Sunday, June 28, 2015

Water Tumbles Down the Fall Line

On a very late spring day, I visited High Falls State Park in Jackson, GA, Monroe County. The highlight for most folks is the showy falls that are part of the geological change known as the Fall Line and which were enhanced by a dam developed for power generation in 1890. My goal, of course, was to see what native plants could be found in this park around the Towaliga River.

The falls, enhanced by man here.
Prior to the dam being built, the power of the river and a natural 135-foot waterfall were used by local folks to power a grist mill and other industries. Only a few remnants of the grist mill remain; it was mostly torn down after it closed in 1960.

The old powerhouse, completed in 1905 by the Georgia Hydro-Electric Company, resides there in shambles, decorated with graffiti and invasive plants. It was last operated by Georgia Power Company and closed in 1958.

Parts of the old powerhouse
Although it is billed as the largest waterfall in middle Georgia, the waterfall is not the traditional steep drop you might expect.  The dam is 35 feet high and the rest of the falls drops 100 feet in a long slide with large outcrops of rock that create a frothy path. There is a trail alongside the falls area that is south of the bridge. Known as the Falls Trail, it has wooden boardwalk sections with steps that are interspersed with rocky trail.

The natural part of the falls
Although there are native plants along the way, I realize that probably all of this area has been disturbed by man these last 200-300 years due to its value being adjacent to a strong-flowing river. Poison ivy was everywhere (and I’m sure it went home with a lot of kids), including one super healthy stand growing up the old bridge; it was loaded with fruit (which birds love).

On the Falls Trail there was a beautiful blooming yucca (Yucca filamentosa) and a sparkleberry (Vaccinium arboreum) that was covered in tiny white bell blossoms. Across the river was an elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) with large clusters of white flowers. A tall old tree stump was covered in a trio of vines: trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans), morning glory (Ipomoea), and crossvine (Bignonia capreolata). In the middle of the river, 3 crows were arguing with a vulture over something to eat on an outcrop while a great blue heron fished for his lunch.

Vaccinium arboreum
Yucca filamentosa

Justicia americana

Closer to the dam, the flatter area of shoals hosted a number of water loving plants. Elderberry mixed with swamp dogwood (Cornus amomum) while American water-willow (Justicia americana) grew lushly at the water’s edge. 

Unfortunately, non-native elephant-ears were also thickly growing throughout the area. They are probably choking out some native aquatic plants with their dense growth. Occasional floods, like the one in 1994 that knocked out half of an old steel bridge, probably clear out this growth and send the invasive plants further downstream.

Spigelia marilandica

The old powerhouse is further downstream and the woods around it are regenerating as the years go by. I saw ginger (Hexastylis arifolia) and ferns and several stands of vibrant Indian pink (Spigelia marilandica).

Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) and lookalike tick-trefoil (Desmodium) twined around it, helping visitors to keep their distance. Inside the fence around the old structure, invasive trees like mimosa and tree of heaven fought for space alongside sycamore (Platanus occidentalis). It looks like crews come in occasionally and cut them down.

State Parks are a valuable resource to Georgia citizens and this 1,050-acre one offers many features to help people enjoy and learn more about the great outdoors. Be sure to notice the plants while you are there and learn more about them. The office is staffed with helpful rangers and lots of resources (I noticed they keep a copy of The Natural Communities of Georgia close at hand).

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Natives Abroad

Last week I returned from a trip to France, having been separated for 2 weeks from my beloved Georgia native plants. Or was I? I knew that early botanists to North America took some of our plants back to Europe, so I had a suspicion that I might see a few of my friends there. I was right!

Sign for Magnolia at Jardin du Luxembourg
The first one I spotted was Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) and that one was the most frequently used Southern plant that I saw throughout France.

As we traipsed about Paris in our touristy journeys, I kept my eyes peeled for other signs of North American natives. London planetree, a sycamore hybrid between the Chinese and the US native species (Platanus  orientalis and P. occidentalis) is used throughout France as a street tree. In urban areas, it is often pruned (or even worse, pollarded) to fit the space. I also spied the occasional Catalpa and locust trees but was not able to confirm that the species used was a North American native.

Wow, planted in 1602!

One black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), however, was conveniently labeled as to species and date of planting. The tree was ailing, but they were trying to prop it up and it was suckering like mad.

The black locust suckering to survive

At several public gardens and the Quai de Branly museum garden, I found our beautiful oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia). It is no surprise to see people appreciating that beautiful southeastern native shrub by using it as an ornamental shrub .

Trumpet creeper in Frejus, France
We traveled down south to the French Riviera where the Bougainvillea vine reigned supreme in masses of hot pink. But in several places the bright orange and red flowers of trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans) took the stage and it was a beautiful spectacle. French gardens are often heavily manicured and well-maintained so there was no sign of it being out of control.

 Occasionally I did find tendrils of escaped Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) on the edges of gardens. I’m sure they love it for the fall color like we do.

I was hoping to find more perennials in use, but Heuchera and Tiarella were all that I saw in Paris. The Heuchera was being used as part of a large vertical wall at the Branly museum and as an annual at the Luxembourg garden. In the south of France, I found Gaura being used in a seaside planting with agaves.

Heuchera was a big component of a vertical wall at Branley

Heuchera in border at Jardin du Luxembourg
Gaura was a standout plant in this seaside garden

In a wildflower field in the Burgundy region (Bourgogne), I saw Coreopsis and California poppy mixed in a classic combination with European daisies, cornflowers and red poppies. What a beautiful arrangement!

