Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Pollinator Watch

I've been watching for pollinators on the Camassia and so has this crab spider. Flowers spiders, as crab spiders are also known, have short, wide, flat bodies with two pairs of over sized front legs for grabbing and holding their prey, and small venomous fangs for injecting a paralyzing poison.


That fast acting venom means they can catch grasshoppers and butterflies. As hunters they wait  patiently for an unsuspecting bee or fly to land near their hiding spot and then grab them. They are quick and like crabs can move backwards, forwards and sideways with ease. Masters of camouflage, they can change colors to match the flower they are hiding on.
Carpenter bee and Blue Orchard Mason bee early spring 2015
Although, they eat beloved pollinators, they are considered beneficial in the garden and also prey upon flies, mosquitoes, moths, and other insect pests. Crab spiders are not immune to being preyed upon, they're often a tasty dish for wasps, ants, large spiders, lizards, birds and shrews.

The food chain in a garden is so dramatic. It's better than most TV shows!

xoxogail

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Wildflower Wednesday: Asarum canadense

Welcome to Clay and Limestone where we're celebrating our Wildflower Wednesday star of the month!
Asarum canadense is poking out of the soil in my garden. The heart/kidney shaped leaves are velvety soft and an attractive deep green.
The delicate bell shaped flowers are also up, but, hidden beneath the leaves at the base of the plants.

Wild ginger is found in rich, moist forests in Eastern N. America - Manitoba to New Brunswick, south to N. Carolina and west to Kansas. It's an early bloomer here in middle Tennessee and the delicate bells shaped flowers are already beckoning pollinators. In cooler climates look for them in early April.


The flower of Wild Ginger is a fuzzy little beauty, but, you'll have to get on your hands and knees to see it. The flower has no fragrance, but, it's unusual shape should be seen up close to appreciate. What looks like petals are really part of the calyx and have pointy ends that add to its attractiveness. The flowers fade fast, but, the leaves are green all season, making Wild Ginger an important ingredient for a woodland garden.

Asarum canadence is made for the shade. It’s a beautiful ground covering wildflower when grown in loose, rich, organic soil (spreads by rhizomes). Needless to say, it doesn’t spread wildly or fast in my heavy clay soil, instead it intermingles with other wildflowers. Because it remains green all season, it's a lovely addition to any woodland/shade garden that emphasizes leaf shapes, textures and variations on greens. I can see it planted along a path edge, massed or interplanted with clumping  Christmas Ferns, or any number of other shade dwelling beauties. In my garden it plays well with False dragonhead, Phlox divaricata, Christmas Ferns, Blue eyed Mary, Phacelia and Spigelia.
Wild ginger is a fuzzy little beauty, but you'll have to get on your hands and knees to see it.
When a flower is at ground level it only makes sense that it's inviting ground dwelling insects to either pollinate or disperse its seeds. That's the case with Wild Ginger, it's pollinated by flies and beetles and the seeds are attractive to ants.

Seed dispersal by ants is called Myrmecochory. This beneficial partnership between ants and plants is amazing: The ant gets a lipid (fat) rich meal from the elaiosome covered seeds and the plants benefit from the ant dispersing the seed far from the parent plant (thereby eliminating competition). Scientists also think that ants have a role in protecting seeds from seed predators when they carry the seeds away and by increasing germination rates when they eliminate the elaiosome surrounding the seed.

Nature never ceases to amaze me.

I love knowing that ants have moved wild ginger uphill in my garden. I sure didn't recall planting it there! This gives me an even better appreciation of ants, their midens (trash depositories) and their place in nature! I must thank them for planting it near the Christmas fern and wild Phlox!

