Why pay for a garden plant that grows wild right outside the garden?

People do it all the time … two common examples in the Lake Martin area are blackberries and muscadines. Perfectly good, free plants could be procured from countless places.

But in the case of blackberries, modern cultivars can be thornless and the berries much bigger and sweeter than those in the brambles alongside almost every road in Alabama. In the case of muscadines, different cultivars are bred for making wine or eating fresh, and the grapes are larger, sweeter and have thinner skins.

And domesticating those two wild plants provides other advantages: Grapes on a 6-foot arbor are much easier to pick than those 20 feet up in a tree. Also, it’s much less frustrating to pick blackberries on a trellis than in a bramble patch where the best berries always seem to be in the middle, out of reach.

Our native Blue Mistflower is another example for flower lovers.

It is common and abundant in the Lake Martin forests and fields, and those who are inclined to collect seeds or use shovels could have all they want for free.

Blue Mistflower looks so much like the popular garden flower, Ageratum, that it is often called Wild Ageratum, or Hardy Ageratum, but the two plants are different species and have different native ranges.

Ageratum is a native of Mexico and Central America. It is also called Floss Flower, and its scientific name is Ageratum houstonianum. It was named after the botanist William Houston, not the city in Texas.

Blue Mistflower is native here in the Lake Martin area, as well as in most of the eastern U.S., from New Jersey to Kansas and south to Florida and Texas.

Blue Mistflower is also known as Blue Boneset, and its scientific name is Conoclinium coelestinum.

Both have beautiful flowers, but Ageratum may be more suited to your garden because Blue Mistflower can be invasive and take over your beds.

Blue Mistflower blossoms in late summer and autumn, about the same time as Goldenrod. These photographs were taken in early October, when some blooms were starting to fade but others were looking fresh and at their peak.

Blue Mistflower may not actually be blue; its color is variable, but it will range from blue to purple to pink to reddish-purple. The blossoms are small and shaggy, and they look like another fall wildflower found along the shores of Lake Martin, Blazing Star.

Flowering heads are relatively flat – many blossoms on a horizontal plane – and each head contains 30-70 flowers with long stamens, which give it that shaggy appearance.

The reason it is known as invasive is that Blue Mistflower produces lots of seeds that are light enough to be carried by a breeze. It also sends out creeping rhizomes, which make colonies of these plants likely. When you find one in the woods, you’ll likely find many more nearby.

This flower has an upright growing habit and can be from 1-1/2 to 3 feet tall. 

Its leaves grow in pairs on opposite sides of a stem and are attached by a short petiole or stalk. Leaves are 1 to 3 inches long, shaped like triangles and are bluntly toothed on the edges.

Blue Mistflower can handle lots of different types of soil, from sand to clay, but it does best in moist, fertile and well-drained soils. You’re likely to find it along the shores of a lake, pond or creek or on roadsides, especially those with drainage ditches, or in moist fields and thin forests. It likes full to partial sun.

These flowers are often visited by fall butterflies, as well as bees, moths and beetles. Blue Mistflower leaves have a bitter taste that keeps most mammals from eating them, including deer.

They would make a good addition to a native wildflower bed.

However, if you have an open bed, you’d probably be wise to buy and plant the annual Ageratum each year. If you have an enclosed bed, Blue Mistflower will give you a very similar look in a plant-it-once, free flower that will keep its color well into the fall. But if you let the mistflower get out of its cage, plan on doing some weeding. 

Some information for the writing of this article came from piedmontmastergardeners.org.