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 3, 2012

Plant of the Week: Little Brown Jug (Hexastylis arifolia)

Sometimes finding plants to provide something interesting in the winter garden is difficult.  Fortunately we have a fair number of somewhat evergreen herbaceous species that can fill that void.  This is one of the most interesting ones, the little brown jug.  This member of the birthwort family is one of four species in the state and is the most common as the other three are rare, threatened or endangered.  In the winter the heart-leaf shaped leaves appear mottled or variegated with darkish venation and when the new leaves appear in the spring they look bright to dull green with no visible venation.  The plant grows only about 3 to 4" above the soil surface and the leaves are several inches across and 3-4 inches long.  The plant gets its name from the small, brown, urn-shaped flowers that are often below the leaf litter. This is definitely a shade garden species and likes moist soils high in organic matter.  The plants are primarily pollinated by ants and excellent companion plants include dwarf and dwarf crested iris, Allegheny spurge, wild ginger, green-and-gold, and violet oxalis.  These should be planted in the front of the bed so that taller species do not detract from their interesting foliage.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Plant of the Week: 'Winter King' Hawthorn (Crataegus viridis)

The berries are now ripe on Winter King hawthorn and the birds are attacking them like crazy.  This cultivar of the native green hawthorn is an outstanding fruit producer and birds, such as the robin and cedar wawwing, love the bright red berries this time of the year.  But this is truly a four season tree, it produces clusters of white flowers in the spring, has nice greenish gray foliage in the summer, bright red berries in the late fall, and exfoliating bark in the winter that reveals an orangish coloration to the trunk.  It is a small tree growing to 20' tall or so and has a vase like form. Unlike many hawthorns, it does not have a prolific number of thorns and it is quite disease resistant. The flowers, which appear for several weeks in May, are not very fragrant or have a pleasing smell. This is a fairly widely planted tree because it tolerates city pollution and urban clay soils.  It does best in full to partial sun with well drained soils but is adaptable to a wide variety of conditions, particularly if the soil drains well.  It will grow on a wide range of soils from acidic to alkaline.  This species can be used as a specimen plant, in mass plantings, and borders. For all you bird watchers out there, this appears to be a good backyard feeding year and red and white-winged crossbills have been seen eating hemlock seeds and the red-breasted nuthatches appear to be prolific.  We have even had pine siskins for almost 6 weeks now, so if you want to attract some good backyard birds, keep planting those good native plants like the 'Winter King' hawthorn.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Plant of the Week: Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)

Boneset is butterfly magnet in late summer and early fall.  It is especially attractive to small butterflies like the hairstreaks (great purple shown above), checkered white (shown above) and the sulfurs.  The flowering period coincides with the period where several rare to uncommon butterflies appear like the White-M hairstreak.  It is a bit of a weedy species and escapes around the yard but it can be controlled by deadheading and pulling young seedlings. I can not tell you how many different species of butterflies I have photographed nectaring on this plant but it is substantial.  Boneset is kind of a wetland plant that can grow to 4' tall and can have some smallish branches arising from the primary stem.  Each individual plant has many flowering heads and many flowers in each individual head.  It gets it's name perfoliatum from the perfoliate leaves where the two 4-8" long tapered leaves appear to be perforated by the stem.  The leaves have sharp tooted edges and are quite rough to the touch.  The flowers have an aroma that is slightly aromatic and the leaves are quite astringent and bitter.  This plant has been considered for its medicinal uses for quite some time.  It is listed in the United States Pharmicopia and has been used as a stimulant, laxative, and mostly as a febrifuge.  It acts quite slowly over time and is a mild tonic when taken over time in small to moderate doses and as an emetic or purgative when taken in large doses.  It is often used to fight colds and fever and one standard recipe is to infuse 1 oz dried herb to 1 pint boiling water and served hot at a rate of about 1 wineglass full per hour. There are significant issues related to the long term use of this herb as it has been shown to damage the liver because of the type of alkaloids present in the plant.  As with all herbal medicines, you should consult your doctor and pharamcist before taking any to ensure there are no side effects or drug interactions.

Happy Thanksgiving

At this time of the year I wish to express my thanks to all the faithful readers who have hopefully learned something about native plants this past year.  I have enjoyed providing this source of information to you and hope it has been useful.  As my way of saying thanks here is a photograph of a quintessential Kentucky scene for your holiday enjoyment.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Plant of the Week: Dwarf Crested Iris (Iris cristata)

This is one of our most common woodland wildflowers and should be a main stay in any shade garden.  While it will grow in deeper shade, it does best if it gets some sun, a few hours of day if possible and will grow in full sun if the soil stays constantly moist.  It will tolerate a wide variety of soil types and prefers calcaerous soils but it will grow quite well in more acidic soils with the addition of lime.  This is a species that likes rich humus and moist soil. If it likes where it is growing, it will form a nice large group and a mixture of the dark purple, light purple (eco bluebird or powder blue) and white forms (alba) is quite spectacular. This species gets its name from the yellow crests on the sepals.  The 1/2 to 3/4" wide leaves arise from very shallowly rooted rhizomes.  After flowering it can be easily divided. About the only problems might be slugs or snails and it is not a preferred deer plant. Excellent companion plants are numerous and foamflower works well, wild blue phlox, wild bleeding heart, green-n-gold, and one of my personal favorites is yellow trillium surrounded by this iris where the trillium stands above the iris (and this trillium is a bit later blooming in KY).  This is a very easy wildlfower to use in the garden and is a great beginner plant for those who have any hesitancy about using native plants.


Monday, November 5, 2012

Plant of the Week: Barbara's Button (Marshallia grandiflora)

One of the biggest complaints about using native plants in the landscape is that they get too tall and are not showy enough.  While this generalization proves true for some of the prairie or open meadow species, it certainly does not pertain to this species.  This species will form a 10" clump with leaves that protrud 6" or so from the ground and when it flowers in May, sends up flowering stalks that are usually no longer than 18", if that.  Furthermore, the individual heads are more than 1" to1 1/2"across and when placed in a group, will have many, many flower heads per clump.  This member of the daisy or aster family is a globally rare plant that occurs from Pennsylvania down to Tennessee and North Carolina and is considered endangered in Kentucky.  It usually grows along the edges of streams or on gravel bars of rivers where water scours them occassionally.   Obviously then this species likes wet soils (not clay) that drain but where the water table is close to the soil surface.  They flower best in full sun but can handle some late afternoon shade.  They can be easily propagated from seed or division and can form a nice clump rather quickly.It was named for 18th century plant lover, DR. Moses Marshall.  Several nurseries carry this species and it is well deserving of a spot in any native plant garden.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Blacklegged Tick in Kentucky

Blake Newton, UK Extension Entomology

A few months ago, we posted a guide to the three most important tick species that are found in Kentucky. Since then, we have learned that one of those ticks, the so-called blacklegged tick, Ixodes scapularis, may be becoming more common in the south, and that several of these ticks have been found on humans in the eastern part of the state. This information was reported by UK Extension Entomologist Dr. Lee Townsend in a recent article in the Lexington Herald Leader.

