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.  


Saskatoons! The Serviceberry

Call it a Juneberry, Serviceberry, Shadbush, Sarvisberry, or Saskatoon; the  Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp) is a native tree that occurs throughout North America. Roughly 14 different species species range from the East to West coasts, and from the northern tip of Alaska down across Canada into the southern reach of Texas.

Currently, Serviceberry is a very popular blog topic, for a lot of good reasons. A member of the rose family, it’s smothered in beautiful white flowers in the spring. Naturally a small tree, with large berries that are dark blue to purple when ripe, it’s perfect for an edible landscape in either sun or part shade. As a tasty and nutritious fruit packed with anthocyanins and vitamins, it’s got all the right healthy talking points. Beyond all the recent chatter found online, this small fruit tree has a long, deep history with both the early people of North America and the Western explorers and Colonists.

As I was rooting around in the Congressional Archive and the internet for cultural history on the uses of Serviceberry, references to pemikan (also spelled pemmican) kept popping up. Containing 50% dried, pulverized meat, 20% soft tallow, 20% hard tallow, pemikan often had 10% dried berries added into the mix, if they were available. The berry I found mentioned most frequently in historical pemikan recipes was the Serviceberry.

One of the reasons most often cited for adding berries to pemikan was as a flavoring. Consider a cold dark winter, with not much fresh food available, dietary protein and fat needs would be taken care of by the meat and tallow, but Vitamins A, B complex, and C, bioflavinoids, anthocyanins and fiber would be more plentiful in fruits and veggies. In addition, the Serviceberry fruit contains protein as well, so it’s not surprising that this berry was an important food. Bountiful Serviceberry harvests would be either dried and stored as loose berries, or mashed into flat cakes and stored for lean times.

For the First Peoples of the North American Plains, storing enough pemikan and dried Serviceberry, along with other dried berries and roots, could be a matter of life and death in a land where winters were long and winter food was scarce. In warmer seasons, animals such as buffalo and elk were more likely to be in the open prairies and meadows eating tender grasses and flowering herbs, making clearer targets for hunters. During the winter, with animals sheltering in woody thickets, hunting was more difficult. Pemikan was a way to preserve meat for months, or even years, after a season of successful hunts. If a tribe’s cache of pemikan ran out, they survived on their winter stores of dried fruits and roots.

In summer months, when Serviceberries ripened in June, both Colonists and First Peoples ate them fresh off of the tree. Colonists had plenty of their own Western style summer recipes for serviceberries, including preserves, tarts and pies. If we wander back into the culinary delights of the 21st Century, the internet is full of Serviceberry recipes in pies, jellies, jams, compotes, scones, galettes, and beer.

If all that berry history and berry goodness doesn’t tempt you into planting your very own Saskatoon/Serviceberry in your native garden, perhaps a butterfly-in-your-habitat-garden reason will: Serviceberry is a larval host plant for the Red-spotted Purple Butterfly or White Admiral Butterfly, Limenitis arthemis.  Limenitis arthemis comes in two color forms: The White Admiral of the northern USA through Canada, and the Red Spotted Purple, which is the color form of this butterfly in the southern USA. The Red Spotted Purple color form mimics the bad tasting Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly (Battus philenor) to fend off hungry birds.

The Red Spotted Purple frequently uses many trees in the southern United States from the

By Mike [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

rose family such as Amelanchier spp, Crataegus spp, Malus spp, Prunus spp, as well as several other common native trees as larval host species. Adults tend to inhabit deciduous or mixed woodlands, close to the larval host trees. The female lays eggs at the tip of larval host plant’s leaves. Two broods of caterpillars will span the summer from April through October; the second or possibly a third brood will overwinter in a hibernaculum to emerge the next spring.

Red Spotted Purple adults feed/nectar on small white flowers, sap flows, and rotting fruit, even dung. It should be easy to host the adults in a native perennial garden, once a larval host tree or two is in place in the garden.  We have several Serviceberry Trees planted at Beech Hollow, but after writing this post, I think it’s time I planted a couple in my yard…

More on the Red Spotted Purple or White Admiral Butterfly here.

More on wild edibles here, and here

More on habitat gardening here.


Native Fruit Trees: The Paw Paw Post

Have you ever seen a Zebra Swallowtail? If you have, you weren’t just lucky, there was a Paw Paw involved, and it was somewhere nearby. This beautiful butterfly exclusively lays its eggs on Paw Paw species. “Larval host species” is the official phrase that describes the special relationship between a butterfly it’s host plant(s).

When Mike, Jeff, and I first started hiking the forests at Beech Hollow, we would catch occasional glimpses of the Zebra Swallowtail. That’s because there are Paw Paws in our woods. There are Dwarf and Common Paw Paws in undisturbed woodlands throughout Atlanta, in Decatur, Stone Mountain Park, Mount Arabia, Panola Mountain, and Athens. The Common Paw Paw is scattered throughout North Georgia and the Georgia Piedmont. The Dwarf Paw Paw has a more southerly range, hugging the Coastal Plains and with scattered distribution in the Piedmont. Look for mesic ravines in mature, undisturbed forests, and you may find one of two species of Paw Paw.

