The Monarchs are coming!

March 17: Spring has warmed the mountains of Michoacán in the State of Mexico.  As I write this, the noon temperature in that alpine forest is 74 degrees Fahrenheit. The monarch butterflies that have been hibernating in tall fir trees have started leaving their mountain roosts to voyage north on their yearly migration in search of milkweed host plants for their young.  By the end of March, all of them will have left Mexico to journey north.
As early as this January and February, Monarchs have already been sighted on the Gulf Coast of Alabama, Mississippi, and throughout much of Florida.  They will be in the Georgia Piedmont soon, and as you read this, fragile orange wings are flapping and fluttering against air currents to make their way here. By the time the Monarchs have reached Beech Hollow in late March and early April, the journey will have been roughly 1500 miles.

Why do they migrate?  The timing of the butterflies’ northward migration follows the seasonal availability of the larval host plants that monarchs need to feed their young.  They will migrate only as far north as the milkweed grows.  However the timing of the southward migration has the insects traveling well ahead of cold winter temperatures that they cannot survive.  And as they travel south during the late summer through the fall, there are still plenty of nectar plants for them to forage on to fuel their journey to the alpine forests in Mexico.  How’s that for travel planning? From the summer range in southern Canada to Mexico’s alpine forests, the total journey averages 2500 miles.

Rough timing of Monarch migration stops: When the female Monarch arrives in the southern United States between February through April, she will lay her eggs, and only upon Milkweed plants. Her caterpillars feed on the Milkweed, grow, pupate, and hatch. It takes anywhere from 4-7 weeks for the second generation of butterflies to mature enough to take up this generational relay. 
This second generation of new Monarchs flies into the northern United States and Southern Canada in late spring.  When the butterflies arrive, the females lay the eggs of generation number three on Milkweed plants.

In August and September, Monarch generations three and four will start flying southward, retracing their flights back to the mountains in Michoacán and the State of Mexico.  When the butterflies arrive, they overwinter in large fir trees and wait for the return of spring.

Habitat needs:  A garden with native plants which provide nectar for the adult butterflies is important.  Even MORE important for Monarch butterflies is the availability of their larval host plant: Milkweed. Supporting their full life cycle by providing host plants for their caterpillars will ensure the return of these intriguing insects year after year.  Milkweed species that are recommended by the GPCA (Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance) and native to the state of Georgia are: 

  • Clasping Leaf milkweed, Asclepias amplexicaulis
  • Poke Milkweed, Asclepias exaltata
  • Pink Milkweed, Asclepias incarnata
  • Butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa
  • and Whorled Milkweed, Asclepias verticillata

Please Provide Water, everyone needs clean water, even insects.  A ceramic plant saucer with large pebbles or a sand ramp in it will allow butterflies to approach the water without being drowned.
Minimize use of toxic chemicals, such as pesticides, which can sicken or kill unintended, or “non-target,” wildlife.  If you must use a pesticide, be aware of your larval host plants and other pollinators, apply pesticides carefully to avoid destroying your beneficial insects.

Websites with additional information:

Annual generational lifecycle:

Western Monarch Information:





Buds are Swell

Hearts a Bustin’ (Euonymous americanus) stem with numerous buds at the tip.

Deciduous woody plants have adapted to survive in the temperate regions of the world by dropping their leaves for the duration of the cold winter months.  Freezing temperatures and low light conditions aren’t conducive to photosynthesis, so trying to maintain leaves through the winter doesn’t make much sense and would probably result in a net loss of energy.  Once the temperatures do start to creep back up new growth has to begin somewhere, and that somewhere is in the buds.

Buds on a young White Oak (Quercus alba) sapling. Note the half moon shaped leaf scar just below the buds where last year’s leaf detached.

Buds are compact, often tiny, structures that are the first step toward a new leaf, branch or flower.  Where the bud is located on the plant largely determines what it will become.  Terminal, or apical, buds are at the tip of the stem.  They are usually the first to break dormancy and often impede all of the other buds on a branch or stem from sprouting until they do.  Lateral buds are farther down the stem, and axillary buds form at the joint between a branch and the main stem or trunk.

