Sunday, March 18, 2018


After 15 years, it is amazing that it is possible, but I found another surprise in my woodland recently. While I have found elm (Ulmus sp.) seedlings before, I have never noticed a mature elm in the area. The seedlings were enough to be noticeable but not so many that they were a nuisance so I forgot after a while.

Pile of elm seeds 

A few weeks ago, I was performing my spring trillium-hunting ritual when I noticed small green seeds among the leaves on the ground. I took a picture of them and send it to Scott Ranger, a very knowledgeable friend in the Georgia Botanical Society. He replied that they were the samaras of winged elm (Ulmus alata). I’ve seen winged elm on several hikes with the Society.

I decided to try to find the tree, which must surely be located on my property. Binoculars in hand, I scanned the treetops for trees that appeared to have something going on, growth-wise, but didn’t find it (I did find a lot of maples in flower).

Ulmus alata twig
Winged elm (Ulmus alata) samaras

The next day, I wandered over to my neighbor’s yard to look at something and realized that his driveway was full of elm samaras! Looking up, I found the tree. It was big, and the top branches were still full of green samaras. The tree is right on the property line, growing on the side of a creek that runs through both properties.  The samaras were so interesting looking – with fuzzy hairs on the edges and a split tip. The small round seed is in the center.

Winged elm tree (Ulmus alata)
Ulmus alata bark

Fall twig of winged elm (not my yard)

I found a couple of broken twig tips to collect for photos. Just then my neighbor came out. We talked about the tree and the seeds. He said he’d like to grow some to replace some of the many trees that they’d lost recently (to disease, he said).

I told him that I’d pot up for him any seedlings that I might find in the woods this year (I’ll probably give him some other native seedlings too now that I know he’s interested).

Despite the name of this post, this tree is not a problem at all and I’m happy to have discovered it. It is a host plant for the Question Mark butterfly – a butterfly that I found in my yard last year for the first time. Now I know where it came from.

Also, all these samaras are tasty seeds for many birds and small critters. What a great find!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Just Over The Line

Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit a private 7-acre property in Tallahassee, FL that is naturally rich in Trillium underwoodii, one of the early blooming toadshade trilliums. This trillium species is native to south Georgia into Florida and Alabama. Tallahassee is south of the Georgia state line via GA 27 from Bainbridge or GA 319 from Cairo/Thomasville - it is just a cartographer’s squiggle away from being in Georgia. I paired the trip with a visit to Wolf Creek Trout Lily Preserve in the Cairo/Whigham area in Georgia.

Trillium underwoodii

The trip to the garden was arranged by the Georgia Botanical Society, an organization whose field trips extend the length and breadth of the state. I don’t always take the time (and my vacation days off from work) to go to the ones furthest away, but this particular trip was tempting. Coupled with the timing of a great trout lily bloom season at Wolf Creek, it seemed like the right time to go see both.

Love the blue of Phlox divaricata
Zephyranthes atamasca

We were treated to a number of spring-blooming plants in the front of the property: woodland phlox (Phlox divaricata), Atamasco lilies (Zephyranthes atamasca), trilliums of several species, and toothwort (Cardamine sp.), among others. Even here, spring was yet to be in full bloom, with a number of heavily budded native azaleas scattered throughout. Around the back, however, one azalea dared to risk it: a tall Piedmont azalea (Rhododendron canescens) held its open, fragrant flowers high for all to admire.

Fragrant Rhododendron canescens
Baby beech with seed still attached

Before we moved into the woodlands, we stopped to talk under a canopy of tall trees. Seedlings of American beech (Fagus grandifolia) were all around our feet, and I was delighted to find a few just emerged, wearing like a hat the outer shell of the seed from which they sprouted! You can still see the two embryonic leaves (or cotyledons) that demonstrate that American beech is a dicot.

Into the forest we walked, single file, admiring the numerous Trillium underwoodii around us on both sides. This trillium species is naturally occurring on the property and their shapes and sizes varied as expected with a large population: short, tall, wide, skinny. The patterns on the leaves changed a bit but consistently presented the silver stripe down the center for which this species is known (yes, there are other differences but for the average person, the stripe helps). I had spent the previous day looking at Trillium maculatum at Wolf Creek and so was anxious to compare the two. Here is a good trillium reference that I saved from a 2010 presentation by Tom Patrick, perhaps the best trillium expert in Georgia (and he was with us for this trip).

We passed over one of the property’s creeks and saw a unique site: a flowering chokeberry that still had one of last year’s fruits.  The area also had flowering leatherwood shrubs (Dirca palustris) and dimpled trout lilies (Erythronium umbilicatum). As we got deeper into the woods, we passed huge southern magnolias (Magnolia grandiflora). It was wonderful to see these trees in their natural range.

