Did the Pachysandra Kill the Hickory Tree?

Me and the killer Pachysandra.

Me, my hickory and the Japanese spurge in hand.

by Joan Gottlieb.

In my yard there is a large bed of Japanese spurge (Pachysandra terminalis), a plant widely used in landscaping. This hardy evergreen ground cover spreads by rhizomes to create what some proponents consider a “dependable green carpet.” If allowed to escape, it will cover a large area with a Pachysandra monoculture. Since my bed is contained, I wasn’t worried about the spreading. Although a bed of native plants would surely provide better habitat, the Pachysandra seemed a relatively benign bit of greenery. Its removal was not my priority. Until recently…

Within this bed, surrounded by the Pachysandra, there’s a mature hickory tree that didn’t leaf out fully last summer. Each branch showed signs of stress with small, sparse leaves. Many branches had areas with no leaves at all. I consulted an arborist who had no explanation for the decline but suggested a fertilizer treatment be applied in the spring. Hmmm.

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A dense mat of roots.

Unpleasant Surprise

Over the winter, I began the long ignored task of Pachysandra removal, partly to allow inspection of the tree base, but also because it really was the right thing to do. The Japanese spurge was very easy to pull by hand from the soft, humus-rich soil. But what my pulling unveiled was a deep network of tangled roots that had buried the hickory’s root flare and smothered it with layers of moist debris.

Removing the evergreen Japanese spurge revealed rotting bark.

Rotting bark revealed.

Sadly, the entire circumference of the tree’s base was now spongy decaying bark – bark that would otherwise protect the tree itself.

I do not yet know if the tree can be saved. Did my negligence allow the Pachysandra to kill the hickory tree?

Information about the homicide suspect can be found through Pennsylvania DCNR: Invasive Plants in Pennsylvania.

A discussion of its use in landscaping is here, but I do not advise using Pachysandra terminalis at all.

Cats Preying on Wildlife: Natural or Not?

Cat with hapless prey. Photo by Gaëtan Priour courtesy American Bird Conservancy.

Cat with hapless prey. Photo by Gaëtan Priour courtesy American Bird Conservancy.

Free-roaming cats are a common sight in our suburban neighborhoods, but the toll they take on native wildlife often remains invisible. According to a 2013 study sponsored by the Smithsonian and the Fish and Wildlife Service, domestic cats (many of them feral) kill an estimated 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion small mammals yearly. These numbers do not include prey that may escape with injuries that later prove fatal, nor do they take into account diminished breeding in birds threatened by cats. As the New York Times summed it up, “that cuddly kitty is deadlier than you think.”

Justified Behavior

Allowing pet cats outdoors is often justified as supporting “natural” feline behavior. It is true that cats have evolved as hunters and carnivores: their instinct to stalk, trap, and kill is hard-wired and is not controlled by hunger. But from an environmental point of view, predation by pet cats operates under distinctly unnatural conditions. House cats are in effect “subsidized predators,” protected by their owners from factors that would control their population numbers in the wild: disease, starvation, and being hunted by other animals. This disrupts the natural equilibrium between prey and predator, with disastrous results for local wildlife.

Indoor cats can be happy

Keeping pet cats indoors serves the best interests of cats, birds, and small mammals. Indoor cats live longer and healthier lives than their outdoor counterparts and can be equally content with some help from their owners. The Ohio State University’s Indoor Pet Initiative offers valuable advice about addressing cats’ needs. Window perches and screened enclosures can give house cats a safe taste of the outside world. Owners can satisfy cats’ natural instinct to hunt with toys chosen to model their pet’s preference for particular kinds of prey.

Birds and other wildlife face many stresses in our suburban environment. Keeping cats indoors can play a significant role in reducing them.

Many thanks to Rosemary Jann, Virginia Master Naturalist and indoor cat owner, for allowing choosenatives.org to post her article.

