Welcome to the Kentucky Native Plant and Wildlife Blog.

Welcome to the Kentucky Native Plant and Wildlife Blog.
The purpose of this blog is to provide information on using native plants in the landscape, issues related to invasive exotic plants, urban wildlife management, and wildlife damage management. It is my intention that this information will assist you in deciphering the multitude of information circulating around the web and condense in some meaningful method as it relates to Kentucky. In addition, I hope to highlight a native plant that can be used in the landscape.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Plant of the Week: Native Poinsettia, Euphorbia heterophylla

National Poinsettia Day, December 12,  is rapidly approaching and was so designated by an Act of Congress in commemoration of amateur botanist and 1st Ambassador to Mexico, Dr. Joel Poinsett.  He introduced the horticultural species to the Americas in 1828. Of course this is the time of year when we purchase those beautiful horticultural plants for holiday decorations.  But did you know we actually have a native species that is sometimes called Fire on the Mountain, Mexican Fire Plant, Wild Poinsettia, or painted leaf.  Some folks call this a wildflower whereas others, particularly peanut farmers in the south, consider it a weed.  It is considered rare in Kentucky and it was thought to be introduced from the tropics although it is considered native according to the USDA Plants and National Wildflower Websites. This plant, a member of the spurge family, has highly variable leaf shapes from linear to lance-shaped to egg-shaped to lyre shaped and pointed at the tip.  The flowers are quite inconspicuous and are green surrounded by the colorful reddish bracts.  It is an annual that grows from 1 to 3' tall and has a stiff stem that contains a milky, white sap.  The plants can irritate the skin but are not lethal if ingested, although you will get mighty sick with an upset stomach if you choose to nibble on one, something I never recommend for any member of this plant family since so many of them are toxic.  Like most annuals it has an extended flowering period from May through September and is often found in moist, well drained soils in full sun.  This is not a species that would be available in the trade and it certainly could become invasive in certain locations like Florida.  For those that are outdoors in the summer, when you discover this plant you can think of Christmas in July, which is when the photo above was taken.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Planning a woodland wildflower garden

Now is the time for gardeners withdrawl. No more planting, weeding, trimming, or even enjoying the wildlife and flowers that showcase their beauty during the growing season.  But now is the time for gardeners dreaming.  Ah yes, dreaming of next year and what can be.  This is the time of the year when the plant catalogs come in the mail (yes I have already begun receiving them and am drooling at the thought of fresh tomatoes once again).  Now is the time to get the laptop out and start Googling native plant nurseries and thinking about what will be the next gardening project.   As you look through the catalogs and websites, your mind wanders and you think of what can be, what are the possibilities?  Now is the time to begin thinking about the spring ephemeral woodland garden that begins flowering in March and ends in May.  That short period between the end of winter and when the trees fully leaf out and darken the woodland understory.  Here are few things to consider when dreaming about the woodland wildflower garden:
1. No clay soils.  Absolutely, positively not!  So what is the solution for most gardeners?  Well think like Mother Nature and where these plants grow in the wild, the first three inches in the composted leaf litter over the years.  Hence, all you need to do is to design a garden and dump three to four inches of pure composted leaves or other organic matter on top of the clay.  Now is a good time to do that so it will have time to settle.  Don't use topsoil or cow manure or composted topsoil, use pure leaf/tree compost like the type you can get here in Lexington from the city (one load a year for free).
2.  Realize that native woodland wildflowers do not have gigantic showy flowers like many other garden plants, they are much more refined and delicate. So plant in large masses, not just two or three but twenty or thirty and realize for the most part, they will not spread (Virginia bluebells and wood poppies not withstanding).  Notice in the image above that the golden saxifrage, which looks somewhat weedy and not all that showy, shines in the garden when planted en masse.
3. Think about exciting color combinations that you like and plants that look good together which flower at the same time and are about the same height.  For example, I like Virginia bluebells and wood poppies together and I like it in an area where they have room to spread.  For more refined combinations try foam flower and wild blue phlox or Jacob's ladder.  Perhaps you want a little pink then go with bleeding heart mixed in with those two colors of blue and white.
4.  Use unusual species for accents and create smaller gardens inside the bigger garden.  For instance, yellow lady slipper orchids are expensive and require special care when growing in the garden.  Perhaps put them in the middle of a group of lady ferns surrounded by lower growing yellow species like green and gold or I like using dwarf crested iris with the green and gold and even some wild blue phlox or Jacob's ladder.  Perhaps you can bring in some rocks with deep crevices that could be filled with soil and then planted to sedums and other very delicate species that can showcase against the texture of the rock.
5.  Think about what will be growing after the spring ephemerals are done blooming.  This usually means ferns but there are other options such as later blooming woodland species like cohosh or fall asters.
S0.... dig out the catalogs and websites, sit with a hot toddy in front of the fireplace, and dream of things of springtime.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Plant of the week: Sharp-lobed hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba)

