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, December 19, 2011

Books for the Holiday

Okay, the holidays are quickly approaching and here is a gift idea for the gardening or nature enthusiast in the household.  These are copies of my books, which make excellent gifts.  This will be the only shameless commerce you will see on this site.  All are available at all the major internet book providers as well as your local bookstore.  If you would like an autographed copy you can contact me or just stop by my office in Lexington and I would be happy to sign it for you.  Until next year, I hope you have a great holiday season.

Plant of the Week: Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)

Back in late 1800's Victorian era in this country it was fashionable to decorate the house with a wreath made with ferns and since this species is evergreen it was the most desirable plant to use. The story goes that John Robinson of Salem, MA coined it the Christmas Fern for this reason.  Other potential reasons it was named Christmas fern was that it was the only fern green this time of year and if you look at the individual pinnae since ferns don't have leaves they are arranged in alternate pairs along the central stem (called a rachis) and at the broad end of each pinnae near the stem is an ear-lobe like protrusion and when viewed it looks like a Christmas stocking.  The name actually comes from Greek for many (poly) rows (stichos) and refers to the rows of small reproductive structures, called sorus, covering the undersides of the fertile leaflets. The species name, acrostichoides, means "like Acrostichum," which is a genera of tropical ferns where the sori are very dense and cover the lower parts of the frond. The Christmas fern is in the wood fern family. The fronds on individual plants can reach about 2' tall and the fertile fronds remain evergreen.  There are 20 - 40 leaflets on each frond and sori are found in the upper third of the frond.  Christmas ferns are easy to grow in the shade garden as long as they have well drained soil.  They absolutely do not like wet or waterlogged soils but they can tolerate a good bit of sunlight.  In the early spring, usually in April, the new fronds sprout and these "fiddleheads" can be eaten fresh or fried.  Very few animals eat this plant so if you have high deer numbers it is a great plant for the shade garden.  Once you have some established the best method of propagation is from root division as they do not seem to reproduce well from spores in a garden setting.  This is a very adaptable species and can be grown in either acidic or neutral soils.  Finally, there are no serious pests that use this species.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Plant of the week, Heartleaf or Arrowleaf Ginger (Hexastylis arifolia)

Pondering about what to write for this week's post yesterday, I was in the eastern Kentucky Mountains (yes the true mountains at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park - Stone Mountain) photographing Shillalah falls, and I thought about what provides color in the garden this time of year.  It was a beautiful, overcast day, just perfect for photographing waterfalls and there was really no color except for greens of the large leaf rhododendrons, Christmas fern, some still standing wood ferns, and Heartleaf Ginger. So the inspiration for this week's plant was quite natural for me as I sat and photographed the rushing water, heartleaf ginger (Christmas fern will be next week since it will be so close to Christmas).  I love this plant as a native, evergreen ground cover because this time of the year it stands out against the browns of the fallen tree leaves and has such a distinctive shape and mottled green color.  This lovely plant belongs to the birthwort family and like many members of this family, the roots can be used as a flavoring agent with a ginger like taste although not as strong as the cultivated varieties.  The plant grows a few inches tall and the brown urn shaped flowers appear from March through May at ground level or slightly below ground level and are pollinated by wasps, flies, and thrips with the seeds are dispersed by ants.  Hence, when found it is often found in clusters because the size of any population will be delineated by the home range of the dispersing ant species. This southeastern US species is quite common all throughout its range and occurs in acidic forest soils that range from moist to dry. You can grow this in the shade gardens throughout the state, even in limestone areas, as long as you provide it with highly organic, leaf mold soil (hence don't get rid of the leaves from the trees, let them fall and compost naturally).  I used to give my plants a shot of hollytone or miracid in the spring to perk it up. This species is very slow to reproduce from seed and when planting in the garden use large numbers to provide a colorful show in the fall, winter, and early spring. A really good companion plant to provide color and contrast in the spring is dwarf crested iris.

this is upper shillalah falls which I was photographing yesterday.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Providing Food for our Fine Feathered Friends During the Winter

