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, August 27, 2012

Plant of the Week: Blue Wood Aster (Symphotrichum cordifolium)

As we think about which species of wildflowers can tolerate dry conditions, this is an excellent choice for part-sun to shade.  It can grow from 1 to 4' tall depending on soil fertility and flowers best when given at least 3 hours of full sun daily.  The central stem is slightly reddish and somewhat hairy and it has 5" long x 2" wide leaves with a stem that are alternate.  During dry times the lower leaves will drop off the central stem. The ray flowers are typically lavender to blue and sometimes white and the central disk florets are usually yellow but turn to purple to red as they age.  There are 7 to 13 rays per flower head.  It is rhizomatous and can spread slowly via this method and also reseeds easily.  The best location is at the edge of the shade woodland garden and it works well with blue-stemmed goldenrod.  Like many of the asters, this species is a host plant for the Silvery checkerspot butterfly and bees are the primary pollinators.  It has no significant disease or insect pest problems and while not completely deer resistant, deer do not particularly like the plant.  This species makes an excellent cut flower for use in arrangements.  This is also a species, that when pinched back in the spring, will reward the gardener with an absolutely gorgeous flower show in the fall.

Feeding Wildlife During the Drought: Should I or Shouldn’t I?

Drought is tough on wildlife.  Water sources dwindle and food sources may become in short supply as plants do not grow vigorously or do not produce seed or fruit.  In times like these, such as the droughts we have been having, and will continue to happen, you feel like you should feed wildlife to keep them alive and healthy.  We all know that healthy wildlife go into breeding condition better, can withstand the long and cold winter better, and are generally better off. But and here is the big one: it is probably unwise to feed wildlife, particularly things like quail and turkey and even deer during droughts.  Why?  There are a myriad of reasons, but you have to have a general understanding of wildlife population dynamics and consider that this is part of the normal cycle and by artificially keeping wildlife in good condition through feeding, you could be potentially setting yourself up for a huge population crash in the future when food supplies dwindle or other factors bring the population back to what the environment can support, something we call carrying capacity.  Of a more immediate concern with the drought this year is feeding corn. Drought increases the possibility of aflatoxin poisoning in wildlife.  Alfatoxin, I never heard of it and why is it a concern for feeding wildlife?  Aflatoxins are fungi, usually Aspergillus flavus and A. parasiticus, that are associated with grain, particularly with corn (although it also occurs in wheat, millet, and peanuts and other crops), and it most often associated with wildlife problems in the southeastern United States.  It is usually present more during drought and with the corn harvest just beginning in Kentucky, we are already seeing some corn going to poultry facilities that cannot be used because the aflatoxin levels are too high.  When aflatoxin levels become elevated and can't be fed to domestic animals, where can producers sell this grain?  One source may in the form of wildlife or deer feed corn.  A study done about a decade ago in Texas found that 44% of corn bagged and sold as deer or wildlife feed had aflatoxin levels that would be considered hazardous for wildlife.  In addition, storage also affects aflatoxin levels and corn stored with a moisture content of 14% or more, relative humidity of 70% and temperature greater than 70 F can increase concentrations of aflatoxin.  Aflatoxicosis occurs primarily in the southeastern states and generally waterfowl, ducks and geese, are affected the most when they get into corn fields that have residual seeds from harvesting that are remaining in the field.  However, wild turkeys, quail and songbirds have also been shown to be affected and  field symptoms in birds include lethargy, blindness, inability to fly, tremors, wing flapping and quite often the birds are simply found dead.  Affects in deer are typically manifested by not eating becoming weak and anorexic, fidgety, uneasy demeanor and easily excited, diarrhea, and ultimately death.  Because aflatoxicosis appears more during drought years, landowners, hunters, and bird feeding enthusiasts should be cautious when deciding to feed corn or other grains.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Plant of the Week: Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis)

