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, June 25, 2012

Plant of the Week: Scaly Blazingstar (Liatris squarrosa)

Scaly blazing star is a wonderful species that can handle the hot and dry conditions we are experiencing at the present time.  It is a small species, growing to 1 to at most 2' tall, mostly about 18", and will remain in flower for several weeks to more than a month.  This species has a hairy stem and almost linear, alternate leaves that are 4 - 6" near the base and decrease in size as they occur up the stem.  Each individual flower head is about an inch in diameter with tubular disk florets and no ray florets.  It will grow in neutral or somewhat acidic soils and likes it dry, well-drained and even rocky or sandy soils.  It definitely needs full sun.  The flowers are pollinated by bumblebees, butterflies, and skippers.  The foliage is eaten by a variety of mammals including deer, rabbits, groundhogs, and domestic stock. Good companion plants are wild petunia, nodding wild onion, butterfly milkweed, and black-eyed Susan's.  It does have some medicinal uses primarily as a diuretic.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

There is something wrong in the neighborhood, that is with raccoons in the sweet corn.

Nothing could be finer than sinking your teeth into a nice freshly picked ear of peaches and cream, ambrosia, silver queen, cotton candy or any other hybrid sweet corn.  Unfortunately, this time of year, the raccoons seem to know about 2 days before you do when the corn is ripe and ready to be harvested.  So, what you gonna do?  Be frustrated?  Probably.  Be angry? Probably. Thinking of getting even?  Most likely.  Resolve to solve the problem?  Most definitely.  And so you begin the process of figuring out exactly what to do.  Your neighbor tells you this, the farm store tells you that, and every one gives you advice, and in the end, nothing works from the store of home remedies. There are really only two solutions, well three if you just give up and give in, to solving this dilemna.  First, the only repellent you can use on a human edible crop is Hinder.  It comes most often in a quart size for about $24.95 and many outlets on the web sell it.  You need to begin to apply this a few days before you see any activity by the offending animals and it must be reapplied after a heavy dew, rainfall, or watering.  You must keep applying it as long as the animals are coming into the garden. It will not stop all the damage, but it will stop enough, and for a sufficient period of time that you can harvest the crop.  Now the most effective, and long term solution is to use electric fencing, which will work for raccoons, rabbits, ground hogs or woodchucks, cats, dogs or any other type of small vermin.

This is an elaborate set up shown above was designed to keep beaver in the pond and away from ornamental trees.  However, the idea is the same for protecting your garden.  You only need one high tensile wire but two often works better.  The type of wire you see above is the New Zealand type polywire but you can use simple high tensile electric wire. The first wire should be a couple of inches off the ground and the second wire should be about 8" off the ground.  This stops animals from going under, through, or over the wires without getting a good dose of electricity.  The key to being successful is to have a powerful, and I mean powerful, charger, preferably a solar charged type that will put out enough current to give the little critters a good shot when they touch it.  It is essential that the wires to not touch vegetation anywhere, thus shorting out the system.  Do not get some cheap, whimpy charger designed to keep family pets around the yard.  Get a good, high quality, powerful charger designed to keep predators away from livestock because raccoons and other wildlife have lots of hair/fur and a tough skin.  The charger will be the most expensive piece of equipment but it will last for years and years and over time, will pay for itself.  Once the corn has been harvested, simply take down the fence and store until next year. In all the years I have recommended this set-up I have never had one complaint except for the farmer who did not have a powerful enough charger.  Trust me, it works and is the most cost effective method of protecting your garden so you can enjoy that tasty sweet corn, dang I can almost visualize that sweet, buttery taste in my mouth now.

Plant of the Week: American Lotus (Nelumbo lutea)

