Perennials


There are many historic garden sites in Connecticut which can be seen on the annual Connecticut Historic Gardens Day on Sunday, June 23rd, 2019 from 12:00 noon to 4:00 p.m. From the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme to the Roseland Cottage in Woodstock there is one near you. Of the several that are located in Hartford County, one of particular note is the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center historic garden, home to the late author in the last 23 years of her life, located at Nook Farm on Forest Street in Hartford.

Harriet Beecher was born in 1811 in Litchfield, CT, the daughter of a prominent Congregational minister, the Reverend Lyman Beecher. Harriet married Calvin Ellis Stowe, an ardent anti-slavery proponent, in 1836 in Cincinnati, Ohio. While in Ohio, Harriet and her husband supported the Underground Railroad, actually housing several fugitive slaves temporarily in their home. Cincinnati is located on the northern side of the Ohio River, just opposite the then-slave state of Kentucky, making it a popular stop on the Underground Railroad. These circumstances led to Harriet writing the novel for which she is the most remembered, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, published in 1852, although she wrote more than 10 other novels, a book of poetry, and many works of non-fiction.

Frontispiece engraving of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin (Boston John P. Jewett, 1853).Frontispiece engraving of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Boston John P. Jewett, 1853).

Do you remember that Uncle Tom was a man who kept a good garden with fruits, vegetables, begonias, roses, marigolds, petunias, and four-o’clocks? Here is an excerpt from the book: In front it had a neat garden-patch, where, every summer, strawberries, raspberries, and a variety of fruits and vegetables, flourished under careful tending. The whole front of it was covered by a large scarlet bignonia and a native multiflora rose, which, entwisting and interlacing, left scarce a vestige of the rough logs to be seen. Here, also, in summer, various brilliant annuals, such as marigolds, petunias, four-o’clocks, found an indulgent corner in which to unfold their splendors, and were the delight and pride of Aunt Chloe’s heart.

cabin Image by Charles Howland Hammatt Billings (1818-1874) for the expanded 1853 edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

In 1873, Harriet and her husband Calvin purchased and moved into a 5000 square foot painted brick Victorian Gothic ‘cottage’ at Nook Farm. Her fellow author, Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, moved in next door a year later. Harriet would spend the last 23 years of her life at Nook Farm. Also part of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center is the home owned by Harriet’s great-niece, Katharine Seymour Day.

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Harriet was an enthusiastic flower gardener and her passion was shared by her great-niece. The gardens around the homes reflect their fondness for and knowledge of the plantings of the Victorian era. Nook Farm contains eight distinct gardens including the woodland garden, the blue cottage garden, the wildflower meadow, a high Victorian texture garden, antique rose garden with award winning roses, formal color-coordinated or monochromatic gardens, and more.

The site includes Connecticut’s largest Merrill magnolia tree, a specimen that towers over and dominates the landscape. It blooms in early spring and had unfortunately gone by when we were there in early June so that we missed its large, fragrant, white blooms. However, the Collections Manager at the Center was kind enough to send this great image of the tree in full bloom as well as one of the Stowe dogwood which had also already bloomed.

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Merrill Magnolia image courtesy of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, Hartford, CT

The 100-year or older Harriet Beecher Stowe Dogwood™, Cornus Florida rubra, is believed to be from Stowe’s time, and saplings grown from cuttings are planted from Canada to Japan and even at Harriet’s home in Cincinnati.

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The Harriet Beecher Stowe Dogwood image courtesy of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, Hartford, CT

In the Victorian era the dogwood symbolized endurance and sprigs were presented to unmarried women by male suitors to show interest. Should the woman return it to the suitor it meant that she was indifferent to him, if she kept it was a sign of mutual interest, the 19th century equivalent of “swiping right”.

It is fitting that these saplings are finding homes outside of Connecticut as Harriet was a proponent of trading plants with family and friends, bringing cuttings and seeds with her when she moved to a new home, and pressing blossoms into sketchbooks, a common practice during the Victoria era.

Pansies

Harriet’s gardens gave her ample opportunity to paint out of doors, a practice known as en plein air, with other local artists. Thematic and single-color gardens provided inspiration to artists then and they still do. Shade areas are filled in with hosta, Solomon’s seal, and meadow anemone, all in cool greens and whites.

Just a bit further down the walk are white-themed peonies, iris, rose, and bridal-wreath spirea.

Two plants are listed in the self-guided tour but were not in evidence as we strolled the grounds: the Elephant ears and the castor bean plants. Elephant ears have dramatic foliage that can measure up to 2 feet across can grow in sun if they get some afternoon cover or shade.

The castor bean, Ricinus communis, is a highly toxic annual herb and as such, may seem like an odd choice for a garden that receives so many visitors. Reaching a height of 8 feet, it can tower over every other annual in the garden with its reddish-purple stems, large, palmate, lobed leaves, and red, prickly fruit capsules. It is within these unusual fruits that the toxic part of the castor bean lies. The seeds contain ricin, a phytotoxalbumin which can cause a fatal reaction. In fact, the broken seeds can cause a severe allergic reaction just by coming into contact with the skin. After all of that you wouldn’t think that anyone would want a castor bean plant around but it is called an ornamental annual. And yet, once it has been heated during extraction, the toxicity is deactivated and the castor oil is used in a variety of coatings, lubricants, and medicines. The image below is by Dawn Pettinelli but is not from the Harriet Beecher Stowe gardens.Castor Bean SB07

Roses are in evidence throughout but it is the lined drive with its hedges of lovely fragrant roses that is just stunning.

Here is a video tour of the rose hedges:

The side garden of the Katharine Seymour Day house has a romantic Victorian garden that boasts peonies, roses, and moth mullein with its vintage dusty peach shades.

Behind the Day house are massive examples of mountain laurel, rhododendrons and a pawpaw tree. A National Champion tree, the common pawpaw, Asimina triloba, is a native deciduous tree that produces an edible fruit with a banana-like taste leading to it also being known as the West Virginia banana or the Custard apple.

As we walked around we could also see the home of Mark Twain and I couldn’t resist a peak at the conservatory, my favorite room there.

Should you choose to visit any of the gardens on the historic tour please visit their website: Connecticut Historic Gardens.

Susan Pelton. UConn Home & Garden Education Center

 

One of the best things about spring is seeing all of the new varieties of plants that appear in gardening magazines, on websites, and at nurseries. One of the bad things is realizing that you may not have room for any more new perennials in your yard! Fortunately for me, both my daughter Hannah and my future daughter-in-law Jamie share my love of plants and are more than willing to accept any donations.  Hannah’s home does have lovely established areas but we can always find a nook for another flowering plant.

Lets-Dance-Diva-Hydrangea-compressor__37886.1517166509Three years ago I gave Hannah a lovely hydrangea, ‘Let’s Dance’, in honor of her upcoming wedding. This variety of Hydrangea macrophylla bears beautiful, pale pink lace-cap flower heads where an outer ring of open florets encircles a center of tiny florets. We planted it into a large oak barrel tub that had to weigh in at 25 lbs. and placed it near her front walk where many other plants in various size containers also had residence. But one night, quite unexpectedly, the hydrangea and its tub mysteriously disappeared! I can’t imagine that someone thought that we were getting rid of it but we can only hope that it went to a happy home.

Hannah’s yard has that fairy garden-like feel; it is a snug, L-shaped yard that is surrounded by a sufficiently aged, unfinished fence where all manner of trees and shrubs grow.

Although the side of the yard that runs along her 1920s home is in the sun for a good part of the day, most of the yard is in some level of shade for most of the day. Patches of phlox, bellwort, and vinca share dappled sun along with heuchera and bleeding heart in the shade of the dogwood and Japanese maple.

Primrose makes an appearance at the base of the dogwood.

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Her ‘front yard’ consists of a 4’ by 8’ bed between the sidewalk and her porch and another 6” by 15’ wide swath that runs along the fence, both of which receive very little direct sunlight.

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It becomes quite apparent as the daffodils in the yards on the other side of the street bloom a week or two earlier. That front fence is a great place for hanging bags of impatiens and trailing ivy that don’t mind being in shade for most of the day. Columbine, painted fern, and a variety of tulips have also naturalized along that area.

Selecting herbaceous plants, trees, and shrubs that do well in so much shade just takes a bit of forethought; there are many species that love to be in a woodland setting.  The term ‘shade’ itself can be confusing. Is it shade? Partial shade?  Part sun?  Full shade? Morning or afternoon shade? Partial sun means a minimum of 4 hours of sunlight a day while partial shade is 3-6 hours of morning or late day sun with coverage during the hottest and brightest times of the day.  Many hydrangea will bear partial to full shade and the climbing hydrangea that has taken over her back steps is proof of that.

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Filtered sun, similar to partial shade, is great for woodland or under-story plants. Bear in mind that this can change over the course of the season as trees leaf out to a denser canopy and create more shade. Study the light in your yard throughout the growing season to determine the light situation. Shade plants may also like a moister soil that emulates the rich, humus environment of a forest floor.

Deep shade, also called full shade, does not mean a complete lack of sunlight. Think of the areas beneath evergreens or the northern side of a home. These areas will receive 3 hours or less of sunlight per day with little reflected or indirect light. We have just such a spot on the northern side of our home. The early morning is when this area receives its daily dose of somewhat dappled sunlight but from 9:00 a.m. on it is in full shade.

The plants that thrive in this area in our yard include clematis, hosta, astilbe, forget-me-not, and more Solomon’s seal. These beds are also where toadflax, lily-of-the-valley, and anemone are happy.

Shade tolerant plants may have thinner leaves that are more sensitive to light and perform photosynthesis at lower light levels. Over-exposure to sunlight can cause leaf margins to scorch, this sometimes can happen when a larger, shade-producing tree is removed and plants are suddenly exposed to more light than they are accustomed to receiving. Additionally, plants that are placed to receive less sunlight than they fully require may thrive but will often produce fewer blooms.

There are many varieties of shade perennials and annuals that can fill in a small space or a large bed, just visit a local nursery and take a stroll through their selection to find one (or two or three!) that catch your fancy.

Susan Pelton (all images by S. Pelton)

‘Plant a little mint, Madame, then step out of the way so you don’t get hurt!’

anonymous British gardener

Spring is the time when we look forward to putting aside our heavy winter clothing for spring jackets and hearty soups and stews for lighter fare. The first foods that are produced in our gardens in the spring are usually greens such as lettuces and spinach, asparagus, green onions, and peas. And there is no better complement to peas and green onions than mint.

mint

Mint (Mentha) is a fast-growing, aromatic, perennial herb with opposite, toothed leaves, and stems that are square in cross-section. Most varieties reach 1-3’ in height. It prefers a moist but well-drained soil in a neutral pH. Mint can be started indoors from seed or sown outdoors once the ground has warmed and like all seeds, they must be kept moist until they germinate. Choosing to buy seedlings or larger plants will bring a quicker harvest, and I find that I like being able to break off and crush a leaf to see what the mint variety will smell and taste like.

Mint can run rampant over your garden, spreading through underground runners called stolons, and should be either placed where this habit will not be a problem or contained by annual division in the spring.  When I was a novice gardener (and a very green one at that) some 35 years ago, I made the mistake of planting mint in our garden. It took several years to eradicate the mint that threatened to overtake the bed. If you do want to plant mint in the ground, one option is to plant it in a bottomless five-gallon bucket sunk into the ground with only the top couple of inches peeking out.

Growing mint in containers or hanging baskets solves the problem of mint taking over. Container herbs will require more moisture than garden-grown herbs and may benefit from late afternoon shade. And containers can be brought in for the winter. I have had mine in a sunny window since last October and it is still doing well. Below is an image of mint planted amid eggplant in a container.

mint 3

Chocolate mint in flowerFresh leaves should be picked as soon as the plant has enough foliage to maintain growth. Only remove about one-third of the foliage at each harvest. Early morning is best to ensure that the oils are not dried out from the sun. To dry herbs for winter use, the leaves should be harvested prior to flower buds opening. Pinching off leaves will help the plants to fill out. Any mint that is allowed to go to flower will attract a wide variety of pollinators with its white, pale pink, or pale purple blossoms. The image on the right is chocolate mint in flower (image from the NCCD Plant Sale site)

 

True mint varieties are known to cross pollinate with other types of mint when planted within close proximity. This can result in characteristics from different mint types to appear in one plant, leading to unfavorable scents or flavors. There are between 20-25 species of mint in the Mentha genus depending on the source: the following are some of my personal favorites.

Chocolate mint

 

Chocolate mint, Mentha x piperita ‘Chocolate’, is my top choice, with its brownish-red stems and brown tinged serrated leaves. It is a cultivar of peppermint (which itself is a hybrid of watermint and spearmint) and prefers full sun. I’ve heard the smell and taste compared to an Andes Chocolate Mint, an apt description.

 

 

 

Mint' Spearmint' 2

 

Spearmint, Mentha spicata, also known as common or garden mint, prefers partial shade and a neutral pH. Like all commercial mints, it is sterile and can only be propagated through cuttings.

 

 

 

Mint 'Peppermint'

 

 

Peppermint, Mentha piperita, does not tolerate dry conditions as it is native to stream beds. Black peppermint has deep purple-green leaves and stems and a higher oil content while the white is actually light green and has a milder flavor. It is often used as a digestion aid.

 

 

 

Pineapple mintPineapple mint, Mentha suaveolens ‘Variegata’, has a lovely, light pineapple scent. As its Latin name suggests the pineapple mint has white-margined, bumpy, hairy, variegated leaves making it a visually interesting addition to any container. It is the variegated cultivar of apple mint, Mentha suaveolens. Sprigs of the unvariegated apple mint may occasionally appear among pineapple mint and should be pinched out. This is called reversion and happens when the less vigorous variegated specimens return to the original sturdier form, due to less chlorophyll being produced by the light sections of their leaves. Grow in full sun for upright plants or partial shade for a sprawling cover. Image by the U of Florida.

 

mint 'Apple'

 

Apple mint, Mentha suaveolens, has woolly, square stems and leaves that are a bit hairy on top and woolly below. It has a very faint, apple-like taste if the leaves are crushed so it is a subtle addition to fruit salads or in drinks.

 

 

 

 

Mint 'Orange' 2

 

 

Orange mint, Mentha x piperita citrata, can reach up to 2 feet in height. It will bloom in the late-spring into summer with lovely small violet flowers.

 

 

 

Some other varieties of mint that I saw recently included a strawberry mint (below, left) that has a fresh strawberry flavor and mint ‘Mojito’ (below, right), with a touch of citrus.

Mint leaves make a delicious addition to beverages such as lemonade, seltzer, or even iced water. Mint ‘tea’ is not a true tea, which must be made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis, but in fact a tisane, an infusion made by steeping leaves in hot water. Whether the leaves are fresh or dried, a mint tisane makes a refreshing hot or iced beverage.

When used in culinary dishes, mint can liven up any recipe. As it is native to the Mediterranean it is a common ingredient in many cultures. Greek cuisine uses mint in many dishes. Tzatziki is a sauce made from Greek yogurt, cucumber, garlic, lemon juice, chopped mint and salt.

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Its Indian cousin, raita, uses the same ingredients except for the garlic to create a cool sauce to offset the heat of Indian curries. Another Greek dish, tabbouleh, is a great summertime favorite with our family. Usually made with bulgur wheat, I use quinoa as the base grain, and then toss this cold salad with chopped plum tomatoes, cucumbers, scallions, and fresh mint. Olive oil, lemon juice, and salt finish off this refreshing cold salad.

 

peas_4_3021757467I have also used fresh mint leaves in homemade strawberry jam, adding the clean, chopped leaves just before ladling the mixture into sterilized jars and putting them into a hot water bath for 10 minutes. A very British spring dish is fresh peas with mint where a sliced scallion is sautéed in butter, then fresh, shelled peas are added along with a pinch of salt, and just enough water to barely cover them. After 2 minutes on a high heat add a small handful of torn mint leaves and cook until the peas are tender. Fresh sugar snap peas can be used in place of the shelled peas.

Some benefits to growing mint are that deer rarely eat it and as an essential oil it can be used to control mites and mosquito larvae or as a repellent to rabbits, dogs, and cats. Even more beneficial is how well it pairs with chocolate! Its no surprise that mint is a symbol of warm feelings, virtue, and eternal refreshment.

Susan Pelton

All images by S. Pelton unless otherwise noted.

maple tree color

Fall has settled in finally, bringing its colors and cool weather. Some foliage colors were mediocre this year, always to due to the weather. It stayed hot for a long time and we did not get the cool night temperatures which help to trigger the trees to slow down and get ready for dormancy with the side effect of changing leaf color. Still there were some nice sights around the state. Japanese maple ‘Full Moon’ is a reliably consistent beauty sporting bright red leaves for a week or more before dropping its foliage.

Full moon Japanese Maple

Full Moon Japanese Maple

Evergreen trees also drop foliage, but not all needles at once. The newer green needles will remain on the branches for several years. Eastern white pines will shed their oldest, inner most bundles of needles each year by first turning yellow, then brown and drop. Notice the healthy, younger green needles are retained on the growing ends of the branches.

Fall is time of seed and fruit production in the cycle of life of plants. Crabapples are a great source of food for birds and animals throughout the winter. Some trees have very persistent fruit, hanging on throughout the season, ensuring feathered and fur beings a meal. Viburnum species also are in fruit as are winterberries.

Another interesting tree producing seed pods is the Japanese pagoda tree, Styphnolobium japonicum. It also goes by its other common name Chinese scholar tree due to it commonly being planted around Buddhist temples in Japan. It is native to China and Korea. Panicles of scented white flowers are produced in late summer, turning into strings of pop bead looking yellow seed pods in fall. Pods then turn brown staying on the tree though winter. Japanese pagoda tree makes a great, small specimen tree in yards and larger gardens.

Japanese pagoda tree

Japanese Pagoda Tree

Fall is a good time to gather dried seeds from annuals and perennials you wish to grow again. Many reseeding annuals drop their seed and seem to pop up as weeds. Collect the seed in paper envelopes or containers to grow them where you want them next year. Cleome, Verbena bonariensis, dill and fennel are just a few that consistently popup all over my gardens. The annual yellow and orange gloriosa daisy evens spread to my adjacent neighbors from the birds eating the seed heads I leave up for them. Some hybrid seeds will not come back the same if you save and plant the seed the following year. Every year I plant blue or blue striped forms of morning glory to climb up the gazebo. They set tons of seeds and drop to the ground to sprout and grow the next year. Unfortunately, they come back a deep purple, not the blue. If I don’t rouge out the volunteers from the new blue flowered plants I put in each year, I will have a mixed show of the blue I newly planted and purple that reseeded themselves. I consider the purple weeds, but others might disagree.

Speaking of weeds, I noticed it was a banner year for Pennsylvania smartweed, Persicaria pensylvanica,   formerly called Polygonum pensyvanicum . Smartweed loves it moist and it responded well to all the rain we had this spring and summer, growing like gangbusters and producing a multitude of seed. On the positive side, songbirds love the seed and will be well fed during their time here. Too bad the prolific seed production is going to add to the seed bank in the soil for following years.

lady's thumb weed

Pennsylvania Smartweed

This year of moisture also lead to much fungal production. Tomatoes were more likely to succumb to early blight and Septoria leaf spot due to leaf wetness aiding disease development and spread. Fungicides applied before fungus hits can protect plants. So will proper spacing of plants and pruning branches to increase airflow and dry leaves. High humidity and lots of moisture ensures mildews, too. Lilacs will develop powdery mildew during mid-summer, but still come back strongly the next year. I just chose to not look at them after August.

lilac powdery mildew

Lilac leaves with powdery mildew

Insects are always a part of the garden be it vegetable or perennial. We need the insects for pollination and cycle of all life. The pest ones were not too bad this year as I kept up the removal and scouting for eggs on the squash and squishing caterpillars and worms on the kale, cabbage and Brussels sprouts. Tomato hornworms made a brief appearance, but I caught them in time before much damage was done. Thankfully the cucumber beetles were low in numbers this year and manageable with hand picking them off. I am often fascinated with the beauty and intricacies of insects. I found the delicate dragonfly dead on my breezeway and could not help but marvel at its color and patterns on its body. Dragonflies dart about the yard zigging and zagging at breakneck speed while feeding on the tornado of gnats in the very late afternoon. I call it the dance of the dragonfly and now I see they come dressed in their finery for the occasion.

Dragonfly head

 

The season wasn’t all work, nor should it be. We made time to enjoy the fruits of our labor and spaces we created, and hope did also. With summer and the main growing season are behind us, I hope it left mark on your heart and memories for your mind, until next year when we can all try again, try some new plant and find a new adventure.

-Carol Quish, all photos copyright C. Quish

boat wake trail in ocean

goldenrod

One of many goldenrod species

Goldenrods, Solidago ssp., form one of the most interesting interrelationships between flora and fauna of the late-season flowering plants in New England. The name solidago is from two Latin words meaning ‘to make’ and ‘whole’, referring to its use as herbal remedies in the form of teas or compresses, among other uses. Goldenrods are perennial herbs that are members of the Asteraceae, or aster, family. Flowering from August through September, they are often found blooming together with Joe-Pye weeds and asters. The time of year that they bloom has made them a scapegoat for many allergy sufferers who believe they are to blame them for symptoms that are actually due to ragweed that flower at the same time.

 

honey bee on downy goldenrod Pamm Cooper

Honey bee on downy goldenrod.

 

Goldenrods naturally produce rubber, and Thomas Edison actually experimented with the cultivation process to increase the rubber content in the plants. George Washington Carver and Henry Ford devised a process to make a much needed rubber substitute from goldenrod during World War II. It was rather tacky and not as elastic as true rubber, but goldenrods and other native plants such as Asclepias and Chrysothamnus have rubber in sufficient quantity that may one day prove worthwhile. Tall goldenrod (Solidago altissima) had the most rubber content at 6.34 %.

Goldenrods have a unique type of inflorescence that consists of many tiny flowers that aggregate together in a flower head and form a ‘false flower’. The individual flowers are most commonly in the form of ray flowers or disk flowers. Identification of species is often done by observing the hairs on the seeds, which may be visible when the plant is still in flower. Goldenrods vary in height, with the tallest (Solidago altissima) at six feet. Some, such as sweet goldenrod (Solidago odora) have pleasant odors.

Joe pye and goldenrod Harkness Park 9-2-2018

Joe- pye weed and goldenrods blooming together at Harkness Park in Waterford, Connecticut

One of the most common goldenrods in New England is the Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis). It is considered alleopathic to sugar maple seedlings, producing chemicals that inhibit their growth. Habitat is disturbed areas like meadows, fields or roadsides. This is a tall plant with hairy stems and a plume flower arrangement.

goldenrods and asters in a field

Asters and goldenrods growing together in a waste area

It is associated with the goldenrod gall fly (Eurosta solidaginis) whose larva feed inside a round gall on the stem which is formed by the reaction of the plant to the larva’s saliva. You can easily find these galls when green or later in the season when stalks turn brown. The larva chew an exit hole before the plant tissue hardens up for the winter. In the spring, the adult fly will exit through this hole. Downy woodpeckers and chickadees will peck at these galls to access the larva, especially in harsh winters. Studies have shown the larger the larva inside the gall, the less likely it is to be parasitized by other insects or eaten by birds like downy woodpeckers in the winter. The goldenrod gall moth also causes a stem gall, but this is a spindle- shape rather than a ball. The caterpillar hatches from an egg laid the previous autumn and feeds its way into a stem.

goldenrod bunch gall and stem gall caused by the goldenrod Gall Fly (Eurosta solidaginis)

goldenrod bunch gall on left and stem gall on right, caused by the goldenrod gall fly (Eurosta solidaginis)

Licorice goldenrod (Solidago odora) has a licorice or anise scent and the leaves were used in a tea by the Cherokee for colds, coughs, and fevers. This plant is found in the southernmost parts of the New England states, but is absent in Maine. Found in woodlands, along roadsides, disturbed sites and old fields, the flowers have been used to make deep yellow dyes and attract beneficial insects such as lady beetles and lacewings.

