Sunday, April 24, 2011

New Leaves

Some people “ooh” and “aah” over babies.  I feel that way about new leaves.  Miniature versions of the mature leaf are just so darn cute!  Some of them have bronze colored new growth that fades to green as they grow, and some are very shiny.  All of them are fresh and new and as yet unspoiled by any of the hazards yet to come.  Here is a collection of new leaf pictures from this spring in my yard and neighborhood.  You can enlarge any picture by clicking on it.

Some oaks: Shumard oak, Post oak, Swamp Chestnut oak, and White oak:

Quercus shumardii
Quercus stellata

Quercus michauxii

Quercus alba

Here is the 'Forest Pansy' cultivar of Eastern Redbud (it looks almost plastic!) and Southern Catalpa.

Cercis canadensis

Catalpa bignonioides

Some compound leaves: Bottlebrush buckeye looks like stars, Hickory leaves arch gracefully and Green Ash leaves remind me a bit of poison ivy!

Aesculus parviflora

Fraxinus pennsylvanica
Carya sp.

Two shiny ones that lose that shine at maturity and a favorite viburnum (I do really like leaves that have opposite arrangement like this viburnum!):

Diospyros virginiana

Oxydendrum arboreum
Viburnum acerifolium

And one of my favorite trees, Bigleaf Magnolia:

Magnolia macrophylla

Spring has been so beautiful! Next week's post will be about native Spring Perennials.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Spring Blues

Blue is my favorite color, and I am delighted to find blue wildflowers in Georgia whenever I can.  Blue is certainly not the most common color, but once you start looking around you'll find them.  After spotting this beautiful Iris verna in my yard this week, I decided to think of all the blue spring wildflowers that I have seen in North Georgia this spring.

Iris verna

If I go back in time, the first blue flower to bloom is Hepatica, often blooming in January in my yard.  The leaves are evergreen and, as long as they aren't covered by fallen leaves, they provide a welcome reminder that the woods are alive.  Fresh new leaves emerge after the blooms are gone, often with intricate patterns dappling the surface.

Hepatica nobilis var. obtusa
New leaves on Hepatica

Next to bloom are the Bluets - tiny blooms that often gather in enough quantities so that you can spot them.  We find several species of Houstonia in North Georgia, but Houstonia pusilla is an early spring bloomer. I sometimes see it peeking through blades of grass in lawns - what a cheerful addition!

Houstonia pusilla
The violets start blooming shortly after the Bluets.  Often scorned by gardeners, especially those that like weed-free lawns, the violets are a welcome sign of spring to me.  Several different species have found their way into my yard.  Two species that I have brought in on purpose are the Bird's Foot violet (Viola pedata), which grows naturally in poor soil, and the Longspur violet (Viola rostrata) which grows in a more wooded environment.

Viola pedata

Viola rostrata

Two of the more common violets, the ones most likely to be considered lawn weeds, have moved in on their own.  Common violet, Viola sororia, comes in not only a luscious deep purple color but also a delightful bicolor variation that some folks call "Confederate Violet".  I was able to photograph the two color variations in a field near my house where they grow naturally together.  This particular species is one that has cleistogamous flowers during the summer which increases the overall seed production of the plant.  Cleistogamous flowers are closed flowers that have no petals and are self-pollinating. This species also develops thick rhizomes which makes it harder to uproot as the plant gets older.
Viola sororia
Viola bicolor

Viola bicolor has dissected leaves, not unlike the Bird's Foot violet, but a very shallow root system so it is easily pulled out when unwanted.  Unwanted it may be but the flower is still quite lovely.

Next to bloom is the Woodland Phlox (Phlox divaricata) which can be softly fragrant as well as beautiful.  Nurseries are propagating cultivars of this plant these days - I have seen 'Chattahoochee' for sale at local native plant sales.  This is sometimes called Wild Sweet William.

Phlox divaricata
Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) are an old-fashioned favorite plant that provide a treat - not only are they blue but, as they age, the blooms turn pink!  The combination of the two colors is spectacular.  Gorgeous when seen en masse, but they have proved to be a difficult plant for me.  Thanks to donations from friends (thanks Murrel!), I am trying them this year in several locations to see if I can find the "right spot".

