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, 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.