These findings are significant because the blacklegged tick is the species that is most closely associated with Lyme Disease, a serious illness that has become prevalent in the northeastern United States. The good news for Kentuckians is that very few of these ticks have been found on humans in our state. Also, recent research suggests that—while blacklegged ticks are actually fairly common in the south—they are less likely to spread Lyme Disease than they are in the north. This might be because blacklegged ticks prefer different hosts in the South (reptiles) than they do in the North (mammals). You can read more about this study here, and here.

So the risk for Lyme Disease in Kentucky remains very low. Nevertheless, this is a great reminder for anyone who spends time outdoors: ticks are out there, and they can spread diseases. And not just Lyme Disease. As we mentioned in our previous post, the other, more common tick species (such as the American Dog Tick and the Lone Star Tick) can also transmit diseases, including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, that can be just as serious as Lyme Disease. The one difference with the blacklegged tick: these ticks are active in cool months, so if you are outdoors in the fall and winter, it is still a good idea to practice tick-safety.  

For detailed tips about how to keep yourself safe from ticks, read our UK Entomology Factsheet, Entfact-618.

For more information about Lyme Disease: http://www.cdc.gov/lyme/

And Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever: http://www.cdc.gov/rmsf/

Monday, October 29, 2012

Plant of the Week: Southern Crab apple or narrow leaf crab apple (Malus angustifolia)

When considered flowering crab apple trees, most homeowners and horticulturalists recommend one of the numerous cultivars that show resistance to disease and other pests in addition to bearing profuse clusters of flowers.  If you are considering a flowering crab, and do not have cedars close by, then you might consider the southern crab apple.  One of the finest things about this species is the fragrance in the spring that almost has a strong violet smell.  It is also incredibly showy, although not as much as the various cultivars on the market.  People have a tendency to not like the wild crab apple trees because they are susceptible to cedar apple rust, honey fungus, apple scab, fire blight, insect borers, scale, aphids, canker, and tent caterpillars.  Some of these can be sprayed for but I think if you keep the tree where it gets good wind movement through the branches and leaves (by trimming) and keeping it away from other horticultural fruit trees and cedar, you can be quite successful in getting this attractive species to thrive.  It is a small growing tree, up to 30’ maximum height with a short trunk to a foot to 2 feet tall. Mature trees have beautiful bark patterns and color.  The leaves are more oval, not lance-shaped and finely toothed.  It should be situated in the full sun or it can get early morning shade but will handle disease issues better in full sun.  It should have very good drainage and soil fertility is usually not an issue.  No clay soils.  One way to reduce disease problems is to rake the leaves in the fall and burn them.  The great thing for wildlife is that this species produces a small fruit that is relished by birds, more so than the large fruits produced on many of the cultivars.  It can be a slow growing species but it is worth the effort.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Plant of the Week: Trailing Lespedeza (Lespedeza repens)

This is not the large showy garden plant that many folks are used to having in their landscapes.  However, this little gem does have a role to play in the rock garden or in areas that are extremely dry, rocky, or sandy where little else will grow.  This could also be an excellent rock garden plant as it creeps along the ground and can form a large mat of vegetation.  The lespedezas, for which there are many, many species, are well known for their soil nutrient increasing capabilities, and this species is certainly no different, except it is diminutive. This plant maybe gets up 12” from the ground when in flower, but when I have seen it in the wild, it is always prostrate on the ground.  It has long trailing branches that support small clover like leaves with three leaflets.  It has typical pea like flowers since it is a legume and the color can vary from violet to pink to white tinged with shades of purple.  This produces a preferred seed for bobwhite quail but other birds have a tendency to leave it alone.  The normal range for this plant is pretty much all of the eastern United States and will stay in flower from June through October or freeze in Kentucky.  Surprisingly this species is used in gardens in Europe and China but not so much in North America, its native habitat.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Plant of the Week: Starry Cleft Phlox or Sand Phlox (Phlox bifida)

This is one of the earliest blooming phlox found in the state and because of this, it does not have any of the problems with powdery mildew or root rot, as long as you plant it in the appropriate habitat.  This low growing and creeping type phlox, which is more delicate than any of the other phlox, requires full sun to some shade and it likes very well drained or sandy soil that is typically neutral in pH. It naturally occurs from Oklahoma up to Michigan and down to Kentucky and Arkansas. Compared to other phlox species, this one has deeply cleft lobes on the flower which make it quite distinctive. When fully established, this species can form a nice mat because 3 flowers typically form at the end of each stem and individual flowers can develop in the axils of the upper leaf. It can range in color from light blue to pink to white and is visiting by butterflies and moths.  It does have a taproot system but can re-seed itself easily given the proper growing environment. This is a species that does not like competition and companion plants should be grown at a bit of distance from the colony.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Plant of the Week: Sourwood Tree (Oxydendrum arboreum)


Wow is a word that describes the scarlet fall color of the sourwood tree.  Better than the best maple tree by far.  Scarlet and I mean scarlet red.  This widely under-utilized tree in the landscape has tons of appeal. It is quite showy and in the spring the leaves come out with bronze tips, summer is complete with sprays of white flowers dripping downward in contrast to the bright green leaves, and in fall they turn spectacular color with the grayish seed pods providing contrast.  They are a small tree and to get a good growth form in the garden, only purchase a container product, not balled.  Their maximum height reaches about 30' and they can be rather slow growing in the landscape.  They need well-drained acidic soil high in organic matter and they don't like competition. They do not like high pH soils or heavy clay soils and can't tolerate much pollution. So mulch them in well with pine straw and keep the base free from competing plants.  They should be planted in part-shade and during extended drought periods watering is a necessity.  When considering where to place this small tree, think about someplace where it will have maximum visual impact in the fall. One of the best attributes of the species is that they honey made from the flowers is supposedly the best you can get.  Many folks don't appreciate it for a landscape plant because it usually has a crooked stem, but I think it just makes this tree all the more appealing.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Plant of the Week: Greater Fringed Gentian (Gentianopsis crinita)

Do you have a perennial wet or moist spot in the garden?  Does it get full sun?  Do you need something to fill in with spectacular flowers that bloom during October?  You might consider planting the greater fringed gentian that grows from 8 to 24" tall and is one of the showiest of all the gentians.  It ranges from MN down through TN and is usually considered a northern species, but does pretty well here.  It is a biennial, so to keep it in the garden, plants will need to be purchased for two consecutive years.  The great thing is this species will readily self sow if growing conditions are favorable.  The 1 - 2" long x 1" wide leaves clasp around the stem and are yellowish green in color.  The second year plants (the first year is just a rosette) will send up a beautiful 1- 2" long flower with 4 rounded and lobed petals with reddish sepals underneath.  This species definitely likes calcareous soils, particularly sandy, with a neutral pH.  This species has no significant diseases or pests associated with it.  It has no discernible scent and the leaves are bitter tasting to mammals and it is primarily pollinated by bumblebees.  The flowers close at night and on rainy, cloudy days.  It is only available from a few nurseries but it is a spectacular fall blooming wildflower.

