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, November 19, 2014

Passing of Dr. Thomas Barnes

Thomas Barnes
Photo courtesy:  Lexington Herald-Leader
It is with profound sadness and a deep sense of loss that we report the passing of Dr. Tom Barnes, Professor/Extension Wildlife Specialist at the University of Kentucky. Tom passed away at his home in Barbourville, KY. Tom was a well-known and respected member of the Forestry Department and College of Agriculture, Food and Environment family for almost 26 years – he will be sorely missed.

For more information about Dr. Barnes, please visit click here.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Plant of the Week: Pickerel Weed (Pondeteria cordata)

This is a water's edge plant and typically grows in mud with water covering the rhizomes.  It can form vast colonies in the wild but is tamed in the water garden by growing in containers with rich loamy soil covered with a few inches of water.  It flowers from late June through summer and the flower spikes occur on glossy green arrow-shaped leaves.  The flowers give rise to distinctive seeds with toothed ridges that can be dried and eaten with granola. The entire plant gets 2 - 4 feet tall and it must be grown in full sun. The plant gets its name from the Northern pike or pickerel fish from which it is believed to coexist with.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Plant of the week: Meadow Phlox (Phlox maculata)

This is a superior summer blooming phlox compared to the commonly available garden phlox (P. paniculata) because it is not susceptible to powdery mildew or root rot.  It is fairly easily grown in medium soil, full sun and should not be over-watered.It is rhizomatous and clump forming and can reach 2-3' tall.  It is a deep pink color and hummingbirds are attracted to the slightly aromatic flowers a good summer mulching will help the species thrive and individual flowers should be deadheaded to keep the species blooming throughout the summer,  The lance-shaped, finely toothed leaves can reach up to 5" long and appear on reddish spotted stems (hence the name from the Latin - maculata - spotted).  This also makes an excellent cut flower.This species is often called Wild Sweet William.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Plant of the Week: Penstemon smallii

This is one of the showiest of all the beard-tongues and naturally occurs in TN, GA, NC, and SC but grows absolutely fine here in Kentucky.  The 2 - 2.5' tall plant flowers in May and June for an extended period and it has such a wonderful deep lavender color to the flowers. This is a good drought tolerant plant and prefers sun to partial sun and will thrive more in poor, shallow soils rather than good, rich loamy soils.  It has a tendency to be short-lived in good soil. The flowers are attractive to hummingbirds and bees and the plant is somewhat deer resistant. Native Americans chewed on the roots for relief of tooth cavities and to treat rattlesnake bites. A good companion plant is bluestar (Amsonia taberna  montana)

New Study Shows Rabbit Fencing Still Better Than Commercial Repellents

Wildlife Extension Specialists have long held the belief that permanent fencing is the best method of permanently solving wildlife damage problems. I think I have heard of every type of repellent used including mountain or coyote droppings, human hair, human urination, and the list continues.  In addition people swear by such things as soap or certain chemical repellents.  The research based information for the past three decades hasn't changed; repellents are simply not as effective at deterring browsing animals as are fences. A new study in the Journal, Human-Wildlife Interactions, two authors from CT tested 8 commercially available repellents against two fences and the fencing won out each time. None of the repellents worked 100% of the time and the blood-meal based product performed the best of the commercial repellents. Those containing putrescent egg solids sold next best.  If considering the use of a commercial repellent, be sure to calculate the cost of treatment and re-treatment and in the long run, you are better off building a good rabbit proof fence to keep them out of the garden.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Plant of the Week: Indian Pink (Spigelia marilandica)

Early summer in most woodland gardens is pretty boring because the spring ephemerals have flowered and are gone and the later summer lilies, cohosh and other species have not yet flowered.  This plant, which is not that uncommon in southern Kentucky is a real gem of a woodland edge or woodland flower and is quite at home in full shade, full sun, part shade and full sun for much of the day.This is an easy to grow species in rich, moist soil and will spread over time to form large colonies in some cases supporting over 75 individual flowers in mature clumps.  It flowers in late May and June and if you cut back the flowerheads, it will rebloom during the summer. The glossy green pointed egg shaped leaves grow up to 4" long and the flower reaches heights of 2".On top of the already mentioned great attributes, this species only gets about 18" tall.  This can also be easily divided and moved to other areas around the garden. The Cherokee Indians used this as a ritual or ceremonial herb to induce visions and to foretell the future. There can be no doubt this is a real show stopper in any perennial garden.This plant has no known disease or insect problems and the one great attribute about this species, is that it is a hummingbird magnet, right up there with cardinal flower.  One combination I like for real show stopping is to use sundrops (a bright yellow and showy flower) as an accent to the red flowers of Indian Pink. Finally, this species enjoys being drought tolerant.  Because of its showy nature, numerous nurseries sell this species.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Plant of the Week:Shrubby Saint John's Wort (Hypericum frondosum)

