While I really, truly should not be encouraging more travel (especially if it relies on fossil fuels), I can’t help suggest that anyone finding themselves anywhere near Booth Bay, Maine take a side trip to the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden (CMBG). It is a refreshing site for your eyes and for your souls. Rarely do we get the chance to stroll in such beautiful surroundings for hours and hours. The mission of this fairly young botanical wonder (it opened in 2007) is to inspire meaningful connections among people, plants and nature, and that it does.

CMBG is the largest botanic garden in New England made up of 295 acres of which 17 have been made into some of the most charming and awe-inspiring gardens championing native Maine plants that I, and probably you, have ever seen. The concept for this botanical garden began in 1991 when a small group of mid-coast Maine residents had a dream of building a world class public garden. Sixteen years later, CMBG opened and has been a top U.S. botanical destination ever since.

Coincidentally, 16 individual garden sites are contained in this marvel, each having its own backstory and unique plantings. Some of my favorites are included in this posting. I’m betting that one of the most popular gardens is the Native Butterfly and Moth House. This consists of a 2,160 square foot Gothic style hoophouse with a planting scheme fit to support moths and butterflies throughout their life cycles. Visitors have the opportunity to observe these vital insects from birth through metamorphosis into adult butterflies or moths. Surrounding gardens are whimsical yet offer nectar and food plants for adults and caterpillars (larvae).

Butterfly House at Coastal Maine Botanic Garden. Photo by dmp2022

The Great Lawn was modeled after 19th century landscape parks and creates a sense of openness amid the surrounding forested areas. The Lerner Garden of the 5 senses is less than an acre in size but the path winds it way through plants and sights that delight the sense of smell, hearing, sight, touch and taste (please don’t eat the daisies). Slater Forest Pond Garden was built on a low lying site perfect for a pond adding more life to the gardens with aquatic creatures.

A gift from the Burpee Foundation funded the Burpee kitchen garden that was started in 2006. It provides the chefs at the Kitchen Garden Café with herbs, vegetables, fruits and edible flowers for their culinary creations. Visitors get to see a choice selection of many food producing plants tucked neatly into raised beds with a cooling fountain centerpiece.

Burpee Kitchen Garden. Photo by dmp2022.
Fountain centerpiece in Kitchen Garden. Photo by dmp2019.

A favorite of children (young and old) is the Bibby and Harold Alfond Children’s Garden. I love the tool arch and the little shed with a green roof. Apparently this 2 acre parcel of woods, ponds and theme gardens was inspired by several of Maine’s childrens’ book authors including E. B. White (Charlotte’s Web).

Entrance to Children’s Garden. Photo by dmp2019.

On a hot summer day, the Haney Hillside Garden is cool and soothing. It features 3 terraces linked by switchback trails on a steep, rocky hillside. Paths lead past the water and moss terraces and at the bottom sits a subtle, yet perfectly situated, large glass orb created by New York sculptor, Henry Richardson.

Glass orb in Haney Hillside Garden. Photo by dmp2022.

Other gardens include the Cleaver Lawn, the Arbor Garden, Founder’s Grove, Vayou Meditation Garden, the Shoreline Trail and Landing, the Giles Rhododendron and Perennial Garden and one can’t forget the Fairy House Village where visitors are welcome to create shelters and other dwellings for these tiny, mythical creatures. According to the sign for this garden, the tradition of building fairy houses began in the woods of nearly Monhegan Island.

Fairy House Village. Photo by dmp2022

As if these absolutely gorgeous gardens, statuary, sculptures, water features and hardscapes aren’t enough to take it, five giant trolls await discovery by you. They are mammoth recycled wood creations by the Danish artist, Thomas Dambo. His trolls are found around the world (www.trollmap.com) and convey a message of sustainability as well as one of global connections. Our actions affect everyone else on the planet and we need to cultivate a sense of care for all our natural resources and fellow inhabitants, especially with all the havoc climate change is creating throughout the earth.

One of Thomas Dambo’s trolls. Photo by dmp2022.

As Guardians of the Seeds, the trolls are there to teach us and reinforce the importance of the Maine woods but really about all trees. We know trees as purveyors of shade, carbon storage units, able to prevent erosion and filter air and water but did you know that trees provide homes for 50% of the planet’s land-dwelling animals? Or did you know that right now there are about 3 trillion trees in a world of almost 8 billion people – that’s about 375 trees per person. Not a lot when you think about it. Trees are essential for healthy ecosystems that keep us alive.

Guardian the Seeds – another Troll by Thomas Dambo. Photo by dmp2022.

Good stewards of this earth can follow the teachings of the trolls and plant more trees, consume only what you need, and encourage others to become more aware of our dependency on the natural world and treat it with the respect it deserves. The future of this earth really does depend on everyone’s actions.

Dawn P.    

Conifers are cone-bearing plants in the taxonomic clade Gymnospermae. Cedars, firs, hemlocks, junipers, larches, redwoods, spruces, and yews all belong to this ancient and noble group. Though less diverse than their angiosperm counterparts, gymnosperms are just as important ecologically. They provide homes and food for countless organisms, capture vast amounts of carbon from the atmosphere, and happen to make beautiful additions to managed landscapes.

