2023 Plants of the Year

Members elected Claytonia virginica var hammondiae, Hammond’s Spring Beauty, Rare Plant of the Year and Pycnanthemum muticum, Clustered Mountainmint, Backyard Perennial of the Year at our 2023 Annual Meeting.

Read all about the great plants that we considered here.

2023 Rare Plant of the Year

Text by Bobbie J Herbs

Claytonia virginica var hammondiae
Hammond’s Spring Beauty

Claytonia virginica, Spring Beauty, can be found along roadsides and woodland edges in New Jersey. The beautiful flowers with pink guides for early and small pollinators and pink stamens open on a sunny day and remain closed at night or under cloud cover. There are two forms of Spring Beauty that feature yellow. Found in Pennsylvania and Maryland is a pale-yellow form, var. forma lutea. The rarest form, and classified as Endangered in New Jersey by the USDA NRCS, is Claytonia virginica var. hammondiae. This is one of the nominees for the Native Plant Society of New Jersey’s Plant of the Year.

Claytonia virginica var. hammondiae, or Hammond’s Spring Beauty is found in exceptionally wet and acidic areas on the Kittatinny Mountains of Sussex County. This is the single location for this species, although some speculate it may also exist in Eastern Pennsylvania.

Hammond’s Spring Beauty is distinguished by bright yellow petals, orange nectar guides and white anthers. Smooth, grass-like leaves come in pairs and occur halfway up the stem. This is a low plant offering flowers on a 4-16” stem. A spring ephemeral, the plant disappears after the seed capsule ripens in early summer.

Discovered by Emilie K. Hammond more than five decades ago, the naturalist noticed something odd about this field of flowers. They reminded her of common Spring Beauty yet were yellow in color.

At the time, Hammond reported her findings to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden where it was categorized as another Spring Beauty. Years later David Snyder, former NJ state botanist, investigated further and was astonished by every bloom being yellow with no other flower color variations in the field. It was then, that the Nature Conservancy took note and purchased the 77-acre tract in the 1990’s.

This tract is the ‘only place on Earth’ Hammond’s Spring Beauty exists. Quoted in an article for NorthJersey.com by James M. O’Neill on May 12, 2017, Scott Sherwood, the land steward for several preserves owned by the Nature Conservancy stated, “This meadow is a rare inland acidic seep. The groundwater comes up out of cracks in the bedrock and runs along the top of the bedrock. The water is pretty acidic, with a pH of 5.5 or so.”

Second photo credit: Jim Wright

2023 Backyard Perennial of the Year

Text by John Suskewich

Pycnanthemum muticum
Clustered Mountainmint

All of the mountainmints have at least one outstanding trait, but Pycnanthemum muticum, probably the most commonly available, has several. It spreads, but not maddeningly, it has a delightful minty scent, and before its small, pink flowers appear in mid to late summer it develops pale bracts that give the whole plant a very ethereal look. Those bracts persist into fall, making each stem look as if the tip were a silvery-white poinsettia cutting. This is a very low-maintenance native perennial that naturalizes happily and tolerates almost any conditions except prolonged drought or deepest shade. It is very useful for its end-of-the-season impact in the garden.

There are many species of mountainmints native to New Jersey. Like its cousins in the plant family Lamiaceae, the mints, clustered mountain mint will spread, but this tendency can be easily thwarted with a little root pruning with a small spade in the spring. Planting it will have a host of beneficial insects, like ladybugs, hosanning you just before they start to attack their next meal of aphids. It is an important nectar source for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators and is very deer resistant. Mountainmints are another important plant in the ethnobotany of Native American who used it to treat fevers, GI issues, and other physical bugs. That mint taste makes for a pleasant herbal tea.
This two to three-foot perennial usually becomes a clump probably twice that in width. The ovate rounded, pointy leaves are deep green throughout the growing season. In the wild, clustered mountainmint grows in fields and woodland edges and is a fine addition to a meadow garden but is so adaptable it can even be used in a rain garden. Because its runners root so readily, propagation is easy by digging up its offsets.
We recommend this native plant for its late-season beauty, ability to naturalize easily, and importance for insects and other wildlife.

Photo credit: Toadshade Wildflower Farm