Hibiscus in bloom

Hibiscus ‘Luna Pink Swirl’

Many of the perennials in our flower beds provide us beautiful groupings of color and beauty; from the sunny tulips in the early spring to the irises that maintain their showy blooms for weeks in June to the phlox and hydrangea with their masses of blooms. But there are few that can compare with the oversized outrageousness of the blooms of the Hibiscus laevis, also known as the halberd-leaf rosemallow.

Hibiscus Disco Belle

Hibiscus ‘Disco Belle’

Hibiscus are the genus of plants in the mallow family, Malvaceae. Other plants that are in this grouping may be familiar to you as ornamental species such as the China Rose (Hibiscus rose-sinensis), a tropical plant that is generally grown in containers in this zone, Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus), a plant that is grown as a large shrub or small tree, depending on the manner in which it is pruned, or Sterculia foetida, also known as the wild almond tree, whose name is derived from Sterculius, the Roman god of manure. The petioles of this plant exude a foul smell although the roasted seeds are edible. Makes you wonder who the first person was that thought “Yes, it stinks, but I’ll bet the seeds are yummy”.

Other more well-known edible members of the mallow family include okra (notice the similarity to the hibiscus flower buds), kola nut, and cacao. The baobabs have both fruit and leaves that are edible. A deep crimson herbal tea can be made from the sepals of the Hibiscus sabdariffa which contains vitamin c and minerals.

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Okra

Also in this family but in the genus Malva is the Common Mallow, Malva neglecta, whose edible seeds are high in protein and fat. It is sometimes considered an invasive weed although it does not appear on the Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group (CIPWG) current listing. I like it for its translucent delicate light pink to almost white flowers and for its foliage which has a crinkly edge.

Common mallow

Common Mallow

Great golden digger wasp on mallow

Great Golden Digger Wasp on mallow

But back to the hibiscus that grow along a sunny fence in our yard. 20 years ago I had 4 different varieties that each produced a different color flower/throat combination in shades from white to deep red. Unfortunately only two of those original plants remain to produce the 7-8” blooms that are so stunning. To say that they are the size of a dinner plate is barely an exaggeration.

Hibiscus Disco Belle

Each apical bloom unfurls its showy magnificence from a very interesting-looking bud (it almost looks like it has a decorative cage around it) for only a day and then they collapse. There are many buds in each grouping though so the flowers appear to be non-stop. I do my best to remove the spent blooms so that the plant will keep producing until September. If you don’t do this then it will put its energy into the development of large seed pods.

Buds close up

Bud close-up

I found a Grape colaspis, Colaspis brunnea, feeding on the foliage. Hibiscus is not listed as a usual host plant for this fellow but okra (which we learned is in the Mallow family) is an alternate host. I felt that it had done enough damage so I am sorry to say that it wasn’t around for very long after this video was shot.

 

Feeding damage

The larvae of the hibiscus sawfly (Atomacera decepta) are a bigger pest as they will generally be present in larger numbers and can defoliate an entire plant. Control methods should be limited to non-systemics and only applied when the flowers are not in bloom. Shown below are a fruit fly and a tumbling flower beetle that were also spotted on the hibiscus.

The foliage and some of the more tender stalks of the hibiscus will die back with a heavy frost. I usually prune back any of the older, woody stems in the early spring before any new growth appears. You may think that the plant did not survive the winter as it is sometimes late May before you will begin to see the new growth but it will quickly make up for lost time and will soon provide you with an abundance of beautiful ephemeral blooms!

Susan Pelton

 

Leafcutter bees, members of the genus Megachile, have an interesting life history.  You may have seen their plant damage and wondered who did it because they are seldom caught in the act.  Even though the nearly circular holes left on the edges of leaves are pretty good-sized at nearly a half inch across in some cases, it only takes the female bee a matter of seconds (one report says about 10) to chew it out.  Commonly used plants include rose, lilac, Virginia creeper, azalea, redbud, ash and others.  Leaves that aren’t too thick or waxy are preferred.