Sequoia sempervirens, the coastal redwood, is an incredibly long-lived conifer (with many specimens exceeding 1,000 years in age) and the tallest species of tree. Photo credit – Nick Goltz, DPM.

Though conifers can serve countless roles in the landscape – from privacy screens, to topiaries, to majestic specimens, they are not without their fair share of pests, diseases and abiotic pitfalls. Here are a few such things to be on the lookout for as you maintain the health of your conifers (or consider planting one).

Like all plants, conifer species have their unique preferences for environmental conditions.  While some cedar and cypress species tolerate wet soils well, many others do not. Some popular ornamentals that hate “wet feet” (soggy soil conditions that lead to root damage) include arborvitae, yews, and many pine species. Winter damage, drought, and genetic issues also frequently impact conifers.

Many “dwarf” varieties originally began as “witches’ brooms” selected and isolated from specimens of their full-sized counterparts with a genetic abnormality. The opposite scenario may also occur, where dwarf varieties spontaneously grow “full-sized” branches. When either occurs unwanted on a managed plant, simply prune away the affected branches and monitor carefully.

Sometimes, dwarf varieties can display genetic “reversions” where non-dwarf branches begin to grow. Photo credit – Nick Goltz, DPM.

Sometimes, witches’ brooms can develop following heavy mite infestations. Besides mites, pines are susceptible to insect damage, including from scales, boring beetles, and bagworms. These pests can cause needle yellowing, defoliation, and sometimes vascular damage, girdling, and death.  Severe insect infestations may lead to increased susceptibility to various diseases and warrant management including insecticide applications.

Adult bagworm females (possibly the evergreen bagworm, Thyridopteryx ephemeraeformis) are a common pest of conifers in New England. Photo credit – Nick Goltz, DPM.

Some of the more widespread and damaging diseases of conifers include root-rot diseases caused by oomycetes and fungi including Pythium, Phytophthora, and Fusarium. Others of significance include needle and tip blight diseases caused by fungi from the genera Pestalotiopsis, Mycosphaerella, Phomopsis, and others.

If you have branches browning mysteriously, consider the environmental conditions your plant is experiencing! If too much and too little water isn’t an issue, and you haven’t noticed any insect or mite pests, have your plant examined by a plant pathologist to see if diseases could be affecting your plant. Contact the UConn Home and Garden Education Center at ladybug@uconn.edu to discuss your plant’s health and inquire about submitting a sample to the UConn Plant Diagnostic Laboratory. The UConn PDL is funded, in part, by the state of Connecticut and the USDA through IPM Extension Implementation and National Plant Diagnostic Network grants.

Stewartia blossom

Life get really busy sometimes and gardens get neglected. This has happened in my yard this year, but my garden has not neglected me. I was able to take a breath, and a walk, and found the garden has gifted me beauty and kindness in its offering of June blooms even without my close attention to the plants. Rain has fallen, sun has shined, and weeds have not overtaken very much. Perennials have produced and some annuals have reseeded defying this lax gardener.

I took first notice of the Japanese Stewartia, (Stewartia pseudocamellia) tree in the front yard as it began to flower. As the common name implies, Stewartia is native to Japan. It is a smaller tree with white, camellia-like blossoms along the branches. The each flower only last a couple of days, but more buds will open over a few weeks’ time extending the display. This is the most flowers I have had yet on this ten-year-old tree.

Gloriosa Daisy (Rudbeckia Hirta) is listed as a short-lived perennial and a reseeding annual. I can’t tell which is true as I have them pop up in various places as well as in the original spot. These originally migrated by seed from the neighbor across the street that had them growing in the cracks of her walkway. She said if they were that determined to grow there, she would let them. The birds love the seeds in the fall and obviously ‘deposited’ some in my yard. I love the random color patterns on the various different plants. They make good cut flowers for grand-kids to create arrangements and their sturdy stems even survive the ride home to bring a bouquet to their mom.

Around the back the Rose Campion (Lychnis Coronaria), was a mass of magenta flowers and grey, fuzzy leaves outgrowing its intended spot while keeping the weeds at bay. Thank you, Rose Campion for working so hard when I didn’t. This plant is another short-lived perennial or biennial that sets copious amounts of seed creating new plants which are easily moved to more desirable locations. They look great planted in mass drifts. I cut them back after the flowers fade, leaving a few to make seed for scattering in barren spots. I have been known to toss these seeds out the car window in areas that could use a little love and color.

The bumblebees were loving the pale pink flowers of the None So Pretty also called Catchfly, (Silene armeria). None So Pretty is a reliable reseeding annual in my yard. The seed hitched a ride in a plant gifted from a garden mentor over twenty years ago. She told me “Once you have it, you always will” while speaking of the dainty plant. Sure enough the next year her seeds grew from the soil included with the hosta she shared with me the year before. This is a testament to the large amount and viability of the seed production of this Catchfly. It is called Catchfly due to the sticky sap produced on the underside of each flower thought to catch flies, although I have never seen any insects stuck to it.

The pale-yellow hollyhock by the back door always makes me smile. It is in the driest spot in my yard with the worst soil yet it still grows tall and loaded with blossoms. It survives and shines calling me back to the garden and welcoming me into the morning light. History recalls hollyhocks as the perennial used to plant around the outhouse since it grew tall and wide. Visitors did not have to request the location of the ‘facilities’, just look for the hollyhocks.