White goldenrod (Solidago bicolor) is found at the edges of woodlands. It is also sometimes called ‘silverrod’ in reference to its white flowers. It is the only goldenrod with white flowers in the eastern part of the country. The stamens and pollen will give it a slightly yellow look. Sometimes the spectacular brown hooded owlet caterpillar can be found on this plant where it primarily eats the flower buds and flowers. Found more often on any goldenrods with longer flower spikes, this caterpillar is a favorite of many lepidopterists.

silver rod on the edge of woods Pamm Cooper

Silverrod at the edge of the woods.

Early goldenrod (Solidago juncea) gets its common name from its bloom time, which can be as much as a month prior to many other goldenrod species. This attractive, slender plant has a very delicate appearance and can be distinguished from other goldenrods by the lack of, or near lack of hairs on the stems and leaves. White-tailed deer, woodchucks, cottontail rabbits and livestock may feed on the plant if less desirable food is available.

Goldenrods provide a source of seeds for eastern goldfinch, tree, swamp and song sparrows as well as some migrating warblers such as the yellow- rumped warblers. Mice and other rodents eat the seeds throughout the winter and have a better time of it when seed heads are pressed down against the ground by heavy snows.

asteroid

The asteroid caterpillar

Any insects still around in late summer that have an interest in flowers may be found on goldenrods, especially pollen and nectar seekers and their predators. Some of the many insects and other arthropods that rely on goldenrods for survival are bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, grasshoppers and spiders. Many of these visit for the pollen and nectar often in shorter supply as the season winds down. Migratory butterflies, especially along their shoreline routes, depend upon goldenrods for food sources as they travel south for the winter. Bloom periods are extended for at least two months as different species of goldenrods bloom in succession or coincide with each other.

gray hairstreak on goldenrod

Gray hairstreak butterfly

Black and margined blister beetles are often found on these plants in the late summer and early fall. Many beneficial insects, such as soldier beetles and assassin bugs use the flowers as either food sources or hideouts where they wait to ambush other insects. If you see a butterfly hanging upside down without moving, check and see if an ambush bug or crab spider is feeding on it. Caterpillars such as the asteroid and flower moth caterpillars, aphids, tarnished plant bugs, and many other insects feed on flowers, stems and leaves. Wasps, goldenrod and crab spiders, praying mantids, lacewings, ambush bugs, assassin bugs, spined soldier bugs and birds prey on insects that visit or live on the plants. Cucumber beetles also feed on goldenrod pollen. Some flies cause galls on stems and upper foliage as their larvae feed.

brown hooded owlet caterpillar on goldenrod from Belding September 3 2015

brown hooded owlet caterpillar on goldenrod

Chinese mantids also hang out around goldenrods, and often lay their egg masses on its stems. Look for these in the winter if heavy snows have not mashed the plants into the ground. I sometimes take a stem with the mantid egg case and stick it in my garden. The mantids usually emerge by mid- May, and they disperse quickly

mantids emerging from egg case on goldenrod stem 5-20-12

Mantid egg cases are often found on goldenrods where the adult females were hunting the year before. These are mantids just hatching

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There is a great interconnection between goldenrods and vertebrates and invertebrates, and nature reveals such things to the careful observer. If you happen upon some goldenrod, or seek it out on purpose, just a few moments of careful observation will be rewarded with a peek into the drama that is on display in a simple stand of yellow flowers.

By Pamm Cooper, UConn Home & Garden Education Center

 

Docked at King's wharfAlthough a month ago the weather in Connecticut was still very summer-like we headed to another sunny location, Bermuda. Bermuda is one of our favorite places to visit as it relatively close by compared to other island destinations. It is a two-hour flight but our preferred mode of transportation is to cruise there. The Bermuda archipelago has a great variety of native, endemic, and invasive flora species. Since the 1500s many plants have been introduced to Bermuda, some to much detriment. In my next blog posting I will discuss the species that are of concern for the island but for now I will share many of the beautiful plants that can be seen there.

Our first foray after docking at King’s Wharf at the Royal Naval Dockyard was the Bermuda Botanical Gardens. Located in Paget Parish about a mile outside of Hamilton, it was established in 1898 as a public garden. In 1921 it became the Agricultural Experiment Station and then, in 1958, due to an increase in tourism and ornamental horticulture it became the Bermuda Botanical Garden.

