Native Plant of the Month – October

October 2018 – Native Plant of the Month
Written by Guest Contributor: Elenore Goode


Plateau Goldeneye, Toothleaf Goldeneye, Chimalacate – Viguiera dentata 
Family: Asteraceae

Plateau Goldeneye is a 3-6 foot semi-woody perennial herb/subshrub that can be seen blooming profusely in October through November, often forming large colonies to make vibrant displays of yellow flowers. It branches out widely into a bushy and airy form, and each plant produces showers of blooms, followed by seeds that are wonderful for helping birds and other wildlife through winter with the timing of their availability.

This highly drought-resistant plant can grow in either full sun or deep shade, and in a wide range of soil types and moisture and pH levels. But it loves to grow at the edges of places like woodlands and meadows, canyons, slopes, fields, just outside of riparian areas, and other transitional areas where it receives a nice balance of shade and sun. With the right amount of sunlight, along with adequate soil depth and moisture availability, it will happily grow up to 6 feet high. The happiest stands of Viguiera dentata that I see are usually along the edge of a canopy of large trees, growing in the deep soils of old riparian terraces bordering the edge of the floodplain.
All Images © Elenore Goode 2018

Goldeneye is a very useful plant to re-introduce into our landscapes to build soil organic matter and humus in places that suffer from marginal or depleted soils, and low plant biodiversity/availability of food for wildlife (such as: much of the landscape of the Hill Country and of Texas, due to 200+ years of biodiversity and vegetation loss from severe over-browsing by livestock, and deforestation.) This usefulness comes from a combination of its traits, including: quick growth, great drought tolerance, high deer resistance, ability to spread well from seed, and love of disturbed soils. It is also a perennial that can easily regenerate from its roots over and over.

It is one of my favorite plants to use for creating cover and structural complexity for wildlife in places where the native shrubby vegetation of the forest understory and woodland margin is depleted or missing. Simply collecting seeds of this plant and throwing them out in some bare soil can bring about large stands of this hardy perennial that create a wealth of seed and flowers for wildlife, while also creating leaf litter to shade and protect soil, and sending deep taproots down to stabilize soils and build structure, humus, and symbiotic relationships with fungi and soil micro-organisms.
These hardy plants are ideal to begin the ecological succession of disturbed soils, where they quickly improve the soil conditions and act as nurse plants so that other less resilient species can begin to grow.
Especially in ecosystems that are missing so many of their native plants, even a minor increase in plant diversity can quickly create cascades of biodiversity improvements in both the above and below ground communities of organisms that interact with the plant. Another important aspect of increased biodiversity is remediating the temporal fragmentation of resource availability with enough variety of plants and insects in the ecosystem to create stable year-round food sources available to all organisms.
The vast haze of blooms in a large Goldeneye patch is alluring to pollinators, attracting and sustaining a great diversity of native bees, flies, wasps, beetles, moths, butterflies, and more. These insects in turn attract their own predators…and the complexity of the beautiful web of interactions between the creatures drawn in by just one species of plant can become almost dizzying.
We may also look at these seemingly minor insect and plant interactions as a vital transport of nutrient and mineral exchange across the landscape, with each organism involved in the moving and cycling of nutrients through their consumption and wastes.
All of these interactions add up to an almost incomprehensible amount of work done by insects (through their actions like burrowing and cycling of nutrients) towards creating fertility, tilth, and permeability in soils, which in turn helps create resiliency to drought and flood. A soil that is built from a greater diversity of plant material, and insect and microorganism interactions, will be healthier, more porous and complex, and can infiltrate more heavy rainfall into the aquifer, hold more water in the soil and landscape through increased organic compounds and biological processes, and will better be able to share and disperse nutrients and moisture to plants in need through fungal networks.

All Images © Elenore Goode 2018

Plateau Goldeneye needs more soil to grow than its smaller cousin, Skeletonleaf Goldeneye, which can better handle growing in more shallow caliche-based soils. Yet as Viguiera dentata occurs over a very large range, from Texas, west into Arizona, and south into Central America and elsewhere, it has, like many plants, taken on localized adaptations within its species to the range of environments it occurs in.

Viguiera dentata is also known as Chimalacate in Mexico, and has a long history of medicinal use. Research available online says that this plant has anti-bacterial properties and that the above-ground/aerial parts are still used by people across Mexico for baby rash, labour, and fire ant stings. It is often infused/cooked into bathwater, or the fresh leaf is applied directly in the case of fire ant stings.

Sources for medicinal use information:

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