Coral bells are an extremely reliable and long-live perennial that needs very little care. Its round-lobed leaves create a mounding base, excluding weeds and competition for nutrients and water. Long flower stems rise up from the base holding the tiny bell-shaped flowers. Humming birds and bees of all kinds feast on the nectar contained. they have a very long bloom time of a month or more, only needing to prune out a few stems which fall over.

Last year I planted four Borage, (Borago officinalis) plants in the vegetable garden to attract pollinators as I had read borage was good for them. Boy were they right! The bees and other pollinators flock to the blue, dangling flowers. It also reseeded this year without any assistance from me. I have not watered, nor weeded and the bed is full of borage plants, calling far and wide for insects and humans to take a look at its beauty. The flowers are edible and can be used in salads or as a garnish.

I find it comforting to know a time away from the garden did not end in disaster or mass amounts of work. My garden survived without me, and welcomed me back in its best way possible.

See you in the garden,


Often times, the people, places and things that we encounter going about our daily lives are not given as much attention as might be merited. If they were gone though, they would likely be missed. New England in January without a new, pristine snow cover, can be drab and rather dismal, especially on cloudy days. Thankfully, the green goodness of eastern white pines is spread throughout our landscapes. On our walks, driving to the store or work, in our parks, along the highways and even in many backyards, eastern white pines (Pinus strobus) with that slight bluish cast to their needles adds a bit of greenery to an otherwise bland landscape.

white pine needles

The needles of the Eastern White Pine are soft and flexible. Photo by dmp, UConn

Eastern white pine is a fast growing evergreen tree native from Canada down the east coast to Georgia and westward to the Great Lakes region. It is the only native pine in Connecticut that produces needles in bundles of 5. These are held together at the base by a deciduous sheath. New needles sprout forth each spring. Whereas deciduous trees lose their leaves each fall, the needles on an eastern white pine last for 2 years before abscising. We northerners tend to either leave pine needles in place in naturalized plantings, or rake them up if they fall upon the lawn. In the southeast, pine needles, aka pine straw, are sold as a mulch.

Pine needles in fall 2

Older needles yellow and drop from tree the second fall after forming. Photo by dmp, UConn

They do make a good mulch so if you happen to have a plentiful supply, consider using them in this manner. Often questions will arise about using pine needles as there is a false perception that pine trees somehow make our soils more acidic. In reality, eastern white pines have evolved to grow well in our native, typically acidic soils. Since our native soils are often nutrient poor, the trees will absorb as many nutrients in the needles as possible before letting them senesce so the dried, brown needles that fall from the tree are just slightly acidic which is a perfect pH for many of our garden plants. And, if your soil pH is a bit on the low side, just add some limestone.

white pine fallen needles

Carpet of fallen pine needles under tree. Photo by dmp, UConn

When the early colonists first set foot in America, huge amounts of the northeastern and northcentral parts of this country where covered with old growth eastern white pine forests. The Native Americans used this tree for medicinal, food and utilitarian purposes. The needles were made into teas used for colds and other respiratory ailments. They are also high in antioxidants and vitamins A and C. There are recipes to make tea from fresh or dried needles online these days and prepared tea bags can be purchased as well. The inner bark or cambium was consumed as food by some tribes and the resin was used to waterproof buckets, baskets and boats.

A number of wildlife also depend on eastern white pine for part or more of their survival. Deer will occasionally graze on them during severe winters but I have found they typically prefer my yews and my one strategically placed (for visual impact) arborvitae. Black capped chickadees and pine warblers look for insects in the bark, branches and needles. The seeds are loved by mammals such as eastern chipmunks, white-footed mice, red backed voles, and grey, red and flying squirrels. A number of bird species also find them appetizing including red-breasted nuthatches, pine siskins, chipping sparrows, evening grosbeaks, grackles and crossbills. Porcupines may feed on the bark of eastern white pines as well as seek shelter in the evergreen trees.

white pine cones

White pine cones are elongated and resinous. Photo by dmp, UConn

Eastern white pines grow very fast, very large and very tall. These were all qualities appealing to the early colonists, their British rulers and future commercial venues. Eastern white pine was great for building and used in early colonial homes for floors, furniture and other purposes. It was easily cut and took paint readily and as such in high demand.

In the mid 1700s, the British Royal Navy needed tall, straight timbers for masts on its ships. These types of trees were in short supply in England as their navy continued its expansion so exceptional eastern white pine trees in the American colonies were marked for harvest and export to Britain. New Hampshire colonists, in particular, did not like this and cut down the marked trees for local timber use. This insurgence lead to the Pine Tree Riot in 1772. There was even a pine tree flag created in support of this rebellious group defending local natural resources from plundering by a higher order.

pine tree flag

Pine tree flag – Origin by E. Benjamin Andrews (1822-1917) – Taken from The Project Gutenberg EBook of History of the United States, Volume 2 (of 6), by E. Benjamin Andrews, c. 1894. From: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pine_Tree_Flag

Extensive logging by Americans from the 18th to 20th centuries lead to a reduction of about 99 percent of old growth eastern white pine forests from the east to the Midwest. While these majestic trees can live 4 or 5 hundred years, only about 1 % of old growth forests remain. Most of today’s stands sprang up after their parents were cut down and former productive tree lots abandoned. Although not as tall as their ancestors yet, Connecticut has 2 co-champion notable eastern white pine trees, both around 130 feet high. They are located in Thomaston and in Morris.

