Imposter Plants: What it Means to Be Native, Part II

This post is the second installment of the Imposter Plants series. In the first post I discussed the differences between native and adaptable, while also trying to clear up the confusing descriptor ‘naturalized’. Here I will dig into the details on what it means to be invasive, noxious, weedy, alien or exotic.

Garden Bullies

On February 3rd 1999, President Bill Clinton signed an executive order that was meant to protect the US from imminent invasion – plant invasion! Non-native plants that become out of control can affect agriculture, ecology, endangered species and human health, and the President was right to be concerned.

There are many definitions for what an invasive plant is, and some are contradictory. Here is my simplified aggregation of the most prevalent ones on the web: a plant is invasive if it is non-native to the region and spreads aggressively enough to displace native plant populations. These plants are not only bullies in the home landscape, they can easily escape into the wild and begin reproducing. Harkening back to the previous post, non-native plants that reproduce on their own in the wild are ‘naturalized’, but the important distinction is that naturalized plants do not degrade habitat and cannot outcompete natives for nutrients, water or sunlight. Invasive plants certainly do, often causing damage to the local flora and fauna.

 

Field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis) is an invasive plant as well as a noxious weed. Brought here from Eurasia, it quickly adapted to the North American climate and is pervasive enough to choke out native plants and hinder agriculture.

 

Prairie Dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum) is a beautiful native species, but spreads aggressively and can take over your garden. Even so, this is not technically an invasive plant.

Weedy and Noxious

I truly despise the term ‘weedy’. Not only is it vague, it is completely subjective. One person’s weedy plant is another’s favorite flower! The true definition of a weed is merely ‘a plant out of place’; a weed can be any plant, native or non-native, that does not belong in its current place. We use this word to describe the behavior of the plant more than the plant itself. Does it pop up everywhere? Does it come back even after you pull it? Well, a gardener might call this plant a weed, even if they once planted it there themselves. But since it only describes the action of the plant and not the legal status or origins, this word doesn’t hold much weight with me.

Brad Guhr captured this delaware skipper (Anatrytone logan) enjoying the bloom of a native thistle, Cirsium altissimum. People often confuse these with non-native thistles classified as noxious weeds. Our native tall thistle is important to pollinators.

 

Regal fritillary on native tall thistle. You can identify native thistles from the noxious by their leaves – Cirsium altissimum leaves are green above white and woolly underneath. To learn all the details on native and non-native thistles from Brad Guhr, click here.

A noxious weed is a different story. Noxious is a legal term and its definition is closely tied to agriculture. Per the 1974 Federal Noxious Weed Act, “a plant that directly or indirectly injures crops, other useful plants, livestock, poultry or other interests of agriculture, or the fish or wildlife resources of the United States” is considered noxious. Confusingly, native plants can be noxious weeds. A noxious weed grows aggressively, multiplies quickly without natural controls (such as herbivory) and threatens agriculture. The USDA regulates these plants and monitors their populations.

Extraterrestrial and Just Plain Weird

Lastly, let’s tackle a few terms that arise occasionally to confuse and befuddle. Though we call some plants ‘alien’, this doesn’t mean they have invaded from Mars. We can use this term interchangeably with ‘non-native’; both mean that a given plant is not naturally found in the area. You may also hear a plant called ‘exotic’. What comes to mind might be tropical, rare, or expensive specimens, but in fact this is just another name for a non-native plant. An exotic plant has origins in another place, perhaps on another continent. Exotic and alien are often bundled together with other terminology – exotic introduced (a non-native plant brought to a new place), an alien invasive (a non-native plant that harms local ecosystems), an exotic naturalizer (a non-native that reproduces in the wild but doesn’t cause major problems) … and so on!

Tamarix is an exotic species native to Eurasia and Africa, but is now spreading aggressively over many parts of the US. So prevalent in some areas, it can lower the water table and deposit large amounts of salt in the soil.

Whether a plant is invasive or naturalizing, native or weedy, can often change based on who you are talking to. Some of these terms overlap in definition, leaving much to argue about. There is even scientific interest in finding a new way to classify these plants to help dispel the confusion. By educating yourself on correct classifications, you can help friends and neighbors understand why they shouldn’t plant invasives that ruin our wilderness. You can also help at our FloraKansas Plant Festival, teaching others that native plants are not just pretty ‘weeds’.

Imposter Plants: What it Means to Be Native, Part I

At every plant sale, the same questions come up year after year…

“Which of these are native plants?”
“What is native to Kansas?”
“Why are the same types of plants in the Native and non-Native section?”
“This is a weed, why would you sell this?”
…. and many more!

