Volunteers aren’t always welcome

Yesterday morning, I was wandering around the deer-fence-enclosed north-facing slope side of my yard, where we’ve planted a number of well-adapted understory natives beneath a mature canopy of River Birches, Water Oak, Tulip Poplars, Sweet Gums, and a few Loblolly Pines in one corner.  Here’s an angle that shows you a triangular arrangement of three canopy members:

Some canopy residents on our north-facing slope

The tall tree in the foreground is a non-native Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) we planted about 18 years ago. It is a deciduous conifer native to China and deserves its own entry another day. The lovely tree on the right is a Water Oak (Quercus nigra). Higher up the slope and to the left is a mature Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana). Further back, you can see the green needles of a group of mature Loblolly Pines (Pinus taeda).

What you can’t see very well right now are the dormant deciduous shrubs we’ve added beneath and around this trio. Several deciduous azaleas and viburnums are doing well in this spot, and some recently planted native blueberry species (Vaccinium spp.) are settling in nicely.

Beneath the Red Cedar are two Spicebushes (Lindera benzoin), the seeds of which must have been deposited by birds. I didn’t put them there. I thought Spicebushes needed more moisture than that hilltop offers, which is why I planted some on my floodplain. I guess the joke was on me, because the birds “planted” quite a few of these lovely shrubs all through the north hilltop, right down to the creek’s edge on that side. I love them (I told you why here); they aren’t interfering with anything where the birds put them; they are welcome to stay.

However, yesterday, I discovered another native volunteer near the Red Cedar: Red Buckeye (Aesculus pavia). The seedling must have come from a nut planted by an industrious squirrel, because the mother tree I planted on the floodplain (its supposed preferred habitat) is about two hundred yards away and around the other side of the house from where this one popped up. Here’s the volunteer Red Buckeye, its new leaves freshly open to the spring air:

Red Buckeye seedling volunteer

Red Buckeye is a beautiful native understory tree that I planted on purpose — on the floodplain — mostly for its early red flower clusters, which provide a popular source of nectar for the Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds that arrive the first week of April. However, it matures into quite a bushy specimen that takes up a good 15-20-foot-wide space. And where this seedling appeared, that space is already reserved for the azaleas, viburnums, and native blueberries that I planted there first.

Thus, I’ll be pulling up this seedling and relegating it to the compost pile. Since I planted the mother tree on the floodplain about 15 years ago, I’ve learned that Red Buckeyes — although native to our region — can quite assertively spread their seedlings around via their poisonous nuts (called buckeyes).  I’ve decided to leave the mother tree on the floodplain alone, and if her seedlings in that area aren’t interfering with anything else, they can stay.

But my north-facing slope garden is reserved for special plants — plants that appreciate the cooler shade of the north-facing canopy trees — plants that reward me with a succession of exquisite blooms. I’ll show you what I mean as winter fully releases its hold on an eager spring.

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  1. Ruby Flowers for Ruby Throats « Piedmont Gardener

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