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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

To Plant or Not to Plant..Learning about Invasives

 When it comes to trying to do right by our environment, even those to whom we seek advice are always learning. Years ago we made two mistakes in our choices for what to plant to naturalize our property.

Wanting butterflies, like most people that list included the Butterfly Bush (Buddleia spp). Now we are told not to plant this butterfly magnet because even though the adult butterflies are drawn to its pretty flower clusters, it offers nothing as a host plant for caterpillars and being it spreads it is destroying native habitat. Like many plants from Asia, once it escapes home garden settings it starts to spread uncontrolled in natural areas which disturbs the delicate balance of native plants. When I first noticed it popping up elsewhere, I thought it neat that I could get more for free and just dig it up and put it where I wanted it. Now I'm told to dig them up and get rid of them or just cut off any volunteers that appear.

The second plant was the Autumn Olive ( Elaeagnus umbellata).
Autumn olive is a vigorous, deciduous shrub with pale yellow-white bell-shaped flowers to a half-inch long borne in late spring and early summer. Its silvery fruit turns red in fall and attracts birds. Wavy-margined leaves are silvery when they emerge and mature to bright green above.
At the time what we wanted was a plant to use for a roadside hedgerow. We were looking for something that would be drought resistant, hardy in cold weather, would not need to be pruned, would form into a privacy hedgerow, and supply safe nesting sites and berries for the birds.

 Autumn Olive ( Elaeagnus umbellata)caption
Though originally from Asia, the autumn olive was recommended by a forestry catalog supplying bulk plants for naturalizing purposes. In the eastern and central U.S., the autumn olive was purposely planted back in the 1960's along highways, to revegetate road banks, reclaim mine spoil, and supply food for wildlife. This plant was purposely planted in areas for erosion control. Being it grows in poor soils thanks to its nitrogen-fixing roots, it was planted to improve soil quality, but now we find that in doing so it adversely affects the nitrogen cycle of the native communities that depend on infertile soils.

For some years after planting the shrub seems contained, but then it suddenly becomes invasive and difficult to control. At first I loved this plant. I looked forward to its wonderful, sweet fragrance every May when it flowered. I looked forward to its delicious, little berries that ripened by October. The birds love it too, so much that if I didn't pay attention they would have them stripped before I had even a nibble. But now I see the problem. The plant spreads by way of bird droppings, allowing the shrubs to pop up in meadows, fields and I notice it along many a roadside. Its branches grow in every direction, which though that is what makes it such an effective, intertwining hedgerow, that characteristic makes it horrendous to work with in trying to get rid of it. Heavy work gloves are a must in handling the branches.

My real vengeance is with the Oriental Bittersweet. I didn't plant the Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) but the last few years it seems to be appearing everywhere, crawling over everything in its path. This invasive vine can literally form a canopy over smaller bushes and eventually pull everything down.

Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus)

Oriental bittersweet is a vigorous, woody, deciduous climber with rounded mid-green leaves that turn yellow in autumn. It bears small green flowers in summer and axillary clusters of bead-like red berries with contrasting yellow casings in the fall. Fruit splits open to reveal pink to red seeds. These berry clusters are actually very pretty for fall decorating but since this vine can't seem to behave itself, it is with great satisfaction whenever I snip a vine trying to climb yet another poor tree.

There is a native bittersweet called  American bittersweet (C. scandens), which is noninvasive.
American bittersweet (C. scandens)
The plants look very similar so it is easy to mistake one for the other when small. 

Below is a list of better options for wildlife habitat planting.
The  list comes from conservation biologist, Carole Sevilla Brown