The flower of Asimina triloba, or Common Paw Paw.

Now that we have planted Paw Paws on the valley ridge near the nursery, we see more of these butterflies, in our flower beds and nursery, sipping nectar.

The Common Paw Paw is the northernmost species of this mostly tropical family; in Georgia it occurs roughly from the Piedmont northward into the North Eastern United States and Nova Scotia. Often a small tree that can reach 40 feet in height, this species of Paw Paw can also occur as a large multi-trunked shrub. Maroon flowers, one inch across, with six leathery petals,  appear in late spring, nestled under long, dark green, shield shaped leaves. The lumpy yellow-green fruit ripens in late summer or early fall, and is called either

A green pawpaw on the Common Paw Paw tree, Asimina triloba.

the Custard Apple or Paw Paw. At about four to six inches long by two to three inches wide, this is the largest native fruit in North America. Paw Paws tend to be rhizomatous, but they spread slowly. If left to their own devices, one Paw Paw can make a small patch, but it will take two individual plants of the same species to make fruit.

The Dwarf or Small Flower Paw Paw is shorter than the Common Pawpaw, topping out at 6-8 feet in height.   It’s fruit is generally two and a half to three inches in length, smaller than the Common Paw Paw, but just as edible.

One of the delightful things about the Paw Paw species in our area is that they make fruit in the shade. They want shade. You can have a shady back yard, and fruit, as long as you wake up before the birds and the squirrels. Paw Paws make great understory shrubs and an excellent habitat species, providing both cover and food for birds and other wildlife. Plus, your garden can be graced by that glorious beauty, the Zebra Swallowtail. What more can you ask for?


Finally, Fall Is Here!

The Southern heat is about to leave us for some of our favorite weather here at Beech Hollow Wildflower Farm.  Despite all the excitement and energy folks put into planting in the Spring, Fall can be the best time to plant your favorite perennial wildflowers, trees and shrubs.  Here in the south, in October and even into November, the soil is still plenty warm for planting while the air is comfortably cool enough to make plants happy. Our winters are mild enough to give the plants a great time to settle into their new spots without getting scorched by the summer sun and are then well established to produce new growth once Spring and Summer come.  Come visit us at our Fall plant sales, grab some native perennials, let those roots set in over the cooler months and then just wait for those blooms to greet you in the spring!

Want some immediate color for Fall?  Don’t think that the leaves turning brown and falling means that you’re headed into dreary colorless colder months.  There are plenty of wildflowers at Beech Hollow to bring a little colorful pop of joy to each season. Some beautiful blooms will certainly warm you up when the air is cool.  It’s an excellent practice to plan successive bloom times throughout the year in the garden. The best thing about staggering bloom times is that our friendly pollinators appreciate it too!

If you are looking for a particular plant, let us know by sending us a Facebook message or an email at info@beechhollowfarms.com. Let us know which plant and which sale you plan on attending and we will make sure we have it there for you!


Freedom Park Pollinator Garden

by Jeff Killingsworth

Carol Vanderschaaf, at the 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 Catharine Kuchar of the Audubon Society.  Together, they initially planted a small selection of native plants and shrubs.  The site is atop a small hill between a retaining wall and the PATH trail that runs through the park.  Three large White Oaks in an east/west line, a north facing slope, a well mowed southern boundary, and several old driveway excavations make for a lot of niches with different conditions.  In the following 13 years, the garden has expanded 3 times, and now contains over 40 different species of native grasses, herbs and shrubs, 2 bluebird nesting boxes and a bird bath.  Many volunteers from the neighborhood, students from nearby Mary Lin Elementary, and other organizations  have helped to install plants, remove invasives, control erosion, spread mulch and generally maintain the garden for the benefit of pollinators, birds, and other wildlife (including the human kind).

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

Care of the garden was passed from Carol to the staff at Beech Hollow Farm in 2015, and we are still working with any volunteers that care to help.  Last fall we had had Cub Scout Troop 586 out to help pull invasive vines, and we are now coordinating with members of the Freedom Park Conservancy to hold regular volunteer days.  The main issue facing the long term success of the garden is non-native, invasive plants out-competing the native plantings that nourish the birds, butterflies and bees.  Seeds from the Bradford Pear trees that line the nearby golf course are continually deposited in the garden and sprout up

Ilex verticillata, Winterberry, provides excellent forage for songbirds.

thorny little trees with leaves that no native caterpillars will eat.  Porcelain berry vines climb over the native shrubs and rob them of sunlight, and the only bug that seems to eat them are Japanese beetles, which we don’t want to encourage with more free food.  In lieu of natural insect controls, repeated pulling and cutting of these and other invasives keeps them in check and allows the natives a fair chance at sunlight and nutrients as they sacrifice leaves to hungry caterpillars that then feed (baby) birds or grow up to be pollinators.

