Sunday, August 2, 2020

The Southeast Native Plant Primer (the book)

The resources for helping people to learn about regional native plants—and how to use them—have never been better. I have filled my social media feeds (Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook) with native plant friends, conservation organizations, and businesses that share gorgeous and insightful posts on plants and related topics. More people than ever are creating web content (blogs, websites, videos) with plant profiles, articles, and other resources. And books continue to be published, including one that just came out this week.

Beginner-level resources are especially welcome for the many newbies learning about native plants and their benefit to our local ecosystems. If you’ve been looking for something for yourself or for a friend that you are encouraging, check out this new book entitled “The Southeast Native Plant Primer: 225 Plants for an Earth-Friendly Garden.” 

This is a new book by accomplished North Carolina authors Larry Mellichamp and Paula Gross plus the wonderful photographer Will Stuart.  Larry and Will published a book in 2014 (read my review here) that is similar but bigger (460 plants are covered). This new book is specifically geared towards beginners, so the organization of it is simplified plus enhanced for today’s issues (like home pesticide use and invasive plants).

In general, the older book has larger sections on any topic that is present in both. The downsizing of details in this one surely makes reading it less intimidating to newbies, but it doesn’t lose anything important. This book has new resources at the end, including sections on Recommended Reading, Mail Order nurseries, and a list of Southeastern Public Gardens with Significant Native Plant Collections (including 6 in Georgia). The book also includes several lists (caterpillar host plants, pollinator garden suggestions across 3 seasons, plants that deer might avoid, plants with fruit for birds) that help guide your choices.

When it comes to the reduced number of plants in the new book, some categories are not included: bog plants, aquatic plants, and a dedicated conifer section are in the earlier book but not the new one. In addition, not as many canopy trees are included in the tree section. New gardeners might be more focused on perennials and shrubs so those sections are robust. There is a section at the end that covers the value of existing native trees that gardeners might have, including oaks, which they should be encouraged to recognize and treasure for their value.

Helianthus angustifolius, one of the few featured plants with 4 icons:
birds, bees, butterflies, and caterpillars are supported by this perennial

Shade and sun perennials are broken out separately to let you search more efficiently for the conditions you have. Each plant profile has useful icons for birds, caterpillars, butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds to help you recognize important characteristics for an Earth-friendly garden. The profiles include 14 ferns, 12 grasses and grass-like plants—a great term for gardeners who probably get frustrated with nerds insisting things are sedges instead of grasses even though they look like them—39 woodland wildflowers, 71 sun perennials, 12 vines, 46 shrubs, and 31 trees.

Solidago caesia is a wonderful shade-tolerant goldenrod;
its plant profile has 3 icons: bees, butterflies and caterpillars

If you’re just starting or you know of someone that needs a helpful resource, this is a book to consider. As we continue to stay home more than usual, planning for fall garden changes starts now!

[Timber Press has a similar book out for the Midwest region, so consider your friends there as well.]

Aronia arbutifolia earns 4 icons: birds, bees, butterflies and
caterpillars; it is a worthy garden shrub!

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Summer Whites

Echinacea purpurea (white cultivar)
Growing up in the South, white clothing was a way to reflect the sun and stay a little cooler when you were outdoors (or at least we thought). I know I had several white dresses; they must’ve been the dickens to keep clean! The phrase ‘summer whites’ and the memory of dressing for the heat came to mind when I realized how many white plants were blooming lately.

I’ll start with some big ones—shrubs that really grab your attention and as well as that of the pollinators. Just finishing up their blooms now are bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) and buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis). This summer buckeye is good in part shade/sun and a popular plant with tiger swallowtail and silver-spotted skipper butterflies as well as bees. The buttonbush likes moist conditions and can tolerate even standing water but it wants a bit of sun. It is popular with the same group of pollinators.

Tiger swallowtail on Aesculus parviflora

Devil’s walking stick (Aralia spinosa) isn’t often planted in gardens but you should look for it now on roadsides (I saw it peeking out on GA 400 going north), hanging out on the sunny edges of woodlands and damp ditches. Its huge inflorescence contains dozens and dozens of tiny cream-colored flowers, attracting butterflies and bees galore.