Mertensia virginica

And just when you thought I could not find any more blue flowers, I bring you Scorpion-weed!  Phacelia bipinnatifida is a bit of a wanderer and you may regret having it in your yard, but certainly not while it is blooming!  What a gorgeous clump of blue it makes.  I have seen this plant mixing beautifully with red Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) in North Georgia along mossy streambanks.  I don't know how this got its common name, but it is certainly a weed that I would share with my friends.

Phacelia bipinnatifida
There - who knew there could be so many?  I'm sure there are a few that I left out, so perhaps you can think of a few more Georgia native blue wildflowers yourself.  Remember, Vinca does not count - it is NOT native.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Ah-choo! The Necessity of Pollen

As yellow powder envelopes every outdoor surface, sneezes abound and allergy medicine supplies dwindle on store shelves.  With such a monumental dump of this stuff, people have got to wonder “What good is this stuff?  What is it used for ... and why is there so much of it?”

Pollen bearing flowers of Pinus virginiana

Pollen is essential to the fertilization of flowers.  If the pollen from the male parts of a flower cannot reach the female parts, seeds and fruit will not develop and the plant will not be able to reproduce, reducing food for wildlife and for us.

Types of pollination include biotic pollination (by animals) and abiotic pollination; the most common form of abiotic pollination is anemophily which is pollination by wind.  Wind-pollinated flowers produce lighter (in weight) pollen, and they produce it in great quantities to ensure that at least some pollen grains can reach the other flowers.  So you see, all of that pollen flying around is just part of the natural process!

Southern red oak, Quercus falcata

 Look at these Oak and Carex flowers and notice that they don't really have any petals - they are not needed to attract insects and in fact petals might hinder the flower's ability to capture some of the pollen flying around.  On the oak picture to the left, the flowers are the structures dangling down; the stuff growing above the flowers are the new leaves emerging.

Carex laxiculmis

Only a small percentage of plants (as a percentage of total species) are wind-pollinated (one estimate that I found is 10%).  However, the wind-pollinated plants make up a larger percentage of the total plants when you consider that many trees are included plus the important agricultural grasses like wheat, corn and rice.

It should come as no surprise to those who are sensitive to pollen that plants which are wind pollinated include trees like pines and oaks (spring) and grasses (summer).  According to Atlanta Allergy – which maintains a daily count online – the most prevalent pollens right now are pine, oak and mulberry.  Despite the fact that pine pollen is so very visible – you can see it blowing off the trees – it does not cause as many allergic reactions as oak pollen.

Post oak, Quercus stellata

I found it amusing that Atlanta Allergy’s website has a picture of Goldenrod (Solidago sp.).  Goldenrod is often blamed for fall pollen allergies. However, Goldenrod’s pollen is too heavy to be blown about on the wind; it is an insect-pollinated plant.  Ragweed (Ambrosia sp.) is the culprit, and it's plain, green-colored flowers are often overlooked by those looking for a plant to blame!

Goldenrod (Solidago sp)

Pollen counts are reported on local news, weather sites and allergy websites like the Atlanta one I mentioned earlier.  These counts are meant to give people some warning about what to expect outside – although I suspect true sufferers are already aware of high pollen conditions.  The definition of pollen count is: the number of pollen grains in a standard volume of air over a twenty-four hour period.  This past week the counts were 3301 on Monday, 2293 on Tuesday and then 685 on Wednesday after we got thunderstorms on Tuesday night.  By Friday, the count was back up to 1032.  Any count over 90 is considered "High", with counts over 1500 being "Extremely high".  This same week in 2010 saw counts in excess of 5000 for several days.

So be careful out there if you're sensitive.  And even if you're not, don't stand still too long or you'll be covered in a fine yellow powder too!

Buddy after being outside

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Native vs. Non-native Plants: Smackdown

Today, WWE’s WrestleMania comes to Atlanta, and I can’t help but think about the native vs. non-native plants “battle” that some of us consider every day.  Of course the problem is mostly that there are many people that don’t consider this every day – in fact they don’t even have the resources to do so.  What native plants need is a really good PROMOTER like some of the characters in WWE.

GA-EPPC Invasive Plant Monster

Unless you go to a special nursery (or at least something better than a “home improvement” store), plants are not usually labeled as “native”.  Some stores don’t even provide scientific names on their plant labels - personally, I think that should be a crime (or at the very least some kind of “no-no”). 

