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, October 28, 2013

Plant of the Week: Strawberry Bush (Euonymus americanus)

This is one of those native plants that kind of hides until it is time for it to strut its brilliance, which is now when the clusters of seed pods open and display the bright orange to red seeds in the four lobed seed capsules that are rough looking.  This feature has given this plant the common name of "Hearts-a-Bustin" .  This green stemmed plant is pretty common throughout the woodlands of Kentucky but you hardly ever see it get very big in the wild because it is a favorite deer food and in many places they have almost eliminated it.  However, in the garden, this 4 to 6' tall plant, makes a wonderful edition to the woodland or woodland edge garden.  It can form a thicket because it suckers and the light green leaves and 5 petaled flowers are not that showy, but this is unusual for a Euonymus because they usually have 4 petaled flowers.  Fall is definitely the season for this plant as the leaves can turn a scarlet red draped against the green stem complete with those wonderful seed capsules. When considering where to plant look for loamy soils that are slightly acidic as the eastern Wahoo (a native tree) likes the more heavy limestone soils (and is also an excellent native species as well).  All parts of this plant are poisonous and contain glycosides that cause severe diarrhea and potentially heart failure and cardiac arrest.  This is a much better native alternative to the invasive exotic burning bush and winter creeper so heavily planted in this state.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Plant of the Week: Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum)

This is one of my favorite trees to see in the fall as the leaf color can range from bright yellow to orange to red.  It is fond of our calcareous soils and is an easy to grow tree that provides wonderful shade and you can even tap it for maple syrup if you are so inclined. This is such a stately tree that it is the state tree of Wisconsin, Vermont, West Virginia, and New York. Some botanists consider the black and bigleaf maples (out west) to be varieties of subspecies of the sugar maple. This is a relatively slow growing species that likes full sun and well-drained, evenly moist soil.  It is predicted this species will decline in many areas of the country as a consequence of global climate change because it can not tolerate extended hot, dry periods and likes cooler, more moist habitats in the wild. This is one of the primary species that gives spectacular color in New England and is the primary species for which sugar maple syrup is extracted.  However, there are a variety of different cultivars on the market like Caddo, that is a more compact species which reaches heights of about 30' (rather than 60 to 70') and is more drought and heat tolerant.  Several other varieties that are heat and drought tolerant include Green Mountain and Legacy. Sometimes people confused sugar maple with red maple and there is a simple way to tell the difference between the two and that is to look at the U shaped connections between the 3 - 5 lobes versus the V shaped connections in the red maple. This species is largely disease free and appears to handle a fair amount of air pollution making it an excellent urban tree, better in my opinion than red, Norway, or silver maples that are more commonly planted.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

What will fall color 2013 be like in Kentucky.

The question is now upon us, will we have a color fall leaf changing season?  The answer is: yes, no, maybe.  The one thing that is fairly certain, it will be later than last year. This photo was taken October 14 on Pine Mountain and there was really good color at this time.  I was out and about last weekend and the color, well it just isn't developing yet.  Some of the sourwood and dogwood looked good, sumacs varied from outstanding to blah, and the black gum had pretty much dropped their leaves already.  Some of the tulip poplars and sycamores were just dropping leaves and some hickories were brown, not outstanding yellow.  So the prognosticators would say that fall color will arrive a bit later this year probably because it has been wet and warm.  But we can have some outstanding color although it might be spotty. So what conditions are necessary for outstanding fall color?  The best colors develop when you have had a warm, wet spring (which we had), a summer that isn't too hot or dry (which we had) and most importantly fall days that are warm with cool nights (which we haven't had until this week).  In general, when you get these conditions the reds are more brilliant (along with the purples and crimsons), the orange-reds of sugar maple can be stronger and more vibrant, and the yellows are pretty much a constant because they are not affected as much by the weather prior to leaf color change.  So leaf color could be good but if we get some cloudy, rainy, warm days, then maybe not so much.  But even then, there will be spots where the color will be intense, you may have to just search it out.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Plant of the Week: Blue-stemmed Goldenrod (Solidago caesia)

This is one of the most elegant of all the native goldenrod species.  It is a fall flowering species and is at peak flower right now in the woodlands.  It is only one of several native goldenrods that has flowers that appear in the axils of the leaves, zig zag goldenrod is the other and it has larger leaves with petioles (stems) whereas the blue-stemmed leaves are sessile. They are both woodland species but flower much more profusely in areas where they get lots of morning sunlight although it can tolerate almost full sunlight.  This is a species that can tolerate some clay in the soil and can even be found in rocky soils although like most woodland species, loam soil is the best.  This is not an aggressive or weedy species at all and the sometimes greenish-blue leaves can be up to 5" long and 1" wide. Remember, goldenrods have heavy pollen and this species is no exception in that it is pollinated primarily by bees, and it is not wind pollenated so it is not the cause of your allergies or hay fever.  If you really want an outstanding show of color, plant this in groups or clusters of 5 or so plants and then use blue woodland aster around it and the show of light blue and yellow is incredible.  This plant is not tolerant of deer browsing although it is certainly not a favored food.  Finally, this plant makes an excellent cut or dried flower.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Plant of the Week: New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae)

If you want a show of color in early fall, and I really mean a show, then this aster is the one for you. It can reach up to 4' tall but I always clipped mine back in June and it never got above about 3' tall and talk about clusters of flowers!!!!!   Wow, what a show this plant puts on.  Individual flower clusters vary from pure white ray flowers with yellow centers to pink to blue to purple and red. It is also one of the great late season butterfly attracting plants.  Each composite flower is about an inch and half wide with up to 30 rays flowers.  If you cut the plant back, on the top of each plant the clusters of individual composite flowers can be more than a dozen.  One of the great things about this aster is it is quite easy to grow, doesn't really have much of a habitat preference (of course rich, mesic is best in the full sun - but it is adaptable) and it can be aggressive which means you need to be able to identify the small seedlings in the spring with their alternate leaves up to 4" long and 1" wide that are whitish colored (small hairs).  This species will also spread horizontally via rhizomes and every few years it will need to be divided. It also has a tendency to drop leaves during drought and will become leggy, thus in many cases you will need to stake it up. The primary pollinators are bees, skippers, and butterflies and it will be browsed by deer, turkey, rabbits, etc. but it is generally not a species they like to eat.  When the leaves are crushed they have a vague turpentine like smell.  Because this is such a showy plant and easy to propagate, more than 50 named cultivars exist all over the world and one of the most popular is 'purple dome' which is a dwarf form.  Whatever the reason, this should be a mainstay in the wild garden along with the various yellows of goldenrod.  That is a true fall garden.