Imagine an easy to grow shrub that in the wild can reach 6' tall or more but in the home landscape there are cultivars like 'sunburst' that get 3' tall at most and 3' wide.It has somewhat flat linear almost bluish leaves that are bright green and up to 3" long.  This plant likes full sun to partial shade and rich sandy loam soils but does well in landscape plantings.  It bears flowers on new wood and thus it should be brimmed back, and the roots mulched, in late fall. While the entire bush can be covered with these beautiful 2" wide flowers, the reddish fruits are also quite attractive in late summer and fall. This is a drought tolerant species and prefers limestone, but will do okay in other soil types.  It is somewhat susceptible to wilt and root rot.  The genus.Hypericum has long been noted for its medicinal properties and H. frondosum has been reported to heal conditions ranging from muscle pain and skin burns to depression, ADHD and Parkinson's disease.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Ohio Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis)

Kentucky has two species of early summer blooming spiderworts, Ohio and zigzag or wide-leaf (T. subaspera).  The more showy of the two species is definitely Ohio as it grows to 2-3' tall in full shade to almost full sun and will stay in flower until July or later.  The wide-leaf species flowers mostly in late-May and early June, prefers deep shade and does not flower as profusely as the former species.  Of course we also have a spring blooming spiderwort, the Virginia (T. virginiana).  The easiest way to tell the species apart is to look at the leaves in terms of the width and also the glaucous or fuzzy nature of Ohio spiderwort (top image).  These are very easy to grow and maintain species and will ultimately form a nice clump (Ohio much larger than wide-leaf) that can reach 2' across.  The flower color ranges from blue to lavender and occasionally white or pink.  Ohio spiderwort prefers dry to medium soils and is incredibly drought tolerant. As the clumps enlarge, they should be divided in the fall.  Each individual flower only stays in bloom for a single day.There are few to no disease or insect problems associated with this species.  It should be cut back in late summer to 6" to eliminate bad looking foliage and to stimulate a potential fall bloom.  It is pollinated primarily by bumblebees and the foliage will be eaten by deer, rabbits, box turtles and even livestock as it is non-toxic. This species is named in honor ot John Tradescant, the royal gardener of King Charles I of England and in 1637 his son brought the plant from North American back to England where it became a garden favorite.  The species name arises from found in Ohio. These plants have become somewhat of a biological indicator species of high radiation and constant chemical pollution as studies at Kyoto University in Japan and Brookhaven national Lab found that the normally blue stamen hairs turn pink when exposed to radiation or constant pollution. Spiderwort use by Native Americans used it as a cure for tarantism and the Cherokee used to make a tea to treat female problems and a laxative to treat stomach and kidney ailments.  The Lakota made a blue paint from the flower to decorate clothing and crushed leaves were used to make a poultice to treat insect bites and stings.  This species also goes by the following common names: cow slobber, Indian Paint, Job's Tears, Blue Jackets, Widow's tears, Moses in the Buhrushes, Dayflower, and Trinity flower.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Plant of the week: American columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)

This is a uniquely an American Plant and is a great example of evolution in process.  There is only one columbine in Europe, it is mostly bluish in color, and is pollinated by bees which can see that color (hint there are no hummingbirds in Europe).  The American species, at least in the east, are red with five long tubes wherein the nectar is contained deer within the tubes so that only the strongest and biggest insects can pollinate it.  However, it is uniquely designed for it's primary pollinator, the ruby throated hummingbird. While this is the only native species in the  east, there are about a dozen in the West and of course the crowing beauty is the Rocky Mountain Blue Columbine, Colorado's state flower.  This is kind of an unusual plant in the buttercup family and the leaves closely resemble those of meadow rue.  The really great thing about this gem is that it is largely resistant to leaf miners, something that the horticultural hybrids are quite susceptible too.  This is an easy to grow species in partial shade to full shade (the full shade plants get taller and more spindly) and can tolerate quite a bit of sun.  They have a long flowering period of up to a month and they like limestone soils (they naturally grow out of limestone cliffs and rock outcroppings) but give it good soil (although a bit on the dry side) and it will give you years of enjoyment for it self sows readily and persists in the garden for many years.  The generic name is derived from the word eagle which is thought to be related to the shape of the flowers as the individual petals look like eagle claws. Native Americans used it to treat heart trouble, kidney and bladder problems, headaches, and fever.  They also used it as a was for poison ivy. It was reported to also be used as a love charm.
This is a quite beloved wildflower as John Burroughs wrote: "Our columbine is at all times and in all places one of the most exquisitely beautiful of flowers. " I like growing this with eared coreopsis, Appalachian beard tongue, and Christmas fern.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Plant of the Week: French Grass (Orbexilum onobrychis or Psoralea onobrychis)