Big Leaf Magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla) bud covered in fine hairs to insulate against freezing temperatures. Big leaf, big bud

Many buds have evolved structures to protect themselves from the freezing temperatures called bud scales.  They are overlapping plate-like structures that contain a waxy substance for insulation. Others, like the Magnolia pictured above have hairs that act like animals’ fur to insulate the delicate parts inside.  Those delicate parts are cells akin to stem cells in animal embryos called ‘primordia.’  There can be as few as a couple hundred cells in a bud to start out, but as the temperatures rise and the days get longer, the cells begin to divide and differentiate into the specialized leaf parts they will ultimately become.  The first outer sign of this process beginning is when the buds swell in late winter, AKA right now in most of Georgia.  This all comes back to you, the gardener, in the fact that as the buds are swelling they need nutrients to grow!  Trees and shrubs (especially young ones) should be fertilized right as the buds begin to swell so that they have all the vital elements to make those tiny soon-to-be-leaf structures.

Blueberry (Vaccinium sp.) leaves unfurling from a newly opened bud.

Keep an eye on the buds of your woody plants over the next few weeks and you will see Spring getting ready to spring!

Serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis) bud just starting to break open

Out and About at the Freedom Park Bird and Butterfly Garden

Carol Vanderschaaf at the Freedom Park Bird and Butterfly Garden.

Freedom Park Bird and Butterfly Garden

In 2005, Carol Vanderschaaf started the Freedom Park Bird and Butterfly Garden with Phil Edwards and the Dekalb Master Gardener Association along with Catherine Kuchar of the Audubon Society.  Together, they planted over 40 different species of native plants and shrubs.

Over the following years, the garden has not only added plants, but also been the site of outdoor environmental classes on pollinator syndromes and environmental stewardship for students at Mary Lin School.

Ilex verticillata, Winterberry, provides excellent forage for songbirds.

This past October (2017), Beech Hollow and Scout Troop 586 scheduled a workday at the

Freedom Park Bird and Butterfly Garden. The Scouts removed invasive plants from the garden, with adult help and supervision.

While we were hard at work, the Georgia aster was in bloom, and the Heart’s a Busting was dangling berries, to entice the birds to stop by and eat.

Cub Scout Troop 586 finishing a hard day’s work at the Freedom Park Bird and Butterfly Garden.

The brilliant scarlet fruits of the Winterberry, Ilex verticillata, made a gorgeous splash of color under the oak trees. For birds, Winterberry and Heart’s a Busting fruits are the plant equivalent of a neon sign that says “Eat at Joe’s.”

Job well done, thank you, scouts!






Freedom Park Bird and Butterfly Garden, a short timeline:


Carol Vanderschaaf started the Freedom Park Bird and Butterfly Garden with Phil Edwards and the Dekalb Master Gardener Association along with Catherine Kuchar of the Audubon Society.  They planted over 40 different species of native plants and shrubs.

2008 through 2012,

EcoAddendum engaged the students at Mary Lin School in both learning to garden, in pollinator syndromes and environmental stewardship.  The students and Carol Vanderschaaf install more plants.

2013 through 2016,

Environmental programming continued with Lauren Sandoval and Trees Atlanta.  Each year volunteers planted new native plants.

2017 and ongoing:

Beech Hollow Farms and the Freedom Park Conservancy along with volunteer groups will continue the maintenance and planting of natives at the Freedom Park Bird and Butterfly Garden.

Here is a partial list of plants that have been planted at the Freedom Park Bird and Butterfly Garden over the past several years:

Native plants for birds and/or butterflies:
Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia fulgida or Rudbeckia hirta
Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea
Golden Fleece Goldenrod, Solidago rugosa
Virginia Creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia
Cardinal Flower, Lobelia cardinalis
Crossvine, Bignonia capreolata

Native plants for birds:
American Beautyberry, Callicarpa americana
Blueberry, Vaccinium spp
Yellow root, Xanthorhizza simplicissima

Native plants for butterflies:
Butterfly Weed (not Bush),  Asclepias tuberosa
Joe Pye Weed, Eutrochium fistulosum
St. John’s Wort, Hypericum frondosum
Pink Milkweed, Asclepias incarnata
Passionflower, Passiflora incarnata


Out and About at the CRNRA

Working in Public Spaces

For several years Beech Hollow has been working in public spaces around the Atlanta Metro Area helping out with native plant installations.  We thought we would put up a couple of posts about these native plant projects.

Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area (CRNRA):

Island Ford monument sign with deer proof planting.

BHF have been working with the staff at the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area (CRNRA) for the past few years to plant and maintain native Georgia plants in two areas at the Island Ford Visitor’s Center.   The front entrance area has proved to be the toughest to re-vegetate, as the deer have been relentlessly munching plants down to the ground and have even pulled out whole root balls just days after we planted them!

Jeff with a fist full of invasive plants.

Despite the overabundant, graceful pests we have had deer proof successes in a very sunny area that is only irrigated by rainfall.  Plants like Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccafolium), American Aloe (Manfreda virginica), and Splitbeard Bluestem (Andropogon ternarius) are quite happily flowering in the poor, often dry soils of the driveway median.

We will continue working with Park staff and volunteers to reestablish native plant populations along the edges of the entrance and near the historic Hewlett Lodge Visitor Center building in the coming year.  Come out and lend a hand, or just visit to check out our plantings, hike the numerous trails, and see the natural beauty that will make you forget you’re in a large city.


Just in case you are curious, here is the list of approved native plants for the CRNRA:


New Jersey Tea, Ceanothus americanus

Georgia Basil, Clinopodium georgianum

Cedar Glade St Johnswort, Hypericum frondosum

Maple-leaf Viburnum, Viburnum acerifolium


Tall Thimbleweed, Anemone virginiana

Bird’s foot Violet,
Viola pedata

Barren Strawberry, Waldsteinia lobata

Green and Gold, Chrysogonum virginianum

Woodland Phlox, Phlox divaricata

Pussytoes, Antennaria plantaginifolia

Blue-eyed grass,
 Sisyrinchium spp

Eastern beardtongue, Penstemon laevigatus

Hoary skullcap, Scutellaria incana

Butterflyweed, Asclepias tuberosa

Rattlesnake master, Eryngium yuccifolium

Narrow leaved Mountain Mint, Pycnanthemum tennuifolium

Coreopsis, Coreopsis grandiflora

Cornel leaf Aster, Doellingeria infirma

Goldenaster, Chrysopsis mariana

Red disk Sunflower, Helianthus atrorubens

Blue Mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinuum

Georgia aster, Symphyotrichum georgianum

There’s Nothing Wrong With Those Leaves, They’re Just Dying.

One of the best parts about going to plant sales and setting up a booth is that you get to hear everyone’s story about their favorite plants that you may or may not be selling.  Seeing people enthusiastic to learn and share plant knowledge refills my inner reservoir of hope.   We participated in the Hall County Master Gardener’s Fall Expo last weekend and talked to some wonderful people (many of whom were Hall Co. Master Gardeners, y’all were awesome!) and sold a bunch of plants.  One exchange in particular made me incredibly happy because I finally heard someone express the concept I’ve been trying to convey to anyone that will listen for years:  Leaves on a perennial plant (especially in fall ) are expendable and don not necessarily reflect the overall health of the plant.

Agastache leaves showing some yellowing as they break down.

I was talking to a couple as they browsed our plants, and as the wife decided she would like a Giant Hyssop (Agastache scrophularifolia) she picked up two pots and started comparing the plants in them.  She asked her husband, “Which one?” He responded that they looked about the same.  She expressed concern about the yellowing leaves on one of the plants, but it had more stems, so she kind of wanted it more. He turned to me and asked “It’s perennial, right?” I said that it was with a nod.  He said “Well, then you’re buying the roots. Those leaves are going to be gone in a few weeks anyway.”  I think I just found my new best friend.  I’m pretty sure I saw the wife roll her eyes and then select the plant with 2 stems.

