Sunday, January 31, 2016

Native Shrubs in the Georgia Piedmont

The last general native shrub book written, that I know of, was published in 1989: Native Shrubs and Woody Vines of the Southeast, Landscaping Uses and Identification (Foote and Jones). While shrubs certainly haven’t changed since then, I’m always surprised that someone hasn’t taken a newer run at extolling the virtues of native shrubs, particularly in highlighting their beauty in ornamental landscapes.

Regardless, this book offers good resources for those looking for information. Especially nice are the lists of shrub recommendations by site characteristics: Shrubs for moist or wet sites along stream banks, Shrubs tolerant of salt spray, Shrubs with fruit, Shrubs with good fall color, Evergreen shrubs and several other categories.

For those looking to identify shrubs, identification keys are included. All shrubs mentioned have a descriptive paragraph and most have a picture of a leaf with a bloom or a fruit. Included in the book are some introductory paragraphs about the advantages of using native shrubs. While support for ‘ease of care’ and food for birds is mentioned, lacking is the more recent (circa 2007) emphasis on how native plants can support native insects compared to non-native plants.

This book will always have a place on my bookshelf. It is still a great reference in the Southeast for listing and describing native shrubs and vines.  By the way, there are some books that cover native shrubs in with other plants: William Cullina's Native Trees, Shrubs & Vines (2002), Robert Swanson's A Field Guide to the Trees and Shrubs of the Southern Appalachians (1994), Gil Nelson's Best Native Plants for Southern Gardens (2010), and Larry Mellichamp's Native Plants of the Southeast (2014). Unfortunately, the focus on shrubs in any of them is limited because of the need to include other plant groups.

Blueberry shrubs often so many benefits
Shrubs can be an important part of the planned landscape, especially in today's smaller spaces. With careful selection, you can have beautiful flowers, good fall color, and provide plants that support wildlife with pollen/nectar for insects (or hummingbirds), fruit/seeds for birds, and host plants for butterflies and moths.


When it comes to using native shrubs in the landscape, especially in the Piedmont, we might just have to take our written pieces where we can get them. I've done some posts about shrubs in the past and I plan to add to them; you may find them useful:

Evergreen shrubs





Native shrubs for difficult spots



St. John's wort (Hypericum)

Blueberry shrubs

Native Spirea shrubs

Native buckeye shrubs


Sunday, January 24, 2016

Tree Trimming for Healthy Reasons

Some people might be surprised to hear that I would ever cut a tree. In a woodland area such as where I live, however, the canopy gets thicker and thicker as time goes on. Smaller plants lose the sunshine that they need to thrive. I’ve lived in this place for 12 years now and this week I had trees trimmed for the third time.

Tree trimming for me includes selective tree removal as well as pruning large limbs. I always carefully identify my trees when deciding which ones are candidates for removal or trimming. My area has a lot of loblolly pines, red maples, and tuliptrees (Liriodendron tulipifera).  When removing trees to improve the light conditions, these are the trees I consider first because there will always be plenty of them left.

This year the focus was on a very large loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) next to the driveway. That area had lost a lot of light in the last 12 years and shrubs and perennials that I had planted earlier were no longer able to bloom. 

With the extra light and room afforded by the pine’s removal, several small trees nearby such as a green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) and a sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) will also get a chance to reach blooming size as well as those shrubs and perennials.

Shop around for a tree company with an arborist on staff and get more than one quote. I’ve got a good company locally, and they always do a great job (Engram’s Tree Service, Canton, GA). They work carefully to avoid damage to other plants, and they always clean up the area afterwards.  

They always offer to also remove some of my snags (dead trees) and chip up my brush piles. The answer is always no – dead trees and brush piles provide very important services to wildlife.



Here you can see how much light can now reach the ground here. There are still plenty of trees left, including pines! I'll probably add a few Christmas ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides) in the area. While I have plenty of ferns in the back, there have never been any here.

While I’m sorry to have to remove any native plants, sometimes it’s necessary to keep the area healthy for all the plants. Now I’m all set for another 5 years or so.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Winter Greens at FDR State Park

The last week of the year usually finds me with a few extra days to explore a State Park.  FD Roosevelt State Park looked like a good destination; I was particularly intrigued to read that it is Georgia’s largest State Park at 9,049 acres.  I got some tips from a friend that lives nearby on what plants might be there and what area would be good for a one day hike. After days of rain, one day promised to be pretty and I set out for the drive south with my daughter.


We arrived in Pine Mountain under a beautiful buttermilk sky with clear blue showing through. The Park office was open, so we purchased a parking permit and a map for the Pine Mountain Trail. The Trail is 23 miles long so the map is very helpful.  We drove around a bit to get our bearings, amazed at the mountain views. I’m not sure why I was surprised to find that Pine Mountain was really a mountain!


Based on my friend’s recommendation, we headed for the Wolfden Loop section of the Pine Mountain Trail. On the way there, we stopped at Dowdell Knob to see the FDR statue and a stand of Georgia oak (Quercus georgiana). We found both.