Some decimated areas were replanted with white pines from Europe. It may seem odd for native tree seedlings to be grown in Europe and shipped here but the Europeans had previously recognized the foolhardiness of the overharvesting of timber and had established nurseries to efficiently propagate various species including pines. Unfortunately, shipments that arrived in 1898 and 1910 were infected with a disease called white pine blister rust. This is a curious disease that has two hosts – the eastern white pine and ribes species including currants and gooseberries. It originated in Asia. Young pines were particularly susceptible and in some areas up to 80% of trees were killed. Control measures led to ribes eradication efforts. Some states passed laws prohibiting the cultivation of currants and gooseberries. This disease still lingers but perhaps because of developed resistance, fewer gooseberry and currant plants and climate conditions, the incidence of white pine blister rust is relatively low in Connecticut.

white pine stand

Eastern white pine stand. Photo by dmp, UConn

Fortunately, eastern white pines are resilient. Despite the fact that the earlier settlers cut down swaths of old growth forests on their move westward and the destruction that was wrought by the white pine blister rust during the early 20th century, eastern white pines still rule. So admire them on your drive to work, examine them more closely as you walk the dog, and plant one in your yard if you don’t already have this tree growing. This plant is a necessity to our native wildlife and it is a notable part of the New England countryside.

Dawn P.

Every growing season brings a variety of inquiries into the UConn Home & Garden Education office, either by snail mail, email, or in person. This year was no exception and I would like to share some that I found particularly interesting.

As we are entering the Christmas season I will start with an image of a Christmas cactus with raised bumps on its leaves. Although they were the same color as the leaf they had a translucent appearance when viewed with the light from behind. These blisters are edema (oedema)are the result of a disruption in the plant’s water balance that causes the leaf cells to enlarge and plug pores and stomatal openings. Moving the plant to a location with more light and watering only when the soil is dry can control edema.

Edema on Christmas cactus

Christmas cactus with edema symptoms

The cold of winter can cause problems that sometimes aren’t apparent until later in the year. Tree trunks that are exposed to southern light during the winter can suffer from sunscald and frost cracks. Sunshine and warm daytime temperatures can warm a tree enough so that the sap begins to run but the nighttime temps will cause the sap to freeze and expand, weakening the bark and resulting in vertical cracks. Dogwood with sunscald (on left) and willow with frost crack (on right) are among the susceptible species.


There were several incidences of huge populations of black cutworm larvae emerging in the spring including a group that appeared to be taking over a driveway! The Noctuidae moth can lay hundreds of eggs in low-growing plants, weeds, or plant residue.

The wet spring weather that helped to alleviate the drought of the past two years also had an effect on the proliferation of slime molds, those vomitus-looking masses that are entirely innocuous. The dog stinkhorn (Mutinus caninus) is another fungus that made several appearances this year.

Hosta plants exhibited several different symptoms on its foliage this year and the explanations were quite varied, from natural to man-made. The afore-mentioned wet spring and summer or overhead watering systems can cause Hosta to have the large, irregular, water-soaked looking spots with dark borders that may be a sign of anthracnose (the below left and center images). In the image below on the right the insect damage that shows up as holes that have been chewed in foliage may be caused by one of Hosta’s main pests, slugs.

But one of the more enigmatic Hosta problems presented itself as areas of white that appeared randomly on the foliage. Several questions and answers later it was determined that the Hosta in question was very close to a deck that had been power washed with a bleach solution! Yeah, that will definitely give you white spots.

Bleach damage 3

That bleach bath also affected a nearby coleus (below on left). Coleus downy mildew (Peronospora sp.) also likes the cool the cool temperatures and humidity of spring (below on right). The gray-purple angular blotches of this fungal disease were first observed in New York in 2005. Fungicides can be helpful if used early and thoroughly, and overcrowding and overhead watering should be minimized.

The grounds of the residence where my in-laws live have a lot of flowering plants in the landscape and as we walked one evening I noticed that the white roses had spots of red on them. These small, red rings are indicative of Gray mold (Botrytis cinerea), a necrotrophic fungal disease that is also a common problem in grapes called botrytis bunch rot. The disease is a parasitic organism that lives off of the dead plant tissues of its host.

The fungus Gymnosporangium clavipes, cedar-quince rust, on Serviceberry warranted several calls to the center due to its odd appearance. The serviceberry fruit gets heavily covered with the aecia tubes of the rust which will release the aeciospores that infect nearby members of the Juniper family, the alternate host that is needed to complete the cycle of the infection.

Two other samples that came in, goldenrod (below on left) and sunflower (below on right), shared unusual growths of foliage. Sometimes plant aberrations can be the result of a virus (such as rose rosette disease), fungus (such as corn smut fungus), or, like these samples, phytoplasma. Phytoplasma is the result of bacterial parasites in the plant’s phloem tissue and can result in leaf-like structures in place of flowers (phyllody) or the loss of pigment in flower petals that results in green flowers (virescence). Phytoplasma parasites are vectored by insects.

