Thursday, May 31, 2012


Baptisia, or False Indigo, is a native legume that spreads gently through rhizomes. The extremely large and deep root system makes this plant very drought tolerant and very difficult to move.  Baptisia is a host for quite a few butterfly species and attractive to bees.

White False Indigo, Baptisia lactea, is going strong out in the display beds. (Other Baptisia species finished blooming several weeks ago) This white beauty holds its head high above grasses and other perennials.  This is a great 'see-through' plant for the garden.  As fall approaches the seed pods turn black adding late season and winter interest.

More and more cultivars of False Indigo are being introduced into the trade.

Tips for growing:
1. Be patient. It takes time to take off. 
2. Plant it in a spot that you will not have to move it. B. australis can get 3' high and wide.
3. Give it a sunny spot with a well-drained soil. B. laceta is more tolerant of heavy clay.
4. If using one of the larger Baptisia (B. australis, B. lactea, B. hybrids) use low growing grasses and other perennials around the base.

Baptisia lactea, White False Indigo, in the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum display beds.

Baptisia australis, grows 3-4 feet tall.  Has a  tight, rounded form to it.

Baptisia bracteata, difficult to find. 
Baptisia minor, a perennial of the year in the Great Plant for the Great Plains, of the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum. Much smaller than Baptisia australis.

Seeds forming

Friday, May 25, 2012

Friday Challenge: Embrace the Insects

A book titled 'Bringing Nature Home',by Doug Tallamy, has inspired us at the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum to further embrace the connection of plants and insects. Tallamy is researching insects, specifically butterflies and moths, and their ability to feed on different plant species in our landscapes. He reminds us that the most important job of a plant is to convert the sun's energy into sugars-- food that then can be used by insects and animals. There should be things eating plants!

According to Tallamy about 90% of insects native to the United States are specialists that "are adapted to find, eat, digest and survive on plant lineages that produce particular types of phytochemicals". Many plants in our landscapes are aliens from other continents and do not have the correct phytochemicals for native insects to eat them.  As we rapidly loose our native habitat we need look at increasing the biodiversity of our own communities through using more native species where it makes sense. If we don't have the habitat for our native insects, then we in turn have less bird, reptile, and amphibian species that need insects to survive.
Buttonbush, great nectar and host plant.

Just because a plant is pretty (and drought tolerant,disease resistant, and has great form...and...) doesn't mean that it's a plant that supports native insects. Some plants may not seem exciting for insects but are an insect feast. Oaks can support over 500 species of butterflies and moths. Black cherry is right behind them with over 400 species. Personally I've started my own little credit system when I am doing landscape design. I can plant 'that' (example, butterfly bush that has little benefit beyond a nectar source to adult butterflies) if I plant one or two of 'those' (example, Buttonbush or  New Jersey Tea which have great benefit to insects, caterpillars and adult butterflies). It certainly has made my design and plant choices more intentional, yet allows me to continue and enjoy some of those non-native species. More of Tallamy's thoughts and research on choosing plants here:

Butterfly bush, great nectar plant and poor host plant.
My weekend challenge to you:  Begin to look at your yard as an eco-system with many interconnected parts. This weekend go looking for beneficial insects in your landscape. Take a stroll, flip over a few leaves, and look close. Do this even if you're an avid gardener. Don't forget to look at the trees and shrubs! This is a great activity to do with a child.  Take a mental note of what you find and also what is growing in your yard.  If you are not finding many insects, or signs of insects, perhaps there is an opportunity to create more diversity by using some regionally native plants.

Here is what I found while walking through the display beds this morning:

Purple coneflower and bee

lady bug

Milkweed leaf and green lacewing

Common milkweed and milkweed beetles

This Buttonbush had little insect marks all over it!  It will be blooming soon.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Dadgummit! Herbicide damage to trees and other non-target plants in the landscape has unfortunately become a common rite of spring. I've noticed severe damage to many trees in Waverly this spring including several oak species, tuliptrees, coffeetrees and redbuds among others.  Although I use no chemicals myself, my own yard trees were hit hard. This makes me very angry!! This is the third year in the last five that damage has been very significant around town. The trees can't take it forever.

The early and warm spring weather certainly played a role as many people were out fighting dandelions and other weeds. And the warm and windy weather no doubt added to the volatilizing and drifting of the chemical. There were many days in April that the smell of 2-4,D hung heavy in the air. Yuck!

