Archive for April, 2012
In case any of you handful of folks who actually read my blog on purpose were wondering why I haven’t posted in a week, this entry is my explanation. With the invaluable aid of the Wonder Spouse, I’ve been working hard to get all the summer vegetables situated in the garden. I’m happy to report that I’m nearly done. A half dozen Queen Sophia marigolds and a couple of nasturtiums still need to be tucked in somewhere, but everything else is planted, watered, and mulched. And, in the case of the tomato plants, they’re also tied to their trellises.
I’ll show you shortly, but first I want to spend a bit of space on the wonderful spring vegetable garden that is still growing strong — for now. The weather seers are predicting temperatures in the 90s and no good chances for rain for the rest of the week, so I’m not sure they’ll be looking this lovely by next weekend. Thus, a brief photo tour is in order.
Here’s the bed of greens — lettuces, spinaches, and the astonishing rainbow chard dwell happily together:
The absolute hit of the salad greens has been the Red Cross lettuce. This buttercrunch type is so tender that chewing is almost optional. And it’s gorgeous, as you can see here:
Not all the spring vegetables have been as cooperative as those shown above. The beets were slow to get going, although they are finally starting to look like they might become productive in a few weeks — if the heat backs off.
Carrot germination was almost nonexistent for me this year. I blame the absurdly warm, dry spring. I think I’m nursing about a half dozen tiny carrot plants mixed in with the beets.
The Sugar Sprint Snap peas took way longer to start blooming than I expected. However, now they are blooming bigtime, and I can see numerous small pea pods dangling from the vines. I watered them thoroughly again this morning in an effort to push them to harvestable size before the heat melts them.
And here’s a view of the quarter of my vegetable area dedicated (mostly) to spring veggies this year:
In addition to harvesting, watering, and encouraging the peas to plump up faster, I’ve been busy in two of the other quadrants. First I sowed Fortex Pole Beans and Jade Bush Beans, both varieties that have worked well for me before. Amongst the Fortex seeds, I sowed seeds of a climbing nasturtium that is supposed to produce flowers in vibrant shades of orange and red. I’m hoping they’ll look spectacular mingled with the vigorous green bean vines. Almost every seed I sowed sprouted in just over a week’s time, as you can see here:
I also transplanted six squash plants — two of each of the three varieties I’m growing. I interplant them among other vegetables in an attempt to make it harder for squash predators to find them. And, as is my practice, after I mulched them, I immediately tucked a lightweight garden fabric over them to prevent insect attacks on the young plants. When they start blooming, I’ll be forced to remove the fabric. I explained my reasoning and methodologies on squash growing in a long post last year, which you can find here.
Here are a couple of the plants hiding under their cloths in this year’s garden:
As you may have read in earlier posts this year, I started my tomato seeds much earlier, because the absurdly warm winter/spring caused me to fear we are in for a sweltering, dry summer. Consequently, my tomato plants were enormous by the time I decided it was finally safe to transplant them in the last week. I waited this long, because we had two recent cold snaps. My hill went down to 28 degrees during the first plunge, and lingered around 30 during the second snap — way too cold for tomatoes, which is why mine remained in their cozy greenhouse during that time.
Finally, the long-range forecast looked worth the gamble, and I knew my horrendously pot-bound tomatoes couldn’t wait any longer. Because they were so huge, the Super Marzanos and the Sweet Treats already had fruits! I ended up planting sixteen tomato plants. This is more than I had planned on, but they were all so lovely that I just couldn’t bring myself to give that many away. I donated all but two of my extras to a local community garden. The last two went to a neighbor down the road.
I also planted four each of three pepper varieties. I’m not a fan of the hot ones, so all three are sweet peppers. Carmen is an Italian Bull’s Horn variety that we always enjoy. I was tempted to try a bell type called Merlot, because it produces dark purple fruits. And I planted a freebie sent with my order called Golden Treasure. All twelve plants appear to be adjusting well to their summer homes.
I’ll end this post with a shot of one of the Bronze Fennel plants that I grew from seed last year. It’s really taking off, and I expect it to be a magnet for Black Swallowtail caterpillars this year. Behind it is a large shallow saucer that I keep filled with water for birds, toads, and other critters that might get thirsty while they’re patrolling my plants for tasty insect pests. Anything that helps draw pollinators, insect-eating birds, reptiles, and amphibians, and other predatory insects is welcome in my vegetable garden. That’s why I mix the veggies with herbs and flowers, and I think my results speak for themselves.