I was in Lowes the other day, and they have a big display of summer bulbs and dormant woody plants; one plant is simply labeled “Honeysuckle”.  The picture on the label shows pink flowers so I’m fairly certain that it is Lonicera x ‘Bella’ which is a hybrid of non-native (and invasive) shrub honeysuckles.  Lowes does a disservice to its customers in not only stocking this plant in Georgia but also in not giving people the information that they need to realize what they are purchasing.  In some areas of the Southeastern U.S., Georgia included, if you plant this shrub then it will eventually “smackdown” most native plants nearby.

I encourage everyone to research the plants that they want to buy.  Even research the plants you have already bought!  Perhaps you made an impulse buy and now you have the plant at home.  Get on the computer and look it up.  Figure out if it is native, if it’s not, if it’s invasive, if it will work in the conditions that you have available.  How many of you buy a shirt and then return it later because you reconsidered or it didn’t match what you have already?  If you research this plant and it is not right for you, take it back!  And if you’re bold enough, tell them the real reason you’re returning it:

- “I don’t have the right conditions after all.”
- “I looked it up and it gets bigger than I thought it would.”
- “I was looking for something native and I thought this was but now I know it’s not.”
- “I found out that it’s invasive and I don’t want to buy invasive plants.”

Perhaps you have something already planted in the yard and now your research tells you it is invasive or perhaps not necessarily invasive but you’d rather have something native.  How about if you sneak up on it like a WWE wrestler with a folding chair and take it out when it’s not looking?  Then you can have some fun researching a replacement!  I love being in the position of having to find something new - the research time makes the whole experience that much longer (and enjoyable).

Here are a few Georgia native alternatives for common non-native landscape plants:

-         White blooming ornamental pears like ‘Bradford’, ‘Cleveland Select’ and ‘Aristocrat’ can be replaced with other spring blooming trees like Serviceberry (Amelanchier ‘Autumn Brilliance’ or ‘Princess Diana’) and Hawthorn (Crataegus ‘Winter King’)

Serviceberry, Amelanchier sp.

-         Shrubs with red fall color like Burning Bush can be replaced with native Blueberries.  If you want fruit as well, be sure to plant at least two cultivars that have the same season and different names (like ‘Climax’ and ‘Premier’).  UGA has a great publication for home blueberry growing

Native blueberry, Vaccinium sp.

-         Stiff and soldier-like privacy hedges like Leyland Cypress can be replaced with a mixed screen of native evergreen trees like Wax Myrtle (Morella cerifera), Eastern Redcedar (Juniperus virginiana), American holly (Ilex opaca and Ilex x attenuata) cultivars, Magnolias (Magnolia), and Carolina Cherry Laurel (Prunus caroliniana).  A mixed screen is more interesting, looks more natural and reduces the chance that a single disease will affect your whole screen.

Wax myrtle with berries, Morella cerifera

-         Meatball foundation shrubs like Japanese holly can be replaced by softer yet structured shrubs like dwarf Wax Myrtle (Morella cerifera ‘Don’s Dwarf), dwarf Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia ‘Minuet’) and dwarf Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria ‘Nana’) – but leave it unpruned except for stray branches.  Consider mixing in a few deciduous shrubs for a more interesting mix of textures and blooms.

-         Have too many early spring blooms (like forsythia and spirea) and want some late spring blooming shrubs to extend the season?  Consider Fothergilla, Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica) and Viburnum - Viburnum cassinoides and Viburnum acerifolium are both good for me and also have great fall color. Here is a picture of Fothergilla major that I took just minutes ago:

Fothergilla major

-         Fast growing trees are hard to come by but you don’t need to choose something non-native to see it grow in your lifetime.  Look for tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera), Scarlet Oak (Quercus coccinea), or one of the red maple cultivars like Acer rubrum ‘October Glory’.

Scarlet Oak, Quercus coccinea

I hope these ideas help you think more like a champion of native plants.  In today’s world, they sure could use someone to promote them – someone to get on a microphone and extol all their good virtues as they go into the match of their lives: “With a mature height of 8 feet 2 inches and a mature width of 5 feet, this spring blooming shrub is a favorite among native pollinators and fairly drought tolerant as well; as a bonus it has fabulous fall color, is a host plant to 26 different types Lepidoptera and has berries that provide food for 5 different kinds of wildlife ….  And in the opposing corner is a boisterous shrub from the mountains of China ….”

If you can’t find them in your nursery, do ask for them.  Nurseries don’t know you’re looking for something if you don’t tell them - they think people are happy to buy whatever they’re stocking.  It’s up to us to tell them otherwise.