Participating in the Pollinator Census? Plant Native Plants!

Here is a list of late summer early fall blooming Southeastern US NATIVE plants that will put on a show for the Pollinator Census in August:

  1. Goldenaster, Chrysopsis mariana, Aug-Sept, yellow
  2. Blue Mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum, Aug-Sept, Lavender
  3. White thoroughwort, Eupatorium aromaticum, Aug-Sept, white
  4. Hyssop leaved Thoroughwort, Eupatorium hyssopifolium, Aug-Sept, white
  5. Big leaf Woods Aster, Eurybia jonesiae,  Aug-Sept, pale pink
  6. Cornel leaf Aster, Doellingeria infirma, Aug-Sept, white
  7. Wavy Leaf Aster, Symphyotrichum undulatum, pale blue
  8. Smooth Blue Aster, Symphyotrichum laeve, Aug-Oct lavender
  9. Perennial sunflower, Helianthus angustifolia, Aug-Sept, deep yellow
  10. Red eye Sunflower, Helianthus atrorubens, Aug-Sept, yellow, red disk flowers
  11. Woodland Sunflower, Helianthus divaricatus, Aug-Sept, yellow
  12. Erect goldenrod, Solidago erecta, Aug-Sept, deep yellow
  13. Goldenrod, Solidago nemoralis, Aug-Sept, deep yellow
  14. Fragrant goldenrod, Solidago odora, Aug-Sept, deep yellow
  15. Wrinkled goldenrod, Solidago rugosa, Aug-Sept, deep yellow
  16. Showy goldenrod, Solidago speciosa, Aug-Sept, deep yellow
  17. Native Pasture Thistle, Cirsium discolor, August, Lavender/pink
  18. Joe Pye Weed, Eutrochium fistulosum, Jul – Oct,  pink
  19. Sweet Scented Joe Pye, Eutrochium purpureum, Jul – Oct, pink
  20. Small head sunflower, Helianthus microcephala, Jul-Aug, pale yellow
  21. Woodland sunflower, Helianthus strumosus, Jul-Aug, gold
  22. St John’s Wort, Hypericum frondosum, July-Aug, yellow      
  23. Creeping St Andrew’s Cross, Hypericum stragulum, July-Aug, yellow
  24. Littlehead Blazing star, Liatris microcephala, Aug-Sept, purple
  25. Blazing star, Liatris spicata, Jul-Aug, purple
  26. Blazing star, Liatris squarrosa, Jul-Aug, purple
  27. Wild bergamot, Monarda fistulosa, Jul-Aug, white – pink
  28. Spotted Horsemint, Monarda punctata, Jul-Aug, pink and yellow
  29. Rosinweed, Silphium spp, Jul-Aug, yellow
  30. Halberd leaved Mallow, Hibiscus laevis, Jul-Oct, pink and crimson
  31. Eastern Rose Mallow, Hibiscus moscheutos, ssp.palustris, Jul-Oct, pink and crimson
  32. Cardinal flower, Lobelia cardinalis, Jul-Sept, crimson
  33. Downy blue lobelia, Lobelia puberula, Jul-Sept, deep blue
  34. Great blue lobelia, Lobelia siphilitica, Jul-Sept, bright blue
  35. Sensitive Briar, Mimosa microphylla, Jul-Sept, Bright pink
  36. Evening primrose, Oenothera biennis, Jul-Sept, yellow
  37. Cinquefoil, Potentilla canadensis, Jun-Sept, yellow
  38. Black eyed Susan, Rudbeckia fulgida, Jun-Sept, deep yellow, brown center
  39. Black eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta, Jun-Sept, deep yellow, brown center
  40. Rattlesnake Master, Eryngium yuccifolium, June – Aug, green
  41. Giant Purple Hyssop, Agastache scrophulariifoliae, June – Sept, purple
  42. Large Flowered Coreopsis, Coreopsis grandiflora, June – Sept, deep yellow
  43. Sharpwing Monkeyflower, Mimulus ringens, June-Aug, pink and yellow
  44. Hoary Skullcap, Scutellaria incana, July-Sept, blue and white

 

 


The First Flight

blog post by guest contributor Melina Lozano Duran

The first flight. Have you heard of this expression before, do you know what that means?

It all comes from the fact that some insect species have several generations that come out

Bombus impatiens on Stone Mountain Daisy, Helianthus porterii. Photo by Melina Lozano Duran

at different seasons but as a global consensus the season where native bees remerge from their nest after Winter is Spring.  Spring isn’t the only conventional temperate season where flowers are supposed to bloom and animal species start reproducing. In the insect

world, specifically in native bee world, Fall and Winter are crucial seasons for the natural world of plants and insects to have a successful Spring.  

Most native bee species in Georgia are active all year round visible to the human eye in Spring, Summer and Fall. Winter is still a very active season for bees but you do not get to

Carpenter bee, Xylocopa virginica robbing nectar. Photo by Melina Lozano Duran.

see the action! A solitary native bee’s life span is less than a year from egg to adult- what is known as a complete metamorphosis. You only get to see the adult stage, which usually lasts a few weeks. For example, in the Family Andrenidae, many species go through pupation and adult maturation inside their nests during late Summer through Winter and emerge in Spring. Georgia is home to approximately 89 Andrena (mining bees) species of the 465 species in the United States, a very significant number. Look out for medium sized bees like Apis mellifera (honeybee) with fussy faces and dark bodies like Andrena Barbara (mining bee). Other bee families have what is called multivoltinism- meaning they have two to three generations per year.

