Phlox is perhaps one of the most common garden flowers in the Catskills. We are most familiar with tall garden phlox, Phlox paniculata, and it is in its glory blooming right now in our area. It is loved, despite its susceptibility to deer and powdery mildew, for its often fragrant, showy, brightly colored flowers and its vigorous growth. The flowers come in all colors except yellow. Most garden varieties have flowers that are white or shades of pink and blue, and there are also a few red and orange selections available commercially.
The other type of phlox usually found in Catskills gardens is Phlox subulata, creeping phlox. Unlike tall garden phlox, creeping phlox has a ground-hugging habit and needle-like or moss-like foliage to help it survive the windy exposed conditions of its natural habitat, cliffs and other rocky mountainous environments. It differs from tall garden phlox in blooming time as well, blooming early in the spring.
There are 65 or so species of Phlox. All (except one in Siberia) are native to North America. Four species are native to New York State but none are common wildflowers in the Catskills. Phlox flowers have very long tubes. Therefore, long-tongued insects are necessary to facilitate pollination. Butterflies and moths are the chief pollinators. Some species of phlox are actually dependent on swallowtail butterflies for pollination in nature. In wild populations of phlox, there is less variation in the colors of the flowers compared to the phlox in our gardens, because the butterfly pollinators prefer particular colors and search for matching color intensity while foraging. Pollination therefore results from plants having flowers with similar hue and intensity of color, reducing the chance for hybridization to occur in the wild.