Butterflyweed in the garden, a milkweed that supports Monarch Butterflies

 Volunteers and caring people are the reason that the garden exists and continues to thrive at the corner of North Ave and Candler Park Drive.   Check it out if you should happen to be in the neighborhood.   It’s not obvious from the street, but up close you’re almost always bound to see something blooming, hear birds calling in the trees overhead or frolicking in the birdbath, and see a few butterflies and bees sipping nectar in the shade.  If you are interested in volunteering on a Sunday morning to help the garden grow, you can check our calendar or email pandra@beechhollowfarms.com for information about the next volunteer day.

Wood Poppy, an early spring ephemeral at the garden


Spiders in the Garden

Editor’s Note: While this was posted by Jeff, it was written by Clair, the newest member of the BHF team.  She has been working hard to improve our propagation beds and in the process was inspired to write this appreciation of Arachnids. Enjoy!

Green Lynx Spider (Peucetia viridans) with a captured wasp

If you have been outside at all lately, whether walking through the woods, spending time in your garden, or even just sitting on the porch, chances are you’ve come in contact with a spider, or at least its web.  Most spiders have gotten a bad rap over the years as something to fear. Movies, Halloween decorations, pest control advertising, and the spiders’ skittish behavior play into these fears. While most spiders are venomous, very few have the jaw-power or enough venom to do any real harm to a human.  The brown recluse and the black widow are exceptions, but chances are slim you will come across these in your garden (Even if they did manage to bite you the chances of it being fatal are basically zero). Remember, you are much larger than a spider and they are more interested in getting away from you than biting you.

You may be thinking, ‘well, even if the spider won’t harm me, they eat everything, including the pollinators, so why have them around?’  True, spiders are not picky eaters and will eat the “good bugs” along with the “bad.” Spiders may be the most beneficial predator in your garden and play a huge role in controlling pests.  They are not selective in the insects they eat, so it is guaranteed that they will occasionally snag a bee or butterfly in their web, but the few beneficials they do kill is no match for the natural pest control they provide (free of charge, I might add!).    Spiders will feast on aphids, armyworms, leafhoppers, flea-hoppers, leafminers and spider mites. They attack the spruce budworm, pine sawfly, sorghum midge and tobacco budworm. They especially like caterpillars, thrips, plant bugs, cucumber beetles, scarabs and flies. Larger spiders eat larger prey, so some will even eat wasps, cicadas, and grasshoppers.  If you’re really lucky, you may even get to see a spider and a praying mantis battle it out.

There are two types of spiders that you are likely to come across in your garden: web spinners, or orb weavers, and hunters.  Garden spiders and crab spiders are very common web spinners in Georgia. They spin their webs between plant stalks, tree branches, or even from tree branch to ground.  Spiders usually hang out in the middle of their web and wait for an unsuspecting insect to fly into the nearly invisible trap. Garden spiders are often large, like the yellow and black orb weaver or the green garden spider, so hopefully you will catch a glimpse of them before accidentally walking straight through their web.  However, they sometimes hide in a protected corner and wait for their prey from a safe spot. Crab spiders tend to be small and crouch in the center of the web with their eight legs pulled under their armored shell, making them harder to detect as you approach their web.    

Black and Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia) on its nearly invisible web.

Wolf spiders are a common hunting spider and do not spin traditional webs.  They are most likely to be found on the ground, nesting in mulch, ground covers and old wood piles.  If you have tall grass in or near your garden you may be lucky enough to attract a funnel spider. The aptly named funnel spider creates a dense funnel with their silk and waits safely in the back for prey to wander onto the outer funnel before they attack.  

Female spiders tend to lay eggs in the fall.  They may hatch quickly or overwinter in an egg sack before emerging in the spring.  Wolf spiders will attach the egg sack to their body and carry it with them if they feel they are in danger and need to move.  When the baby spiders emerge from the egg sack they will “balloon” by shooting a silky thread from their web spinner into the air. When it attaches to a sturdy object (leaf, branch, twig, building, etc.) they will ascend the thread and find a good place to start their first web (anyone remember “Charlotte’s Web?”).

Rabid Wolf Spider (Lycosidae rabidosa) female with egg sack attached

  To encourage spiders in your garden plant a variety of plants with varying heights, preferably plants native to Georgia. Taller plants provide a structure for orb weavers to attach their webs, and low growing ground covers create niches in which the hunters can hide.  Mulch provides a good home and helps retain moisture for wolf spiders since they do not have webs to catch the morning dew. Leave small patches of bare ground here and there for open hunting ground for the wolf spiders. Woody plants and bunch grasses make great homes for funnel spiders.  All spiders play a valuable role in your gardens’ ecosystem and should not be eradicated.  Do not feel bad if you accidentally destroy a spider’s web. They will quickly move on and begin building a new one.  Predators like spiders are a sign of a healthy ecosystem, and acknowledging the pest control services they provide is a great way to start to appreciate them as garden collaborators rather than something to be feared.