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GROWING OLD NURSERY SELLS HEIRLOOM AND NATIVE PLANTS

     Recently my wife and I attended THE FLOWER FANTASY AT PINEOLA FARMS located near Fort ValleyThe flower show was sponsored by the Magnolia Garden Club.  The event was great and the most unusual and fascinating flower show I have ever attended.   If the Magnolia Garden Club stages the event next year, prior to the event, I will describe what makes the flower show  so different than any others that I have attended.  This is a flower show you don’t want to miss.

       One of the vendors selling plants at the event was Growing Old Nursery.  The relatively new nursery is located between LaGrange and Columbus.  While the owners grow and sell a wide variety of plants they specialize in heirloom flowers and vegetables, and native plants.

       My wife and I bought a number  of plants from them including native azaleas, butterfly weed, touch-me-nots and hollyhocks.  I have found it hard to find hollyhocks that produce single flowers.  Invariably when I locate hollyhock seeds or plants they are double-flowered varieties.  The ruby-throated hummingbird and other pollinators prefer feeding on hollyhocks that display single flowers.

       For more information regarding the availability of plants, contact Mary Ann Johnson  at (706) 366-6863 or growingoldplants@gmail.com.

      

 

 

NOT ALL WAX MYTLE PLANTS ARE CREATED EQUAL

       Wax myrtle (Morella cerifera) is a native tree/small shrub that produces berries eaten by more than 40 species of birds as well as a number of mammals.  Wax myrtle is also a host plant for the jewel-like red-banded hairstreak.  The plant also provides birds with nesting sites and escape cover.  Unfortunately, many people that plant wax myrtles in hopes the plants will annually bear a bounty of berries are left scratching their heads trying to figure out why their shrubs never produce any berries.

       The reason why they end up with barren wax myrtles is due to the fact that wax myrtles are either male or females. According to the Lady Bird Johnson Native Plant Center, often the wax myrtles grown by wholesale nurseries are cloned.  If you buy a small wax myrtle full of berries, there is a good chance it was cloned from female plants that were pollinated by male plants growing nearby.  Consequently, in future years, unless a male plant is growing in or near your yard, your shrubs will not produce any berries.

       With that in mind, if you want to ensure that wax myrtles planted in your yard will produce berries; explain to the folks where you buy your nursery plants that you want to purchase both female and male plants.  If they cannot guarantee that you are purchasing both male female plants, shop elsewhere. 

      You can begin your search for male and female wax myrtles by checking with nurseries that specialize in native plants. If they stock wax myrtles, they are undoubtedly aware of this situation and probably offer both male and female plants.  A good place to begin this search for a native plant nursery is to check the list of native plant nurseries listed in the Archive section of this blog.

       If you cannot find a source of male wax myrtles there, see if any of your friends and neighbors grow wax myrtles.  If they do, most likely they know the sexes of their wax myrtles.  Since these shrubs send out lots of suckers, I am sure they will let you dig a few of the suckers sprouting beneath a male plant.

       Good luck! 

CEDAR WAXWINGS EAT FLORAL TREATS

     The major portion (70%) of the cedar waxwing’s diet consists of fruits, berries and other fruit-related items such as sap. In fact, the bird’s name reflects its fondness for cedar berries. However, cedar waxwings also dine on buds, flowers and young leaves. In fact, cedar waxwings seem to eat blossoms most often during their spring migration back to their breeding grounds.  In fact, spring-blooming plants are more apt to be eaten by the birds that flowers that bloom later in the year.

     Some of the flowers most often eaten by blossom- eating birds such as the cedar waxwing include pear, apple, plum, crabapple, cherry, and red maple.

     You might be wondering why in the world cedar waxwings would even want to eat buds and blossoms.  The answer is simple – They are nutritious.  In fact, some experts claim that flowers have more food value than buds.

     Another reason is, by this time of the year, birds that dine on fruits and berries have an extremely hard time finding anything to eat.

     With that in mind, should you spot a flock of cedar waxwings eating flowers and buds in your yard this spring, I hope you won’t mind sacrificing some blossoms to the cedar waxwings whose beauty adds so much to the colorful spring pageant being played out in your yard.

IN SPRING, REDBUD TREES FEED MORE THAN POLLINATORS

       The redbud trees growing around my home are now in full bloom.   These native trees are pleasing to the eye and are currently feeding a surprising number of my backyard neighbors.

       One thing that is impossible to notice is that redbud blossoms attract an amazing number of bees and other pollinators.  In fact, on a warm late winter or early spring day my largest redbud seems to buzz.  The buzzing sound is made by the countless numbers of bees foraging among the dark pink blossoms that cover the tree’s branches.

