Sunday, December 30, 2018

2018 in Pictures

I take a lot of pictures throughout the year and not all of them make it into a blog post. At the end of the calendar year, it’s a good time to reflect on the beauty of nature as well as share some of the extra pictures.

I believe that each day is an opportunity to find and appreciate something beautiful in the native plants and creatures of Georgia.

In January of 2018 we had some super cold morning temperatures and a local photographer shared how to make frozen bubbles - which works best in very cold temperatures - so I decided to try it. You need a solution of water, dish soap, corn syrup, and a straw. Here is a link for a recipe.

Erythronium umbilicatum
As cold as January was, February seemed to bring on early flowers like trout lilies (Erythronium umbilicatum) even earlier than usual. I always enjoy them in my yard, like these, but this year there was also talk of a super bloom in south Georgia so we drove down there for the show (and it was amazing, check out my blog here if you missed it).

Depending on how they are managed, areas like cemeteries can be refuges for plants. Near my house, one cemetery is full of ground-hugging phlox planted years ago by caretakers. I look for it every March to carpet the spaces between the graves with bright pink blooms. It might be moss phlox (Phlox subulata) or it might be trailing phlox (Phlox nivalis) or it might be both with hybrids created by nature. The shades of pink vary from white to deep pink.

Phlox subulata or Phlox nivalis in cemetery

Arabia Mountain outcrop
In April, I had a chance to visit Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area. It is one of several areas in Georgia with the special plant environments because of granite outcrops. I have written about them before but had not visited this particular one.

Arabia is a county-managed park and very accessible. I explored just a small part of it by following the path from the Nature Preserve. The mix of plants and colors really does create a tapestry of beauty across the stark face of the rock outcrops.

I like to imagine my yard is a haven for wildlife and occasionally I stumble upon proof - like one day last May when I spied a giant swallowtail butterfly laying eggs on my wafer ash (Ptelea trifoliata). Also known as hoptree, I have this native planted in a large pot on the front porch and it is native to my county (which is why the butterfly is in this area). After realizing that predators destroyed most of the eggs, I gathered the few remaining ones and raised them in a cage.

Giant swallowtail on Ptelea trifoliata
Spiraea virginiana and bumblebee

The flowers on my Virginia meadowsweet (Spiraea virginiana) were the best this June that they have ever been. These tiny flowers are adored by a variety of beetles and small bees. I just have to keep the deer away.

In July, my neighbor alerted me to a new arrival in the area: a piebald deer had been born and was living in the woods behind their home. The deer continues to thrive, we saw it grazing with its family just this past week.

Piebald deer and mother
Harris's 3-spot moth caterpillar

August continues to be a prime month for caterpillar hunting and this year was another great year finding new ones in the area (see my blog from then). One of the coolest ones that I found was after that blog post and I found it on that very meadowsweet spirea that bloomed so well in June. This is the caterpillar of the Harris's 3-spot moth and those bits next to the head are the remnants of shedding from one instar to the next.

Another great moment in wildlife reproduction happened in September when I spied this pair of box turtles making babies in my neighbor's yard. Maybe next spring will bring the pitter patter of tiny box turtle feet.

Box turtles making more
Hibiscus aculeatus

Fall is a good time for native plant sales and I was finally able to pick up a replacement for a plant that wasn't true. Apparently, quite a few people in Georgia had been mistakenly growing a non-native Hibiscus relative (Abelmoschus manihot) instead of the native comfortroot (Hibiscus aculeatus). The plants look very similar, but the center of the flower is noticeably different. One of my blog readers pointed out the mistake and we're trying to get the word out to anyone propagating this in Georgia to check which one they have. Thanks to the Chattahoochee Nature Center for growing the correct species and I was thrilled when my purchase bloomed in October.

Hamamelis virginiana blooms in November
Several years ago I rescued a witch hazel shrub (Hamamelis virginiana) and it was nice to see it blooming this November (right on time). The cool crisp days kept it going for several weeks. This our latest blooming native woody plant.

I went to Virginia again this December and took a day trip up to Chincoteague Island via the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. It's a very seasonal area and most of the businesses were closed but the state park was open and we went in search of the famous wild horses. A tip from the ranger got us to exactly the right spot to find them grazing in the marsh.

