I have gardened with a lot of native plants over the years but pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea) may be one of my favorites. Not only is it easy to grow, this tough little plant can handle some pretty harsh soil conditions. In the wild, I often find it growing along gravelly roadsides where it puts on quite a show. Let's be honest with each other, who doesn't love a fuzzy plant.
Pearly everlasting is a member of the largest dicot family on the planet, the asters. As such, what appears to be single flowers doing their best imitation of a sunny side up egg is actually a collection of many tiny flowers clustered together to look like one big one. In a sense, this is a form of floral mimicry.
What is most unique about pearly everlasting is that it is dioecious. Individual plants produce disks that are either male or female. I can't really think of other asters that adopt this strategy. And what an awesome strategy it is. Being dioecious means cross-pollination. The reproductive disk flowers are those yellow ones in the center. The pearly white outer ring of each inflorescence is actually made up of a dense cluster of involucre.
Did I mention this plant is fuzzy? Dense trichomes cover the stem and underside of each leaf. Hairs like this are adaptations to reduce water loss and overheating. However, there is evidence that in pearly everlasting, these hairs can also reduce feeding by spittlebugs. Nymphs looking for a tasty plant to drill into cannot seem to penetrate the dense growth of trichomes, which means each pearly everlasting gets to hold on to its sap.
Again, I can't speak highly enough about this species. It is native to much of North America and, in this writers opinion, should be in the drier portions of every native garden. All you need are a handful of seeds and a small population of pearly everlasting will soon be keeping you company.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons