Native shrubs


There is a deciduous plant that grows as a small tree or shrub, is native not only to the Northeast but to most of the temperate Northern Hemisphere, is a popular ornamental species appreciated for its flowers and its fall color, and it produces a deep purple fruit that is both edible and delicious. George Washington had specimens of this plant on his Mount Vernon estate but even before that the Native Americans mixed the fruit with dried meats and fat to create pemmican, a food that is high in both energy and nutrition. This plant goes by many names, some of the more unusual ones are sarvis, saskatoon, and chuckley pear. Have you guessed what it is yet? Here are some of the more common monikers: wild plum, sugar plum, service tree, and shadblow. Have it yet? Let’s keep going. How about shadbush, serviceberry, or Juneberry? Now you know it, it’s Amelanchier.

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Serviceberries

In fact, there are so many bits of lore surrounding the etymology of all of the various names attributed to this plant. Is it called sarvis or serviceberry because the fruit is similar to the European Sorbus or because its bloom in the spring coincided with the time that Appalachian mountain roads became passable enough for traveling clergy to hold services? Or is it shadbush or shadblow because the flowers appear when the shad are running? Or Juneberry because, you guessed it, the fruit appeared in June? I think that my favorite name is saskatoon which is derived from the Cree name for Amelanchier, misâskwatômina, which also lends its name to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan where the plant is native.

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The delicate blooms of Amelanchier captured by Pamm Cooper

 

One of the most common species of this plant that is found in New England is the Amelanchier canadensis, known as the Eastern shadbush. It comes as no surprise that this plant has so many names as there are between 6 and 33 species (depending on the source) due to the wide variety of hybrids and the fact that it is also found in Asia (A. sinica or Chinese serviceberry) and Europe (where the species A. ovalis is known as Snowy mesiplus).

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Amelanchier canandensis, aka Shadblow in its tree form, courtesy of Pamm Cooper

Adding to the confusion is that fact that this plant can be a small tree or a multi-stemmed clumping shrub. This happens when the new growth is heavily browsed by deer and rabbits and the plant takes on a tree-like shape instead of a shrub similar to many of the its fellow members of the Rose family. In full sun or part shade it can reach 20’ tall and has an airy, open look to it that is compounded by the fact that the white flowers emerge before the leaves in the spring. If it is left to its own devices then the suckers that are produced from the base of the plant can grow into a thicket.

The fruit that succeeds the flowers starts as a yellow, single-stone, berry-like ½” pome that hang in terminal clusters of 1 to 4 fruit. As the season progresses and the fruits ripen their color shifts to red, purple, and finally the deep almost black purple that signifies maturity. We have received several calls from the Connecticut Poison Control Center requesting identification of the Serviceberry fruit as it appears to be as attractive to children as it does to birds and wildlife. It is always nice to be able to report that it is in fact edible and harmless. When fully ripe the taste is sweet and a bit tart at the same time. I had a bowl of them in the fridge and my husband ate one, expecting that it was a grape, and was a bit surprised.

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The plum-like interior of the fruit

Amelanchier is not only grown for its fruit but as a popular ornamental shrub/tree. Although they are not drought tolerant and require good drainage and air circulation they do provide interest throughout the year. The delicate 2” white or pink blossoms appear in the spring around the time that the shad are running in the Connecticut River according to folk lore, generally in early April. The leaves follow the blooms and then the berries which are ripening now. Soon the leaves will turn from green to yellow to a beautiful orange or red and when they fall the tree will still provide interest in the form of its unusual grey bark which shows fissures as it ages.

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The interesting bark of Amelanchier

In addition to the aforementioned deer and rabbits Lepidoptera caterpillars and other insects also feed on Amelanchier. Among these are spider mites, sawflies, flatheaded borers, bark beetles and aphids. I did not see any aphids when I took these images but I did see a specimen that was heavily populated with Asian lady beetles, a heavy predator of aphids, in three different stages of development.

Amelanchier are susceptible to several diseases including Fire blight, Leaf spot, and Gymnosporangium rust, which affects the leaves, twigs, and fruit with distinctive orange lesions and spores. The alternate hosts of Gymnosporangium are juniper and cedar.

Another common affliction of stone fruit that also infects Amelanchier berries is Brown rot. Brown rot, or Monilinia amelanchieris, fungi persist in blighted blossoms, twig cankers, or on mummified fruit. In the cold winters of Connecticut it only survives by overwintering on fallen infected fruits. Apothecia are produced on berries that overwintered on the ground. These small mushroom-like structures release ascospores which can infect blossoms and cankers but not the fruit. In more temperate areas when early spring temperatures combine with moisture the conidia, the asexual reproductive spores, will be produced on cankers or mummified fruit that remained on the tree. The conidia of Monilinia form linked chains on the blighted tissue of blossoms or twigs from which the mature spores will detach to be spread by air, splashing water, or insects.

When vectored by feeding insects these spores will entire fruit through the open wounds. In the moist, moderately temperatured climate of the developing fruit the conidia will germinate in 2-4 hours although it may remain latent in green fruit. Mycelium, the vegetative part of the fungus that absorbs nutrients, and conidia, the spores, will sprout from the infected fruit causing the fruit to decay and turn brown.

When vectored by feeding insects these spores will enter fruit through the open wounds. In the moist, moderately temperatured climate inside the developing fruit the conidia will germinate in 2-4 hours although it may remain latent in green fruit. Mycelium, the vegetative part of the fungus that absorbs nutrients, and conidia, the spores, will sprout from the infected fruit as small, circular brown spots that cause the fruit to decay and turn brown. Within these areas tufts of greyish spores appear as the fruit mummifies. The fruit may remain on the tree or drop to the ground until the spring when the cycle starts again. Cleaning up dropped fruit and debris will help to cut down on reinfection and it is suggested that Amelanchier be planted in areas where the messy dropped ripe fruit is not an issue.

Better uses for the ripened fruit include jams, pies, wines, ciders, or dried like cranberries for use in cereals, trail mix, and snack foods. Or you could whip up big batch of that Native American favorite, pemmican, if you happened to have a load of thin slices of bison meat that have been dried in the sun and pounded into a powder, mixed with melted fat and the dried serviceberries and formed into patties. Just in time to store it away to delight your family at Thanksgiving!

Susan Pelton

Venus looking glass II

Venus’ Looking glass

Spring being a tough act to follow, God created June.

Al Bernstein

 

This spring took forever, it seemed, to warm up, but it did, and just in time. Rains provided a boost to plants that suffered during the drought of last year, and dogwoods, crabapples, azaleas and rhododendrons had fabulous flowers this spring. But now June is here, and yesterday marked the first day of summer, and so we move on to the warmer weather and all it brings with it.

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Elderberry flower head

Native elderberries are in full bloom right now and many bushes are covered with the large, white flower clusters. Later on, the dark purple fruits will provide food for many birds and mammals. While edible for humans, and high in vitamin C, most people do not care for the raw fruits, but may make jam or pies from them. And mountain laurels are still in bloom now as well. Some cultivars, such as ‘Kaleidoscope and ‘ Firecracker’ have striking red flowers. Dewberry, a native berry that forms mats sometimes as it creeps along the ground, is in bloom now, and its flowers are important food sources for many native bees and butterflies. Soon to come into flower are the native Canada lily, Indian pipe and native wood lilies. Venus’ Looking- glass, Triodanis perfoliata, is a native purple wildflower that has its flowers along the stem at the leaf axils. Poke milkweed, Asclepias exaltata, should be blooming now. This native milkweed grows well in wooded, shady areas. Flower heads dangle down, unlike those of most milkweeds. The white flowers are attractive to several moth pollinators.

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Several insect pests are making their presence known. The infamous 4-lined plant bug, a lime green adult with 4 black lines down its back, leaves behind diagnostic feeding damage that later on will look like black angular leaf spots. They are cosmopolitan in plants they will eat. This year they have been reported feeding on many herbs, dandelions (who cares?!), sunflowers, sedum, and the list goes on. Also, both the Colorado and false potato beetles are mating as we speak, and they seem to be heading for a banner year, population –wise. So crush the eggs as you may find them on any of your nightshade family plants like tomatoes and peppers. Be careful not to crush any lady beetle eggs, though, as the larva will feed on those of the potato beetles.

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mountain laurel cultivar

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Colorado Potato Beetle laying eggs

On a walk along a power line yesterday, I was delighted to see two visitors from the south- common buckeye butterflies. I have not seen these occasional visitors since Hurricane Sandy, so this a good butterfly to keep on the look-out for. Red- spotted purple, viceroys and American lady butterflies should be in the process of laying eggs now, if they haven’t already. I found several tiny spicebush swallowtail caterpillars also this week. Check out your dill, fennel or parsley, because the black swallowtail butterfly may have laid an egg or two on them, and the caterpillars may have hatched out.