Do Not Plant: Bradford Pear

The asian import, Callery Pear (Pyrus calleryana), commonly called Bradford Pear, is an ornamental tree that’s widely used in landscaping.  It has, like so many other nursery-grown plants, escaped from residential and commercial land and is designated as invasive in more than half of our states.  This tree greedily invades natural habitats and out-competes our valuable native species for resources.

Invasive Callery or Bradford Pear blooming in spring.

An ever-mulitiplying patch of invasive Callery or Bradford Pear blooming in spring.

‘Do not plant’ is the official advice regarding this invasive.  I’d like to add, ‘Do not propagate’ and ‘Do not sell.’  Please!  Unfortunately the Bradford Pear is legal to sell here in Virginia and I suspect this is the case in most of the states it’s sunk its insidious roots into.

People think this white-flowering tree is pretty but if ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ I see this as one unsightly tree. Here are some handsome Mid-Atlantic native alternatives to the Callery Pear for your consideration (sources noted below):

ALTERNATIVE NATIVE TREES

Common/Downy Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea)
Light Reqirement: Sun, Part Shade, Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry, Moist
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Canadian Serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis)
Light Requirement: Sun, Part Shade, Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist, Wet
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Allegheny Serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis)
Light Requirement: Sun, Part Shade, Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry, Moist
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

American Hornbeam/Ironwood (Carpinus caroliniana)
Light Requirement: Part Shade, Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis)
Light Requirement: Part Shade, Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

White Fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus)
Light Requirement: Sun, Part Shade, Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry, Moist
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)
Light Requirement: Part Shade, Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry, Moist
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Cockspur Hawthorne (Crataegus crus-galli)
Light Requirement: Sun, Part Shade, Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry, Moist
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Green Hawthorne (Crataegus viridis)
Light Requirement: Part Shade, Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist, Wet
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Sweet Crabapple (Malus coronaria)
Light Requirement: Sun, Part Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist, Wet
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Blackgum (Nyssa sylvatica)
Note: this tree can grow to 100’
Light Requirement: Sun, Part Shade, Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Hophornbeam (Ostrya virginiana)
Light Requirement: Sun, Part Shade, Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry, Moist
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum)
Note: Not recommended for urban areas
Water Use: Low
Light Requirement: Part Shade
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

American Plum/Wild Plum (Prunus americana)
Light Requirement: Sun, Part Shade, Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry, Moist>
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Chickasaw plum (Prunus angustifolia)
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Southern Arrowwood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum)
Light Requirement: Sun, Part Shade, Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry, Moist, Wet
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Black Haw Viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium)
Light Requirement: Sun, Part Shade, Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry, Moist, Wet
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

The best plan is to use local ecotypes (plants native to your area) that grow in the same conditions as your garden’s.  Soil pH, light and moisture should be taken into consideration before planting to insure long term success.

Sources:

City of Columbia, Missouri

Invasive.org

Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

US Fish & Wildlife Service
Native Plants for Wildlife Habitat and Conservation Landscaping, Chesapeake Bay Watershed

USDA Forest Service

Orange is the New… Orange

Invasive plant

Common daylily growing in a neighbor’s yard.

It is ubiquitous.  The plant with striking orange flowers thriving in dense drifts.  In the shade, in the sun.  In moist and dry locations.  On roadsides, in suburban yards.  Hemerocallis fulva.  Introduced to the ornamental trade from Asia in the late 19th century, the common daylily has since been cultivated endlessly due to its hardiness and its beauty.

But beauty is only skin deep.  Considered an invasive perennial in the Mid-Atlantic region by the US Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Park Service, the common daylily naturalizes in the wild and displaces our native plants. Deer turn up their snouts at them (as Bambi does with most alien invasive plants) and on close inspection not many other living things are attracted to them either.  There are neither bees, nor butterflies nor any other beneficial insects drawing nectar or pollen from the trumpet shaped blooms.  Wikipedia claims the orange daylily is sterile, multiplying wildly not by seed but through their fibrous roots and rhizomes.  Originally brought to America with the settlers, the orange daylily is actually the cultivar ‘Europa’.  And with now over 60,000 registered cultivars, there is the possibility of other daylilies becoming invasive over time, too.

