Lantana for Pollinators

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I went out to pick my green beans this morning and discovered my lantana covered in bumble bees.

This is the first time I have grown lantana in a couple of years. I try to grow it on a regular basis in some container because I know that in the past I have seen both hummingbirds and Eastern swallowtail butterflies flocking to it every time I do grow it.

But this was the first time I had seen so many bumble bees on the plant at the same time. A couple seemed to be hanging out and drying out–there had been rain the night before. But several more were actively visiting, looking for pollen. It was nice to see.

I know that in warmer parts of the United States lantana can be an invasive plant, so, as always, know before you grow!

Ticks and Barberry

If you live in Connecticut, you live in the home of Lyme disease. There’s a town called Lyme where the disease was first identified. Lucky us.

But since that first happened some 30 or so years ago, much of the thinking has changed about the causes of the disease.

Don’t mistake the matter: ticks still cause the disease (and no, since so many of you out there have been afflicted, I won’t post photos of the nasty little arachnid that causes it!)

But for awhile it was thought that deer were the primary host of this tick (hence the name “deer tick.”) You might notice that isn’t the popular name for this tick any more. You will most likely hear it referred to as the black-legged tick (as if any of us examine it that closely!)

Now it is thought that white footed mice are the primary host of these nasty little critters. But it’s even more complicated than that. Now we also have to look at habitat as well.

For it seems that in habitat that has an abundance of barberry plants (berberis sp), the tick population is much higher than in places with few or no barberry plants. Here’s a story our local NBC affiliate did on the habitat issue about a month ago.

Why does this matter? Well, it matters for two reasons. First, barberry is an invasive shrub. It spreads by seed. It is not banned here in Connecticut but many places have banned it.

Many of you know barberry as that low mounding shrub, often with reddish leaves (occasionally yellow) and very thorny stems. It has small red fruits in late summer or early fall here in Connecticut that wildlife love–hence the spreading problem.

But when it spreads to our forests and woodlots, you won’t see it coming up as red or yellow. You’ll just see a low green undergrowth. So you won’t necessarily know that it’s the same barberry that came from the garden center.

I have the stuff coming up all over my yard–presumably spread by birds–even though I haven’t planted any and I have no idea where the nearest plant might be. I try to yank it whenever I see it for three reasons: it’s much easier; it’s relatively thornless; and I don’t want it getting out of control to the point where it might produce its own fruit and create this nightmare all over again. Besides, like so many of these invasive plants, once it’s bigger than about 8″, the roots seem to reach middle earth!

I almost hesitate to suggest that our barberry free environment is why I have so far been blessed with no Lyme disease (I was tested again this fall for yet another mystery ailment. They still haven’t figured out the problem–but at least it’s not Lyme disease).

But given the number of hours that I spend in the yard, I do think habitat makes a difference, particularly since we are wooded, on a deer trail and are over-run with mice (and voles).

If ticks are a problem in your yard, take a look at your plantings. Are any of them barberry?

Wordless Wednesday–Bug-pocolypse?

I bought this plant in early April. It was an impulse purchase when I went to get some organic soil that I couldn’t find. I got it around the same time I got the mushroom kit I posted about in an earlier Wordless Wednesday (which for me is never Wordless)

Schefflera bonsai

The “bugs” appear a few days after I got it. There aren’t many–one or two at a time. But they’re large–3/8″ to 1/2″ as you can see by the ruler next to this one. And they are clearly some sort of weevil, which is not quite so obvious from this photo.

Mystery weevil

So here’s where the fun comes in. I look this thing up in all the usual places. I start on the computer with search terms like “invasive weevil” or weevil in house. I get the usual suspects that might be in my area: strawberry weevil, rhododendron weevil, things like that.

So I break out the bible of all bug books, Whitney Cranshaw’s Garden Insects of North America. If it’s not in there, it’s not to be found. I do find something similar–the Pale’s weevil–but of course, that’s only found in the Midwest and I am in New England.

But of course, I’m not sure I should be deterred by that. In the mid-2000s, I made what I thought was a positive ID of an Assassin bug. So I go grab my bug book to be sure and I look it up and they say it’s not found in Connecticut. So I shrug and say, “Well, it must be some look alike relative.”

A full 2 years later, at one of those 1 day Bio-blitz things where they try to ID all the species in a given locale, I read that they have found the “first ever” Assassin Bug in Connecticut. And I think, “Oh no, you haven’t” but of course, what can you say about that?

So if I have some new invasive weevil, what should I be doing? Stomping on them, I suppose. I’ve already thrown 2 out the window, thereby forever altering Connecticut’s delicate ecosystem. This is how invasions start. Let’s hope it was too cold for them to survive–or that my trusty birds ate them for me!

Later searching led me to this fact sheet that reassured me that these things were in fact native to my region so I hadn’t brought on a bug-pocolypse after all. They’re native to the “eastern” United States from Texas to Nova Scotia. That’s some definition of “east!” Anyway, I feel relieved that I haven’t started a new invasion. I just hope I haven’t now imperiled my trees!

Wordless Wednesday–Tag-Along Plants

flowering vine

This little plant was rescued from one of my larger crotons when I was repotting it. Now that it’s free, it’s quite happy–so happy that it’s flowering.