Here’s hoping we all enjoy a productive — and tasty — summer gardening season.
This accelerated spring — with the occasional blasts of arctic air thrown in for fun — has made it difficult for me to keep up with everything blooming in my yard. I’ve missed showing you quite a few deciduous azaleas, for example, but I showed them all to you last year, when they politely bloomed mostly one at a time, so search on deciduous azaleas within this blog if you want to see what they look like.
We went down to 32 degrees at my house this morning. Last week, we dove to 28. Most of the flowers survived, but I am sad to say that my Magnolia ashei was most definitely a casualty this year.
Current bloomers that have weathered the weather include:
Tradescantia x andersoniana ‘Sweet Kate.’Here’s what the entire plant looked like this morning, where it flourishes beside our little front water feature:
And here’s a closer view so you can better appreciate her flowers:
The chartreuse foliage does a great job of accentuating the purple flowers.
My umbrella magnolia (Magnolia tripetala) is blooming thirty feet up at the top of the tree, but I couldn’t get a shot of the open flower. I settled for a nearly open bud:
When fully leafed out, this plant does provide excellent shelter from sudden rain storms.
The fringe trees — both native and Chinese varieties — are at peak bloom right now. Here’s the top of the native tree:
And here’s a close view of part of the Chinese species:
The wetland at the edge of my property is still full of blooming Jack-in-the-Pulpits, and a few Atamasco lilies still bloom too. The spore-producing fronds of the Cinnamon Ferns that give them their common name are just beginning to fade, as you can see here:
The Red Buckeyes are still blooming, although some of the flower clusters are showing signs of seed production.
Abundant and terrifyingly vigorous poison ivy is everywhere. Here’s a stem showing flower buds about to open:
Makes me feel itchy just looking at the stuff, so I think I’ll close for now with the one deciduous azalea currently about to reach peak bloom in our north-facing garden: Rhododendron flammeum ‘Scarlet Ibis.’ It’s already taller than me. In a few more years, this one in bloom will be so magnificent that it may stop traffic.
Despite the ups and downs of our temperatures, I am making progress in the vegetable garden. I’ll update you soon.
My advice to all this year: Walk outside as often as you can if you want to be sure you see every new blooming plant before it starts and finishes. Blink twice this year, and you’ve missed half the show.
I admit I become a tad cranky when someone trying to score political points uses pejorative terms like tree-hugger, eco-nut, and granola-lover to describe those of us who care about the natural world. Some even try to redefine the term environmentalist to connote someone who is irrational about preserving the quality of our environment. This is, of course, untrue.
In fact, many environmentalists are like me. We are trained in the sciences – in my case, both more concrete sciences like biology and chemistry, as well as social sciences, such as psychology and anthropology. We usually have deeper knowledge of certain fields – in my case, ecology, botany, and animal behavior.
Most of us either grew up immersed in the natural environment of our homeland, or we fell in love with the natural world as adults when we traveled to places where native beauty still sings more loudly than bulldozers and car horns.
We are quite sane, those of us who love and worry about the blue-green planet we call home. But I understand why we are portrayed otherwise.
We humans – like other animals of this planet – possess an ancient, innate reflex that I call Them-or-Us. We tend to instantly categorize ideas and people into those two camps. Either something is like us, or it is not. If it is not, it is an enemy that should be eliminated so that more will remain for us.
Those who make a living by selling a particular point of view often use this reflex to manipulate folks into doing what they want. For example, those whose business it is to promote tapping oil, gas, and coal buried deep below do so with a well-used, successful two-pronged approach.
First, they assign an economic value to the asset they want to exploit, say, natural gas, thereby isolating it from its natural context. In other words, they assign a high dollar value to the gas, and strongly imply that everything else there – the hills, waters, forests, animals, etc., do not have value, or their value is so much less as to be inconsequential.
After they succeed in making it a “fact” that the natural gas is the only resource of value in a particular area, they then hit the Them-or-Us reflex by asserting that anyone who opposes them is against a strong national/state/county economy. Here in the United States, they usually strongly imply the Us contingent is unAmerican.
