What can each of us do, in small and large ways, with native plants to make life a little better for those coming after us - all living things coming after us. Some thoughts on propagation and restoration of native plants of the SE US for anyone with a few pots on the porch to endless acres.

Winter Botany - Yes You Can!

Ahhh....  A wonderful hike yesterday, Thanksgiving, to the fire tower( fartar)  at Frozen Head State Park  with my furry friends.  Did not see a soul in all of the 6 or so miles.  Amazing.  But they were understandibly home enjoying a feast, so maybe they'll be on the trails today to try and lighten their load?

It's been another busy week, but got out several times as work or play so not complaining.  Pretty much all the leaves are down now, doing their part for protecting the soil and keeping the soil temps moderated. (DO NOT throw your leaves on the street - MULCH them!)  It always amazes me how the landscape changes so completely and rapidly from verdant green, jungle-like conditions to...apparent nothingness.  A brilliant strategy.  But we all know there's still plenty going on and lots to learn.

Trying to identify plant remains is always a fun challenge over the winter months.  So if you are lucky enough to get outside after the tryptophan wears off, take the challenge of winter plant ID and keep the trails interesting. 

Winter botany is pretty easy to do in your own garden since in theory you knew what was there and over time you learn to recognize the dried leaves and stalks as still failry unique to each plant.  If you regularly get out to certain wildish places, you probably know what plants are where and you can still recognize them.  It's surprizing to most folks that you can even get close to identifying plants from such scant remains, but a little experience is all it takes. Like you need another excuse to get outside??  Make some dried arrangements to help you get your search image ingrained.

So test yourself through the winter and see how long before you get stumped.  And take someone else along when you can, especially youngsters.  Where else are they going to learn this stuff if we don't show them how fascinating the real world is??  No batteries required.  You will amaze them with your brilliance!!

Here are a few winter plants I've seen lately, most that stay green and are easy.  Then some shots of my Thanksgiving outing.

  Christmas fern, Polystichum acrostichoides .  Our most common fern of somewhat more upland sites and so one of the more adaptable ferns for many gardens.

I was rusty on the species and here's what I found:  Fan Clubmoss, Runningcedar, Groundpine (Lycopodium digitatum, Diphasiastrum digitatum, Lycopodium flabelliforme, L. complanatum var. flabelliforme).   I'm still unsure...but it's runningcedar to me.   I see these often in disturbed woods or areas that may have been severely eroded in the past.  Guessing they prefer fairly sterile soils to get established?  Don't bother trying to transplants these.  They are known to be very difficult.


 Sharp-lobed Hepatica, Hepatica acutiloba .  It's always a pleasure to see the painted foliage peeking thru the leaves.  The flowers are very early and quite brief, but the leaves aren't too shabby the rest of the time.  Yes, it's evergreen.

 Showy Goldenrod, Solidago speciosa.   Alright.  I agree that goldenrods are intimidating to identify even with all the parts.  But not that bad at all after you've grown a few in your garden.  This is a very common one in our area and it is distinctive this time of year with the very neat, compact plumes of seed, and plants are usually found in large numbers along the roadside and in old fields. There is probably still some basal foliage that is smooth and roundish to oblong (I know there are better botanical terms for the shape, but they tend to confuse my simple mind). You could easily scatter some of these seeds on some bare, sunny spots and expect them to prosper.

On the trail

They can't talk or spell, but I have no doubt they are deeply thankful.
(Kiddo and Buttermilk Biscuit)

View from the observation deck SW towards Petros.  Frozen Head State Park is in the Cumberland Mountains NW of Knoxville 

Mom.  Really.  That looks dangerous. You should come down from there.

Hard to see but there are maybe 20? wind turbines on the far ridge. Cool.  
(Sorry, but the zoom button was frozen.)

Be THANKFUL you can get out!!


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Feeding the Barn Cats

Alas, it's payback time for me.  Have had some wonderful work days this fall crawling around spectacular pieces of properties for work.  Now it's time to put it all "on paper" so having to hunker down on this thing for a few weeks.  I've long ago learned that getting up every couple of hours is critical to getting some oxygen and blood pumping in my brain to keep me going.  One much anticipated break is the walk up the hill and thru the woods to feed the barn cats. 