Marketing and advertising are wonderful things getting us to purchase things we need, we may need, or we may not need.  Marketing is largely responsible for many "urban myths" about great landscape plants for birds.  The best example I can provide here is the use of winterberry (Ilex verticillata) as a winter food source for birds.  Winterberry, like other hollies, are not all that great in terms of food value for birds until late in the winter and multiple research studies show these berries are relatively low in nutrient content because they contain a variety of secondary plant chemicals.  They are more important as a late winter emergency food or for early spring migrating species.  Now before everyone gets all upset and writes that the berries on my shrubs are gone in December or January, you have to remember that there is tremendous individual plant variation.  The best use of winterberry is to add color and interest to the winter landscape (hence the bright red berries stay on the plant most of the winter!!  think about it).  Most of the absolutely best birds trees/shrubs typically have high quality fruit that is available in the fall and early winter (or summer as is the case for mulberries and serviceberry).  These species include viburnums, hawthorns, shrubby dogwoods, grape vines, and hackberry.  Other species like small-fruited flowering crabapples, American holly, and sumac are better suited for late winter emergency food sources. So how do birds survive the winter with respect to food resources?  One nifty survival mechanism is the caching of high quality fruits, seeds, and berries. The birds can actually remember where they stored these seeds for an extended period of time. While providing seeds at a feeder can help birds survive bouts of cold weather, it isn't necessary as the birds utilize a wide variety of native foods in addition to visiting multiple feeder sites.  It is much too risky for a bird to only utilize seed in a feeder if it plans to make it to another spring.  Some other methods for keeping warm (and reducing food requirements) is to tuck their feet and legs into their breast feathers, fluffing their feathers to trap air which acts like insulation, roosting in groups or with other birds, lowering their metabolism, shivering and finding adequate shelter (particularly dense thickets or conifers).   A few final thoughts about getting birds through the winter.  Provide some water, but not warm or hot water, for preening (sometimes birds snow preen) to keep their feathers clean so they can fluff them up.  Warm or hot water will freeze on the feathers and will prohibit the birds from flying.  Small birds generally need more food than larger birds and they typically eat more, yet smaller seeds.  The survival of say a Carolina chickadee may be dependent upon how well it can conserve energy and the number of seeds it can eat.  In summary, the point of all of this is to state that don't always believe everything you hear, are told, or read about wildlife and if you are serious about attracting birds to the backyard you will have plants that produce berries and seeds that are available pretty much throughout the fall/winter/ and early spring.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Plant of the Week: Mistletoe, Phoradendron serotinum

With the holiday season quickly approaching we are reminded of all those wonderful Christmas traditions like chestnuts roasting on an open fire (unfortunately American chestnuts have been mostly destroyed by the blight), boughs of holly and ivy (which were used to wisp away ghosts and demons and holly that sprouted from the footsteps of Christ with the pointed leaves representing the crown of thorns and the red berries representing his blood), and my favorite, mistletoe.  How this parasitic evergreen shrub became associated with Christmas is quite interesting.  The legend suggests it is associated with the Goddess of Love, Frigga and her son, the God of summer sun, Balder.  It just so happened that Frigga considered mistletoe to be sacred and that her son had a dream of death that disturbed Frigga.  So she went to air, fire, water, earth, and every animal and plant seeking a promise to cause no harm to her son and thus she assured her son everything would be okay.  Well, it just so happened that Balder's enemy, Loki, the God of evil, knew of one plant, the mistletoe, that Frigga forgot and hence he made an arrow of it and gave it to Hoder, God of the blind winter, who shot Balder dead. As soon as Balder died the world became dark and every living thing mourned his death.  But Frigga found some way to bring him back and began to weep tears which turned into the white berries on the plant and out of elation she kissed everyone that passed under the tree so that anyone who was kissed under the mistletoe would be blessed by love and no harm could come to them. The ancient Greeks, pagans, and Scandinavians had beliefs that this plant had life giving powers and would bring peace.  It wasn't until the late 18th century that the mistletoe ball came into fashion and a young lady standing under the mistletoe ball trimmed with festive decorations, could not refuse to be kissed.  And thus the tradition continues today.  What is the mistletoe plant really?  In the eastern United States there is only one species, Phoradendron serotinum, with at least three recognized subspecies.  There are at least 1,000 different species of this parasitic plant found worldwide and it gets its name from the Anglo-saxon "a twig with bird droppings" because it was thought to be propagated by bird droppings.  This eastern species is a hemi-parasite on the branches of its host plant and what this means is that it gets moisture and associated nutrients to grow in the water from its host plant but can manufacture, or photosynthesize, its own food.  It is known to occur on more than 200 species of trees although in Kentucky it seems to like walnut, American and red elm, and black cherry. The only connection of this plant to its host is through a structure called the haustorium which begins developing when a seed reaches a tree branch.  Each white berry has one seed, but multiple embryos, and as the embryo's develop in the first year, they develop root like structures that penetrate the branch of the host plant and ultimately form a lump or gall.  At this point, the plant then begins to grow and act as a hemi-parasite.  The bright green leaves range up to 1" in length and 1/2" wide and are covered with a thick, waxy cuticle to prevent water loss.  The plant can reach two to three feet in size and it is a perennial.  Given enough time, mistletoe can cause deformities and harm individual host plants.  This is a dioecious species meaning that males and females occur on different plants.  The white berries on the female plants begin occurring when they reach maturity at 3 - 5 years of age.  This is definitely a southeastern species which ranges from Texas and Oklahoma to very southern Ohio and Pennsylvania. The neatest thing about this species is that it is the sole host plant for the great purple hairstreak butterfly, which is a rare species in Kentucky with one population known from the Lexington area and another known from the Paducah area.

  For a thorough treatment of the biology and natural history of this species, look for the publication: American Mistletoe (Phoradendron serotinum var. serotinum) Infection In Trees published by the University of Georgia at