Sunday, September 4, 2011

Prairie Plant Profile #4 - Eryngo

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.  


  1. Maybe the railroad track plants are mowed occasionally and learn to grow shorter. A guide out at Connemara explained this to our group once. Plants that are mowed go to seed at a shorter height than the same plant that is never mowed. Nice photos & good info. Thanks.

  2. Cool blooms! Doesn't it amaze you that the anoles can climb on those things without impaling themselves?! Looks like your liatris is fixing to be gorgeous. Isn't this weather WONDERFUL!!!! A little rain along with it would be nice, but I guess we'll take what we can get after the summer we've had.

  3. Thanks Collagemama. I may try cutting back some of my eryngo next year to see what happens. It could force them to grow shorter and bushier.

    Toni, that anole was about a foot high in the plant. It only moved its head while I was taking its picture. I am not sure if it was thinking "Help, I'm stuck!" or "Go away. I'm stalking my breakfast!"
    The liatris will look amazing in a couple of weeks. In addition to the large plant in the photo, I have several one or two year old plants that will bloom for the first time this year. They grew from seeds from the larger plant.
    Upper 50s expected for temps in the morning. I can't wait!

  4. I absolutely love these...that color is astounding! I remember seeing them in a previous post of yours and wondering about them. I think I'll have to try growing're right, I think scattered among tall grasses, they would be stunning.

  5. Scott, I don't know how well this variety of Eryngium will perform in your cool, moist climate, but if anyone can get them to grow up there, it would be you.

  6. Nice post. Cool plant. Wonder if it would work here in the near-desert.

  7. Kathleen, it could be worth trying. I doubt the deer would try to eat this plant.

    I hope you are clear of the fires. I have been checking Austin area blogs and hoping for the best.

  8. I just found your blog and I'm an instant fan! Are you watering at all, because of the drought, or are you just going with it? Our landscape is changing this year, that's for sure. And is the Liatris blooming yet? It's going to look GREAT with the red of the little bluestem and with the Eryngium. I am going to follow your lead and put Eryngium leavenworthii and little bluestem in an area that used to be for vegetables... and maybe buffalo grass in the foreground, at the edge of the St. Augustine that I haven't yet banished. I'm in Austin, and the drought is encouraging me to give up on trying to grow any food except basil. Thanks so much for sharing your very attractive work. It's so inspiring.

  9. Hi carolinawren. Thanks for the nice comments.

    I started watering my prairie once a week in mid-July. The prairie is about three years old and some of the plants are still getting established so a little water helped them get through the long, hot, and dry summer.

    I think a lot of people will be changing their landscapes after this summer--whether they want to or not. Many non adapted plants just did not survive.

    The liatris in the photo is not blooming yet. I will post photos when it does. I have another large plant that started blooming over the weekend. Although the two plants came in the same 4 inch pot, they always seem to start blooming about 10 days apart.

    It sounds like you have a good plan for your garden. I have not given up on vegetables. In fact, I made my vegetable garden larger this year, but you won't find any photos on the blog yet. Except for the squash, garlic, and onions it was a failure this year.

    Stay tuned for more. I will be listing my garden winners and loosers for the summer of 2011 soon.

  10. I love this stuff! Looking forward to seeing a lot of it on my place next summer.I`ve been on the lookout for Rattlesnake Master, it`s cousin, but haven`t run across it yet.

    1. Randy, check my 02-23-12 post if you are not familiar with the look of eryngo seedlings. The young leaves are nothing like the spiny leaves of the mature plants. They look more like lettuce.


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