Magnolia macrophylla with some leaves that have seen better days, but quite healthy roots

Leaves on a perennial plant go through an annual life cycle that eventually ends with them shutting down and dying.  This is known as ‘leaf senescence’ and most people know it more commonly as “when the leaves change color in Autumn.”  This cycle was summed up incredibly well in a paper about the molecular causes of leaf senescence that I came across:

“Leaves initiate their life as leaf primodia. During their development and growth, they become photosynthetically competent and accumulate nutrients. Leaves then enter the senescence stage, followed by their death. Leaf senescence partly involves the process of ‘wear and tear’ during aging, but mostly is a tightly regulated process with a crucial biological purpose.”    –

Leaves are formed, perform their function of collecting solar energy to build roots, stems, more leaves and flowers, and then are systematically dismantled and their components are resorbed and redistributed to other parts of the plant.  The remaining framework is then dropped to the soil, most likely to be reabsorbed by the roots after passing through the soil food web.

In this context, looking for the leaves to be green and healthy on a plant in October seems a bit absurd.  Plants that bloom in spring usually shut down in the summer heat, and the ones that bloom in fall are sending all their resources to make flowers and then seeds before a frost comes along.  Another quote from the aforementioned paper again sums it up well:

“The blooming of spring flowers occurs through the utilization of nutrients that have been relocated from senescing autumn leaves. Thus, senescence and death in leaves are active developmental strategies that crucially contribute to the fitness and survival of a plant.”  –ibid

Just look at this beautiful Georgia Aster bloom:

Now take a look at the leaves closer to the base of the stem:

Not nearly as aesthetically appealing as the flower, but part of a totally necessary and natural process on a healthy plant.

Fall is the best time to plant perennials, so now is the time to shop at one of the many plant sales going on in the next few weeks.  If you see some less than perfect leaves, don’t worry. They won’t be there much longer. They too shall pass, and in doing so enable the roots to survive the winter.

Milkweed for Monarchs….and everyone else!

The recent push to plant Milkweed for Monarchs is a welcome development in the gardening community.  Monarchs are dependent on Milkweed (Asclepias spp.) for their survival, as it is the only food their caterpillars can eat.  But it’s not just for Monarchs! LOTS of pollinators visit the flowers to drink the nectar.  I took my camera out to several of our patches of Orange Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) yesterday to document a smapling of the variety of insects I see on the flowers.

One of the common names of Asclepias tuberosa is ‘Butterflyweed’ so one would expect to see butterflies.  This female Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) is dipping her long proboscis into the nectar rich base of the flower in order to drink it up.  It’s like a built in straw.

A close cousin, the Zebra Swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus) also feeds on the nectar. Much like the Monarch Zebra Swallowtail caterpillars can only feed on the leaves of the plants in a single genus, Asimina, or Paw Paws.

This Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia) was looking a little tattered, as it was probably approaching the end of it’s ~2 week long adult life.  It was still sipping nectar as it rested on the flowers.

Bees also love the nectar from this plant.  Here a Green Sweat Bee (Agapostemon spp.) perches it’s tiny body atop the flower as it sips nectar from inside. It’s just one of the hundreds of species of native bees here in Georgia.

Another Native bee, possibly a Leafcutter bee (I’m not an entomologist), feeding on nectar.

Another possible leafcutter bee: the whitish mat of hairs on the underside of it’s abdomen are used for collecting pollen.  Look closely to the right of the bee and you’ll see an ant sipping nectar as well.

Speaking of Ants, this Fire Ant also found it’s way up the 3 foot tall stalks for a sugary meal. Ants can be pollinators too, and they are responsible for dispersing the seeds of many spring blooming wildflowers such as Trillium and Bloodroot.

This Great Golden Digger Wasp (Sphex ichneumoneus) feeds on nectar as an adult, but like most wasps it hatched from an egg laid on another insect and fully consumed it before the metamorphosis into it’s current winged form.  Golden Digger Wasps are predators to Grasshoppers, Katydids and Crickets.

This Yellow Jacket adult enjoys sugary nectar, but its larvae need a more protein rich diet, which the adults supply by hunting other insects (many of which are agricultural pests).  Wasps are much maligned by humans, but without their predatory behavior we would be literally drowning in bugs and our crops would be decimated.

And finally, not everyone is there for the nectar! This is one of several clever lizards I’ve seen recently near blooming flowers lying in wait for some distracted pollinator to drift too close…..

