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.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Plant of the Week: Addison's Leather Flower (Clematis addisonii)

This beautiful native, small vine, is only known to occur in four western Virginia counties in dry woods, openings, and rock outcroppings with calcareous soils.  It only grows here because it is found on a unique geological formation called the Elbrook formation, which is mostly dolomite with some limestone, shale and siltstone. While this native habitat is about 5 hours from Lexington, it is only a couple hours east of the Kentucky border and it does very well here in Kentucky because of our calcareous (limestone based) soils and being pretty much at the same latitude on the map.  It has just begun flowering here and it is such a smallish, delicate vine, reaching about 2 to 2.5 feet tall, with very smooth leaves and one plant I observed had over a dozen of the characteristic bluish purplish white tipped urn shaped flowers dangling from purplish stems.  Like most climbing clematis or American bells, the stems are pretty fragile and the leaves are simple, not complex.  The plant dies back each winter and then begins vigorous growth in the spring.  Given the right conditions it will flower all summer long.  It likes part sun but can take full sun or a good bit of shade and the more sun, the more it flowers.  It likes well drained soil (no clay) and does like rich soils but can do okay without them.   This plant was named for Addison Brown, one of the founders of the New York Botanical Garden.  The two nurseries I know that carry this species are Plant Delights and Brushwood Gardens, but they typically sell out of this species quickly each year because it is such a great plant.  Try growing it along a woodland border sprawling around some of the skullcaps (Scutellaria), butterfly milkweed, coreopsis, and other shorter growing full sun species or make it a specimen plant and put in two or three for a magnificent show.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Plant of the Week: Wavy-leaf Coneflower (Echinacea simulata)

The genus Echinacea, a uniquely North American group of nine species, is named for the center like spiny sea urchin or hedge hog like central disk (Greek = echino).  There are three species native to Kentucky, wavy-leaf, pale purple (E. pallida), and purple (E. purpurea).  Wavy-leaf is probably the most common species and the name simulata arises from the similarity to pale purple coneflower.  Some authors consider these to be one species and two distinct varieties. The two species look pretty much identical and the best way to differentiate the species is by pollen color.  E. simulata has yellow pollen and E. pallida has white pollen. They can be found growing together in our limestone glades and barrens across the state. These two to three foot tall members of the aster family have narrow, parallel veined, toothless leaves and hairy stems. The large daisy like flowers typically begin flowering in late-May, peak in mid-June, and remain in bloom all summer and may re-bloom in some cases.  Unlike purple coneflower, these species have a taproot, not a fibrous root system, and consequently are very drought tolerant, and even tolerate clay soils.  They grow best in full sun but will still bloom profusely in part shade.  They make excellent cut or dried flowers and they are a butterfly and bee magnet.  The dried seeds also attract American goldfinches.  If you leave some seeds in the head, they will self-seed and over time a nice drift, which is quite showy, will develop.  Because of the hairy nature of the plant, deer do not usually browse it much at all.  It is for the most part disease and insect free which makes it a very low maintenance plant.  Excellent companion plants include orange coneflowers, butterfly milkweed, ozark coneflower (the yellow to orange flowering species), and blazingstars.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The absolute best native plants for attracting butterflies

Flying flowers fancy the delights of young and old alike. They flitter to and fro bringing joy and pleasure to all that watch and enjoy such things.  As I have traveled around the state of Kentucky the past 23 years giving programs, I always enjoy talking about attracting butterflies because there is so much misconception about what to plant to attract them.  Most folks tell me, zinnia, hollyhocks, butterfly bush, Mexican sunflower, daisies, marigolds, yarrow, verbenas, pentas, phlox, lantana, and salvia.  There is no question that many of these will in fact attract butterflies because many butterflies are not all that picky about what they nectar on.  However, for the astute observer of all things wild and natural, those folks who actually look closely for all different types of butterflies, not just the large showy swallowtails, they find that many butterflies actually prefer the plants they evolved with, native species.  Case in point. During our annual butterfly count in Lexington we begin the count at the Arboretum.  We visit the various areas and of course hit the butterfly bushes (Buddleia) and every single year, without exception we count far more species and numbers of butterflies on native flowers than on butterfly bushes. In many cases, even on internet web sites, natives are promoted and the number one plant mentioned is butterfly weed.  While this is a good plant for attracting butterflies, it is not the best in terms of attracting butterflies as only 9 different species have been documented using it compared to 42 species that use common milkweed. In Kentucky, and much of the mid-south and mid-west, here are the very best native plants to use in attracting butterflies.  Keep in mind that one person's wildflower is another person's weed and that some plants get a bad rap in particular the milkweeds.