This 15 minute walk every day keeps me in touch on days when I'm otherwise in lockup.  Of course the dogs are excited and there are toys to be played with on the way which helps the blood get going.   It was a bit dreary today with some drizzle and a few showers.  With most of the leaves and flowers gone, I found lots of individual plants caught my attention with either a few bright leaves or flowers hanging on, or of course, seed!  And I thought about the blog...but didn't have a camera.  Oh well.  But then I realized when I was feeding that duh I'd forgotten to bring a jug of water up, now that we've cut the water off up there.  Well dang.  Looks like I'll just have to trudge back down and back up the hill - Oh no!! :-D .  So I grabbed the camera and I can now share with you a few plants that are making their statement in these last few days before we are left with only shades of gray.

Aromatic Aster, Aster oblongifolius .  About the last thing to bloom for us.  There are still some butterflies happy to find these.                                                                                                                                                    


Dutchmans Pipevine, Aristolochia macrophylla , hangs along the East end of the front porch.  Bloomed like crazy this year and had tons of pipevine swallowtails and caterpillars.  Their chrysalises hang from the porch ceiling.  What do they think about all winter??


Switchgrass and blueberries.  Ideal dog habitat.  Just add a toy and the Grass-a-thon is on!


Woodland Aster, Eurybia (no - Aster!!) divaricatus , in seed.  Almost as nice as when in flower!

Lazy way to spread diversity:  Take seedheads, scrape away the leaves and duff with our boot, drop the whole stems and seeds, step on them a time or 2, kick some leaves back over them, visualize success.  Took less than 30 seconds to accomplish.

 Deep red blueberry foliage.

Ahhh....remembering picking these blueberries in July with thrashers and titmice flitting thru the bushes with me.
Lunch today - blueberry and p-nut butter on wholegrain toast.  : )  Tastes like summer for just a little while.


A couple of the barn cats - Callie and the Big Guy.  They'd love to have their own family should you find yourself in need of a furry pal or 4

All right now.  I feel better.  Back to work...


Change the world!! Sow some seed!

The viburnum plugs got planted, plus I got some seed planted and some seed cleaned.  Now I can't wait for spring!

Once you learn the basics of seed collecting, storing and sowing, there is no limit to what you can grow.  Most seed is pretty easy to handle and sowing in outdoor beds or containers is usually a fairly low maintenance method.

This is a great way to get a few or a lot of plants for yourself or to share.  If you have some property that you'd like to restore some diversity to, and you are patient, planting seeds is a great way to do that.  It's inexpensive, often free once you are set up, its a pleasant way to spend time outdoors with your hands in the dirt, and something anyone can do to improve the environment.  What about growing enough to offer to a local natural area??

Today I had some maple-lvd. viburnum seed that I had collected while on a nearby trail several weeks ago - with permission.  I put the seed in ziplock bags with a little water for a week or so to let the pulp soften, then used a spray setting on the hose nozzle to rinse that off over a screen.  Next  took cleaned seed to the propagation beds, with 2 dogs and a cat as escorts, made a narrow furrow with my hands, spread the seed out in the furrow and covered them back up.  Labeled it of course.  Some spicebush seed that was large and easy to handle I sowed in plug flats that will over winter in an unheated coldframe.

Many native seeds from this region need a cold moist period (stratification) of about 3 months before they will sprout.  Basically this simulates being in the ground over winter.  So These seeds will sprout next spring when the soil warms up.  Seeing seeds you collected, cleaned, and sowed with your own hands, poking through the soil is always a happy, happy moment.  And addicting!

Here's a little graphic walk thru of the process:

(photos are from phone camera...not that great...but you get the idea.)

Big-leaf Magnolia, Viburnum, American Bittersweet, Holly seeds collected recently

Fleshy fruits soaking

Cleaning bittersweet seed on a screen

Happy hands with viburnum seed ready for planting.

Baby sitting on the planting furrow in the propagation bed.  Why do cats do that??


Spicebush seed.  Sowing one seed per cell in a plug tray.

If you want to learn more about sowing native plant seed, here's a tried and true resource:

It was a great day!


The problem I can see that I will have with blogging is that it is an indoor activity.  Now that days are shorter and will get colder, there will be time for that, but right now it is gorgeous outside, I have had a super busy week, and I'm getting the hell off of here!

