Eryngo, Eryngium leavenworthii, is one of my favorite late summer wildflowers. At this time of year, the tops of the spiny plants are covered with electric purple flowerheads that are shaped like pineapples. The unusual flowers are an attractive nectar source for bees and butterflies.
Eryngo is an annual wildflower native to the south central United States. It grows in full sun on the dry soils of prairies, fields, open woodlands, and along fencerows and roadsides. In its natural habitat it usually grows from one to three feet tall.
I collected the seeds for my plants a couple of years ago along a railroad track about a mile from my house. I disbursed the seeds in my prairie in the fall and the following spring I had several small seedlings growing. I actually removed several of the seedlings before I realized that they were not weeds. I did not know that the first sets of leaves on the plants are rounded and do not have sharp points like the leaves that appear once the plants start growing a vertical stem.
Eryngo grows much taller in my prairie than the parent plants did along the railroad tracks. The parents were no more than two feet tall and my plants typically grow five feet tall. I assume it is because my prairie soil is deeper, richer and moister than the soil along the railroad tracks.
The lower leaves of eryngo may turn brown. The plants can look pretty scraggly so it is a good idea to plant eryngo with other prairie plants, such as little bluestem, to hide the brown leaves and bare stems. Due to the heat and drought this year, the little bluestem did not grow tall enough to hide the stems of the eryngo.Once the flowers dry, I collect the seeds to scatter for the next year's plants. Thick leather gloves are a must when handling all parts of this plant. I certainly would not touch the prickly leaves barehanded or barefooted like this brave (or hungry) anole.