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Redbud leaf with edge pieces removed by a leafcutter bee. J. Allen, UConn

These solitary bees are not eating the leaf segments they remove, they are using them for building their nests. Nests are created in long narrow cavities such as hollow stems or crevices.  As solitary bees, the female does all the work of nest building, foraging for food and egg-laying.  While each queen will build and provision her own nest, some species will be found creating numerous nests near each other.  A female may even enter the wrong nest by mistake but she will exit and not work on it or lay an egg there.

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Leafcutter bee (Megachile sp.) Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org

Leafcutter bees vary somewhat in size but in general are similar in size to a honeybee. They are mostly black on the back or top and fuzzy golden to orange on the lower side of the abdomen.  Adults forage for both nectar and pollen and blend them in combination with saliva to form a ‘bee loaf’ for each individual cell.  Formation of the complete bee loaf requires many trips between the nest and the flowers.  Once the loaf is completed, she lays a single egg on it.  Each cell is lined with leaf pieces and after the egg is laid, the cell is sealed with chewed leaves.  A completed nest, depending on species and nest size, may have six to twelve cells/eggs.

Nest building and egg laying occur during early to mid summer. References differ on how the new generation of bees overwinter.  Some say they overwinter as larvae while others say they mature into adults and then remain dormant within the cells until the following spring.  It may vary by species but in any case there is one generation per year.  Adults emerge in the spring once it is suitably warm.  They mate over the course of a couple of weeks and the males soon die.  Females die once they complete egg laying later in the summer.

Leaf cutting bees are fantastic pollinators.   This is because of the way they forage and carry the pollen.  Unlike honeybees, who moisten the pollen for carrying on their hind legs, leafcutter bees carry the pollen dry.  When they are visiting a flower, they are active, resulting in quite a bit of pollen adhering to their hairy abdomens.  Because it’s carried dry, it is easily and abundantly dislodged and distributed to subsequent flowers visited.  Early in the twentieth century, pollination of alfalfa, an important livestock food plant, was decreased due to a lack of pollinator habitat as agriculture and land clearing expanded and alfalfa seed shortages resulted.  The alfalfa leafcutter bee was introduced to the U.S. and pretty much saved the alfalfa seed industry.  It is still relied upon for this purpose today.

Because of their effective role as pollinators, it’s beneficial to encourage leafcutter bees. Another positive characteristic is that they are not aggressive and, while they have stingers, they are only used when the bees feel very threatened or confined.  The sting is also minor compared to most.  Nesting sites or ‘houses’ can be purchased or constructed from common materials to attract and maintain leafcutter bee populations to your yard or area.  A very simple nest unit can be made by drilling numerous ¼” holes (or about the diameter of a pencil) 6” deep into a block of wood.  Face the side with the holes to receive early morning sun.  One source recommends bringing the nest into an unheated shelter such as a garage or shed once cell construction is complete to protect the overwintering leafcutter bees from pests and predators.

There are many native leafcutter bees and they have the potential to be major contributors to pollination in gardens and on small farms. They don’t forage far from the nest for provisions or for leaf pieces (about 300 ft.) and that is why they are less effective on large expanses of crops.

J. Allen

As a child I remember there being this wonderful shrub in my neighbor’s yard at the end of our street. They lived in an old farm house that even had a brick oven. At the end of each branch were beautiful, waxy, orange, trumpet-shaped flowers that always seemed to draw a band of hummingbirds. Years later I discovered this plant was aptly named trumpet vine.

Trumpet vine close up

Tubular flowers of trumpet vine. Photo by dmp.

The plant in my neighbor’s yard was pruned into a shrub-form and as far as I could tell with proper pruning, it would stay that way. So I had the great idea to plant one on either end of my white picket fence in front of my house about 10 years ago. I thought that the flowers would look nice with the light peach siding on the house plus attract all those delightful hummingbirds. So I ordered two Campsis radicans from a nursery catalog and planted them.

The plants I received were thin young vines so I tied them up to stakes and as they grew I pruned the lower branches and trained them into standards. These stems on trumpet vines got woody quite fast so it did not take long for the plants to become self-supportive. For 3 or 4 years, the plants were delightful. They do start out late each spring and there is noticeable winter kill. This is likely because they are native to the warmer southeastern United States and it is not really problematic as a good late spring pruning keeps them in check. I cut back all the dead stems when new growth appears usually in late April or May and use the long, thin branches as row markers as I plant seeds in the vegetable garden.

