seems I owe Verbsina encelioides a big fat apology; golden crownbeard, that is, the butter daisy, most often known—unfortunately to my way of thinking—as cowpen daisy.
After one of the driest 30-day periods in Oklahoma history and with not a penny of my utility bill devoted to watering yards or plants, my backyard has been glowing yellow for the past two weeks. It’s full of a variety of local butterflies, bees, and migrating monarchs.
Eight deep orange monarchs fluttered around the backyard on Sunday, fueling up for their trip south.
Apologies are due because, back in those miserable triple-digit heat days of early July, I turned to the Oklahoma Native Plant Society on Facebook to ask if anyone saw any value at all in cowpen daisy blooms for pollinators.
My experience of two seasons had been watching all but a few bumble bees, skippers, and sachems pass up the blooms for other nearby sunflowers, coneflowers, asters, bee balm, and salvia.
Meanwhile, the damned things were spreading to smother out every other flower in a 12-foot by 20-foot plot.
But the near-unanimous response from the group was to keep them growing as a late-summer, early-fall nectar source. Some did say that thinning them out might be a good idea because they do have a habit of taking over.
With highs topping 100 degrees daily, lows in the 80s, and no rain in sight, I thought better of trimming anything able to grow and muster a bloom.
Turns out that was a good thought.
I’ve learned to crop back Maximillian sunflowers a couple of times each summer to encourage branching and keep the height manageable. Those have a habit of growing 10 feet high, then drooping over to create a tangled mess. Still, it was so hot I skipped their second trimming for the summer as well. They were not nearly as tall as usual, at least not in August.
When we did have a couple of days with rain in August I decided to cut back the pile of Cowpens. Nearly all the blooms had shriveled and I saw no new buds. I took the shears to it and chopped it back like an unruly hedge. I left the Maximillians alone.
Turns out that wasn’t a great thougth.
Fast-forward through 30 of the driest days Oklahoma has seen, and I understood the reputation of this weed that favors “disturbed areas” (thus the cowpen moniker, I suppose). Those daisies absolutely loved the shears. One last rain gave the plants a boost going into that 30 days and they kept growing and growing.
The beebalm shriveled out of sight. The purple coneflowers turned into burnt bacon strips. The black-eyed Susans went brown from top to bottom. Even the passion vine struggled to stay on top of those daisies as each competed with the other to reach up into that searing summer sun.
Listed as typically growing 3 to 4 feet high, the 12-foot by 20-foot pile of cowpen daises in my yard stands 4 to 7 feet high and is still adding new blooms daily.
Helluva late-season wildflower, that Cowpen daisy, butter daisy, golden crownbeard.
Combined with the 60-foot by 5-foot wildflower strip across the back of my yard where the Maximillian sunflowers dominated—suddenly popped up at least 8 or 10 feet tall, the Bostian backyard shines like a yellow beacon to passing butterflies.
Compared to other blooms, the Cowpens were not the favorites the past couple of years, but 2022 certainly showed their value. Insects this autumn—especially the migrating monarchs— are relying on the toughest flowers to get the nectar they need.
Cowpen daisy fits that bill.
I’ll never speak ill of them again.
I’m going to cut them back and rip out plenty of roots if it ever rains this autumn, but I will no longer question their value.
Cowpen daisy is a helluva good native wildflower indeed.
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