In my region of the southeastern United States, a commonly held “fact” is that so-called undeveloped land has no value compared to developed land. Such thinkers assign higher values to shopping malls and suburbs than to large tracts of contiguous forest.
In both examples, the comparison is rigged. Both are based on the assumption that monetary value is the only measuring stick that matters. When environmentalists try to play this game by assigning monetary value to clean air and water, and species diversity preserved within large interconnected forest tracts, they are at an immediate disadvantage. Although I agree that such calculations can be eye-opening, the other side will always argue that such numbers are “soft,” compared to the known real estate value they can assign to an office complex or the price of a barrel of oil.
When I was in graduate school, one of the students studying resource economics argued that the Grand Canyon National Park should be privatized, thereby relieving taxpayers of the burden of preserving this resource. I argued against this, pointing out that a private corporation would have no obligation to maintain the Grand Canyon in its current state. If such a company decided, for example, that more money could be made by damming the canyon to produce hydroelectric power, it could do so.
Natural resources are public resources; they belong to all of us. The only way to protect them is by preserving and managing them as public trusts in perpetuity. That goes for uniquely spectacular places like the Grand Canyon and for equally important, but perhaps less visually dramatic places that harbor, for example, increasingly rare species of animals and plants.
For the last several hundred years, folks living in the Piedmont region of North Carolina have been cutting down forests to use the land for farms, then factories, and now mostly urban development. Because our climate is lush and our native plants and animals were – until recently – quite resilient, the forest fellers could count on new forests springing up on abandoned farmland, even abandoned urban areas.
But what grows back now is not what was growing here even 50 years ago. A healthy Piedmont forest needs 200 years to achieve maturity. That’s how long it takes for our climax forest trees – oaks, hickories, beeches, and maples – to achieve their full size. That’s how long it takes for all the understory layers – smaller trees, shrubs, flowers, and ferns — to settle into their niches and establish stable populations, making homes for the myriad animal species adapted to live in those niches.
The Piedmont region of the southeastern United States – like the Mountain and Coastal Plain regions on either side – is dominated by trees. We are forest country. We are all about the trees.
So when someone spits out the term Tree-Hugger at me, as if the word tastes like poison, I find myself torn between anger and despair. The anger rises from the uneven battlefield built by these word bullies. My despair is fed by fear that the fight for my beloved forests is nearly lost already. But I will not let despair still my voice.
And the next time someone accuses me of being a Tree-Hugger, I shall reply:
Yes, I do love the native forests of our region. Why don’t you?
Happy Earth Day to all.
Lyreleaf Sage (Salvia lyrata) is blooming all over my yard at the moment. In fact, it’s blooming all over my area; I noticed several large stands thriving on a shady roadside near my house this morning.
Another common name for this plant is Cancer Weed, because it has been thought by some to cure skin cancers; it’s still considered to be a cure for warts by many herbalists. One source I read said it was thought to cure cancer, because it spread vigorously — like a cancer — on the earth. But I think that’s overstating this native’s aggressive tendencies quite a bit.
The lyre in its name refers to the shape of the evergreen basal rosette of leaves that someone decided resembled the shape of a lyre — a U-shaped instrument from ancient Greece. I don’t see the similarity myself, but the leaves are very distinctive, making it easy to identify this wildflower even when it’s not blooming.
Here’s a close-up of the leaves:
Although it is a member of the mint family, this common wildflower is not particularly fragrant, but the flower stalk does sport the square shape that characterizes this group of plants. Lyreleaf Sage grows and spreads on sandy and loamy soils; it’s not a fan of clay. It can tolerate deep shade to full sun, periodic flooding, and moderate drought.
Some have recommended this native for use as a groundcover, comparing it to ajuga, and it certainly is as tough as ajuga — but not nearly as dense a spreader as far as I’ve seen.
I think the blue flowers are lovely, and the unique leaves of its basal rosettes add a touch of color to my patchwork “lawn.”
Odds are it’s either already growing or would happily grow in your Piedmont yard. Do you have a shady spot where grass won’t grow? Try establishing a patch of Lyreleaf Sage in your bare spot. You’ll have a year-round, attractive evergreen groundcover, and stately stalks of blue flowers every spring.