 

In today’s anthropogenic-modified world we have to account for other factors when it comes to knowing flight seasons and the bee species that will come out based on their nesting, foraging and social behaviors. The lack of foraging resources from a previous year will yield more or less individuals per species and impact their reproductive success. Temperature changes will also modify when bees come out of their nest, but this also impacts flowering times for plant species; Even flooding events can cause a bee to come out later or not come out at all! You might be thinking, well, there is nothing I can do about that! However, one thing we all can do is help ecosystems recover. For example, your

A brilliant green native Agapostemon bee species. Photo by Melina Lozano Duran

garden has a micro-ecosystem. If you plant all native plant species from Georgia, and avoid applying any pesticide, you are already contributing to the conservation of native bees and other insect pollinators.

In the Metro Atlanta area, expect to see species of the Halictidae- commonly known as sweat bees and Apidae Family- long-tongue bees coming out for the first flight. Species like Xylocopa sp (carpenter), Bombus sp (bumble), Apis sp. (honeybee). All long tongue bees are the first ones to start foraging on available floral sources. Panurginus sp, which can be rare but is definitely a species that comes out in April after a long Fall and Winter nesting.   Another very important characteristic of most native bees in the United States is that most are generalists, meaning they forage on several plant genuses and do not have a one-on-one relationship with a specific plant species or a sole plant genus. When living in a urban environment like Atlanta, we must remember people have introduced several non-native plants like Chiomanthus praecox (Japanese allspice) and bees actually forage on it, especially when native plants are scarce. Another good example of Spring bloom is Erythronium americanum (yellow adder’s tongue). It’s a known associate of several bees in the families Andrenidae (mining bees), Halictidae (sweat bees) and Megachilidae (leaf cutter bees).

Erythronium americanum, Trout Lily.

Sources:

Bees of Georgia, http://native-bees-of-georgia.ggc.edu/. Stewart, N and Schlueter, M. 2017

Michener, D.C, The Bees of the World, Baltimore Maryland. The John Hopkins University Press 2000, 2007.


A Winter Project – Preparing for Spring

by Clair Eisele 

Winter can be a tough time for those of us who love to be outside in our gardens.  

The ground is cold and hard, most of the plants are dormant and aren’t showing any foliage, and there aren’t any pollinators out to prove our efforts.  But, despite the cold and the lack of (visible) flora and fauna, winter can be an excellent time to focus on infrastructure and design. This winter, at Beech Hollow, one of our projects has been reworking our Shade Beds.

The_“shade bed” is what we call the garden we have designated for parent stock plants that require more shade than the plants in our “sun beds.”  The shade bed is an area roughly 3,900 sq ft that is nestled under a canopy of loblolly pines, oaks, elms, and sweet gum trees, near the main driveway and across from the parking area of the farm.  The previous design was 4 row beds and 2 “keyhole” beds (circular, round, raised beds) that are home to many shade-loving, Georgia native plants. This design held up for many years and throughout the seasons we were able to see which plants were doing well and which ones should be moved.

But Pandra had bigger plans for the shade beds.  As an artist and a bit of a design and history buff, she wanted to transform the shade beds into a place where she, her employees, and BHF patrons could enjoy a peaceful garden landscape that displayed the diverse beauty of Georgia native plants.  And, of course, somewhere that would entice the native pollinators, as well.

It started with an idea based loosely off Chinese and Japanese garden landscaping, in which a space can be transformed with plants from a flat, tidy, farmlike setting, to a lush, more natural setting, using plants as borders and attention grabbers.  After a few different layouts were scribbled on paper and measurements were made and remade, we put our tools where our thoughts were and set forth to bring the ideas to life.

First we used our magnificent rogue hoes to clear the blackberries/Rubus armenicus, greenbriars/Smilex bona-nox, Carolina Jessamine/Gelsemium sempervirens, violets/Viola labradorica, and other invasive, unwanted “volunteers” from between the existing beds.  We also removed many small saplings of Loblolly Pine/Pinus taeda, Sweetgum/Liquidambar styraciflua, and oak, to make room for native species. Next, we laid down hoses and used landscape marking paint to layout a new meandering path that starts and ends at the main entrance.  From there we scraped the new path to remove weeds and move the nice, loamy, topsoil from the pathway to the new bed space (no point in letting all that viable topsoil go to waste under a path!). Since our new beds were not built yet, we left portions of the old beds that were filled with dormant root systems in place until we could safely transplant them.   Then it was time to start on the new beds!

We ordered 20 cubic yards of pine mulch that had been sitting for over 6 months (when using mulch to build soil it cannot be too fresh or it could be too hot to plant in).  We used brown paper (the kind found in rolls in the paint department) and tacked it down in 2 or more layers over all of the new bed space, then spread a thick layer (4-6 inches) of mulch on top.  We wanted to let the mulch sit for another 6 weeks for a couple of reasons; 1 – moving it from the pile and spreading it over the beds would create more heat, and 2 – we wanted it to be fully involved in the decomposition process and on its way to creating more soil when we did plant.