What is not to love about this water plant?  It is large and showy, has a really cool upside down shower head seed pod that works wonders in dried plant arrangements, and is easy to grow and maintain in any water garden.  Our native lotus is easy to identify and it is not a water lily.  Water lilies have indentations on their leaves and lotus do not, rather they form a complete circle and they can be large, sometimes up to 1 to 2' in diameter and I love how water beads in the center of the leaves and forms perfect round balls.  Now if you have a pond, you need to be careful about putting this species in the mud because it can completely take over a pond. In a water garden it is easy to maintain in pots placed on the bottom of the pond.  In nature it grows at the edges of ponds and rivers and the large leaves and large (up to 6 to 9" in diameter) showy flowers can stand above the water by 3' or more.  It typically grows in the bottom mud in about 18" of water. The flowers are fragrant and vary in color from white to yellow.  The leaves seem to have a bluish-green shimmer to them adding to their attractiveness as a landscape plant.  Beaver and muskrats have been known to eat the tubers and in times past, humans baked the tubers like a potato (each tuber can weigh up to a half pound), cooked the seeds like corn, and ate the leaves when they emerged in the spring.  The native range is pretty much throughout the eastern United States from Canada to Florida.  It is known by a variety of common names including alligator buttons, duck acorns, rattlenuts, water chinquapin, yonkapin, and yockernut.  The name Nelumbo means sacred bean and the species name lutea means yellow and thus translated it simply means yellow sacred bean.  In the old world especially in India, China, and with the Buddhist faith, lotus is a sacred plant to be honored.  Perhaps it should so be in this world as well.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Plant of the Week: American Pennyroyal (Hedeoma pulegioides)

Supposedly the Pennryrile region of western Kentucky was named for this small wildflower that loves dry shade to full sun.  This is a plant that is usually smelled before seen. It is an annual, but very easy to establish from seed and seed is pretty widely available because it has medicinal properties in addition to repelling insects.  It grows from 6 to 18" tall and will form pretty dense colonies., particularly if there is no competition from other plants.  It appears to like disturbed, open, bare soil. The most distinctive feature is the strong minty smell, which is why it was used in teas during olden times.  As with many mints, it has a square stem, opposite, oval shaped leaves, and the small blue, tubular flowers arise from the leaf axils in July through October.  A great place in dry shade to plant is along a walkway where you can get a whiff of the aromatic odor when it gets brushed or crushed.  This plant has been used as a natural insect repellent and was used for a variety of medicinal purposes.  It contains the essential oil, pulegone, and this can be a deadly compound if ingested orally.  Prior to abortion being legal, it was commonly used to induce abortion but it can cause severe hemorrhaging and complications, sometimes which result in death.  This is a plant that should never be used for medicinal purposes without direct supervision from a medical doctor.  It has been used to induce perspiration with the intent of warding off a cold, induce menstruation,  loosen phlegm, respiratory disorders, jaundice, nausea, ulcers, consumption, dropsy, toothache, leprosy, whooping cough, convulsions, sores in the mouth, colic, snakebites, expel after-birth, sore gums, fainting, fever, and gout.  It has been used as a flavoring agent and relieves gas and stomach pain.  It has also been used externally for bruising, itching and skin rashes.  In the garden its best use is as a ground cover with that strong aromatic odor which brings delight to the senses.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Plant of the Week: Royal Catchfly (Silene carolinana)

Stunning when in flower, the royal catchfly gets its name from the sticky flowers and stems that trap small insects. The striking and brilliant red flowers are a hummingbird magnet, and in fact, hummingbirds are required for this plant to set fruit and seed.  The other primary critter that uses this plant is the black swallowtail.  The current range for this species is from Florida to Illinois and over to  Kansas.  It is considered rare, threatened, or endangered in much of it's habitat (tall grass prairie) due to habitat destruction, lack of fire, competition with smooth brome grass, crowding from weeds and invasive plants, digging by plant lovers, and shading by woody species.  Growing from 2 to 4' tall, this plant likes calcareous soils and can tolerate some clay, although it definitely prefers well-drained soils, often loamy or sandy with lots of organic matter.  It is definitely a full-sun plant and will do poorly in the shade.  It produces a multitude of up to 2" wide 5 petaled crimson-red flowers from June through September.  While many flowers are produced, not all of them produce viable seed.  This multi-stemmed plant has downy, lance-shaped leaves with sticky hairs.  This plant loves fire and the seeds germinate better in burned soil where there is no litter layer.  It is fairly easy to grow from seed and once established, it has a central taproot with short rhizomes allowing it to form small colonies that can be divided. This is a very drought tolerant plant. It is susceptible to snails, slugs, whiteflies, spider mites, aphids, smut, rust, stem and leaf fungi.  It is also fairly common in the nursery trade.  Because the stems are weak, it requires support from mid-sized grasses or staking to stay upright.  This is a real show stopping plant in any garden and if you are serious about attracting hummingirds, this is a must-have species.