The sad thing is that such damage is easily avoided by just being a bit smarter and more careful with weed control:

1. Broadcast spraying of dandelions and other perennial weeds should not be done in the spring, but rather be done in the fall whenever possible.
2. Ester formulations of 2,4-D should not be used as they volatilize more easily and hang on the air. Use amine formulations.
3. Spraying should not happen when its hot or windy.

Finally, I must say this: can't we just learn to live with a few weeds in the landscape? Our desire for golf-course-quality lawns has serious environmental consequences from herbicide damage on non-target plants, to lawn mower/trimmer damage of trees, to overuse of drinking water for irrigation, to significant impacts from polluted and excessive stormwater runoff. Turfgrass is certainly an important and needed element of the landscape, but do we really need to be so anal and shortsighted about it?

And think about this: That air that is punctuated all spring with the putrid smell of 2-4,D is the same are we breathe. What is the long-term damage to our own health?

Dandelions have pretty yellow flowers, kids love to play with them (remember "momma had a baby and its head popped off"?), they can be used in tasty salads and they can be used to make wine. So let's not kill them all.
2-4,D damage to trees in Waverly: black oak, bur oak, tuliptree, redbud and coffeetree

Monday, May 21, 2012

Fontenelle Forest, Bellevue, Nebraska

The shaggy bark of shagbark hickory.
The Nebraska Statewide Arboretum (NSA) and Fontenelle Nature Center (FNC) in Bellevue have partnered on programming activities for several years. For the third consecutive year, FNC hosted a plant sale featuring NSA grown native trees, shrubs, perennials and grasses. It was a great event. Thank you to Fontenelle Nature Center and all the wonderful Green Bellevue volunteers that made the day so special.

Fontenelle Nature Center is a great place to explore Nebraska’s native landscape, including native woodlands, prairies and wetlands. Nebraska doesn’t have a lot of oak-hickory forest, but Fontenelle NC is a good place to see the forest that covers (or at one time covered) much of the eastern US. Massive bur oaks, linden, hickories and walnut abound. I took a walk through the woods there recently and spotted at least 20 native tree species including bur oak, red oak, shagbark hickory, bitternut hickory, walnut, white ash, green ash, hackberry, American elm, red elm, mulberry, coffeetree, honeylocust, American linden, ironwood, serviceberry, boxelder maple, cottonwood, sycamore and silver maple. Of course there were many other species of plants worth noting along with many birds, butterflies and other wildlife. What a great place to visit!
Long-beaked sedge (Carex sprengelii) is a common understory plant.

The cool canopy of trees makes a trail hike quite enjoyable on a warm day. Rich diversity is seen here with several tree species visible in this image.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Milkweed: Plant One for the Butterflies

Asclepias viridis, Spider Milkweed, prefers dry mesic/dry
During a walk through the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum, Inc. display beds I noticed the milkweeds are starting to bloom.  Milkweeds (Asclepias) are a good reminder to us that the main job of a plant is to provide food for insects and other critters--humans too!  Plant one to host the larvae of leptidoptera (butterfly and moth) species.  Most well known of this group is the Monarch butterfly, but other species of butterflies and moths like to eat the leaves of milkweed as well. Adults love the sweet nectar which is also attractive to bees and a host of other insects. Swamp milkweed, common milkweed, purple milkweed, spider milkweed and butterfly milkweed and prairie milkweed are just a few of the options.  Some milkweed species are aggressive so I noted this in the photo captions.

Keep scrolling to see the cute Milkweed Tussock Moth in the last photo.  Can you imagine a child discovering this when they go outside?! 

Is there milkweed planted in your garden?
Asclepias tuberosa, Butterfly Milkweed with Monarch caterpillar, drier well-drained soil
Asclepias syriaca, Common Milkweed, aggressive and may not be suitable for smaller plantings
Asclepias purpurascens, Purple Milkweed, moist but well-drained
Asclepias speciosa, Showy Milkweed, more agressive
Asclepias verticillata, Whorled Milkweed, Blooms July through September later than other milkweeds.
Asclepias sullivantii, Prairie Milkweed, wet to average soils,
 Similar to Common Milkweed but not aggressive!
Asclepias incarnata, Swamp Milkweed, average soils

Ohh la la. Milkweed Tussock Moth.