But just in case you wonder what gardening calls me right now, after I play with the dogs and probably some cats,  I plan on planting a few plugs of maple-lvd. viburnum, Spicebush, and maybe some gama grass.  I have some large holes that we dug last spring with a backhoe we had for another job, and I may be putting some of the older plants that have been suffering in pots for years waiting for me to have time to get to them into those spots.  There are lots of baby American hollies that I want to transplant to an area for a screen.  That should be easy, right?  I noticed the bright yellow foliage if a dozen or so witchhazels that have sprouted around the parent plant and would like to find homes for them.  There are privet seedlings to be pulled.  Ceramic containers need to be cleaned up and moved in to a coldframe for winter.

And a friend is coming over later and we're going for a hike down the road on the lake trail with our dogs.

I really gotta go...  

Red Chokeberry

Fruit of Red Chokeberry

Was just playing with all the blogger toys and sent this pic, so I'll go ahead and mention a few things that might be of interest since now is a showy time for this plant.

This is Photinia pyrifolia ( old name is  Aronia arbutifoia which I stubbornly use since I dislike Photinia), Red Chokeberry, and is the most likely Aronia you will find in the trade.  It is a large shrub or can be shaped to a small tree form, and will be anywhere from 5'-10' tall.  The shorter range has been my experience.  They are colonial and slowly spread to nice mounds.  With more sun they will spread less.

In spring plants flower heavily with white, apple like blooms clusters for  2-3 weeks, and are popular with many insects.  Fall color is a rich red and very attractive.

Birds appreciate the fruit but usually only after it has "aged" and so we get to enjoy seeing the fruit most of the winter.

As for propagation, if you have a plant, the easiest way is to dig the sprouts after they are well rooted, say after their first year.  This can be done in late fall or winter in our area (TN).

Seeds can be collected easily since birds tend to wait until later in the spring to eat them.  So anytime from fall to mid-winter just collect some berries, clean off the pulp, and either sow them outdoors in pots or propagation beds, or stratify the seed for about 3 months in moist soil before sowing outdoors.

There is also a black fruited species.

If you are like me and tend to chose plants that the birds and wildlife will also enjoy, you will find Red Chokeberry fills the bill.

Here's more info:

Photinia pyrifolia

Time for seed collecting and sowing - Buckeye...

Ok...here we go.  Blog numero uno.  Since there's an abundance of seed now about any where you look , and I am still hopelessly addicted to collecting seed, this seems like a logical place to start.

The kitchen table has ziplock bags, yogurt containers and a juice glass of various seeds.  Most pockets have at least a few remnants of seeds or seed parts mixed in with the lint.  There are more bags out in the potting shed.   More in the refrigerator.  There are pods of common milkweed rolling around in the truck.  Why?

When I notice seed of choice natives I imagine every one growing up to be a fine specimen and making great contributions for us and the critters and making lots more babies spreading far and wide.  I can help them reach their potential and so can you.  With a little knowledge and a little time you will amaze yourself at how much ground you can cover, literally. So get started and above all enjoy every step and share what you enjoy.

Lets start with something easy.  Buckeyes.  It also happens to be "A" for Aesculus, so a sensible place to start.  Those who have been to the nursery know I'm quite partial to buckeyes.  The plants are dramatic, they are very useful for many wildlife species especially humming birds, and the seeds feel...kinda sexy?  Really.  Dare you to pick one up and not enjoy fondling it in your pocket for days.

Buckeyes:   Bottlebrush Buckeye (in photo), Dwarf Red Buckeye, and all other Aesculus species produce large seeds, buckeyes, this time of year. They fall and are often planted immediately by rodents such as squirrels, and if left on moist soil will quickly send down a root.  So, if you collect any buckeyes, be sure they are fresh.  They should be plump and hard, not wrinkled and soft.  They should be planted ASAP in either a container with a well drained mix, propagation bed, or in the garden.  Do not store them in sealed containers over winter.  Most will rot.  Cover them after planting with something to keep the rodents out until a month or 2 after they sprout in the early spring.  We use heavy perennial cloth and/or cover them in a cold frame.  Hardware cloth would work well too.  A covered  coldframe works well to protect them from rodents after they sprout.

The red buckeye, A. pavia, has a taproot that quickly outgrows the average container.  Bill Cullina mentions that he has trimmed as much as 1/3 of the taproot when transplanting young seedlings and they've done well.

Here's a link to NatureServe if you want to know more about the various species and where they occurr, etc. : http://www.natureserve.org/explorer/servlet/NatureServe?searchSciOrCommonName=aesculus&x=9&y=9

Alright then.   Get growing!!

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