This is one of the most popular herbal medicines used today and part of its popularity is that it is widely believed that taking it can mask a positive test for illegal drugs.  There is absolutely no scientific evidence to back this claim up.  Native Americans originally used this plant for treatment of digestive disorders, skin treatments and a wash for sore eyes.  Today it is used as an antibiotic or immune system booster, for hay fever, allergies, colds and the flu, and as a wash for minor scrapes or wounds, and for urinary tract cleansing.  The active ingredient is a chemical called berberine that can kill bacteria in studies done in the laboratory.  It appears to have some anti-bacterial properties for killing things that cause diarrhea, yeast infections, e. coli, and even some tapeworms and Giardia.  It has also been used to treat heart failure.  While it does appear to have beneficial properties, like all medications, it has drawbacks and has negative interactions with cyclosporine, digoxin, tetraclycline, and blood thinners.  Pregnant and breastfeeding women, people with liver or heart disease or high blood pressure should not use goldenseal, nor should children.  This plant is considered poisonous when consumed in large quantities. As with all herbal medicines, be sure to consult with your doctor before consuming any goldenseal as it may pose significant hazards to your health.  In the garden this is not a very showy plant and usually has a pair of five lobed leaves with a single or solitary white flower (it is in the buttercup family and thus it loses its petals and sepals with just showy reproductive organs which constitute the flower).  This time of the year it has a raspberry like red, inedible fruit that is easily identified.  The root or rhizome is a bitter tasting bright yellow or brown and twisted or wrinkled in appearance.  This is best planted in rich, organic soil in the shade and is useful as an accent plant, mostly in the fall with the red berries. It will not grow in typical urban clay soils because the soil requires good drainage. It is fairly easy to grow from seed or rhizome cuttings.  It takes 5 to 7 years to grow from seed and 5 years to grow from rhizome cuttings.  The best time to plant seeds or rhizomes is in the fall and if growing from seed, the best germination rates will be obtained by gathering seeds and quickly de-fleshing the seeds from the fruit and storing at 70 F in moist sand until planting in late fall.  If planting from rhizomes, the rhizomes should be at least 1/2" long with visible, healthy roots and ideally a bud. It should be planted 2 - 3" deep.  This is one native plant that benefits from mulch and after planting a 2 - 3" layer of mulch should be applied and then every year or two afterwards depending on how much mulch is remaining.  Goldenseal is relatively free from pests and disease except for slugs which can eat the crown of the plant and the fruit.  If slugs are a problem, do not mulch the plants and attempt to control them.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Plant of the Week: Rough-leafed Dogwood (Cornus drummondii)

This is one of the most common native shrubby dogwoods found in uplands across Kentucky.  It is a clump forming species that can get to 15' tall and is easily recognized in the spring by its creamy white clusters of flowers and whitish to cream colored fruit or berries on reddish or grayish branchlets.  Fall color can be a spectacular purplish red color.  The leaves are rough to the touch due to rough hairs on top of the leaf and soft hairs under the leaf.  The leaves are somewhat oval in shape with pointed tips.  It does have a tendency to spread via root sprouts so you will want to give it room to do its thing.  It is a favorite tree for birds which relish the fruit in late summer and early fall.   The genus  Cornus is Latin for horn and the species name is for Thomas Drummond, a Scottish naturalist who collected plants in the early to mid 1800's.  This species often is confused with red-osier, gray, and silky dogwoods.  It can be grown in full sun to part-shade and once established is quite drought tolerant.  It can tolerate most soil types ranging from well-drained to clay and alkaline to acidic.  This is an excellent replacement plant for folks that are eliminating the exotic, invasive bush honeysuckles.

Creating a butterfly buffet with manure of all things!

Various species puddling

Feeding on fruit

In the past year I have talked about the importance of planting host plants for butterflies and which native flowers provide the best nectar.  Some species of butterflies, like the hackberry, red-spotted purple, Question mark, pearly eyes, etc. do not necessarily nectar but get their nutrients from alternative sources, not flowers.  Some species also puddle which is a means by which mostly male butterflies can be seen slurping something from the sandy roads or other locations.  These minerals are believed to be important for males to develop sperm.  So, how can you attract these species of butterflies to the garden.  Here are a few tips below:

Creating an artificial puddling area.  In a dish or other container mix coarse sand (not play sand), a tablespoon of epson salt and table salt, and a couple of tablespoons of composted manure.  Mix well to an even constituency (the major ingredient is the sand) and keep wet.  The key to attracting butterflies this way is to ensure the mixture is kept wet and is located in the full sun.  During times of extreme heat, you will need to add water daily and I would not use tap water because of the chlorine. flourine, etc.  Rainwater, spring or distilled water works best.

Another excellent method of attracting butterflies is to use rotting fruit, or even fresh fruit, that is allowed to ferment.  The best fruits to use are watermelon, cantaloupe, bananas,  peaches, and apples.  You can add some brown sugar and stale beer if you like to speed up the fermentation process, but it is not necessary.  This mixture needs to be placed more in the shade rather than sun although it is okay for the mixture to get a few hours of direct sunlight every day.  If you put this mixture in a blender, you can paint in on trees and other structures and see what interesting moths came in over the nighttime to feed.

Sit back and enjoy.  It might take a while for the butterflies to find these mixtures, but it does work.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Drought Stress or Browning of Trees

Author: Dr. Jeff Stringer, UK Department of Forestry
Kentucky had the hottest, driest June on record followed by the second wettest July on record.  Many homeowners have observed trees "going dormant" or turning brown and dropping their leaves.  What does this mean and should I be concerned about whether the tree is alive or dead or injured?  Dr. Stringer has written the following regarding drought stress on trees in Kentucky.