While waiting on the mulch to settle and do it’s thang, we turned our focus back to the path.  There were many large roots from the surrounding pines that protruded out of the ground and created tripping hazards, to level the ground we brought in bucket loads of granite sand and tamped it down to make a much smoother, safer path.  Once the sand was tamped (talk about a shoulder workout!) we laid horticulture cloth with landscaping staples to keep it in place. We scavenged our surrounding woods for fallen hardwoods and used these to line the path, creating a noticeable, but natural looking border.  

In a particularly low-lying spot, that naturally collects rainwater, we dug what we are calling a bog.  We hope that we will be able to maintain it, but judging by the water content that accumulates there now, it will probably end up being more of a pond.  Either way, the Shoal Lilies/ Hymenocallis coronaria and Jack in the Pulpit/Arisaema triphyllum will love it!

After our winter break, it was time to start transplanting and planting!  We carefully transplanted some Micheaux Lilies from the old beds/new path to an uphill location (they needed more drainage than they were getting before).  We moved large patches of red columbine/Aquilegia canadensis, and blue mist flower/Conoclinium coelestinum, as many Cornel Aster/Doellingeria infirma as we could find, Dwarf Iris, Iris verna, Rain Lilies/Zephyranthes atamasca, and a few Maple-leaf Viburnums/Viburnum acerifolium, just to name a few.  So far, we have added false indigo/Amorpha nitens, Bladdernut/Staphylea trifolia, Carolina phlox/Phlox caroliniana, Doll’s Eyes/Actaea pachypoda, and Relict Trillium, Trillium reliquum. We still have lots of transplanting and new planting to do, but this is a good start.

After some research and discussion we decided to use slate pathway to finish the trail.  We added a thin layer of sand on top of the hort cloth and then about 2-3 inches of the slate pathway mix.  This is a much stronger, longer lasting, and more aesthetically pleasing pathway than the hort cloth alone. Plus, it adds another couple of heavy layers to help keep the weeds from growing up through the path. We will continue adding to our new design by transplanting existing plants, introducing new ones, continuing to build the bog/pond, and by adding seating areas and bird baths to entice the local birds, bees, and patrons that we encourage to visit Beech Hollow.  Ephemeral, or  early blooming woodland, flowers in pictures from top down: Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis, buds of Alum Root, Heuchera americana, Jacobs ladder, Polemonium reptans, about to unfurl, Rain Lily, Zephyranthes atamasco, and Relict Trillium, Trillium reliquum.


Why does a Veggie Garden Need Flowers? or What is a Bee Pasture?

Why plant flowers for your veggie garden? Because a bee’s gotta eat. And bee larvae do as well.

Native bees emerge before most crops come into season, and they offer important pollination services for free. Don’t get me wrong, honeybees are great, but native bees offer more varied pollination services than honeybees are able to. (More on this below.) Food crops have a very specific and short bloom period, and then we have bred our crop plants to spend several weeks building delicious fruits and veggies.

That scenario makes the vegetable garden without flowers a food desert where the bee is concerned; most bees still need to forage for nectar and pollen after a crop is done blooming. So, what’s a bee to do in the meantime? As I said, a bee’s gotta eat, and biological imperatives being what they are, a bee has to provide food for her young. Bees won’t migrate out of your crop area if nectar and pollen are available. An abundance and variety of flowering plants will help your pollinator populations grow and become well established.                                                                                                                    

 

 

 

Pictures from left to right: a Mason Bee species with a heavy pollen load  on a native sunflower species, Helianthus porteri,  a green halictid bee, Agapostemon virescens, on a an aster species, and a Rusty Belted Bumblebee, Bombus griseocollus, gathering pollen from a St. Johnswort, Hypericum frondosum.

What food, exactly, does a bee get from flowers? Pollen is packed full of protein, and is mostly used as food for the developing larvae. Pollen also contains a wide variety of fats, amino acids, vitamins and minerals.  Nectar is mostly used by adults for energy to forage and build nests. It contains high levels of carbohydrates (sugars), amino acids, lipids, antioxidants, volatile oils, etc. Nectar is also regurgitated and dehydrated into honey by the few species that produce it.

Some bees are generalists and collect pollen from any available flowers. Other bees are specialists and collect pollen from only one type of flower. Most probably fall somewhere in between, collecting from a few preferred floral sources, but little is known about the foraging behaviors of most bees.  Although most bees are picky about the pollen they will feed their young, they will feed on nectar from a variety of flowers.

What did I mean, honeybees can’t pollinate everything? It is true, honeybees are wonderful pollinators, but there are crops that they can’t pollinate. Bumblebees and some Mason bees sonicate tomatoes, all of the nightshade family (peppers, eggplants, etc) as well as all blueberries. Honeybees can’t sonicate, so those flowers will not release their pollen to honeybees. Which means, well, no fruit and veggie crops to eat. There are also native bees that are more effective pollinators of certain crops than honeybees. It takes about 250-300 Mason Bees to pollinate an acre of apple trees; compare that to 10,000 – 20,000 honeybees. Honeybees do a lot of other work, like making honey, just to bee fair and balanced.

Bee meadows can also provide bee nesting habitat for native bees: Well drained patches of soil are important nest sites for ground nesting bees, naturally occurring berry canes and hollow twigs provide nests for mason bees, and tussock forming native grasses make good sites for many species of bumblebees to nest under.

How to Feed YOUR Bees:

Here is a list of Southeastern Native Plants for summer foraging, please see the previous post for early spring plants.