Horses resting in the wooded edges of the marsh

One lone horse in the open, perhaps it is the male

I wish you a Happy New Year, full of beautiful and productive encounters with our native wonders. For more pictures, you can also follow me on Instagram:

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Beautiful Native Plants for Georgia in Winter

Are you already missing the leaves of deciduous plants? Winter is just getting started so we’ll be looking at bare branches for a while. Fortunately, there are still plenty of native plants to brighten up your landscapes with evergreen leaves and dangling fruits. Here is a list of native plants to see you through the season. If you don’t have enough of them, make a note to look for them at reputable native nurseries (remember, most Georgia residents can plant even during winter because the ground does not freeze) either now or come spring.

Ilex vomitoria
We have five different species of holly to consider: American holly (Ilex opaca), yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria), and inkberry (Ilex glabra) are all evergreen. Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) and possumhaw (Ilex decidua) are not evergreen but have attractive fruits until the birds find them. Remember that hollies need both male and female plants (that flower) to get fruits.

There are six additional evergreen shrubs beyond the hollies: coastal doghobble (Leucothoe axillaris), hobblebush (Agarista populifolia), Florida anise (Illicium floridanum), evergreen rhododendron (Rhododendron catawbiense and a few other species), devilwood (Osmanthus americanus), and Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia).

Aronia arbutifolia
Here are four more shrubs, they are deciduous but have some winter interest: hazel alder (Alnus serrulata) has tiny dried cones; oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) has exfoliating bark and leftover flowers); chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) has persistent fruits as do the sumacs (Rhus glabra is particularly showy).

Trees that you might consider include some evergreen ones: Eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana), cherry laurel (Prunus caroliniana), pines (Pinus spp.), hemlock (Tsuga ssp.), Atlantic white cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides), evergreen magnolias (Magnolia virginiana and M. grandiflora), and wax myrtle (Morella cerifera)

You might also consider some of the deciduous trees that offer some winter interest: American beech (Fagus grandifolia) has persistent leaves that fade to cream; white oak (Quercus alba) has beautiful shaggy bark; and one hawthorn in particular has fruit that remains for months: ‘Winter King’ (Crataegus viridis ‘Winter King’).

Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) with evergreen crossvine (Bignonia capreolata)

Three evergreen ferns contribute interest at ground level: Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides), ebony spleenwort (Asplenium platyneuron), and marginal fern (Dryopteris marginalis). Perennials also contribute bits of green among the fallen leaves: gingers (Hexastylis spp.); green and gold (Chrysogonum virginianum); partridgeberry is evergreen and also has red fruits (Mitchella repens); yucca (Yucca); pipsissewa (Chimaphila maculata); mouse-eared coreopsis (Coreopsis auriculata); and teaberry/wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens).

Gaultheria procumbens

While you’re enjoying the winter good looks of these plants, you can feel extra good because they also provide either shelter or food for wildlife: something for you and something for them!

Please research these carefully for suitability to your location as well as local conditions (wet, dry, sunny, shady). Some of these are Coastal Plain native plants that have been used in the Piedmont by gardeners for years while some are Piedmont natives that are not suitable further south.

Note: I've hot-linked plants that I've previously written about it. Click those links to get more pictures and details.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

The Puddle Garden (the book)

If we want our children to appreciate nature, we should start them young. We can take them outside, of course, and show them what it’s all about. We can also foster a love of nature through books, but the choice of books has been slim. Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax offers a dark yet inspiring message (“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.”), so I got a copy of that for my new grandson.

Someone recently recommended The Puddle Garden, written in 2015 by some ordinary folks in New Jersey who also have a native plant nursery. Jared Rosenbaum wrote the book and his sister Laura Rosenbaum illustrated it. I’m so excited to see passionate folks create resources to inspire others.

The book is a beautiful story about encouraging wildlife to visit your garden by planting native plants to attract and sustain them. The story features 6 plants and 6 critters as a way of introducing children to the special relationships that exist in nature (and how our choices affect them). 

