Sunday, April 11, 2021

Orange Slime on the Muscadine

 

This has been a better than usual year for spotting bright orange slime on native muscadine (Vitis rotundifolia) vines. Almost every large vine on our property has it compared to just one that had it a couple years ago. This is Fusicolla merismoides, a fungus or, more often, a complex of fungi and yeast that colonize the sap that leaks from a tree wound.

It doesn’t hurt the vine (or tree if it is on some other woody plant) and usually is just a springtime occurrence as sap is rising and leaking from wounds on woody plants. Obviously the bigger the wound or amount of sap, the more orange you might see.

So if you see an orange smear, take a moment to appreciate what’s happening and then go happily on your way. I visited all of ours this year with grandson in tow and we admired them and remarked on the small bugs enjoying the slime.


The slime on the upper right is fading while the left is gooey


Sunday, April 4, 2021

Go Forth and Multiply

 

Packera aurea
Valeriana pauciflora












Multiply the supply of native plants in gardens, that is. As I’m prowling through my garden this time of year, admiring flowers and pulling early weeds, I always find extra plants to pot up. In years past, I’d pot them up to donate to plant sales. I’m not participating in a local sale this year so they’re going to friends and neighbors. The two plants shown above were given to me by friends as extras from their gardens.

As I wrote in January, my son’s family has a new yard. They’re getting beardtongue (Penstemon sp.) for the mailbox. It’s a tough as nails perennial that is fairly deer resistant (they have deer). I have two species to share with them: Penstemon digitalis and Penstemon tenuis. As the season progresses, I’m sure there will be more for them – we’ve been removing nandina shrubs at their house to create a new area for pollinator plants.

Even Max potted up some small trees
Penstemon ready to go











Several friends who are building their native plant collections are getting an assortment of extra perennials and shrubs. I love how I can get extra room for my garden while still making other people happy!

I’m also creating a grouping of native perennials along the property line with my neighbor. This has to be composed of deer resistant plants. So far I’ve planted beardtongue (Penstemon), mountain mint (Pycnanthemum), sedges (Carex), perennial rye (Elymus), and bushy St. John’s wort (Hypericum densiflorum). Helping to hold the sloping ground around it is the native dwarf cinquefoil (Potentilla canadensis). As the plantings grow, I reduce the cinquefoil.

If you’re a native plant gardener, take advantage of new spring growth to find plants to help other gardens grow. It’s as nice for you as it is for them. Pot them up with a lightweight mix of topsoil (house-brand from a big box store is good) mixed with shredded mulch (not dyed) or bagged soil conditioner. Sometimes I use a small amount of perlite in it. No need to buy expensive growing mix. Now you’re ready to go forth and multiply the amount of yards with native plants!

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Small Bits of Beauty

 

Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica)

Spring has sprung, but it is more of a journey than a destination, especially when it comes to native plants. We don’t suddenly wake up with a full-blown blooming yard in our native plant gardens; rather we discover it one species at a time. As the trout lilies (Erythronium) and bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) finish up their blooms, early trilliums (for example, Trillium cuneatum) are in now full swing and Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) are just getting started. 

The early shrubs (spicebush and early blueberry) are giving way to red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) and the later blueberries. My earliest viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium) is just days away from making a spectacle of itself. The serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis) next to it is enjoying its time to shine.

Phacelia bipinnatifida

Red buckeye (Aesculus pavia)












I share many pictures on my blog of plants in my garden; I imagine some people think it must be a showplace. It’s not. I work full-time and have activities that keep me from being fully attentive to maintaining a perfect landscape. We have deer and chipmunks and squirrels (maybe rabbits too) who nibble, rub, and uproot things at will. Perfection does not live here.

Instead of big sweeps of color, my garden delights me in small bits of beauty scattered throughout the property and throughout the seasons. A quiet walk finds them: returning blooms from favorites as well as plants blooming for the first time. This year found my first bloom on twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla) and Allegheny spurge (Pachysandra procumbens). I might find new plants: a new trillium sprouting (or was it moved by a critter?) and a new group of slender toothwort (Cardamine angustata) in the path (note to self to move that one later).  

Twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla)

Here are some of the special blooms for this week.  I learned this week that the female flower on the Allegheny spurge (Pachysandra procumbens) is located at the base of the panicle (see the arrow below). There is so much more to come, and I look forward to appreciating each one as the season progresses.  

Caulophyllum thalictroides
Pachysandra procumbens












By the way, I want to help promote another metro Atlanta area blog that you might like. The author’s journey to appreciating native plants and passion for spreading the message is much like my own: https://www.nurturenativenature.com/


American plum (Prunus americana) starts as Chickasaw plum finishes


Sunday, March 21, 2021

The Impermanence of Plants

Wild comfrey (Cynoglossum virginianum)

Plants don’t live forever; that’s probably not a shocker to anyone. Annual plants have the shortest lifespan, one growing season, but we know that when we plant them and set our expectations accordingly. Woody plants can have the longest life, and we hope for that when we plant them. 

But plants don’t always live as long as we want, and this is perhaps the mostly likely time of year when we realize that a plant that we had has vanished or is just dead in place. My wild comfrey, shown here in 2012, faded away within a year or two.

Each spring we discover what comes back from winter slumber, anxiously looking for that first bit of green as a leaf emerges on a woody twig or an herbaceous plant puts up that first stem or fiddlehead (in the case of a fern). Each green discovery is a joy and, to be honest, a reaffirmation of my talents as a gardener. Until I find the one that didn’t make it ….

A ladyslipper (2011); it bloomed for several years then faded out

Sometimes I might not have realized something was gone until I discovered the old plant tag sticking in the ground. I pull it out and save it for potential reuse but the pile of ‘dead tags’ builds up over time. Or I might not remember that I even had the plant until a friend says “Remember that plant we got at Cullowhee, how’s yours doing?” Then I realize that I’ve lost it at some point: a sad moment of realization.

Storms come and knock plants down – I lost a big pine tree last year; unfortunately it took several other small trees (like 10!) with it. It’s just part of natural change and opens up the area to more sun and gives different plants a chance to grow until the canopy fills in again.


I bid a final farewell this year to the azalea shown on the right: Rhododendron x 'Milleneum' was tortured by deer and then shaded out by a blueberry that was growing ever larger. The azalea was no more than a dead stick with a tag at this point. I am really happy with the blueberry (Vaccinium elliottii) that has taken over the space; it is much more productive for the bees than the azalea was.

So to garden is to experience change and that’s no different with native plants. Plants come and go either because of their life cycle or some other reason. The garden is different every year in some way; and I guess that keeps it interesting.


Sunday, March 14, 2021

A Moment in Nature for March

Following on the post I shared for February, #amomentinnature for March is my best patch of bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) showing off at just the right time for me to actually get a good picture of it!

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)


March is typically a very good month for spring ephemeral native wildflowers. In addition to the trout lily that I featured in February, I now have spring beauty (Claytonia virginica) blooming, sweet Betsy trillium (Trillium cuneatum), rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides) and false rue anemone (Enemion biternatum). 

There are plenty of good things yet to come so now is a good time to take a moment and appreciate the early ones. Don't have these early flowers in your yard? Take a hike! Here are several good ones in North Georgia; consider also visiting one of the locations of the Chattahoochee National Recreation Area (NRA). Find 17 maps for it here and pick a spot.

Cloudland Canyon State Park - my blog on a visit there
The Shirley Miller Wildflower Trail - my blog on a visit there


Sunday, March 7, 2021

Wasps (The Book)

 

Spiders, scorpions, wasps … these are some of the least welcome insects around our home. Of course, most of us realize that they have a job to do in our local ecosystem. Without spiders, we’d have far more insects than we realize, and some birds love to feed spiders to their babies (apparently they can be a good source of taurine, an essential nutrient). Scorpions eat a lot of insects too. Wasps, however, benefit their ecosystem in more than one way: not only do they eat extra insects (adult female wasps capture insects to feed their babies) but as adults they are also important pollinators.


A recently published book, Wasps: Their Biology, Diversity, and Roles as Beneficial Insects and Pollinators of Native Plants, gives abundant details on understanding these oft-misunderstood insects. Heather Holm has published several key books on bees and pollinators of native plants, both of which I’ve reviewed before. Her books are always detailed, attractive, and contain exceptional photographs and illustrations. Her website also includes free downloadable resources.