This member of the bean family typically flowers in late May and early June and can reach heights of 2-2 1/2' tall.  It is a much larger and robust species compared to it's cousin, Sampson's snakeroot (Psoralea psoraloides).  The up to 6" long trifoliate leaves have a up to 2" stem that appear off the slightly fuzzy or pubescent stem.  The 2 -6" long raceme of blue flowers (which can vary from light almost white to dark blue) appears at the end of each stem. When each individual flower is examined closely you can tell it has the typical bean family flower. This is a colonial species that spreads vigorously from rhizomes and hence given it's preferred habitat of rich, loamy soil it can form quite a large cluster of plants in a relatively short period of time.  It prefers well-drained soils and grows in the full sun. Most nurseries sell seed of this species and it is not that difficult to grow from seed as long as you scarify the seed prior to planting in a pot or the ground.  It is an uncommon plant in Kentucky and is found at the edge of prairies and in the barrens region. This species has been used for livestock forage in some parts of the world and it is pollinated primarily by bees.  One of the most fascinating things about this plant is that a few years ago a very rare moth caterpillar was found using this species, and only this species, in Ohio.  The adult moth has never been seen and there are no descriptions of the adult moth.  Prior to finding it in Ohio, it was only found in one location in Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Plant of the Week:American Bur Reed (Sparganium americanum)

This is a native wetland plant that has some of the plant submerged under the water and can reach 2' tall.  It is however an excellent candidate for landscaping in a pond or water garden and for areas around the yard that are saturated with water.  It is an excellent cut or dried flower and is not a preferred deer forage.  In ponds it can form large mats and when it flowers in the spring it can be quite showy, especially when planted aside pickerel rush.  This plant resembles a sedge or grass like plant and in cross section the leaves appear triangular with a sharp keel (rise) in the mid-rib of the leaf.  The flowers appear in a cluster as white fuzzy roundish balls with bright yellow stamens.  The seed pods are equally as interesting and turn a brownish color in the fall. If planting in saturated soil, good companion plants would include pickerel reed, Virginia blue flag, copper, or zig zag irises and then the fruits would stand out in a grouping of cardinal flower and great blue lobelia.  It typically flowers in May to early June and has an extended blooming period hence it is a great water garden plant that can fill in with color and texture before the hot summer sun water lilies, lotus, and others species show off.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Plant of the Week: Wild Hyacinth (Camassia scilloides)

This is one of the showy late spring woodland wildflowers that can form a large colony but is a great plant for attracting honeybees, bumblebees, Cuckoo bees and Halictid bees.  It is fairly easy to grow in the garden and reproduces primarily by seeds, and that is how it is often available at native plant nurseries. In early spring this perennial has basal leaves that look somewhat like a droopy grass or sedge leaf that can be 1 1/2' across.  When the flowering stalk appears, usually in early May, it grows to about 2' tall.  Leaves are flowering time are about 6" in length and they have a very prominent vein in the center.  The individual flowers have 6 tepals, 6 stamens, and a bright green ovary.  The leaves and plant will be gone in the garden by mid-summer with no signs the plant existed in the spring.  Each seed capsules has many dark black seeds and it takes years for the bulb to mature to produce a plant that will flower.It is like most native woodland flowers in that it likes loamy soil in shade to part-shade and moist soil conditions. Good companion plants would be things like ferns and waterleaf, particularly those with mottled leaves.  It can also work well with other later blooming species like wild geranium.  Deer will browse the basal leaves but typically do not heavily graze the more mature plants.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Plant of the Week: American Bladdernut (Staphylea trifolia)

This is a wonderful woodland small tree or large shrub that has interest in the spring with the white bell shaped flowers and in the fall when the fruits appear as papery thin inflated bladders that appear like Chinese lanterns.  Because of the wonderful seed capsules, branches and fruits make an interesting addition to dried flower arrangements.  In the spring, you often see tiger swallowtail butterflies nectaring on the blooms although it is a great pollinator plant as native bees and honeybees relish this as a mid-spring source of nectar.  I like this species because it is very drought tolerant and can tolerate heavy clay or rocky soils in addition to heavy shade conditions.  Thus it can be a great addition to the home landscape.  This native tree/shrub is a suckering species that rarely gets above 15' tall but can form a clump up to 15' in diameter under the proper conditions.  Furthermore it is a fast growing species. It has compound trifoliate (3 parted) leaves that are oval in shape.  It has no serious disease or insect problems and white-tailed deer prefer not to browse the leaves..

