What is Blue, Green, Yellow and DEER PROOF all Over?

St. Johns Wort and St. Peter’s Cross

Deer don’t like St. John’s Wort or St. Peter’s Wort, nope, not at all.  If you take a midsummer walk in the Georgia woods, one of the few flowers that the deer have not eaten is anything named Hypericum.Hypericum_frondosum_45 copyIts delicate red-bark branches and blue-green leaves swaying with each breeze are completely unconcerned by marauding deer.  Deer will not eat the flowers, they will not eat the leaves, they willn’t eat any part of it.  The same herbal/chemistry reasons that make it unpalatable for deer make these plants our herbal allies.

The various St. Johns Worts, or other plants in the Hypericum genus have a long medicinal history with humans across the Northern Hemisphere.  The Cherokee, Alabama, and Choctaw tribes used Hypericum hypericoides in various forms to treat dysentery, eye complaints, and fever.  Hypericum gentianoides, or Pineweed, an annual species, was used by the Cherokee to clean wounds, nosebleeds, and treat fevers (http://herb.umd.umich.edu/.)  In Europe and Asia Hypericum perforatum has been used in treating depression and as an anti inflammatory (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Johns_Wort, and Mayo Clinic).  Western use of Hypericum perforatum goes back to the Ancient Greeks, about 100 BCE.  However, this European species (H. perforatum) is listed as a noxious or invasive weed in North America; in the American West three herbivorous beetles have been introduced as biological controls (Chrysolina quadrigemina, Chrysolina hyperici and Agrilus hyperici ).  Here in Georgia we have roughly 37 Hypericum species of our own (if you include the Triadenum genus), and over 100 species of native Hypericum distributed over North America.  So there’s no North American St. John’s Wort shortage looming, thank goodness! 

However, if you look in local gardens and yards, you will rarely see this handsome plant used in landscaping.  One of the few Hypericum that is commonly available is the robust Hypericum_frondosum_15 copy Cedar Glade St. John’s Wort, Hypericum frondosum.  Do you need some hardy, foolproof bumblebee fodder?  Just take a look at the explosion of anthers here.  A bumblebee will straddle the pouf of anthers and excitedly dance around it in circles.  When a bumble alights on a frondosum or other Hypericum species with prolific anthers, the buzzing becomes high pitched and frenetic.  Bumblebees love these plants; just look at the pollen combs on her legs: absolutely stuffed with pollen.  Cedar Glade St. Johns Wort is a full sized shrub, and when mature is about three to four feet across and three and a half feet tall.  It is swamped with 1.5 inch yellow flowers for several weeks in the late spring to early summer.  The leaves are a lovely blue green, and are present for much of the year until a hard frost claims them.  The bark is red-brown with a peeling texture. 

Would you prefer something a bit more delicate than an exuberant mound of frondosum?  Look at Early St. Johns Wort, Hypericum nudiflorum.  It is a plant that occurs in the Floyd County Prairie community.  The flowers are in delicate clusters Hypericum_nudiflorum_02 copyat the end of each branch, each bloom measuring a little over a half inch across.  The shrub is a cluster of upright wands wrapped in red brown, peeling bark, and it sways with each breeze that passes by.   Moist soil and part shade seem to suit this shrub just fine.  

Do you want something low to the ground?  Creeping St.John’s Wort, Hypericum stragulum, is a slow growing ground cover.  This plant will not get any taller than about 6 inches as it gradually forms a patch in dry, shady area.  Here is a picture of a naturally occurring patch in my friend Sigrira’s back yard.  The picture is by Sigrira, so thanks!Hypericum_stragulum_046Sigrira copy  She had about three patches that were roughly 16 inches across by about 24 inches long and about 6 inches tall.  They made a lovely ground cover, and would provide good cover for nestlings when planted in a grouping with other low, dense plants.  One big plus over blue rug junipers would be that this plant has delicate yellow blooms off and on through most of the summer.   This is an upland plant that can take dry sandy soils and part shade to shade. 

 

Here is a close up of the flowers:

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Cullo-whee!

     Pandra and I had the pleasure of attending the 30th annual Cullowhee Native Plant Conference last week, and visions of host plants are still dancing in our heads.  Dozens of great speakers gave informative and inspiring talks on everything from seed saving to plant-fungus associations in the soil.  I’m going to try to relay some of the highlights and a small portion of the knowledge that these people passed to me.     IMG_20130719_093653_179  

      Doug Tallamy (above, with caterpillar slide) gave two talks at the conference, and they both focused on the importance of native plants as habitat for insects and birds.  His book, Bringing Nature Home is one of the most accessible books about ecology that I’ve ever read.  It’s been an inspiration to us, and I highly recommend reading it if you haven’t already. The central point is that plants are the source of all energy (via the sun), and in order to transfer that energy up the food chain to birds, mammals, etc. we need insects.  LOTS of insects.  Native plants co-evolved with our native insects and are therefore the best food for them.  Larval host plants are very important in maintaining a healthy population of caterpillars and butterflies.  This is crucial for the butterflies obviously, but it’s also crucial for birds.  95 to 100% of a fledgling’s diet consists of caterpillars.  No caterpillars = no birds.  Dr. Tallamy and his interns have compiled lists of native plant genera and just how many species of butterflies and moths they support.  His lists of ‘Best Bets’ for herbaceous and woody plants are tailored for the mid-Atlantic states because he resides in Delaware, but there is much overlap between the Southeastern and Mid-Atlantic ecosystems.  He did say that the USDA is probably going to hire his intern to compile lists for each of the 50 states, so we’ll be eagerly awaiting the Georgia list.  Oak seems to be the champion of larval life support.  Most of us don’t have the space for an oak, or more likely already have a few in/over our yards, but native plum/cherry trees in the Prunus genus are great understory trees and they support over 400 species of caterpillars! As soon as I get the chance the Crepe Myrtle (from India) in my yard is out and a Chickasaw Plum (Prunus angustifolia) is in!

