Purple, the color of royalty, graces our prairies throughout the season. There are many purple-flowering plants native to the Chicago area that can add richness to your landscape or natural area. We’ve chosen to highlight a mix of the common and unusual for your sunny spot. All of these species attract and support pollinators.
Agastache scrophulariifolia or Purple Giant Hyssop
Purple Giant Hyssop is a large clumping perennial in the mint family with square stems and pale lavender flower spikes from July until fall. Reaching about six feet high, this hyssop prefers prairie and savanna situations with moist soils, although it will readily adapt to average and dry areas. Its long-blooming flowers are extremely popular with bees and butterflies.
Blephilia ciliata or Downy Wood Mint
With stacked clusters of lavender tubular flowers reminiscent of Monarda, Downy Wood Mint is a short perennial plant found in prairies and savannas with average to dry soils. It will slowly spread from a central taproot and blooms for about a month beginning in June. Very attractive to a wide array of pollinators, the basal foliage stays evergreen.
Dalea purpurea or Purple Prairie Clover
A charming prairie perennial for home gardens and restoration projects, Purple Prairie Clover features small, cone-shaped pretty purple blossoms with bright orange anthers that resemble a ballerina’s tutu beginning in June. The delicate foliage gives a lacy texture, belying its deep tap root and hardy nature. It does best in prairie situations with good drainage. Beloved of pollinators, it is the larval host for two butterflies, the Dogface Sulphur and Reakirt’s Blue. Several specialist bees visit the flowers. It is also readily consumed by herbivores, especially rabbits.
Echinacea purpurea or Purple Coneflower
One of the showier Echinacea species, this plant features lavender pink daisy-like flowers June through September. Reaching at most four feet tall, Purple Coneflower, can be found in prairies and savannas in a broad range of soil types. A favorite nectar source for many pollinators, its seeds are beloved by goldfinches.
Eragrostis spectabilis or Purple Love Grass
A short clumping warm season grass, Purple Love Grass can be a charming border plant. It prefers prairie to savanna situations with dry, sandy or gravel soils. Airy purple seed heads appear in late August, giving it a cloudlike appearance. As seeds mature, the flower stems loosen and detach, like tumbleweed. It is the host plant for Zabulon Skipper butterflies. Eragrostis comes from the Greek eros (love) and agrostis (grass).
Monarda fistulosa or Wild Bergamot
An adaptable plant, Wild Bergamot features large lavender flowers for almost three months beginning in late June. It is typically found in prairie and savanna areas and will thrive in moist average to dry soils forming bushy clumps and spreading freely by seed and rhizomes. The aromatic leaves are reminiscent of Earl Grey tea and may be used in teas and salads as well as the flowers. A favorite of pollinators, especially hummingbird moths, hummingbirds and long-tongued bees. A larval food for Hermit Sphinx moths.
Ruellia humilis or Wild Petunia
Wild Petunia is a short, spreading groundcover plant with fuzzy leaves. Blooming June through August, it features small lavender funnel-shaped flowers that are particular favorites of long-tongued bees. Wild Petunia is very adaptable and does best in prairie sites in almost any soil. Try it in the front of the border or along a path for best effect.
Tradescantia ohiensis or Ohio Spiderwort
Ohio Spiderwort is a pretty prairie and savanna native with clusters of three-petaled lavender flowers that open for one day throughout the summer. The strappy foliage has a grey to bluish tinge and it is adaptable to almost any soil. Many bees visit the flowers. The genus honors noted English naturalists John Tradescant the Elder and the Younger who were early propagators of New World plants.
Verbena stricta or Hoary Vervain
A native of prairies and savannas, Hoary Vervain thrives in average to dry soils with good drainage. Reaching about two feet, the coarse, grey-green foliage is fuzzy and the stems are square. Tall flower spikes packed with large blue flowers that blossom all summer. A favorite of pollinators, the seeds are consumed by songbirds.
Vernonia gigantea or Tall Ironweed
Tall Ironweed is a late blooming member of the Aster family. At about five feet high, it is perfect for the back of the border. Its vibrant purple flowers cluster at the ends of multiple branchlets. Vernonia gigantea is very adaptable and its common name refers to the toughness of the stem, which makes it very difficult to dig up with a shovel. Many pollinators, especially native bees, benefit from this beautiful, hardy perennial.