Devil's walking stick (Aralia spinosa) has many tiny flowers

Smaller shrubs blooming now include summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) and a few of the native hibiscus, including the comfortroot (Hibiscus aculeatus), both of which I mentioned last week. As you might expect, the summersweet has a light fragrance to it; it is a favorite of bees and wasps and small butterflies. I have the cultivar ‘Hummingbird’ which stays lower than the species (it was selected by nurserymen for its compact form). New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus) a shrub so small that you might think it is a perennial.  The small white flower clusters are visited by bees, wasps, flies, and beetles.

New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus)

I cheated a bit in posting that picture of the white form of purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). White is not the natural color, of course. There are still other white flowers to appreciate. Just finishing up are wild quinine (Parthenium integrifolium) and Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum). Wild quinine is great for drier sites while Culver’s root does best in a moister spot. Still blooming are three more perennials tolerant of dry areas: hairy angelica (Angelica venenosa), the first of the thoroughworts (Eupatorium album), and mountain mint (Pycnanthemum sp.). For your moist areas, pair up the Culver’s root with aquatic milkweed (Asclepias perennis), another lover of moist soil.

Culver's root (Veronicastrum virginicum)

Small moth on Asclepias perennis

I’ll finish up with a tree, the very special Franklin tree (Franklinia alatamaha). It’s blooming now at my neighbor’s house, 3 marvelous specimens on a 3-foot slope where the property drops down to street level. Popular with tiger swallowtail butterflies and bees, it is one of our very few summer-blooming trees (sourwood, Oxydendrum arboreum, is another).

Franklinia alatamaha is beloved by bumble bees

If you’d like to add a little summer white to your garden, consider some of these plants. They all look pretty good in the shimmering air of a Southern summer.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

The Early Summer Garden

As a wave of 90+ degree temperatures washes over North Georgia where I live, summer is just getting started. We are only 1 month into summer season so I will title this the early summer garden. One day I really should do a daily journal as to what’s blooming, but, in general, I feel like there is a bit of a lull between the end of spring and now so I’m happy to celebrate these blooms (especially since I’m still not going anywhere!).

Perhaps the loudest of flowers is the scarlet hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus) both in color and form, reaching up to 10 feet tall by the end of the season. Some days there is only one flower, but one day this week there were four at once and I exclaimed to my grandson that there were “so many” of them. He has been dutifully repeating that ever since to whatever item is numerous.

Hibiscus coccineus with bushy St. John's
wort (Hypericum densiflorum) behind
Pineland hibiscus (H. aucleatus)

This week also brought on the delicate blooms of the Southern pineland hibiscus (Hibiscus aucleatus). The contrast of the white bloom with the burgundy center is just exquisite. I added a second plant of this late last year and I am hoping to have fertile seeds this year if I can get them to bloom at the same time.

This is peak time for black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia sp.) and I have 3 of them going now. I have the popular Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’ in a pot. The deer nipped one side but it is resprouting and blooming harder than ever. I have another one that is similar that I got from a friend. I think it is plain species version of Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii. The flowering on it is very nice and it does spread a bit. The third species blooming now is hairy black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), which is more of a short-lived perennial than the previous ones.

Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldsturm'
Rudbeckia fulgida species

Another bright yellow is coming from the sundrops (Oenothera fruticosa) and the last of the bushy St. John’s wort (Hypericum densiflorum) which has had a very good year. In the back yard, the large cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum  var. connatum ) is just getting starting while the woodland sunflower (Helianthus divaricatus) sets seed.

Finishing up blooms is an assortment of blue flowers: Stokes’s aster (Stokesia laevis), smooth spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis), and American bellflower (Campanulastrum americanum), the last of which I mentioned in this blog several weeks ago. Bash the spiderwort if you want, but it has been fantastic this year. Also continuing has been the native wild petunia (Ruellia caroliniensis); the blooms are smaller but still quite numerous.

Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia)
Angelica venenosa

In the white flower department I have the almost-finished bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) and the newly-opened summersweet (Clethra alnifolia). Going strong is the petite aquatic milkweed (Asclepias perennis) whose pinkish buds open to bright white. In the backyard, angelica (Angelica venenosa) is blooming next to the wild quinine (Parthenium integrifolium). Two doors down, my neighbor’s Franklin tree (Franklinia alatamaha) is starting to bloom, and I walk down to look at it about every other day. My other neighbors’ buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) just finished up a great display, enticing almost a dozen tiger swallowtails to visit it for days (and restoring my faith that there were some butterflies out there somewhere!).