Plant of the Week: American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)

This is a southern species of shrub but appears to grow pretty well in Kentucky.  It is fairly quick growing shrub that can reach heights of up to 8' tall with a spread about as wide as it is tall.  The most distinctive feature this time of the year are the bright purple berries, relished by birds.  The plant has coarse, fuzzy green oppositely arranged green leaves that appear on long, drooping branches giving it a very graceful appearance.  In late spring and early summer, light pink flowers are borne in the leaf axils in late spring and summer.  The old wood should be pruned in late fall to early spring since the flowers and fruit occur on new growth.  It is relatively easy to grow in a variety of soil types ranging from acidic to slightly alkaline and likes part--sun and part-shade.  It is not highly drought tolerant, especially if planted in full sun.  It does have fragrant flowers and the Native Americans used it for colic, stomach aches, dysentery, and fevers.  Be aware that deer love this plant so it is not a good species for use in areas with high deer densities.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Plant of the week: Western Sunflower (Helianthus occidentalis)

Mention native sunflower to almost any urban or suburban homeowner and you are likely to get an earful of dislike, maybe even hatred.  Most of the native sunflowers are aggressive and in some cases invasive.  However, this species is the exception and is very well behaved. This species has a basal rosette up to 1 1/2' wide very hairy oval leaves attached to the plant via long stems although the lower leaves have shorter stems.  There is one central and 2-4 lateral veins in the leaves.  The up to 3" wide flowers, bright yellow in color, occur on top of 2 - 4' stems, which maybe reddish in color.  For this reason it is sometimes called the naked stem sunflower.  In totality, this species superficially resembles a miniature prairie dock.  This is a species that should be planted in full sun and it will not compete with other plants in good garden or fertile soil. It prefers well-drained sandy or rocky soils. It can't handle un-amended heavy clay soils. It will slowly creep from the rhizomes and the plant should be divided about every 3 - 5 years. The flowers are predominately pollinated by bees and a wide variety of insects will feed on the leaves.  It is a host plant for silvery checker spot and painted lady butterflies.  Birds love the seeds.  This sunflower stands out in a patch of little bluestem or broomsedge bluestem, which also serve to prop up the tallish stems of this perennial wildflower.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Will we have a colorful fall leaf season in Kentucky this year?

The questions are already coming into our department about what affect this crazy weather will have on fall leaf color in the state.  We had a very warm spring, followed by summer droughts, and then heavy rainfall in various areas and it is difficult, if not impossible to predict how good the color will be in the trees.  One thing is for certain, we will have some color in the leaves unless the leaves are already brown and the trees are dead.  Why?  The answer lies in the two factors that give rise to good color, warm sunny days followed by cool to cold nights at the time of leaf abscission (when a plant drops a part of itself, in this case the leaf).  Leaf abscission is generally triggered by changing day or night length and in some species leaf abscission can actually begin in August.  Right now the flowering dogwoods, sassafras and black gum are turning scarlet red as their process of getting ready for dormancy has already begun. In those areas where these species occur in the forest, the color has been pretty good.  Generally speaking, a warm wet spring followed by favorable summer weather, and warm, sunny fall days with cool nights produce the best color and drought often delays color change a couple of weeks.  However, the trees will still gradually lose the green pigment (chlorophyll) and the other pigments (carotenoids which give rise to orange, yellow and brown and the anthocyanins which give rise to red) will show their colors as the season progresses.  If we get rainy, drizzly, days in the coming weeks, the color may not be as spectacular as we would like.  Now is a great time to enjoy being outside and enjoy what Nature has to offer before winter sets in.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Plant of the Week: Roan Mountain Goldenrod (Solidago roanensis)

This is one of the showiest goldenrods I have ever encountered in the wild.  I first saw it in the Smokies on top of a bald and what struck me were the very large flower-heads, up to 1/2" wide, which is large for this member of the composite family.  Roan mountain goldenrod is rare in nature and ranges from southern Pennsylvania south to Georgia and Alabama.  It is a mountain species that likes dry, well drained soil.  It grows up to about 2 1/2' tall and has a hairy stem with simple, opposite leaves that are serrated and elliptical in shape.  It usually begins flowering in July and continues through October in most cases and the plant is quite showy when 2 or three of them are grouped together.  In Kentucky, it is a rare mountain species but appears fairly easy to grow in the garden as long as it gets sun and the soil is well drained.  It is not aggressive like some of the other members of this genus and thus makes an excellent garden plant.  As is the case with many composites, this is a good attractor for bees and butterflies.  This has been on trail at the UK horticultural gardens and ranked 4.4 out of 5.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Plant of the Week: White Turtlehead (Chelone glabra)

This late summer, early fall flowering perennial gets its name from the individual flowers that resemble the head of a turtle.  This is the most common turtlehead in the state, the two pink species are quite rare.  This one occurs in wet meadows and woods across the state.  It has lance-shaped leaves that are hairless and serrated and for the most part, attach directly to the stem. The central stem, which can reach heights of 2-3' is softly hairy, and 4 angled.  The flowers are quite unique and this species can stay in bloom for 4 - 8 weeks.  The tubular flower is somewhat flattened with the upper lip acting as a protective hood and the lower lips serving as a landing pad for pollinating insects, which are primarily bumblebees.  The flower has no noticeable scent and the entire plant is bitter which means deer generally leave it alone.  This is the primary host plant for a rare butterfly in Kentucky, the Baltimore checkerspot.  This plant can tolerate wet soils and works well in a rain garden.  Good companion plants are pink turtleheads, spiderlily, joe-pye-weed, swamp milkweed, cardinal flower, and great blue lobelia.  All of these make excellent rain garden or polllinator garden plants. It does have a taproot with rhizomes and so it can make a nice, showy clump.  In the past, Native Americans used this to expel worms and to improve appetite (probably because it tastes so bitter you throw up and then are hungry).  Chelone is the Greek word for silence and folklore suggests this plant got its name (because the flower looks like a turtle head) because Chelone was a nymph who made the Gods angry because she didn't attend the marriage of Zeus to Hera.  Evidently, Zues got so mad he pushed her house on top of her and the Gods turned her into a turtle.  Hence from then until eternity Chelone was forced to carry her house on her back and condemed to silence.  So thats the rest of the story.  Until next time, happy gardening!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Plant of the Week: Blue Wood Aster (Symphotrichum cordifolium)