BBG

Open year-round (no snow days in Bermuda!), this park has something for every visitor. There are areas devoted to roses, daylilies, hibiscus, conifers, palm trees, sub-tropical fruits, cacti, orchids, an aviary and more. There is even an aromatic sensory garden designed for the visually impaired although it may be enjoyed by anyone. The first tree that caught our attention upon entering the garden was this large banyan, Ficus benghalensis. A member of the fig species, it is epiphytic, beginning its life by germinating in the crack or crevice of a host tree. Also called the strangler fig, it then sends aerial prop roots down to the ground which envelop its host to the point of the death.

Walking a bit further into the gardens we found a section that is devoted to many hybrids of hibiscus that were originally brought to Bermuda from China. Hibiscus is an introduced species which has naturalized, meaning that it will reproduce on its own but does not become invasive.

The four-section formal garden has a 17th-century English Parterre garden, a Persian garden, a Tudor-style children’s garden, and a serene Japanese Zen garden bordered by vibrant pink plumeria hedges.

One of my favorites sections of the botanical garden was a cool and shady area that contained primordial vegetation called Cycads. Among these plants that superficially resemble palms were the large leaved Philodendron shrub, Philodendron bipinnatifidum, and an Abyssinian banana, Ensete ventricosum, that easily dwarfed me. Not really difficult to do, I know, but this plant was easily 10’ tall.

The subtropical fruit garden contained the familiar in the form of bananas, avocado, and citrus and the unfamiliar in the form of papaya trees, whose growth habit reminded me of Brussels sprouts!

So many beautiful plants were not contained to specific areas but were spread around the 35 acres just waiting to be discovered. There were chenille plants, Acalypha hispida, with its soft hanging cat-tail looking panicles. Pink and yellow shrimp plants, Justicia brandegeeana, are evergreen shrubs that are highly attractive to hummingbirds. Another evergreen shrub, Sanchezia speciosa has tubular yellow flowers that extend out of reddish bracts. And of course, what subtropical garden would be complete without bird-of-paradise, Strelitzia reginae?

Day 2 found us at the far east side of Bermuda on the island of St. George’s, one of the larger of 181 islands that make up the Bermuda archipelago. St. George’s has a great public garden, Somers Garden, named for Admiral Sir George Somers, the founder of Bermuda. A fountain sits in the middle of this lovely space, picturesque turquoise stairs lead in from one side and there is also a quintessential moongate, a symbol of good luck.

The trees in this garden are all labeled with their common names and species, always a benefit to visitors. Royal palms, Roystonea regina, line the walkways, there are Indian rubber trees, Ficus elastica, and a Bermuda palmetto, Sabal bermudiana, grew in front of a very large Norfolk Island pine, Araucaria excelsa.

There were also a large variety of flowering plants. Lantana, Lantana camera, an annual familiar to many of us, grew to heights not often seen in Connecticut. The lantana flowers were yellow, white, purple, and variegated. The white and purple-flowered plants are weeping lantana, Lantana montevidensis.

There were more sanchezia, sunny Mexican flame flowers, Senecio confusus, and the deep red-orange flowers of West Indian Jasmine, Ixora.

And a large selection of croton, Codiaeum variegatum, also in sizes way beyond our container houseplants.

Our third day in dock was spent at the Royal Naval dockyard. Built by thousands of convicts in the early 19th century as an anchorage for the British Royal fleet, it remained an active part of the British naval force until 1951. In 1982 it became a National Museum and is open to the public.

The flora that is found here is of a less formal nature than the Botanical and Somers gardens. Plants grow where they like, perhaps a better representation of Bermuda’s nature. Among them is prickly pear, Opuntia sp., a mounding coastal cactus native to Bermuda that is very effective as a defensive planting around fortifications, aloe vera, and dwarf palmetto, Sabal minor.

Tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica, is grown as an annual in Connecticut as it does not survive our winters but it thrives in Bermuda. This specimen was inundated with yellow milkweed aphids, a sight that is not uncommon to Connecticut gardeners.

Mexican fire plant, Mexican poinsettia Euphorbia cyathophora

 

 

 

Anyone that has had a poinsettia in their home during the holidays will appreciate this next plant, the Mexican fire plant, Euphorbia heterophylla. Also known as wild poinsettia, this hardy native plant has bluish-green bracts with splashes of bright orange-red at the bases. Although small, it caught my attention as I walked by.

 

 

 

White Egyptian star flowers, Penta sp., rose periwinkles, Catharanthus roseus, deep pink oleander, Nerium oleander, and spider lilies, Hymenocallis sp. were all to be freely found.

So many of these species were introduced either intentionally or unintentionally by humans, animals, or weather-related events. In November I will write about the continued effects of these introductions to the islands of Bermuda.

