Sunday, December 25, 2016

Jolly Holly

Possumhaw (Ilex decidua)
Hollies are one of the most used plants for winter decorations such as Christmas. The most familiar species are the evergreen ones that have bright red berries such as American holly (Ilex opaca). In Georgia, this species is widely distributed throughout the state and makes a fine landscape tree.

Hybrids of American holly are used in landscaping more often than the plain species; Ilex x attenuata cultivars are crosses between Ilex opaca and the southern dahoon holly, Ilex cassine. Hybrids such as ‘Savannah,’ 'East Palatka,’ and ‘Fosteri’ are robust female plants with heavy fruit set (and fewer spines on the leaves) that require little to no cross-pollination. Some of these hybrids were found in the wild as natural crosses.

American holly (Ilex opaca)

Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria)
Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) is an evergreen holly that is also often used, even outside of its natural range in the Coastal Plain. It is popular for several reasons. It has small, spineless evergreen leaves. It grows well in landscaped areas throughout the state. Several dwarf forms are suitable as small shrubs such as around home foundations (where they are sheared into meatball shapes but I think they look great when left unpruned as well). Female plants, which are not usually the dwarf forms, have tiny red fruits that have a bit of a translucent look, quite different from of the opaque berries of American holly.

Georgia has two other evergreen hollies located in the Coastal Plain: dahoon holly (Ilex cassine) and myrtle holly (Ilex myrtifolia). Both have red fruits.

Red-fruited hollies are not always evergreen. Georgia has at least 6 species of deciduous hollies, all of which have red fruits. The leafless winter stems of these species can be spectacular and the horticultural world has noticed. Cultivars of both possumhaw (Ilex decidua) and winterberry (Ilex verticillata) are available in the trade. When choosing, be sure to determine if you’re buying a male or a female and that you have compatible males and females eventually (you can have more females than males).

Ilex verticillata
Ilex decidua

The remaining deciduous native hollies in Georgia include two in the Coastal Plain (Ilex amelanchier and Ilex ambigua) and two in the northern part of the state (Ilex montana and Ilex longipes).

Ilex glabra
Evergreen hollies don’t always have red fruits. There are several species that have dark blue fruits. The two species in Georgia are large (or sweet) gallberry (Ilex coriacea) and the smaller one known as inkberry (Ilex glabra). Both like to grow in moist areas. Inkberry can be found in the nursery trade and is available in forms that are dwarf and compact; look for ‘Shamrock,’ ‘Compacta,’ ‘Nigra,’ and ‘Densa’ and carefully check for male/female suitability if you want berries (the ones listed are noted as females while ‘Nordic’ and ‘Pretty Boy’ are male).

Native hollies are great additions to the home landscape. They are beautiful, adaptable and important to wildlife. The small but numerous flowers are important to native bees. Gallberry honey, which is produced by European honey bees, comes from nectar gathered from Ilex coriacea and Ilex glabra. All the berries are popular with birds that eat fruit. Consider adding a regionally appropriate holly to your landscape next year.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Atlas of Georgia Brings Herbaria to the People

When I find plants that are new to me, I do try to identify them. I use a variety of tools, including books and online resources. Many times, after an initial investigation, I might be in the position of comparing 2-3 species in order to reach what I think is the final identification. Identifying asters in the fall is such a case. Pictures can be very helpful at this point, but pictures on the web don’t always have the appropriate details or, even worse, might be misidentified by the person that posted them.

Choose Browse or Search Collection here
A new tool came online this year and I’m pretty excited about it. The Atlas of Georgia Plants portal is a means of viewing vouchered herbarium specimens from the University of Georgia and Valdosta State University herbaria. Over 100,000 specimens, some dating back to the 1800s, have been digitized and are now available for online viewing with more to come.