I have long admired the great sweeps of blooming Golden Ragwort (Packera aurea, formerly Senecio aureus) that adorn part of the woodland garden at the NC Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill every spring. The bright yellow daisy-like flowers on 1-3-foot stems add a lively glow to the early spring landscape. The NC Botanical Garden has mixed these flowers with other early-blooming natives like blue Woodland Phlox, producing a wildflower meadow beloved by pollinators and people alike.
Bloom time in my part of the Piedmont of North Carolina usually occurs in March and April. The picture above was taken when my stand was about to reach peak bloom on March 17. It still displays some blooms even now, although many of the flowers have finished, replaced with a white tuft of seeds.
I suspect that’s how this flower got its common name. Someone thought the white fluffy seed heads looked like rags, and wort is just an old English word for plant, hence, ragwort.
I like what Golden Ragwort offers my landscape: early bright color in a moist area at the bottom of a hill in a shady area that grows shadier as the canopy above leafs out, a low basal rosette of heart-shaped evergreen leaves that are deep green on top and deep purple underneath, and a spreading habit that makes this wildflower an excellent groundcover for moist areas. The flower buds are deep purple too, as are the bloom stalks. It’s just a lovely little plant.
You can find this wildflower fairly easily at speciality nurseries. Mine were passalong plants. The landscaper we hired to erect our deer fencing decided our yard needed Golden Ragwort, so he dug up some from his yard and brought it to us. It’s been three or four years now, and the basal rosettes are spreading nicely. Thanks, Matthew!
After the plants finish blooming, I cut off the old stalks, making it easy to mow over any plants that are migrating into the “lawn” without hurting them.
Golden Ragwort is listed as a toxic plant. However, the toxicity is considered low, meaning that touching the plant doesn’t usually present a problem, and you or your animals would need to eat a pound or two of leaves to ingest enough poison to do serious damage. But if you keep pasture animals, you probably don’t want this flower growing where your animals can graze on it.
There’s a widely repeated myth in England that a related species can kill horses when the horses inhale a single seed of the English species of Golden Ragwort. Not true, impossible really. But such is the power of these myths that when an English friend of mine visited my garden and asked about the lovely yellow flowers, she visibly recoiled in horror when I told her their name.
Many plants — native and non-native — are toxic, some much more than others. Hellebores, for example, are more toxic than Golden Ragwort. Unless your garden is visited often by small children or pets with a fondness for dining on vegetation, most of these plants can be safely integrated into your landscape. Of course, err on the side of caution if you are worried.
But if you have a moist area — say a drainage or a low spot at the bottom of a hill — consider adding Golden Ragwort to your landscape. As long as this plant remains in at least somewhat moist soil, it can tolerate light levels from full sun to dense shade.
And in the springtime, it will awaken your early spring landscape with sunshine.
Yesterday afternoon about four, I was returning to my front door after closing my greenhouse against an impending cold night when I spotted two Green Anoles (Anolis carolinensis) — one green and one brown — moving about in one of my White Texas Sage plants near my front water feature. One of the lizards displayed his dewlap — that reddish throat pouch you see above — and I realized I was watching some kind of anole-anole encounter. I ran inside to grab my camera, hoping they might still be there when I returned.
By the time I got back out, the dark brown anole had vanished into the greenery near the base of my little pond. But the bright green male in the picture above was still there, now on the low railing of my front deck beside the White Texas Sage. He obligingly posed for the shot above. I was only sitting about two feet from him.
These lizards are common in my yard, but I had never seen them so docile about my presence. At first I attributed their slowness to the cool day, but as I continued to watch — for almost an hour and a half — I realized that although this fellow wasn’t thrilled about my presence, he was vastly more interested in the female lurking below him.
I sat on the edge of the deck beside the White Texas Sage for the first hour, until I finally realized that the male was not happy with my proximity. I then moved to a bench just above the area about six feet away. It was only after I moved that the female relaxed enough to join the male.
I watched the male change color repeatedly from bright green to greenish brown to brown to deep gray and back to green. At the time, I thought perhaps the color show — along with many throat pouch displays — were designed to impress the female. But after researching these animals a bit, I now think my proximity was stressing the poor little guy. He eventually got through to me — looking straight at me and opening his mouth wide at me — a silent roar, if you will. That’s when I finally got a clue and moved further away.