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Plant of the Week: Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis)

When used en masse at the edge of a woodland garden as a focal point or specimen tree, this early blooming small tree deserves to be in everyone's yard. Put some dogwoods or serviceberry (Juneberry, Sarvis), or even a Carolina Silverbell for an outstanding spring display that will draw you into the wild woodland garden.  This is generally, although not always, a multi-trunk small tree that can get 30' tall and is often found along roadsides, cut-over forests, as an understory tree, or as a street tree.  It is a legume and has the most beautiful purple to pink pea like flowers. This species has heart shaped to near circular leaves that turn yellow in the fall and the tree usually produces a large quantities of bean like seed pods.  It is very easy to grow in average soil in part-shade.  It can tolerate a wide range of soils except wet or poorly drained soils.  It is easy to grow and should be planted at a young age because it grows fast and has a tendency to not transplant well. Keeping the tree healthy, through pruning, watering and fertilization is essential because it is susceptible to canker, Japanese beetles, verticillium wilt, dieback, leaf spots, and mildew.  The genus comes from the Greek word kerkis which is in reference to the seed pods resembling a weaver’s shuttle.  There are a wide variety of cultivars available even a weeping type called 'whitewater.' 'Alba' has white flowers and 'Silver-cloud' has leaves variegated with cream. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Plant of the week Trout Lilies

The yellow (Erythronium americanum) and white (E. albidum) trout lilies are synonymous with early spring ephemeral woodland wildflowers.  These small (4 - 6" tall) members of the lily family can put on quite a show when a cluster of them in the garden is in full flower.  These lilies take seven years to mature and when mature have two mottled basal leaves.  The flowers have six tepals (three sepals and three petals) and open during the day (to the extent that they are recurved when fully open) and close at night (to protect the pollen on the showy reddish or yellow anthers.) These are deep rooted plants and roots can go 8" deep and you must have highly organic or sandy-loam soils for these species to thrive. This particular species does not do well when dug from the wild and transplanted to the garden, so the best method of obtaining them is from a native plant nursery.  Because these plants flower so early (often in March) the leaves disappear often by the first of May, which allows you the opportunity to put in another spring ephemeral species to take it's place for the remainder of the growing season. Trout lilies are often called fawn lilies (due to the mottled or spotted leaves and the appearance that resembles a fawn's ears) or dog-tooth violets because the corms supposedly resemble a dogs tooth and flowers look kind of like violets.  The name trout lily is given because of the mottled leaves and the appearance of the flowers during trout fishing season.  It is sometimes called adder's tongue because of the tongue-like flower shape of the flowering shoot as it emerges in the spring and resembles the open mouth of a snake. These plants are not pH sensitive and both species are found across the state of Kentucky and are common.  There are no serious disease or pest problems associated with this species.Supposedly the corm is edible and tastes like a cucumber.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Plant of the Week: Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica)

Are you looking for a wildflower that will work under your black walnut tree?  Look no further than the showy Virginia Bluebell.  It not only tolerates black walnut but also rabbits and deer (partly because it goes dormant so quickly after flowering).  This plant is just now coming up in the woods and will be in flower within a week.  It prefers alluvial floodplain soils and when found in the right conditions along creeks and rivers in this habitat, it is absolutely abundant and prolific. When planted en masses withe celandine or wood poppies, you can't make a garden any showier.  These plants typically get one to two feet tall and the very smooth oval leaves can reach about 7" in length.  The individual flowers begin as light pink buds but then turn this beautiful shade of blue, and occasionally pure white, that contrasts with the light green leaves and stems.  Given the right growing conditions, this plant will spread and naturalize, sometimes very quickly.  It likes sandy to loamy soil and it can be purchased as divisions.  Once planted, do not disturb the plants as it can cause them to cease flowering the next year. The primary pollinators for this species are various types of bees although butterflies and hummingbirds have been observed nectaring on them. Good companion plants include wood poppies, large-flowered trillium, and blue phlox although a wide variety of spring flowers work well with this species.  This is a species that must be interplanted with ferns or other woodland wildflowers that flower later because it goes dormant so early.  Excellent choices include Lady Fern, bugbane or cohosh, and for those into hostas, they work as well.  This is certainly a staple of many backyard woodland wildflower or shade gardens and is definitely worthy of a space in yours.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Plant of the Week: Yellow Corydalis or Scrambled Eggs (Corydalis flavula)

This is a diminutive spring ephemeral that is an annual. Even though this is an annual, it holds a worthy spot in the garden and if the conditions are proper, rich, organic humus, moist, soil in the shade, it will self seed and you should have a nice patch that fills in between some excellent companion plants like bleeding heart, Dutchman's breeches, squirrel corn,  sessile trillium, and spleenwort ferns.  This is a pretty tough plant but it gives the appearance of being quite delicate in nature.  It can grow up to 10" tall but rarely reaches that height. The plant arises from a single stem that is somewhat reddish and covered with very light hairs.  The grayish to greenish leaves are compound and lobed.  The flowers have 4 unequal petals with the uppermost petal has a short spur and toothed undulate crest.  It appears to favor limestone soils and is one of the first spring flowers to bloom in the woods and will remain in flower for up to a month or more.  Be aware that a tiny part of any of this plant is highly toxic and should not be eaten.  It apparently does not have many problems in the garden and it isn't a great wildlife plant.  This species should not be confused with the more common C. lutea, which is a much larger plant that is a perennial.  Be aware, this little species will spread but it will not take over a garden and it is so lovely with the appropriate companion plants that you would regret not having it in your woodland garden.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Plant of the Week: Bleeding Heart (Dicentra eximia)