Our plant sale features many midwest natives as well as ‘adaptable’ plants that are not native but make nice additions to the garden.

The average gardener may feel bamboozled by the idea that there are ‘natives’ and ‘non-natives’, ‘naturalizers’ and ‘introduced exotics’. The public is not well informed of these terms, and many plants have become imposters – invasives masquerading as innocuous beauties and beneficial natives demoted to noxious weeds. Clear classifications reveal the history and behavior of a given plant, but only if we understand the terminology! I have compiled definitions of these terms to help everyday gardeners decode the complex plant lingo. Since there are so many terms to cover, I will split this topic into two posts! This post will cover natives, adaptables, nativars and naturalizers. Stay tuned for the next installment, which will define invasive, weedy, noxious, and exotic.

What is Native?

We must use the word ‘native’ in reference to a specific place or geographical region – Native to the Mediterranean, Native to Peru, or Native to the Great Plains. Otherwise, we could label all plants native to planet earth! In general, scientists consider a plant native to North America if it existed here before European settlement and occurred naturally here during its evolution. In other words, if it required human help to get here, it is not a native species.

At our plant sale, we stock plants that are native to the Great Plains and Ozark region. We sell plants native to Kansas and surrounding states, in order to 1) provide customers with plants that survive and thrive because they are well suited to this climate and 2) get as many plants as possible into home landscapes to support the pollinators and wildlife specific to our area.

Columbus may have thought he was ‘taking possession’ of a new land, but he was also devastating native plants and peoples. Secret stowaways are hiding in the folds of those funny outfits – non-native seeds stuck on clothes and shoes from back home. Europeans brought more and more foreign plant material to the continent with every new ship that arrived. By L. Prang & Co., Boston [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Adaptables and Nativars

At our plant sale, we also offer non-native plants that still perform well in our climate. We call them ‘adaptables’. Albeit a little vague, this means the non-native plant can survive in our climate and is an asset to the garden. Adaptables are often hybrid varieties of native plants. For example, Monarda fistulosa (bee balm) is a Kansas native, but Monarda ‘Cherry Pops’ is a hybrid of the New England species M. didyma. At the sale, we label such hybrids ‘adaptable’. They are relatives of our native species and perform well in the garden, but are not naturally found in Kansas.

Monarda ‘Cherry Pops’ is a showstopper, but this hybrid’s parents are native to New England. In Kansas it does well in part shade conditions that get average moisture. https://www.waltersgardens.com/variety.php?ID=MONCP

This particular adaptable can also be deemed a ‘nativar’ – a fancy term for a native plant that has been specially bred for certain traits. Monarda didyma is a New England native, but the variety ‘Cherry Pops’ is man-made from native parentage. Though not naturally occurring, botanists started with the native variety and selectively bred for vibrant color and prolific blooms. Nativars are beautiful additions to the garden and add exciting colors, but their lack of natural genetic diversity and sterility call into question their usefulness as habitat for wildlife.

The USDA Plants database is an excellent resource – search with botanical or common names to find out their native range and legal status.

Naturalized, But Still Not Native

If a plant falls under the classification ‘naturalized’, it is not and never was a native to the given area. You can identify a naturalized plant by three traits:

  1. It was introduced – brought here by humans, intentionally or unintentionally.
  2. It is well suited to the environment and can successfully reproduce on its own in the wild.
  3. Though it can escape into the wild, it does not upset natural populations.

A good example of this is the common dandelion. Though we think of this as a weed, (more about this tricky word in the next post!) it was intentionally brought over by Europeans as a medicinal plant. It did not require cultivation – reproducing quite successfully in the new world, dandelions are now just part of the landscape. Though it may be invading your lawn, it isn’t truly invasive because it’s not upsetting established populations of native plants. Though not native, it can still be useful! Dandelions are a food source for bees when other flowers are scarce and the leaves are relished by rabbits.

Rabbits love to forage on dandelions. Both of these species, rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) and dandelion (Taraxacum) have been spread around the world by human error.
By Gidzy [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Cold winter days are a good time to brush up on your botanical terminology and prepare for the planting season. In the coming weeks, part II of this post will discuss our less pleasant plant friends, the invasive, weedy, noxious and exotic. In the meantime, browse our Native Plant Guide for 2018 for native and adaptable plants available at the FloraKansas Native Plant Festival.

