Sunday, May 22, 2022

A Sneaky New Weed


A new weed from South America is showing up in southern lawns and, unfortunately, I am the first person that I know of that has it! I first read about this on a Facebook post by the Alabama Extension Invasive Plant Page on May 12. On May 15, I found it in my lawn. The name of it is skyseed (Chevreulia acuminata). It was first found in the US in 2012 in Alabama but not identified until 2019.

Flower of Chevreulia acuminata

This is a very short, small plant that spreads on thin, wiry stems. In last week’s blog, I talked about leaving turfgrass long enough to shade out weeds and keep the soil cool. Unfortunately, that approach doesn’t stop creeping, perennial plants like this from spreading. The thin, white flowering stems can produce flowers when only a few inches tall, allowing it to hide in the grass.

The flower on this plant appears on a white stem and looks like a seedhead from the moment it opens. Once the flower goes to seed (seemingly in just a few hours!), the seeds are easily detached, making this a tricky one to remove. I know I didn’t get them all.

Creeping stems and emerging flower

Flowers and seedheads look like dandelions

I opted for manual removal, but I’m sure that some stems probably didn’t pull up completely. Over the course of this week, I discovered and pulled new ones every day from an area that is about 3x3 feet. How did it get here? This area of lawn is not near the street; rather it is a small semi-circle of grass near the front door.

Be on the lookout for this sneaky new weed. The puffy flowers/seedheads will probably be the first you see of it. On Facebook, another person reported finding it in Coweta County, a fair distance from my lawn in Cherokee County. She had a good idea for gathering it up: she used her portable vacuum cleaner to get the seedheads!

Typical plant size
With penny for scale

Note: the fluffy seedheads look similar to the annual trampweed (Facelis retusa) but that is a different weedy, non-native plant.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Why No Mow May is not the Answer


It’s not the answer for Georgia, that is. What was the question? According to a history of the movement, not mowing your lawn in May is a way to benefit early pollinators by preserving early flowers that might be in the spring lawn. The movement started first in the UK (where flowers in lawn are not uncommon) and was adopted in 2020 by residents of Appleton, WI.

Dwarf cinquefoil (Potentilla canadensis) can be in a lawn
(although not in a lawn in this photo)

While the phrase is very cute and memorable, it is a better consideration for APRIL in Georgia landscapes. By May, most of the early lawn flowers (dandelions, violets, bluets) are done and turfgrass is growing quickly. We would be hard-pressed to convince most neighbors to stop mowing during such active growth. And if you were doing it for the dandelions, please read this to understand why non-native dandelions are not the benefit you might think.

I’d much rather convince people to consider the following (with suggested catchy phrases if you need them):

  • Cultivate less lawn overall (“Less Lawn Daily”) and use the reclaimed spaces for flowering plants that bloom in early spring ("Plant for Pollinators") such as green and gold (Chrysogonum virginianum).
  • Mow less frequently throughout the year (“Mow Monthly”) and reduce chemical use (and save money!).

I have found that with the rise of mow and blow services, lawns are mowed more frequently than they need to be (and I see lawns mowed when they are wet or don’t even need it – consequences of scheduled mowing services unfortunately). Contracts with lawn services mean that these companies mow on their schedule, charging people to mow 1-2 times per week when often a 3-week schedule would work, especially during dry times.  Irrigation and weed/feed treatments also keep lawns growing faster than they need to (more mowing!).

My lawn after 18 years

Don’t let companies that profit from your decisions convince you to apply more chemicals and mow more often than your lawn needs. My lawn was laid from sod in 2004 and almost twenty years later (without fertilizer or irrigation) looks quite good. I leave some extra plants (violets, fleabane, dwarf cinquefoil, and even a few ferns have moved into the more shaded areas) and I hand weed the occasional non-native weeds.

I kept track of my mowing schedule last year for my zoysia lawn. Letting the grass grow a little longer (e.g., 3 inches instead of 2) helps to keep the soil cool, more moist, and suppress weed seeds from germinating. I mowed every 3 or 4 weeks depending on conditions and need. And this year, we switched from gas to a battery mower, another change to consider.

Rethink your lawn not just in May but in every month.  

Sunday, May 8, 2022

The Rise of the Ragworts


The common plant name ‘ragwort’ is probably way too similar to the word ragweed for comfort, but the ragworts are completely different plants – and quite worthy of the garden. The word ‘wort’ is an old English term for plant and ‘rag’ refers to the ragged edges of the leaves, thereby denoting that this is a plant with ragged edges.