Early to Mid Summer Native Plants for the Southeastern US:

  • Black Cohosh, Actaea racemosa, May-Jun, white, 2-3’
  • Meadow Garlic, Allium canescens, May- Jun, white/pink, 1.5’
  • Flatrock Allium, Allium cuthbertii, May, white/purple,1.5’
  • Pussytoes, Antennaria plantaginifolia, May, white, 0.5’
  • Butterflyweed Asclepias tuberosa, May, orange, 3 – 4’
  • Pink Milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, May, pink, 4 – 6’
  • White False Indigo, Baptisia albescens, May, white, 3’
  • Blue false indigo, Baptisia australis, May, blue, 3’
  • Mouse Eared Coreopsis, Coreopsis auriculata, May, gold,0.1’
  • Lance Leaved Coreosis, Coreopsis lanceolata, May-Jun, gold, 2-3’
  • Large Flowered Coreopsis, Coreopsis grandiflora, May-Jun, gold, 2-3’
  • Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea, May-Jul, purple/pink 3- 4’
  • Wavyleaf Coneflower, Echinacea simulata, May-Jul, pink, 3- 4’
  • Rattlesnake Master, Eryngium yuccafolium, Jun, green/white, 3-5’
  • Boneset, Eupatorium perfoliatum, Jun-Aug, white, 4-5’
  • Cranesbill, Geranium maculatum, May, pink, 1.5’
  • Indian Physic, Gillenia stipulata, May-Jun, white/crimson 2-3’
  • Bowman’s root, Gillenia trifolata, May-Jun, white/crimson, 2-3’
  • Blue Flag, Iris virginica, May purple, 2- 3’
  • Blazing Star, Liatris spicata, May, Jun, 4-5’
  • Spoonleaf Barbara’s Buttons, Marshallia obovata, May, white, 2’
  • Monkeyflower, Mimulus ringens, May, Jun, pink, 3’
  • Beebalm, Monarda fistulosa, May, June, Jul, pink, 3-4’
  • Scarlet beebalm, Monarda didyma, May-June, scarlet, 3-4’
  • Sundrops, Oenothera fruticosa, May, Jun, yellow, 2- 3’
  • Southern Beardtongue, Penstemon australis, May-Jul, pink, 3’
  • Appalachian Beardtongue, Penstemon canescens, May-July, pink, 3’
  • Talus Slope Penstemon, Penstemon digitalis, May-Jun, pink, 3- 4’
  • Black eyed Susan, Rudbeckia fulgida, May-Jul gold/brown, 3’
  • Black eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta, May-Jul, gold/brown, 3’
  • Hoary Skullcap, Scutellaria incana, May-Jun, blue, 2 – 3’
  • Veiny skullcap, Scutellaria nervosa, May-Jun, pink, 1’
  • Blue-eyed grass, Sisyrinchium spp, May-Jun, blue, 1’
  • Star Chickweed, Stellaria pubera, May, white,1’
  • Wood Poppy, Stylophorum diphyllum, May-June, yellow, 2’
  • Spiderworts, Tradescantia spp. May-Aug, purple, 2.5’

Vines:

  • Cross Vine, Bignonia capreolata, Jun, orange/yellow
  • Climbing Hydrangea, Decumaria barbera, Jun, white

Shrubs/Trees:

  • Fringe tree, Chionanthus virginicus, May, white, fragrant, 12’
  • Sweetspire, Itea virginica, May, white, 5’
  • Bigleaf Magnolia, Magnolia macrophylla, May, white, 35’
  • Sparkleberry, Vaccinium arborescens, May, white, 7’
  • Maple-leaf Viburnum, Viburnum acerifolium, May, white, 5’
  • Possum Haw, Viburnum nudum, May, white, 7’
  • Rusty Blackhaw, Viburnum rufidulum, May, white,10’
  • New Jersey Tea, Ceanothus americanus, May-Jun, white, 3’
  • Woodland hydrangea, Hydrangea arborescens, May-Jun, white,12’
  • St Johnswort, Hypericum frondosum, May-June, yellow, 3’
  • Smooth azalea, Rhododendron arborescens, May-June, white, 7’

 


Some Early Blooming Native Plants

Our native bees have spent the last few million years evolving with our native plants. Not only do we have over 400 species of native bees, Georgia has 4000 native plant species to go with them! There is no lack of beautiful native plants that bloom from March through November! Here is a short list of some native species that bloom in early spring:

Perennials:

  • Blue Star, Amsonia tabernaemontana, Apr summer blue 3-4′
  • Hepatica, Anemone americana, Mar-Apr, lavender blue 0.5′
  • Windflower, Anemone quinquefolia, Apr white – pink 0.5′
  • Thimbleweed, Anemone virginiana, Apr white 2′
  • Jack in the Pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum, Apr-May green /maroon 2-3′
  • Wild Ginger, Asarum arifolium, Apr-May pink-green with maroon spots 0.5′
  • Green and Gold, Chrysogonum virginianum, Apr-May yellow 0.5′
  • Toothwort, Cardamine diphylla, White Mar-Apr .75′
  • Woodland Phlox, Phlox divaricata, Apr-May blue to pink 2′
  • Thrift, Phlox subulata or nivea, Apr-May blue to pink 2′
  • Crested Iris, Iris cristata, April lavender 0.5′
  • Vernal iris, Iris verna, April purple 1′
  • Jacobs Ladder, Polemonium reptans, April blue 1′
  • Woodland Anemone, Thalictrum thalictroides, Apr-May white 1′
  • Bird’s foot Violet, Viola pedata, April April lavender 0.5′
  • Barren Strawberry, Waldsteinia lobata, April yellow 0.5′