Brrrr!  How many wonderful native plants can tolerate the early spring cold like our native hepatica? Depending on the year and weather, this species can begin blooming in late February and early March and I can't tell you how many times I have seen the dainty flowers tinged with brown where ol man winter nipped them.  But as March progresses and gets warmer, this exquisite woodland plant will still be in flower and oft times will still be in flower in late April.  One of the great adaptations for flowering so early is the thick, leathery liver-like leaves (hence the name hepatica) and the thick hairy flower caudex (they really don't have flower stems rather a thickened, underground stem from which the flowers and leaves arise - a similar type of structure is the trunk of a palm tree).  Being in the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae), this species lacks petals and the bracts which support the showy sepals (which range in color from white to pink to blue) are also quite hairy.  The flowers appear before the leaves and the brownish, liver looking three-lobed leaves that appear with the flowers are from the previous growing season.  The taxonomy of this species is pretty interesting as botanists noticed that H. americana grew in more acid conditions whereas H. acutiloba grew in more neutral soils. Hence some use the taxonomy of H. nobilis var. acuta and H. nobilis var. obtusa for H. americana.  I suspect in the nursery trade you are most likely going to see it as H. acutiloba or sharp-lobed hepatica because H. americana is more restricted and less common in Kentucky and elsewhere, it is a smaller, less showy species, and the leaves are rounded at the end instead of pointed. This is a great garden plant and can put on quite a show as the individual flowers can reach up to 1" wide and in mature plants there can be a dozen or more on a single plant.  After flowering, it still has interest with the glossy mottled liver like green leaves which fade to brown and provide winter interest as well.  To get maximum effect in the garden, this species should be grown in groups of 5 to dozens or hundreds.  It is mostly disease resistant and will grow in most any soil as long as it gets shade and a fair amount of organic matter in the soil (no clay).  It is also a long-lived perennial but it does not reproduce easily from seed and most plants come from division.  There are numerous reported home medicinal uses of the plant ranging from being a mild diuretic and laxative to a wash for sore breasts.  In Europe it was touted to be the "cure-all" for ailments, even for eliminating freckles and in this country in the mid-1800's is was the prime ingredient in "Dr. Roder's Liverwort and Tar Sirup" which was used for kidney problems.  In large doses it can be poisonous and with the use of any herbal medicine, I do not condone its use and you should always check with your physician before using any herbal medication.  Besides, why harvest those wonderful leaves when they add such interest to the winter and spring garden.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What to feed our fine feathered friends this winter