Packera anonyma

The species in Georgia were previously in the genus Senecio but are now considered to be Packera.  Several of them have the common name golden ragwort or golden groundsel. The name ragwort was first applied to Senecio jacobaea (now Jacobaea vulgaris), a similar-looking plant native to Eurasia. It is not unusual for our native plants to pick up common names from Old World plants because that is what early explorers knew.

The seven species in Georgia are mostly perennial. The species known as butterweed (Packera glabella) is an early-blooming annual/biennial of moist floodplains where it can create dense populations in early spring. However it is not limited to wild areas; it has found my front lawn (which is moist) and spread happily there too. I leave it for the small bees and early flower flies and then try to deadhead as much as I can. Its thick but hollow stems make great spyglasses for toddlers too!

Packera glabella
Packera tomentosa

Another early blooming species is woolly ragwort (Packera tomentosa). I first saw this one in the granite outcrop communities on Arabia Mountain. The pale, woolly leaves are thick and distinctive.

Packera aurea at my house

A mid-spring species is golden ragwort (Packera aurea). I have it in abundance now but originally started with only 3 plants from a friend. It is evergreen and blooms in shade; it is also deer resistant so I have happily moved it to shady spots and given it away to friends and plant sales. Every spring it makes beautiful sweeps of yellow flowers in April.

Packera anonyma on a roadside this week

The late spring species gracing roadsides now is Small’s ragwort (Packera anonyma). I love the way it seems to come out of nowhere, spreading sunshine in large sweeps of color. It grows happily in drier conditions than the equally prolific butterweed. Bloom time and location are two key ways to distinguish the two without leaving your car.

I have not encountered the other 3 species in Georgia, but the one called roundleaf groundsel (Packera obovata) has similar foliage to P. aurea but is more sun tolerant. The final two species are limited in range in Georgia; the first one is Blue Ridge ragwort (Packera millefolium). It has highly dissected foliage and is found only in Rabun County on high elevation rock outcrops. The second is balsam ragwort (Packera paupercula); it is found in moist prairies in Floyd County and has foliage similar to P. anonyma. My friends Richard and Teresa Ware of Floyd County also have photos of P. crawfordii, a species of bog areas, that might be in NW Georgia.

I hope you’ll learn to appreciate ragwort and perhaps even introduce a species or two to your garden. It’s hard to beat for dependable spring blooms.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Two-flower Melicgrass


Things sometimes just appear in your garden. Did they come in on the wind? Perhaps they hitchhiked in via another plant? Two-flower melicgrass (Melica mutica) showed up several years ago. A tall, open grass, it was attractive and I let it be. I didn’t know the name of it at the time.

Each spikelet may contain 2 fertile florets

This year I noticed that it was in a few more of the beds, still light and airy. Through a friend I got it identified (yes, I reach out to people who I know are more knowledgeable just like many of my friends ask me for help). I have a number of other unknown grasses that pop up, some of them clearly annuals, others return each year. After I retire, I plan to research some of the others.

This two-flower melicgrass was just too interesting to wait any longer for an id.

Flower spikes are long

The leaves are quite plain and unremarkable

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Invasive Autumn Fern


Many of us have come to gardening already knowing the big invasive plants in Georgia: kudzu, privet (Ligustrum), mimosa (Albizia julibrissin), tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima), English ivy (Hedera helix), chinaberry (Melia azedarach), and more. Some plants, however, are joining that list (or moving up in priority) even as gardeners plant them. Autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora) is one of those plants that people need to know about. Unfortunately, it doesn’t even seem to have made the list but it is listed in a publication called New Invaders of the Southeast (p.24).

Autumn fern in creek

A couple years ago I had a young autumn fern show up in my yard. It was right in the front shade bed, mixed among the native ferns. Autumn fern is easily recognizable in spring when new growth is bronze colored.  I removed and trashed that plant. 

This year, I noticed in my creek several evergreen ferns that appeared to be a type of wood fern (Dryopteris).  There were two large ones on the side of the creek wall and one small one on a rock in the middle. When new growth showed up, it was clear they were Dryopteris erythrosora.

Where are these coming from? Several folks have reported that the spread of this fern is facilitated by waterways. Spores and young plants get washed downstream, especially during heavy rains when creek banks are scoured by rushing water. Downstream they will get lodged into new areas and the infestation spreads.