I have now added this book to my collection. If you’re looking for an engaging book for kids, check it out at its dedicated website

Also, Jared has a wonderful blog, self-described as “Stories and articles exploring connections between people and wild plants in the Northeast. Native plants, ecological restoration, field botany, foraging, herbal medicine, and more.” Visit him at

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Get a Broom!

The noise over leaf-blowers is literally getting louder. The usage of leaf-blowers in total is increasing as more busy homeowners outsource their yardwork to a company who wants to bill as many visits as possible, mowing and blowing even when hardly needed. In between visits, one of my neighbors brings out a leaf-blower every couple of days to clean off the driveway (apparently it is beyond the capability of cars to drive over those leaves). If I’m outside at the same time, it’s pretty hard not to yell over to him: “Get a broom!”

As someone who works from home, the frequency of visits to homes in my neighborhood is quite numerous, sometimes for landscapes that don’t even need these services. I’ve watched contractors mow grass that hasn’t grown and scour away every single leaf during a time when leaves are falling constantly. For a brief moment in time, a moment when the homeowner is usually not even home, the yard is a sea of green, unblemished by the unsightly appearance of a single red or golden fall leaf.

Usage of leaf-blowers, on residential yards in particular, has the following impacts over more traditional methods of dispersal like brooms and rakes: 
  • The pollution impact of small engines themselves. 
  • The dispersal into the air of dust and particulate matter on human respiratory systems (including things such as animal droppings, fungi spores, pesticides, fertilizers, road debris, and heavy metals). 
  • The impact of the noise on humans and small animals and birds, including the enjoyment of the outdoors by humans on a pretty fall day. 
  • The impact of wind on the insects that curl up for the winter in dead leaves (as high as 200 mph).
Cities, counties, and states are looking at leaf-blower bans; some have implemented them. The goal is primarily to reduce noise and pollution. The Pollinator Friendly Yards Facebook page owner has started her own petition to ban gas-powered leaf-blowers. You can find it here.

Tiny snake on the rake
Now for the good news - using brooms and rakes can be a healthy form of exercise! Getting outside also puts you in touch with nature. I love to take the time to look at the various leaves that I'm sweeping or raking: oaks, maples, dogwood, cherry, sourwood - how many different ones can I find?

I find bugs and other cool critters too: toads, snails, beetles, and even a tiny snake this year. Sometimes my neighbors walk by and we spend a few minutes talking. I look at the garden and think about changes while my arms do the raking and sweeping.

So, pick up that broom again and take a trip back to the time when things were manual, and we had to work for that piece of pie! Brooms also make great gifts, and you know the holidays are coming up soon.

[Thanks for indulging this rant. For another good rant, see my blog post on red mulch.]

Sunday, December 2, 2018

The Fall Color Compilation

Franklinia alatamaha
We’re wrapping up another season of fall color and each year is a little different from the last. This year it seemed the maples lasted longer in some areas, particularly the ones in landscapes (see my post on Parking Lot Maples) but a few wild ones did too.

Some of the oaks, such as the Southern red oak (Quercus falcata) had really drab color this year, going directly to brown without a hint of the subtle red that they get in some years.

I was pleased to catch my neighbor's Franklinia alatamaha during its fall color phase. A stray leaf in my driveway led me to it.

I’ve posted many times about fall color so this is just a reminder that if you are looking for ideas, I’ve got some. Some of these posts link back to others.

Fall Today, Gone Tomorrow is a general post with links to 3 others.

Fall Color at Home encourages you bring the color to your personal landscapes and gives you some ideas. 

Specific ideas for adding plants with yellow fall color can be found in this post.

Need more red, orange or purple? Try this post.

Find dependable fall color in this post with lots of ideas. Need a small tree with color? Try this post about that very subject.

American beech (Fagus grandifolia), one of the last to color
Maples are specifically featured in two posts: one about wild maples and another about the most commonly used landscape maple (this is the Parking Lot Maples post).

Scarlet oak is the star in this post while this other post is a good summary of parking lot oaks, some of which have reliably good color.

If you like fall color, consider factoring it into your choice of native plants in the landscape. You'll be glad you did come autumn.