I took almost 200 photos. Here’s a photo synopsis of what I watched, beginning with the photo above. After that display, the male jumped back to my White Texas Sage and began changing to a greenish brown color:
A short time later, he began reverting to a greener shade:
When he was fully green, he inflated his throat patch again:
After his pouch deflated, he went back to brown:
He then jumped back to the low rail surrounding my front deck, where he lounged for a bit, then turned and glared at me:
At least, I thought he was glaring at me. Turns out he had spotted the female. My research tells me these lizards have keen vision. I finally spotted her too, lurking deep within the new foliage of a daylily:
The female’s color never changed, and her gender lacks the throat fans the males possess.
The male jumped back onto the White Texas Sage, turned green, and inflated his throat fan:
Turning toward the female and going a little browner, he displayed again:
Failing to achieve his desired result, and likely stressed by my intrusive camera, the male darkened to a deep brown:
Note the ridge along the back of his neck. He may have raised this in an attempt to look larger and scare me off.
When I didn’t react, he shifted priorities back to the female and returned to green:
Yes, he might have been glaring at me. I suspect the female retreated, because the male moved back to the deck. Here he has jumped to the side board framing the deck floor:
Check out those pads on his feet. Green Anoles are mostly arboreal, although they can be found in many suburban and even urban environments at any level from ground to rooftop. Those pads allow him to stick to vertical surfaces.
He climbed back on to the narrow low rail and once again displayed his dewlap:
It was at this point that I realized I was too close, so I moved to a bench about six feet away. The male appeared to relax a bit, remaining green, and soaking up some afternoon sun:
He jumped up abruptly and turned to look down into the greenery below. He must have spotted the female again, although I couldn’t see her no matter how hard I looked.
Determined to impress the object of his desire, he puffed out his throat pouch again:
This one did the trick. As I watched him leap back down to the White Texas Sage, the female suddenly appeared on the same plant. The male made his move:
Mating was achieved:
I read that mating can continue for 30-45 minutes. After about five, I moved in for one last close-up and then gave them their privacy:
I read that females only lay one egg at a time, and may lay one a week for a number of weeks. Dominant males keep harems of up to six females, but I saw no evidence of that in my front garden yesterday.
Green Anoles eat insects, spiders, and other invertebrates. When I had pet cats lounging on this front deck, I rarely saw lizards, but I had an abundance of Praying Mantises. With no cats to plague them, the Green Anoles and skinks now rule my decks, and I almost never see a Mantis in my front garden anymore.
These changing population dynamics, and the encounter I was lucky enough to observe yesterday, remind me that my Piedmont garden is always first a habitat for the natives with whom I share this space. That’s why I don’t use poisons, and why my yard will always look less groomed than many others. My gardens and yard are as integrated into the native landscape as I can manage. After all, the plants and animals here are as much Piedmonters as I am.
Ah, what a wacky season it has been — and continues to be. A prime example is my exquisite Two-Winged Silverbell (Halesia diptera), which bloomed last year on April 15. This year, peak bloom was this past Monday, and now the blooms are mostly gone. Uncharacteristic heat, heavy downpours, and strong winds shortened this tree’s blooming season to the blink of an eye.
Here’s what the entire tree looked like from a distance:
See the whiteness on the ground beneath it? Those are flower petals, which were already rapidly falling, even though the flowers had barely opened. Here’s a closer look at the petals on the ground:
And because this wonderful tree’s season was so painfully short this year, I offer you one more photo. This one is what the top of the tree looked like as I stood beneath it:
At least I had the chance to photographically document this lovely native.
My huge Black Cherry tree bloomed two weeks earlier than last year. By the time I thought to try to photograph the flowers on April 2, they were already dropping, leaving tiny cherries in their place. I never tire of watching the birds — especially the Pileated Woodpeckers — devour this fruit when it ripens. Here’s what I saw on April 2 this year:
The Red Buckeye, on the other hand, was unimpressed by March’s early warmth. Last year, I wrote of its first blooms on March 30. This year, most blooms were open on April 2, and the tree continues to reign redly over my floodplain. Here’s a shot from this past Monday:
Red Buckeye flowers are supposed to call in the Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds, but I haven’t seen a single hummer yet at my house.