The leaves have dropped and thanksgiving is almost upon us, a time to give thanks for the bountiful food we are blessed to have access to.  This is the time of year when food is abundant for wild creatures, particularly birds.  The sunflower seed is ripe and dry, the flowers and grasses are done flowering and have set seed and those seeds are ready for consumption.  The fruits and berries of viburnums, hawthorns, dogwoods, and other species are abundant are ready for the bird feeding table.  Soon these sources of food will dwindle and the time of plenty will become a time of scarcity (particularly in late February and March).  For those that feed birds, and lots of people do feed birds (about a million of us in Kentucky), now is the beginning of the feeding season. For most folks, feeding involves nothing more than going down to the local hardware or general merchandise store and purchasing a bag of wild bird food. There is certainly nothing wrong with this, but the buyer should be aware of what they are getting in the bag of food.  Look at the seed tag and you will discover, quite often, lots of "filler" seeds - wheat, oats, corn, and milo.  While not inherently bad, some birds do like this type of seed, you will find you get more bang for your buck by mixing your own, or by simply feeding one or two of the best or preferred seeds.  The number one seed eaten and preferred by more birds than any other is the small black oil type sunflower.  There really is no reason to feed anything else because finches, even gold finches, will eat it and ground feeders like mourning doves, juncos, and sparrows relish it as well.  Cardinals will eat it as do titmice, chickadees, and nuthatches.  Even woodpeckers will eat these seeds.  If you are making a mix, the best mix would be black oil sunflower and white proso millet.  Nothing else would be required as these two seeds would attract pretty much any species to a backyard feeder. If you want to get fancy, you can add the larger striped sunflower seed and safflower (more expensive).  Finally, you can put out some suet for the woodpeckers and niger (some folks call it thistle but it really is not a thistle) for the finches.  Once you have selected the food, where do you put it to keep it dry?  There are more different designs for feeders than you can even dream up but it doesn't need to be fancy and a tray on the ground or placed on a post will do just fine.  If you have certain fuzzy tailed rodents that climb trees, and yes you know what I am talking about, then you can get fancy but I can tell you this, at some point in time, the squirrel will outwit you even with a squirrel proof feeder.  But that is a whole different subject to be tackled later.  So for now, run down the your local feed store and buy 50 lbs. of black oil sunflower and let the birds have a thanksgiving feast as well.
Note the sparrow is picking out the black oil sunflower.  In addition there is some milo filler seed in this mix, which was thrown on the ground.
This red-bellied woodpecker is getting some sunflower seed that has been stuffed into small holes in the trunk of this osage orange tree.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Plant of the Week: Copper or Red Iris, Iris fulva

Of all our native iris species that grow in full sunlight, this may very well be the easiest of all to grow.  While it is normally found in far southwestern Kentucky, and is on our official threatened and endangered species list in Kentucky, it grows in gardens all over the state.  It's normal habitat is wetland soils that are permanently or semi-permanently saturated with water but this delicate species does very well in average garden soil.  It is so easy to grow and easy to propagate from division.  This species has lovely terra-cotta reddish flowers (occasionally found with bright yellow flowers 'Lois Yellow') that are highly attractive to hummingbirds when in bloom in early to mid-May.  The dark green sword like leaves reach a height of 2' and the flowers are a bit smaller than many of the other native or horticultural irises.  This species belongs to a large group called Louisiana Iris and there are at least 43 named cultivars and it is grouped as a beardless, crestless iris (Louisiana group) which has been hybridized with other species in the group including I. brevicaulis, I. hexagona, I. vinicolor, and I. giganticaerulea.  It has no major disease or insect problems but is susceptible to Iris fulva mosaic potyvirus.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Plant of the Week: Bloodroot (Sanguinara canadensis)

Now is the perfect time to be planting our native woodland wildflowers, particularly those that are early spring bloomers, like bloodroot.  The reason for planting now is that you will be greeted with flowers next spring instead of waiting a whole year before they flower again.  This woodland beauty can begin flowering in March in Kentucky and some individuals can extend their flowering into April.  The 1 1/2" wide pure white flowers with bright yellow stamens rarely last more than a day or two and for this reason it should be planted in large masses for an extended flowering period.  Once done flowering it has wonderful palmate type leaves and can be 8" wide or larger.  Like most woodland species, this delicate beauty likes filtered shade (not on the north side of the house in dense shade) and highly organic soil.  No clay.  You can create a bed for this by putting three to four inches of compost on top of the soil and planting the dormant rhizomes directly into the compost (heck that is the way they grow in the woods, leaf compost).  This plant gets its name from the red sap in its roots that was used as paint by Native Americans and as a dye by early settlers.  Today it has a wide range of medicinal properties, too many to list here but a publication by the southern US Forest Research Station in Asheville, NC has an excellent publication that covers all aspects of this plant.  It can be located at http://www.sfp.forprod.vt.edu/pubs/sfpdoc8.pdf Excellent companion plants include twinleaf, squirrel corn  Dutchman's breeches, trout lilies, blue phlox, and yellow corydalis.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Love is in the air: it’s rutting time again!