You can browse the collection by Family, by Genus, and by County. From the navigation menu, choose “Browse Collection” to get started. Some collections are quite large and some are quite small. Some counties have very large numbers of specimens. The same is true for certain plant species. Having a large selection of specimens gives you more to examine which is good; some are in better shape than others. Detail varies by specimen; some of them include roots, most flowering perennials that I checked do include the flowers.
The General Info tab of a selection

Most people might find it more efficient to use the search capability. From the navigation menu, choose “Search Collection” to enter your search criteria such as Genus and Species (e.g., Quercus for genus and coccinea for species). 

This screen has a nice feature: as you type, the webpage is finding matches for you. For example, after having typed “coc” in the species field, you have seven choices already and can choose “coccinea” from the list. You can refine your list by adding county as well.

Image sheet with zoom capability

Once you have found a specimen that you want to examine, double-click on it to open it. This opens the “general info” tab. To see the specimen, click on “image sheet” in the secondary menu. Once you’re in the image sheet, you can zoom in on the specimen if you first choose the option “Switch to interactive view” at the bottom of the page.  Go back to the “Static view” when you are done. 

When you are ready to close the specimen, close it from the top menu by x’ing the specimen number (this is an 1895 specimen of scarlet oak collected by James Small, numbered as “GA084077”). You can keep multiple specimens open at once; just click “Search Collection” again to get another one without closing this one.

Note that some are marked “poisoned.” This means that they were treated against pests.

You can see distribution information at the bottom of the species page (before you select a specimen). In addition, you can find pictorial depictions of distributions at this linkThis link has Alphabetical letters for plant families (e.g., choose “F” to go to Fagaceae if you want to search for Quercus (oaks) or “C” for Caprifoliaceae for Lonicera (honeysuckle)). From there, choose the species you want to go to the distribution maps. I like the list of county names so that I can quickly check which counties have presence rather than trying to figure out the counties by staring at their shapes on a map.

I compared the distribution map to the USDA distribution for chalkbark maple (Acer leucoderme); there are a few differences at the county level but the general distribution is the same (herbarium records might be driving USDA maps, I am not sure).

In general, this is another tool in our kits for identification. If you're in Georgia or nearby states, you might give it a try and see what you think.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

In My Own Backyard

I feel like a fool. For years I have been curious about oaks in my area. In my neighborhood, in the places where I shop, on the field trips that I take … all of these have been places to discover oak trees. I have collected leaves, picked up acorns, and inspected twigs in efforts to identify them and published blogs that detailed my findings. This fall, in my own yard, I finally realized that I had a species that I had never identified – blackjack oak (Quercus marilandica).

Blackjack oak (Quercus marilandica) over the driveway
I had noticed saplings of this unknown oak shortly after we moved here, next to the driveway. The leaves were thick, sometimes glossy, hairy on the back, and shaped like a cartoon foot with 3 fat toes. In the fall they would turn beautiful shades of deep red. I thought that they might be post oaks (Q. stellata). At some point, I figured out that they were not post oaks and that was it. Apparently, I never thought about them again.

My blackjack oak sapling

This year’s brilliant fall colors reawakened my curiosity, and I got out my favorite oak identification resource again. Blackjack oak seemed to be a good match based on leaf shape. The range seemed a good fit such that it would be in this area.  

It seemed odd that I would only have smaller plants; I had never seen any large ones in the neighborhood.

A few days later I was walking around the yard and I noticed the leaves on a low branch coming off the trunk of a large tree out back. Was that the same leaf as the smaller plants out front? I gathered leaves from the low branch and went back to the books. 

I contacted a knowledgeable friend and sent pictures. He pointed out that Weakley's identification keys pointed to a closer examination of the length of the petiole and the hairs on the underside in order to differentiate it from Southern red oak (Quercus falcata). I gathered a few Southern red oak leaves and compared them; my leaves clearly pointed more toward Q. marilandica var. marilandica.

Further research shows that it could be a hybrid with Quercus falcata) which is also in my yard. Either way, I am thrilled to have this one figured out. I could not find any fresh acorns this year, but I'll be on the lookout for them in the years to come.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Parking Lot Maples

It’s been a good year for maple trees in terms of fall color, and their widespread use as a parking lot tree has made that very noticeable this year. Some of you might be noticing these trees for the first time, and might be considering one for home use, so let’s talk about what these are.

