Sunday, December 5, 2010

You Don't Want This

We discover plants in many different ways: we might see an interesting one in a public garden, learn about it from a friend that grows it, read about it in magazine article, or just discover it growing somewhere.  Most of the time, the plant we discover is a great plant: attractive, robust, easy to grow, tolerant of adverse conditions or whatever attracted us to it.  Sometimes, however, you need to know that you don’t really want that plant.

A friend of mine that helps lead plant rescues for the native plant society occasionally comes across a plant growing wild that someone asks her to identify.  Marcia will look thoughtfully at it for a moment and then give the name if she remembers it.  Sometimes she does not remember, but she’ll give you her opinion of it anyway … and sometimes that opinion is “I don’t remember what it is but you don’t want it.”  She may even give it a made up name: “Weedy peskyosus”.  So I’d like to use this post to tell you about some plants that you don’t want so that when you come across them, hopefully you’ll remember to say “nevermind”.

Photo by:
Kerry Britton, USDA Forest Service,
The picture here is of Kudzu which certainly everyone in the South is familiar with now (and some folks up North are learning about it too!).  People have no trouble despising this as an “invasive” plant.  The plants which follow are only despised by those familiar with their abilities to spread into natural areas and roadsides.  These plants don’t spread as fast as Kudzu because they rely on birds, wind or water to spread their seeds.  They definitely spread, however, and the more they spread, the more seeds are available for them to spread even faster.

Nandina domestica is native to China and Japan and often known as "Heavenly Bamboo".  Bright clusters of berries and evergreen foliage help them get noticed.  Seriously invasive in warmer areas like south Georgia and Florida.  If you like bright red berries in the winter, consider the native Ilex verticillata instead.  The common name for this attractive native plant is “Winterberry”.

Mahonia bealei is native to China and, while it looks like a holly, is a member of the Barberry family.  For year this has been a “passalong plant” from someone that has it in their yard because seedlings come up on a regular basis.  Noticed by many for it’s evergreen foliage and blue berries, it is spread by birds to other areas nearby.  There is a species that is native to the Pacific Northwest; it is known as “Oregon grape”.  Do your part to control this plant by not accepting this “gift”.

Mimosa or Albizia julibrissin is the “pink powderpuff” tree so admired from roadsides throughout the southeastern US.  I will confess that when I first moved to Georgia in 1988, I was anxious to have one.  I convinced my husband to dig up one from the side of the road and plant it in our yard!  Oh, the shame of remembering that now! At some point we decided we didn’t want it and killed it (although the root sprouts plagued us for several years). Flowers are the only thing nice about this tree: it is late to leaf out, has no fall color and, of course, it outcompetes native plants in the areas that it invades.  Like the ferny look of the foliage?  Look into some of the native trees in the pea family: Locust, Yellowwood, Kentucky coffeetree, and Senna.

Ornamental pears – often known just generically as ‘Bradford’, Pyrus calleryana is spreading into roadsides of suburban areas thanks to the miracle of “cross pollination”.  These ornamental trees were bred to be sterile, but the introduction of other cultivars like ‘Cleveland Select’ and ‘Aristocrat’ have allowed even the older trees to produce viable fruit now.  In some cases the fruit is so large and prolific that people don’t even realize what these plants are (often also reverting to their natural thorny form) in the wild.  There are so many planted in suburban landscapes now that the production of fruit is becoming a real problem because wildlife (birds, squirrels, possums) is spreading it.  If you like a white flowered spring blooming tree, consider selecting a Serviceberry (Amelanchier) or Hawthorn (Crataegus).  We certainly don’t need any more pears!  I love this article by Jan Haldeman entitled Who Let the Pears Out?

Burning bush (Euonymus alatus) has long been popular in gardens north of Georgia and natural areas there are now full of this pest.  This shrub is gaining popularity in Georgia now – I see a lot of it in landscaped places like business parks and subdivision entrances.  I’m also seeing it pop up in nearby un-landscaped areas, thanks to the birds.  If you want bright fall foliage, look into native blueberries.  As a bonus, you get fruit in the summer as well!  Here is a blueberry is my yard.
Vaccinium sp., Blueberry
So back to the beginning – how we find plants.  I’d like to encourage you to research your plants so that you understand what you are planting.  You can do this in at least two ways. 

  • One way is to learn about a plant from a garden, a friend, an article and then research whether that plant is appropriate for you.  Use the scientific name if possible to make sure you get accurate data. 

  • The second way is to identify a “plant need” and then find a good candidate for that spot.  Perhaps you need a plant for a shady place, or a wet place or a plant to screen out your neighbor’s fence.

Researching plants helps you make the right choices by understanding the plant you’re getting (including any potential problems with it) and by ensuring that you are picking a plant that is suitable for the need (so that you get one that will thrive, not dive!).

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