With fall just days away, red berries by produced by plants such as Carolina moonseed, dogwood, and nandina are now beginning catch the eyes of bluebirds and other backyard favorites. Although birds are attracted to these brightly colored berries, we should discourage them from consuming the berries of the nandina plant.
This might come as a surprise to many of you since nandina has been planted as an exotic ornamental in North America since the early 1800s. The plant’s evergreen foliage and red berries that persist throughout the winter make is a favorite among home gardeners. The fact that birds also consume the berries seemed to make it an ideal addition to any yard.
However, in 2009 scientists with the University Of Georgia School Of Veterinary Medicine, Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study made a startling discovery. It seems that when birds consume too many of the berries they succumb to hydrogen cyanide poisoning.
This news sent shock waves across the wildlife community. Immediately a plant once touted as a great wildlife food plant fell from grace and wildlife experts began recommending that homeowners remove the plants from their yards. In spite of the warnings, nandina is still widely found across the state. Just this past week, I spotted a nandina laden with berries growing in the yard of an avid backyard wildlife enthusiast.
If you still have nandina growing in your yard, I suggest that you at least clip off the plants’ berries and dispose of them in the trash. This will prevent your backyard bird neighbors from succumbing to hydrogen cyanide poison. Better yet, follow up by removing the plants before the next growing season.
One of our most beautiful and reviled plants is Chinese wisteria. Each spring this introduced woody vine produces large grape-like clusters of fragrant, violet-blue blossoms. In many places throughout the state, Chinese wisteria vines climb to the tops of the trees. When in bloom, these sinewy vines create cascades of flowers that can literally take your breath away.
When you gaze at the Chinese wisteria’s flora extravaganza, it is hard to believe that this plant has a dark side. The truth of the matter is that the vine that has become part of the tapestry of spring in Georgia is so invasive that the harm it causes overshadows the delicate beauty of its flowers.
In many parts of the Peach State has become a serious pest since it is extremely prolific, hardy, and able to grow in a wide range of soil types. Once it becomes established, it can literally smother the native plants growing nearby. As a result, landowners spend thousands of dollars each year trying to eradicate this showy invader.
If you enjoy wisteria, but do not want to encourage such an unrelenting noxious plant in your yard, this native vine is a plant you should consider incorporating in your home landscape. The plant I am referring to is American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens). This native woody vine is not invasive although it will climb on fences, small trees, and shrubs. From April through August, it produces clusters of purple blossoms. While they are not as large as those of the Chinese wisteria, American wisteria flowers are still beautiful.
If you are interested in butterflies, you will be pleased to know that it is the host plant for the zarucco duskywing, long-tailed, and silver-spotted skipper.
If you are looking for an attractive plant to add to your backyard garden, butter-and-eggs (Linaria vulgaris) is probably one you need to keep off your shopping list.
Butter-and-eggs has a number of interesting common names including toadflax, dragon bushes, calf’s snout and devil’s flax. I suspect that that the plant has so many names because is it ranges of such a large area.
Butter-and-eggs is native to much of Asia and Europe. In addition, it has been naturalized throughout both Canada and the United States.
I first became familiar with the plant when my wife pointed out a stunning wildflower she had found in a section of our yard that had recently been rescued from an invasion of wisteria, Japanese honeysuckle and greenbrier.
The plant was truly stunning. My wife thought that it was a snapdragon as its blooms looked very much like those that festoon cultivated snapdragons. As you can see from the accompanying picture. the blossoms are pale yellows and feature darker yellow or orange centers. Each bloom also displays a prominent spur. While our plant was short, typically toadflax displays its blooms on stalks that can reach three feet in height. The plant is primarily a summer bloomer.
After checking a couple of our wildflower books we learned that it was indeed a member of the snapdragon family. At first it seemed that toadflax was a plant that we wanted to nurture. However, further reading revealed that this beautiful plant is also highly invasive.
It seems that it spreads both by seeds and underground runners. As such, it can quickly crowd out native plants.
This is a shame as butter-and-eggs is both beautiful and a source of food for bumblebees, moths and other insects.
Since there are so many other less invasive plants that are a source of food for native pollinators and are attractive too, I know that we will be looking elsewhere for a new plant to add to our home landscape.
Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) blooms cascading down from tall trees are among our most beautiful spring flowers. However, this exotic import also has an ugly side.
Chinese wisteria was brought to North America in 1816. It quickly became so popular throughout the south it was planted alongside porches, gardens, walls and arbors.
However, it quickly became apparent that this aggressive vine has a dark side. It seems that it just will not stay put. As such, its seeds and long sinewy vines enabled Chinese wisteria to quickly spread across the countryside to such an extent that today many believe that it is native plant.
When wisteria spreads it smothers out native plant communities and will even girdle trees as it makes it way to the tops of the tallest trees.
As a result, homeowners, and land managers have long been trying to eradicate Chinese wisteria. Although it has been repelled and even eradicated in some locales, this is a war that will not end soon.
If you enjoy the sight and scent of wisteria blossoms in your yard don’t turn to Chinese or its equally invasive close relative Japanese wisteria (Wisteria floribunda); instead plant our native American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens). This vine is not invasive and will display a bounty of gorgeous blossoms.