 Good options for woody plants:
  1. Quercus—Oaks support an astounding 543 species of Lepidoptera, including Polyphemus and Imperial moths, Banded Hairstreak, Striped Hairstreak, White M Hairstreak, Juvenal’s Duskywing, and Horace’s Duskywing. There are about 60 native species of Oak in the United States, which are divided into two groups: the white oaks, and the red oaks.
  2. PrunusPrunus include: beach plum, cherry, chokecherry, peach, plum, sweet cherry, wild plum, and almond. These plants support 456 Lepidoptera species, including Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Coral Hairstreak, Striped Hairstreak, Red-spotted Purple, Cecropia moth, Promethea Moth, and Hummingbird Clearwing.
  3. Salix—455 butterfly and moth species use Willows. Including Mourning Cloak, Red-spotted Purple, and Viceroy.
  4. Betula—Birch are used by 411 species, including Luna Moth, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Cecropia Moth, and Polyphemus Moth.
  5. Populus—367 species use aspen, cottonwood, and poplar. These include Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Mourning Cloak and Twinspot Sphinx Moth,
  6. Malus—crabapple and apple are used by 308 species, inclucing Io Moth, and Cecropia Moth.
  7. Acer—Maple and boxelder are used by 297 species, including Io Moth, Saddled Prominent, Luna Moth, and Imperial Moth.  Don't plant Norway Maples. They are highly invasive.
  8. Vaccinium—cranberry and blueberry are used by 294 species, including Brown Elfin, Spring Azure, and Striped Hairstreak
  9. Alnus—Alder is used by 255 species including Orange Sulphur, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, and Giant Swallowtail
  10. Carya—Hickory, pecan, pignut, and bitternut are used by 235 Lepidoptera species, including Io Moth, Polyphemus Moth, Luna Moth, Pale Tussock Moth, and American Dagger Moth.

Buttonbush, Button willow, Honey balls (Cephalanthus occidentalis)

Good options for  herbaceous plants:
  1. Goldenrod (Solidago), support 115 species. 125 Goldenrod species occur throughout the US. Goldenrod is used by many insects and spiders and birds who feed on the seeds and insects. No autumn garden is complete without several species of goldenrod bending in the breeze.
  2. Aster (Aster), support 112 species. This is a huge family, with species that thrive in prairie, meadow, pasture, roadside, and woodland environments. There are both spring and fall blooming species which means that you should choose a wide variety of species. Try to avoid the cultivars and opt instead for true native species. The asters provide abundant pollen and nectar for bees and butterflies and are a wonderful choice for any wildlife garden.
  3. Sunflower (Helianthus), support 73 species. When thinking of sunflowers, it is common to call the large-headed, many-seeded annual cultivars to mind, but there are many native perrenial species as well. The plants provide lots of nectar and pollen, and the seeds are eaten by many birds and other wildlife. Try a mix of native perrenial species with several annual species as well.
  4. Joe Pye (Eupatorium), support 42 species. Joe Pye is one of the best native alternatives for invasive Butterfly Bush, and includes Boneset, Snakeroot, and many species of Joe Pye. They produce a lot of nectar and pollen, making them an excellent choice for a pollinator garden.
  5. Morning Glory (Ipomoea), support 39 species. You must be very careful with morning glory because there are many introduced varieties which can be extremely invasive. When choosing a Morning Glory for your garden, it MUST be native to your area, or you will regret planting it. Please research your choice very carefully. Check with the native plant society in your state for guidance.
  6. Sedges (Carex), support 36 species. Many native sedges are considered threatened or endangered in the U.S., so your planting of them will help to protect them in addition to providing for wildlife. Sedges work in grassland, prairie, and woodland environments. We often neglect these species when planning our gardens for wildlife, but grasses and sedges are an essential element for wildlife in our gardens.
  7. Honeysuckle (Lonicera), support 36 species. Do not plant Japanese Honeysuckle! Please check carefully to ensure that you are choosing Lonicera species that are native to your area because there are several very invasive alien honeysuckles wreaking havoc in many ecosystems. Native species are wonderful for hummingbirds and butterflies.
  8. Lupine (Lupinus), support 33 species. Several endangered butterflies, such as the Karner Blue, are reliant on species from this family. Check with your state native plant society to determine which species will be most appropriate for your garden.
  9. Violets (Viola), support 29 species. Violets are host plants for one of my favorite groups of butterflies, the Fritillaries, many of which are endangered. Choose several species for early spring color and wildlife habitat
  10. Geraniums (Geranium), support 23 species. This does not mean those hanging baskets you can buy at the grocery store. You want to find native species that are best for your location.
Goldenrod, (Solidago spp.)

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