Vines:

  • Carolina Jessamine, Gelsemium sempervirens, Feb yellow
  • Coral honeysuckle Lonicera sempervirens, Apr-May red

Early blooming shrubs:

  • Red buckeye, Aesculus pavia, Apr red with orange 15’
  • Painted buckeye, Aesculus sylvatica, Apr yellow-green & orange 15’
  • Shining False Indigo, Amorpha nitens, Apr deep purple 12’
  • Black Chokeberry, Aronia melanocarpa, Apr white to pink 12’
  • Red Chokeberry, Aronia pyrifolia, Apr white to pink 12’
  • Small flowered pawpaw, Asimina parviflora, Apr maroon 5’
  • Paw paw, Asimina triloba, Apr maroon 12’
  • Redbud, Cercis canadensis, Apr pink 10’
  • Parsley hawthorn, Crataegus marshallii, Apr white 12’
  • Spicebush, Lindera benzoin, Apr yellow-green 15’
  • Mock orange, Philadelphus inodorus , Apr white 7’
  • Chickasaw Plum, Prunus angustifolius, Apr white – pink 15’
  • Piedmont azalea, Rhododendron canescens, Apr pink 7’
  • Oconee azalea, Rhododendron flammeum, Apr-May orange 7’
  • Elderberry Sambucus canadensis , Apr white 12’
  • Vaccinium elliottii, Elliott’s blueberry, Apr white 5’

Spring Fling at Beech Hollow Farm 2019

Come celebrate the start of our Spring sale season, rain or shine!
Free kids art projects at 11 am, and again at 1 pm. Special offerings of native plants for hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees. Special spring opening native plant discounts – Refreshments – Face Painting – FREE Kid’s Pollinator Art Activities – Live Music!

pictures from Spring Fling 2018:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Prairies of the Past

The American Prairie is an iconic landscape that evokes images of rolling hills covered in wind whipped seas of grass, herds of buffalo, covered wagons and sod houses.  The Great Plains of the Midwest are synonymous with prairies, and though the Midwest has the most famous American grasslands, there is strong historical and ecological evidence that the Southeast was covered in a rich mosaic of grasslands and forests prior to European colonization.  There is an often repeated tale of a pre-contact squirrel being able to travel from the Atlantic to the Mississippi without ever touching the ground on account of the densely forested landscape. I remember hearing it as a child in the 1980’s, and it continues to spread to this day.  This idea of the all-encompassing primeval climax forest was disseminated sometime in the early 20th century.  It’s based on the relatively recent observation of forest succession occurring on open lands that are devoid of the prehistoric natural controls that keep forests in check and allow grasslands to flourish.  This assumption that all land will become forest given enough time is overly simplistic, and does not take into account the reality of the natural processes that select which plants can thrive in a given landscape.  It also ignores the numerous historical writings of early explorers that encountered large areas of naturally occurring grasslands in the Southeast during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Coastal marsh grassland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To see how the landscape has changed, let’s take a trip back through history.  One hundred and twenty two years ago in 1897, Historian Dr. John Landrum wrote:

 “Up to the breaking out of the revolutionary war, the woodlands in the upper portion of South Carolina were carpeted with grass, and the wild pea vine grew, it is said, as high as a horse’s back, while flowers of every description were seen growing all around. The forests were imposing, the trees were large and stood so wide apart that a deer or buffalo could be seen at a long distance; the grasses and the pea vines occupied the place of the young, scrubby growth of the present day.” …”It is a fact well authenticated, that in the early history of the upper country there were numerous prairies covered only with the grasses and the pea vine, but which have since been covered with pine, oak, and other growth.” [History, 2]

Just before the Revolutionary War, another 122 years into the past in 1775, Botanist William Bartram was exploring and collecting specimens in what is now the state of Georgia.  In his journals, he recorded travelling through many open grasslands.  Near present day Clyo, Ga. after naming many trees and shrubs in a riverine forest he wrote:

“This ancient sublime forest is frequently intersected with extensive avenues, vistas and green lawns, opening to extensive savannas” [Travels, 309]

Near present day Sparta, Ga.:

“There is some very good land on the gradual descents of the ridges and their bottoms bordering on creeks, and very extensive grassy savannas and cane meadows always in view on one hand or the other.” [Travels, 379]

Near present day Clayton, Ga.:

“I observed growing in great abundance in these mountain meadows Sanguisorba canadensis and Heracleum maximum…..the swelling bases of the surrounding hills fronting the meadows present, for my acceptance, the fragrant red strawberry, in painted beds in many acres surface, indeed I may safely say hundreds.” [Travels, 344]

If we go another 75 years back to 1700, Explorer and naturalist John Lawson, travelling near present day Columbia, SC noted:

“we pass’d by several fair Savanna’s, very rich and dry; seeing great Copses of many Acres that bore nothing but Bushes, about the Bigness of Box-trees; which (in the Season) afford great Quantities of small Black-berries, very pleasant Fruit, and much like to our Blues, or Huckle-berries, that grow on the Heaths in England.” [Voyage, 27]