The view that Roosevelt liked at Dowdell Knob

From there we drove to the WJSP TV parking lot to start hiking, crossing into Meriwether County at some point (the park spans two counties). Almost immediately we were in a piney woodland and began seeing large, evergreen devilwood (Osmanthus americanus) shrubs. I searched in vain for some old fruits but never found any, only the beautiful glossy leaves were present. They were the first of many evergreen plants we’d find.

Symplocos tinctoria

We marched along an easy, flat path and found some low wet areas. Plants here included horse sugar (Symplocos tinctoria), swamp titi (Cyrilla racemiflora), and mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia).

The horse sugar (also known as sweetleaf) was a beautiful mix of green and purple leaves. Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica) and possumhaw (Viburnum nudum) were just losing the last of their leaves, each remaining leaf patterned beautifully in mottled colors.


Itea virginica
Cyrilla racemiflora












We came to Dry Falls and stepped through a light stream thanks to the recent rains. It was just the beginning of our steam crossings – they would only get deeper and swifter from here. As we climbed towards Big Rock Falls, it felt like you were in the mountains. Mountain laurel was thick along the trail, gurgling streams were beside it and galax (Galax urceolata) and moss were at ground level.

Ilex coriacea
Also in the shrub mix was an evergreen shrub that resembled inkberry, a member of the holly genus (Ilex). The more rounded shape of the leaf and the small teeth made me think it was different. Later, I sent pictures to my friend, and he identified it as large gallberry (Ilex coriacea). We exited the lush area and crossed through a veritable boulder field until we reached Big Rock Falls, passing a small population of Rhododendron minus and Yucca along the way.

From there we pressed on to Slippery Rock Falls. Evidence of the recent rains was everywhere – from the high-flowing creeks to the flattened creekbanks and broken branches. It was a long way to the next point marked on the map, Cascade Falls.  Here we found another evergreen, a tall sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana). We had seen a few smaller ones earlier.

Cascade Falls


We decided that we’d had enough for the day and turned back to retrace our steps back to the car. The trail is well-marked (blue blazes on trees and rocks) and well-maintained by the dedicated Pine Mountain Trail Association.

There were numerous small bridges and even wooden footpaths across perennially wet areas. Clear signs mark the spots on the map. I look forward to going back again one day, perhaps in a different season, to explore more of the trail and the park.



Sunday, January 10, 2016

Parking Lot Oaks, Continued

Looking at trees in parking lots is a habit of mine. I can’t help but glance over with curiosity at what appears to be an unusual tree. Just when I think I’ve seen all the possible choices, a new one shows up.  A new one that I found in November required some help to identify and, of course, I learned a lot in the process.

The mystery oak that turned out to be Quercus ellipsoidalis
The mystery tree was well established in the back of an older shopping center. It was tall and dropping large amounts of plump, handsome acorns. While the leaves resembled those of other species (red oak, pin oak), the acorns didn’t match any of those possibilities. The acorns were large like a red oak (Quercus rubra) but striped like a pin oak (Quercus palustris), and the acorn caps matched neither. In addition, the branches of the tree didn’t have the characteristic drooping of pin oak.


I gathered up some acorns and leaves and took pictures of the tree. When I got home, I pulled out my favorite Eastern oak identification guide and my hand lens. To my puzzlement, the tree seemed to be northern pin oak (Quercus ellipsoidalis).

Recognizing that I could use some help, I emailed a friend who then brought in another knowledgeable friend. He confirmed that it was northern pin oak, and that designers sometimes spec by common name (e.g., “pin oak”) which leads to a mixture of species being planted. Species that might be grown and delivered as “pin oak” include Quercus palustris, Q. shumardii, Q. texana, and Q. ellipsoidalis.

In the course of this long discussion about identification points via email, I asked for verification of a parking lot tree that I had identified as Q. texana and gave him a link to my blog post. It turns out that I was mistaken, that plant was Q. shumardii (and I have since corrected that post). He gave me a location in Cobb County to find some Q. texana and I went over to check it out. Included here are pictures of those trees.

Quercus texana

Quercus texana

Quercus texana (different tree than above to show variance)

So concludes another chapter in the story of parking lot oaks. Just when I think that I can't possibly find anything new, another one shows up. This makes two new ones this year.

I certainly enjoy the challenge that landscapers and nurserymen like to throw our way, and I’m grateful to friends that help me get to the truth.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

It's A New Year

Every new year seems full of new possibilities. Yes, I will exercise more; yes, I will eat less junk; and yes, I still need to drink more water! My goals seem so attainable in the first days of the new year. As the days pass, however, those goals seem a little more inconvenient and my resolve falls by the wayside. Of course, my lack of resolve only affects me so I’m the only loser.

Cloudless sulphur on host plant
What I do with my garden, however, affects more than just me. As part of a local ecosystem, my participation in the great outdoors has the ability to affect many more lives: insects, frogs, lizards, newts, turtles, birds … and others.

·         That caterpillar munching on a plant that I planted (or didn’t kill) is alive because I have host plants in my garden. I researched what plants should be here for native butterflies and moths.