I’ll close with a few swamp shots. Those natives are well ahead of last year. The Cinnamon Ferns were displaying fully developed fruiting fonds last Monday when I took this shot:
Last year, I showed you a similar picture on April 20 — almost three full weeks later!
And here are some equally precocious purple Jacks blooming lustily despite being surrounded by poison ivy and other swamp plants:
I’ll leave you with proof that I’m not the only one prowling my muddy floodplain these days:
I’ve got even more photos of plants whose flowers have already come and gone. Stay tuned for future installments. I guess the moral of the story is to wander through your yards and gardens as often as you can this time of year. If you linger indoors, the wonders of spring will most surely pass you by.
I thought I was being clever by pushing ahead my greenhouse planting schedule. After all, temperatures soared to May levels by mid-March. Native flowers were blooming three weeks ahead of schedule. Soil temperatures were above 60 degrees. Yes, average last freeze for my area isn’t until April 15, and frosts can occur a couple of weeks after that. But surely not this year, right?
Um, well, maybe not. The weather forecasters just came out with the temperature forecast through mid-April. My region is now forecasted to have a better than 50% chance of below-normal temperatures. This after the warmest March on record, of course.
On the one hand, this is great news. Maybe my spring vegetable garden will be one of my most productive ones ever. Of course, the Sugar Sprint Snap Peas still haven’t produced one flower bud. But maybe it’s been too hot for them, even though they have been climbing their trellis. Maybe now they’ll be happy and make peas for me.
On the other hand, the tomatoes in my greenhouse are already so large that I’m having trouble moving in there without snagging one and nearly pulling it down on top of me. And it’s only April 4.
For comparison, I went back and looked at my records for last year. According to this post, my tomatoes were about the same size as they are now on May 17. No, that’s not a typo. We’re talking five weeks later. Time for Plan B — or is it Plan C. This has been the most improvisational gardening season I’ve experienced in, well, forever. I can’t remember ever being faced with such problems.
Meanwhile, the natives and ornamentals are still hurtling through the season as if midnight is approaching and their coaches are becoming pumpkins. Case in point: I found this on the ground today when I was walking around:
Last year, I took a photo like that on April 24 as you can see here.
And my beautiful deciduous azaleas? They are blooming so early and fast that one finished before I could even document it here. Right now, the Alabama azalea is at its peak. Here’s the whole shrub:
That’s the Ashe Magnolia in the back left corner. It’s just beginning to open its buds. Here’s a close-up of the Alabama Azalea flowers so you can appreciate their beauty:
Last year, I documented peak bloom of this specimen on April 22, as you can see here.
One more example and I’ll stop for today. I documented the gorgeous blooms of Rhododendron ‘Pastel #20′ last year on April 14. It’s at maximum bloom this year today, as you can see here:
And here’s a close-up:
All the oak trees except the big Black Oak have finished blooming. The Northern Red Oak that towers over my house is raining fat caterpillars. I always wonder if they leap off the tree to avoid birds. Why else would they abandon their food source before they’re ready to metamorphose?
Most of the oak leaves — and the leaves of other native trees too — are rapidly achieving near-summer size. I’m hoping — praying, actually — this means that they’ll have time to toughen up enough to avoid being killed by a late freeze.
The good news? The same long-range forecast for my region has my area right on the line between above-average and normal precipitation. Maybe if it stays cloudy — and ideally rainy — the cold temperatures won’t drop low enough to kill my precocious plants. Of course, below-normal temperatures and above-normal precipitation could also mean snow. It has happened here in April — not lately — but it has happened. A light snow probably wouldn’t kill spring growth. But it doesn’t solve my biggest problem.
What I am going to do with the gigantic tomato plants in my greenhouse?
I call the bloom period of the invasive exotic Chinese Wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) the Purple Plague, because the long, grape-like clusters of blooms are purple, and because the bloom period of this invader visually emphasizes its plague-like effect on our southeastern US woodlands.