While there is very little information out there on invasive spread, a paper published in 2018 specifically addresses the spread in Georgia. The paper is by Tom Diggs (professor at University of North Georgia) and H. Umstead (student). This paper was shared with me by Tom after an online discussion of this plant in 2021 after I found it in DeKalb. The paper discusses a population in Alpharetta, GA (not terribly far from me) but also documents some of the reported locations in Georgia and the southeast.

Autumn fern fronds

I have since removed those ferns from my creek and securely trashed them. I’m not sure where they originated since my immediate upstream neighbor doesn’t have them. I’ll be monitoring my creek more closely and I’ll be checking my neighbor’s section as well. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to monitoring downstream, but you can be sure that I’ll do everything I can to stop the spread in my area. If you find it in the wild, be sure to report it.

Please do not buy this fern, remove it if you have it (especially if near waterways), do not donate it to local plant sales. We’ve seen so many plants become invasive (ornamental pear, anyone?), if we could learn to stop things when they first start to show tendencies, we could make a difference.

Fronds are hairy and red
Sori on Autumn fern

Sunday, April 17, 2022

In Search of Edna's Trillium


Edna's trillium (Trillium persistens)

This past week I had a chance to participant in a rare plant survey. Georgia DNR personnel in the Nongame Conservation Section do periodic plant surveys to measure how well rare plants are doing in known locations. This year’s survey was a follow up to one done in 2021. The plant being surveyed is a small trillium known as Edna’s trillium (Trillium persistens). The common name honors Edna Garst who suspected it was unique in early 1970 after finding it near Lake Yonah, a reservoir that sits between Georgia and South Carolina. The species name persistens was chosen because the plants often stay present after other trillium species have gone dormant.

The survey was led by DNR staff. We learned that this trillium species prefers pine-hemlock forests and is potentially affected by the decline of hemlocks (Tsuga sp.) because of the woolly adelgid pest. The terrain was extremely steep, and the area had plenty of downed trees and limbs; we passed at least one hemlock with an active woolly adelgid infestation. The area was also very thick with Rhododendron, both maximum and minus species. There were times when I felt like this is what early explorers must have traversed, nicknaming such places as ‘laurel hell’ (Rhododendron maximum is called ‘great laurel’).

Flowers turn to pink as they age (Trillium persistens)

While it was a challenging trek to count these plants, it was a thrill to be there and to find these little plants tucked here and there. It was fun to discover what else lived among the trilliums and the rhododendrons. Three plants were in particular abundance: variable leaf ginger (Hexastylis heterophylla); sweet white violet (Viola blanda); and fuchsia-colored gaywings (Polygaloides paucifolia). Some populations of gaywings were so numerous that we could see them from a distance. Robust clumps of ginger had ornate flowers to discover if one would only brush away the leaf litter to see them (and I did!).

Variable leaf ginger (Hexastylis heterophylla)

A more mottled leaf and flowers
Close up of flower (H. heterophylla)

Other plants we saw included beetlewand (Galax urceolata); the flowers were just emerging but it was the foliage that was so handsome: both green and burgundy leaves were present. Ferns were abundant, especially in the damp areas where cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) fronds were starting to rise above their thick rhizomes. In the drier areas and on slopes, Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) was the dominant one. Interesting trees included witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), silverbell (Halesia), sweet birch (Betula lenta), and Fraser’s magnolia (Magnolia fraseri). Highland doghobble (Leucothoe fontanesiana) tried to hobble us where it grew thickly near the streams.

Gaywings (Polygaloides paucifolia)
Galax urceolata

Plant surveys are important work. Volunteers like me provide just a small amount of help; it is the staff at GA DNR that are pulling these together and doing most of the work. There were 7 of us on this all day trek; 5 of those folks were GA DNR botanists and ecologists. I encourage you to support their work by advocating for them and even by donating to the Nongame Conservation Section.

Sweet while violet (Viola blanda)

Highland doghobble (Leucothoe fontanesiana)

Sunday, April 10, 2022

April 2022 Moment in Nature

Box turtles seem uncommon in my area. I feel lucky to see one or two a year in my garden. This year's view was especially early as it appears this guy was just starting to emerge from his winter hibernation in a thick covering of leaves. Box turtles can live to be 50-100 years old! Hopefully I'll see this guy for years to come.

Get out there and find #amomentinnature. So much is just waiting to be noticed and appreciated.