Milkweed is for Monarchs, but after they have migrated north it’s for butterflies, moths, bees, wasps, ants, beetles, aphids, and even lizards.

Podcasts for the Plant Enthusiast

Podcasts have become a bit of an obsession for me in the past 12 months.  I spend long hours alone in the greenhouse sowing seed trays, dividing crowns, and potting up plants.  I used to listen to music with an occasional audiobook to keep my sanity, but even 10,000 songs on shuffle got old eventually.  In the course of looking for something to entertain and, hopefully, enrich my mind I have stumbled upon a number of podcasts that are now a part of my daily routine.  If you are already familiar with podcasts and how to get them, feel free to skip to the bullet points for my favorites.  If you haven’t ventured into the world of podcasts just yet a short introduction follows.

First: what is a podcast?  It’s a pre-recorded audio production (‘radio show’) that you download or stream and listen to on your phone/computer/internet-connected device.  Most of the shows NPR produces are also available as podcasts, so that should give you a basic idea of the format.  Unlike NPR or radio, pretty much anyone can make a podcast, which means there is a lot a variability and people trying new things.  The upside is that increased access lends itself to a wide variety of shows about specialized and often esoteric subject matter (like native plants).  The only downside I’ve encountered is that sometimes the quality can be lacking for the more specialized subjects (like native plants), but better shows are coming out all the time. Fortunately, most podcasts are completely free to the listener, and there are ratings and reviews that can guide you to good quality productions.

Now, where to get these podcasts?  If you are into Apple products and/or use iTunes, that will be your best bet.  They did invent the podcast, so I’ll give them credit for that and say that most podcasts are available there first.  If you don’t use iTunes, then there are a few other ways to listen.  There are a number of apps, often referred to as ‘podcatchers’ available for free in whatever app store you use.  Download the app, open it up and start browsing for episodes.  I am using Podcast Republic at the moment and I would say it works quite well for me.  The advantage of installing the app is that you can download the episodes for offline listening.  This is especially great for listening in the car or in areas that have poor cell/wi-fi coverage (like the greenhouse) where streaming is not an option.  If you aren’t into the apps and downloads then you can always just listen through your regular web browser on whatever device you use to internet.

Now that the podcast basics are covered, here are the shows that I enjoy and recommend:

  • The Native Plant Podcast – This is a recent find, but has quickly become one of my favorites. I think I might have met the hosts, Mike and John, at the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference back in 2013.  They are both entertaining, knowledgeable guys that run businesses growing and installing native plants in Tennessee and Virginia respectively.  They bring on a guest each week to interview and discuss various aspects of plants, ecology, horticulture, and the nursery industry.  They also end each show by telling short stories about their dogs and having a toast with their guest, usually involving dark beers.  Native plants, dogs and beers: I’m sold.   This episode with Dr. Doug Tallamy is a great introduction to him and his work, and also has some good new info for those already familiar with him.  A quote from this episode with Dale Hendricks that  made me feel better about some of my nursery failures was:“You find a professional grower and you find a person that, for better or for worse, has killed a lot of plants.” It also has a lot of more positive talk about biochar, his role in founding North Creek Nurseries, his new found interest in permaculture, and Paw paws.


  • Plants: From Roots to Riches was a BBC radio program, and is now available as a podcast. It’s a good overview of the history of botanical studies, the people that made went exploring all over the globe and the plants they found, collected, studied and grew.  The host, Prof. Kathy Willis is the director of science at Kew Gardens, one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world and a key institution in the development of botany as a proper science.  She enlists her numerous colleagues at Kew and abroad to explain how empire, industry, and agriculture fueled the need for botanical expertise. The episodes are pretty short (about 14 min. each), so the series of 25 went pretty quickly for me.  It’s a very well produced, accessible, narrative of the past 300 years and the revolutions in scientific studies that have changed the ways we view and interact with plants.