Who would use this book? According to her website, “This is an essential book for conservationists, naturalists, insect enthusiasts, biologists, nature photographers, native plant aficionados, and anyone interested in beneficial insects and pollinators.” I could not agree more. I was always fine with wasps being in the garden; I now have even more respect for them. The book has some fascinating details. I learned that the reason that females are larger than males is because the mother puts more food in their chambers (the mother knows very well whether the larva will develop into a female (fertilized egg) or a male (unfertilized) ).

As large as the book is, 416 pages, it doesn't even cover all the wasps in Eastern North America. These are the most common flower-visiting wasps: 68 genera and 150 species are covered. The author hopes that better knowledge of wasps will encourage citizen scientists (average folk like us!) to identify the more common species for appreciation and to help document them (you can log your findings on iNaturalist, for example).

A brief breakdown of the chapters is as follows:

Chapter 1: Overview of wasps, types of nests, and the concept of social vs. solitary (most are solitary), plus nest construction (making the materials using their mouth!).

Chapter 2: Life cycle of wasps, including the 5 stages of growth, how eggs are laid and nests are provisioned (While all the food is some type of insect, there are several different ways for the food to be provided; it is fascinating how different they can be!).


A queen bald-faced hornet
An old paper wasp nest












Photos above: My grandson and I rolled a log over this week and found a queen bald-faced hornet quietly over-wintering in a cavity. [We rolled it back.] Above right is a paper wasp nest from last season; it looks like two wasps never finished emerging.

Chapter 3: Wasp anatomy, including several very detailed photos and drawings to help explain. I was surprised to learn that wasps have two different kinds of eyes. Females use the length of their antenna to help make perfectly shaped cells every time.

Chapter 4: Diet, and here is where we learn how our native plants support them because flower nectar is the primary source of energy for adults. Their relatively short tongues dictate what they use but, like some bees, they will chew through the base of longer flower tubes to get nectar. In the spring, adults may use spring sap flows on trees until enough flowers are open. Some of the social nesting wasps may resort to cannibalism in times of scarce food.

Chapter 5: Ecosystem services are provided in two areas: 1) pest insect control (great table on p.64), and 2) plant pollination. Of course, both of these areas are rather species specific. Did you know that some wasps are specialists on spiders?

Chapters 6-17: Family profiles of the wasps included here, 12 in all. Each chapter is quite detailed with photos that help identify the species. On page 412 there is a section called "Wasp genera at a glance" which points back to these sections for further id.

Chapter 18: Planting guides, including the Southeast one on page 395. For guidance on which to use in your garden, look for the flower icon. Pages 386-7 provide specific wasp/plant tables for those who look to support a certain species.

I hope you consider buying this book; it certainly has given me a better appreciation for these vital insects. It is so well done, exceptionally detailed, and beautifully shipped. You can order it here; shipping is free.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Turf to Trees – Reclaiming Space for Nature

 


The concept of reworking America’s big lawn spaces to more nature-productive vegetation is not a new concept, but we certainly can use not just reminders but good resources to do it. A friend in Georgia has recently put together a new website to help provide those resources. I contributed some of my photos to help. The goal of the website is to convince people to do it and give them the help they need to implement changes.

The website TurftoTrees goes into detail about the importance of creating more diverse landscapes (lawn is a monoculture of a single plant, of course, the very opposite of diverse) by replacing lawn with native plants. The concept isn’t limited to using only trees, adding shrubs and perennials helps build a better plant community. Turf grass contributes very little to native insects and birds and when chemicals are used to maintain it, the net effect is even more negative when chemicals get into groundwater and damage soil organisms.

Sections on the website include “What” to provide ideas and links about what plants are right for your plant community; “How” for tips on making it happen (including how to remove turf); and “Management” for dealing with competing invasive plants in various ways.

After you’ve explored the resources, send any feedback on how to make this site more useful to the email found on the Community page. I hope it inspires you to reduce some of your lawn and add some productive native plants. Once you do that, you should see more of these in your own landscape:


From my confusing Dark Swallowtails post