 

Little Known Natives

Our FloraKansas Plant Sale is the largest native plant sale in the state of Kansas. We do our best to provide a wide selection of native and adaptable perennials that will grow reliably, but will, over time, use less water and fertilizer. Using native plants in your landscape helps to build back some of the native habitat that our cities and neighborhoods have paved over and shoved aside.

While planning out our inventory for this year, I was struck by how many amazing North American natives we offer that get overlooked. Why are these dazzlers not flying off the shelves? I’d like to introduce our readers to some of these lesser-known native showstoppers.

Linum p. Lewisii– Flax

Linum, also known as blue flax, prairie flax, or Lewisii flax (named for Meriwether Lewis) is one of the few “true blue” flowers out there. It has dainty blooms on stout stems and thin, grey green foliage. According to the USDA link, it is native from Kansas to California and Texas all the way to the far reaches of Northern Canada. Linum does not tolerate prolonged wetness; good drainage and a somewhat rocky environment suit it well. At the Arboretum, we have a very old blue flax specimen growing out from between a couple of limestone slabs in a rockwall. It blooms every spring like clockwork!

Flax is a great native addition to any dry, full sun garden.

 

Ipomopsis aggregata– Scarlet Gilia (Biennial)

Beloved by hummingbirds, scarlet gilia is a dry-loving plant, native to the western half of North America. Just missing the western Kansas border, this plant makes its home in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and California – you can tell from that list that it likes a high-and-dry soil climate with excellent drainage. Gilia will likely do well in a sunny rock garden.

Scarlet Gilia has dainty red blooms but a tough, drought tolerant root system.
     Photo by Jerry Friedman (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Packera obovata– Golden Ragwort

Native from Kansas all the way to the Atlantic ocean, this woodland species is a colorful ground cover that spreads via seed or rhizome. It appreciates a shaded location, but is very low maintenance once established. Usually blooming mid-spring, it is a welcome sight for hungry pollinators!

Bright yellow flowers of Packera obovata, great for cutting!

 

Talinum calycinum– Rock Pink

Rock pink, also known as fameflower, is a sweet and petite succulent that loves hot sun. Native from Nebraska to Texas and Colorado to Missouri, this species loves rocky, gravelly soil and dry conditions. Brilliant purple flowers contrast with bright yellow stamens in the center. These look great next to low growing non-native companions such as hens and chicks, annual rose moss or ground-hugging sedums.

Talinum is a native succulent with wiry purple stems and bright blooms.    Photo by Corey Raimond (Largeflower Fameflower) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Stylophorum diphyllum– Celandine Poppy

Found mostly east of Kansas in Missouri, Kentucky, Indiana and Michigan, celandine poppy is a cheery yellow spring bloomer that often goes dormant during the hot summer months. It has lobed leaves and hairy stems which support large, yellow, poppy-like flowers.

Celandine poppy gives bright yellow blooms early in the growing season.       Photo by R.W. Smith, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

 

Carex brevior– Plains Oval Sedge

Okay, so this isn’t a blooming show stopper, but it is a must-have nonetheless! The weedy, invasive sedges give a bad name to the genus, but Carex brevior, and many other well-behaved sedges are superb for filling in gaps in the garden, creating a lush, verdant look. Deep green arching blades and a compact form make this sedge a hit in a part shade setting.

Berlandiera lyrata– Chocolate Flower

Chocolate flower is one of my personal favorite natives. It truly smells (and tastes?) like chocolate, a unique and tantalizing scent for your garden. Plant in large groups to maximize the visual impact and aroma. Also known as greeneyes or chocolate daisy, they are beneficial to pollinators and can grow in dry, shallow soil. They are native to Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado and New Mexico.

Chocolate flower is irresistibly cheery and smells uncannily like warm chocolate. Photo by Kaldari (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Spring is just around the corner – soon our greenhouse will be bursting with all these species and many more! Not sure how to incorporate these plants into your garden? Come to our Native Plant Landscaping Symposium to hear about the experiences and techniques of native plant gardening from beginners and veterans alike. I hope to see these beauties in more landscapes soon, for their own uniqueness and for their contribution to the ecosystem.

O Cedar Tree, O Cedar Tree

This past weekend I cut down a red cedar to use as my Christmas tree; just the right shape and size and with the right amount of character. I feel great about cutting one of these trees out of the wild (an Arboretum staffer condoning tree felling? Yes!). Red cedars are beautiful, strung with lights and tinsel, but they have become a real pest in the Great Plains ecosystem. Here are a few reasons to skip the plastic tree or spruce farm and simply cut yourself a cedar!