·         That lizard eating bugs and strolling through the vegetation is alive because I didn’t use pesticides. Pesticides reduce the bug population (his food source) and poison the plants that rub against his skin.

·         That bird catching bugs and feeding them to her chicks is starting a family because insect food was abundant enough to support that family.



This is true at your place too. So when you make your garden resolutions (and it’s never too late to make one), think about how your actions can ripple out to so many other species on this little patch of land we call our own. And when it comes time to carry out your resolutions, remember how many critters are relying on you to keep your resolve.



Best wishes to you and yours (and by 'yours' I mean the bugs/birds/butterflies at your place) for a healthy and happy new year!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

2015 in Pictures

I take a lot of pictures throughout the year and not all of them make it into a blog post. At the end of the calendar year, it’s a good time to reflect on the beauty of nature and share some of the extra pictures.

I believe that each day is an opportunity to find and appreciate something beautiful in the native plants and creatures of Georgia.

Spiraea virginiana

In January, this Spiraea virginiana was still putting on a delightful color show on my back porch (where it thrived in the absence of deer). The plant by the front walk never makes it that far although I keep it sprayed enough to have flowers in May.

February brought a mixture of blue and gray days as usual. This red-shouldered hawk is a regular in my woods, and for once I was able to take a pretty close picture of it as we both enjoyed the blue sky.



A few weeks later, gray skies brought snowflakes and I tried to capture a few of them. Now I have a new macro lens so I hope we get a few flakes in 2016.

Red-shouldered hawk
One snowflake stood out from the jumble of others



















Stellaria pubera
March is an intensely floral month in Georgia and there is no shortage of gorgeous native flowers to photograph. Here is one of the underappreciated flowers of the native woodland - star chickweed (Stellaria pubera).

The floral show continues in April, but the addition of butterflies makes the outdoor experience all the more exciting. A picture of a flower with a native pollinator is the highest achievement for me.

We had a surprise visitor this month – a sharp-shinned hawk drove a mourning dove into a window and then rested for a bit before carrying it off to eat it.

Tiger swallowtail on native azalea
Sharp shinned hawk



















Cordyceps fungus on insect


The weather is always fine in May so I headed to Blairsville for a 3-day botanical romp with the Georgia Botanical Society.

One of the interesting things to find was a fungus that had taken over an insect host. All those gray strands are the fungus coming out.

Prunus angustifolia







My native plum tree (Prunus angustifolia) produced fruit this year, the small green fruits turning various shades of pink and red throughout the month of June.

I also discovered that this plum is suckering like mad (which is typical for this species). I plan to dig up some of those suckers over the winter.


A pair of wrens raised some chicks in our front yard in July. It was amazing to think of how many bugs they must have caught and fed to those babies before they were big enough to leave the nest. It was only a couple of weeks and then they were gone.

Chamaecrista fasciculata









I was excited to find a wild population of partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata) in August. It is the host plant for the cloudless sulphur butterfly so I’d been looking to find some. The flowers are very popular with bees too. I was able to gather some seeds to scatter in my yard so let’s hope it comes up next year.

Common buckeye butterfly

There were more butterflies this year than last year. This common buckeye butterfly was the first one of that species that I’d ever seen in my garden.  I was so excited that I used photo software to make it look like there were two ....

Cloudless sulphur emerges

Last year I was able to raise a monarch and this year I did too (in the spacious arrangement of a new caterpillar cage that my husband built for me). I also raised many other butterflies including Gulf fritillaries and cloudless sulphurs.

Pileated woodpecker













I have long heard and seen pileated woodpeckers in the woods around my house. This year one was in perfect photo range on a dead pine tree next to the driveway (that dead pine tree has been very good to the birds in my yard the last two years!).



Throughout the year I look to find plants that I can photograph for my collection of native plant pictures. Normally mistletoe (Phoradendron leucarpum) is out of my range as the plants are high up in the trees. This year I found some in smaller trees and was able to snap some photos.

Phoradendron leucarpum
All in all, 2015 was a good year for photos, for plants and for wildlife. I look forward to more in 2016!




Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Year of the Frog

Have you noticed that sometimes there appears to be a population explosion of some flower, bug or critter in your garden? Last year was a great year for skippers while the butterfly population seemed lower than usual. The year before that, there were so many dragonflies.

This year was the year of the frog.

One of the most amazing things we discovered about this house when we moved in 12 years ago was the presence of tree frogs. The house came with a swimming pool; we went swimming the first night (it was July) and dozens of tree frogs jumped in to join us!

Tree frogs (Hyla species) are smaller than the frogs I normally associate with wet areas (like my neighbor's pond). Ours are light gray in color with wonderful mottling. They have hands and feet with noticeably sticky pads for clinging.

Sometimes I find other frogs, large, dark-green ones mostly hanging out in the pool, and those I try to relocate to my neighbor's pond so that the pool chemicals don't do them in. Others hang around in between my plant pots, startling me when they jump out as I'm watering or rearranging.

I'm always glad to have them (and the toads). It makes me feel like I'm doing something right if they are finding what they need here. (Click on any of the pictures to make them larger.)