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      Tradd Cotter (pictured above) gave a very entertaining and informative talk about fungus and their associations with plants.  If insects are the crucial link between plants and larger animals, then fungus are the crucial link between soil nutrients and plant roots.  He also led a nature walk to demonstrate how to ID various types of mushrooms and other fungi.  His company, Mushroom Mountain is a great source for local spawn if you wish to grow edibles in your backyard, but they are also heavily involved in mycoremediation.  It still amazes me that people think that mushrooms in the lawn or garden are a bad thing.  They make soil, join plant roots into nutrient sharing networks to the benefit of all, and break down complex chemical structures into plant food essentially.  Tradd also mentioned in his talk that he had found a fungus strain that preys solely on fire ants, turning them into the infamous “zombie ants” featured in a ‘Planet Earth’ sequence.  I don’t know about you, but if I could wipe out the fire ants in my yard with absolutely no toxic chemicals and the myriad of problems they create I’d gladly pay good money for some of those spores. They are still testing that strain to make sure there are no unforeseen environmental impacts.

      Last but certainly not least, Janisse Ray gave a very impassioned and inspiring talk about seed saving, the need for the decentralization of our food supply and the creation of local plant/seed exchanges.  She has a new book out about seed saving called The Seed Underground. (AJC article about it here) Pandra bought a copy and got her to sign it.  She said it took forever because Janisse was having a conversation with everyone and gave them a hug after signing.  One of her previous books, Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, is a beautifully written account of her childhood in South Georgia and I urge everyone to read it ASAP.  She still lives and works in South Georgia on Red Earth Farm, and will be speaking in Atlanta in November.  Here is a Youtube video of one of her speeches to get you excited about it.

    We both had a great time, made lots of new friends and contacts, and learned quite a bit.  I’m already looking forward to next year!


Beech Hollow Turns One!

Happy Birthday to BHF!  We celebrated our one year anniversary on July 1st.  We’d like to thank everyone that has helped us grow by buying plants, hosting plant sales, or just by telling your friends and neighbors about us.  It’s been a great year and we look forward to many more!

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The Summertime Blooms

Amid one of the wettest years in recent history most plants are soaking in a bounty of water and putting out huge amounts of flowers.  Some are also underwater! We had 6″ of water in the rain gauge at the farm last week.  It had another 1.5″ when I emptied it today and showers are in the forecast.  So, while the humidity slowly stews my brain, look at these pretty pictures I took and enjoy the fact that you are most likely internetting inside with A/C.

IMG_3794  Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccafolium) is still blooming, but last time I posted I did not know about the huge patch of these plants we have on the other side of the farm.

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A close up of the crazy little flowers.  An  interesting member of the Parsley/Carrot family.

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Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) is also blooming nearby.  You probably would recognize it easier by the bright purple berries it puts out in fall. Here’s a pic from last September:

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You may know this shrubby plant, but what you might not know is that it’s actually a member of the mint family.  Compare its leaves to any other plant in the mint family and you’ll see the similarity.

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 The Rosepink (Sabatia angularis) in the nursery are blooming.  This is a biennial plant, meaning it takes 2 years to reach maturity and flower.  It spends the first year of its life as a low growing rosette of glossy, rounded leaves.  This year, year two, the basal leaves die back and a stalk topped with multiple blooms sprouts up to about three feet tall.  Just like most annuals, these plants produce prolific amounts of flowers and seeds to ensure their survival.

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  St. Andrew’s Cross or Creeping St. John’s Wort (Hypericum stragulum) is blooming in the shady nursery.  It’s a low-growing, creeping ground cover perfect for areas under tree canopy. 

IMG_3827Out in the front beds by the road are many hundreds of blooms.  This area was literally buzzing with bees and teeming with butterflies when I walked up.  The orange flowers are Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa), and the purple spikes are Blazing Star (Liatris spicata) which you might recognize from a commercial bouquet, as it is popular in the florist trade. There is also some Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) back there, and the tall ones in the way back are Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum incanum) getting ready to flower and lure the bees down the line with their abundant blooms.

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 Blazing Star close up.

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 Also blooming in the front bed is Culver’s Root (Veronicastrum virginianum).

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A little farther down the line is Sensitive Briar (Mimosa microphylla).  Unlike the invasive, giant trees from Asia that are rampant in Georgia, especially in Interstate corridors, this is a low, creeping, thorny vine.  The opposite leaflets will contract, or fold together if touched, shaken, or otherwise disturbed.  This defense against herbivores makes the tiny thorns that line the stem more exposed and the leaves harder to get to without painfully encountering aforementioned thorns. Watch:

It’s fun.  You can get the whole branch by shaking it:

 And what would a blog post be without a butterfly picture? 

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  Our old, dear friend Spicebush Swallowtail, but this time on the flowers of a Bottlebrush Buckeye (Aesculus parviflora).   It’s only about 50 feet from the area where we keep the Spicebush (Lindera bezoin), so once this lady (I think…) finds a mate there are plenty of egg laying sites nearby.  

That’s most of what is blooming today on the farm, so until next time, try to remain dry and thankful for the rain, even when the pavement is steaming.