#1. Common milkweed.  42 species known to nectar and especially attractive to gray and other hairstreaks, in addition to monarchs and members of the hackberry group of butterflies.

#2.  Purple coneflower. 22 species including the fritillaries, red admirals, skippers, and sulfurs.

#3. Swamp or red milkweed. 20 species known to nectar and an excellent late summer choice for buckeyes, swallowtails, and monarchs.

Now let's look at some of the other species that are excellent at attracting butterflies and we will begin with butterfly milkweed.  This is an excellent choice for swallowtails and it is one of the primary nectar sources for the coral hairstreak.

Eupatoriums (Joe-pye-weed, boneset, mistflower).  These are the best late summer and early fall butterfly magnets and do the swallowtails and hairstreaks love them.  While boneset can be a bit on the weedy side, I have photographed more rare butterfly species on this plant (and more hairstreaks) than any other plant.  It is outstanding and no butterfly garden should be without some.

Asters, particularly New-England are excellent for a variety of species and most of these are pretty weedy so you need to know what the seedlings look like and be prepared to pull them in spring or early summer.  The New England aster is quite showy and comes naturally in purple, red, blue, pink and white and is very good nectar source.  Along with the asters for color, goldenrods are excellent butterfly and insect attracting plants.  Do not get any of the aggressive species like tall or Canada but rather look for smaller, less aggressive species like rough or gray.  The smaller hairstreaks like goldenrods.

The gay-feathers or blazing stars particularly spiked, prairie, southern, and rough.  These are mostly mid to late summer flowering and attract swallowtails and smaller species.

The last favorite plant is buttonbush.  This shrub is an excellent nectar source and the dried fruits make for interesting cut or dried plant material for arrangements.

Try planting these species in drifts and masses and perhaps you will be fortunate like my friend Dr. Dave Svetich, who has seen half of all the butterfly species known in the state in his backyard by simply planting natives for nectar and specific host plants.  For more information on attracting butterflies to the backyard, click on the following link:

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Plant of the Week: Umbrella Magnolia (Magnolia tripetala)

Kentucky is at the heart of the range of this spectacular small tree which can reach heights of 40'. The most distinctive thing about this species, and the other native deciduous magnolias, are the large leaves ranging from 12 to 30" long or more.  Umbrella magnolia is different from big leaf (Magnolia macrophylla) in that there are no "ear-lobes" at the base and is whitish underneath, Fraser's magnolia (M. fraseri) which has smaller leaves with lobes and is pale but not whitish underneath, and cucumber tree (M. acuminata)which has smaller leaves, no lobes and is whitish underneath. Cucumber tree also has rough bark compared to the others which have smooth bark.  Umbrella magnolia also has these incredibly large, showy white flowers than reach up to 7 or 8" across.  In the fall, the flowers are replaced by a cone or reddish seeds and the leaves turn yellow before dropping.  This is a tree that is definitely worth trying in the landscape if for no other reason that you are likely to be the only one what has it in the landscape. Site location is the key to using this as it should be sheltered from the wind and it must be watered during drought, even mature trees. It does not like, nor thrive in clay soils and likes well-drained, somewhat acidic soils, often rich in humus.  It also likes part shade. A great place to have it would be at the edge of the shade garden or along a meandering stream near a water garden. The species name tripetala most likely is related to the three sepals that are longer than the petals of which there are more than 3 in the flower. Why did it get this name?  It appears it was a mistake by Carlos von Linne' in that he used the description provided by famed botanist Mark Catesby who called it, "Magnolia amplissimo flore albo, fructo coccinea" and he was confused by the actual number of petals. The common name arises from the round clustered and long leaves at the end of the branches that resemble an umbrella.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Plant of the Week: Scentless Mock-orange (Philadelphus inodorus)

The natural habitat for our native mock-orange shrubs are limestone cliffs, often associated with the Cumberland River system.  We have three native species, P. inodorus which is perhaps the showiest of all three, P. hirsutus, which has much smaller more whitish-cream flowers, and P. pubescens var. intectus and var. pubescens, which has more than five flowers in a cluster and can be a large shrub.  All the native species are considered rare, threatened or endangered.  The scentless mock-orange is a spectacular specimen plant with clusters of one to three (usually) 1" diameter flowers with between 60 and 90 stamens in a flower.  This is important because it superficially resembles the European mock-orange (P. coronarius) which has between 20 and 50 stamens per flower and has a strong fragrance.  This species has escaped cultivation and persists in the wild in Kentucky.  The 2 - 4" long ovate shaped leaves are simple and opposite and the entire plant can reach a height of 10'. The mature bark is often gray but can become more of a mahogany color over time.  It flowers most profusely in the sun but grows equally as well in the shade.  The best location would be a mixture of dappled shade with 4 hours or so of full sun. It definitely likes calcareous or neutral soils and in parts of the state with acidic soils they must be amended with lime for this species to grow. It ranges in nature from Canada to Florida.  This species could be used as a specimen plant, or even better as a showy hedge or backdrop for a wildflower garden.  When purchasing make sure you do not get the European species.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Rock Gardens, a great Zen feature to your yard.

