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.

skynews-courgette-germany_4146311

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:

IMG_20170225_143335007

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.

IMG_20170225_143050101

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring is busting out all over. This week we have jumped from the cooler temperatures right into the warmth of summer like weather. It is almost like we didn’t even have a spring after that long winter. For plants, this means a huge jump in pushing out their spring flowers and leaves quickly, denying us the weeks of leisurely enjoying the blossoms as they slowly open, instead now they are rushing to develop as the heat is hitting. The plants are as rushed as we are. This week, two of my favorite spring bloomers, Shadblow and Cornell Pink Azalea, popped open and are already starting to fade after just a few days.

amelanchier flowers Pamm's photo

Amelanchier flowers Pamm Cooper photo

Amelanchier canandensis, aka Shadblow. Photo by Pamm Cooper

Amelanchier canandensis, aka Shadblow. Photo by Pamm Cooper

Amelanchier canadensis is commonly called Serviceberry or Shadblow is a wonderful small, native tree.Other names for the shrub or small tree are Juneberry, saskatoon, and sugarplum.  The tree grows to only 20 feet and appears airy with leaves on the smaller side of 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches long and one inch wide.It looks good in all seasons with its grey, striped bark and multi-stemmed habit. In the wild, colonies form into a thicket when it is left to produce suckers from the bottom. Single plants can be pruned up into a tree form. Serviceberry is hardy to zone 3 growing from Maine south to the Carolinas. It can be found in swamps, water edges and bogs as it likes wet feet and moist soil. However I have seen it grow happily, even thriving in drier situations proving its adaptability. The white spring flowers are 2 to 3 inches long with obovate petals. The flowers come out before the leaves emerge. After flower petals drop, red fruit is produce during the summer. The fruit will turn black when ripe. The fruit is tasty and edible, but difficult to harvest before the birds strip the tree clean. The leaves are a common host for several caterpillars ensuring a population of butterflies nearby.

The common name Shadblow comes from the timing of the white flowers blowing on the wind at the same time the shad fish are spawning in the Connecticut River. This might just be local folklore, but I have heard it many times from shad fishermen. Several named varieties are in cultivation and marketed under the names and description as follows.

‘Glennform’ (Rainbow Pillar®) – Has an more upright, shrubby growth habit, good for hedging. 20 feet tall.

‘Prince William’– Shrub habit, 10 feet tall, with good, multi-colored fall leaves and good fruit set.

‘Sprizam’ (Spring Glory®) – A compact shrub, 12 feet tall, 8-10 feet wide with yellow-orange fall leaves.

‘Trazam’ (Tradition®) – More of a tree variety, growing 25 feet tall with a central leader and good fall color.

Cornell Pink Azalea, Rhododendron mucronulatum, Pamm Cooper photo

Cornell Pink Azalea, Rhododendron mucronulatum, Pamm Cooper photo

Cornell Pink Azalea is an early spring bloomer bursting out in clear pink blossoms before it puts out leaves. Usually covered with flowers from bottom of stems to their tops. Their are several varieties of Rhododendron mucronulatum but Cornell Pink is most commonly found in the trade. There is also a variety sold as  ‘Storrs Pink’ but appears to be the same as ‘Cornell Pink’. Both are very reliable, hardy plants, providing bright, spring color every year. The shrub is 4 to 8 feet tall and wide making a nice mound of flowers in the spring and green foliage in the summer. Fall leaves will be yellow to orange before the drop for the winter. Summer fruit is a small capsule, not normally noticed or significant.

Rhodendron mucronulatum is native to China, Korea and Japan. It is hardy to zone 4 and prefers full sun to light shade for best flower show. Provide good drainage, acidic soil and high organic matter to keep this shrub going strong. It looks beautiful in a mass planting in a large space backed up by evergreens.

Gingko Buds, Photo by Pamm Cooper

Gingko Buds, Photo by Pamm Cooper

Another favorite tree showing its beautiful flower buds is Gingko biloba. This is a male flower on a male tree. The flowers are produced on the shortened spurwood, which are compressed, never growing long. You can see the many years of growth rings just below the bud. Lichen is growing on the stem just below the spur containing the flower, adding a bit of interest to the photo by my co-worker, Pamm Cooper. Female trees have female flowers and produce a fruit which, when ripe, smells a lot like vomit. I suggest if you are purchasing a gingko tree, chose a male.

-Carol Quish