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, 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.