Tiger swallowtail on buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)

So if you’re looking for inspiration on what to plant for this time of year, consider some of these. Oh, and how could I forget these – also blooming are the following: another flush on the native honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), summer phlox (Phlox paniculata, including my favorite ‘Jeana’), skullcap (Scutellaria incana), and two great annuals, the rosepink (Sabatia angularis) and scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea).

Rosepink (Sabatia angularis)

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Mistaken Identity

I briefly mentioned in a 2018 blog that, thanks to a tip from one of my blog readers, I realized that a plant had been misidentified. Comfortroot, or Hibiscus aculeatus, is a perennial native to southeastern Georgia where it grows in wet and mesic pine flatwoods, and edges of savannas, bogs, and ditches. In the past, I have enjoyed seeing it in wet ditches along Highway 16 near Savannah on the way home from a beach trip. Also called pineland hibiscus and prickly rose mallow, the species name aculeatus means 'prickly' and the stems and leaves are harshly scabrous and covered with prickly hairs.

Several friends in the metro Atlanta area grew this and shared plants and seeds. Even the Georgia Native Plant Society grew it and sold it at plant sales. Until we realized in 2018 that it was the wrong plant and were instead growing Abelmoschus manihot, a very similar looking plant. Often called sunset muskmallow or sunset hibiscus, it is more closely related to okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) and is not native to the US.

With similar flowers and similarly-lobed leaves, you can see how one can be confused. While the color of the bloom is a bit more yellow on the sunset muskmallow compared to the creamy color of the comfortroot, it is the crimson-colored stamen column that distinguishes the comfortroot. The sunset muskmallow has a yellow stamen column. Both plants have a crimson stigma at the tip.

As I wrote in 2018, I am now growing the correct species but I hope to help correct the mistaken identity of what we grew before and realized this week that not all my plant friends had heard of the mistake. My new plants came from the Chattahoochee Nature Center which is always a great source of Georgia native plants during spring and fall plant sales. Last year I thoroughly enjoyed watching bumble bees enjoy my new plant. It’s not yet blooming here, but I look forward to another show this year.

Bee on Hibiscus aculeatus

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Fruit of the Season

Either this year is a very good year for my alternate-leaf dogwood (Cornus alternifolia) in terms of fruit or I just happened to notice it at just the right time. The fruit sometimes fails to develop and I find aborted clusters on the ground. This year the tree is loaded with tiny fruits in a variety of colors and the birds are having a grand time.

The ripening fruits of alternate-leaf dogwood (Cornus alternifolia)

Around the corner, the blueberries are ripening as well and we are harvesting about a bowl per day. I’m sure the critters are getting a few of those too but there are plenty for everyone. Clearly my Southeastern blueberry bees did a great job with pollination this spring.

Cultivated blueberries (perhaps 'TifBlue')

In the less successful pollination department, only a few paw paws are developing on my 3 trees. It appears that it is the later flowers that are bearing the fruit (I was watching!). Are they blooming before the flies emerge? I’ll have to watch carefully in late August if I want to beat the critters to these tasty fruits; they got them last year.

Doll's eye (Actaea pachypoda)
Paw paw (Asimina triloba)

Viburnum nudum var. cassinoides

Nature provides for a succession of fruit during our seasons: the serviceberries (Amelanchier) are long gone; the wild cherries and plums have just finished up; the viburnums are still green; elderberries and blueberries are ripening; and the beautyberries (Callicarpa americana) have just started to flower.

I’ve written about edible and wildlife-friendly fruit before. Visit these previous blogs for more info: edible fruits in Georgia, fall fruits (including for wildlife), and specifically the paw paw.  

I like to appreciate native plants in all stages of growth: flowers, fruit, foliage, winter garb. Now seemed like a good time to celebrate some summer fruits. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 28, 2020

From Seed

Oenothera fruticosa
I was surprised by a bloom on this sundrops plant (Oenothera fruticosa) this week. I wasn’t expecting that it would bloom given that it was grown from seed this year. This is planted by my front walk and is in an area that I cleared out and replanted recently and it shares the space with a number of other plants grown from seed. Growing plants from seed is a topic that I think is worthy of some attention.

Growing plants from seeds provide some important benefits, particularly to the plant community at large but also to gardeners. My reworked bed actually has mostly plants that were started from seed even though I didn’t plan it that way (and none of them were started by me either!).  A number of local native plant growers use seeds for their plants and for a variety of reasons:

  1. Seed grown plants allow us to keep and promote genetic diversity of plant material. Just like our own human siblings, plants from seed have differences even though they came from the same parents. Plants propagated from cuttings and tissue culture (often the method of propagation for named cultivars) pass along identical genes every time. 