And near present day Asheboro, NC:

“We travell’d, this day, about 25 Miles, over pleasant Savanna Ground, high, and dry, having very few trees upon it, and those standing at a great distance. The Land was very good, and free from shrubs and underwood.”  [Voyage, 45]

Pine Savanna in the Coastal Plain

These historical descriptions use words like savannas, prairies, meadows, and cane breaks, but they are all talking about grasslands.  Grasslands encompass a spectrum of landscapes that share the common defining characteristic of a ground layer of vegetation dominated by grasses and other graminoids (such as sedges, rushes, or canes).  Types of grasslands include: savannas, balds, dunes, glades, meadows, marshes, barrens, bogs, fens, and even some woodlands as long as the tree canopy is sparse and grasses are the dominant type of vegetation.  (Thanks to Southeastern Grasslands Initiative for the definition and types). Historical descriptions and land surveys give us an idea of what the landscape looked like in precolonial days and grasslands were very much a part of it.  Since then, the absence of fire and large herds of grazing animals have contributed to the decline of grasslands and allowed successional forests to creep into areas where they previously could not have survived.

Large herds of animals were one of the first casualties of colonial settlement.  Furs were a major means of barter for many settlers, and game was abundant.  Historian Dr. David Ramsay wrote in 1858: 

“In the year 1750 when the settlement of the upper country [of South Carolina] began, there were so many buffalos, which have long since disappeared, that three or four men with their dogs could kill from ten to twenty in a day.”…”The waters abounded with beavers, otters and muskrats. Twenty beavers have been caught by one man in one season on Fairforest.” [History, 305]

 Bison and beavers are both major controls to the spread of woody plants.   Bison graze on grasses, but unlike domestic cattle they can also digest cellulose, so they will eat entire tree seedlings and the bark off of larger trees all the way around the trunk, which will cause the trees to die. Herds of bison churn large swaths ground as they graze and seasonally migrate and fast growing grasses are the first to colonize their wake.  Beavers not only prevent the spread of trees, but actively reduce their range by felling them and flooding large areas so the soils are too wet for trees to survive.  The edges of a beaver pond are ideal habitat for many grasses and forbs.   After a dam is abandoned and breaks down, the large open area that was behind it with newly enriched soils often becomes a meadow.  The pelts of bison and beavers were major exports from the colonies to Europe and their drastic reduction in numbers or outright removal from the Southern landscape had far reaching effects on the plant communities adapted to open, disturbed areas.

Broom Sedge (Andropogon virginicus) just waiting to burn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fire is the other main check to forest succession that was slowly removed from the landscape as it was settled by more and more people.   Fire is a naturally occurring phenomenon that has affected plant growth, survival, and adaptation as much as soil pH, precipitation, and faunal predation.  The climate of the southeast with frequent thunderstorms and some of the highest occurrence of lightning strikes per square mile in the world ensures that fire will enter the landscape sooner or later.  While the Native Americans were known to have set fires to clear land and to flush game they were simply facilitating a natural process that had been occurring for millennia. Native Americans were not the creators of grasslands or other fire dependent ecosystems, even if their actions may have helped them thrive and expand in the centuries prior to European contact.  Frequent fires became less common through the 18th and 19th centuries.  After the Civil War many Northerners bought Southern lands and brought their ideas of fire suppression from the urbanized areas and fire sensitive forests of the Northeast down South. Federal and State owned lands were focused almost solely on timber production and fires were all but excluded from the landscape.  Trees that aren’t adapted to cope with fire will quickly take over an open sunny area if fire and other controls are removed from the equation.  This process of forest succession is what led many scientists to believe that forest is the climax habitat of the southeast and led to the creation of the myth of the travelling squirrel.  The very idea of naturally occurring Southern grasslands slowly faded into obscurity.

Prairie restoration area at Panola Mountain State Park

In summary, there once were prairies and other grasslands all over the South, but they have almost disappeared due to habitat loss and lack of forest controls.  Not all is lost, however, as small pockets of grassland survived in highway right of ways, pastureland, power line corridors, and other areas where  people controlled the spread of trees and shrubs with mowing or grazing animals. In the latter half of the 20th century, prescribed burns were recognized as necessary for the creation of habitat for quail and other game animals and fire was slowly reintroduced to the landscape. Further studies have documented the numerous plants and animals that benefit from prescribed fire and led to its widespread acceptance as a tool for conservation.  Today, numerous organizations and land managers are working to rehab, restore, and even create new grasslands.  We will be profiling a few of these projects and land managers in upcoming posts, so check back for more information about Piedmont Prairies and the plants that call them home.

Prairie restoration planting in a power line cut at CRNRA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Consulted

 

Works Cited

Exactly.


Out and About at the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area

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Beech Hollow is much more than just selling plants.  It is our mission to propagate and preserve native Georgia plants, but one of the best parts of working at Beech Hollow is education and outreach.   This is part on of two blog posts few featuring current projects in the community:

CRNRA Update

We have been working with Park Ranger Allyson Read and some fantastic volunteers at the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area (CRNRA) at the Island Ford Visitor’s Center for the past several years.

Prepping the front entrance for new native plants

This past fall, in the front entrance area we did some plant rearranging.  Rattlesnake Master/ Eryngium yuccifolium that we planted the year before was so happy there that you couldn’t see the entrance sign anymore!

