Extension Educator, Horticulture
This time of year there is a perpetual preponderance of prize parades. People just love to hand out awards or maybe we just love to party. The plant world is no different. Each year the Perennial Plant Association (PPA) announces its perennial plant of the year. The winners don't get a ceremony or statue but a place in our hearts and gardens.
Award winners are chosen by the members of the Perennial Plant Association for the plant's beauty, but also for its durability, suitability to a wide range of climate types, low maintenance, multiple seasonal interest, and easy growing nature.
This year's winner is a true native beauty and deserves all the accolades. The 2011 Perennial Plant of the Year™ is Arkansas blue star, Amsonia hubrichtii (pronounced am-SO-nee-ah hew-BRIK-tee-eye). It is an all-season perennial. It's dependable, durable and the flowers and foliage are delectably beautiful.
Arkansas blue star, as its name implies, is a native of Arkansas and Oklahoma. The species was named after Leslie Hubricht who first discovered it growing in Arkansas in 1942. Arkansas blue star is not for small spaces as it grows 36 inches tall and 36 inches wide in a mounded form. From late spring to early summer, two- to three-inch wide clusters of small, cool blue, star-shaped flowers are borne above the ferny bright green foliage. The flowers are a delicately beautiful blue but the leaves are the real asset to this long lived perennial. Imagine 3-foot tall stems of feather dusters. The foliage lights up in fall with its rousing golden-yellow fall color seldom seen in perennials.
As a native to open grasslands Arkansas blue star grows best in full sun and partial shade and in well-drained soil but it is very adaptive. However, it tends to open and stems flop if plants are grown in too much shade. Once well established, it is drought tolerant and appears to be unappealing to deer. Adding to its durability no insect or disease pests are known to attack Arkansas blue star. It is hardy in USDA hardiness zones 4 to 9.
Arkansas blue star is the little black dress of the plant world and looks good with just about anything. The foliage in spring and summer is one of the best for contrast with medium to large perennials or shrubs. The billowy, finely-textured leaves are seldom found in full sun plants. Blue star holds its own as it grows into a dense almost shrub-like mass. The color of the foliage and flowers of blue star blend easily with other plants. Although the delicate light blue spring flowers are the inspiration for its common name, the autumn color of the feathery leaves is a major reason that gardeners grow it. The stunning iridescent gold lights up the fall garden.
The delicate soft green leaves create an excellent combination with other perennial winners including 'Goldsturm' black-eyed Susan, 'May Night' salvia, 'Becky' Shasta daisy, blue indigo, 'David' phlox, 'Karl Foerster' feather reed grass, 'Husker Red' penstemon and 'Magnus' purple coneflower. Try a combination of 'Black Lace' elderberry and Arkansas blue star. The brilliant yellow foliage of blue star combined with the dark foliage of elderberry is a knockout. Arkansas blue star can be used in sunny borders, cottage plantings, native gardens, and in large container plantings. The ornamental qualities and many uses make blue star an invaluable perennial garden plant. As a perennial workhorse it provides three splendid seasons of ornamental features. Check it out this summer on the southwest corner of the Champaign County Master Gardener Idea Garden in Urbana.
A good place to start in garden design is to include radiantly robust Perennial Plants of the Year designated by The Perennial Plant Association. Check their website for pictures and more winners http://www.perennialplant.org/ Thanks to PPA for providing information.