       If the redbud blossoms do not fall before the year’s first ruby-throated hummingbirds arrive, I will have a chance of spotting a hummer or two visiting the trees flowers.  Although redbud blooms are not the greatest source of nectar for the birds, when it is one of the few nectar plants that are blooming at this time of the year, they will make feeding forays to the tree.

       Birds such as northern cardinals and cedar waxwings sometimes visit redbud trees in full bloom.  They are not there seeking nectar or pollen.  To the contrary, they actually eat the redbud’s buds and flowers.  Although these birds might seem to eat more than their share of these tasty morsels, there are more than enough blossoms to feed the birds and pollinators.

       Since the redbud’s blooms appear before its leaves, while I am admiring the tree’s floral show, from time to time I sometimes spot tufted titmice, Carolina chickadees and downy woodpeckers hunting for insects and their eggs hidden on the bark of the tree.  Once the leaves appear, it is far more difficult to see these birds foraging for food.

       My only regret is that the redbud’s floral show is way too short. When redbud blossoms litter the ground, I know I must wait 12 months to enjoy its next stunning floral show and the wide variety of animals drawn to it.

IT’S TIME TO PRUNE TRUMPET CREEPER VINES

      One of the keys to transforming a backyard into a hummingbird haven is providing hummingbirds with an abundance of food throughout the year.  One of the plants that is often used to meet this objective is a native vine named trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans).  This vine is so favorited by ruby-throated hummingbirds it is often called hummingbird vine.  However, like many hummingbird food plants, it requires some care.  In the case of the trumpet creeper, this Georgia native needs to be pruned annually; and now is the time to do so.

       Trumpet creeper does well on trellises, arbors, and fences.  However, since it grows rapidly it should never be planted near a building. To prevent this from happening, trumpet creeper vines need pruned annually.  Also, pruning back the vines will stimulate them to produce more nectar-laden flowers.

       As such this is one of the chores you need to accomplish before leaves begin to appear.  By doing so, you will be enhancing the beauty of your hummingbird haven and help ensure ruby-throated hummingbirds will have an abundance of nectar this year.

BRACKET FUNGI ARE ODD BACKYARD INHABITANTS

       Remarkably, our backyards are home to untold wild inhabitants.  I don’t think there is anybody that can identify all of them.  However, the fact is we do not know the correct name of them to appreciate their beauty and the role they play in wild communities.  One group of organisms most of us are largely unfamiliar with is known as the tree bracket (also called shelf) fungi. 

        As their name suggests, tree bracket fungi grow on trees (both dead and alive).  The shelf-like structures were see growing on the sides of trees are the fungi’s fruiting bodies. Each species of bracket fungi has its own distinctive appearance.

Photo taken South Monroe County, Forsyth, GA

 

       Kim Walton (this blog’s webmaster) submitted the attractive fungi depicted in the accompanying photo growing on the side of a tree near her home in Monroe County.

       Shelf fungi are more than just pleasing to the eye.  Throughout history, some species have been used as folk remedies.  In addition, these fungi provide cover for spiders, songbirds, insects, and a variety of other critters.

       If you know the name of this type of bracket fungi, I would appreciate it if you would share its identity with me.

BACKYARD SECRET–A CHEMICAL IN AMERICAN BEAUTYBERRY CAN HELP REPEL MOSQUITOES

       American beautyberry is a native shrub that is gaining popularity among Georgia backyard wildlife enthusiasts.  Sometimes called French mulberry, clusters of round magenta berries festoon the plant from late summer into winter.  The berries are not only beautiful, but also serve as food for hungry gray catbirds, northern mockingbirds, cardinals as well as other birds and mammals.

       Now it seems we have another reason to admire American beautyberry.  Researchers with the United States Department of Agriculture have discovered that the beautyberry’s leaves contain a chemical that repels mosquitoes.

American Beautyberries

       This remarkable finding is due to a conversation Charles Bryson, a botanist that works for the Southern Weed Science Program in Stoneville, had with researchers with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Products Utilization Unit at Oxford, Mississippi.  Bryson told the researchers that his grandfather, John Rives Crumpton, related to him that back in the day farmers in Northeast Mississippi were able to keep worrisome biting insects away from mules and horses by placing crushed beautyberry leaves beneath the leather harnesses of their animals.  This led folks to crumple beautyberry leaves and rub them on their own skin.

       This fascinating story led chemists to attempt to isolate the chemical that seemingly had the remarkable ability to repel pesky insects.  One of the chemicals they were able to isolate was callicarpenal.  When the efficaciousness of the chemical was tested, it was found to be just as effective in repelling mosquitoes as the popular repellent DEET.