Jessi rehoming Rattle Snake Master

Luckily it is not a picky plant so we were able to move some to the outer edges of the drive by the entrance where it can continue to be huge and thrive. To highlight the sign rather than cover it, we installed some shorter plants with bright and beautiful blooms including Butterfly Weed/ Asclepias tuberosa, Mariana Golden Aster/Chrysopsis mariana and Dwarf Blazing Star/ Liatris microcephala.  

 

Volunteer appreciating native grasses in front of Hewlett Lodge Visitor Center

 

In the flower bed next to the historic Hewlett Lodge Visitor Center we have been tackling the removal of stubborn invasive Himalayan Blackberry/ Rubus armenicus. The volunteers that we worked with have some serious skills in making sure these plants are out of there for good by getting right down to the roots.  Removing those pesky invasive really lets the Passion Flower/ Passiflora incarnata and beautiful native grasses stand out.  I’m sure it’s not the last of the invasive plants that will be trying to creep in there, but we plan on keeping on them.  Don’t get comfortable Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus armenicus, we will be back!

Beech Hollow will of course be back at the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area periodically and will keep you updated on the native plant progress being made at the park.  Check out their website to find out more about the park and find out how you can become involved in volunteer projects such as our native plant installations at: The Chatahoochee River National Recreation Area

 

Out and About at Freedom Park

Wildlife Sanctuary and Cub Scout Pack 586

New Blue Bird house installed at the Freedom Park Bird and Butterfly Garden

At 207 acres, Freedom Park is one of the largest green spaces within the Atlanta area. A hidden gem located in the park at the corner of North Avenue and Candler Park Drive is the Freedom Park Bird and Butterfly Garden, a site for the reintroduction of native plants and shrubs for bird and pollinator habitat.

Pandra Williams looking on as Laura Hennighausen, Executive Director, is being presented with the Wildlife Habitat Certification sign by Atlanta Audubon Society Board Members Melinda Langston and Leslie Edwards

On January 15th, Freedom Park Bird and Butterfly Garden just became Atlanta’s 1st certified Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary of 2019! With the certification, the garden will be joining a network of approximately 450 Atlanta properties in reestablishing and adding wildlife habitat for threatened birds and other species to our urban area.  To find out more about Atlanta Audubon’s Wildlife Sanctuaries and/or how you can certify your own property, visit: Atlanta Audubon

This past November, Beech Hollow volunteers, Pandra Williams and Jessi Noreault, worked with members from Cub Scout Pack 586, a Scouts for Equality Inclusive Unit from the Candler Park, Lake Claire, and Inman Park neighborhoods of Atlanta.

 

Pandra and Jessi guided Cub Scout Pack 586 in identifying invasive species to be removed from the area, how to properly remove plants, identifying desired native plants and how to plant. Together we removed Bradford Pear/ Pyrus calleryana. 

Cub Scout Pack 586 preparing to plant

Pack 586 are fierce with a shovel and did an amazing job digging right down to the roots to get these invasive species out of the garden to make room for planting native plants.

Pandra giving a lesson about plant roots and dormancy

Since it was Fall, plants were hard to identify, and some desired native plants had their roots revealed. No worries though, the plants were put right back in the soil without any plant injuries.  Best of all, this created a great educational opportunity to discuss and look at plant roots and plant dormancy.

Once we cleared a few areas in the garden, Pandra did a demonstration on how to plant.  The scouts planted several native plant species including native Baptisia ssp, Purple Coneflower/ Echinacea purpurea, Georgia Aster/ Symphiotrichum georgianum, and Black-Eyed Susan/ Rudbeckia hirta

Make sure to take a walk-through Freedom Park this spring to check out the blooms from our plantings!

Native Plant Connections

We love being able to get the word out about native plants, work with and help other local groups and get native roots back into their home soil whenever there is an opportunity!  If you are part of an organization that is interested in education or plant installations of native Georgia plants, please reach out to us.  Every new connection we make is just one more step toward healing our environment.  We can’t do it without y’all!

Plants from Beech Hollow can now be seen in many of our local parks and other public areas in Georgia because of the amazing people and organizations we have had the opportunity to create relationships with.


Fruits of Millennia Past

You’ve most likely seen the insides of a pumpkin one way or another in the past month.  It’s a stringy, gooey mess full of seeds surrounded by thick fleshy walls.  Have you ever stopped to consider why it’s structured that way?  How are those seeds going to get out of that gourd and into a place where they can germinate into baby pumpkin vines?  These days humans cultivate and eat pumpkins, planting their seeds year after year for the past several thousand years.   However, the ancestors of today’s pumpkins were growing wild 30 million years ago in a landscape devoid of humans in what is now North and Central America.

Two ways humans use pumpkins.

  Ancestral pumpkins were smaller than modern ones, but still softball sized, and were full of bitter, toxic compounds to deter potential seed predators.  These gourds were adapted to be eaten whole, with minimal chewing, so as to avoid crushing the seeds.  What animal has the appropriately large teeth and esophagus to handle such a task and the body mass to tolerate toxic compounds?  Did you guess a five ton ground sloth? How about a Gomphothere or their more familiar cousin the Mastodon? Maybe a 12 foot tall camel? If you guessed any of the above you are probably a Paleontologist, and most likely correct.  There were dozens of species of megafauna populating the American continent for millions of years and they co-evolved with many of the plant species (or their ancestors) that are still here today.