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A visiting common buckeye butterfly

Swamp milkweed leaf beetles are easy to spot with their red and black elytra. Not pests, these chunky beetles are just a colorful splash on a green background. Pine sawyers, longhorn beetles commonly mistaken for the invasive Asian long-horned beetle, are active now. They will often visit newly stained decks until the stain dries out. Dogwood calligrapha beetles, striking in their spiffy black markings on a white background, are out and about on native dogwoods now.

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dogwood calligrapha beetle

There are many birds that are now fluttering around trying to keep up with newly fledged young.  Catbirds, robins, red-tailed hawks, Carolina and house wrens, Bob-o-links and some sparrows have a clutch early and some species, like the ubiquitous robins have a second brood. Fledglings are often very loud as they beg for food, and get louder still as mothers withhold food briefly, to teach them how to fend for themselves.

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Chipping sparrow nest

we recently had a visitor to our office. A green bullfrog somehow landed in our window well and could not escape. So we managed to catch it and Joan Allen walked it to a nearby pond. Another bit of excitement at work.

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froggy in the window

As you venture out into the landscape, I hope curiosity will get the best of you, causing you to turn over leaves looking for insects, watching birds as you see and hear them, and bending over to see what is lurking on the ground by your feet. In such a way we become more interactive with the environment and thus, less frightened or at least dismayed by new discoveries. Look stuff up when you find it. Curiosity did not kill the cat, nor will it do likewise to people. Nor has asking questions ever done any harm, at least as far as I know…

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Pamm Cooper

 

 

 

“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks” John Muir

Air Line trail Raymond Brook marsh area Pamm Cooper photo

Raymond Brook Marsh on the Air Line Trail

In the last three weeks I have visited parts of the Connecticut Air Line Trail and because of what can be found there, I want to share what my friends and I have seen during April and May of this year. Since timing is everything, some of what we enjoyed has moved on or faded, but maybe next year some of you may experience the same excitement of discovery and pleasures of observing flora and fauna in their natural environs.

First of all, this trail was established along an old rail bed that went from Boston to New York and was constructed in the 1870’s. Long gone now, this trail system goes from Thompson to East Hampton and is an easy walk or ride of hikers and bikers. And while all seasons can provide their own versions of landscape interest, I prefer spring and summer.

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Red-winged blackbird male staking his territory

This spring was especially interesting because of the cold weather. Many migrating birds were found all at the same time- both those passing through and those returning to breed. On one Saturday morning in early May, along a marsh in the Colchester area, birds were abounding in both color and song. We heard and saw the following in just a hundred yard stretch of the trail: Orchard and Baltimore orioles, yellow warblers, warbling and red-eyed vireos, kingbirds, red-winged blackbirds, song and marsh sparrows, common yellowthroats, black- throated green, black and white,Northern parula and yellow-rumped warblers, redstarts, veerys, wood thrushes, red tailed hawks and more. Within a few days, most of the warblers had moved on to northern breeding regions, with the yellow warblers, common yellowthroats, American redstarts and some black-throated green warblers staying on to raise their young here.

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Male Yellow Warbler singing in the morning

 

Blueberries abound along the marshy areas of the trail, so of course you would find catbirds and other fruit- loving birds in those spots. This year seems to be a good one for blueberry. Much like last year, the bushes are loaded with flowers and the bees pollinating them, so a bumper crop may follow.

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Blueberry flowers

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Limber honeysuckle- a native vine

Along the trail, keep your eyes open for interesting plants, especially along stream and marsh edges. This trail abounds with black chokeberry, limber honeysuckle, pink lady slippers, red and nodding trillium, wild sarsaparilla, tall meadow rue, native geraniums and native azaleas- the Pinxter flower azaleas. There are also the invasive autumn olives and Japanese honeysuckles, but these are sources of pollen and nectar for native pollinators, butterflies and hummingbirds. A hummingbird spent a lot of time visiting these two plant species, and was in the oak woods finding lots of insects and spiders as well. There is a stretch where the native geraniums- Geranium maculatum grow like a hedgerow along a ditch, and are visited by many bees and early- flying butterflies. You need to go off trail and into the woods to find, as we did, the elusive nodding trillium, which blooms later than the purple species. This trillium is white, and the flower dangles down below large leaves so that it can be easily missed, so it was a nice surprise to find it.