As we think about which species of wildflowers can tolerate dry conditions, this is an excellent choice for part-sun to shade.  It can grow from 1 to 4' tall depending on soil fertility and flowers best when given at least 3 hours of full sun daily.  The central stem is slightly reddish and somewhat hairy and it has 5" long x 2" wide leaves with a stem that are alternate.  During dry times the lower leaves will drop off the central stem. The ray flowers are typically lavender to blue and sometimes white and the central disk florets are usually yellow but turn to purple to red as they age.  There are 7 to 13 rays per flower head.  It is rhizomatous and can spread slowly via this method and also reseeds easily.  The best location is at the edge of the shade woodland garden and it works well with blue-stemmed goldenrod.  Like many of the asters, this species is a host plant for the Silvery checkerspot butterfly and bees are the primary pollinators.  It has no significant disease or insect pest problems and while not completely deer resistant, deer do not particularly like the plant.  This species makes an excellent cut flower for use in arrangements.  This is also a species, that when pinched back in the spring, will reward the gardener with an absolutely gorgeous flower show in the fall.

Feeding Wildlife During the Drought: Should I or Shouldn’t I?

Drought is tough on wildlife.  Water sources dwindle and food sources may become in short supply as plants do not grow vigorously or do not produce seed or fruit.  In times like these, such as the droughts we have been having, and will continue to happen, you feel like you should feed wildlife to keep them alive and healthy.  We all know that healthy wildlife go into breeding condition better, can withstand the long and cold winter better, and are generally better off. But and here is the big one: it is probably unwise to feed wildlife, particularly things like quail and turkey and even deer during droughts.  Why?  There are a myriad of reasons, but you have to have a general understanding of wildlife population dynamics and consider that this is part of the normal cycle and by artificially keeping wildlife in good condition through feeding, you could be potentially setting yourself up for a huge population crash in the future when food supplies dwindle or other factors bring the population back to what the environment can support, something we call carrying capacity.  Of a more immediate concern with the drought this year is feeding corn. Drought increases the possibility of aflatoxin poisoning in wildlife.  Alfatoxin, I never heard of it and why is it a concern for feeding wildlife?  Aflatoxins are fungi, usually Aspergillus flavus and A. parasiticus, that are associated with grain, particularly with corn (although it also occurs in wheat, millet, and peanuts and other crops), and it most often associated with wildlife problems in the southeastern United States.  It is usually present more during drought and with the corn harvest just beginning in Kentucky, we are already seeing some corn going to poultry facilities that cannot be used because the aflatoxin levels are too high.  When aflatoxin levels become elevated and can't be fed to domestic animals, where can producers sell this grain?  One source may in the form of wildlife or deer feed corn.  A study done about a decade ago in Texas found that 44% of corn bagged and sold as deer or wildlife feed had aflatoxin levels that would be considered hazardous for wildlife.  In addition, storage also affects aflatoxin levels and corn stored with a moisture content of 14% or more, relative humidity of 70% and temperature greater than 70 F can increase concentrations of aflatoxin.  Aflatoxicosis occurs primarily in the southeastern states and generally waterfowl, ducks and geese, are affected the most when they get into corn fields that have residual seeds from harvesting that are remaining in the field.  However, wild turkeys, quail and songbirds have also been shown to be affected and  field symptoms in birds include lethargy, blindness, inability to fly, tremors, wing flapping and quite often the birds are simply found dead.  Affects in deer are typically manifested by not eating becoming weak and anorexic, fidgety, uneasy demeanor and easily excited, diarrhea, and ultimately death.  Because aflatoxicosis appears more during drought years, landowners, hunters, and bird feeding enthusiasts should be cautious when deciding to feed corn or other grains.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Plant of the Week: Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis)

This is one of the most popular herbal medicines used today and part of its popularity is that it is widely believed that taking it can mask a positive test for illegal drugs.  There is absolutely no scientific evidence to back this claim up.  Native Americans originally used this plant for treatment of digestive disorders, skin treatments and a wash for sore eyes.  Today it is used as an antibiotic or immune system booster, for hay fever, allergies, colds and the flu, and as a wash for minor scrapes or wounds, and for urinary tract cleansing.  The active ingredient is a chemical called berberine that can kill bacteria in studies done in the laboratory.  It appears to have some anti-bacterial properties for killing things that cause diarrhea, yeast infections, e. coli, and even some tapeworms and Giardia.  It has also been used to treat heart failure.  While it does appear to have beneficial properties, like all medications, it has drawbacks and has negative interactions with cyclosporine, digoxin, tetraclycline, and blood thinners.  Pregnant and breastfeeding women, people with liver or heart disease or high blood pressure should not use goldenseal, nor should children.  This plant is considered poisonous when consumed in large quantities. As with all herbal medicines, be sure to consult with your doctor before consuming any goldenseal as it may pose significant hazards to your health.  In the garden this is not a very showy plant and usually has a pair of five lobed leaves with a single or solitary white flower (it is in the buttercup family and thus it loses its petals and sepals with just showy reproductive organs which constitute the flower).  This time of the year it has a raspberry like red, inedible fruit that is easily identified.  The root or rhizome is a bitter tasting bright yellow or brown and twisted or wrinkled in appearance.  This is best planted in rich, organic soil in the shade and is useful as an accent plant, mostly in the fall with the red berries. It will not grow in typical urban clay soils because the soil requires good drainage. It is fairly easy to grow from seed or rhizome cuttings.  It takes 5 to 7 years to grow from seed and 5 years to grow from rhizome cuttings.  The best time to plant seeds or rhizomes is in the fall and if growing from seed, the best germination rates will be obtained by gathering seeds and quickly de-fleshing the seeds from the fruit and storing at 70 F in moist sand until planting in late fall.  If planting from rhizomes, the rhizomes should be at least 1/2" long with visible, healthy roots and ideally a bud. It should be planted 2 - 3" deep.  This is one native plant that benefits from mulch and after planting a 2 - 3" layer of mulch should be applied and then every year or two afterwards depending on how much mulch is remaining.  Goldenseal is relatively free from pests and disease except for slugs which can eat the crown of the plant and the fruit.  If slugs are a problem, do not mulch the plants and attempt to control them.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Plant of the Week: Rough-leafed Dogwood (Cornus drummondii)