I absolutely love this plant even though it is technically not a native to Kentucky.  It occurs in states adjacent to us, does very well in woodland gardens here, and is very easy to grow.  This is one of the larger members of this group which also includes Squirrel Corn and Dutchman's Breeches (which makes for an interesting combination since it grows to about 12 to 15" tall, much taller than the others which are more prostrate.  It typically flowers in April and the dissected leaves look outstanding even after the plant has flowered, which can last a month or more in late spring.  Like most native woodland plants it likes average well drained soil, not too wet and not too dry, with lots of rich humus and light shade.  It has very few pest problems, if any, and will naturalize if it likes where it is placed. This native species should not be confused with the larger Asian species D. spectabilis which is taller, wider, has larger flowers, the leaves are less dissected and the flowers don't appear in as tight a cluster as the native species and are on arching stems.  Another reason to love this plant is that it is largely deer resistant and it goes well with so many other woodland plants like Jacob's ladder, blue phlox, yellow corydalis, foam flower, coral bells and dwarf crested iris.  This is such a great plant that many nurseries carry it.
Growing with starry cleft plhlox and yellow corydalis.
Growing with Jacob's Ladder.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Plant of the Week: Bishop's Cap (Mitella diphylla)

This outstanding member of the Saxifrage family is often overlooked as a native shade groundcover because it looses out to it's cousin, foamflower.  However, this is a much more well-behaved species because it grows in a neat clump.  It is sometimes called two-leaf mitrewort for the two maple shaped leaves that oppose each other on the stem and the flower, which of course resembles a bishop's mitre (look closely it is a spectacular flower).  This tough woodland flower can tolerate sun conditions from light shade to part shade and even some deep shade (although it will not spread profusely) and as long as it has a good bit of humus in the soil, it will make it just fine.  It is easy to start from seed by just collecting the seeds right after they are ripe and sowing them in moist potting soil with a bit of peat moss and placing the pot in a sunny window.  Keep them indoors for the first year and then the following spring, out plant them and place them about 4-6 inches apart so that you can create a nice big drift of them.  It works especially well along a woodland path where you can get on their level and really appreciate the small flowers.This is a relatively small plant only reaching heights of about a foot tall and it can appear delicate but can tolerate the occasional drought. If you look at the 1/4" flowers up close you will notice five petals that are fringed and the 10 bright yellow stamens.  Good companion plants include many of the spring ephemerals including bloodroot, hepatica, trilliums, rue and false rue anenome and many others.  Try this little gem in the garden, I think you will be glad you did.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Plant of the week: Southern Red Trillium (T. sulcatum) or is it Trillium erectum or is it T. simile?

Of all the spring wildflowers the trilliums are perhaps the showiest of them all and Kentucky is privileged to have a variety of species including large white-flowered (grandiflorum), Nodding or bent (flexipes), Yellow (luteum), Sessile (sessile), prairie (recurvatum), Ozark (pusillum), snow (nivale), painted (undulatum), and sweet Betsy (cuneatum), and the topic of this post, Southern Red (T. sulcatum) and Stinking Benjamin (erectum).  There is no doubt that the genus trillium is a southeastern genera and nationwide there are over 40 species known to science.  Of that number, the one that perhaps Kentucky can claim as the most Kentucky of the species is Southern Red Trillium (T. sulcatum) as the primary range for this species is the Cumberland Plateau.  This species can be quite difficult to tell apart from Stinking Benjamin or Red Trillium as they both have red, white, or cream colored flowers, they both have a dark ovary in the center and they grow side by side.  So how do you tell the difference? One of the keys is to look at the flower (a member of the Lily family so it has 3 petals, 3 sepals, 3 leaves - hence the name trillium) from the side.  T. sulcatum typically in Kentucky has the petals enclosing the ovary so that it is not very visible from the side and kind of looks like a candle snuffer.  T. erectum has, you guessed it, more erect petals from the side and the ovary is clearly visible.  One other closely aligned species is T. simile, but that does not occur in Kentucky, which helps identification.  Other factors to consider are smell, T. erectum smells like a wet dog, T. sulcatum has very little or a very faint odor. Supposedly T. erectum has a shorter pedicel and the the leaves are not as curled as they are in T. sulcatum, where they kind of look like canoes (use your imagination here).  Growing all the trilliums is pretty similar in the garden and thanks to nurseries getting divisions from existing stock and growing from seed (takes 5-7 years), many species are now available in the trade.  They like high organic or very rich soil that is well drained in a woodland setting and where the pH is normal to slightly acidic.  Because they like moist conditions, try not to plant them next to mature trees where there could be a moisture problem. Do not dig these from the wild because invariably they will die because they have a very delicate ecology and often you will notice smaller flowers for a year or two then the plants disappear because they are stressed.  Good companion plants include a variety of ferns, maybe some foamflower to fill in, ginger, bellwort, and Jacob's ladder.  The best time to plant them is right now - before the spring season arrives.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Plant of the Week: Trailing Arbutus (Epigaea repens)