  • In Our Time – Now, we’re getting away from strictly plant based podcasts, but this one has something for everyone.  It’s from the BBC, and the host Melvyn Bragg moderates a panel of experts on a given topic each week and they discuss the history of said topic.  It is often a work of art, a scientific theory or invention, or a social phenomenon.  This episode about Photosynthesis really helped me to visualize the inner workings of plant cells as they make their make their food and breathe.  This episode about the structure of the cell is also fascinating, as are any of the many episodes about astronomy, geology, physics and paleontology. Tons of episodes all chock full of people that have devoted their lives to studying a subject explaining it to a genial British man in fairly simple terms.  You’re bound to learn something new.

Those are all for the plant enthusiast, but others that I regularly enjoy and recommend are: This American Life,  Nerdist, WTF with Marc Maron, Talking Simpsons, You Must Remember This, Radiolab, Invisibilia, Longform, and Snap Judgement.

Happy listening, and if you know of any other good (native) plant-related podcasts recommend it in the comments!

Sweetshrub: 100 Million Years of Blooms

The flowers of Sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus) are in full bloom right now.   They are a deep maroon color that contrasts nicely with the bright, glossy green of the foliage.  Some plants have more fragrant blooms than others, but if you can find an aromatic one do yourself a favor and take in the smell.  Kind of like strawberries mixed with bananas and a little cinnamon or clove tossed in: there are not many fragrances like it.  The overripe fruits of Sweetshrub’s cousin, Paw paw (Asimina triloba) are the closest scent that comes to mind.  Sweetshrub flowers are unique in appearance as well with their spidery tepals wrapped around a central cluster of anthers. They look like they haven’t quite opened yet.   The color, structure and smell of these flowers differ from most of the flowers that are familiar to us today because they are the results of adaptive strategies first developed over 100 million years ago.

Fossils from Brazil that date to the Cretaceous period (115 million years ago) have shown us the form of an ancestor of Sweetshrub named Araripia.  The fossil “comprises flowers, buds, and leaves, and exhibits features that suggest that “among the Calycanthaceae, especially flowers of Calycanthus are most similar to the flower of Araripia”  The Earth was a much different place 115 MYA to say the least: Only two massive continents, Gondwana and Laurasia, existed and the climate was much warmer and humid.  Dinosaurs roamed the land and insects of all sizes occupied every niche in the dense tropical forests that covered the entire planet.  Plants and insects were just beginning to respond to one another’s adaptive strategies.  These responses were the first steps on a co-evolutionary path that would lead to very complex and specialized forms and life patterns on both sides of the aisle.  Sweetshrub is a living relic from a time before bees when plants were just “learning” that insects could be used to facilitate cross pollination if they are given a little incentive.

This cutaway picture of a Calycanthus bloom shows the minimal differentiation of flower parts as one passes from outer to inner bloom.  Instead of two separate parts, sepals and petals, there are tepals (a half-way-between-the-two structure more commonly found in monocots) surrounding and enclosing the anthers and ovary.  The pollen producing anthers are very similar in their shape and arrangement to the tepals and very simple in form.  The size is really the only variant in the form of the floral parts; There isn’t a lot of specialization.  There are no nectar bearing parts to appeal to bees and butterflies because this flower form evolved before they did.  Beetles were the most likely insects to transfer pollen between flowers as they ate it, so they are meant to appeal to beetles.

Attracting a beetle to a flower is not the same as attracting a bee or butterfly.  First, there are the visual cues.  Beetles, like moths, are attracted to bright white flowers, such as a Magnolia flower (also ancient and beetle pollinated), that reflects light well, especially at night.  Some beetles are also attracted to deep reddish-brown colors, as several other plants known to be pollinated by flies and carrion feeding beetles such as Pawpaw (Asimina spp.), Carrion Flowers (Stapelia spp.) and Pipevine (Aristilochia spp.) have adopted a similar color scheme;  Possibly to mimic wounded or rotting flesh.  Second, there are olfactory cues.  Many beetles evolved to feed upon the carcasses of other animals or their excrement.  An appealing odor to a beetle is not necessarily the sweet smells that we humans most often associate with flowers or fruits.  A spicy, earthy aroma that suggests some sort of decay is more likely to attract a bunch of beetles. Third, there is the form of the flower itself.  Very simple, no complicated pollen sacs or parts that mimic female insects like orchids; no separate disk and ray flowers like asters, just the tepals in a semi-enclosed arrangement around the pollen bearing anthers and ovary.  Beetles aren’t there for the sweet carbohydrate nectar, they just want the protein rich pollen.  In the process of eating, they get covered in pollen grains that will be transferred to the next flower they feast upon.  Mass appeal with vaguely appetizing aromas and easily accessible flowers were the beginnings of plant-pollinator relationships that grew more specific and specialized over the ensuing 115 million years to give us the biodiversity we see today.

