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.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Plant of the week: Large flowered bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora)

This is a nice woodland clump forming species that actually makes a pretty good cut flower, of which there are not that many native species that can be used for this purpose in the spring.  It grows to 2' tall, with lance shaped leaves that are perfoliate (leaf base encircles the stem), slightly twisted, and bright green in color.  The flowers have 6 tepals (sepals and petals look alike) that hang below the stem and in early stages of growth gives it a droopy appearance.  It is very easy to grow in the garden in rich organic soils in full to partial sun habitats. The three celled and lobed seed capsules are quite showy after the plant has flowered.  This is a highly preferred deer browse and it will be quickly destroyed in areas with high deer densities.  It is primarily pollinated by various bees and like many woodland species, the seeds are dispersed by ants because of the fatty acid elaiosomes (ants eat this and leave the seeds to germinate). It has been reported in the literature that the young tender sprouts can be eaten like asparagus. As with many native plants, the Native Americans used this species to treat a wide variety of ailments ranging from swelling to diarrhea to healing ulcers and broken bones.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Plant of the week: Violet woodsorrel (Oxalis violacea)

Violet woodsorrel is the only native woodsorrel in Kentucky with lavendar to purple flowers.  All the remaining species have yellow flowers.  The use of this in the woodland garden is as a filler plant, filling in and under some of the earlier blooming species and I love this plant for the usual red blotching in the trifoliate (clover like) leaves (hence the name trinity grass) and for the fact that deer do not typically eat this species (because of the oxalic acid). Because it is sour tasting, many herbivores do not eat this plant and historically after sheep would overgraze pastures, this species would invade and thrive because the sheep would not graze it (hence the name sheep sorrel).  The oxalic acid gives rise to the genus name of Oxalis and of course violacea refers to the lavendar flowers.  It has also been called Indian lemonade as the Native Americans brewed a sour tasting beverage that was used to treat mouth ulcres, stomach distress, and urinary tract problems.  It has also been used to treat scurvy, as a fever reducer, diuretic, and appetite suppresant.  This is a diminuitive plant that only reaches 6" tall when flowering but it is very easy to grow in the woodland garden, in a rock garden, or any place with good well drained average soil.  It is quite drought tolerant and the sour tasting leaves add an interesting tart flavor to salads.  It has few natural pests and will spread to form a nice colony if it is planted in favorable growing conditions of part shade, well-drained slightly acidic soils.  The leaves and flowers typically "open" or unfold on sunny days and stay tightly bundled on cloudy and rainy days.  It is pollinated by primarily carpenter, cuckoo, mason, andrendid, and halictid bees.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The purple martin scouts are back, get your houses up and cleaned out now!!!

Purple martin scouts began returning to Kentucky in late February this year but right now in the past few days, more reports are coming in of seeing purple martin scouts.  So now is the time to get that martin box up and cleaned out and prepared for the birds this year.While you still have some time to get a new house up and running, the only time you should open your nesting box early is if you see birds using a neighbors house that is within 1 mile of your property. Generally speaking you have about 4 - 5 weeks to get your house up and running after the first adult scouts arrive because the birds that will select a new housing location are sub-adult (last year's fledglings that have not yet nested) birds. Older or mature martins rarely, if ever, can be lured into moving to a new location because they have a strong nest site fidelity, which means nothing more than coming back to the same place they have nested in the past. In Martin culture, the oldest birds arrive first and the youngest arrive last and it occurs over a several month period with new birds arriving daily, but you should be prepared because if you want to attract a new colony of martins (and it can be difficult) now is the time to get things ready. Why is it so difficult to attract a new colony? The biggest and most common reason is that houses are placed in the yard incorrectly. These aerial acrobats can't tolerate trees that are as tall as the housing unit located within 40' and to be on the safe side it should be 60' from the housing unit. This spacing should be in three directions and as for the fourth direction, it should be from 40 to 120' from your house or building. It appears that martins have "learned" that housing units in close proximity to human habituation reduces predation (the likes of raccoons, snakes, hawks, owls, and crows) and the birds have a better chance of fledging more young. If you aren't getting martins nesting, try moving the housing unit closer to your home. Reason number three as to why folks don't get nesting martins is that the unit is not painted white. Why white? Well because it reflects the sun better and the birds don't experience as much heat stress, it creates a contrast with the dark entrance hole making it more enticing, and finally, male birds seem to prefer it for courtship. Another reason you don't attract martins is opening the unit too early and it gets invaded by house sparrows, finches, starlings, and other nest site competitors. If this happens you might never get martins to nest in that unit. This doesn't mean you shouldn't open the house before the birds arrive because if you wait until you actually see birds, it is too late. So open at least a few holes on each side prior to birds arriving and maintain vigilance to keep the other species out. For established colonies you can wait until you see birds returning because of their strong nest site fidelity. If you have vines, shrubs, or bushes growing up the pole, remove them as the birds rarely if ever nest where vines, and other plants crawl up the pole because the birds instinctively know it increases the chances of predation. In the same vein, do not put any guide wires or have the house located near ANY wires that are close enough for a predator to access the house and this means at least 10' which is about how far a squirrel can jump. Finally make sure the housing unit has the correct dimensions and while it may sound silly, there are varying recommendations as to what housing should look like. The most important feature of any housing unit is that the size should be no smaller than 6" x 6" although 7" x 12" is preferred, the entrance hole should be 1" above the floor, and the size of the hole should be 2 to 2 1/4." Lastly, the housing unit should be secured to a pole that can be raised and lowered by either a telescopic or pulley system so that pest birds can be evicted, units can be cleaned and closed/opened, and you can check on the baby birds to keep records of what is going on. Good luck in attracting these beautiful birds.