Is it a shrub or a wildflower?  This common species of eastern Kentucky and the Appalchians is one of the very first things to flower in the woods.  It grows on the upland sandstone ridges and you should begin looking for it when March arrives. This may be one of those species you just need to enjoy in the natural gardens because it is exceptionally slow growing, very difficult to transplant or grow in a nursery, and very hard to find in the nursery trade (although you can do it). Technically this is a tiny shrub growing only to 4" in height with alternate leaves that are simple and oval shaped. Like many of the species growing in acidic conditions, this little gem needs a particular mycorhizzal association to grow and reproduce successfully. I love this diminutive and tough plant because it is highly fragrant, showy and the flowers range in color from deep pink to light pink or white. There are several nurseries that sell young plants and if you decide to take a stab at growing it around the garden, the soil must be highly acidic, sandy and it should consist of just coarse sand and humus.  It is a member of the heath family (think mountain laurel, azaleas, etc.) and has much history associated with it.  It is the state flower of Massachusetts and supposedly street vendors collected this from the wild and sold it yelling out "Mayflowers for Sale." which is why the poets like Whitier and others made it a legend such that this plant greeted the settlers at Plymouth Rock.  It has been used medicinally by making a tincture to treat bladder and urinary troubles as is a astringent and diuretic. While Munckin Nurseries has a limited supply of plants in quart containers, be reminded it is difficult to grow in the garden.  Good companion plants include wintergreen, spotted pipsessewa, and spleenwort ferns.  Lazy S'S Farm Nursery also sells plants.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Plant of the Week: Ohio Buckeye (Aesculus glabra)

This is one of the first trees to leaf out in the spring and as the leaves just unfurl they have this 3 - 6" in length and they appear like they are in a whorl but in actuality there are 5 leaflets in a compound palmate leaf that gets dark green and glossy during the middle of the summer.  This tree grows 20 to 40' tall and is usually not considered a good street or homestead tree because of all the debris it produces and because all parts of the tree stink when bruised.  This a stunning tree for the natural woodland wildflower garden or rain garden and can be one of the canopy trees where it can get full sunlight or some shade.It likes limestone soils and is quite common in Central Kentucky whereas the other buckeyes in the state, the dwarf red in western and the yellow in eastern, are not as common as this species.  The bark is nothing special to write home about and the fall color is usually a muted yellow although in some years it can be spectacular and even have a tint of red in it. The fruit, believe to bring good luck, is quite appealing and is a dark mahogany color with a light tan eye and it glistens and shines. The nice cluster of 1" long fragrant greenish-yellowish flowers are attractive to bees and butterflies but the plant is not consider an especially good wildlife tree and the fruit is poisonous and parts of the plant are also poisonous. The Native Americans called this the "hetuck" tree because the fruit resembles the eye of a buck deer and "hetuck" means eye-of-the-buck.  The tree is susceptible to leaf blotch, anthracnose, and powdery mildew.  As you wander around the woods this early spring, look for the buckeye as it will probably be the first tree leafed out in the woods.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Plant of the Pinxter Flower Azalea (Rhododendron periclymenoides)

I don't know about you, but I am just about sick and tired of winter.  So to brighten up this week, I have decided to discuss one of your native azaleas, the pinxter flower, because it is generally the first to flower in the spring and it is probably the most common. This is a 2 - 8' tall shrub that is quite showy as the 1 1/2 to 2" wide flowers, light pink on the outside with deeper pink in the center, occurs in clusters that appear just before the leaves appear or about the same time as the leaves appear.  This species can have some fragrance although it is not as strong as swamp (R. viscosum) or rose (R. prinophyllum) azaleas. The leaves are alternate (although they appear whorled) and range in length from 2-4" in length.  This species is often confused with R. canescans, which shares the same common name.  The name pinxter flower is related to the seventh Sunday after Easter in Dutch and is supposedly when this plant flowers.  In Kentucky it typically flowers in early to mid-April. Like growing any azaleas in the landscape, you need rich, humus soil with lots of organic matter and the soil must be extremely well drained.  This plant does not like its feet wet and if it does, it will develop root rot and die fairly quickly in the landscape. This is also a fairly shallowly rooted species and hence a good bark mulch will be necessary for continued growth and flowering. Do not dig or cultivate around the roots as this will also cause the plant to die.  Furthermore, it should be in the part-sun setting or where you get high afternoon shade.  To keep it flowering year after year, cut the blossoms off as soon as each cluster is done flowering. This is a fairly good butterfly and hummingbird attractant in the early spring.  It can develop lots of problems if it is not grown in the proper environment and these problems include canker, crown rot, root rot, leaf spot, rust, powdery mildew, aphids, borers, lacebugs, leaf hoppers, mealy bugs, mites, nematodes, scale, thrips, and whitefly.  If grown in the proper environment it has few problems.  The other important things to consider when using this in the landscape is to acidify the soil and the plant, all parts, are highly poisonous. I like growing this at the back of the naturalized woodland garden because it is denser and can handle more shade than the other native azaleas and works well with mountain laurel.  A variety of understory woodland plants look good with this including things like foam flower, Jacob's ladder, blue violets, dwarf iris or vernal iris, Virginia bluebells and many, many more species.  It is becoming quite common in the nursery trade because it is the easiest of all the native azaleas to grow.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Plant of the Week: Field Chickweed (Cerastrum arvense)