This is one of the most common native shrubby dogwoods found in uplands across Kentucky.  It is a clump forming species that can get to 15' tall and is easily recognized in the spring by its creamy white clusters of flowers and whitish to cream colored fruit or berries on reddish or grayish branchlets.  Fall color can be a spectacular purplish red color.  The leaves are rough to the touch due to rough hairs on top of the leaf and soft hairs under the leaf.  The leaves are somewhat oval in shape with pointed tips.  It does have a tendency to spread via root sprouts so you will want to give it room to do its thing.  It is a favorite tree for birds which relish the fruit in late summer and early fall.   The genus  Cornus is Latin for horn and the species name is for Thomas Drummond, a Scottish naturalist who collected plants in the early to mid 1800's.  This species often is confused with red-osier, gray, and silky dogwoods.  It can be grown in full sun to part-shade and once established is quite drought tolerant.  It can tolerate most soil types ranging from well-drained to clay and alkaline to acidic.  This is an excellent replacement plant for folks that are eliminating the exotic, invasive bush honeysuckles.

Creating a butterfly buffet with manure of all things!

Various species puddling

Feeding on fruit

In the past year I have talked about the importance of planting host plants for butterflies and which native flowers provide the best nectar.  Some species of butterflies, like the hackberry, red-spotted purple, Question mark, pearly eyes, etc. do not necessarily nectar but get their nutrients from alternative sources, not flowers.  Some species also puddle which is a means by which mostly male butterflies can be seen slurping something from the sandy roads or other locations.  These minerals are believed to be important for males to develop sperm.  So, how can you attract these species of butterflies to the garden.  Here are a few tips below:

Creating an artificial puddling area.  In a dish or other container mix coarse sand (not play sand), a tablespoon of epson salt and table salt, and a couple of tablespoons of composted manure.  Mix well to an even constituency (the major ingredient is the sand) and keep wet.  The key to attracting butterflies this way is to ensure the mixture is kept wet and is located in the full sun.  During times of extreme heat, you will need to add water daily and I would not use tap water because of the chlorine. flourine, etc.  Rainwater, spring or distilled water works best.

Another excellent method of attracting butterflies is to use rotting fruit, or even fresh fruit, that is allowed to ferment.  The best fruits to use are watermelon, cantaloupe, bananas,  peaches, and apples.  You can add some brown sugar and stale beer if you like to speed up the fermentation process, but it is not necessary.  This mixture needs to be placed more in the shade rather than sun although it is okay for the mixture to get a few hours of direct sunlight every day.  If you put this mixture in a blender, you can paint in on trees and other structures and see what interesting moths came in over the nighttime to feed.

Sit back and enjoy.  It might take a while for the butterflies to find these mixtures, but it does work.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Drought Stress or Browning of Trees

Author: Dr. Jeff Stringer, UK Department of Forestry
Kentucky had the hottest, driest June on record followed by the second wettest July on record.  Many homeowners have observed trees "going dormant" or turning brown and dropping their leaves.  What does this mean and should I be concerned about whether the tree is alive or dead or injured?  Dr. Stringer has written the following regarding drought stress on trees in Kentucky.

Trees don’t actually go into dormancy (in a true sense), they just rest for a while during the winter. Trees track night length to tell them when they should start their leaf abscission process (usual in later August) that results in an October leaf drop. If all of a sudden in December you increased day length you could fool them into leaf out, so therefore it is not a true dormancy.  Regardless, the leaf browning that is going on now is not due to dormancy it is due to desiccation or drying out. If you have a wet fall there will be some species that will try to refoliate (which is unfortunately not a good thing for them). Many of the understory trees can be really effected by droughts and show more symptoms than overstory trees. Some because they have naturally shallow root systems such as dogwoods. Some overstory species (not all) can tap deep water reserves and thus show less evidence of the drought than understory trees. Losing leaves is a mechanism that helps avoid total tree desiccation. You see this in species like river birch that losses leaves when it gets a little droughty (these are drought avoiders). Some species keep leaves on and tolerate desiccation of their tissues – these are drought tolerators (many oaks fall into this category). However, the severe nature of the drought makes it hard to tell which trees will actually succumb and which will pull out of it. My guess is that there will be a large number of the understory trees that will refoliate next year. Not to say they will be highly vigorous, but they will not be total dead either. Some will lose some branches etc. due to the internal desiccation. Regardless the woods and the trees in it will not be in good shape next year. If we have another bad year (drought, late spring frost or freeze, insect outbreak) you will definitely see mortality effects.

Plant of the Week: Glaucous Snakeroot (Prenanthese racemosa)

It is hard to believe it is already late summer and the fall flowers are now beginning to flower.  While it is still quite hot out, some parts of the state have received some much welcomed rain.  Here in Lexington the grass turned back green and is actually growing, perhaps a bit too quickly I might add.  None the less, now is the time to think about late summer and fall flowers. One the most outstanding, colorful species that occurs in the prairies at this time is the glaucous snakeroot.  What a beautiful species, slender growing from 2 to 4' tall, with longer, lower narrow leaves with a long stalk that get smaller and almost clasping towards the top of the plant.  It is clusters of beautiful pink to lavendar flowers that butterflies cherish. The plants like full sun and generally occur in moist prairies throughout their native range which is north of Kentucky from the east coast to almost the west coast.  In Kentucky, it is very rare and is known from one state nature preserve.  In the garden, it would do well in full sun with average garden soil (no clay) and loves calcium rich soils. An excellent companion plant would be rough blazingstar.  A patch of these two species together would be stunning and highly attractive to butterflies. Only one nursery sells plants and one sells seeds but if you are interested in having this species in the garden, it is well worth the effort to find or grow it yourself.
The plant gets its name from prenes for "drooping" and anthe for "blossom" and racemosa which is Latin for "having a raceme - cluster of flowers each on its own stalk arranged along a single stem. Because the stem has a "milky white" substance on the inside, it was used at one point to treat snakebite.  Timothy Coffey, in "History of Folklore of North American Wildflowers" attributed this direct quote about rattlesnake root to William Byrd of Virginia (1728)  "the rattlesnake has an utter antipathy to this plant, in-so-much that if you smear your hand with the juice of it, you may handle the viper safely. Thus much can I say of my own experience, that once in July, when these snakes are in their greatest vigor, I besmear’ed a dog’s nose with the powder of this root and made him trample on a large snake several times, which however, was so far from biting him that it perfectly sicken’d at the dog’s approach and turn’d its head from him with the utmost aversion."