       Indeed the American beautyberry is more than an attractive native food plant.

HOMEGROWN BUTTERFLY FEEDER

       Recently, a hard freeze brought an abrupt end to the growing season of many of our nectar plants.  The next morning when my wife and I walked outside and looked around the yard, it was not a pretty sight.  Mexican sunflower, cosmos and other plants were drooping and their flowers withered.  It was obvious that the butterflies that were still flying about our yard were in for some hard times. 

       Later in the morning when we noticed a cloudless sulphur was trying to nectar at a dead Mexican sunflower blossom, we decided try to come to the aid this and any other hardy survivor of the freeze.  Since we have not enjoyed great success attracting butterflies to commercial butterfly feeders, we decided to set out a couple of homegrown butterfly feeders.

        We immediately moved a pot containing several pineapple sage plants in full bloom to a spot near the dead Mexican sunflowers.  Talk about immediate gratification–within minutes a cloudless sulphur appeared and began nectaring on the pineapple sages’ long, scarlet blossoms.

       Encouraged by our success we later positioned a couple of containers containing scarlet sage to spots around the yard.  Since we have not experienced another frost since that time, we have enjoyed watching cloudless sulphurs and gulf fritillaries visiting our homegrown feeders every day.

       Our ability to take this action was due to the fact that we grow a number of nectar plants in large containers.  Once we heard of the impending, hard freeze we moved pots containing pineapple and scarlet sage either up against the side of the house or inside our sunroom.

       We realize that providing food for a handful of butterflies after a frost killed most of their food supply means little to the populations of gulf fritillaries and cloudless sulphurs.  However, it means a lot to handful of butterflies that are benefitting from our efforts.  In addition, it has made us feel good.

MISTLETOE IS FAR MORE THAN A SYMBOL OF CHRISTMAS

       With our preoccupation with attracting backyard wildlife with supplemental foods such as suet and seeds, it is easy to overlook the fact that those backyards that often attract the greatest variety of numbers of backyard wildlife are also home to a variety of native plants.  One of the most underappreciated plants that inhabit the yards of many of us is American mistletoe.

       Whenever the subject of the mistletoe arises, more often than not one thing comes to mind; most people regard the plant as one of the treasured symbols of Christmas.  Supposedly, if a couple passes through a door adorned with a sprig of mistletoe bearing berries, it is permissible for them to share a kiss.  At the end of the kiss, the couple is supposed to remove one of the berries.  However, it is out of place for a couple to steal a kiss beneath a berryless frond of mistletoe.

       Although this popular legend has been around for centuries, few realize that mistletoe is also an important food plant for many forms of wildlife ranging from insects to birds and mammals.  This very different side to the mistletoe should further endear the plant to everyone that shares an interest in wildlife.  Let me explain.

       This widespread parasitic plant is the host for the great purple hairstreak.  This beauty is the only Georgia butterfly that lays its eggs on the mistletoe. 

       Mistletoe also produces both pollen and nectar that feed countless insects.  Bees frequently avail themselves of the food offered by mistletoes.  Ants, native bees, honeybees, flies, also visit the plant’s tiny flowers.

       Mammals such as white-tailed deer, gray squirrels, and eastern chipmunks eat mistletoe.  Deer are particularly fond of the mistletoe’s protein-rich foliage.

       Many species of birds eat mistletoe’s white almost translucent berries.  Each berry contains two to three seeds that and enveloped in extremely sticky flesh.  Among the birds that gobble up mistletoe berries are cedar waxwings, eastern bluebirds, eastern meadowlarks, American robins, northern flickers, purple finches, blue jays, dark-eyed junco, white-breasted nuthatches, American goldfinches, and eastern towhees.

       Now that you know that mistletoe is a valued wildlife food plant, are you willing to say mistletoe is far more than a magical Christmas plant?  I am.

A PLACE THAT SELLS PARTRIDGE PEA PLANTS

        In a recent blog concerning partridge pea, I mentioned that it might be difficult to find partridge pea plants at a nursery this time of year.  Well, as it turns out, one of our fellow bloggers wrote that she had recently seen potted partridge pea plants at the Shady Oak Butterfly Farm located in the north central Florida town of Brooker.

       If you are looking for a source of this valuable native plant, you might find it worthwhile to check out this establishment.  The address for the facility is shadyoakbutterflyfarm.com.  Even if they have sold out the plant since the response was sent, I think you will find it worthwhile to visit their website.  The colorful site is full of information about their butterfly operation as well as plants of value to butterflies.  They do offer mail order services.