National Invasive Species Awareness Week (NISAW) is Feb. 22-26 this year. As usual, the James River Park System Invasive Plant Task Force (IPTF) has many opportunities for volunteer participation. Unfortunately, the pandemic has forced cancellation of educational workshops, plant walks, and other large group activities. But smaller, socially distanced groups can still gather for invasive removal. Please visit the following sites for more information and a calendar of events: https://jrpsinvasiveplants.wordpress.com/2021/02/17/be-a-hero-volunteer-and-help-save-our-trees/
And if you are not available to help out in James River Park this week, consider spending some time eliminating invasive plants on your own property or help a neighbor. Our residential properties are a major source of the invasive plants that are degrading our parks and other green spaces. The weather this coming week will be a welcome change and ideal for working outside to eradicate invasive plants.
Since the brutal heat is about to break and there is some rain in the long-range forecast, it will be possible to do some planting in sunnier spots. So several shrubs/small trees and large perennials are on sale for sunnier locations. All of the plants on sale are in treepots so their roots are already deep to help provide a painless transition to a new home. But I would still recommend planting in the late afternoon/early evening and preferably when the next day will be cloudy and/or rainy. And don’t forget to mulch well and properly – no volcano mulching!! (http://richmondtreestewards.org/education/threats-to-trees/volcano-mulching/).
Amorpha fruticosa (Indigo Bush) is a small multi-trunk tree/large shrub that reaches heights of 12 – 15 feet under optimal conditions. It produces stunning deep purple flower spikes in May that attract lots of pollinators. Indigo bush has compound leaves with relatively small leaflets that are quite similar to black locust. Most of the foliage is restricted to the upper half of the trunks providing an open, airy appearance. This plant likes moisture and would be great along the edge of a water feature, near a downspout, or provided with excess water from a rain barrel overflow. If planted in a partially shaded area, it can tolerate some drought and dry soils without supplemental watering. (Available in large treepots and a limited number of small treepots.)
Callicarpa americana (American Beautyberry) is a medium-sized shrub that grows to a height of 6 feet with a horizontal spread of greater than 6 feet. However, it responds fine to pruning so it can be easily managed to the desired size. The small pink flowers are not showy; but the ensuing display of berries is fantastic. Clusters of dark purple berries encircle the stems a few inches apart. The berries appear in late Summer/early Fall and remain on the plant after the leaves have fallen. The berries are eaten by a variety of birds; but they are clearly not a prized food like blueberries and elderberries which are quickly stripped. (Available in large treepots.)
Corylus americana (American hazelnut) is a large multi-trunk shrub that can reach 15 feet high. This extremely adaptable plant can grow in full sun or lots of shade and cares little for soil moisture or fertility. This is the ultimate low-maintenance plant and it takes up a lot of horizontal space with its branches arching over due to the weight of the developing nuts in Summer. Very few weeds can grow under its dense shade and it has year-round interest from red foliage in the Fall to male catkins draping its branches in Winter. Nuts are edible but you will never beat the squirrels to them. (Available in large treepots.)
Hibiscus laevis (Halberd-leaf Rose-mallow) is a large perennial with the superficial appearance of a woody shrub. Although this plant dies back to the ground in the Winter, it produces a tight clump of large stems each Spring that can reach 5-6 feet tall. The major landscape appeal is the beautiful display of large pink flowers with red centers during mid-late Summer. This plant will produce the most flowers in full sun as long as soils are moist; but it can tolerate some shade. These plants were propagated from seeds collected in James River Park (with a permit) where there are scatted populations growing along banks and in the Wetlands. Now is the time to spot this plant since it has started to bloom. (Available in large treepots and in a limited number of small treepots.)
Hibiscus moscheutos (Swamp Rose-mallow) is closely related to Hibisucs laevis. The major physical difference is that the flowers are usually white with a deep red center. Also, this plant is usually found growing in full sun in wetland areas that often having standing water. This is an ideal plant for a rain garden or edge of a pond or other water feature. (Available in large treepots.)
Since this is a hot week, it will be easier to establish plants that like or at least tolerate a fair amount of shade. Plus all of the plants on sale are in treepots so their roots are already quite deep for an easier transition to a new home.
Carpinus caroliniana (ironwood) is a small tree (up to 30 feet) that is found in the understory of moist woods. Main attractions are the Fall foliage and the remarkable smooth gray bark with vertical ripples (leading to its other common name of musclewood). This is a relatively slow-growing tree with dense wood (thus the name ironwood); but it is worth the wait. (Only available in small treepots.)