Beautiful meadow near Beaune, France

Driving around on an open-top tour bus in Paris afforded me even more territory to view and I spotted tuliptree (Liriodendron) and sweetgum (Liquidambar), although both of those also have Chinese cousins so I could not be sure.

Finally, I saw Yucca planted at the hotel near the airport and while I am not certain it was the North American species, it sure looked like it! It was certainly fun to see some of my friends in France.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Botanical Garden - Georgia Perimeter College

While I love to visit plants in the wild, doing that is not always possible - some plants are rare or have habitats that are far from me. Botanical gardens can substitute for that desire to some degree. These gardens create ideal conditions for many plants – sunny, shady, dry and wet – so that the plants there thrive. Beautiful blooms, fruit/seed formation and robust growth all contribute to a spectacular presentation of plants.

The Native Plant Botanical Garden at Georgia Perimeter College (GPC) is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and is certainly worth a visit to see what’s in bloom in different seasons as well as to take advantage of their walks, talks and plant sales.

I first visited the GPC garden over 12 years ago when I was just learning about native plants. They had a large sunny area, a large woodland setting and were just starting a bog area. They were also propagating and selling a variety of native plants on designated days. The garden was tended by volunteers, and many of them were people who were also involved in the native plant society.

Wild yellow indigo (Baptisia sphaerocarpa)

The woodland area is lush and beautiful
Over the years, the garden has grown and added some new features like a xeric area. Most recently, they completely reworked the main sun beds, changing them from huge rectangles to a curving labyrinth-like path that allows for better access to the individual plants from two sides.

Sunny area lets you get close to plants

Plants are clearly marked with common and Latin names
They’ve also added more walks and talks as well as increased the diversity of plants that they sell. When I was there recently, the number of volunteers tending the gardens was more than ever. Plants were well-labeled, adding to the pleasure of viewing them. I found myself wondering why I hadn’t visited earlier. I picked up a few new plants as well.

Plants are for sale on certain days
Investigate local botanical gardens near you to see what treasures you can find and consider volunteering to help as well. These gardens are beautiful to visit and a great place to learn. For GPC, visit their website to see their schedule for walks, talks and plant sales.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Supporting Small Native Plant Nurseries

As many of you know, finding native plants for our gardens and our restoration efforts is not always easy. There is some nursery production for some of the more popular plants such as ornamental shrubs and perennials and, in some cases, even ornamental cultivars are available for those plants. When it comes to obtaining a diverse selection of perennials, shrubs and trees (as nature intended), the search is a bit harder. I’m here to bring attention to the hard-working small nurseries that fill those niches for us.

I recently had a chance to spend some time with the owners of Nearly Native Nursery in Fayetteville, GA while we worked on potting up some of this year’s new seedlings. Leaving more traditional careers behind, Jim and Debi Rodgers started their business in Senoia almost 19 years ago. They recognized the critical need for native species to be utilized in plantings and to educate the general public of the true intrinsic values the native species of plants provide us all.

The nursery moved to a bigger location in Fayetteville in 2006 and now carries almost 900 different species of plants, from the very familiar to the very unusual. The bigger location has also allowed them to craft extensive plantings, from very shady and moist environments to very sunny and dry, allowing customers to see many plants growing in the ground. Blooms were everywhere when I was there and we observed numerous butterflies, bees and hummingbirds feasting on the flowers.

The garden area allows for strolling
Jim said that most of his business is via mail order and they have many repeat customers. In addition to gardeners, a lot of their business is from botanical gardens in search of specific plants. We potted up 3 different species of Amsonia that day and one unusual species of Antennaria. While they do carry some of the familiar perennials like foamflower (Tiarella) and coral bells (Heuchera), the depth of their selection sets them apart from most nurseries. One customer walked away with the spicebush (Lindera benzoin) that she came for plus two unusual forms of turk’s cap lily (Lilium superbum). Note: Jim believes a more appropriate name for this lily is "superb lily" because it dwarfs all other natives with its grandeur.

Plants are healthy and beautiful
Jim’s selections for what they grow are based on both popularity and what he comes across. He is interested in preserving native plant diversity. He is not in the business to just churn out plants for a buck (not that they don’t appreciate and need a profit, of course). He gets excited about exceptional plants as well as preserving those that need a helping hand. He has a special passion for our native oaks (Quercus) and showed me a number of of species growing throughout.

Viburnum nudum

In addition to a great selection, small nurseries also provide excellent service. Jim and Debi spent time with each customer, making recommendations and selections based on the person’s individual needs. Every customer went home with several great plants and a story for each of them.

Small nurseries like Nearly Native Nursery provide a valuable niche for native plants. They grow local and diverse selections way beyond what non-specialized nurseries would do. They also are able to control the growing conditions and many choose to grow plants with zero to minimal pesticides. The plants that I worked with were vigorous seedlings with extensive roots. They will one day leave the nursery as healthy contributions to a new garden.

Jim shows off some Michaux's lily seedlings

The nursery is a fun trip for anyone in the metro Atlanta area or within an hour’s distance of the south side of Atlanta. Visit their website to get an idea of what they have and give them a call if you’re looking for something specific. I always recommend calling any nursery first to make sure they have what you want (even if the website says otherwise).  A trip to the nursery would make a fine field trip for a garden club or group of master gardeners. I would recommend that you bring your camera too.

No matter where you are, support your local native plant nurseries. They are all in the business for one reason – they love native plants. Let’s help them keep up that love affair.