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Trumpet vine trained as standard. Photo by dmp.

Trumpet vines are vigorous and can easily reach 30 feet or more if left to their own devices. If grown as a vine it really needs a very strong support system as the woody vines are quite hefty. As far as soil goes, this plant is quite adaptive and I, personally, would not bother amending the soil to encourage even more rampant growth. The pinnately-compound foliage is attractive all summer and I had never noticed any pests until this year when my plant at the shady end of the fence was completely defoliated by gypsy moths. The one in the sun was not touched!

Trumpet vines are pollinated by ruby-throated hummingbirds and the seeds, if formed, look like bean pods. This plant also serves as a larval food for the Plebeian sphinx moth which primarily has a more southern range but has been found in Connecticut.

About 2 or 3 years ago, the trumpet vine in the sun started revealing its true aggressive nature and it became obvious why other common names include hellvine and Devil’s shoestring. The plant was sending up suckers everywhere within now, a 20 foot radius. These aren’t just wimpy little shoots that you can pull up like raspberries but woody, deep-rooted ones that you know no matter how many of them you cut back, they will just keep on coming. If most of them were not popping up in a regularly mowed lawn area, they could turn a patch of ground into a thicket in just a couple of years I bet. This might be useful in areas in need of erosion control but not a front yard.

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Trumpet vine sprouts all through the lawn area. Photo by dmp.

 

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Close up of woody-stemmed trumpet vine shoot.

So a dilemma. Should I just continue to tend my standard trumpet vine appreciating its lovely orange flowers, keep mowing and cutting the suckers down and add it to my plants that I regret planting list, or think about control options? They say hindsight is 20-20 and if I could go back in time, I think I would have found something better behaved.

Dawn P.

It has been a dry few weeks in the vegetable garden resulting in dusty soil and slow-growing for those who are unable or unwilling to water. I have been watering only the vegetables in raised beds, which have responded nicely. Tomatoes are four feet tall with plenty of flowers and varying developmental stages of fruit. Cherry tomatoes seem a little behind this year compared to the hybrid larger plants.  For better fruit set and pollination, simulate the actions of a buzzing bee inside the flower releasing pollen by shaking the entire plant a little each day. This really works, especially if your garden lacks other flowering plants which attract pollinators.  A new trick I read about and will employ this year is to hang red Christmas balls on the tomato plants before fruit begins to ripen to fool the squirrels, chipmunks and birds into thinking those red orbs are not for eating.  Last year I had quite a few V-shaped holes in ripe tomatoes from bird beaks. Christmas ornaments in July might look a little silly, but worth it to keep the tomatoes free of bites except for humans. Shiny pinwheels placed around the garden to catch the wind works well, too. I found one plum tomato with blossom end rot today. Blossom end rot is caused by a lack of calcium in the soil, or an interruption in the delivery of calcium to the developing fruit. An interruption can be caused by uneven watering. Perhaps I was not as regular providing equal amounts of water as I thought!

tomato blossom end rot 2016, 7-8-2016

tomato blossom end rot

squash, yellow 7-2016

Summer squash

Summer squash and zucchini are doing very nicely. I have seen the squash vine borer adult flying among the plants, so I know I will have wilting vines about the time we are sick of eating squash casserole, breads and grilled zucchini. I should have planted extra squash seed every two weeks in another bed and kept it covered with row covers to replace the older plants which eventually die from the larva tunneling out the stems. (See an earlier blog for info on squash vine borer.)

Another squash pest easier to hand-pick and present also on my squash and cucumbers is the squash beetle. I scout for adults, eggs laid on top or bottom of leaves, and for the larval stage. I just squish all stages as my go to control measure. Cucumbers are climbing the trellis of arched cattle fencing re-purposed from a friend cleaning his garage.

Snow peas are just about finishing up after a late start and long spring. Flat leaf parsley needs to be picked and dehydrated or made into pesto and frozen on a cookie sheet in separate spoonfuls before storing in a ziplock and kept in the freezer. Easy way to take one or two and use in cooking.

