Earth Tones Native Plant Nursery & Landscapes

Nature Knowledge Archive

Where does our celebrated fall color come from?

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008

Short days and cool temperatures are the dual triggers of fall color.  They are signals to the plants to begin preparing for their long winter snooze.  But some of the glowing colors are not just a part of getting ready for dormancy.  Many plants actually expend energy to produce the compounds that make the reds, yellows, and lovely purples, and oranges of fall.

On a basic level, the plants break down some of the more valuable components of their leaves and move them to locations where they can be safely stored during the cold season.  As chlorophyll is broken down and its components reabsorbed, the less valuable chemicals remain, giving the leaves a yellow or mahogany hue.  The more vivid reds and oranges are another story.  These are produced by compounds that the plant manufactures for a specific purpose.  As a rule, organisms do not expend energy without some kind of return.  People began to wonder what the benefits of foliage color could be.

There is currently much debate in the scientific community as to the exact nature of these benefits.  One theory is that the chemicals that generate different colors also protect the plants photosynthetic centers from cold temperatures.  This safeguards the plants ability to recover the most biologically costly of the chemicals associated with photosynthesis.

Another interesting theory is that the bright colors are actually a screen against aphids.  Worrying about aphids in November may seem a little silly, but this is actually the time when they are sizing up locations to lay their eggs.  The eyes of aphids are very sensitive to green, as it is likely to signal a meal, but they have a hard time seeing red.  This means that the red leaves which are so bright to our eyes are actually a good disguise against aphids.  They will move on to a tree with green or yellow leaves, and deposit their eggs there, thinking they have chosen the best potential food source.  Another of natures clever and fascinating ploys!

No one has figured out the definitive answer, and there are many more possibilities.  It is a rather interesting conundrum to consider while taking a walk through the bright colors this autumn.

The Glory of Winter

Thursday, November 1st, 2007

bluestem grassAlthough most plants go dormant at the end of the gardening season, many of them leave behind gifts that can be enjoyed throughout the winter months. Not only are remaining seed heads and berries a food source for wildlife, but they’re also a source for winter interest in the garden. Perennial natives such as purple coneflower and black-eyed Susan produce attractive seed heads that are a welcome feast for hungry birds and provide a striking profile in the winter landscape. Pair them with other plants with architectural staying power like little bluestem grass and red-osier dogwood to create dramatic vignettes, especially when cloaked in a blanket of snow.

The key to successful winter gardening is to choose plants that offer appealing characteristics for most of the year and during the cold months. Don’t look at just flowers, think about a plant’s leaves, bark, form, seeds, and fruit. Select native shrubs like red cedars (for their evergreen forms), birches (for their attractive exfoliating bark) or winterberries (for their red fruit).

Also consider changing your maintenance routine. Old habits may die hard, but resist the temptation to deadhead, cut back, and rake out beds. Deadheading and cutting back may make things neat and tidy, but it also robs you (and animals) of those coveted seed heads and structural winter forms. Raking beds also eliminates Mother Nature’s homemade mulch, which provides plants with organic matter, moisture, and a layer of winter protection. Unless the spent leaves are likely to encourage the spread of disease or attract unwanted insects or rodents, it’s okay to leave clean up until we’re hungry for sunshine and eager to get dirt under our nails again in spring.

Download the EarthTones Fall 2007 Newsletter

Welcome Summer

Monday, June 4th, 2007

Official summer is almost upon us. The weather will become hotter, the ground drier and panic will set in the hearts of some gardeners when they think of the upkeep in watering the garden! Will their well risk running dry this hot season? Will there be bans on watering? Will they ultimately lose precious plant material?

If you have native plants in your garden, then the answer is No! The native plants, if planted in the right ecological conditions will survive. They have had years of practice at surviving these harsh weather conditions that the New England area is so known for (some are even proud of it!)

Lonicera sempervirensAfter installing your beautiful, beneficial and hearty native plant, once it’s established (and this will require maybe a month of growing time) all you need to do is enjoy it! Speaking from experience, there have been more than enough times I have planted a gorgeous native plant (locating it in the proper soil and light conditions, of course) carefully setting it in its new home, lovingly mulched and watered it and then poor thing- forgot all about it!

As you know, life seems to pull us and our attentions in many different directions, snd the poor garden suffers. So, I forgot about the plant until it called out to me and finally attracted my attention by the beautiful blooms that it was waving about (It reminded me of the student in the back of the classroom practically standing in the chair while waving her hand to get the attention of the teacher¦). So I redirected my footsteps to take a minute and admire the new addition to the garden. Colorful, attractive, and getting along well with the other plants in the garden, it was simultaneously providing a nectar source for insects. Very impressive! But I had confidence in her anyway, yet was still, none the less, pleasantly surprised.

Note to self, Self, don’t forget to collect seeds in the fall from that one! She’s a beauty!

The Columbines are just going to seed, the Solomans Seal has finished its blooms, the spring ephemerals are starting to fade and yellow, I’ve already collected and have sown Marsh marigold seeds and Mitella seeds, and the Dicentra’s are going to seed also. Aside from the hot spell last week, the natural course of this plant palette screams that spring is over! Get ready for summer! The delicate soft green hues are turning deeper. The spring ephemerals that we so longed for, the ones that evoke the excitement like the birth of a new baby are now fading. Summer, with its heat, its intense solar glare, its dry ground and tough planting conditions needs some new recruits. The next wave of color is upon us!

GaillardiaMy favorites for Summer fun and color are:
Gaillardia (Blanket flower) -Loves full sun with fairly average garden soils. Crazy colorful and fun blooms that remind me of a brightly lit carousel during the summer evening fair. Hummingbirds enjoy this plant as well!
Asclepias - Wow! There is a milkweed for every occasion. Just to name a few…The A. tuberosa is the bright orange one that is at home in fields and open meadows, loves well drained soil and is hard to miss when in bloom.