Any Christmas tree, cedar or artificial, can benefit from some ecologically conscious decorations. Dried grass and seed heads of prairie plants look magical amongst warm white lights, but are biodegradable.

Cedars have become invasive

Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) is native to Kansas and much of central and eastern North America. Native though they are, the USDA labels cedars as invasive, and rightfully so. Too many pastures and meadows are overgrown with cedars, choking out native grasses and wildflowers. Without natural wildfires and regular controlled burns, cedars have been allowed to flourish in places that historically would not have been suitable. The tallgrass prairie is one of the most rare and endangered ecosystems in the world, and the invasion of cedars upon open grasslands decreases species richness, changes soil composition and even threatens indigenous wildlife. If you are a landowner looking to do maintenance of your grassland or clear it of cedar trees, Dyck Arboretum can provide helpful information.

Trees and shrubs are overpopulating grassy landscapes. Randy Rodgers has a wonderful essay here on the impacts of trees encroaching on the prairie.

Cedars degrade the prairie ecosystem

Grassland dependent birds, insects and small mammals become displaced or outcompeted when red cedars populate formerly open land. The University of Nebraska has compiled a lot of data on this subject at The Eastern Red Cedar Science Literacy Project, where you can find informative and alarming tidbits like:

“Grassland birds are the most rapidly declining avian guild in North America (Fuhlendorf et al. 2012) and are rarely observed once juniper exceeds 10% of land cover (Chapman et al. 2004).” (Twidwell et al. 2013)

and…

“An increase in overstory cover from 0% to 30% red cedar can change a species-rich prairie community to a depauperate community dominated by 1 (small mammal) species, Peromyscus leucopus.” (Horncastle et al. 2005)

Endangered and vulnerable species like the American burying beetle and the greater prairie chicken are only further threatened by the turnover of grassland to cedar forests. Cedars do have redeeming qualities – winter shelter and forage for birds, drought tolerance and erosion control. Red cedars certainly have their place in a hedgerow or small grove, but should be carefully limited from spreading.

Cedar trees make prescribed burning  tricky and often exacerbate already dangerous wildfires by sending up massive flames. Overgrown cedar pastures are a serious fire risk, and may have been a factor in the 2015 Anderson Creek wildfire.

My coworker Brad has some great bumper stickers that encourage regular prescribed burns to prevent cedar overgrowth.

Cedars are a ‘green’ choice

For all the aforementioned reasons, cutting a cedar for a Christmas tree is already a very ecologically conscious decision. But there is more! Unlike plastic trees, cedars are biodegradable and can be used for firewood or garden mulch. Also note that conventional Christmas tree farms providing spruce or firs require lots of resources:

  • clearing/agricultural development of land
  • years of regular water input
  • pesticides to keep needles bug free
  • shipping and fuel costs to get the trees to distributors around the country

Why don’t we skip all that frivolous resource usage and cut down some of these pesky cedars instead? You can feel good about a tree that’s low on carbon waste but high in old-fashioned, folksy quality.

Get permission from a farmer, landowner or your county land management officials before you start cutting. They will likely be happy to get rid of one, and you may get it for free (more money for gifts, yippee!) and enjoy a lovely, cedar-scented home this holiday.

Old Wood, New Buds: A Pruning Guide

Though true winter approaches, there are still a few warm, sunny days ahead to be filled with raking leaves and garden clean-up. Here at the Arboretum we leave our perennial gardens uncut through the winter to create winter habitat and protect the soil, but just like you, we are plenty busy piling up leaves and preparing our Christmas decorations. If the weather is truly obliging, you may even be tempted to bust out your pruning shears and neaten up your trees and shrubs. Less work waiting for you in spring, right? But be warned, overzealous and untimely snipping could cost you! Below is a seasonal summary of pruning information compiled from the four corners of the web, along with a botany primer on buds  and the old wood/new wood conundrum.

20150429Syringa vulgaris2

Don’t lose your lilac blooms, prune at the perfect time! Photo by AnRo0002 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.

When to Prune What

The truth is, most plants don’t need much pruning. Pruning should never aim to distort the shrubs natural figure, only enhance its shape and thin branches to ward off disease and breakage. Gardeners often ask me when to prune their (insert flowing shrub here) for the best bloom – the truth is, I don’t have all that knowledge locked in my brain! I often whip out my phone to research the specific plant and find out if it blooms on new growth or last years wood. If a plant flowers on last years wood, pruning in winter or spring means you will cut off all the already produced dormant flower buds and greatly reduce or eliminate the coming year’s bloom. Here is a run-down of when to give some common landscape plants a haircut.