A frequent question revolves around ‘growths’ of a different kind, in particular the white projections that can cover a tomato hornworm. These are the pupal cocoons of the parasitic braconid wasp. The female wasp lays its eggs just under the skin of the hornworm and the newly hatched larvae will literally eat the hornworm to death. As the larvae mature they will chew their way to the outside where they will spin their cocoons along the back and pupate. As the hornworm is effectively a goner at this point they should be left undisturbed so that the next generation of wasps will emerge to continue to help us by naturally controlling this tomato pest.

Tomato hornworm 3

Tomato hornworm with braconid wasp pupal cocoons


Another wasp that was caught in the act was the cicada killer wasp (Sphecius speciosus), a large, solitary, digger wasp. Cicada killers, also called cicada hawks, are so called because they hunt cicadas to provision their nests. It is the female cicada killer that paralyzes the cicada and flies it back to her ground nest. The male cicada killer has no stinger and although its aggressive nature can seem threatening to humans, the male spends most of its time grappling with other males for breeding rights and investigating anything that moves near them.

Cicada killer wasp

A cicada killer wasp paralyzes a cicada


Speaking of noticing what’s going on around you, as my husband was walking past a False indigo (Baptisia australis) in July he heard a strange cracking sound and called it to my attention. The plant in question was outside of a gym on the Hofstra University campus where our son’s powerlifting meet had just ended. As many lifters exited the building amid much music and commotion we stood their staring at the Baptisia, heads tilted in that pose that is more often found on a puzzled dog. The bush was indeed popping and cracking as the dried seed pods split open!


But none of our inquiries approach the level of oddity reported by a retiree in Karlsruh, Germany, who thought that he had found an unexploded bomb in his garden in September. Police officers called to the scene discovered not a bomb but in fact an extra-large zucchini (11 lbs.!) that had been thrown over the garden hedge.


This is not an unexploded ordnance!


I look forward to next year’s growing season with great anticipation!

Susan Pelton

“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” -Greek Proverb


Two of my favorite shade trees are real beauties: Horse Chestnut and Copper Beech. Both trees are large, making a commanding presence in a landscape. You will need a fairly open spot not too close to the house to give each plenty of room. Planted on the south-west side of a home will provide cooling shade during the summer. Both are deciduous, shedding their leaves for the winter, allowing the sunlight to warm the house in the winter.

Horse Chestnut, (Aesculus hippocastanum), is a stately 50 to 75 feet tall and 40 to 70 feet wide at maturity. The large, palmate leaves have an opposite leaf arrangement, and are a pretty dark green. Soon after the leaves emerge the tree produces large, white panicles around mid-May. Panicles are made up of individual white, perfect flowers with a yellow blotch at the base. This yellow blotch changes to a pinky-red as the flower ages. The flowers are very showy, and I think, the best features of a magnificent tree. And the bees love it.

Horse chestnut flower 2017 closeup

Horse chestnut is not a true chestnut as it is in a different genus. The nuts of Horse chestnuts are not edible due to their toxic levels of glycoside and saponin. The nuts are enclosed in a green, smoothed shell with some pointed warts. The American and Chinese chestnuts have spine covered shells. Nuts left on the ground through the will break dormancy in spring and start to grow mid-April. Dig the baby trees to move them where you would like them to grow.


Horse chestnut nuts May 2017

Horse chestnuts in spring ready to germinate.

Copper Beech trees are not really a copper color. More of a mahogany, but that name was already taken! Whatever you call it, it is strikingly gorgeous. The Latin name is Fagus sylvatica ‘Purpurea’ group. There are quite a few named varieties of with the different shades of purple leaves. Popular ones are ‘cuprea’, ‘Brocklesby’ and Purpea Nana’. ‘Purpurea Pendula’ is a weeping cooper beech.

copper beech 2017 very close up

Copper Beech Flowers

Size varies with the many varieties. Some can reach 60 feet tall and 45 in width. Overall shape is an oval to more rounded with age. Flowers are small, not showy and a yellowy green in color. The male flowers hang down while the female flowers are held close to the twig. Flowers are wind pollinated. If female flowers do become fertilized, a spiny husk covering a triangular nut develops. Nuts are edible, but small. It will take ten years for trees to reach maturity before flower and nut production begins lightly and 30 years for a full harvest. It is best to purchase a balled and burlapped or potted tree to make sure the leaf color is to your liking. Seedlings can vary widely in their coloring.

-Carol Quish

Trees and shrubs are showing signs of life as they swell in preparation of budding out. Let’s hope that they have survived the extreme cold that followed some unseasonably warm weather in February when they started to appear. Although we are still weeks away from seeing canopies of leaves and flowering shrubs the weather is becoming nice enough to enjoy a walk through the landscape. And without leaves and flowers to attract our attention our sight is drawn to other details that might normally go unnoticed.

As I was walking around the yard looking at the pussywillows and the lilac buds I noticed lichen growing along the side of the lilac trunk. We get many calls at the Home & Garden Education Center regarding grey-green growths along trunks and limbs of woody ornamentals. Most lichen are so unworldly-looking that the common misconception is that they must be causing harm to the host plant, especially since they are commonly first noticed when a tree is in distress. But a sparse canopy simply lets in more sunlight which is beneficial to the lichen.