Unfortunately, the path wasn’t all smiles – I got to see firsthand the struggle folks in this area have with coral ardisia (Ardisia crenata), a horribly invasive woodland shrub that makes thick colonies and spreads by fruit and roots. Several folks pulled up plants along the way but we were hardly making a dent in the population overall.

As we finished up our visit, Dan Miller pointed a large, single-leaved trillium. He said that he called this a ‘dead-end’ trillium. Over the years he had watched trilliums like this develop single leaves that get bigger and bigger but never develop into the next stage of growth (3 leaves).

We also found several examples of trilliums with more than 3 leaves (4-6 instead of 3) but still always with a single flower. It was a fun trip learning more about this beautiful trillium.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Perennial Favorites

Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia)
Nevermind the calendar, spring is already here this year. Did someone say that General Beauregard Lee (Georgia’s favorite groundhog) predicted 6 more weeks of winter? Perhaps he was just being safe after being wrong several times. Anyway, early spring or not, many of us are thinking about what we’d like to add to the garden this year. Spring plant sales will be along soon enough, so here are some previous blogs of mine to get the ideas flowing. All posts are linked by underlined words (hotlinks); just click on them.

This post about favorite native spring perennials is mostly about spring ephemerals which bloom before the trees finish leafing out. Other posts about ephemerals include one on bluets, spring beauties, and bloodroot and another one about Georgia trilliums.  

A broader selection of spring perennials can be found in this post and there are several posts that focus on specific groups of plants:

Blue-flowering spring perennials
Native gingers
Violets in a range of colors
And the one that started it all for me: orange butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Can you see the Phlox paniculata under this butterfly?

We might as well think ahead to summer perennials too. They are usually found at the same sales. I've got a lot of posts about them, including a broad (but largely inadequate) post labeled 'summer perennials' - one post is never enough! I've since followed that up with a bunch of plant-specific posts:

Helianthus (Sunflowers)
Rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susans)
Silphium (Rosinweeds)
Mountain mint (Pycnanthemum)

Goldenrods can behave and they are so good for late
summer and migrating butterflies

I also have blue-flowered summer perennials, hot flowers for hot days, and late summer yellow flowers.

That about brings us to fall. While you might not find fall flowers at this year's spring sales, you really should leave some room for them. So, stay with me here, and I'll give you a few more ideas:

Late season native flowers
Fall colors (flowers) in the native garden
Goldenrod - learn about the nice goldenrods and the late butterflies will thank you!

Finally, I have a few 'mixed' posts about perennials that might be of interests. These post may span all the seasons but have a common purpose in mind.

Native plants for butterfly and pollinator support (with printable lists for the 3 seasons)
Native lilies
Awesome easy native perennials (great for beginners)

You should have a nice big list by now. Happy shopping!

Sunday, February 25, 2018

As Far As The Eye Can See

Erythronium umbilicatum
In 2009, I heard about a place in south Georgia with an amazing population of dimpled trout lilies (Erythronium umbilicatum). A fundraising effort was underway to help save the place from being developed. Private donations and a matching grant from the Georgia Land Conservation Program eventually raised enough to preserve the place now known as Wolf Creek Trout Lily Preserve. It is located in and owned by Grady County, on Wolf Creek Rd between Cairo and Whigham.

This is now the largest known population of this species and the plants are estimated to number in the tens of millions. How did this population come to be? From their website:

The huge colony at Wolf Creek is considered to be a product of a phenomenon called Pleistocene refugia. Thousands of years ago, as the Southern climate became warmer and the glaciers retreated north, some colonies of what are now more northern plants remained in locations that were suited to them. Apparently, Wolf Creek is an ideal environment, as this is the largest expanse of dimpled trout lily known anywhere. There are many millions of the plants at Wolf Creek covering over 10 acres. A square foot may have 100 plants. The slope is north-facing, the canopy mostly hardwoods and spruce pine with a heavy layer of leaf litter, the pipe clay under the soil's surface must hold just the right moisture in winter, when the plants emerge and grow. The gray pipe clay or Fuller's earth is dense and plastic. Moisture cannot penetrate through it, so the water flows downhill over the clay layer, holding the moisture above it. At Wolf Creek the clay is only six inches to two feet under the surface of the soil.

I was familiar with trout lilies because they are indigenous to the county in which I live in north Georgia. Our populations are attractive but no one could ever consider them to be a ‘carpet,’ which how this southern population was described. I put a visit to the Preserve on my “someday” list and kicked the can down the road for the next 8 years. This year, word got out that the bloom season was shaping up to be pretty spectacular, and the pictures shared on Facebook were mighty tempting.