Oh, in case you wondered, the leaves and rhizomes of Wild Ginger do give off a pleasant gingery fragrance when broken, but, this is not why I grow it. Not only is it lovely to look at, it's not palatable to deer and it's an important food source for the larva of the Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly. The caterpillar eats the leaves and thereby ingests aristolochic acid which makes it poisonous to birds.
Pipevine Swallowtail on Ruellia strepens


The particulars

Asarum canadense
Common Name: Wild Ginger
Family: Aristolochiaceae
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Family: Aristolochiaceae
Native Range: Eastern N. America - Manitoba to New Brunswick, south to N. Carolina and west to Kansas
Zone: 4 to 6
Size: Height: 0.50 to 1.00 feet and Spread: 1.00 to 1.50 feet
Bloom Time: Late March/April to May
Bloom Description: Maroon/brown
Water Use: Medium
Light Requirement: Part Shade , Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist (can take some dryness, but, it will fade fast in a drought)
Soil pH: Acidic (pH<6.8) , Circumneutral (pH 6.8-7.2)
Sun: Part shade to full shade
Maintenance: Low
Suggested Use: Ground Cover, Naturalize, Rain Garden
Tolerate: Deer, Heavy Shade
Faunal Associations: The reddish brown flowers  attract flies and beetles. The seeds attract ants because of their fleshy appendages; these insects help to disperse the seeds.
***an important food source for the Pipevine swallowtail Butterfly.
Comments: Doesn't grow in the high summer heat of Zone 8.
Companion planting: This plant is a wonderful companion for most wildflowers that like moist soil Consider using them with Wild columbine/Aquilegia canadensis, Celandine poppy/Stylophorum diphyllum, Christmas Fern/Polystichum acrostichoides, Lady Fern/Athyrium filix-femina,
Woodland Phlox (Phlox divaricata, Indian pink/Spigelia marilandica, Carex species, Fothergilla gardenii, Uvularia sessilifolia, Jeffersonia diphylla, Maianthemum stellatum, Polystichum acrostichoides, Pachysandra procumbens and other woodland wildflowers.

xoxogail

Welcome to Wildflower Wednesday and thank you for stopping by to see our March star. It's been in my garden for a long time and once again I ask myself how this workhouse in the woodland got overlooked. Thanks for joining in and if you are new to Wildflower Wednesday, it's about sharing and celebrating wildflowers from all over this great big, beautiful world. Join us on the fourth Wednesday of each month. Remember, it doesn't matter if your wildflower is in bloom or not and, it doesn't matter if we all share the same plants. Please leave a comment when you add your url to Mr Linky.




Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

When a tree falls in the forest

Good things happen!
Its value to a forest or your garden isn't over when a tree dies.

Trees are beneficial for their entire life cycle.

barred owl  Radnor Lake
 Living trees provide food, shelter, nesting, resting places, perches for hunters and a "reproductive site" for hundreds of different kinds of insects.

Redbud snag

Dead trees have an enormously important role in forests. Trees fall for a variety of reasons: disease, lightning, fire, animal damage, too much shade, drought, root competition, as well as old age. A big oak in my garden was struck by lightening a dozen years ago and limb by limb it's been falling down.

The snag that remains still provides shelter and nesting for a number of critters; while the limbs on the ground are a perfect shelter for small animals such as rabbits, chipmunks and squirrels and a habitat for beetles, termites and other insects.


As trees decay/break down they can become nurse trees for moss, mushrooms, small plants and trees.
wood ear fungus Auricularia auricula
As they continue to rot they enrich the forest floor.

Should a tree fall into a lake it begins its second life. Downed limbs provide perches for turtles and other critters.
fallen tree limbs provide a perch for a turtle on a sunny winter day
Once a tree is submerged aquatic critters use it as a habitat. "Within hours, crayfish crawled beneath its partially  submerged trunk, to be followed by a mudpuppy and tadpoles, while minnows and small fish  hovered within the lattice of  its branches. Within days, logperch, darters, sunfish, bass, burbot, pike and  even walleye and muskellunge had also entered the complex network of  the newly established  community. Algae and diatoms began establishing colonies, while dragonfly nymphs and mayflies followed to forage among the branches." (source)

Ducks rest and preen on a log floating in the middle of this lake.

Unless a dying tree is a danger to buildings and people, we needn't be in such a hurry to take them down. Let them be, let them drop their limbs, let them become hosts to nesting critters, let them become part of the garden and forest floor.

When a tree falls in the forest, good things do happen.
xoxogail


Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.

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