Crypemyrtle (Lagerstroemia) blooms on new growth, prune in late winter before it leafs out to get a good view of the form

Lilac (Syringa) – blooms on last years wood, prune immediately after flowers have faded, before next years buds form.

Butterfly bush (Buddleia) – blooms on new wood, so prune/shape in early spring

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus) – blooms appear on new wood, prune in late winter/early spring

Hydrangeas – very tricky, as not all grow the same! Cut back H. paniculata and H. arborescens in late winter; they bloom on new wood. H. macrophylla and H. quercifolia bloom on last years wood and can only be trimmed immediately after their blooms fade.

**A great in-depth guide to evergreen pruning can be found HERE from Morton Arboretum. But if you just want the quick dirt…

Pines – early spring just as new growth begins, but not before.

Spruces, Firs – early spring before new growth begins

Juniper, Arborvitae, Yew – late winter or early spring before new growth begins

Europaeische Eibe European Yew rot red arillus fruit frucht Taxus Baccata

Yews (Taxus) can generate growth on new or old wood, so they can tolerate heavy pruning and shaping in the early spring, then again in June if needed. Photo By Philipp Guttmann (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Know Before You Cut

Surgeons go through years of rigorous schooling before they make a single cut, so why don’t we spend a few minutes learning about buds and shoots before the amputations begin, eh?
A bud is an embryonic shoot just above where the leaf will form, or at the tip of a stem. There are lots of different types of buds: Terminal buds (primary growth point at top of stem), lateral buds (on sides of stem that produce leaves or flowers), dormant buds (asleep and waiting for spring, shhh!), and many more.

Buds can be classified by looks or location.
By Mariana Ruiz Villarreal LadyofHats [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In light pruning, such as pinching or heading, cut just above the bud at a 45 degree angle. Lowes has a great guide on the 4 types of pruning, and a very helpful graphic seen below. A cut too far above or below the bud may result in die-back and withered stems.

This angle is optimal for encouraging grown and also hiding your cuts. Graphic from Lowes.com, https://www.lowes.com/projects/gardening-and-outdoor/prune-trees-and-shrubs/project

Cutting directly above the bud tells the plant to release hormones signalling the bud to break dormancy and sprout! Learning about the process of plant dormancy can ensure we aren’t wounding plants at vulnerable times, The Spruce has a great article on this here.

Research first, then cut carefully, friends!

Are Bulbs Good for Pollinators?

My volunteers and I have been spending many hours this fall planting daffodils and tulips around the Arboretum grounds. All told, we will have nearly 800 new blooming bulbs coming up next spring, down a bit from the 1000 we planted last year.

One afternoon my colleague Brad Guhr posed an important question:
“Are bulbs useful to spring pollinators?”

We all love the aesthetics of fat yellow daffodils and spritely crocus, but I had never considered whether they served an ecological purpose. Supposing (incorrectly) that most bulbs I order are native to the Netherlands, what good would they be to our local pollinator population?
I have now been down the rabbit hole of research and will summarize here how bulbs affect pollinators, which bulbs attract them and proper bulb planting technique.

Tulip humilis (aucheriana) is a wild-type tulip that does well in gardens and meadows alike.
By Bernd Haynold – selbst fotografiert – own picture, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4767022

Bulbs and Bugs

Long before people started admiring their blooms, most of our favorite bulb flowers were being visited by pollinators. Such is not the case for today: modern hybrids selected for the biggest bloom and brightest color sometimes become less useful to pollinators. Flowers that have been distorted too far from their original form may have less nectar or be entirely sterile, rendering them useless as a food source. Hybridization can also sacrifice the flower’s strong scent, leaving aroma-sensing pollinators (like nocturnal moths) lost without lunch. As humans try to improve flowers for our own eye, we  inadvertently disrupt their role in nature. Insects and flowers have an important relationship directly related to the flower’s form. If it changes drastically, certain insects may no longer be able to reach the nectar. Because of this, avoid buying highly modified ‘double’ and ‘triple’ bloomers or extra-petaled flowers that will likely inhibit a pollinator’s ability to feed.