Plant of the Week: Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides)

This early spring blooming woodland flower is not that showy for the garden, although I do like the texture and leaf/stem color and the blue berries in the fall.  It is mostly grown for it's medicinal purposes (more on that in a minute).  This is a 1 -3' tall plant that is unbranched and has a smooth stem that varies from light green to light purple. Non-flowering plants have a single compound leaf at the top of the stem.  Flowering plants have two compound leaves and each leave is subdivided into 9 subleaflets.  The flower clusters range from 5 - 30 individual 1/3" wide brownish to reddish-brown flowers with 6 petals.  A member of the Barberry family, this is a long-lived species which has both rhizomes and fibrous roots so it can form small colonies because it is somewhat difficult to grow from seed.  It likes dappled shade with very rich organic soils. The flowers are pollinated by various small flies, parasitoid wasps, and small bees.  The berries are toxic to humans and the foliage is also toxic to many mammals, including white-tailed deer, hence it is a plant that can be used where deer densities are high. The name cohosh comes from the Algonquin word meaning rough, which refers to the root. While this is not that showy of a plant in flower (it is showier with the bright blue berries - hence the seed is most likely dispersed by birds), what is fascinating about this plant is it use as a medicinal plant.  It has been used for starting labor and menstruation, constipation, stomach cramps, sore throat, hiccups and seizures. Unfortunately most of these claims are unverified by research. The established medical community generally considers blue cohosh to be unsafe to take for both children and adults. There is scientific evidence that it makes the uterus contract and should not be taken if pregnant or to aid in delivery and there have been cases reported that blue cohosh taken at the time of delivery may cause; 1) perinatal stroke, 2) acute myocardial infarction, profound congestive heart failure and shock and 3) severe multi-organ hypoxic injury. It makes chest pain (angina) and high blood pressure worse; it raises blood sugar in diabetics; makes diarrhea worse, and has a tendency to act like estrogen affecting breast cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, endometriosis, and uterine fibroids. The list of drug interactions is long and makes nictoine more addictive and harmful.  As with any herbal medicine, if you decide to use this, and it is widely available, you should consult your doctor prior to beginning a treatment regime.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Plant of the Week: Squirrel Corn (Dicentra canadensis)

The foliage of this early spring wildflower is easily mistaken with the foliage of its close cousin, Dutchman's Breeches (D. cucullaria). The easiest way to tell the plants apart is via the flowers, but the leaves of squirrel corn are typically shorter and there is one compound leaf per flowering stem compared to Dutchman's breeches which has longer leaves and there are typically two leaves per flowering stem.  In addition, squirrel corn leaves have a tendency to have a more "open" appearance.  Like many members of the fumitory family, these plants are highly toxic and make for good garden plants because mammals, even deer, do not like to graze on them.  The leaves appear early in the growing season and completely disappear by mid-May but they can form dense colonies when established in the garden.  The plants are typically about 6" tall and squirrel corn gets its common name from the underground food storage structures that look like corn kernels.  The flowers are quite distinctive and look like small hearts and the plant is named Dicentra which refers to the two spurs on the flowers and canadensis means from Canada.  This plant is easy to grow in the garden and it is one of those species that must be interplanted with ferns or later blooming species because it is so ephemeral in nature.  Squirrel corn had great significance as a Love Charm to the Mennominee Indians and a young man would throw the flowers to his intended love or chew the roots which gave a perfumed smell in the face of the woman causing her to follow him from that time forward. The Onondaga called this plant the "Ghost corn" believing it was "food for the spirits." Like trilliums, the seed of this group is dispersed by ants because the seeds contain a fatty substance called elaisome, which is highly relished by ants.  At the nest the elaisomes are eaten and the seeds are left to germinate.  The plants are primarily pollinated by bumblebees.  Hisotrically the plant was used as a tonic and for use in treating syphlis.