I have always been surprised that more people do not have rock gardens as a component of their landscaped yards in Kentucky.  Rock gardens, particularly if using some of the native rock, blends hard permanent, rugged and solid features complimented with delicate, often times, colorful flowers.  Furthermore, they are actually pretty simple to make.  One of the very best attributes of developing a rock garden is that they are very low maintenance and can be used to deal with sometimes difficult and challenging conditions, like a steep slope, in the yard.  When developing a good rock garden, you may want to work with a landscape designer or architect to help you design it so that it becomes a focal point in the landscape and can be a unifying garden in the landscape.  The key to developing the rock garden is to have a good foundation, which means digging dirt.  On a natural slope you should dig down about a foot and if using a raised bed you should dig down about three feet.  Remove the dirt because you are now going to put in the drainage layer which can consist of old broken clay pots, unattractive rocks, old pieces of brick or concrete, or other inert materials. Pack this material in to a height of about half of the depth of the dirt taken out.  Now add coarse sand over the top to about 3 to 4" from the surface.  Now, the final step is important because you will want to put the growing layer on top with a mixture of 1/3 topsoil (no clay), 1/3 humus (peat can do here as well), and 1/3 pea gravel.  You can retain some of the pea gravel for placement between plants if your design calls for it.  Now plant your rocks, yes plant your rocks!  You can use rocks of different types, substrates, and sizes to create a naturalistic looking effect.  If you are using large boulder sized rocks place them about a third of the way into the soil mixture.  One of the best things about selecting rocks is you can get colorful rocks, round rocks, flat rocks, and other rocks with character that can help and you can even get creative and have enough flat rocks to create a space for sitting and lounging, or one with a large cavity that would hold water for birds.  Your imagination and creativity are the only things limiting what you can do. Before the final step of putting in the plant material, let the garden settle for a week or so.  Water it, let the rocks settle, and fill in areas with the soil mixture where there has been subsidence. Once the flowers have been planted and established, the only maintenance is to pull weeds, which when young will come out easily from this soil mixture.  The final step, enjoy, enjoy, enjoy.
Some excellent native plants for rock gardens
Scutellaria nervosa
Scutellaria saxitalis
Viola pedata
Viola walterii
Silene carolinanum
Phlox pilosa
Phlox amoena
Phlox bifida
Draba ramosissima
Talinum calcaricum (or teretifolium if sandstone)
Blephilia hirsutus
Sedum nevii
Sedum glaucophyllum
Sedum pulchellum
Antennaria spp. (pussytoes)
Sisyrinchium albidum
Sisyrinchium angustifolia
Hypoxis hirsutus
Allium cernuum
Lespedeza repens
Lespedeza procumbens
Liatris squarrosa
Manfreda virginica
Opuntia humifusa
Solidago nemoralis

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Ticks In Kentucky

Blake Newton, UK Extension Entomologist

There are more ticks out there, and more of them every year. 

For the past few years, I’ve heard more and more people commenting on tick populations. They say that they've seen more ticks, and earlier in the year. I've even made the same comments myself! When I’m out in the woods, it seems like I encounter more of them than ever. Especially the little guys—the tiny ones that some people call seed ticks. After walking for just a few minutes in the woods, I will sometimes find hundreds of these things crawling on me (and that’s after spraying myself with insect repellent). So, are there really more ticks in Kentucky?

Well, nobody really knows.

A few researchers in other states and other countries have collected evidence showing that tick populations may indeed be moving and changing: more ticks in more places, and more often. The evidence is becoming more widespread, and is quite compelling. But if there are more ticks, why? Nobody knows this, either. Expanding deer populations? Climate change? One study suggests that increased acorn production may influence tick populations: more acorns = more rodents = more ticks.

Whether there are actually more ticks in Kentucky, though, remains an unanswered question. We have yet to conduct a rigorous study of their population numbers here. Maybe there really are more ticks, or maybe there there are simply more humans in the woods, doing more complaining!

Nevertheless, you don't need to conduct a study to know that there are lots of ticks in Kentucky, and that many of them would love to hitch a ride on you (or your pet) and grab a blood meal. And some of them are capable of transmitting diseases. So don't worry about how many ticks are there are in Kentucky. Instead, take a few simple steps to protect yourself from them.