Sweetshrub has been a popular cultivated shrub in the south since Europeans arrived, and continues to do well in the nursery trade to this day.  I don’t think that many people, even among those that plant it and enjoy it, are aware of its ancient lineage.


Post Script/Cultivation Note:

The seeds of Sweetshrub are large, easy to collect and fun to grow. They also demonstrate a unique and probably ancient strategy of having no energy reserves stored in the seed.  It’s just the seed leaves (cotelydons) wound tightly in a spiral inside the seed coat waiting to unfurl and capture solar energy.

The relatively huge leaves quickly make up for the lack of stored reserves and the true leaves and stem shoot up through the middle of them.

What’s not to love? Beautiful Hawthorns with Bountiful Berries

Crataegus-marshallii-DSC_0209Our native hawthorns are beautiful early bloomers, starting in late March and going through April and May. Hawthorns start blooming very soon after the early trees, when the plums and other fruit trees are putting on their show, providing much needed early bee and butterfly support with their offerings of pollen and nectar.

Dwarf Hawthorn, Crataegus uniflora

Dwarf Hawthorn, Crataegus uniflora

But the pollinator support doesn’t stop there. Hawthorns are among the top larval host plants in Doug Tallamy’s list of “Best Bets: What to Plant” to support butterflies and moths. They are number twelve out of the top twenty woody plants. The link to that list is here.

The height and cover provided by hawthorns for cup-nesting songbirds is pretty much perfect. Many songbirds nest between 5-15 feet off of the ground, and need a shrub that gives them good site with plenty of camouflage. Hawthorns are thorny, so are roses and some apple species. Does that mean you should avoid the Hawthorn in your shrub layer? No! Birds such as the Brown Thrasher will nest in thorny shrubs or greenbriar tangles, here’s a link to nest watch. Thorns would add a layer of protection from some egg and nestling predators.

Mockingbird nest in Parsley Hawthorn, Crataegus marshallii

Mockingbird nest in Parsley Hawthorn, Crataegus marshallii

The haws, or pomes, are also an important addition to your garden to support migratory birds like Cedar Waxwings. But if you’ve ever heard of Haws or Mayhaw jelly, people have been using the fruit of the hawthorn as well, from the cuisine of various Native American tribes through the traditional foods of the Deep South. One of our favorite blogs “Eat the Weeds” has an article on Hawthorns here .  Colonists used haws, both Marshallii and uniflora are species recorded as being used as food by colonists and Native Americans.

The Hawthorn is closely related to the rose and apple, the flowers of hawthorns reminiscent of plum or apple blossoms and the fruits often resembling rose hips.  The scarlet berries are so prolific on our Parsley Hawthorn that the winter resident birds can never finish the fruit during the winter, it often takes a flock of famished Cedar Waxwings to polish them off.  Flower quantity and berry set are greater if planted in the sun.


Fruit of the Dwarf Hawthorn, Crataegus uniflora, smells like an apple.

The Hawthorn species that we grow are Crataegus marshallii and Crataegus uniflora.  Both of these species are tough, preferring well drained sites.  They can easily handle full sun to dappled or open shade.  Right now Crataegus marshallii is blooming now in front of our location in Scottdale GA.  The flowers are gorgeous; marshallii has plentiful flower clusters that hold about a dozen inch wide blooms.

We now have Crataegus uniflora germinating; hoping it will be a good size in two years.  But this species will never get beyond shrub sized. The common name for this species is Dwarf Hawthorne; its height ranges from 3-6 feet tall. The Dwarf Hawthorne has flowers that are singular, about quarter-sized, and matt white.   The fruits are nickel sized pomes that smell like apple and have the color of a really ripe golden delicious apple with a pink blush when fully ripe.