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.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Plant of the Week: Golden St. John's Wort (Hypericum frondosum)

It goes by the name cedar glade or golden St. John's wort and it is one colorful, small to medium sized shrub, reaching a maximum height of 10', that is prolific in its production of bright yellow, 1" wide flowers.  This is really an adaptable landscape plant because it can be found growing at the edge of cedar glades and growing at the edge of wetlands.  It is very drought tolerant and likes full sun but can tolerate some shade.  It generally likes neutral soils but can tolerate some acidity, down to around 6.6 pH.   It can even take clay soils but typically does not do as well as when planted in more loamy soils.  In the true native species the leaves are glossy dark green whereas in the cultivar version 'sunburst' the leaves are more dull gray looking.  It typically flowers in late May through July and can remain in flower for more than a month.  The flowers occur on new wood, so late frosts are not a problem and once done flowering, a little light pruning will produce a very attractive, shaped bush although the reddish seed pods are quite distinctive and showy.  This is a southeastern species and Kentucky is at the northern edge of its range where it is deciduous; whereas, in southern climes it can be semi-evergreen to evergreen. It has winter interest because mature woody stems have dark purple to reddish brown exfoliating bark. The cultivar 'sunburst' is a shorter, more compact version with slightly larger flowers and different looking foliage. You should mulch this plant and as for disease problems, look for wilt or root rot. This is a great plant for hedges, drifts in the wildflower garden, or even as a specimen plant or anchor focal point in the garden.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Plant of the Week: Hairy Phlox (Phlox amoena)

As spring winds down and summer begins, the woodland wildflowers begin slowing down and woodland edge species begin appearing, particularly along roadsides and the edge of forests.  This is the case for the hairy phlox.  Hairy phlox has an infrequent distribution in the state and is generally found in the southern tier of counties and gets about as far north as Pulaski county.  It would be considered a southeastern species occurring from Kentucky south and west to Mississippi and south and east to Florida.  It gets its name because the stem and leaves are quite hairy.  It is closely related to another phlox which looks very similar, the prairie phlox (P. pilosa).  They can be quite difficult to tell apart by the average person, but in Kentucky I typically see hairy phlox growing in dry sandstone versus prairie phlox which seems to prefer basic or neutral soils of the prairies and barrens.  In either case, they both reach about 12" tall and flower color can vary from deep magenta to a light pink.  They form small clumps but when massed with eared coreopsis, they put on quite a show.  Both species are very drought tolerant, but they must be planted in well-drained soil, no clay.  They both can handle full sun but they would prefer some afternoon shade.  The genus Phlox is derived from the Greek word for flame and the species name comes from the Latin name "amoen" which means pleasant or charming. This group of plants, which are usually quite showy, have been selected as garden plants for years and there are about 60 species known, most of them native to North America.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Plant Now to Save the Monarch Butterfly

Coral hairstreak on butterfly milkweed

Monarch on common milkweed

Monarch on ironweed

Buckeye on swamp or red milkweed

The long-term trend is quite disturbing as this spring's monarch count is once again down 20-30%.  There are various reasons for the decline including the use of glyphosate resistant corn and soybean crops where the herbicide is sprayed to kill everything, including milkweeds, which of course female monarchs must have to lay their eggs on.  In addition, land is being converted in the farming regions of this country from pasture/hayland/idle grassland to, you guessed it, more glyphosate resistant corn and soybean crops. Monarch Watch estimates that more than 100 million acres of milkweed habitat are now gone and planted to glyphosate resistant crops.  A recently published research study from Iowa supports this theory of declining monarch populations to genetically altered crops.  But that isn't the entire story as habitat continues to be lost in the Mexican wintering grounds and climate change, with extended periods of drought in some areas, particularly Texas, have also played into the declining population scenario. So what can you do to help monarchs?  Plant milkweeds in the garden.  Not only will you enjoy the monarch caterpillars but you will also enjoy large numbers of other butterflies nectaring on them.  More than 42 species nectar on common milkweed, 22 on swamp or red milkweed, and 9 on butterfly milkweed.  Make sure you plant them in full sun in loamy soil as milkweeds typically do not like clay soils.  Go ahead and put some in the ground today, the monarchs and other butterflies will thank you.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

KY Snake Identification Site Now Live

Finally.  After several years of the Kentucky Snake Identification Site being down due to a server crashing and not having the files backed up, we have been able to resurrect the web page.  The link is

This site contains information and range maps on all the snakes found in Kentucky.  I hope you find the site useful and if there are modifications that you feel would make the site better and more accomodating, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Plant of the Week: Large Yellow Ladyslipper Orchids (Cyprepedium parviflorum var. pubescens)