 

Kale is growing faster than we can eat it! I find I can stay ahead of the cross-striped caterpillar and cabbage worm by interrupting their life cycle by cutting back all of the leaves except the growing tip at one time. I soak the leaves in a sink full of cold water with half cup of salt added to it. The caterpillars float to the top or sink to the bottom and the kale is clean. Although eating one or two after the kale is cooked won’t hurt us.

Kales, 7-8-2016

Kale

Hardneck garlic is proving to produce some pretty large bulbs this year, if the diameter of the stalk is any indication. I also pulled one a little early to check on the development. It was big. I am thinking the long, mild fall and winter let the root development go on a long time creating a healthy crop. Just waiting for half of the leaves to dry and turn tan signaling they are ready to be dug and hung to dry in the garage. Outside of the garden the gypsy moth caterpillars are pupating and emerging as the adult moths. The males are brownish, flitting around in a zigzagging flight seeking out the white, flightless females for mating.

garlic,hardneck, 7-8-2016

Hardneck garlic

I would love to spend the summer in my garden, but alas, I must return to work during the week. My interest in insects perks up when my basement office in a very old building surprises with the gift of a house centipede. While others may startle and run for a rolled up newspaper or fly swatter, I grab the camera for a picture to share with you. Don’t worry, they are harmless.

House centepede, 7-2016

House centipede.

-Carol Quish

“In summer the empire of insects spreads.”Wild and Wonderful Insects of New England
― Adam Zagajewski

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Elderberry borer

 

Toward the end of spring and the beginning of summer, I find that the most interesting insects are to be found. While spring offers some really good forester caterpillars and their attractive moths, among other things, nature seems to me to save the best for last, it seems to me. From beetles to butterflies, moths and their caterpillars, from June on there are some fabulous finds out there.

I have to admit to being a caterpillar enthusiast, and am partial to the sphinx, dagger, slug and prominent caterpillars and then the butterfly cats as well. Last year the swallowtail butterflies were few and far between, but this year our three main species- black, spicebush and tiger- are clearly more numerous. If you know where to look, you can find them.

I like to turn over elm leaves and search for two really spectacular caterpillars. The first is the double-toothed prominent, whose projections along its back resemble those of a stegosaurus. Along with its striking coloration and patterns, this is a truly remarkable find for anyone who takes the time to look and see. The second one is the elm sphinx, sometimes called the four- horned sphinx. This caterpillar has both a brown and a green form, and has little ridges running along its back. It is a behemoth, as well, like many sphinx caterpillars- robust and heavy.

double tooth

Caterpillar of the Double-toothed prominent moth

 

Long-horned beetles are out and about. Impressive because of their long antennae, these members of the Cerambycidae family of beetles can be impressive both in color and size. The larvae are round-headed borers, and are often plant specific as in the case of the pine sawyer. One of my favorites (but not because I love the larvae) is the elderberry borer. A pest of elderberries, the beetle is a brilliant metallic blue with orange bands on the elytra. This impressive beetle was featured on a postage stamp once upon a time, probably promoted by someone who did not have any elderberries in their garden.

eyed click beetle  Ruby Fenton picnic table 6-15-14

Eyed click beetle- a beneficial click beetle

Tussock moth caterpillars are in a class by themselves. Some here in Connecticut are a sight to behold, with the tussocks of hairs on their backs, long pencils front and rear (sometimes) and long setae along the body. The white- marked tussock moth caterpillar is a favorite among insect enthusiasts, resembling Bozo the clown in a way with its red head and wild hair. Found on many plants, both woody and herbaceous, these guys can be pests if enough of them are on the same plant. Blueberries are a favorite, but they can appear on almost anything. The yellow- based tussock is especially interesting because the final instar has hairs that appear frosted. Some of the tussock moths have pretty markings, the hickory tussock moth and banded, for example, and many are attracted to lights.

white- marked tussock moth caterpillar  Pamm Cooper photo

White-marked tussock caterpillar

yellow- based tussock moth caterpillar Ii

Yellow-based tussock moth caterpillar

white furcula caterpillar Pamm Cooper photo 2016

Walking sticks and mantids can be found resting on vegetation during the summer. Right now, walking sticks are small- one inch to two inches, and they develop slowly. Mantids develop slowly as well, and are especially found on goldenrods as the season progresses, as insect life abounds on these plants.