Ah the smell of does in heat.  Nothing like it to get a male deer in the mood for love and this results in bucks and does moving about the landscape more than ever. This means, there is an increased possibility of hitting a deer with your automobile about this time of year when love is in the air. People hitting deer on the roads happens over a million times a year in this country and last year, more than 3,000 individuals reported hitting a deer in Kentucky. How do you avoid hitting a deer and causing thousands of dollars of damage to your vehicle? One of the great inventions of the past 30 years has been the “deer whistle.”  This device, when attached to an automobile, emits an audible sound that scares deer away or at least that is the theory.  The real question is: Should I purchase one to avoid hitting a deer?  The short answer is to please send me the $10 -15 you would spend on the deer whistle for my European vacation fund because the results will be the same as if you purchased one and placed it on your auto.  Just kidding, don’t send me money. But the real answer is they do not work so save yourself some money.  These were tried in Europe over 25 years ago and several good studies from Finland and Switzerland show no efficacy.  In the United States a number of state agencies have tried them in Utah, Georgia, and Wisconsin and found them to be ineffective.  A final study in Connecticut, using physics and sound principles, indicated their effectiveness was questionable.  The one study that did show they worked and for which several companies tout for their efficacy from research done by “an independent research” agency was never published and it was nothing more than mounting the devices on snowmobilea and driving through the woods and seeing if the deer ran away.  Guess what, they did, but probably not from the sound of the deer whistle, more likely from the sound of the noisy snowmobile.  At any rate, the best method of protecting you and your vehicle from hitting a deer is to be vigilant and slow down when driving at dusk or night this time of year, pay attention to the deer crossing signs (they are there for a reason),  if you see one deer along the road, there are bound to be others so be alert, if you do see one “caught in the headlights” apply the brakes but do not try to swerve away as you could lose control of the vehicle and hit another vehicle, go off the road and hit an obstacle, or something worse.  If you do hit a deer, contact law enforcement immediately to report the collision.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Plant of the Week: Kentucky Yellowwood, Cladrastris kentukea

Now that fall is winding down it is the perfect time to begin planting trees in the landscape.  The really good thing is, at this time of the year, nurseries are having tremendous sales on trees so they do not have to carry them over during the winter months.  What this means is that you might not find the common species like red or sugar maples that everyone seems to plant, but you can find some unique species like the Kentucky Yellowwood.  I will never forget the first time I saw this growing in the wild near the boat landing at Shakertown at the base of the palisades.  It was in full flower and fragrant, oh my, what a sweet smell.  The long, white, wisteria like clusters of flowers in late spring is something to behold.  Typical legume or pea like flowers in a cluster that can reach 1 to 2' in length. While it takes this species about 10 years to begin flowering, and it is slow growing, once it does begin flowering it produces a bummer crop every two to four years with lesser periods of flowering in between time.  While spring is the obvious showy time, check out this brilliant yellow foliage in the fall!  I also like the smooth bark which contrasts so nicely with either the flowering or fall color periods during the year.  This is a species that is pretty uncommon in the wild, and equally as uncommon in people's yards and landscapes.  The native range is mostly Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, and North Carolina. I assume it isn't used in the landscape so much because it is slow growing and the one drawback is that the trunk can divide close to the ground.  It can be trained, when young to develop a longer trunk, but only prune this species in fall or early winter because it bleeds profusely when pruned at other times. The best place to grow this species is in the full sun, where it does best, with well drained calcareous soils although it will also grow in part sun, just not as fast and will not flower as profusely.  Yellowwood reaches a height of about 30' at maturity and has a nice wide spread making it a wonderful mid-sized landscape tree. This species has a long taproot so digging and transplanting from the wild is not recommended. The species gets its name from the brilliant yellow wood that is very hard and used for specialty furniture and gunstocks.