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, 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!