Lichen on lichen

The truth is so different. In fact, lichen may be a benefit to the host plant by bringing extra moisture and environmental protection as the lichen take root. Further, removal of lichen may damage the underlying bark may create open wounds that would allow pathogens to enter. It is best left alone.

What are lichen, then? They not only live symbiotically with host plants, they can be found on soil and on rocks. Lichen are composite organisms and although they sometimes appear plant-like, they are not plants. They are algae (or cyanobacteria, a name that reflects their blue-green hues) that live among the filaments of fungi. They do not have roots to absorb water and nutrients but they can produce food through photosynthesis by the algae component. Lichen are sometimes called moss and may grow amongst them but they are not related. This image shows them on the same tree:


Lichen can be correctly called an epiphyte though. Epiphytes grow harmlessly on other plants, only relying on the physical support for its structure and getting moisture and nutrients from the air and rain. Orchids are a beautiful example of an epiphytic plant and more can be read about them in the Ladybug Blog: A Visit to the Bahamas.

As lichen grow the forms that the thallus take determine the grouping that they fall within. The thallus are the obvious vegetative body parts and they can grow in a variety of ways and colors. On the left is the Parmotrema sp. in a foliose growth form. On the right is the Caloplaca sp. in a crustose growth form.

Lichen are long-lived but can have slow growth rate, as little as 2/100” in a year although there are varieties that can measured at 1 ½’ per anum. Lichen can be the first species to colonize freshly exposed rocks and can survive under the harshest conditions, such as arctic tundra and desert. It can survive a complete loss of water and then rehydrate when it becomes available. This moss has been growing on this rock for years. The cup-like structures are the apothecia, the fungal reproductive structure that produces the spores. While these spores will produce new fungi it won’t lead to new lichen. New lichen are formed when soredia are dispersed. Soredia are  clusters of algal cells wrapped in fungal filaments.


So there is no need to panic when you see lichen. If the host plant does seem to be in decline, look for another cause. It could be due to an insect infestation (have Gypsy Moth caterpillars defoliated the canopy?), a vascular disease that has caused a general decline in vigor, or uneven watering practices. Check with the UConn Home & Garden Education for verification of any of these possibilities.

Susan Pelton


In autumn, don’t go to jewelers to see gold; go to the parks! ~Mehmet Murat ildan

Bush Hill Road in Pomfret, Connecticut October 10, 2015

Bush Hill Road in Pomfret, Connecticut October 10, 2015

Fall in New England is the time when trees, shrubs and vines provide colorful scenery, fruits are ripe, skies are deeper blues and birds and animals are busy reaping this year’s harvest. For this year, 2015, an extended drought from April- September wasn’t helpful for lawns, but enough rainfall seemed to occur about once a month to keep most other plants in good order. The recent hard frost has caused many leaves to drop since the weekend, but there is still plenty of good color.

Carpet of leaves from sugar maples

Carpet of leaves from sugar maples

This year proved to be a banner year for fruits and nuts in New England. Apples, crabapples, acorns, horse chestnuts, black walnuts, Redbud pods, blueberries, cedar and many other fruits and nuts are abundant in quantity and quality. Many songbirds rely on crabapples during the winter as other food supplies dwindle or become unavailable under snow cover. In my neighborhood, crows are eating the black walnuts that have fallen on roads and have been crushed open by cars. A year like this can make you crazy if oaks on your property are dropping acorns like nuggets in Maine. A good cardio- exercise, though, if you rake them up.

 So many acorns1                 So many acorns!

Leaves have been especially colorful this year, and many tree, like ginkos and black gums still have green leaves. But as days get even shorter and temperatures go down, they should begin to lose chlorophyll as photosynthesis is no longer a necessary process. Leaf colors come from three different pigments- chlorophyll (producing green), carotenoids ( creating yellows and orange) and anthocyanins (reds)  While the first two are present in leaves during the growing season, the anthocyanins are usually produced only late in the season, and only under certain circumstances. That is why leaf colors in autumn may or not be as colorful as in former years. Droughts can delay leaf color change by a few weeks, while wetter and warmer weather may subdue colors, making for a duller fall display. Severe frosts can kill the leaves and produce an early, rapid leaf drop. An autumn that has had abundant warm days and cool nights, like this one in 2015, can create a vibrant palette.

Virginia creeper in the fall

Virginia creeper in the fall

Yellows and oranges in leaves appear as chlorophyll disappears and carotenoids can now show through the leaves. Trees with abundant carotenoids, such as yellow poplars, sweet birch, some maples, and spicebush always produce yellow leaves. Sumacs turn brilliant red to orange. Sugar maples can have leaves that range from yellow to orange to red, often on the same tree. Swamp maples are usually first to change color and have red leaves. Hickories turn dull yellow to yellow- brown. Trees can often be identified from a distance in the fall by their leaf color and habitat. Water courses and wetlands can be easily delineated in the fall by observing the yellow leaves of spicebush and the red leaves of swamp maples nearby. Other trees, such as black gum, sassafras and sugar maples produce reds, and sometimes brilliant reds. Leaves of birches, ginkos and tulip trees turn bright to golden yellow. Oaks tend to change later, and are red, brown or russet and will often retain their juvenile lower leaves during the winter. Beech trees can retain a large number of their brown leaves throughout the winter, producing a distinctive rustling sound in the woods.