 Plants have been growing on land for nearly half a billion years.  In that time countless growth and reproductive strategies have been attempted.  Most people are familiar with the pollination process: male flower parts produce pollen grains that need to be transferred to the receptive female ovary, and the resulting genetic combination is encapsulated in a seed.  Pollination as a means of reproduction wasn’t always an option.  Spores were the dominant means of reproduction in plants for the first several hundred million years after they colonized land.  This strategy is so successful that many plants, such as ferns and mosses, still use spores to reproduce to this day.  A major limiting factor of this strategy is that it requires a moist or wet environment for the spores to combine their genes and sprout a new individual. 

The development of pollen and seed about 380 million years ago allowed plants to move into drier areas and expand their potential range immensely.  Another 250 million years later saw the rise of flowering plants that encased the seed(s) in a fruit.  Fruits are a major part of why flowering plants (Angiosperms) are now the most diverse and wide-ranging branch of the plant family tree.  By protecting their seeds and exploiting animals’ need for calories plants gained the ability to move long distances to new areas and free fertilizer. Fruits and animals have been in a co-evolutionary tango ever since that has shaped the habits of both.

Hawthorn (Crataegus uniflora) fruits on thorny branches.

 In the past 100 million years that flowering plants have been producing fruits lots of animal species have evolved, thrived for millions of years, and then gone extinct.  What happens when the agent of dispersal that loves to eat fruits and unwittingly transport and deposit seeds in far off places suddenly (geologically speaking) disappears?  Fruits will rot on the vine or on the ground and seeds will fall victim to fungal attack, rodent seed eaters, or be forced to try and grow in the shade of their parent.  A new dispersal mechanism must be found or plant populations will become isolated, inbred, and slowly wink out of existence.  This is the situation a number of North American native plants found themselves in recently.  The Pleistocene megafauna that roamed the continent for millions of years went extinct between 15,000 and 8000 years ago.  Fruits that were meant to appeal to these giant mammals still hang on trees today waiting for a ride that will never arrive.

Honey Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) seed pod that was still on the tree from last year. (6 in. scale)

Plants that appeal to and/or defend against extinct animals are said to be ‘anachronisms,’ that is “belonging to a period other than that in which it exists.”  A few examples of plants with anachronistic fruits in the Southeast are Honey Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos), Paw Paw (Asimina triloba), Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana), and Kentucky Coffee Tree (Gymnocladus dioicus).  Beyond the Southeast, other familiar new world fruits such as Papaya, Avocado, Guava, Passionfruit, and Mesquite pods were originally adapted to appeal to beasts much larger than humans that could swallow the rind, pulp and seeds together in one or a few bites.  One can also see anachronisms in the thorny defenses on plants such as Hawthorns (Crataegus spp.), Honey Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos), Devil’s Walking Stick (Aralia spinosa), and Yucca (Yucca spp.).  These thorns are meant to discourage leaf browsing, but are larger than necessary, and continue up the stems well above the height needed to discourage any living herbivores. 

Serious defense on the Honey Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos).

 

The arrival of humans in the Americas (14,000 to 40,000 years ago, depending on who you ask) coincides with the extinction of the majority of the large seed dispersers, and may have been a contributing factor.  So it goes. It just so happened that many of the fruits and seeds here also appealed to the humans’ mammal palette, or they found inventive ways to neutralize toxins and make them edible and nutritious.  This new avenue of dispersal allowed many plants to continue to spread and thrive even as they produced fruits that were originally meant for someone else.   

The next time you see an avocado, butternut squash, papaya, or if you’re lucky enough to get a pawpaw, think about who it originally appealed to in a world without ovens or knives.  Millions of years ago when humans and chimpanzees were just diverging from a common ancestor in Africa, giant camels, sloths, rhinos, mastodons, and other beasts roamed the North American continent plucking persimmons, pawpaws and locust pods from the trees.   These giants feasted on prickly pear fruits and desert gourds during their seasonal migrations and they consistently deposited the seeds in a pile of fertilizer further down the trail.  Plants are still using their tried and true methods that worked for millions of years, so the brief absence of their partners for 15,000 years has not yet sunk into permanence.  In the meantime they’ve found us human types that are all too happy to pamper their descendants and spread them far and wide if they happen to also appeal to our senses.  Bon Appetit!

Immature Pawpaw fruit in July

 

Credits, References:

The inspiration for this post, and from which I drew heavily for information, is the book “The Ghosts of Evolution: Nonsensical Fruit, Missing Partners and Other Ecological Anachronisms” by Connie Barlow (2001). It’s a great read, and very accessible even if you know nothing of Paleontology, Botany, or Ecology.  She weaves the story of two of the progenitors of the concept of Evolutionary Anachronisms, Dan Jantzen and Paul Martin, with her own investigations into the edibility of fruits, the natural history of plant species, and interviews with botanists, paleontologists, and ranchers. She thoroughly examines past hypotheses of seed dispersal syndromes and shows how many plants have found alternative vehicles (humans and otherwise) to survive.

The wikipedia page for “Pleistocene megafauna” is also a great summary and jumping off point if you click through the references at the bottom to learn more about the giants that took the place of dinosaurs.