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, 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.