Green Scene

A Garden the Founding Fathers Would Approve Of

Joe-pye weed has pinkish-purple flowers and loves to roam freely. It's great at attracting butterflies.
Joe-pye weed has pinkish-purple flowers and loves to roam freely. It's great at attracting butterflies. (Photos By Sandra Leavitt Lerner For The Washington Post)
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By Joel M. Lerner
Saturday, July 4, 2009

In keeping with the spirit of 1776, here is a list of plants that represent principles stated in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution, altered as though greenery could declare, "all plants are created equal." Plants are entitled to roam free, provide food, inspire, live long, be independent and protect their territory, help the environment, and promote democracy in the world of flora.

Roaming Free

Black-eyed Susan, the state flower of Maryland, makes a splash of bright yellow with summer blooming that lasts a month or more. It spreads by seed and rhizome, popping up in most any well-drained sunny spot.

Joe-pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum) grows five to six feet tall and has pinkish-purple flowers standing above its foliage from August to September. Great for attracting butterflies, it likes moist sites and will do well in sun or partial shade on the edge of a stream or woodland.

Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis). Its golden flowers open the same time as ragweed, which is why it's mistakenly blamed as an allergen. Its long-blooming yellow flowers in late summer and early fall attract butterflies and work well in wildflower meadows or rambling in natural areas.

Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is commonly found growing wild in the Washington region and requires a natural, moist setting. These perennials are host plants on which monarch butterflies lay eggs.

Providing Food

Downy serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea) has reddish-purple-to-black berries so attractive to birds that the fruit must be picked quickly. Ripe berries can be served as-is or made into jellies and pies. White flowers are more prolific in sun but the plant tolerates some shade.

Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) is one of the first trees to flower in spring. Its berries can be used in tarts, as syrup or in cranberry sauce. This shaggy barked tree is virtually disease-free, growing about 20 feet high in sunny locations.

Chinese date (Ziziphus jujuba) is a hardy, late-flowering, drought-tolerant tree for full sun. Fruit, harvested in the fall, has a sweet custard flavor and texture. The tree grows about 20 feet tall.

Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa) flowers from late April into May and has edible fruit in fall. Fruiting is enhanced in sun, but the tree will handle some shade. In winter, the bark has a lacy, peeling texture.


Common dogwood (C. florida) flowers before it leafs in spring. Flowers grow in the shape of a Maltese cross and have a great deal of religious significance. They represent an order of Christian warriors known as Knights Hospitaller. It has been a religious symbol since approximately 1080, when an organization was founded in Jerusalem providing care for poor, sick and injured pilgrims in the Holy Land.

Fig (Ficus carica), or the sycomore fig (Ficus sycomorus), continues the religious symbolism with references in the Old and New Testaments. It is not hardy outdoors in the Washington area, but was an important food throughout the Middle East.

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