Staghorn sumac leaves

Staghorn sumac leaves

Long- distance migrating birds can lose up to a fourth of their body weight, and they seek seed and fruit sources high in fat content for the energy required for these flights. Insects also are eaten, but may not be as readily available as fruits and seeds. Fruits with high lipid and protein content help birds replenish energy quickly, and these are often eaten first. Viburnums (except the maple-leafed viburnum) have high fat and carbohydrate content, and poison ivy, black gum, cedar, and Virginia creeper fruit often disappear quickly as flocks of migrating birds devour them before moving on. Other fruits from sumac, bittersweet and winterberry are left for birds that overwinter, as these do not provide the fat and energy needed for migration flights.

In October, look for migratory birds such as Yellow- rumped warblers on cedars and other trees with small fruits. They are commonly found feeding on berries of poison ivy, black gum, the seeds of goldenrods, and many other plants. They are often found in flocks, like the waxwings, so if you see one, there are probably several more in the vicinity. Listen for their sharp chek call made while flying or when foraging a key call to learn both to locate birds and identify them. Crabapples are a good food source for the pine grosbeak, often a late migrator coming through in late fall or early winter. Chipping sparrows that bred here this summer have long since departed, but ones from northern are now coming through from the north, and they can be seen where seeds from grasses, goldenrods, wildflowers and other plants are abundant. In the fall, look in disturbed areas and fields or woodland edges for flocks of these small sparrows.

Yellow-rumped warbler feeding on red cedar fruit

Yellow-rumped warbler feeding on red cedar fruit

The Eastern Red Cedar, Juniperis virginiana, is a tree can be found in many old cemeteries where it was planted for its ornamental value. But it is also a valuable wildlife plant as well, supplying deer with edible foliage and twigs, and birds with its blue berry-like fruit. These trees produced an incredible amount of fruit this year and many birds can be found eating them at this time. Cedar Waxwings were named for thneir affinity with the red cedar which provides shelter as well as food for these birds. Listen for their high pitched whistle made both when in flight and when perched or feeding. Bluebirds and robins as well as many other birds will also eat the fruits, sometimes later in the winter, though. Last year juncos arrived early and cleaned out a lot of the small bluish cones before other migrating birds arrived or passed through.

White oak acorns are a valuable wildlife food source in fall and winter, as they have less tannins than the red oak group and so are less bitter. Deer, turkeys and bears may restrict their winter territories to oak stands in years where acorns are especially abundant, as acorns tend to be high in carbohydrates for the energy needed to survive the winter. White oak group trees also produce heavy, large acorns every year, while red oak group trees produce smaller acorns in alternate years. White oak acorns also germinate in the fall, but produce no cotyledons until next spring.

Autumn landscape

Autumn landscape

Autumn is a good time to identify trees and other plants by their fruits and leaf color. Oaks can be easy to distinguish by family- the white oak family leaves have rounded lobes, and red oak family leaves have pointed lobes, sometimes with veins extending beyond the leaf margins. Acorns can be tricky, but the white oak group usually has larger acorns than the red oak group. Of course acorns will fall directly under the tree that they grew on, so the fruit plus leaves and bark and other identification features will all be there.

Kentucky coffee trees, Catalpa, Mimosa and locusts all have characteristic pods. Jack-in-the-pulpit berry clusters produce a flash of bright red in an otherwise dull monochrome in the forest understory, and some ferns form striking rusty brown stands nearby. Tulip trees are the tallest deciduous trees in North America and their distinctive leaves have a squared-off tip and are golden yellow in the fall. Their fruits are cone-like aggregates of winged carpels that open from November through March and can disperse prolific amounts of seeds.

Black walnut, tulip tree leaf and carpels, horse chestnut, Jack-in-the-pulpit berries, mimosa pod, Kentucky coffee tree pods, Saucer magnolia seeds

Black walnut, tulip tree leaf and carpels, horse chestnut, Jack-in-the-pulpit berries, mimosa pod, Kentucky coffee tree pods, Saucer magnolia seeds

Getting out to observe the autumn display of color, texture and wildlife can be accomplished from a car, a hiking trail, or maybe even your own backyard. Enjoy it while it lasts, which this year has been a delightfully long time. Even raking leaves may be a little less burdensome if it becomes more of an opportunity to appreciate the leaf colors and shapes than just a monotonous chore. Just sayin….

raking leaves abstract Pamm Cooper photo

Pamm Cooper       All photos copyright 2015 Pamm Cooper

Along the lovely and historic Route 5 in Enfield, Connecticut is a home that was built in 1782 by John Meacham and was originally intended for use by the church parsons in Enfield. It was called Sycamore Hall for the row of sycamore trees that stood between the house front and Route 5. If you were to drive by today you would see one large, majestic sycamore that still remains. It is quite a tall specimen, well above 60 feet in height although many sycamores may grow to 100 feet or more.

The beautiful view of the front of the Parsons House

The beautiful view of the front of the Martha A. Parsons House Museum, formerly known as Sycamore Hall

In fact, there is a sycamore in Simsbury, CT, known as the Pinchot Sycamore that stands 112 feet tall and has a circumference of 234 inches. Known for its spreading, crooked branches the Pinchot Sycamore has a diameter of 147 feet. It is at least 200 years old and may be even closer to 300. It was dedicated to Gifford Pinchot, a Connecticut native and conservationist, in 1965.