The good news is that there are only a few kinds of ticks in Kentucky that will attach themselves to people and that the risk of getting an illness from a tick in this part of the United States is very low. Below, I will review the three types of ticks that are of concern in Kentucky, the diseases associated with them, and how to protect yourself from them.

Before you read another thing though, heed this advice: Don't be afraid to go for a hike in Kentucky. Of course, you should never hike alone, and you should take common-sense precautions (bring water! know where you're going!). But Kentucky is one of the safest places in the world to enjoy the outdoors. In Kentucky, venomous snakes and spiders are rarely encountered. We have no lions. No sharks. No malaria-infested mosquitoes. Take advantage of wild Kentucky. Don't let a few tiny ticks spoil your fun.

American Dog Tick
The American Dog Tick, Dermacentor variabilis, is probably the most common tick encountered by humans in Kentucky. As an adult, it is fairly large—almost as large as a watermelon seed, and as large as a small ball-bearing after feeding on blood. As its name suggests, this species is often found on pets. This tick is considered to be one of the primary vectors of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF), a disease that can be life-threatening when left untreated. RMSF is known to occur in Kentucky, but incidence in our state is low: just a handful of cases each year. (Read more about RMSF at PubMed Health.) The good news about this tick is that the larval stages (which could potentially be hard to find and remove because they are so small) are not interested in large hosts like dogs and humans. Also, this tick has not been shown to carry Lyme disease. Pictured below are adult female (left) and male (right) American Dog Ticks (Photo Gary Alpert, Harvard University, www.Bugwood.org). The University of Florida website has lots of additional detailed info about this species.

Lone Star Tick
The Lone Star Tick, Amblyomma americanum, is the only tick besides the American dog tick that is commonly encountered by humans in Kentucky. It is similar in size and appearance to the American dog tick except that adult females have a distinctive white dot on their dorsal surface. The very tiny (1-3mm) ticks that are often called "seed ticks" or "turkey ticks" are the larval stages of the lone star tick. These larvae can occur in very large numbers and they will attach to humans. Although lone star ticks are not associated with RMSF or Lyme disease, they may occasionally carry other diseases such as anaplasmosis or tularemia, so it is good practice to remove the larvae and adults as soon as possible. Pictured below are the adult male (left) and female (right) lone star tick (Photo Mat Pound, USDA Agricultural Research Service, www.Bugwood.org)

Blacklegged Tick
The Blacklegged Tick, Ixodes scapularis, sometimes called the deer tick, is smaller than the ticks shown above: it is about the size of a sesame seed when fully grown. It is not common in Kentucky, although there are scattered reports of it in our state. This is the only tick in the eastern U.S. that is known to transmit Lyme disease to humans. The tick, and the incidence of Lyme disease, is most prevalent in the Northeastern U.S., but a handful of people (a few dozen at most) in Kentucky are diagnosed with Lyme disease each year. They may not be catching the disease in Kentucky, though. A person can pick up the disease while traveling, and it can take weeks or months for symptoms to develop, so a Kentuckian who contracts Lyme disease in another state may not be diagnosed until long after they have returned. (Read more about Lyme disease at PubMed Health.) Many people confuse the very tiny "seed ticks" with the blacklegged tick, but remember that those are the larval stages of the lone star tick, which is not associated with Lyme disease. I spend hundreds of hours hiking in Kentucky forests every year, and I have never seen a blacklegged tick. Pictured below is an adult blacklegged tick (Photo Scott Bauer, USDA Agricultural Research Service, www.Bugwood.org).

So there are three different ticks that are associated with a variety of illnesses. Seems complicated, but the best defense against all tick-borne illnesses is the same, and it consists of just a easy few easy steps. The bottom line: reduce the number of ticks that attach to your skin and remove any ticks as soon as possible. To reduce tick exposure, stay on cleared trails and avoid tall weeds and grasses. Also, wear long pants (tucked into socks) when walking through "weedy" environments. If appropriate, use insect repellents according to label recommendations. Inspect your body from head to toe (use a close friend to help!) several times per day when camping or visiting areas where ticks are common. Remove attached ticks by grasping the creature with tweezers just behind the point of attachment, and pulling. Don't use matches, vaseline, or nail-polish remover (they don't work!). Then, if you do notice signs or symptoms of an illness following a tick bite (especially flu-like symptoms or a rash), visit a physician and mention that you were bitten by a tick. Read more detailed tips at our online UK Entomology factsheet: Ticks and Disease. (And don't forget about pets: your veterinarian can recommend several effective and long-lasting pest-control solutions for your dog or cat).

So get outside. Enjoy Kentucky! Keep an eye out for ticks, but don't keep your mind on them.