Twenty to thirty years ago, we saw the widespread use of ornamental pears (Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’) in parking lots, professional landscapes and the yards of new homes. Eventually, people realized that those pears were prone to breaking, had smelly flowers, and were even becoming invasive plants. Landscapers searched for replacement trees, especially in parking lots where trees have to tolerate tough conditions.

I’ve written before about the many types of oaks used as parking lot trees, and those are still in use. I’ve seen some very good looking “pin oaks” in new parking lots, but I imagine that acorn drop can be a problem depending on location. A variety of other trees, including red maple cultivars, are being used as an alternative.

Acer rubrum 'October Glory'
Acer rubrum 'October Glory'

Two red maple cultivars seem to be getting the most use. The first one is Acer rubrum ‘October Glory’ which has a typical red maple leaf shape (3 lobes), a well-balanced oval shape, and a deep red fall color that leans a bit more towards crimson-red than orange-red. According to the patent record for this cultivar, it was selected not just for color but for long leaf retention in the fall. That trait was certainly evident this dry fall when leaves have persisted even past the third week of November, often all the way up to the top of the tree.

Based on an informal sampling of parking lots in my area, I would say that ‘October Glory’ is used most of the time (and for good reason if long lasting color is your goal). Occasionally, I find the second cultivar which is actually a hybrid of red maple and silver maple (Acer saccharinum) known as Acer x freemanii ‘Jeffersred’ but sold as Autumn Blaze®.  The Freeman hybrids were developed in 1933 at the U. S. National Arboretum by Oliver Freeman. Both parent species are native to Georgia and the Freeman hybrids have the attractive leaf shape, adaptability, and fast growth rate of the silver maple plus the good fall color and strong wood of the red maple. The shape of this maple is a bit more pyramidal than oval and the color is a strong red-orange. The leaves definitely drop earlier than the other cultivar.

Acer x freemanii
Considerations when using these red maples in the landscape: shallow roots mean they need a good island around them, and plant them in full sun for best color. ‘October Glory’ maples turn a more orange-red when they don’t have sufficient sun.

Parking oaks and maples are a good mix for color
Parking lot trees must be able to handle tough conditions, especially given the small spaces that trees are often forced to occupy. Between the oaks and the maples, our Georgia natives are well represented; I see also river birch (Betula) and holly hybrids (such as Ilex x attenuata). Unfortunately, non-native trees are being spec’ed into the professional landscapes too – non-native elms, pistache, and gingkos are being used more often these days, perhaps even as a reaction to the overuse of oaks and maples.

Expanding tree islands would help provide better conditions for more tree selections – fewer trees but more plant diversity would be the result. Nurserymen could experiment with more natives like hawthorns (Crataegus), American elms (Ulmus), and blackgum (Nyssa). As more and more land is developed into human spaces, using our native trees to landscape them is a small giveback that we can do to help support the insects and critters that live here with us.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Fall Color At Home

The fall color this year has been pretty good overall. Some plants have done poorly due to the dry weather in Georgia, but others have been spectacular. Although I would love to take trips into the mountains of Georgia to see fall color, I rarely take the time to do so.

Wild red maple (Acer rubrum)
Luckily, I don’t have to travel far to see beautiful leaf colors each fall. I live in an area that was primarily an oak-hickory forest, and many wild trees are still around on the edges of country roads, in the backyards of many homes, and in thick stands on undeveloped land.

My own backyard is a good collection of what I see all around me in southeastern Cherokee county. I have oak species such as white oak (Quercus alba), red oak (Q. rubra), scarlet oak (Q. coccinea), black oak (Q. velutina), post oak (Q. stellata), water oak (Q. nigra), blackjack oak (Q. marilandica), and southern red oak (Q. falcata). These oaks provide colors such rich golden and chestnut browns, deep bright reds, and robust burgundies.

Scarlet oak across from the mailbox

More trees bringing an awesome show of red color include red maple (Acer rubrum), blackgum (Nyssa sylvatica), flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea), and sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum).

Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) lends a hand with deep oranges and reds. Florida maple (Acer floridanum) and chalkbark maple (A. leucoderme) punch out some bright orange-reds as well.

Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea)
Beech and white oak

Numerous hickories bring on a wide range of golden hues, from the medium yellow of bitternut hickory (Carya cordiformis) to the almost burnt-butter golds of mockernut (C. alba), pignut hickory (C. glabra) and sand hickory (C. pallida). Assisting in the yellow department is tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera), American beech (Fagus grandifolia), Florida maple again (Acer floridanum), persimmon (Diospyros virginiana), and green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica).

Sourwood and hickory in the backyard
Wild and crazy sweetgum leaves

A true wildcard can be found in an oft-maligned tree known as sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua). The color range of this common tree is from yellow to purple with every shade in between. As much as people hate its seed capsules, I guaranteed they are loving it from afar come November.

The view from the deck 

Same direction but further into the woods

Evergreens really set off the reds/oranges/yellows of the deciduous forest, and we have several species of pine trees to do the job - along with help from Eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana), a tall upright juniper that is so important to native birds.

Quercus alba several miles away

Actually, all these native trees provide enormous value to local insects and birds and should be kept (and planted in new landscapes). Many are available from nurseries (by special order if needed, let's create some demand!).

If we all used some of these gorgeous native trees, we’d have more fall color to see at home and we wouldn’t have to travel to the mountains to see native trees putting on a show (although we can still go there if we want to!).

As you enjoy this year's fall color, think about how you might add more to your own view.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Slim Pickings

Butterflies are still flying but the floral resources are dwindling. Between the natural progression of the seasons and the very dry weather we’ve had for the last two months, the butterflies in my area have a choice between autumn sage (Salvia greggii), scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea), and some small white asters (Symphyotrichum pilosum).

Cloudless sulphur on Salvia greggii
The salvia plants are still blooming because I am careful to keep them watered for the butterflies. Both of these species will bloom until frost anyway, but they need supplemental watering this year to keep going. The most noticeable butterfly still around is the cloudless sulphur, a medium-sized butterfly with soft yellow wings. This species of butterfly loves the tubular flowers of salvia and have no interest in the small, shallow blooms of the aster.

Scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea)

A few dark skippers are also still flying. Skippers like the scarlet sage as well as the asters. Occasionally, a bumblebee will visit the sage flowers too but they are few and far between these days. Tiny bees visit the asters.

Insects are very particular about the flowers they visit. The sulphurs have the ability to get nectar from the large tubular flowers of autumn sage, but the skippers have a shorter proboscis so they stick with the shorter flowers of scarlet sage and the asters. If any Gulf fritillaries come through, I don’t think they’ll find anything to eat. In the summer they like flowers like lantana and blue mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum), and I don’t see them on the sages.

Cloudless sulphur on Salvia coccinea (white form)

You can see that supporting butterflies requires a variety of different types of flowers. When you’re thinking about the plants you’ll choose for next year’s butterfly garden, keep that in mind. I know I’ll keep trying to have these long-blooming sages in stock for the late butterflies in the years to come.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

I Thought I Knew You

There is a tree in my backyard and in scattered locations throughout my neighborhood that changed this year. This is a maple tree of smaller stature than a red or sugar maple. I have always considered it to be a Florida maple, also known as southern sugar maple (Acer floridanum or synonym Acer barbatum). I haven’t changed my mind on that, but still the tree surprised me this year.

Some years ago (my earliest photo file is dated 2011), I first noticed this small tree because of its fall color. The leaves were a pure, clear yellow with no hint of red or orange. The leaf shape is similar to a chalk maple (A. leucoderme) or a sugar maple (A. saccharum), but both of those have orange-red colors. In addition, the chalk maple usually has noticeable hairs on the underside of the leaf, and this maple does not have that.

Florida maple (Acer floridanum) in 2011
I have always enjoyed and admired the soft yellow color of this tree in the fall. Over the years, I have used that distinctive color to find more and more of them peeking through the woodland edges of my neighbors’ properties. Each new one I found was a treasured discovery of the land that came before us.