This is the center showpiece of any woodland wildflower garden.  While not the largest of Kentucky's native slipper orchids, it is probably the easiest to grow in the garden, and undoubtedly the most common species available in the nursery trade.  One of the key things to remember when purchasing these orchids is where the stock came from.  Do not purchase nursery grown or wild dug plants, rather purchase nursery propagated plants.  If you find mature plants for less than $25 - 30, it undoubtedly means these were most likely wild dug because it takes them 5 to 7 years from seed or tissue culture to produce their first blooms.  Hence, if they are nursery propagated, they have been in the nursery a good long time and many resources have been used to keep them growing until they are saleable size.  Once they do flower, they can bloom for 40 or more years and if they like the growing conditions and habitat in the garden, they can expand into rather large clumps where you might get 25 - 40 plants in a small area, and that looks outstanding!  While rather easy to grow in the garden, this species does not like acidic soils, rather more to the basic side (pH of 6.0 to 7.0) and if your soils are acidic you should buffer them by adding some wood ash and lime or sulfur.  Furthermore, clay soils are a sure way to kill these expensive plants, and rather quickly because the roots will rot by the end of the first growing season.  So, the essential soil should be close to neutral, well-drained (a good combination of sand and organic compost like composted trees), organic rich (mulch every single year) is the optimum.  If you do not have these conditions, you can make them but just ensure that the planting holes are at least 3 to 4 times the size of the bare root plants (fall is the best time to plant but you can also plant bare root in the spring).  To keep the maximum amount of flowering possible, every spring when the plants come up you can add a bit of granulated fertilizer (6-4-5 or something close) although generally adding a good heavy dose of organic leaf mulch will do the same thing.  When planting, pay close attention to the buds so that they are just at the soil surface and will be covered with 2" compost over winter.  Also make sure the lateral roots are spread out evenly in all directions.  If your plants are not doing well by the third or fourth year, they should be moved to a different location.  Light conditions are such that they should spend most of the day in dappled shade but will flower better if they get about 2 hours of direct sunlight daily.  I love everything about this plant including the soft, downy or pubescent leaves, the flower or course, and even the unique seed pod which contains thousands of tiny, dust like seeds.  One fascinating thing about the lady-slippers is that the seeds do not have an endosperm (nutrients supplied to baby plants), seed coat (for protection), or differentiated embryo.  So the strategy is to allow the seeds to take to the wind or water and hopefully fall where the tiny seedlings can find the appropriate soil fungi that aid the developing embryo by providing nutrients necessary for development and begin growing.  The orchid family is the most advanced plant family and they have a fascinating life history strategy.  The flowers are pollinated by males of small carpenter bees (Ceratina calcarata)  in this species.  So what attracts the bees to the flowers since they do not produce nectar?  It is either fragrance or color or a combination and the odor may be a mixture of various chemicals and pheromones.  Lady slipper orchids have mechanisms to prevent self-pollination and insects are required to transfer the pollen.  In order for the plants to be pollinated, only insects of a certain size may enter the pouch and escape and in order to escape they must be the correct size and they collect a touch of pollen from the anther as they climb out near the rear of the flower.  These sensational flowers are in bloom right now and will stay that way for a few weeks, so if you don't have any in the garden, take a walk and discover them in the wild because they are definitely worth seeing.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Gardening for Butterflies: The Most Important Plants in the Garden

Red-banded hairstreak feeds on dwarf and staghorn sumac and several oaks.

Monarch caterpillar feeds on milkweed
Gray hairstreak feeds on legumes and mallows
Sleepy orange feed on senna
Giant swallowtail feed on hop-tree