    Genetic diversity is what gives us robust genes to keep plants thriving; weak ones will die out and strong ones will survive.

  2. Seed grown plants allow us to preserve local heritage. Small growers and gardeners might gather seeds from local populations, maybe even populations that are shrinking due to development, and create plants to carry on those genes.  Think about much you enjoy having some of Grandma’s old black-eyed Susans. In a similar way, we can have a bit of local flora heritage spread among our gardens. 

  3. I am especially proud of the work that the nearby Chattahoochee Nature Center—often in partnership with the GeorgiaPlant Conservation Alliance (GPCA)—is doing to acquire seeds from Georgia populations, grow them, and make plants available to the general public through their sales. Rare plants that they grow go back into conservation sites, so support of CNC plant sales helps conservation in the state.

  4. Speaking of Grandma’s plants, growing from seed is a great way to share special things with friends. They are easy to mail! Back to my blooming sundrops, these are particularly special. The seeds were gathered from one friend’s garden, grown by my very talented friend Sheri (that girl has magic in her fingers), and are now growing in my garden. How doubly-special is that? I have several other seed-grown plants from Sheri in that garden plus plants grown from seed at several small nurseries (Night Song and Plant Life Nursery), other friends, as well as some of my own seedlings. The place is packed!
Details of some plants below

So the next time you have a chance to get some seed grown plants, I encourage you to consider yourself lucky. Not everyone takes the time to do it, but the rewards can be great.

American bellflower
Campanulastrum americanum
Swamp milkweed (Asclepias perennis)
Grown from seed by Sheri

Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
A seedling from my friend Richard
Scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea)
in adorable red wheelbarrow from Sheri

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Small Nursery Feature – Night Song Native Plant Nursery

I like to occasionally profile small nurseries that sell native plants. This week is a relatively new one—it was started in 2014—and it has been steadily increasing its selection of plants. Night Song Native Plant Nursery is located in Canton, GA in a fairly rural area with lots of room to grow.

Katy Ross started the nursery after returning to Georgia from Arizona where she was inspired by their native plant ordinances. She previously worked for other nurseries, and always planned to have her own one day. A love of being outdoors and a childhood of listening to the night songs of cicadas, tree frogs, owls, and other creatures were her inspirations. Reading Doug Tallamy’s book solidified that it would be a native plant nursery. Habitat is more than what we see when we look at plants for beauty alone; without native plants, we might not have the critters that make magical night songs.

Night Song is actually my closest native nursery and I have enjoyed visiting it in Canton since the beginning. It has really grown a lot as they added more types of plants and more growing space. I like that it is both a production and a retail nursery. In browsing what is for sale, you walk past what is sprouting from seed.  Under a large canopy, you might see people potting up plants to the next size.

Two of the sun and shade hoop houses
Pots with natives help display them

I also enjoy stopping by the large pollinator garden next to the growing area. A collection of sun-loving plants bloom there throughout the seasons, showing customers what to expect of these plants and giving ideas on how to combine them. Butterflies, bees, and other pollinators are there in abundance. Katy feels that pollinator plants are their specialty. She enjoys growing plants from seed—some of it as local as her own garden—and using organic practices to stock unique and healthy plants for North Georgia gardens. They carry species plants and some cultivars, helping both gardeners and folks involved in restoration find the plants they seek. This year, one of the things I got was some seed-grown sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale) for the front bed that I updated at my house.

One view of the pollinator garden 

Seasonal stars pop up in the pollinator garden

Today the nursery carries a variety of perennials, ferns, shrubs, trees, and vines. They enjoy stocking native edible plants and might be one of the few places you can find mulberry (Morus rubra), black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa), and paw paw (Asimina triloba). Last year I teamed up with Katy on a talk about native edibles and the plants she brought to sell flew out the door.

In addition to selling plants, Katy and the nursery staff help to provide educational opportunities. Katy gives local talks, they’ve implemented seasonal programs like Bee Happy Hour (one is coming up next week), nature camp, plus spring and fall festivals to get people closer to nature. One year they had a paw paw festival and served tastings (they have a natural paw paw grove on the property). Get on their mailing list and follow them on Facebook to keep up with what’s going on at the nursery.

For other nursery profiles or to find specific topics on this blog, use the small search box in the upper left corner of the desktop version of the blog page.