Acer floridanum in 2016
The surprise in my yard this year is that the tree didn’t color yellow, it turned soft orange. From a distance, I thought it was a sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) shining in the sun. I walked over to take a look and realized it was the maple! I was flabbergasted to see such a change. Was it a chalkbark maple after all? I reached up to feel the leaves - still smooth on the back.

Over the next several days, I watched the tree turn its new colors. I searched for pictures on the Internet and found examples of Florida maple trees with similar colors. Perhaps the pure yellow years were the exception!

I checked other trees in the neighborhood – some continued to turn yellow while others showed some soft orange. A friend brought me sample leaves from hers, one that she had always considered to be a chalkbark maple; it also had a smooth back.

As an aside, even though I still feel that my tree is Acer floridanum, I always find good and helpful information from the Name That Plant website and went to see what they'd have. Here they have a comparison of leaves and a statement about the shape of the lobes: Acer floridanum (Terminal lobes of some leaves broader toward tip than toward base) vs.  Acer leucoderme (Lobes narrower at the tip than at the base, tips pointed (even acuminate)). Since I had both leaves, I decided to compare them (see below).

Note: their source is Native Trees of the Southeast: An Identification Guide, a great book itself, and thanks to Name That Plant for highlighting that important difference. When identifying plants, always try to gather/photograph several leaves if possible to capture some of the natural variations and make sure you have a good representation.

Well, this has been exciting - I like nature that keeps me on my toes! It will be interesting to see what it does next year. If it would bloom and set seed, that would be a new and welcome development ~

Florida maple (Acer floridanum) wearing its 2016 colors

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Wild Fruit: The Pawpaw

This summer I had the event I’ve been waiting for – my pawpaw (Asimina triloba) trees had fruit and I harvested them. Pawpaw is a large native shrub (or small tree) in the custard-apple family (Annonaceae), a North American member of a largely tropical family. Despite its tropical heritage, pawpaw’s native range is large, extending all the way up to New York and west to Texas. It is a plant whose habitat is largely one of rich bottomlands - the moist, low areas adjacent to rivers and streams.

Pawpaw fruit from my trees
The flowers are small, maroon bells that bloom just before the long, droopy leaves appear. They are largely pollinated by flies that are attracted to their unpleasant odor. Pollination occurs most reliably when you have cross-pollination with at least two plants from different populations. Even that is iffy if the insects don’t help you out; some people resort to hand pollination. But this year was a success for me and I watched over a cluster of 3 fruits for several months, just waiting for the late summer to harvest them.

Spring flowers and early leaves

Someone recommended a new book about this very unique fruit and its history in America. Published in 2015, the book is Pawpaw: In Search of America’s Forgotten Fruit by Andrew Moore. At 245 pages plus an index of resources (and a recipe for ice cream), the book is an informative walk through the fruit’s history, the people that have tried to bring it to mainstream (and some that are making money off it), and a delightful description of the author’s travels through the native range in search of fruit to eat (and he does eat a lot!) and a story to tell.

The first thing to get through is the many different spellings of the common name: pawpaw, paw paw, papaw, poppaw, pappaw and more. Settlers to this land have been discovering, eating, and writing about this fruit from the beginning. Of course, Native Americans were using them even before that and had their own names for the plant. It’s clear that most everyone that tried them loved them. They were probably transported around by humans, and there are many towns named for pawpaw. Early explorers wrote about the many ways that Native Americans used them (besides fresh): dried, cooked into breads, soups and stews. They used the inner bark to make rope and string. The seeds were sometimes ground into powder and used as medicine.

There are local market records in the 1800s of selling pawpaws at markets, and in 1888 the American Horticultural Society praised the fruit for its potential, but attempts to bring the pawpaw into cultivation didn't happen until about 1916. In that year, the American Genetics Association held a contest to find the best pawpaws so that a breeding program could be started. From 230 different location entries, a winner from Ohio was selected. Alas, nothing came of it. Curiously, the author mentions that cultivation of native blueberries was just starting at the same time and look where they are today!