Susan Pelton, all images by S. Pelton, UConn Home & Garden Education Center

 

Every year at the UConn Home & Garden Education there are a few topic of interest that we get a lot of calls about. Several years ago we fielded a lot of calls about the drought situation in Connecticut that occupied many people’s thoughts in 2016. In fact, that encompassed two years as we started to feel the effects of it in 2015. On the tail end of the drought, and perhaps in part because of it, many parts of the state were visited with an infestation of gypsy moth caterpillars. When we have a wet spring the fungus Entomophaga maimaiga, a natural control of the gypsy moth caterpillar, can flourish. The fungus overwinters as spores in leaf litter and in the soil. It then reactivates in the spring when there is sufficient rainfall. Although we were receiving an adequate amount of rain by 2017 it happened to occur a bit late for the fungus to be fully effective against the voraciously feeding caterpillars. So the summers of 2016 and 2017 were dedicated to answering many questions about the gypsy moth caterpillars and the damage that they wreaked.

As those two events have wound down a new concern arose for many of our clients. Thanks in part to press releases and an interview that aired on NBC CT in June the giant hogweed, Heracleum mantegazzianum, (below images) jumped to the front of the queue. The Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group (CIPWG) issued a warning about this invasive species which was first spotted in Connecticut in 2001. Most of the populations of giant hogweed are under control and none of the reported sightings in 2018 were positive.

There are many look-a-like plants and it is those species that we are asked to identify. Starting in early-June calls and emails began to come in to identify large herbaceous perennials that were striking fear into Connecticut residents. This is in part due to the pretty noxious nature of the giant hogweed sap. Within 24-48 hours after skin has been in contact with the sap painful blisters may appear in individuals that are sensitive to it. Three things need to be present for the reaction known as phytophotodermatitis to occur. First, direct contact between the skin and the sap. Second, the skin must be moist as from perspiration, for example. Third, the contaminated area must be exposed to sunlight. If you are working in an area that contains giant hogweed it is easy to imagine that all of the criteria could be easily met.

Before attempting to remove giant hogweed from an area the first step should be positively identifying it. As I mentioned earlier, there have not been any confirmed sightings in Connecticut yet this year. It may be that the suspected plant is one of the following instead.

The first plant that is most commonly mistaken for giant hogweed is fellow member of the Heracleum genus: cow parsnip, Heracleum maximum, (images below). Unlike giant hogweed which was introduced to the United States 100 years ago from the Caucasus region of Central Asia, cow parsnip is native to North America. A tall herbaceous perennial that can reach up to 10 feet in the shade, nowhere near the 18 feet possible height of the giant hogweed, cow parsnip bears its flowers in in the flat-topped or rounded umbels that are characteristic of other members of the carrot family, Apiacea. Both species have compound deeply-lobed, toothed leaves but the cow parsnip lacks the red veining and leaf stalks common to giant hogweed. Cow parsnip also contains chemicals that cause phytophotodermatitis.

The next most common look-a-like is angelica, (below images). A first cousin once-removed, it shares its family, Apiaceae, with the giant hogweed and cow parsnip but is in the genus Angelica. Angelica grows 3-9 feet tall and also has large umbel flower heads. The compound leaves of angelica are what distinguish it from giant hogweed as they are bipinnate, meaning that they are compound leaves in which the leaflets are also compound (think honey locust leaves). Often used as a medicinal herb, angelica is the least toxic of the hogweed look-a-likes although it may still cause a skin reaction.

Queen Anne’s lace, Daucus carota, (below images) takes compound leaves one step further to tripinnate, having pinnately compound leaves that are bipinnate. The more levels of pinnation, the more delicate the overall effect. The airy-looking leaves of D. carota are what give it the ‘lace’ part of its name and are similar to its subspecies, the domestic carrot. Queen Anne’s lace has an umbellate flower head atop a much slimmer stem than giant hogweed, cow parsnip, or angelica. The sap from the leaves and stems can cause a phytophotodermatitis reaction although the flowers are used to make jelly similar to the yarrow jelly from our June 26th blog post.

The native Lactuca species includes wild lettuce (Lactuca Canadensis),

prickly lettuce (L. serriola), hairy lettuce (L. hirsute), and the blue lettuces (l. biennis, L. floridana, L. pulchella, L. villosa).

These tall plants start out from a basal rosette of leaves and can grow to 7 feet tall with large alternating broad leaves.  They have pale blue insignificant flowers compared to the dense clustered heads of the previous plants.

Finally, giant ragweed, Ambrosia trifida, has also made a plant identification appearance.  This 6-foot tall annual herb is a noxious weed that has become invasive in other parts of the world as it out competes native species in much the same way that the giant hogweed has here.

As plants and seeds have spread across the globe through human, animal, mechanical, or water means many species have landed in non-native locations and taken root there. If you are a fan of podcasts, check out the Infinite Monkey Cage’s Invasion episode where scientists and comedians take a look at the problems caused by alien (plant) invasions.

Susan Pelton, UConn Home & Garden Education Center

All images by CIPWG and UConn

 

 

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