Narcissus poeticus, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=907

Best Bulbs

Though we may associate the bulb trade with Holland, the native range of daffodils is the Iberian Peninsula and tulips grow wild in Turkey and Central Asia. Crocus were originally native to southern Europe, the Middle East and western China. There are some bulbs native to North America, such as Claytonia virginica and Mertensia virginica as well as the trout lily, but they are too often upstaged by fancy exotics. This link offers great options for North American native bulbs that will benefit you and the ecosystem. If you aren’t ready to give up your tulips and daffodils, never fear! By choosing unhybridized species, the flower retains its pollen and nectar, supplying much needed early spring feeding for hungry pollinators. Crocus, species-variety Tulips and Muscari all are well-loved by hungry bees waking up from their long hibernation as well as wild type daffodils such as Narcissus poeticus or N. jonquilla.

A bee visiting a purple crocus flower.
CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=660234

Claytonia is a lovely North American native. By Dcrjsr (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Planting Tips

The first step to proper planting is identification – is what you are holding truly a bulb? Corms, tubers, rhizomes and true bulbs all fall under the category “geophyte” (a perennial that stores its food underground). Many rhizomes would not like to be buried as deep as a bulb but corms can be treated much the same. Sorting out the technicalities will ensure correct planting and big blooms!
When planting true bulbs, depth is essential. In general, plant bulbs 2 or 3 times as deep as its height. Example: a 2 inch tall daffodil bulb should be planted 6 inches deep. Digging too shallow is better than planting too deep since many bulbs have contractile roots. Over time, these specialized roots will pull it down to optimal depth. Planting root side down/pointed side up is always best, but if the bulbs are too odd-shaped to tell, plant them sideways to be safe. Thanks to geotropism, a plant’s ability to sense gravity and grow accordingly, they will eventually right themselves.

Bees love Fritillaria meleagris, a dainty and unique bulb native to Europe. By Пономарьова Алевтина (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

So, after much scouring of the internet it seems there is no straightforward answer to Brad’s question. Many highly hybridized bulbs do not benefit pollinators, but other heirloom or species varieties certainly do. To benefit early spring pollinators in your bulb garden, install a few North American species or try to find unhybridized varieties that retain their full species name and their ecological importance. Get out your sweaters and garden gloves, now is the time to get digging!

Predator Gardens

Pollinator gardens are the current craze, and rightly so! Pollinators of all shapes and sizes are desperately in need of good quality habitat. But it’s not all beautiful butterflies and buzzing bees – there are predator insects on the loose, patrolling your flowerbed for their next meal. These helpful arthropods can reduce the weeds in your garden and put a stop to those leaf eating larvae. Inviting certain predator insects to your yard can benefit your flowers and keep your little slice of the ecosystem in balance. Following are a few ways to start a predator garden and how it can benefit the rest of your landscape.

Beetle Banks

Photo from http://www.projectnoah.org/spottings/995056020.
The Pennsylvania ground beetle (Harpalus pennsylcanica) is found all over North America. It feeds on the seeds of ragweed and giant foxtail as well as the larvae of Colorado potato borer. What more could you want?

A great way to start a predator garden is by creating ‘beetle banks’. We all love the aphid eating lady beetle, but there are thousands of less charismatic species to be thankful for as well. Ground dwelling beetles can be a gardeners best friend by eating weed seeds, preying on slugs, snails, mites, and much more. You might not see them in action since many species are nocturnal. Planting raised berms/mounds of clump and tuft forming grasses such as Panicum, Tripsacum, or Sprobolous, invites ground-dwelling beetles to stick around. The uncut grasses keep them cozy during winter and the raised area helps keep them dry. I learned all about this technique at a Xerxes Society training day for farmers interested in beneficial insects. Beetle banks are being tested on the agricultural scale, but it works on the small scale too.

While this Panicum virgatum planting is wild and natural looking, a few clumps of an upright variety in your garden can be beneficial and still look groomed. Wikicommons public domain image at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AUSDA_switchgrass.jpg

Don’t Swat the Wasps

Your first instinct might be to knock down that wasp nest, but not so fast! Wasps are excellent predators who can rid your garden of hornworms, army worms, flies and crickets. Paper wasps and yellow jackets will package up the remains of these little pests and feed them to their young. Some wasps are so small they resemble a fly or mosquito, and these are likely a species of parasitoid wasp. These helpful friends lay their eggs inside tomato hornworms and aphids, immobilizing and eventually killing them. In fact, the University of Maryland extension called parasitoid wasps “the single most important biological control method gardeners have”. Adult wasps of all kinds mostly feed on nectar and can easily be attracted the same way as any other pollinator – by having season long nectar available in your native flower bed. Just be careful not to get too close to their nest, we all know how a wasp sting can smart!

Above, a paper wasp (Poliste fuscatus) feeds on horsetail milkweed nectar/pollen.