A little more research showed that it’s tradescantia flumenensis. Apparently, down south, this plant is considered an invasive species. Perhaps that’s how it found a ride in my croton. I’ll need to be careful about where I keep it and whether I put it outdoors for the summer–because while it shouldn’t survive my winter temperatures, if we get one of our crazy winters, you just don’t know.

And of course, birds are notorious for spreading invasive species. That’s how oriental bittersweet becomes so pervasive. So for now I’ll keep it indoors on a windowsill and enjoy my “tag-along.”

Battling Bittersweet One Town at a Time

An article in the Hartford Courant a week or so ago talked about how one of our riverfront towns, Glastonbury, was going to be attempting to control oriental bittersweet (celastrus orientalus) in its riverfront park.

It was soliciting volunteers (the deadline to sign up is today, so if you live in Connecticut anywhere near that town and would like to volunteer, please see the article for how to do so!) for the clean-up, explaining that what many see as verdant green growth was actually an invasive monster that is taking over trees, killing them, and then going on to spread seeds to continue the cycle.

Back in 2011, when the October snowstorm brought down so many trees, one of the factors that was cited was this same bittersweet. It was noted that it was climbing many of the trees that had come down, and that the weight of the leaves and its trunks (because the vine can actually form thick, ropy trunks, like poison ivy, only without the hairy coating) significantly contributed to the way the trees caught the snow and therefore toppled over.

Connecticut is not the only state with this problem–the vine has been called the “Kudzu of the North” for its prominence and its invasiveness. I’ve seen it in New York and New Jersey, and all throughout New England, as far north as Maine. Needless to say, it is also in the South, but I think kudzu outcompetes it.

Even if you are nowhere near Glastonbury, CT, or have no interest in assisting it in its mission to control bittersweet, if you live in a climate where this vine is a problem, be alert for it on your own property. Young seedlings are easily hand-pulled. Once it gets hold, it’s almost impossible to pull out, and cutting it only causes it to branch and become more vigorous.

My suspicion is that Glastonbury is going to try cutting it and painting the ends of the cut stems with glysophate–or perhaps even something stronger. This is the time of year when woody plants are conserving their energy and taking nourishment to their roots so it is the best time of year to try to control them.

I wish them well–as someone who regularly battles this on my own property, I know what a struggle it can be!

Bamboo-zled

About a week ago, my Yahoo home page had an article from the online version of the Wall Street Journal that was sensationally titled something like “A Plant that Comes with Jail Time,” or some such thing.

It may have gotten folks’ attention, and if it did, that’s a good thing because bamboo is really no laughing matter. I tweeted about it at the time, but the matter really needs more than 140 characters–and even then I put out 3 tweets.

The article was primarily about running bamboo, a plant which has now been banned in my home state of Connecticut. That may sound extreme, but I remember back in my retail gardening days, we had a lovely stand of yellow bamboo on the property where I worked. Customers would ask about it and I was always very careful to note that the owner had sunk a concrete barrier 3′ into the ground to assure that the bamboo would remain contained. Folks were decidedly less in love with the plant after I mentioned that and I never did sell one plant.

Around that same time, however, a so-called clumping bamboo, a fargesia, which had been planted on my property before I got there, began to “run,” or send out runners. Since this was not supposed to be technically possible, I was completely un-amused. I immediately dug the plant out, got as many of the roots and runners out as could, bagged it and disposed of it in the trash, not the compost pile (heaven forbid!).

For 5 years, runners continued to come up in the yard and only vigilance kept them under control and finally completely eliminated them.

Now I am surely not dealing with anything like walls of bamboo like the running kind produce, nor am I having to dig it out with a backhoe. But I wanted readers to know that even the so-called “clumping” types of bamboo don’t stay put and don’t play nicely with others.

Interestingly enough, I replaced the bamboo with a native plant, northern sea oats. It’s a lovely grassy plant; however, its seed heads do self-sow rampantly around in my nearby gardens. And they are just about impossible to remove. I suppose I need to think of them as I do they asters that I so love–with deep tap roots to aerate my heavy clay.

But should that plant ever die, the next thing that’s going there is a sculpture or a bench!

Stopping the Spread of Invasive Plants

I seem to be on a bit of a roll with the invasive plants and bugs theme, so let’s end the month that way.

I was surprised to read last week in the New York Times that there was a weevil that was being used to control the spread of Mile-a-Minute vine (persicaria perfoliata). I had posted a week or two ago about the beetle that has been used for almost two decades in the control of purple loosestrife, but this weevil was new to me–and very welcome news.

Thankfully we don’t have a lot of Mile a Minute vine in our state but we find more of it each year. While it doesn’t literally grow a mile-a minute, it is a fast grower, growing as much as a foot or more a day in our climate. And the truly delightful feature of it is the hooked thorns on its stem, making hand pulling quite the adventure.

This year, it was found at 6 new sites in Connecticut; last year it was found at 8 new sites; overall it is currently in 37 of our 169 towns so it is certainly not running rampant but it is spreading steadily. News of a weevil to stop the spread–or even slow it–would be welcome, especially since the article in the Times seems to show that certain places in the Bronx are infested with it and it’s just an easy “fly” as a bird goes from there to here.

This page, on the Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group web site, hosted by UConn, has photos of the plants in all its stages for information. It also has a map showing all the affected towns and the newly affected towns over the last two years.

Perhaps when I muse aloud about why I have so many invasives in my yard, I should be grateful that this isn’t one of them!