Corylus americana (American hazelnut) is a large multi-trunk shrub that can reach 15 feet high. This extremely adaptable plant can grow in full sun or lots of shade and cares little about soil moisture or fertility. This is the ultimate low-maintenance plant and it takes up a lot of horizontal space with its branches arching over due to the weight of the developing nuts in Summer. Very few weeds can grow under its dense shade and it has year-round interest from red foliage in the Fall to male catkins draping its branches in Winter. Nuts are edible but you will never beat the squirrels to them. (Mostly in large treepots.)
Itea virginica (Virginia sweetspire) is a relatively small shrub (about 6 feet tall) that grows in moist shade. Fragrant white flower spikes attract pollinators in early Summer and gold to red leaves provide Fall appeal. This plant can form colonies from rhizomes so it is most easily managed if it is given some room to roam. Caution: deer have been known to munch on this plant. (Only available in large treepots.)
Lindera benzoin (Spicebush) is a large shrub/small tree that generally produces a single trunk and reaches a height of 15 feet. Small yellow flowers in early Spring make this an important pollinator plant for native bees waking up from winter slumber. Male and female flowers are produced on separate plants so only the female plants produce the red berries. All plants are started from seeds collected in James River Park (under a strict permit) to promote genetic diversity so I have no idea of the sex of any plant. Plant three and you will have a 7 in 8 chance of having at least one female that will produce berries. (Only available in small treepots.)
The three species on sale this week share a lot of common characteristics: heights over 6 feet (S. uvedalia can actually grow up to 8 feet tall); production of abundant yellow flowers in late Summer; reputation for being aggressive; and lack of availability from most nurseries because of the latter reputation. (At my first Lewis Ginter Plant Sale a few years ago, a proprietor of a native plant nursery came up and said to me: “I never saw anyone try to sell that plant [Verbesina alternifolia] before.”)
So if you like a neat, static landscape, you can stop reading this week. But if you have a large area you would like to “naturalize” with native plants or would like to add some diversity to a meadow habitat, these species are definitely for you as well as for wildlife. Butterflies and bees love the flowers, birds and other wildlife eat the seeds, and solitary bees can find cozy winter homes in the stems. Although it is true that these species can spread rapidly by both seeds and by rhizomes, they are perfectly well-behaved in a meadow environment with competition from grasses, goldenrods, bonesets, New York ironweed, etc.
In addition to attractive flowers, these species offer some unique landscape features. Smallanthus uvedalia (Hairy leafcup) has huge maple-like leaves that give rise to the other common name of Bears-foot. The stems of Verbesina alternifolia (Wingstem) and Verbesina occidentalis (Yellow Crownbeard) have four vertical “wings” along the entire length of the stems.
These species thrive in partial sun (e.g. habitat along the edge of woods) with soils that are moist to average in moisture. In nature, they can also be found under powerlines and other sunnier, dry sites where the large leaves may get droopy on hot summer afternoons. But these are tough, resilient plants that bounce back quickly from unfavorable conditions.
While many asters are associated with bright sunny sites, there is a wonderful group of native, perennial asters that thrive in filtered sun with dry soils. Eurybia divaricata (white wood aster) has attractive heart-shaped leaves and delicate white flowers with yellow centers that peak in September. With its relatively low foliage and ability to spread from the roots, this plant can make a great deciduous groundcover for shady areas. Look for it along wooded trails in our local parks. Symphyotrichum cordifolium (blue wood aster) also has heart-shaped leaves at the base of the plant. But it grows a little taller than white wood aster; produces its blue/lavender flowers later (October/November); and forms clumps that do not spread as aggressively. Symphyotrichum undulatum (wavy-leaved aster) is quite similar to blue wood aster in flower color, blooming time, and plant height. The major difference is its very unique leaf shape that is similar to a spoon. The relatively wide leaf tapers down near its base but then widens again to clasp the stem. The wavy leaves also provide a little extra interest in the landscape when the plant is not blooming.
The white wood aster is likely to bloom this year and the other two species will definitely bloom this Fall. With their late flowering period, the blue wood aster and wavy-leaved aster are especially useful to pollinators that remain active into November. Like most asters, these species will do some volunteer seeding nearby. And who would not welcome more of these plants?!
Chapter I: A Non-native Invasive Plant is Biological Trash!
Today’s post is influenced by a combination of factors: frustration at the horticultural industry (nurseries, garden centers, landscape designers and architects) for continuing to propagate, sell and recommend non-native invasive plants; disbelief that the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services continues to allow the sale of non-native invasive plants that are on a list compiled by another state agency (Department of Conservation and Recreation) charged with protecting our natural resources; and pent up need to vent after months of watching the impacts of COVID-19.