I could just say plant zinnas, verbenas, and butterfly bush and be done.  But that would be bad advice.  Why, because butterfly bush (buddleia) is invasive and there is more to attracting butterflies than by planting annuals or flowers for nectar.  The purpose of this column is to talk about attracting butterflies to the garden by using the plants that the caterpillars eat, because if you have the caterpillars, the adults will go to a large number of flowering plants for nectar and will not have far to travel to find nectar.  When thinking about creating a butterfly garden for caterpillars think location, location, location.  What this means is that the adult butterflies will be long gone, but the eggs must be laid on specific plants that are close to their food plants, or host plants that the young caterpillars need to eat.  If you have a desire to attract a large diversity of species to the garden, you should concentrate your efforts to knowing what the specific host plants are for each species and then planting those that are not common in the neighborhood.  For example, Great Spangled Fritillary caterpillars feed on violets and passionflower.  Violets are pretty common which is why you generally see lots of Great Spangled Fritillary butterflies. The same for tiger swallowtails.  Their caterpillars eat black cherry, tulip tree, and sweet bay magnolia. Tawny emperors, also common, feed on hackberry. No need to plant for these species mentioned above.  However, if you want sleepy or little orange butterflies, which are not so common, you need to plant senna.  Or as I mentioned in a previous post, pipevine swallowtail caterpillars feed on Dutchman's pipevine.  Of course, everyone knows that monarchs feed on milkweed.  In some cases, there is nothing you can plant as in the case of the great purple hairstreak caterpillars which feed on mistletoe, which is a parasitic plant that I discussed in a previous post.  So what are some of the other "host" plants to concentrate on providing in the garden.  The Giant swallowtail feeds on hop tree and lime prickly ash and I would concentrate on hop tree since lime prickly ash isn't that great of a landscape plant.  Zebra swallowtails feed on pawpaw.  Black swallowtails feed on fennel, dill, and parsley.  Spicebush swallowtails feed on spicebush and sassafras. Red admirals feed on nettles and false nettles. Gray hairstreaks feed on legumes (pea or bean family) and mallows.  The red-banded hairstreak feeds on dwarf and staghorn sumac and several different oaks.  The falcate orangetip feeds on mustards, particularly arabis (rock cress) and barbarea (winter cress). The common buckeye feeds on members of the snapdragon and plantain family in addition to wild petunia. The banded hairstreak feeds on oaks, walnut, and hickory.  This is just the beginning of creating a list of the 144 different butterflies found in Kentucky but let me tell you this, if you do get into butterflies in a big way, if you build it they will come.  A friend who has been planting exclusively for caterpillars has now seen over half of all the butterflies known in the state to his yard, just outside of Lexington.  Just imagine what you can do without planting a single zinna or verbena!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Plant of the week: Eared Coreopsis (Coreopsis auriculata)

This bright and cheery flower brings much color to the woodland border and stands out when planted in front of wild geranium or one of our native beard tongues like hairy, smooth, or small's which gives the yellow-purplish-pink color combination.  Lyre leaf sage is another good companion plant for more acidic soils. This species isn't too particular about soil ph but does like a mesic, well-drained soil and does not like clay.  It will often die out quickly when planted in heavy clay soils whereas when planted in well-drained, moist soils it will expand via underground rhizomes and form a nice, thick mat with flowers extending to 18" tall and leaves that do not get above about 6" tall. It does best with morning to mid-afternoon sun with afternoon shade and so the woodland edge is the ideal location for this species.  It typically flowers around the first of May, although this year it is in full flower right now.  It has a typical coreopsis bright yellow flower and the foliage can persist all year.  The leaves are quite distinctive with the lobes.  It does attract bees and butterflies.  There are two common cultivars in the trade, 'Nana' a dwarf form and 'Zamphir' which is a dense clumping form with more fluted orange-yellow petals.  Coreopsis are sometimes called tickseeds because their seeds superficially resemble ticks.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Plants of the Week: Appalachian Barren Strawberry (Waldsteinia fragarioides) and Walter's Violet or prostrate (Viola walteri)

What's up with this? Two plants this week!  Yes and the reason for me doing this is because these work together well in forming a thicket, low-growing ground cover in the shade garden.  Neither of these species is highly showy and the flowers on both species are pretty small, less than 3/8".  But they both have outstanding attributes for shade gardens where you want a ground cover that will keep weeds out and have interesting foliage throughout the growing season.  They can even tolerate a bit of foot traffic. Both species spread via underground rhizomes and can be divided to make the patches expand more quickly.  The five-petaled, bright yellow buttercup flowers of the barren strawberry work well with the light purple to lavender flowers of Walter's violet.  They both like humus, rich soils and both like it extremely well drained.  They seem to tolerate a wide variety of soils, but in Kentucky Walter's violet (a rare species) grows on the tops of limestone cliffs and the barren strawberry grows in sandy, alluvial soils in eastern Kentucky.  As can be seen from the photos, the barren strawberry has trifoliate leaves whereas the violet has roundish leaves.  There is one cultivar of the violet, 'Silver gem' in the trade that has a silverish tint to the leaves with dark striations. Beware, the red fruits from the barren strawberry are not edible and this species should not be confused with the non-native mock strawberry, that weedy lawn plant that looks superficially similar. Neither the barren strawberry or prostrate violet grows much above 2 - 3" tall and some good companion plants might include green-and-gold, hepatica, and spring beauty.  Both are pretty drought tolerant, especially the violet, and both appear to be somewhat deer resistant.