Native Plant

Butterflyweed just beginning to bloom. Outstanding!

So if you love the color orange, and it seems as though many people do, why not dig out the ‘ditch lily’ in your garden and replace it with an overwhelmingly friendlier orange flowering perennial?  A native species.  A pollinator attractor.  A plant that is the larval host to our Monarch, Grey Hairstreak and Queen butterflies: Asclepias tuberosa.  Commonly named butterflyweed or butterfly milkweed, this native grows 1-3 feet in height and can handle sun, part sun, dry or moist conditions, preferring well drained soils.

Tuberosa blooms cheerfully in June and July, concurrently with the common daylily.  Butterflies and myriads of other pollinators can be found caressing the clusters of tiny neon flowers.  The orange-reddish and black insects that congregate on the plants are milkweed bugs.  They draw their nourishment from the seeds in the milkweed pod but do not harm the plant itself.  They are fascinating to watch — resist the urge to disturb them and just let them do their thing.

Butterfly weed is indisputably low maintenance like most native plants are.  And it’s well-behaved and will not attempt to overtake your garden.  Deep rooted and therefore drought tolerant, tuberosa is also very long lived.  Plant en masse for a display of beneficially brilliant orange.

 

Doing What We Can May Be A Good Idea

tall-tree-w-ivy

Certain death. English ivy girdles this 50+ year old tree.

by Miles Benson.

Lovely and seductive, this leafy, easy-to-grow and innocent-looking charmer has been around a long time.  It is an inexpensive decorative plant found inside homes almost everywhere.  Outside, it crawls the walls of elegant buildings on the campuses of renowned universities, engulfing them in deceptive green majesty (think ivy league).  It now runs loose in the wild across the nation.

It is, in fact, an invasive species, a noxious weed imported from Europe that has escaped control of not only of the federal government but the 50 state governments.  And “escaped” is precisely the term commonly used in scientific papers to describe the ivy’s spread across America.  Both federal authorities in the U.S. agriculture department, and officials in state agriculture departments acknowledge – usually off the record – that this is an escalating problem that they are just unable to deal with effectively.

Never mind the damage the ivy does to stucco and exterior painted surfaces of homes.  Never mind that it crowds out wildflowers, ferns and tree seedlings.  Never mind that it provides protective refuge for Norway rats in large numbers.  It’s a tree-killer.  The evidence is easily apparent even to inexpert eyes.  Around the nation’s capital, in pricey neighborhoods like Georgetown and public spaces like Rock Creek Park, and in the suburbs along the Potomac, the ubiquitous creepers surround and climb and cripple and strangle even the largest pillars of our shrinking canopy.  The evergreen ivy causes tree bark and rot problems and blow-overs in windstorms because of the “sail effect” of the vines’ mass.  Oh, and the mature vines produce berries believed poisonous to some birds species.

This is an issue that has remained mostly beneath our radar.  Although some conservation-minded people who care deeply about natural habitat describe English Ivy as “evil menace” I doubt the plant is motivated by malice.  It’s just behaving as a natural life form that happens to be in the wrong place, carried there by human error and commerce.

Some, but few, feeble attempts have been made to address the error.  The states of Washington and Oregon actually have taken administrative steps to ban the propagation and sale of various strains of English ivy by nurseries and garden supply businesses.  But neither state has launched a full bore eradication effort, or require homeowners or anyone else to eliminate existing beds and vines.  Mississippi has classified the plant as a noxious weed without banning sales.

To be sure, I am just tossing one more issue atop a mountain of urgent problems such as jobs, poverty, disease, health care reform, pollution, income inequality, political dysfunction, nuclear proliferation, jihads, terrorism, population growth, and global warming with its apocalyptic cohorts climate change, melting glaciers, rising sea levels, and accelerating species extinctions, to name a few.  But this one item, this Hedera Helix, is something you can individually take action against, real hands-on action, the satisfying kind of action of actually and legally uprooting and destroying an interloper that lives within your reach and grasp.  How often to you get the chance to do that?