Meanwhile, back in Enfield, several sycamore saplings were planted in 2010 to replicate the original view of the Parsons House along Route 5. The trees are known as The Gettysburg Sycamores as they are said to be the descendants of the sycamore tree in Pennsylvania that President Abraham Lincoln passed under on his way to and from his delivery of the Gettysburg address.

The Gettysburg Sycamore saplings

The Gettysburg Sycamore saplings

The commemorative plaque

The commemorative plaque

The American Sycamore, Platanus occidentalis, is one of the most easily identifiable shade trees due to its very unique bark. The tan-gray bark starts off smooth and pale but then begins to peel away in large flakes in mid-Summer. The now-exposed underlying surface can be brown, green or gray and gives the tree an appearance of camouflage.

The distinctive sycamore bark

The distinctive sycamore bark

The sycamore is a deciduous tree with simple alternate leaves that are palmate with three or five lobes. The leaves of the sycamore can often be mistaken for maple leaves but they do not have any of the beautiful fall color that maples have. The foliage of the sycamore may turn yellow but often goes directly to an unattractive brown before dropping. This abscission exposes the buds that have formed within the base of the petiole and that will be next year’s leaves. It is a very unusual arrangement as most buds are formed in the axil (the angle between the leaf and the stem).

Sycamore leaf on the left, maple leaf on the right

Sycamore leaf on the left, maple leaf on the right

My second favorite thing about the sycamore (after its very cool camouflage appearance) is the seed structure. The flowers themselves are tiny and are grouped in crowded ball-shaped structures. The fruit that form next are one-inch balls that go from green to brown and give the sycamore its alternate name of ‘Buttonball Tree’. These brown balls are covered with achenes which are actually individual fruits that each contains a single seed. The achenes that cover the outside of a strawberry are often mistaken for seeds. Other plants that exhibit this tendency are buttercup, buckwheat, cannabis, and maple. The maple tree achene is winged and called a samara. Roses also produce achenes and although the rose hip is considered the fruit it actually contains a few achenes. But unlike the edible strawberries or rose hips, the achene of the sycamore can cause skin irritation and respiratory problems for humans.

The different stages of the button ball

The different stages of the buttonball

The achene of the sycamore has a hair-like structure that allows them to be broadcast in a manner that is referred to as a tumble or diaspora. They can travel very far on the wind or even by floating on water. And like so many other seeds they can also be dispersed by birds and animals which eat them and then pass them out in a new location. Some species that are fond of the sycamore achenes are American Goldfinches, Carolina Chickadees, Purple Finches, Mallards, Beavers, Muskrats, and Gray Squirrels. The beaver also eats the bark of the sycamore and many animals make use of the tree as shelter.

A sycamore devoid of leaves but still bearing its many buttonballs

A sycamore devoid of leaves but still bearing its many buttonballs

The American Sycamore, as one of the most common shade trees planted in the United States, is a strong and durable specimen that brings much interest to any landscape.

Susan Pelton

All images by Susan Pelton

UConn Plant Database photo of young yellowwood tree.

UConn Plant Database photo of young yellowwood tree.

Yellowwood in full bloom, photo from uky.edu

Yellowwood in full bloom, photo from uky.edu


Trees with large, showy flowers always attract attention and a closer look. Yellowwood is one such tree not commonly seen here in Connecticut. I am lucky enough to work on the UConn Storrs campus where many more unusual trees are planted and growing well. Behind the W.B. Young Building which houses Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, on the lawn as you exit the south end of the parking lot, is a glorious Yellowwood tree displaying its large, white flowers hanging down like wisteria clusters. As the flowers age, the petals are gently dropped speckling the lawn and mulch white.


Yellowwood flower. C. Quish Photo

Yellowwood flower. C. Quish Photo

Cladrastis kentukea is the Latin name for Yellowwood, referring to its native range in the south-east portion of the United States, mainly Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina. It is hardy here in Connecticut, as the one planted on campus proves. Research shows it is hardy to zone 4. Locate in full sun and well-drained soil to ensure success with this tree.  It is also sometimes known as Virgilia. The common name of yellowwood comes from the color of the heartwood of the tree. It has a yellow hued wood used for decorative wood working and gun stocks. The color can be extracted from the root to be used as a dye.

V-shaped form and rounded crown of Yellowwood tree. Photo by C. Quish

V-shaped form and rounded crown of Yellowwood tree. Photo by C. Quish

Yellowwood is a medium-sized tree with a uniform, rounded shape suitable for use as a specimen planting or a lawn tree. It makes a great focal point providing great shape, a flowering period and superb interesting branch shape, and interesting bark. The bark is starts out with soft yellow/green twigs, which change to a reddish-brown and finally to a smooth grey to brown at maturity, It has a habit of setting horizontal branches below six feet adding to the structural interest of the tree when it is leafless. The leaves turn from green to clear yellow, orange and gold during the fall.

Yellowwood wood, UConn plant database

Yellowwood wood, UConn plant database

Fall color, UConn Plant database photo

Fall color, UConn Plant database photo

Yellowwood bark, uconn database

Yellowwood bark, uconn database

-Carol Quish