Dimpled trout lilies (Erythronium umbilicatum)

As you can guess, I finally went there. The trout lily spread encompasses about 15 of the 140 acres of the Preserve. You can stand in place and look all around you – the tiny bright yellow blooms stretch out for as far as you can see. It really is amazing to be able to see so much of one plant in place (besides our suburban lawns!). Here is a link to a video that I took with my phone.

I was fortunate to arrive when Dan Miller was the volunteer leading a tour. Dan was one of several instrumental folks who helped to secure this place and is a very knowledgeable botanist. Dan told us how volunteers have worked for years to remove invasive plants like privet. They have also created trails, maps, and excellent signage. Many different plants were labeled for visitors, from the tiny southern tway-blade orchid (Listera australis) to the towering trees such as American elm (Ulmus americana), Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora), spruce pine (Pinus glabra), American beech (Fagus grandifolia), and several different oaks. 

Listera australis
Trillium maculatum

Bee on trout lily
Vaccinium elliottii

It was a pleasure to be able to learn about the native plants of this area through the signage: two different palms are on site, Elliott’s blueberry (Vaccinium elliottii) was abundant, and spotted wakerobin (Trillium maculatum) sprinkled itself through the trout lilies. One path led us right past the unusual green fly orchid (Epidendrum magnoliae). Dan said the volunteers plan to expand the trails further through the property in the future. Although not yet visible, many other special plants bloom throughout the year here.

As with any large population, it's fun (and possible ) to find plants that are a little unusual. I found a white trout lily and a spotted trillium with a paler flower color.

The flowers are now finished for the year, but I hope you'll consider a trip next year. Maybe we can ride together.

Erythronium umbilicatum
Trillium maculatum

Sunday, February 18, 2018

A Celebration of Trees

We just rolled through another Arbor Day in Georgia, and I hope you all had a chance to plant a tree, or thank a tree, or simply appreciate the many services that trees provide to humans, insects, and critters. I’ve written about the importance of trees in previous Arbor Day posts. If you need a refresher on what they do for us, click on one of these links and immerse yourself:

Or perhaps you know all about how wonderful they are and want to dive into learning about some specific wonderful trees. Well, I’ve got plenty of those posts too!

Black cherry (Prunus serotina): A Perfect Plant for Birds in Georgia
American Beech (Fagus grandifolia): Great Georgia Trees: American Beech
Scarlet Oak (Quercus coccinea): Good Growth, Gorgeous Giant
Serviceberry (Amelanchier): A Tree for You and the Birds
The Cedar that Isn't (Juniper virginiana)
Native magnolias: Magnolias Southern Style
Hawthorns: Number 12
Pawpaw (Asimina triloba): Wild Fruit
Redbud (Cercis canadensis): Peas on a Tree

Or perhaps you’d like to consider some trees by a general category or characteristic. Check these out:

Spring tree alternatives (to non-native trees)
Double duty trees: trees that have more than one season interest
Evergreen trees (for that ugly spot)
Parking lot maple trees (they can handle tough conditions)
Parking lot oaks are tough too: Part 1 and Part 2
Some of the oaks I've seen in Georgia: visitors and residents

Find a tree that works for you and for the goals you have for your landscape and PLANT IT!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Gardening for Wildlife: Simplified

Four things to consider makes it simple. What if someone created a book in the popular book trend: Gardening for Wildlife for Dummies. None of us are dummies, of course, but the principles of gardening for wildlife can be outlined so that the concept is less intimidating. Wildlife is waiting for us to give it a little support, to take a bit of the negative pressure off so that it can thrive.

First of all, let’s define wildlife for the purposes of this post. Wildlife includes birds, butterflies, bees, plus other native insects, mammals, and critters that live in the soil and water like worms, beetles, frogs, toads, salamanders, lizards, newts, snakes. Basically all native critters besides us!

Here are the main principles that you would find in my dummies book if such a thing existed (thanks to my husband James for the cover mock-up, using one of my pictures from last year):

  1. Plant more native plants.
  2. Stop using pesticides.
  3. Leave natural materials on your property.
  4. Provide sources of water and shelter.
That’s it! Just four things to consider: 3 things to do and 1 thing to stop doing. I'll cover them in a bit more detail.

Plant more native plants than most of your neighbors. Have your landscape be above average when it comes to native plant usage. Shrink your lawn, get rid of your crape myrtles and Asian elms, and plant native flowers that bloom throughout the year. Do your research and be mindful of what you plant: regionally appropriate plants, host plants for local butterflies and moths, good nectar source plants, and plants that make seeds or berries for birds (remember that not all birds eat berries).