milkweed beetle taking off copyright Pamm Cooper

Milkweed beetle

Other insects of note are the hoppers, of which the tree hoppers are especially interesting. The buffalo tree hopper is easy to identify- look at its head to see how it got its common name- and many tree hoppers have interesting projections on their pronotums. Assassin bugs can be found along with their insect prey on the milkweeds, which are just starting to bloom now. The common milkweeds abound with the color of butterflies and milkweed beetles, the activity of bees, and the scent of the flowers themselves.

Buffalo hopper

Aptly named buffalo tree hopper

Get out now and discover the fascinating world of insects. You may need only venture as far as your own backyard.

 

Pamm Cooper                   All photos copyright 2016 Pamm Cooper

 

 

Now is the time when a small pest that has the potential to do a large amount of damage will be hatching. I am speaking of the Squash Vine Borer, the larval stage of the clearwing moth Melittia cucurbitae, an insect so synonymous with the squash family that it has cucurbit in its name.

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The adult clearwing moth, unlike many other moth species, is diurnal and is therefore active during the day. With its orange abdomen and clear wings it is often is mistaken for a wasp. The adults are now emerging from the soil where they have over-wintered as pupae. Anecdotally it is said that the squash vine borer lays its eggs when the blue chicory is in bloom and a drive along any of our major interstates will confirm that it is indeed blooming now. (image by Chris Evans, University of Illinois, Bugwood.org)

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The eggs, which are very small, are laid singly at the base of the stalks near the soil. This will make it easier for the newly-hatched larvae to enter the stalk. Seven to ten days later the larvae, which are white with a brown head, will emerge from the reddish-brown eggs and within hours instinctively burrow into the stem to begin feeding.(image by Clemson University – USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series, Bugwood.org)

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At this point symptoms will begin to appear starting with a wilting of the plant that recovers in the evening but progressing to a plant that does not revive in the evening or after watering. There may also be small entry holes visible at the base of the stem and sawdust-looking frass (waste). The larvae feed inside the stem for a little over two weeks, reaching 1” in length, at which time they exit the plant, burrowing 1-6” into the soil where they will pupate until next spring. I plant my cucurbits in upside-down coco coir liners that have a 2″ diameter hole in the bottom (now the top).

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The small opening and the protective coco coir make it easier to cover the base of the plant with row cover cloth and harder for the larvae to get to the soil to pupate. In warmer climates there may be two generations per year so we are fortunate that Connecticut only experiences one generation each summer.

It is almost impossible to control the larvae once they have entered the stems. If Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) is applied to the plant tissue that is near the area where the larvae will hatch then they will feed on the residues prior to entering the stalk. Bt is a common soil-dwelling bacterial organism that forms crystals of insecticidal toxins called Cry proteins or crystal proteins. When consumed by the larvae, the Cry proteins undergo a series of chemical changes to the point that they paralyze the intestinal tract and the insect starves to death. Also good to know is that mammals have no toxic or allergic reactions to Bt, it only affects species in the orders Coleoptera, (beetles), Diptera (flies), Hymenoptera (ants, bees, sawflies, and wasps), Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies, and nematodes. Bt can also be injected into the stem where squash vine borer activity is suspected making it the only treatment that may work once the borer is inside. Additionally, normal exposure rates of Bt will not harm bees so that is good news for our pollinators.

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Butternut squash, cucumbers, and melons are not as susceptible to the squash vine borer as summer squash, pumpkins, and Hubbard squash, so plant the former varieties if you don’t want to deal with the borer. There are some practices that can be used if, like me, you can’t imagine a summer without freshly picked and grilled summer squash or a winter without home-canned ratatouille.

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The best protection is to prevent the clearwing moth from laying its eggs in the first place. Row covers placed during the egg-laying period starting in mid-June can be highly effective, just be sure to remove when the blossoms are ready for pollination (or leave them on and hand-pollinate). If possible, don’t plant in the same location as the prior year. If it’s not possible to rotate, at least turn over the soil at the end of the season to expose the pupae to the freezing temperatures of winter.

