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Plant of the Week #4, May 20- Downy Phlox

The next Plant of the Week in this series is Downy or Prairie Phlox (Phlox pilosa). This is another perennial plant that likes dry habitats like the bluff prairies. "Phlox" means "flame" in Greek and indeed this plant lights up on the prarie like a flame. The stems, leaves, and the corolla tube (the tubular base of the flower leading to the five petals) have a soft white hair hence the "downy" part of the name.


Downy Phlox Growing on One of the Bluff Prairies Near La Crosse


The flowers are fragrant, a showy pink to lavender, and very attractive to butterflies, moths, as well as hummingbirds. It is host to the rare phlox moth (Schinia indiana) which is described in this reference from the Minnesota DNR: https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/rsg/profile.html?action=elementDetail&selectedElement=IILEYMP130 and is listed as state endangered in Wisconsin: https://apps.dnr.wi.gov/biodiversity/Home/detail/animals/7612#:~:text=PROTECTING%20WISCONSIN'S%20BIODIVERSITY&text=Phlox%20moth%20adults%20have%20pink,Wingspan%20is%20about%2033mm. It has been reported on iNaturalist north of Sparta in 2019 and in Jackson County south of Black River Falls in Jackson in 2020.


Here is a photo of the moth:


Friends will be keeping an eye out for it when working on the prairies near La Crosse.

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I saw a lot of Downy Phlox along the roadside between Sparta and Black River Falls on my Sunday drive home. The sandy soils in the Central Sands of WI have allowed several species like Downy Phlox and puccoons to hang on.

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