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Plant of the Week: Yellow Fringed Orchid (Platanthera ciliaris)

Oh the joys of having a bog garden in the yard in late July and early August.  One of the most outstanding native orchid species, the yellow fringed will make a statement that says "WOW."  Growing from 12 -24" in height with a couple of leaves along the stem, this species occurs pretty much throughout the eastern United States and Canada ranging from Florida to Texas north to  Canada.  It is fairly common in the southeastern states, but becoming rare in northern states.  The individual flowers are about an inche long with a distinctive fringe and a long nectar tube at the rear of the flower.  There can be a handful to several dozen flowers on an individual flowering stem. One of the most fascinating things about this species is that its primary pollinator is the spicebush swallowtail butterfly and they generally nectar on this species from late morning through mid afternoon. On the coastal plain the primary pollinator is the palamedes swallowtail.  The reason the butterflies visit in late morning is that most of the nectar is produced overnight.  Is that not cool! These are among the easiest of all the native orchids to grow, if you have the right habitat, which is generally wet sphagnum (BOG GARDEN) that gets full sun and the pH runs from about 4 to 5.  The growing medium must be kept moist for the plants to do well, although a little drying will not hurt them. The individual plants
arise from fleshy rootstocks that produce buds which will become the following season’s growth.  What this means is that damage to a plant in a given year will affect the vigor and size of the next year’s plant and if you are gentle with them, they will expand their colony to make quite a show.  The Native Americans used the roots of this plant to treat diarrhea and snakebite and as a fish attractant whereby they would attach some of the root to the hooks to make the fish bite better.  Several nurseries sell this plant and it sells out very, very quickly and the plants are expensive.  But if you have a bog garden, this is one plant (along with meadow beauty, cardinal flower, great blue lobelia, etc.) that could make quite a show this time of the year.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Be on the lookout-Japanese Bloodgrass or Cogongrass (Imperata cylindrica)

Photo by Chris Evans, Bugwood

Planted in the yard.
Photo by John C. Byrd, Bugwood

It has been called a pandemic in the south and it is spreading northward and has now been documented in Tennessee. It is on the Federal Noxious Weed list and is considered one of the top 10 worst weed species in the world.  It has infested more than 153 billion acres around the world and people keep right on planting it!!!  It is widely available in the nursery trade and all over the internet.  The promoters of a cultivar called "red baron" make claims, which are unsubstantiated, that this species is not invasive although the Missouri Botanical Garden has observed that once it loses the red color from the leaves, it becomes invasive.  The nursery industry calls this plant Japanese Bloodgrass because of the red and lime colored leaves.  It is definitely a southern plant and was originally established in Grand Bay Mississippi in 1911-12 and has spread to over a million acres in Florida and hundreds of thousands of acres throughout the southeastern United States.  It is considered a potential pest for most of the eastern United States and the Pacific Northwest.  This species is very aggressive and is generally unpalatable for livestock.  The question is, "Why should we care in Kentucky?"  The answer is quite simple.  We continue to allow it to be sold in the landscape trade and it will become invasive over time, this we know.  We need to be on the lookout for this plant and do not plant it in the landscape because we need to eradicate an infestation as soon as it is documented.  It is very, very difficult to control (strong herbicides are used at a cost of more than $200 per acre) and once it becomes established, game over.  This may finally be the one species that gets the attention of the Kentucky Nursery Association because it will outcompete fescue and cows will not eat it, hence it poses a significant threat to one of our signature agricultural industries, beef cattle production.  Now is the time to visit local nurseries and help educate them about this plant.  Go to www.cogongrass.org for more information about this horrible plant and if you should be chance see it where it has escaped, let authories know immediately so it can be documented and destroyed.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Plant of the Week: Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccifolium)

Snout on rattlesnake master.  Notice the 5 white petals on each individual flower.

Summer azure on rattlesnake master ball
This true tallgrass prairie species is one of the most unique members of the Carrot family and makes for a wonderful cut flower, works well in dried flower arrangements, and attracts butterflies.  It has an extended flowering period sometimes lasting all summer.  The plant gets its name because the Native Americans used the dried seed heads as rattles and the early pioneers believed the roots were an antidote to rattlesnake bites, which of course they are not.  This 2-5' tall plant has long strap-like leaves with stiff, short widely spaced hairs that resemble a yucca plant, although there is no relationship.  The entire plant is smooth and has a bluish to grayish tint to the foliage.  The tiny individual flowers are contained within a 1 - 1 1/2" ball that is whitish to greenish color and each tiny flower has 5 petals and there are sharp sepals at the base of the flower ball.  This is a very easy species to grow in the garden and it likes full sun, can tolerate typical soils found in urban environments, and once established, is very drought tolerant because it has a central taproot.  This species has no serious disease or pest issues.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Plant of the Week: Cream Gentian (Gentiana alba or flavida)

This is the first of the gentians to begin flowering in late July to early August.  It can be differentiated by all other gentians because it lacks blue in any part of the flower.  The 1 1/2" tubular flowers occur in a cluster atop a one to two (sometimes three) feet tall plant with typical gentian leaves that are lance shaped and about 3" long and 2" wide.  The white (sometimes off yellow or green) flowers have no fragrance and bumblebees are the primary pollinators.  This is a pretty adaptable plant for the garden because it can tolerate some clay in the soil but likes more moist to average garden soils so that the long taproot can grow deep into the earth.  It can tolerate full sun but the leaves may show some yellowing and prefers partial sun.  The leaves have a bitter taste and so it is probably not a preferred deer browse species.  The genus name comes from Gentius, King of Illyria around 500 B.C.  The species name comes from Latin meaning white. Gentiana alba was first published by Muhlenberg in 1818 and Gray in 1846 first called the species Gentiana flavida. They are the same plant and some experts consider G. alba to be the correct name because it was published first, but other experts consider G. flavida to be the correct name because of a belief that the Muhlenberg publication was invalid under the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature.  The native range for this species is from Canada down to Oklahoma, Arkansas, and North Carolina.  It most often thought of as a prairie or grassland species but also occurs in open woodlands and savannas. In Kentucky it is considered a rare species but it is widely sold in the nursery trade.  There are some interesting notes about this species in that it will hybridize with G. andrewsii giving a different looking flower that is cream colored with light blue tints at the edge of the petals.  In Kentucky, the time of flowering precludes hybridization in the wild, but it is something a hobbyist might undertake.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Is Butterfly Bush Invasive? Should we plant it in urban areas?