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For more information and control measures please check out our: Squash Vine Borer fact sheet.

Susan Pelton

 

 

Masses of white flowers are a common and beautiful sight along Connecticut’s roadways and in fields this time of year (late May through June). While there are (of course) many shrubs and trees bearing white flowers, one of the most predominant is multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora).   This rose is native to Japan, Korea and parts of China and has become invasive throughout eastern North America.  While it is invasive and is a real problem, we’re sort of stuck with it overall so go ahead and enjoy the gorgeous blooms.MultifloraRoseBush.JAllen  Photo: J. Allen, UConn

Multiflora rose was first introduced into the U.S. as early as 1866 for use as a rootstock for ornamental roses. In the 1930s, the U.S. Soil Conservation Service began to recommend it for erosion control and as a ‘living fence’ for livestock.  In the 1960s plants were even distributed to landowners for free to encourage planting as cover for wildlife including birds and rabbits and as a food source for songbirds.  Thanks to the songbirds, many seeds have been distributed to new sites because they do like to eat the nutritious rose hips (fruit).   The plant is now considered a noxious or invasive weed in many states including in Connecticut “…prohibited from importation, movement, sale, purchase, transplanting, cultivation and distribution under CT General Statutes §22a-381d”.

MultifloraRoseflowers.J Photo: J. Allen, UConn

It’s pretty easy to recognize multiflora rose when it’s in flower but also once the bloom period is over. Flowers are borne in clusters of mostly white but sometimes slightly pink flowers that are ½ to 1” across and have five petals.  Leaves, too, are distinctive.   They are alternate and compound, having 5-11 oval leaflets with toothed margins.  The base or petiole of the leaf is fringed.  Even the thorns are unique to this species.  They are large, curved backwards and have an oval base.  If a thorn is removed, it will leave a visible oval scar on the stem.  They’re pretty serious thorns and are reported to be capable of puncturing tires and leaving a painful gash in skin.  Overall, this plant can reach a height of about 15’ with long, arching stems.  It can also be a climber and at times you will see it spreading up against other vegetation or structures.  For some great info and photos of the thorns, fringed petals (stipules), and more check out this web page: http://na.fs.fed.us/spfo/invasiveplants/factsheets/pdf/multiflora-rose.pdf

MultifloraRosespreading.J.AllenMultiflora rose spreading through a natural area and up another tree in the background. Photo: J. Allen, UConn.

Reproduction is by seeds (prolific at 500,000 to a million seeds per large bush per year), suckers and by rooting at the end of stems that arch over and touch the ground. Widespread dispersal is via birds that eat the fruit and expel the seeds.  It’s reported that seeds which have passed through a bird’s digestive system germinate more readily.  Invasiveness is enhanced by not only the huge potential for seed production but also by the fact that the seeds can remain viable in the soil for up to 20 years.

Like other roses, the hips and other plant parts (leaves and flowers) are edible. The hips are high in Vitamin C, carotene and essential fatty acids.  It’s recommended to harvest after the first frost when berries are softened and sweet.  They can be eaten raw but do contain some hairs between the flesh and the seed that can cause irritation.   Leaves, flowers and hips can be used to make tea.  To make rose hip tea, mash the fruits and steep in hot water.  Leaves are best when young as the hairs on the undersides can become stiffer and less palatable later in the season.

Some of the broader impacts of this plant, like other invasives, include displacement/replacement of native plants and the resulting impacts on habitat and food supply for native wildlife. Pasture lands are adversely affected when these thorny plants encroach and reduce forage area for livestock.  Even forestry operations are affected because of the impenetrable, thorny thickets that form, reducing access and making work difficult.  Multiflora rose can thrive in a wide range of habitats from open sunny sites to woodland edges.  It can survive on a range of soil types but is not found in extremely dry or wet sites.

Control methods used include physical or manual removal including mowing, digging, and prescribed fire. Chemical herbicides can be used as either a cut stem (fall) or foliar application.  Biological controls are not yet available.  A virus that causes rose rosette disease limits growth in some areas but that also affects ornamental roses.  An insect, the European rose chalcid, is being studied for potential use.

By J. Allen

 

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