Trees don’t actually go into dormancy (in a true sense), they just rest for a while during the winter. Trees track night length to tell them when they should start their leaf abscission process (usual in later August) that results in an October leaf drop. If all of a sudden in December you increased day length you could fool them into leaf out, so therefore it is not a true dormancy.  Regardless, the leaf browning that is going on now is not due to dormancy it is due to desiccation or drying out. If you have a wet fall there will be some species that will try to refoliate (which is unfortunately not a good thing for them). Many of the understory trees can be really effected by droughts and show more symptoms than overstory trees. Some because they have naturally shallow root systems such as dogwoods. Some overstory species (not all) can tap deep water reserves and thus show less evidence of the drought than understory trees. Losing leaves is a mechanism that helps avoid total tree desiccation. You see this in species like river birch that losses leaves when it gets a little droughty (these are drought avoiders). Some species keep leaves on and tolerate desiccation of their tissues – these are drought tolerators (many oaks fall into this category). However, the severe nature of the drought makes it hard to tell which trees will actually succumb and which will pull out of it. My guess is that there will be a large number of the understory trees that will refoliate next year. Not to say they will be highly vigorous, but they will not be total dead either. Some will lose some branches etc. due to the internal desiccation. Regardless the woods and the trees in it will not be in good shape next year. If we have another bad year (drought, late spring frost or freeze, insect outbreak) you will definitely see mortality effects.

Plant of the Week: Glaucous Snakeroot (Prenanthese racemosa)

It is hard to believe it is already late summer and the fall flowers are now beginning to flower.  While it is still quite hot out, some parts of the state have received some much welcomed rain.  Here in Lexington the grass turned back green and is actually growing, perhaps a bit too quickly I might add.  None the less, now is the time to think about late summer and fall flowers. One the most outstanding, colorful species that occurs in the prairies at this time is the glaucous snakeroot.  What a beautiful species, slender growing from 2 to 4' tall, with longer, lower narrow leaves with a long stalk that get smaller and almost clasping towards the top of the plant.  It is clusters of beautiful pink to lavendar flowers that butterflies cherish. The plants like full sun and generally occur in moist prairies throughout their native range which is north of Kentucky from the east coast to almost the west coast.  In Kentucky, it is very rare and is known from one state nature preserve.  In the garden, it would do well in full sun with average garden soil (no clay) and loves calcium rich soils. An excellent companion plant would be rough blazingstar.  A patch of these two species together would be stunning and highly attractive to butterflies. Only one nursery sells plants and one sells seeds but if you are interested in having this species in the garden, it is well worth the effort to find or grow it yourself.
The plant gets its name from prenes for "drooping" and anthe for "blossom" and racemosa which is Latin for "having a raceme - cluster of flowers each on its own stalk arranged along a single stem. Because the stem has a "milky white" substance on the inside, it was used at one point to treat snakebite.  Timothy Coffey, in "History of Folklore of North American Wildflowers" attributed this direct quote about rattlesnake root to William Byrd of Virginia (1728)  "the rattlesnake has an utter antipathy to this plant, in-so-much that if you smear your hand with the juice of it, you may handle the viper safely. Thus much can I say of my own experience, that once in July, when these snakes are in their greatest vigor, I besmear’ed a dog’s nose with the powder of this root and made him trample on a large snake several times, which however, was so far from biting him that it perfectly sicken’d at the dog’s approach and turn’d its head from him with the utmost aversion."

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Plant of the Week: Yellow Fringed Orchid (Platanthera ciliaris)

Oh the joys of having a bog garden in the yard in late July and early August.  One of the most outstanding native orchid species, the yellow fringed will make a statement that says "WOW."  Growing from 12 -24" in height with a couple of leaves along the stem, this species occurs pretty much throughout the eastern United States and Canada ranging from Florida to Texas north to  Canada.  It is fairly common in the southeastern states, but becoming rare in northern states.  The individual flowers are about an inche long with a distinctive fringe and a long nectar tube at the rear of the flower.  There can be a handful to several dozen flowers on an individual flowering stem. One of the most fascinating things about this species is that its primary pollinator is the spicebush swallowtail butterfly and they generally nectar on this species from late morning through mid afternoon. On the coastal plain the primary pollinator is the palamedes swallowtail.  The reason the butterflies visit in late morning is that most of the nectar is produced overnight.  Is that not cool! These are among the easiest of all the native orchids to grow, if you have the right habitat, which is generally wet sphagnum (BOG GARDEN) that gets full sun and the pH runs from about 4 to 5.  The growing medium must be kept moist for the plants to do well, although a little drying will not hurt them. The individual plants
arise from fleshy rootstocks that produce buds which will become the following season’s growth.  What this means is that damage to a plant in a given year will affect the vigor and size of the next year’s plant and if you are gentle with them, they will expand their colony to make quite a show.  The Native Americans used the roots of this plant to treat diarrhea and snakebite and as a fish attractant whereby they would attach some of the root to the hooks to make the fish bite better.  Several nurseries sell this plant and it sells out very, very quickly and the plants are expensive.  But if you have a bog garden, this is one plant (along with meadow beauty, cardinal flower, great blue lobelia, etc.) that could make quite a show this time of the year.