There are 2 purposes for providing native plants for wildlife as a food source:
  1. Flowers provide food for pollinators in the form of nectar and pollen, later they turn into seeds or berries for birds and small critters. Plant flowers that bloom throughout the year.
  2. Plant foliage is food for herbivores such as the larvae of butterflies and moths. Some of these larvae/caterpillars become food for birds.
Seasonal blooms - Spring: Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis); Summer: Phlox paniculata 'Jeana'; Fall: goldenrod (Solidago sp.)

Stop using pesticides. The natural world has a food chain where one critter usually eats another one. The tiniest of aphids are food for ladybug larvae and other insects; small songbirds, tiny hummingbirds, and lizard/anoles eat them to some extent. If you spray them with insecticide then anything that eats them will ingest the poison.  Explore other ways to reduce high populations of unwanted bugs until wildlife can catch up: spray them with a hose or squish them with your fingers. Hold a bucket of soapy water under Japanese beetles and tap them; they usually react by dropping to the ground (or into your bucket!).

Birds eat bugs! Photo copyright Romin Dawson

Leave natural materials on your property as much as possible: the leaves that fell from your trees, dead limbs, tree snags if they are in a safe area. Dead plant material provides several ways to support native insects and birds.

  • Dead logs are shelter places for lizards and salamanders, homes for beetles and wood-boring bees.
  • Dead leaves shelter over-wintering butterflies and moths, as well as being a source of food for many decomposers like worms. 
  • Dead branches support lichens and fungi which in turn are sources of food for others. Pile them up in brush piles in inconspicuous places and let small birds and chipmunks take shelter there.

Adult Question Mark butterflies hibernate
in natural areas
Question Mark that I found in March was
an adult that stayed over the winter

Brown-headed nuthatches nest in dead pines
Provide sources of water and shelter. A source of water might be as simple as a birdbath that you keep clean. It could be a stream or pond on your property. Shelter sources could be bird boxes, evergreen trees and shrubs, tree snags for woodpeckers and other cavity dwelling birds like the brown-headed nuthatch. When the leaves fell off your plants, did you find bird nests hidden in the branches? Birds love a thicket so consider some shrubs that grow densely even if they are not evergreen.

So now you have some basic principles about gardening for wildlife – just four things to consider. Here’s one more thing that gardening for wildlife doesn’t have to be: it doesn’t have to be messy or untidy. Incorporate these principles however you wish, in the front yard as well as the backyard (although you may want to save the brush pile for the back). Even the National Wildlife Federation no longer calls your certified garden a ‘backyard wildlife habitat’ – it is now more broadly called ‘wildlife habitat.’

Disclaimer: This is not a real book; this is a mocked up cover with one of my photos. 

Sunday, February 4, 2018

A Look at February

Roundleaf Hepatica is the first to bloom
February is a mixed month for those of us in North Georgia, akin to having a foot in winter and a foot in spring. Chilly nights often give way to warm days with bright blue skies. The chance of a snow event is lower than in January but don’t count it out. Non-native daffodils poke out of the leaf litter but so do native perennials like liverwort (Hepatica), trout lily (Erythronium), and bloodroot (Sanguinaria).

Looking through the years, my February topics usually include 3 things: celebrating Georgia’s Arbor Day, appreciating my local birds for the Great Backyard Bird Count, and gushing over early spring flowers. Here are some posts that are just as timely in 2018 as they were then.

White oak (Quercus alba)
Arbor Day is celebrated in Georgia on the third Friday in February. That is a very good time for planting a tree in Georgia. Trees are one of my very favorite categories of plants so I’m always happy to talk about why we should plant trees for the future.

The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is a wonderful citizen science project that helps contribute local data about bird populations while also helping us recognize what is sharing this little piece of land with us. I’ve got a post from 2012 and another from 2014 to explore. I hope you’ll be inspired to count this year from Friday, February 16, through Monday, February 19, 2018. This is their 21st year of the count.

In between the trees and birds, take some time in February to look for emerging plants and flowers. If you'd like to get your spring on early, read some of these previous February posts:

In addition to looking for flowers, you can appreciate the buds of woody plants as they swell in preparation for opening their leaves and flowers. Some of them are beautiful in their own way, allowing us to be amazed at all that nature does in order to deliver the year's new growth.

While you're looking for swollen buds, keep an eye out for other signs of spring. This is a late January post on things to notice that remind us of the promise of spring.

Caulophyllum thalictroides
Erigenia bulbosa at The Pocket

Perhaps you'd like to find places to see early flowers, even in February. Last year I wrote about my visit to the Shirley Miller Wildflower Trail in Walker County. The Trail had plenty of beautiful flowers by the last week of February. I might have to repeat that trip.

Finally, if you're ready to start making lists of plants to get at the spring plant sales, this blog is about some of my favorite spring perennials to use in the garden and has some good ideas for your list of things to add to your landscape.

Claytonia virginica
Trillium cuneatum