Photo courtesy of Duke University
Say it isn’t so.  Butterfly bush is invasive and shouldn’t be planted? This is undoubtedly a touchy subject for many who love the flowers that attract butterflies throughout the summer.  It is a widely planted species and is known for attracting the showy swallowtail butterflies.  It is very easy to grow and widely available in the nursery trade.  But, and here is the big but – it is an invasive, exotic species.  What you may ask?  I have never seen it where it has escaped into the wild so it just can’t be invasive in Kentucky.  What got me thinking about writing this blog piece was a discussion amongst Kentucky Native Plant Society Members on Facebook on whether or not it should be planted and whether or not it is invasive. And to top it all off, there was an article in Birds and Blooms magazine that discussed how butterfly bush was an invasive exotic! This particular writer acknowledged in New Jersey that it had completely taken over dune vegetation and completely altered this natural community.  Even the state of Oregon bans the sale of this plant. Who would have known.
 The commonly species planted, Buddleia davidii, has escaped and has become a pest species in the Pacific Northwest (Oregon and Washington) and along the eastern Seaboard and in 1997 the Brooklyn Botanical Garden listed it as invasive.  If you look at the current distribution of where it has been found, it is moving west from the eastern seaboard states and is now found in most of the states surrounding Kentucky and in Kentucky as well.  It prefers riparian or streamside habitats and disturbed sites and in Kentucky I have seen it along the Ohio River and near the stream at Bad Branch State Nature Preserve in Letcher County.  The largest invasive problems appear to be in the Appalachian mountains all the way from New York through Alabama (in the Cumberland Plateau).  While this species is still not a major threat in Kentucky, we do know the best method of dealing with invasive plants, is to not let populations get established.  So here are the arguments made by folks for continued planting of this species.
I haven’t seen it escape on my five acres of land and it is therefore not invasive.  Here is the response to that question.  Buddleia, like many invasive species, has small windblown seeds that are dispersed far and wide. Once in the seed bank those seeds sit and wait, for just the right opportune moment and then, bingo, a problem seemingly develops overnight. A couple of examples will serve to highlight this.  A landscape architect friend vehemently disagreed with me that miscanthus (plume grass) was invasive because he had planted many in his rural yard and did not see any seedlings.  I explained the issue of small windblown seeds (or seeds dispersed by birds like the bush honeysuckles) and they travel long ways in search of appropriate habitat.  Not to be believed he told me.  A couple of years later, driving out by the farm I noticed an entire field of miscanthus and it was miles from his land with no other source plants available.  Where did it come from?  The Heavens?  A second example will solidify this concept.  Japanese spirea is a horribly invasive species and has been planted as an ornamental shrub for probably decades in this state.  It is now a problem and becoming a huge issue in natural areas.  I actually had a graduate student looking at control methods in the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.  It reverts from its cute compact form into a tall, rank, straggly natural form that is rhizomatous and takes over streamside forests, which it was doing in the BSFNRRA and was threatening two endangered plant species.  There was no source population for miles around. Just this spring  I was on the top of Pine Mountain, miles and miles from any source of Japanese spirea, and guess what; there is was, growing in several clumps, expanding into the forest unchecked. In another case I had a homemaker ask what the pink shrub in the woods and pasture was at their farm.  She described it and it was Japanese spirea and she indicated her husband, a beef cattle farmer, was none too happy because the cows wouldn’t eat it and the patches were getting larger.  How long did it take this species to become a problem in Kentucky?  We knew it was a problem in the Appalachian Mountains and along the Blue Ridge, but no one seemed to notice what was happening in Kentucky.  What happens is the seeds are blown here and there and then they sit in the soil, in the case of buddleia, it appears for decades.  Then, when conditions are appropriate, they germinate and the process of invasion has begun.  So just because you do not see them escaping in your yard doesn’t mean they aren’t invasive in the larger landscape and have not created a problem from your plants, miles and miles away unbeknownst to you.
The second argument was that native plant enthusiasts often create more issues for using natives because of their lack of compromise, sometimes confrontational approach, and strength of conviction about using exotic plants.  Furthermore, when dealing with the general public you need to have early success for attracting butterflies or wildlife in urban biological deserts or on school yards.  I would agree with the sentiments about some native plant enthusiasts, they sometimes do go too far and are too confrontational and I often think some compromise can be made with some species or there may be alternative solutions available to solving a particular issue. In almost all cases however, there are native plant materials that will do the same function in the landscape as the exotic. I do however take some issue with early success and buddleia being the source of that early success.  Given what one or two butterfly bushes cost, one could easily purchased several purple coneflowers, boneset, joe-pye-weed, New England aster plants and a couple of mints and could easily attract as many or more species that the butterfly bushes.  The species primarily attracted to butterfly bushes are the swallowtails and silver spotted skipper; whereas, the species attracted to the others include the swallowtails but also many other smaller species like hairstreak, snouts, red admirals, fritillaries, etc.  Furthermore, from the perspective of school yards, butterfly bushes flower in the summer, not the fall or spring when students are actually attending classes and therefore it is much better to plant those natives.  Even if you choose not to plant natives, old time single petaled zinnias and Mexican sunflowers are better butterfly attractors than is butterfly bush.  I have helped with the annual butterfly count for many years here in Central Kentucky and there has not been a year when we have seen more species, and more individuals, on native flowers than on butterfly bushes at the arboretum.
The next argument is that butterfly bush is very drought tolerant and may be the only source of nectar available for butterflies.  Hogwash.  Supposedly someone wrote that butterfly bushes produce more nectar than other species during drought. I could not find any scientific evidence to back this statement up.  None, not a single one.  One study, which was unpublished, done at Clemson examined the different content of nectar among butterfly bush varieties and found those with higher sugars of a particular type were visited more often, but the sample sizes are tiny, the study was not replicated, and never published in the scientific literature and they do not compare buddleia to other native species.  What we do know is that from one British study that nectar in butterfly bushes in Great Britain doesn’t differ between other nectar plants. Doug Tallamy, entomologist at Deleware State University calls butterfly bush “junk food” probably because of high sugar levels.  But high sugar levels are not the most important part of nectar.  A number of studies have documented it is the amino acids (that build protein) are the critical factor and it is linked to higher larval survival.
The next argument is that there are now sterile cultivars of this plant available that will not reproduce. My question is, how did they make it sterile?  By breeding or by genetic manipulation? We know that some plants, mostly annuals, can be genetically manipulated to suppress reproduction but it is often much more difficult in a perennial plant.  For example, paper companies are attempting to develop a genetically sterile cultivar of eastern cottonwood trees such that they can apply herbicides over the top of them and reduce growing costs.  They have only been at these more 20 or more years and they just can’t get them completely sterile.  We have been down this road before. I remember not that long ago when folks begged and pleaded with the Kentucky Nursery and Landsacpe Association to stop selling purple loosestrife. They said it was a very desirable plant and they would continue to sell it  because the new “sterile” hybrids did not escape.   How’s that working out for us?  This plant is now a serious problem in Kentucky, and I mean serious.  One day coming out of the mountains into a drainage of the Red River in Powell County I was greeted with an entire field of at least 40 acres in size of purple loosestrife.  It has escaped out of Louisville and has moved down the Ohio River and is beginning to threaten our native wetlands.  The audacity of some who continue to contend it just isn’t so is amazing.   In one case, there were plants growing in a stream immediately adjacent to the plantsman’s business and have moved down Hickman Creek and in one pond in town the entire shallow area was inundated with purple loosestrife from this release in just TWO YEARS.  The ironic thing is the plantsman denied they came from their plants!  Or how about those sterile cultivars of callary pears we were sold?  How’s that working out for you as you drive by ornamental pear forests now?  You get the point. The ultimate goal of all plants is to make new plants.

