Written by Jenny
The underground beauty of the Cave of the Mounds is well known. But did you know that the beauty above ground is also a safe haven for birds, butterflies, and bees? Since 1999 Cave of the Mounds has been working to restore and create habitat that brings back native species and increases biodiversity while working with nature to preserve and protect natural resources. Our prairie garden and oak savannah restoration project as well as our rain gardens have revitalized the landscape and invited pollinators and wildlife into the area.
While here to see the underground gardens of the cave, be sure to look for these flowers above ground! Even though we have dozens of different flowering plant species, here are some of the flowers our staff members look forward to enjoying during the spring and summer.
Columbines typically bloom in May and June and are an important early food source for hummingbirds, butterflies, moths and bumblebees. The open flowers of the columbine have a delicate appearance that plays with the notions of what a flower could look like. The petals dangle towards the ground, giving the appearance that the flowers are upside down instead of right side up. The colorful reds and pinks draw your eyes to them as they pop out of the green foliage around them. The seeds produced make this plant a successful self-seeder, as well as providing a food source for finches and buntings.
This plant lends a beautiful golden glow to our landscape. The tiny clusters of yellow flowers attract butterflies and native bees. Swallowtail butterflies use this plant as a food source for their larvae, so when you see Golden Alexander see if you can also find the caterpillars who live there.
Commonly confused with Wild Parsnip. However, it can be easy to distinguish from the Golden Alexader because of the size difference and color/form. Wild Parsnip will be larger in height, usually around 5 feet, and also have larger-sized flowers.
An iris plant has long slender leaves that have a grass-like appearance. The flowers themselves are made up of 6 petals, arranged in two groups of three. This design makes for a big, bright, airy flower that has easy access to the pollen inside. This large flower head also makes it attractive to people, adding pops of early green leaves and dollops of color across the landscape. There are hundreds of species of iris plants, some of which are native to this area.
Lily of the Valley
Lily of the Valley forms a delicate cluster of tiny white flowers that are easy to overlook as they are often tucked into, or under, the leaf clusters. The veiled flower location, combined with the overall plant height of only 4-8 inches makes this an often overlooked flower by those looking only for the tall or colorful flowers in a garden patch or woodland ground cover. Lily of the Valley should not be eaten by people or animals.
Some of the earliest plants to peek out of the ground are trillium flowers. Groups of three leaves are adorned with groups of three flower petals that spring out of the ground, often forming a carpet of greenery with delicate pops of color as the snow fades from sight. This new growth and beauty remind us that winter is over and the new promises of spring and summer are right around the corner.
Also known as Wisconsin Bee Balm, the Bergamot flower is well known for its fragrance. This plant is the key behind the scent of a fresh cup of Earl Grey tea. It is also a favorite of herbalists who use it as component in a variety of medicinal healing products. The flower itself is a wispy cluster of delicate purple petals that attract a number of butterflies and bees, making this another flower that is enjoyed by people and pollinators alike.
A mature compass plant can grow from 3 to 12 feet tall! This plant can resemble sunflowers with yellow flowers covering the branched stem. The leaves are covered with fine white hairs that give them a somewhat fuzzy appearance. Large seeds are produced as the flowers mature. The flowers attract a number of bees, beetles and birds who feed on the nectar, the stem and petals or the seeds of this plant. The name of this flowering plant comes from the belief that the leaves always point in a north-south direction so could be used as a reliable compass when travelling.
The big, bold lily flowers demand attention as they draw your eye in. The colors very from bright oranges and reddish hues to white and bi-colored petals that attract insects and people to them. The multiple species scattered throughout the gardens also offer a variety of leaf size and shape and can be found in full sun as well as partially shaded areas.
Milkweed plants are a flowering plant that is an important food source for monarch caterpillars. People in Wisconsin have been encouraged to grow Common Milkweed in order to increase the availability of this food source. These plants can grow up to 3 to 4 feet tall, with a round cluster of pinkish-purple flowers at the top. These rounded umbels are made up of multiple smaller flowers growing near each other. The greenery of the milkweed plant also adds visual interest to a landscape because of the broad leaves with a velvety underside. This plant contains toxins that can be harmful to animals if ingested.
Peonies are an early summer flower with very large, airy blooms that last for only a few days. The size and weight of the flowers can cause them to collapse, especially if laden with water. The magnificence of the white or pink blooms however is worth the wait each year and the short-lived nature of the blooms seems to enhance their beauty as they always leave me wanting more. Thankfully, peonies plants are hardy and long-lived, even though their blooms are not.
This perennial is also commonly called Old Man’s Whiskers, Purple Avens, Long-Plumed Avens or Three-Flowered Avens. While native to parts of Wisconsin, its numbers have declined in the wild because it has been out-competed by invasive species. To find this plant at Cave of the Mounds, look for the wispy pink seedheads or the delicate pink flowers that form first. Prairie Smoke is a shorter plant that may become overshadowed by taller neighbors later in the season, so be sure to look for them early in the summer or spring.
Try it at home
Plant a mix of native wildflowers around your yard and garden. Their hardy roots and years of evolution mean that once established you will have a lower maintenance garden space, as well as a palette of color and beauty to enjoy. For those with vegetable or herb gardens, you could also see a reduction of pest insects because the flowers attract insect predators to naturally help keep harmful insect populations lower. When choosing the flowers for your space, be sure to consider local conditions such as rain fall amounts, how much sun your garden receives, and soil conditions. Also be mindful of choosing flowers that will help, rather than potentially harm, the habitats around you.
If you are charmed by the splendor of the flower gardens at Cave of the Mounds, be sure to visit the Visitors Center and peruse the selection of plant and flower arrangements. Our gardeners have also prepared seed packets, pucks and mixes from the flowers and plants growing here. These ready-to-plant mixes allow you to bring home a living memento of your trip, something for you and the pollinators in your area to enjoy again and again.