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The Garden Club of America’s Plant of the Year: The Montine McDaniel Freeman Medal


February 17, 2016

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Symphyotrichum oblongiflolium var. angustatus ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ has been named the 2016 Plant of the Year by The Garden Club of America (GCA). Annually since 1995, the GCA has identified a stellar North American native plant to receive its Montine McDaniel Freeman Medal: GCA Plant of the Year to highlight underutilized, but highly worthy, trees, shrubs, ground covers, vines and perennials. Keep reading to learn more about this aster as well as this year's honorable mention and special recognition plants or view award description and previous winners.


Winner: Symphyotrichum oblongifolium var. angustatus ‘Raydon’s Favorite’

Nominated by Glenview Garden Club, Zone VII

Photograph courtesy of Glenview Garden Club, Zone VII

Aster ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ is a cultivar named in the 1980’s and recognized for its marked improvement over most better known asters by presenting a more compact form, fragrance and a dazzling bright blue-purple flower with a yellow center in the fall. Ranging from zones 3 to 9, this cultivar can be grown in almost any sunny or partial shady location as it is tolerant of wind, heat, pollution, and soil compaction, and resistant to diseases, including powdery mildew, deer, rabbits, rodents and insects.  While the aromatic compounds of this aster may make it resistant to wildlife, it is a pollinator plant attracting hummingbirds, bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects. Commonly referred to as the aromatic aster, ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ lives up to its name as when brushed against, the plant releases a nice hint of mint. Named by Allen Bush after plantsman Raydon Alexander of San Antonio, Texas, this cultivar is believed to be originally from Lookout Mountain, Tennessee. 

Honorable Mention: Trillium grandiflorum

Nominated by Dolley Madison Garden Club, Zone VII 

Photograph courtesy of Elaine L. Mills

Trillium grandiflorum, (Common names: white trillium, great white trillium or white wake-robin) is a herbaceous perennial native to eastern North America ranging from Nova Scotia south to northern Georgia and west to Minnesota. Common in rich, mixed upland forests, T. grandiflorum is a spring ephemeral recognized by a whorl of three leaf like bracts standing up to 20 inches above the ground above which blooms its single large white three-petaled flower. T. grandiflorum is a slow growing plant whose seeds require two years to fully germinate, and flowering is usually determined by the surface volume of the leaf and the size of the rhizome which can take up to seven to ten years to reach optimal size for flowering. Due to the popularity of T. grandiflorum conservation concerns have been raised as a vast majority of the plants sold in nurseries are believed to be wild collected. When buying T. grandiflorum one must ensure that the plants are raised from seed. T. grandiflorum is thought to be self pollinating and its seeds are spread by ants. Occasionally it is thought that deer will spread the seed. As this plant is particularly attractive to deer, trillium foraging is often used as a gauge of the size of the deer population. 

Honorable Mention: Sarracenia flava

Nominated by New Orleans Town Gardeners & Garden Study Club of New Orleans, Zone IX

Photograph courtesy of W. D. and Dolphia Bransford, The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

The carnivorous yellow pitcher plant, Sarracenia flava, traps insects by using a vibrant yellow rolled leaf on top of a pitcher form bloom which can reach up to 3 feet in height. The upper part of the leaf is flared into a lid covering the tubular pitcher, preventing excess rain from entering and diluting the digestive secretions within. Once the insect has landed on the upper regions of the pitcher, it is guided down towards the opening of the pitcher tube by short, stiff, downward pointing hairs and brightly patterned guiding markings. The surface of the opening of the pitcher tube is studded with nectar-secreting glands. These nectars contain not only sugars, but an alkaloid which intoxicates its prey causing it to lose its footing and tumble to the bottom of the pitcher from which there is no escape. Because the pitcher plant traps insects for food, it does not require fertile soil and grows in acidic, low nutrient, damp wet bogs along the eastern seaboard from Alabama, through Florida and Georgia up the coastal plains to Virginia. It spreads by rhizomes and can be propagated easily by seed. In the life cycle of this plant, first the pitcher is produced; then large yellow flowers with long, strap like petals hanging umbrella style at the end of a two-foot scape. In the fall, the plant stops producing carnivorous leaves and produces a flat non-carnivorous leaf called a phyllodia. 

Special Recognition: Amsonia hubrichtii

Nominated by Garden Club of Wilmington, Zone V

Photograph courtesy of Rick Darke

Three feet wide and high, Amsonia hubrichtii is a clump forming, herbaceous perennial with multiple willow-like, leafy stems emerging from a semi-woody rootstock. This graceful, long-lived, shrub-like plant produces feathery, bright green foliage in the spring that remains neat and attractive throughout the growing season. Terminal clusters of steel blue flowers appear in May and June and pendant, chocolate hued seed heads present well into the fall. The mounding billows of this plant’s foliage turn a brilliant pumpkin orange color in October and November, particularly when grown in full sun. Snow and ice on the stems in the winter provide additional textural interest to the landscape. Suited for mass plantings in sun or partial shade throughout zones 4 to 9, Amsonia is extremely drought and wind tolerant once established and supports butterflies, bees and moths.


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