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Nodding Trillium

Raymond Brook Marsh is one of the most extensive inland wetlands complexes in eastern Connecticut. In the evening, just before dusk, beavers are busy getting started for a night of foraging here. You can see them on both sides of the trail, and sometimes they may surprise you with a slap of their tail if they are alarmed. They often climb out of the water on one side of the trail and slide down into the other side, often using the same spots that look like mud water slides. They will swim along and occasionally climb up a on a bank to nibble on various shrubs, like blueberry, that grow along the water.

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Beaver taking a break after eating a small branch

There are also turtles that can frequently be seen crossing over the trail from one side of the marsh to the other. Besides the ubiquitous painted and snapping turtles, you may also occasionally see a stinkpot (musk) turtle or a spotted turtle as they crawl across the trail. The Cranberry Bog portion of the trail and the Rapallo Viaduct in East Hampton offer a resting spot beside a pond and a spectacular view from above, respectively.

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Musk turtle carapace

Musk turtle plastron

Musk turtle plastron

 

There are many other parts of the trail that are worth the walk, so bring both a camera and binoculars. Although spring is my favorite time to walk this trail, summer and fall are equally impressive. But I do miss all those spring birds…

 

Pamm Cooper           all photos copyright 2016 Pamm Cooper

Last week’s blog entry by Dawn Pettinelli was devoted to National Pollinators Week, stressing the importance of pollinators and their ecosystems. Between the vegetable garden, the flower beds, and the hanging baskets there is no lack of bright, beautiful flowers in our yard that have bees, butterflies, and other insects flying among them.

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I recently walked past a male Winterberry, Ilex verticillata, in my yard. As it doesn’t have very showy flowers or unusual foliage it has been relegated to an inconspicuous location on the side of the house where it is still in proximity of the female winterberry. However, as I strolled past it en route to the window boxes at the front of the house, something caught my attention.

The small white flower petals were dropping in such large numbers that it looked like snow falling to the ground. Looking at the bush I saw that there was a flurry of activity going on among the leaves and  blossoms. The number of bees and other insects visiting the tiny flowers was awesome.

Bumblebee on the Male WinterberryHoneybee on the Male Winterberry

The drupes of the female Winterberry are an important food source for birds and can persist on the branches long into winter. It is a deciduous plant and therefore it is even more striking to see the bright red berries against a fresh snowfall.

Female Winterberry Drupes

I then started to look at some of the other plants in our yard that had been selected more for their utility or  foliage than for their blossoms. There are three different varieties of Heuchera that I chose for their foliage which ranges from lime yellow to beautiful sunset colors to dark, almost purple leaves. I almost forget that they will produce the delicate stalks and tiny bell-shaped flowers that give it its common name of Coral bells. The main axis of Heuchera have an indeterminate growth that is known as thyrse. The native Americans used some species of Heuchera medicinally as an anti-inflammatory or a pain killer.

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The dwarf Yaupon Holly, Ilex vomitoria, is also in bloom right now with the most delicate white flowers. The 4-petaled, ¼”  tiny flowers have an almost extra-terrestrial look to them. This plant will also produce small red drupes that will be eaten and dispersed by the birds. Raccoon and skunks will also consume the berries and deer will eat the foliage and twigs. The Native Americans brewed a tea from the leaves of this plant which the Europeans mistakenly believed could cause vomiting thereby erroneously giving it its Latin name.

Yaupon Holly Flower

Joe-pye weed, Eupatorium purpureum, has great striking deep reddish-purple stems that lead to red-veined leaves but I love when its tiny flowers make their appearance late in the season. A Native American healer whose name was Jopi used these plants to treat ailments and cure fevers and they became known as Joe-Pye Weed.

Joe-Pye Weed

And one last example of a native shrub that has flowers that are often overlooked is the American willow, Salix discolor, more commonly known as the pusssy willow. We, like so many others, cut stems loaded with catkins to bring indoors in the early spring. Our plant is a male and the small furry catkins develop into fluffy yellow bunches of minute flowers. As with so many other plants that are indigenous to New England the pussy willow was also used by the native Americans as a painkiller

Pussy Willow Catkins         Male Pussy Willow Flowers


There are so many native shrubs that bring diversity to our environments whether by adding beautiful colors to our landscapes in all of the seasons or by providing the pollen and nectar that is so necessary to the bees and other pollinators. Visit the Alternatives for Invasive Ornamental Plant Species site from the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station and the Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group for a list of some great native plants.

Susan Pelton

(all images by Susan Pelton)