Finally, with all the other major environmental problems we face, global climate change, pollution, loss of biodiversity, etc. why pick on using this one little ol plant? I remember an old Chinese saying, “Every journey begins with a single step.”  We do have many important environmental problems but somewhere we have to set an example, do simple things to make a broader statement and to think globally and act locally. We all have to find where we can make a difference and the use of exotic plant material is ultimately a moral choice, just like choosing to change light bulbs, or reduce water consumption, or car pool, or whatever.  It comes down to each of our own choices; do we choose to knowingly use a plant that is or could become an invasive and harm the environment?  Only you can make that choice and if it becomes a problem then you know that you were not part of the solution, but rather part of the problem and what did your actions teach our young people that will inherit the earth after we are long gone? But just remember this, native plants saved the wine industry, saved the corn industry, provide us with the genetic material for 40% of our pharmaceuticals, etc. As I said, your option to grow this plant or any invasive exotic species is a moral and ethical choice. So, say it isn’t so, you can have your cake and eat it too and there is such a thing as a free lunch, ecologically speaking?   I doubt it but we can all convince ourselves because of course we are all reasonable people.  But just remember, reasonable people can reason just about anything.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Plant of the Week: Turk's Cap Lily (Lilium superbum)

Glad to be back in Kentucky after a week of being in the northwoods.  Not so good is the continued hot, dry conditions we find here in the state. So perhaps it is time to think about getting into the shade and enjoying the shade garden.  But this time of the year, what is in flower in the shade garden?  Actually there are a few showy species including black cohosh, bear's foot, hedge nettle, germander, tasselrue, spikenard, and the showiest of all, the lilies, both Canada and Turk's Cap.  The easiest of the species to find in the nursery trade is the Turk's Cap Lily.  As with most shade garden plants, this species does not like clay but rather a rich organic soil and it does like some sun, maybe early morning or late afternoon, but it does not like drought, hence it might be one species you need to water this time of year when it is dry. Furthermore, this is one native species you should probably mulch. If you get a plant that likes where it is at, it will grow up to 7' tall and have multiple flowers on the plant, sometimes up to 10 or 15.  In addition, it will spread via stolons and you can get a nice patch in the garden, but only if the conditions are right. The petals are nicely recurved and the distinctive identifying feature is the green throat in the center of the flower.  The best companion plants would be cinnamon and royal ferns with black cohosh.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Plant of the Week: Scaly Blazingstar (Liatris squarrosa)

Scaly blazing star is a wonderful species that can handle the hot and dry conditions we are experiencing at the present time.  It is a small species, growing to 1 to at most 2' tall, mostly about 18", and will remain in flower for several weeks to more than a month.  This species has a hairy stem and almost linear, alternate leaves that are 4 - 6" near the base and decrease in size as they occur up the stem.  Each individual flower head is about an inch in diameter with tubular disk florets and no ray florets.  It will grow in neutral or somewhat acidic soils and likes it dry, well-drained and even rocky or sandy soils.  It definitely needs full sun.  The flowers are pollinated by bumblebees, butterflies, and skippers.  The foliage is eaten by a variety of mammals including deer, rabbits, groundhogs, and domestic stock. Good companion plants are wild petunia, nodding wild onion, butterfly milkweed, and black-eyed Susan's.  It does have some medicinal uses primarily as a diuretic.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

There is something wrong in the neighborhood, that is with raccoons in the sweet corn.

Nothing could be finer than sinking your teeth into a nice freshly picked ear of peaches and cream, ambrosia, silver queen, cotton candy or any other hybrid sweet corn.  Unfortunately, this time of year, the raccoons seem to know about 2 days before you do when the corn is ripe and ready to be harvested.  So, what you gonna do?  Be frustrated?  Probably.  Be angry? Probably. Thinking of getting even?  Most likely.  Resolve to solve the problem?  Most definitely.  And so you begin the process of figuring out exactly what to do.  Your neighbor tells you this, the farm store tells you that, and every one gives you advice, and in the end, nothing works from the store of home remedies. There are really only two solutions, well three if you just give up and give in, to solving this dilemna.  First, the only repellent you can use on a human edible crop is Hinder.  It comes most often in a quart size for about $24.95 and many outlets on the web sell it.  You need to begin to apply this a few days before you see any activity by the offending animals and it must be reapplied after a heavy dew, rainfall, or watering.  You must keep applying it as long as the animals are coming into the garden. It will not stop all the damage, but it will stop enough, and for a sufficient period of time that you can harvest the crop.  Now the most effective, and long term solution is to use electric fencing, which will work for raccoons, rabbits, ground hogs or woodchucks, cats, dogs or any other type of small vermin.

This is an elaborate set up shown above was designed to keep beaver in the pond and away from ornamental trees.  However, the idea is the same for protecting your garden.  You only need one high tensile wire but two often works better.  The type of wire you see above is the New Zealand type polywire but you can use simple high tensile electric wire. The first wire should be a couple of inches off the ground and the second wire should be about 8" off the ground.  This stops animals from going under, through, or over the wires without getting a good dose of electricity.  The key to being successful is to have a powerful, and I mean powerful, charger, preferably a solar charged type that will put out enough current to give the little critters a good shot when they touch it.  It is essential that the wires to not touch vegetation anywhere, thus shorting out the system.  Do not get some cheap, whimpy charger designed to keep family pets around the yard.  Get a good, high quality, powerful charger designed to keep predators away from livestock because raccoons and other wildlife have lots of hair/fur and a tough skin.  The charger will be the most expensive piece of equipment but it will last for years and years and over time, will pay for itself.  Once the corn has been harvested, simply take down the fence and store until next year. In all the years I have recommended this set-up I have never had one complaint except for the farmer who did not have a powerful enough charger.  Trust me, it works and is the most cost effective method of protecting your garden so you can enjoy that tasty sweet corn, dang I can almost visualize that sweet, buttery taste in my mouth now.