Swamp Milkweed Asclepias incarnata A. incarnata prefers moister soil conditions (hence the common name Swamp Milkweed) and A. syriaca, Common Milkweed, which is the only fragrant milkweed, tends to take over in a smaller garden, so prepare to have ample room for it so you don’t start a fight with it! The blooms last a fairly long time in a vase and I’ve read that the still fresh seed pods are edible. (Recipes anyone?)

Monarch Caterpillar

AND did you know that Milkweeds are a MAJOR food source for monarch butterflies? Plant a few milkweeds and ultimately you will also be enjoying beautiful butterflies, colorful caterpillars, and if you’re lucky enough- camouflaged chrysalis.
Aruncus – for the shade garden only. This plant can tolerate drier soils and throws out a huge white fluff of a flower that droops delicately long into the season. A great one for filling up a space because the plant grows 4ft tall by 3ft wide.
Campanula- Always more fun when you go through life with a campanula!
Ok, ok. But really! Hardy plants, bell shaped flowers, handles drought, some are petite and delicate and some bold. How can you not want one?

Lonicera sempervirens - A honey of a plant! This woody-stemmed vine flowers from mid-May until frost. And if the frost was not that bad, and there’s a warm spell - she’ll try to bloom a few more! Can handle sun to part shade and is a favorite with the hummingbirds!
Penstamon - This, like the Columbine, has such a delicate flower, yet the plant is very tough in the driest locations. Can handle full sun to part shade.
Monarch ChrysalisVeronicastrum - I’m pushing this one a bit. It doesn’t flower until late in the summer, but I always have enjoyed the leaf pattern. It has a sturdy stem with a whorled leaf that adds an intriguing texture to the garden. It will ultimately grow 3ft +, so give it room.

Hope you had a wonderful Spring and now time for some summer fun!

The Amelanchier

Sunday, April 1st, 2007

Amelanchier canadensis, A. stolonifera, A. arborea and A. laevis can be found in our area. 

Amelanchier is a small tree or shrub that can be found in a variety of habitats from swamps to dry woods. When you see a sprinkle of delicate white splashed in the woods and nothing else is flowering you have found an Amelanchier.  This plant is known to many by a variety of names such as; Serviceberry, Sarvisberry, Shadbush and Shadblow.  These names reflect the intimate connection people had with their environments.  The Sarvisberry is a tree found in Europe with similar fruit, after a while people corrupted sarvisberry into serviceberry. 

As for the name Shadbush and Shadblow, this refers to the running of the shad in the northeast.  The American Shad is an anadromous fish that would move up the Houstonic and Connecticut rivers and into the smaller rivers to spawn in May and June. At the same time, the Amelanchier start to flower.  Because it is the earliest shrub/ tree to flower and the only plant flowering at that same time and can be found along stream banks it was easily connected with the shad.

The Amelanchier is in the rose family, in our area it can be found as a single stem tree or a multi-stem shrub, on dry hills or in swamps and along streams.  It is a highly adaptable plant for many landscape environments.  Besides having lovely white flowers, it produces outstanding fruit.  The berries are red to purple and have about a 1/4″ diameter.  They have a incredible flavor in which a large number of birds delight. 

They make some of the best preserves I have ever had and are great for pies too!  But there is one problem, you have to beat the birds and children to them, it does not take long for either to clean out a bush! 

 Which ever way you know this plant, it is one you should have in your landscape.

Spring Ephemerals

Friday, March 30th, 2007

The spring ephemerals are the first to show their stuff!

BloodrootWake RobinAlways a welcome site, these little beauties bloom before the trees unfurl their leaves. As the sun starts to warm the soil, these plants burst from tubers and bulbs and put up leaves and flowers all in a few weeks. Don’t cut them for your bouquets, many of these plants do not have a perfumed scent, as in the case of the purple trillium, a.k.a. Stinking Benjamin. These “stinking” plants attract flies for pollination. The spring ephemerals are often gone from the visable landscape by summer, but they have produced seeds and stored nutrients in their bulbs by this time and will be ready for next spring.

Trout Lily

In our area we see Bloodroot, Spring Beauty, Trout Lily, Hepatica, Squirrel Corn, Dutchman’s Breeches, Trillium and Twinleaf blooming in our shade gardens and woodlands.

A Skunk in the Woods

Tuesday, March 13th, 2007

If you are out for a walk and see some greenish purple coming up through the snow it’s OK.skunk cabbage

This is Symplocarpus foetidus, better known as Skunk Cabbage. The Spathe, a hoodlike structure stripped purplish and green, has a green round spadix (or flower), which looks like a tiny pineapple with the leave cut off, on the inside of the hood. As this structure is emerging it produces heat, which melts the snow.

The pineapple like part produces the odor that gives this plant its name. This less than agreeable scent attracts flies that pollinate it. As spring approaches, the large, 2+ feet tall green leaves will emerge, creating quite a show- almost tropical.

When you see skunk cabbage you know you are near a swamp. They grown in wooded wetlands.

And, when you see skunk cabbage, you know spring is near! 

many skunks

Vernal Pools

Thursday, March 8th, 2007

Newt and  Marbled SalamanderIn March, when snow is still on the ground, but it’s warm enough for some rainy nights, this is the time when our region’s salamanders and other amphibians migrate towards vernal pools and ponds to breed. So on rainy nights, keep your eyes out for those little critters crossing the road.

Did you know that spring peepers use sugars in their bodies like antifreeze to keep from freezing during cold periods.

Did you also know that a spotted salamander can grow up to eight inches long and live for 25 years!

To find out more about these critters and their habitats, stop in or check out articles in “Digging deeper” on our web site or contact Kyle.

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