I’ll concede that the blooms are not ugly, and many folks like their overpoweringly sweet fragrance, although I’m not a fan. It was the aesthetic appeal of this plant that got it here. Many southerners fell in love with it, draping it over arbors, sides of houses, and training it into artfully shaped waterfall-like forms in their front yards.
If Chinese Wisteria stayed where it was planted, I would not object to its existence in southeastern yards and gardens. But it doesn’t, not by a long shot. Actually, shot is a good word here. You see, the seed pods of this vine are long, bean-like structures. On late autumn days when atmospheric conditions are just right, the pods split open with a resounding crack that sends seeds flying explosively in all directions. I’m told by folks who live near heavily invaded forests that when the pods explode, it sounds like rapid gunfire that goes on and on and on, until all the pods have expended their loads.
Why is this vine considered to be a problem? Take a look at this tangled mess growing along a major road about 5 miles from my house:
Like the evil invader Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), vines of Chinese Wisteria climb over every plant in the forest, creating impenetrable tangles of vegetation that destroy any chance for a healthy ecosystem in such areas.
Chinese Wisteria vines can grow quite large and woody. The extra biomass, especially when vines are leafed out in summer, can add enough weight to burdened trees to make them much more likely to fall or break during wind events created by thunderstorms and hurricanes. During winter ice storms, when one burdened tree falls, those connected to it by this invasive vine are also likely to fall, pulled down by the vines tangling them together.
As with Japanese Honeysuckle, the sprawling masses of tangled vines, trees, and shrubs, create perfect highways for predators like black snakes, raccoons, and other climbers. In such areas, it is vastly easier for these predators to access and devour eggs and nestlings of many of our native songbirds.
In my opinion, there is never a good reason to deliberately introduce invasive Chinese Wisteria into a landscape. It will not — not ever — remain only where you plant it. It will — without question — escape into nearby woodlands, where it will destroy the integrity, beauty, and health of these small forests that are essential to native wildlife and plants.
And there’s a native alternative to this invader: American Wisteria (Wisteria frutescens). It is not as flamboyantly showy as the Chinese invader, but it performs the same functions — covering arbors, for example, just as beautifully with similar flower clusters. Most importantly, our native Wisteria vine does not escape and destroy our forests — reason enough to plant it instead, if you ask me.
I will freely admit that Chinese Wisteria is not the most damaging invasive exotic plant species in my region of the country. But it’s blooming and very visible right now, so I think it serves as perfect symbol for North Carolina’s second annual observance of Invasive Species Awareness Week, which runs from April 1-7 this year. Many conservation-related organizations plan activities during this week that highlight this issue. The site links you to a calendar of events occurring throughout the state this week.
Many botanists and ecologists believe that invasive species represent one of the top two threats to our native ecosystems. The other threat is habitat destruction due to land clearing. These two issues are related. As more land is cleared, smaller tracts of native forest remain. These smaller tracts are much more easily overtaken and destroyed by exotic invasive species.
If you live and garden in North Carolina, I ask that you take a few moments to visit this link to the Web site of the North Carolina Exotic Pest Plant Council to learn more about invasive species in our state.
If you live in a different state in the southeastern United States, visit this link to the Southeast Exotic Pest Plant Council. The home page includes links to all the member state organizations, so you can find out what they’re doing about invaders in your state.
As a life-long gardener in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, I can personally attest to the transformation of my native woodlands by invasive exotic plants. When I was child roaming Piedmont woodlands in the 1960s, Japanese Honeysuckle was not strangling the trees. Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) and Japanese Stiltgrass didn’t overwhelm my beautiful woodlands until a decade or two ago. Same for Chinese Privet (Ligustrum sinense). The invaders are coming faster now and establishing themselves much more quickly.
Anyone who cares about the long-term health of our native ecosystems should be deeply worried. I know I am. Please educate yourself about these invaders, learn about the many lovely native plant alternatives to the dangerous species.
Much good information is out there. Besides the Southeast Exotic Pest Plant Council site, try the information-packed Web site of the North Carolina Botanical Garden. Here’s a link to their list of exotic invasive plants to avoid. And here’s a link to the page where they offer suggestions for native plant alternatives.
With just a bit of effort, your garden and yard can become part of the solution to this growing problem. Please consider joining me in this battle against alien invaders. Together we can fight the Purple Plague, and restore a healthy balance to our native landscapes.