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Name the native wildflowers

Butterfly weed. A favorite of all butterflies, including the easter swallowtail
Butterfly weed. A favorite of all butterflies, including the easter swallowtail

"The earth laughs in flowers," says Emerson. If he is right, then the earth is cracking up right now. In the midst of May in Charleston, blossoms are chuckling, giggling and guffawing all in every garden and windowbox in every neighborhood. This week is National Wildflower Week, and Charleston offers much to celebrate.

A walk along any path these days makes one giddy with perfume. Right now, Japanese honeysuckle, waxleaf ligustrum and Chinese privet are taking center stage. Childhoods are scented with these May perfumes. But as invasive plants, all three are at odds with the Lowcountry's native plants, which emit a subtle, sweeter smell beneath the rich perfume.

Gardeners striving to incorporate native blossoms into their gardens have begun to attend to a deeper layer of flower and scent. And naturalists attend to a deeper level of foliage, looking low, stepping carefully in search of the Lowcountry's own -- the colors, petals, blooms and scents indigenous and not found anywhere else.

Local organizations supply the Charleston naturalist with ample resources for native wildflowers. On May 22, Sewee Education Center, offers a nature walk with Dr. Richard Portcher, co-author of A Guide to the Wildflowers of South Carolina. Some of the native wildflowers you might hope to encounter include the cardinal flower, wild hydrangea, sparkleberry, possomhaw,and the maple-leaf viburnum.

The South Carolina Native Plant Society offers resources to help identify and protect South Carolina's wildflowers, from emailing a picture of the mystery in your backyard to learning about invasive species. Knowing the name of the weed that grows in your yard, whether it is native or invasive, and how you can nurture or curtail it is invaluable. Charleston Parks Conservancy and Charleston Horticultural Society also provide resources, workshops, classes and expert advice from master gardeners that help the backyard naturalist craft a wildlife area conducive to native birds and butterflies.

South Carolina's biodiversity depends on the curiosity of people who desire to know the name, sight and perfume of native and non-native plants. The fact that there are there so many different wildflowers boggle both the mind and the senses. Learn the scent of the lady slipper, wild hydrangea, maple-leaf viburnum. Look beneath leaves for mayapple and wild ginger.  Press them in a book, render them in colored pencil, or simply learn their names and value to ensure their presence for future generations.  


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