A Home For All Seasons

Depending on the size of garden/field you are trying to pest control, it can take years to establish a reliable predator population. Pollen/nectar producing flowers are the first part of attracting these helpers, but creating habitat is crucial to keeping them around. Along with beetle banks, blooming hedgerows or shrubby borders will provide summer nectar and winter shelter. Leaving your garden uncut through winter will make sure there are plenty of pithy stems where insects can overwinter. Reduce the amount of tilling every year to ensure that ground dwelling beetle populations aren’t decimated. And lastly, try to avoid the use of prophylactic pesticides such as treated seeds or broadcast/non-selective application. This will also kill the non-target species, such as the predator insects that might save you the cost of pesticide next season!

The Great American Solar Eclipse: Staff Perspectives

All four Arboretum staff members traveled to Nebraska for Monday’s solar eclipse. I happened to be on a business errand up there to pick up plants for our upcoming sale, while my co-workers fanned out to different towns in the zone of totality. We had no idea how close in proximity we were to each other until we returned to work Tuesday! Here are some reflections from each of us about our “totality” experiences.

Janelle

Holmesville, NE

“I viewed the solar eclipse with family and friends, including a large group of young children. Watching the kids experience this amazing cosmic event, with such joy and wonder, made the whole day so much more meaningful.”
Janelle visited the home-church of her great-grandmother to get a look at the eclipse. Friends, family and church members shared lunch on the lawn while children enjoyed games and crafts related to the eclipse. Janelle took the video below at the moment of totality when the shadow of the moon fell over the area, creating a look of twilight. Listen for the enthusiastic young boy exclaiming “totality! totality!” in the background; a perfect soundtrack!

Brad

Geneva, NE

“One of the best memories of the moment we hit totality…screams of delight heard from the elementary school about a half mile away.”
Monday was a special father-son bonding experience for Brad and his father Leon. On a last minute whim the two zipped across the state line to witness the total eclipse first hand. Through an old coworker and with the help of serendipity, they ended up welcomed into the home of strangers and watched the event from their yard.

Brad safely watching the eclipse through his solar glasses.

Scott

York, NE

“Impossible to describe. Watching it with the 120 people on our trip in such a beautiful setting made it even better.”
The Arboretum received overwhelming interest in the Solar Eclipse viewing trip. Scott and our board chairwoman Lorna Harder led two buses full of Arboretum supporters, nature enthusiasts and umbraphiles  to Prairie Gold Nursery in York, just on the north side of the totality zone. We are so grateful that the nursery staff were willing to let the Arboretum commandeer their parking lot for this event. Our trip-goers were delighted with the opportunity to buy some beautiful plants while waiting for the eclipse to begin.

Only a sliver of the sun left showing. Photo by Jim Griggs, http://www.selective-focus.com/

Katie

Beatrice, NE

I watched the show from a friend’s family farm near Beatrice, very near the center of the totality zone. Out in the open country, I experienced the natural phenomena of the eclipse as the moon’s shadow draped over the land: sudden stillness of the wind, quieting of the birds, and a sunset-orange coloration encircling the entire horizon. I resisted the urge to take photos. Instead, I just soaked in the eerie feeling of darkness during the day and reflected on all the changes around me.  I had been very skeptical in past weeks about all the hullabaloo leading up to this eclipse. It can’t be as exciting as everyone was talking it up to be, right? I am glad to be proven wrong, and so happy that I happened to be in the zone of totality so I could view it for a few moments without the solar glasses.

Arboretum supporter and master photographer Jim Griggs agreed to let us use some of his amazing shots taken in far western Nebraska for this blog post. Find more of his photography at http://www.selective-focus.com/

New Shrubs, Big Color

Each year Scott and I scour catalogs and websites to find new and interesting plants to offer at the spring and fall FloraKansas plant sale fundraisers. New shrub varieties are, in my opinion, the most fun to hunt up. We are looking specifically for species that have some, if not all, of the following qualities: attractive habit, beneficial to wildlife/pollinators, heat and drought tolerant, good performance record, unique or unavailable in our area, or important for conservation.

I am so excited about the new plants available at the upcoming fall sale, I can’t help but share a few with you early! Enjoy some quick profiles about my favorite new shrubs as well as companion plant suggestions to help blend them into your landscape. Some of these are completely new to us, and others are simply better performing varieties of our old favorites.

