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, January 30, 2013

Plant of the Week: Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia humifusa)

Many folks are surprised that we have a native cactus in Kentucky and that it is actually quite common pretty much across the state.  I have seen it growing on limestone and sandstone glades, rocky cliffs and outcroppings, open woodland with shallow soil and rocks, and even in the middle of railroad tracks!  Like most cacti, this species has incredibly large, beautiful and showy flowers.  Each flower is about 3 - 4" across and is only open a single day.  However, in a large colony the individual flowering period may last up to a month depending on how many buds are present.  This plant has very shallow, fiborous root system and you can easily establish it by simply breaking off a pad and placing it on the ground such that a part of the pad has constant contact with the soil  It is a relatively fast growing species and the individual 10" long, 7" wide and 1 " thick pads grow quickly and appear bright green at fist but fade to bluish green over time.  You need to be careful when handling these cacti because the large spines are easy to see but the glochids, tiny hairlike bristles that occur in little tufts are barbed and treacherous  This is one of those plants that anyone can grow as long as it is dry and gets full sun.  While it can tolerate a good bit of moisture, it likes it dry, with little soil.  Like most of the prickly pears, the pads, called nopales, and fruit, called tunas, are edible.  The pads are either eaten fresh or cooked and taste like green beans.  Of interesting note regarding the fruits, they are eaten worldwide and in terms of commercial production they have about twice the production of strawberries, avocados, and apricots!  The tunas, when picked ripe in the fall when bright red, are used in making juice, jellies and jams and even butter.  Prickly pear is high in magnesium and Vitamin C.   It is an amazing low calorie food and each fruit generally has a half gram of fat, 4 grams of fiber, and 42 calories.  To make jellies or candies, simply cut the fruit in half (handle with tongs to avoid the spines and glochids) in a large kettle and cover with water.  Bring to a boil for about 15 minutes, mash with a potato masher and strain the juice in a cloth bag.  Add a little lemon juice and seal in sterilized jars with paraffin wax and use the juice in your favorite jelly recipe. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Plant of the Week: Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia)

This is one of a handful of evergreen shrubs found in Kentucky and it has dark green glossy leaves that appear like small rhodendron leaves and are quite leathery to the touch. This species is quite common in eastern and western Kentucky on dry, exposed, and often rocky soils. The key to growing this species in the garden is to never plant it in heavy clay, only well drained and if possible sandy soils, with a pH of around 4. While exceptionally drought tolerant, it should be mulched to retain moisture when placed in full sun. One of the best methods of growing this species is in raised beds where the soil drainage and moisture can be adjusted as needed. While the species will grow and flower profusely in full sun, the best location is for the plant to have some late afternoon shade and in the winter, if it can be protected it will look better. Usually plants grow up to 10 or 12’ tall but they have been seen in some southern locations to grow up to 40’. The flowers of this species are spectacular and range in the amount of pink or red contained in them, often depending on one of the more than 40 named cultivars. Of course this is such a wonderful plant that Pineville hosts the Mountain Laurel Festival each year around the first of June and crowns the annual Mountain Laurel Queen. In the past this species would typically flower in June, but with a warming climate, it has been flowering, sometimes as early as mid-May. The flowers generally last for a couple of weeks. Remove the dead flowers as soon as they are done blooming. This species grows quite slowly so the best planting advice is to purchase as large of nursery stock as you can get. This works well in a wildflower garden with azaleas, rhdodendrons, sweet mountain pepperbush, and evergreen trees. Mountain Laurel is susceptible to leaf spots, blight and lace bugs.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Plant of the Week: Common Millkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

This species has received a bad rap by farmers because it is considered weedy and has the tendency to spread profusely into agricultural fields.  When you look at it more closely, it is weedy under the right conditions, where the soils are good and loamy or sandy loam.  It, like most other milkweeds, does not like clay soils and can be difficult to establish in a native plant butterfly garden.  It will send out underground rhizomes and form a nice patch, but it generally does not spread like wildfire throughout neighborhoods.   This species can reach heights of 2 -6' tall and in late June produces beautiful pink flowers shown in the photo above in a 2- 4" cluster shown below that is very fragrant with a smell like pansies or violets .  The flower clusters are showy and highly attractive to insects, particularly butterflies. The plant is toxic to mammals and there are cardiac glycosides in the milky sap which means that many species of insects, including many that are very showy, because they are toxic if eaten. This is a largely unbranched plant and the stem has short hairs.  The large opposite leaves are hairless above and downy on the underside and each one has a prominent central vein. The seed pods are also unique with an elongated pear shape with short prickles and hairs.  The seeds have long hairs and are dispersed by the wind.  This is one of the milkweeds that is the host plant for monrach butterflies.  But other insects are also attracted to it and include things like short-tongue bees, milkweed plant bugs and moths, predatory wasps and a whole host of butterflies, particularly hairstreaks.  It is one of the very best butterfly attracting plants available.  For use in the garden, it is best placed in full sun where it has room to spread but can be controlled by cutting the rhizomes off under the soil.  Once established it requires no care whatsoever.  So if you are looking for something fragrant that butterflies absolutely love, this is the plant for you.


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Plant of the Week: Meehan's mint (Meehenia cordata)

Perhaps you are looking for a native species to take the place of that hideous Ajuga or Lamium or perhaps you need a ground cover with a touch of aromatics when you brush up against it or maybe you just want a low growing ground cover for light shade to draw people into the garden.  Whatever the reason, Meehenia is an excellent plant choice.  This beautiful lavender flower colored mint is stoloniferous and will gradually spread and form nice mats or clusters and is quite showy when it blooms in May, usually after many of the other spring ephemeral wildflowers are done blooming.  It likes filtered shade and this is a species that must have humus, rich and organic soil that is well drained.  It will not tolerate clay but it will tolerate quite a bit of sun as long as the soil is kept universally moist. The one inch long tubular flowers sit atop a 2 to 4" plant with heart shaped leaves. Like many other mints it has square stems and the flowers are two lipped and showy.  It is easy to propagate from stem cuttings or division.  The plant is named for the famed botanist Thomas Meehan who was a 19th century horticulturalist from Philadelphia.  The species name arises from the heart shape or cordate leaves.  If you use this as an introduction to the woodland garden it can be placed in front of foam flower, green and gold, or dwarf crested iris.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Plant of the Week: Spider Lily (Hymenocallis occidentalis)

This lovely plant looks like ballerinas dancing and delighting with six white petals that form a cup or ballerina skirt.  It is quite easy to grow in the garden and the 2 - 3" wide flowers are definitely show stoppers and when it begins flowering in July, it can make the best specimen plant weep because it will be far showier than most other plants in the garden at this time of year. It is the cup (corona) that gives the species its genus name, Hymenocallis, which refers to a "beautiful membrane."  The normal habitat for this species in Kentucky is generally out west and can be found at the edge of wet woods or meadows.  It typically begins flowering in mid-to late July and by the time it flowers. the long, strap-like foliage has almost disappeared, like other species in the Amaryllis family.  It grows to a couple feet in height and over time the bulbs can be divided and you can make a nice patch in an area that gets full sunlight or some late afternoon shade.  While it naturally grows in wet habitats, that is not a requirement for growing this species in the garden.  Give it lots of mulch and compost and it can tolerate clay to some extent.  If you want an exotic look in the garden, plant this in a mixture of Cinnamon and Royal Ferns, cardinal flower, and great blue lobelia.  This is an excellent rain garden species.  If you want something flowering early in the year, plant some of the native iris, southern blue flag, copper, or zig zag close by and you will be richly rewarded.