A portion of the book provides profiles and stories of people that have grown pawpaws and tried to get them out to the general public. The PawPaw Foundation was established in 1988, and there are several named cultivars available. At one point, Ocean Spray expressed interest in using them but they needed a large quantity of pulp. The largest orchard is in Maryland and contains 1000+ trees on 5 acres. Harvesting techniques (still by hand) are discussed along with seed germination tips. At this time, pawpaw usage remains a boutique item with large quantities going to high-end restaurants via rapid shipping methods. Kentucky State University has a dedicated research program. Pawpaw festivals celebrate the fruit and its possibilities every year with the largest in Ohio, a 3-day event! I’d love to try some pawpaw beer sometime – perhaps I’ll have to go one year.

Asimina triloba fall color
The final part of the book takes the reader on a mad dash through the areas where pawpaw grows. The author describes his travels in search of wild pawpaw patches and the people he met along the way. Some of the descriptions of places are very detailed; I may have to look for the roadsides he described in Williamsburg, VA the next time that I’m there.

If you live in the natural range of pawpaw, consider introducing one to your garden. It is the one and only host plant for the zebra swallowtail butterfly (if you need another reason). Remember to get two plants from different sources if you want fruit (planting seeds or seedlings will do the trick).

Zebra swallowtail (Walker County, GA)

I did try the fruit and it was rather unusual tasting but not an immediate hit for me.  I learned from reading this book that I probably should have let it ripen another day or two for best flavor. I will be just as excited next year to give it another try!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Day 2 of a Bog Visit in South Georgia

Rayless sunflower (Helianthus radula)
The afternoon of our visit to Dixie Bog took us to new areas. If you missed reading about part 1 last week, you can read about it here. As a person who spends most of her time immersed in Piedmont plants and habitats, I am always thrilled to experience the plants and places of the Coastal Plain. The afternoon explorations did not disappoint.

A swing by a large pond was engineered to see a particularly special orchid that had just finished blooming: the waterspider bog orchid (Habenaria repens). Growing at the very edge of the pond (don’t fall in!), this orchid obviously needs special habitats to survive. We paused to admire the blooming water lilies and use binoculars to spot birds further out. Goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens, I think) was blooming among the scrubby growth around the pond.

Habenaria repens
Solidago sempervirens
Nymphaea lily

Our next location was a large and open area with a woodland edge. Black titi shrubs (Cyrilla racemiflora) were there and palmetto (Serenoa repens) grew among herbaceous plants like vanillaleaf (Carphephorus odoratissimus), blazingstars (Liatris spicata), toothache grass (Ctenium aromaticum), thick stands of cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea - a testament to the moist soil), and more. It started raining so some of us took shelter in the woodland (botanizing the whole time!) and unfortunately I only got a few pictures before we moved on. By the way, some people said they could smell the vanillaleaf in the air, but I couldn’t.

Vanillaleaf (Carphephorus odoratissimus)

Ctenium aromaticum
Liatris spicata

Our last stop for the day was a bit more wooded. On the edge by the road, the area with the most sun, we admired some of the grasses in flower (yes, in flower). My favorite was the lop-sided Indian grass (Sorghastrum secundum). Sometimes we are so distracted by forbs (flowering plants) that we overlook these plants.

Sorghastrum secundum
Elephantopus elatus

In the woods we found two different species of milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa in fruit and a faded clasping milkweed, A. amplexicaulis). Most plants were past flowering (including a whitetop aster or Doellingeria that I really wanted to see!) but we did manage to locate a couple of cool things. The rayless sunflower (Helianthus radula) was far more beautiful than I expected when I first heard of it. We also found a relative of the elephant’s foot that I know from the Piedmont.

It was a great day with amazing Coastal Plain native plants and awesome people. I love Georgia Botanical Society field trips for the interesting places we see, the beautiful plants, the people who share their knowledge, and the enthusiastic participants who soak it up.