Tandoori Orange has stunning fall color and beautiful berries, offering multi-season interest. Photos courtesy of Proven Winners – www.provenwinners.com

‘Tandoori Orange’ viburnum

This viburnum will be a big hit as a garden border plant. It has all the qualities we love in a viburnum (shade tolerance, deer resistance, attractive leaves), but it is the first to boast a true orange berry and leaf in fall. The ripe, peachy-orange berries add mid-summer interest and the white spring bloom is not to be missed! At 6-8ft tall it is suitable as a hedge, privacy screen or back-of-the-garden border. To ensure fruit production, plant ‘Cardinal Candy’ viburnum nearby for pollination.

Companion plant:
 The bright yellow fall foliage of Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) offers a stunning contrast to Tandoori Orange. They both produce berries that are edible to birds, turning your yard into a bird banquet banquet hall!

 

The red berries of ‘Berry Poppins’ coupled with red leaves and twigs of ‘Red Rover’ create quite a show in late fall and winter. Photos courtesy of Proven Winners – www.provenwinners.com

‘Berry Poppins’ deciduous holly

Just as cute as its name, this dwarf holly, only 3-4 feet tall, is easy to plunk into the landscape in any open space. Its habit of heavy fruiting gives a great winter show when other things in the garden are brown and dormant. The berry-laden branches are great for cutting, and for making crafts and Christmas decorations pop. Plant in full to part sun and with a pollinator plant such as ‘Mr. Poppins’ to ensure fruit production.

Companion plant: Red Rover dogwood (Cornus sp.) brings another pop of red with its bright, fiery twigs in winter. Very upright and structured, it’s a great partner to the similarly shaped holly.

 

Pugster Blue butterfly bush and ‘Gone with the Wind’ Dropseed mix well because of their similar habit but contrasting leaf shape. Photo courtesy of Proven Winners – www.provenwinners.com (left) and Walters Gardens, Inc. (right).

‘Pugster Blue’ butterfly bush

This one has my hopes up as a replacement for some other underwhelming dwarf buddleias out there. All too often the bush’s diminutive size also means smaller blooms – not for Pugster! Big true-blue blooms don’t quit until frost on a plant that only grows 2ft tall. Perfect for a tight spot that needs big color and butterfly appeal.

Companion plant: Prairie Dropseed ‘Gone with the Wind’ (Sporobolus heterolepsis) complements and mimics the compact, rounded shape of this butterfly bush. Sporobolus heterolepsis adds tremendous movement and texture to any garden. Surrounding ‘Pugster Blue’ with this grass or mixing them together in a border will create a natural, flowing aesthetic.

Come visit us at the September plant sale fundraiser and get a peek at these unique plants. Fall is an ideal time for planting; your new shrubs will thank you for the cool autumn temperatures during their establishment. Arboretum staff will be available to make suggestions, helping you find the best fit for your landscape.

Insectopia

With all the beautiful blooms around the Arboretum these days, the bugs are on a feeding frenzy! I have been having a blast snapping photos of all the active insects with my new camera gadget – a clip-on macro lens that attaches to a phone camera. My iphone can now get incredibly close and detailed shots of the tiniest insects. This handy tool is inexpensive and invaluable for bug-crazy individuals like me. I got mine courtesy of a Xerces Society pollinator workshop back in April.

Can you identify these Kansas insects? (without reading the captions first!)

Grey Hairstreak on Wild Quinine flowers (Strymon melinus on Parthenium integrifolium) with outstretched proboscis!

Goldenrod Soldier Beetle (Chauliognathus pennsylvanicus) dipping his head into the flower cup of Indian Hemp Dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum). Notice the long segmented antennae and claws on the feet for climbing.

Carpenter bee (Xylocopa sp.) on Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea Purpurea) with pollen on his hairy legs.

Large Milkweed Bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus) on the underside of a fuzzy Common Milkweed leaf (Asclepias syriaca)

Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) resting on limestone near the greenhouse, probably on his way back to the pond.

 

The lens even allows me to take videos –
watch as a paper wasp forages on horsetail milkweed flowers and the pollen-covered bee in the picture above enjoys a snack on some purple prairie clover.

If you want to bee an insect expert, get one of of these lenses for yourself and snap away! They are useful as educational tools or for taking detailed pictures to help you and your extension agent identify particular garden friends or pests. When you visit our grounds to see these beauties for yourself, be sure to check the gift shop for a wide selection of children’s books and as well as adult field guides that focus on insects found in Kansas.
Find more goregous shots of Dyck Arboretum flora and fauna on our Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/explore/locations/255013257/dyck-arboretum-of-the-plains/