Although I am not big on “marketing”, I do recognize that words can matter. So some years ago I was happy to start replacing the phrase “storm water” with the much more evocative phrase “polluted runoff”. It is a perfectly accurate term and gets the attention of the public in a way that storm water does not and provides an opening for some education.
In the same vein, I have started referring to non-native invasive plants as “biological trash” because it generates a sense of disgust that is not produced by saying “invasive plants”. No responsible person wants to be guilty of littering. So if people start viewing invasive plants as trash, I think they are more likely to stop planting them and will hopefully remove them.
The adjective “biological” may not be the best word because it requires a little explanation. But the major point is that invasive plants are much, much worse than typical trash that just sits there until someone picks it up or it gets washed down a storm drain. (For now, let’s not get into damage cause by the degradation of plastics into small ingestible particles and the giant garbage heap in the middle of the ocean.) Invasive plants are living organisms that multiply and disperse – sometimes quickly and widely. It’s this ability to reproduce that allows invasive plants to degrade large swaths of native habitat – an impact which dwarfs a bag full of fast-food remains along the side of the road or a tire discarded in the woods. We will have turned the corner when a majority of people view invasive plants with the same disdain reserved for a discarded diaper in a park. (Let me know if you think of a better word than biological.)
While frustrated, I do recognize that the situation has improved steadily over the last several years. The current efforts to get people to take personal responsibility for invasive plants is analogous to where Richmond was 20 years ago on scoop the poop. The fact that most people now clean up after their dogs is a source of hope that people will change behavior with some effective education. Personally, I would much rather rip out an invasive plant than pick up dog poo. Let’s keep the momentum going until Richmond has been cleaned of biological trash.
The bonesets are a diverse group of native plants that are generally 4 – 5 feet tall and produce generous clusters of small white flowers. Depending on the species, peak bloom is as early as July or as late as October. While the white flowers are not visually stunning to most humans, they are extremely attractive to insects. Like mountain mints, the bonesets support a very wide array of pollinators. The small flowers allow insects with shorter “tongues” to sip nectar and the wide clusters of flowers provide a convenient platform for butterflies to land and feed. Species of Eupatorium are an important component of meadows and “waste places”. One of the damp meadows where I collect seeds has a minimum of 6 different species and the late Summer landscape is dominated by their white flowers with insects buzzing around them. No naturalized area created with pollinators in mind should be without bonesets.
All of the bonesets on sale prefer partial to full sun. Eupatorium pubescens (Hairy Boneset) and Eupatorium saltuense (Pasture Boneset) are fine with moist or dry soils. Some sources suggest that Eupatorium serotinum (Late-flowering Boneset) prefers moist soils; but I see this plant growing in some of the harshest environments around Richmond. I think it would grow in a crack in the sidewalk. This species is also the tallest among the plants on sale – in an artificial landscape it can grow over 6 feet tall. Eupatorium pilosum (Rough Boneset) generally grows in moist soils and makes a great rain garden plant.
Second-year plants in 1.25 quart pots – 3 plants for $10
Limit of 3 plants of each species/customer (up to 9 plants total)
Our native Lobelias are a must for any native landscape. The tubular flowers are designed for hummingbirds, bumblebees, and other insects with long tongues. With bright red flowers, Lobelia cardinalis (cardinal flower) is an absolute magnet for hummingbirds. Lobelia puberula (downy lobelia) and Lobelia siphilitca (great blue lobelia) also attract hummingbirds; but have bluish-purple flowers.
All of these Lobelia species can flourish in a range of light conditions from full sun to partial shade; but they require moist soils. If you don’t have a moist area, supplemental watering can be minimized by choosing a site with a fair amount of shade and mulching the plants well. Lobelia siphilitica is the most shade-tolerant of the group.
Blooming time is slightly different for each species starting with great blue lobelia in the middle of the summer, cardinal flower in late summer, and downy lobelia in early fall. Plant all three species and the hummingbirds will be happy for months. If possible, plant these flowers where you can easily observe the activity they generate from inside the house.
I finally got around to some routine maintenance over the weekend and discovered about 20 pots of Elephantopus carolinianus plants that apparently thrive on benign neglect. These second-year plants are in absolutely beautiful shape with their large, lush green leaves. Get them in the ground soon and you will have distinctive pink/lavender flowers to enjoy toward the end of Summer. This plant will also do a little volunteer seeding without being a menace.
Elephantopus carolinianus is one of three species of “Elephant’s Foot” that occur in the Richmond area and this species prefers a relatively shady spot with moist soil. Here is a brief thumbnail sketch and picture of the flowers: http://www.pwconserve.org/plants/elephantsfoot.html
If you only have dry shade and want these flowers, do not despair. You just need to plant a different species – Elephantopus tomentosus. This plant will become available in about 6 weeks.