Field chickweed or Field Mouse-ear has to be one of my favorite native ground covers for full sun to part-sun locations.It loves dry, often gravelly soils, spreads slowly, rarely gets above 8" tall, usually no more than 6", has a delicate baby's breath appearance,   It has large flowers for a chickweed and should not be confused with those obnoxious exotic species mouse-eared chickweed.  It is a member of the pink family which includes other species such as fire pink, etc.  This species can easily be confused with the exotic, invasive mouse-eared chickweed although if you closely look at the plants you will find that this species has longer, more narrow hairy leaves that are a darker green whereas the exotic species has more round leaves.  In addition, this species has much larger, showier flowers and is a larger plant.  It is not that common in Kentucky but occurs pretty much across the United States and is available at specialty nurseries. The flowers are up to almost an inch wide, have 5 regular parts and the petals are usually strongly cleft (or pinked).  It gets the scientific name from Cerastium from the Greek keras "a horn" which means the shape of seed capsulte and arvense which means of planted fields.  This would be a great plant to use with starry cleft phlox, some of the small (tiny) glade scutellarias like S. parvula or S. nervosa.  You might even add a little wild strawberry into the mix.  This species is usually restricted to limestone in Kentucky but from the literature it does not indicate it is a limestone specific species and will tolerate a variety of soil types as long as it is well-drained.  Most of the nurseries that sell this plant are located in the western United States because it is more common out there.  Give it a try, I think you will really enjoy it because it flowers in the spring and will stay in flower for a month or so.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Plant of the Week: Dwarf Juniper (Siberian Juniper): Juniperus communis

This is one of those believe it or not situations, but this is the most widely distributed conifer in the world, although it is rare in Kentucky. Unlike its cousin, eastern red cedar, this specie is usually an evergreen shrub that rarely grows taller than about 5' in this part of the world.  It can grow up to 25' tall, but that is in more northern New England habitats. Like other junipers, it has needle-like leaves and these occur in whorls of three on this plant.  The white on the upper leaf is due to stomatal bloom and the leaves persist for three years.The cones are about 1/4" in dimater and are round with smooth leathery scales and take three years to mature.  When mature they are bluish black and they are always covered with a white bloom. The bark is often hidden by the needles but is very attractive, flaky and reddish-brown in color. Some folks might confuse this with J. conferta but J. communis has a broader white stomatal stripe and J. conferta has a green line in the middle of the white stripe. This species is quite adaptable to poor soils and requires full sunlight.  Once established it requires little maintenance and deer do not like to browse it as do other mammals. It can be susceptible to juniper blights.  There are a variety of cultivars on the market and var. depressa is one that rarely gets more than 3' tall.  This is one of those species that can serve as an alternative plant for foundation plantings other than boxwoods or other standard species used in the landscape trade.  It can also but used in naturalized plantings or as a hedge. There is a cultivar 'Effusa' which would make a good rock garden plant and in mass plantings.  If you are into making your own gin, the berries can be used to flavor it. In the past, if you mixed it with cedar oil, the ancient Egyptians used it to embalm the dead.  In medieval Europe is was burned to fend off evil and its berries were used as an antidote to poison and to heal animal bites.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Plant of the Week: Winged or Shining Sumac (Rhus copallina)

Kentucky has four species of sumac in the state, three are common, and one is rare.  The smooth sumac (Rhus aromatica) and winged sumac (R. copallina) are the most widely used for landscape purposes and the winged is probably a much better choice because it doesn't get as tall (usually no more than 10') and it is not as aggressive in its suckering and the leaves are darker more glossy green color in the summer.  In the fall, they turn brilliant scarlet red and because of this they are sometimes called "flameleaf" sumac. The way to tell the difference between the two species is to look at the toothed leaflets in aromatic versus untoothed in winged and the "wings" between the leaflets in winged sumac.The tiny, greenish-yellow flowers, borne in compact, terminal panicles, are followed by showy red clusters of berries which persist into the winter and attract wildlife. This is a great wildlife tree for the following birds: Northern bobwhite, wild turkey, ruffed grouse, yellow-shafted flicker, catbird, cardinal, bluebird, brown thrasher, hermit thrush, robin, phoebe, crow, and starling. A variety of insects also use this plant including a variety of moths and red-banded hairstreaks and Spring/summer azures.  It also provides outstanding fall and winter interest in the landscape.  It is very easy to grow, particularly in poor soils that may be rocky, sandy, and even clay soils, nutrient poor soils, and acidic, basic, or neutral soils. It will tolerate urban pollution, poor drainage, is very drought resistant, and has few problems except some, but not much in the way of, leaf spots, rust, scale, mites, and aphids. The best use for this is in naturalized plantings where the root suckers can be controlled or in areas with erosion problems.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Plant of the Week Wild Leeks or ramps (Allium tricoccum)

Yummy.  This native spring perennial is one of the first plants to show their oval leaves that are 4 to 9" long and 1 to 3" long.  The flowers will come along later in the early summer when the foliage has disappeared.  The bulbs of this plant are considered a spring delicacy in many parts of its range which extends from Canada to South Carolina.  It has an onion-garlic smell and taste with the garlic side being a bit stronger than the onion side. Because this plant can reproduce fairly easily from seeds or bulbets, it is often found in large clusters which makes digging a mess of wild ramps, which they are also called, easy.  The typical onion like flowers appear on a short stalk several inches tall and each flower cluster (1-2" across) has about 20 to 40 individual small yellowish to white flowers.  The plants typically remain in flower for several weeks.  This is a plant that likes dappled shade with more intense shade during the heat of the summer.  It has to have good loamy soil (no clay will do for this little gem) and it appears to tolerate somewhat acidic soils.  If you have some on your property already, the best time to transplant is in the fall and this is also the best time to seed this species. This species is being monitored in the wild because the invasive garlic mustard, which is taking over the understory of many mesic woodlands outcompetes and shades out this plant and is causing declines in the native populations.  This is a great garden plant for a whole host of reasons and deer and other mammals typically don't feed on it and it is primarily pollinated by various types of native bees. This is such a wonderful native plant that a variety of communities in the Carolinas, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York have festivals associated with this plant. While there is much folklore surrounding this plant perhaps the most interesting is that the city of Chicago (yes you read that correctly) was named for a large patch of wild ramps growing near Lake Michigan in the 17th century. The area was described by Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle and the plant was called shikaakwas (Chicago) by the local native Americans.   While leeks are used in a variety of ways, here is a recipe for a simple leek potato soup.

4 -6 slices of bacon
4 cups wild leeks with green still attached
5 cups red potatoes cut into small pieces
3 T flour
4 cups chicken broth (low sodium if on a restricted diet)
1 cup heavy cream (fat free will make it healthier)
pinch salt and pepper

In a large skillet fry bacon until crispy, reserve liquid and remove meat for later as a garnish if so desired
Placed leeks and potatoes in the skillet and cook on low to low-medium heat until tender.
Slowly add flour stirring continuously until flour is completely absorbed
Stir in chicken broth and simmer until hot.  Slowly add the cream and heat thoroughly then pour into a bowl and add crumbled bacon and some reserved, finely chopped wild leeks for garnish.  Serves 4 to 6 people.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Plant of the Week American Wisteria (Wisteria frutescens)

I remember the first time I saw this vigorous deciduous vine draping over tree branches while floating slowly down the Kentucky River in early May.  It was almost breath taking to see these large masses of mauve flowers in cluster after cluster after cluster.  My next encounter was with it growing along the banks of the Cumberland River near Eagle Falls and it was twinning all over the rocks putting on quite a show. The American wisteria is a much better garden plant that either the Chinese or Japanese species because they are not nearly as invasive, they flower quicker, and they are not frost sensitive.  The Chinese species is definitely invasive and this is one case in the horticultural industry where the native species beats the alternative hands down.  This species often blooms in the second or third year after planting and choose your site carefully because once established, it does not like to be moved around the landscape.  These can get to be large vines growing up to 30' tall but you can vigorously prune and train it to make it flower more profusely and to control the size and shape of the plant.  If planting on a trellis or an arbor make sure the structure is built solidly because the vines can become quite heavy.  I actually like this planted along a retaining wall or fence where it can roam and show off the beautiful flowers.  The leaves have 9 to 15 opposite leaflets with one leaflet at the tip. The flower clusters range from 6 to 9" in length and only appear on new wood, meaning vigorous pruning helps with flowering which usually occurs in early May.  There is a white flowered form called 'Nivea' in the trade. 'Amethyst Falls' is the most common cultivar in the trade is the least invasive of all the varieties.  This plant should be planted in the full sun in well-drained soil.  If you prune the flowers after blooming, quite often you will get a second set of flowers in late summer.  While it can be confusing to tell the difference between the native wisteria and the Asian species, some good characteristics include the native species is not fragrant, grows to about two-thirds the height, the flower clusters are the smallest of all species (Japanese can be up to a meter in length), the seed pods are smooth, it has a shorter flowering period, and the flowers appear after the foliage has developed.