Rhonda Ferree's ILRiverHort Rhonda Ferree's Horticulture Blog Sun, 15 May 2005 13:02:08 -0500 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb253/rss.xml Interesting Plants Around Canton Lake http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb253/entry_12936/ Fri, 10 Nov 2017 14:01:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb253/entry_12936/ I was fortunate enough to camp at Canton Lake twice this summer. While enjoying peaceful kayak rides along the shoreline I found two plants that I'd never seen before. It's always exciting to find new plants, but these were particularly thrilling. They are both native plants, and to me represent a healthy diversity of plant life in that area.

In the spring the water was high enough for me to kayak up Copperas creek a little ways. As I entered the creek area, there were many plants with interesting purple-tipped flowers. After some investigation, I identified them as false indigo bush (Amorpha fruticosa).

False indigo bush is a 4- to 16-foot tall shrubby plant. Its leaves are very similar to locust trees, which means they have 11-35 smaller leaflet on each leaf. Leaflets are each one to two inches long with rounded edges. It was the flowers that caught my eye. Attractive purple flowers with neon orange stamens. Individual flowers are about ¼ inch long, with many flowers arranged along long stems (racemes). This plant is a legume in the pea family (Fabaceae) so individual flowers look similar to peas, beans, wisteria, and clovers.

This plant naturally grows in wet areas. Unfortunately, its numbers are declining due to habitat destruction.

This fall I found another pea family plant. American Groundnut (Apios americana), also called Indian potato. It is a 3- to 10-foot long perennial vine with edible beans and tubers. The attractive maroon flowers first caught my eye. Flowers are also quite fragrant.

This legume's common names come from its edible tuber, which Native Americans gathered for food. Some say that Pilgrims relied on this plant as a food source during their early years. maroon or reddish-brown pea-like flowersthat first caught my eye. The leaves are very soybean-like in shape and size, but groundnut's compound leaves have five leaflets instead of three like in soybeans.

Thislegumehas a cord-like rootstalk with edible tubers the Indians gathered for food. The Pilgrims relied on them as a food source during their initial years in Massachusetts. The tubers can be used in soups and stews or fried like potatoes; the cooked seeds can also be eaten.The tubers are high in protein and similar to potato can be boiled, roasted, or sautéed.

Scroll through the pictures above to see picture of other plants I photographed at Canton Lake this year include wafer ash, sugar maple, hawthorn, linden, native bittersweet, sumac, lobelia, and vervain.

Amaryllis http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb253/entry_10763/ Wed, 08 Nov 2017 01:12:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb253/entry_10763/ During the holiday season many different types of plants are available for decorating and display including the spectacular amaryllis.

Amaryllis flowers make a bold statement. Borne on 1 ½ to 2-foot tall stalk, the trumpet-shaped, 6-inch blooms dominate their surroundings. After flowering, the plant produces attractive, bright green leaves, and with a little care will flower year after year.

I learned from the MidAmerican Gardener host Dianne Noland that the flower timing for an amaryllis bulb depends on where it was originally produced. Bulbs are grown commercially in Holland, Brazil, South Africa and Israel. Those produced in the southern hemisphere countries of Brazil and Peru bloom earlier, usually in December. While those produced in Holland flower later into January.

Most amaryllis plants available this time of year are pre-potted and ready to go. Some already have started to grow and just need light and water to continue. However, if you buy an unpotted amaryllis bulb, follow these procedures for potting. Since the bulbs are large and thrive in cramped quarters, allow only one-half inch of space between the bulb and side of the pot. Fill the pot with a good potting soil. Set the bulb so that half of it is above the pot rim. Add more soil to about one-inch from the pot rim. Firm the soil and drench it with lukewarm water until the surplus drains through the bottom hole.

The amaryllis needs heat to start growing so place the pot in a dark, warm, airy space until the first leaves or flower buds show. Then move the amaryllis into a sunny location and water thoroughly. Do not water again until the soil feels dry to the touch. When the flower blooms, move it out of direct sunlight so it will last longer.

If you want to rebloom your amaryllis each year, follow these tips to assure the plant's health and beauty for many seasons. When the flowers fade, return the pot to bright sunlight. Allow the plant to grow a number of long, strap-like leaves to help rebuild the bulb. When danger of frost is past, plunge the pot in your garden where the plant will receive filtered sunlight.

In mid-September the outer leaves will begin to yellow, an indication that the plant needs a rest. Cut all the leaves to within an inch of the neck of the bulb, bring the plant in and stop watering. Store it in a cool spot at 50 to 55 degrees F and forget it until late November or early December. At that time, bring the plant back to the light, replant if needed, begin watering, and watch it grow. When the bulb begins to show signs of growth, start the blooming cycle again.

Start an amaryllis bulb today to brighten your household on a bleak winter day.

Hardy Pampas Grass http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb253/entry_7386/ Sun, 05 Nov 2017 10:44:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb253/entry_7386/ After 30 years of being a horticulture educator with University of Illinois Extension the towering pampas grasses still amaze me each fall. What energy and power that plant must have to grow over 12 feet tall each summer, just to die back in the fall and start over again the next year.

Also called plume grass, hardy pampas grass (Erianthus ravennae) is hardy in zones 5-9 and grows 8 to 12 feet tall. Hardy Pampas Grass is very upright and open in habit, with large, white plumed flowers. Flowers appear from now to late October and are probably why they stand out for me at this time of year.

This grass needs a lot of space. It forms large clumps up to five feet in diameter. Because of its large size it makes a great specimen plant or screen.

Beware because there are grasses with the common name pampas that are not particularly hardy here. The only true Pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana) does not grow in our climate. Always look for the scientific name to assure you get the correct plant, if you want it to regrow each year.

Although the hardy pampas grass grows here, it does have weaker stems than the true pampas grass. As a result, they sometimes break and bend in high winds.

This grass is a sun lover and needs well drained soil. If you have trouble over-wintering this plant, it might be because your site is too wet in the spring. Wet sites shorten its life considerable and lead to extensive winter injury.

Japanese Silver Grass or Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis) is another tall ornamental grass that is hardy here and not invasive (thus a clump grower). Depending on the cultivar, this grass grows 3-6 feet tall. There are many different cultivars of this grass, each with different features. 'Autumn Light' and 'November Sunset' are two excellent varieties for zone 4 climates. All have nice fall flower displays and outstanding fall color.

'Morning Light' Maiden grass gets its name because sunshine tends to highlight its silky plumes and variegated leaves. Pink flowers rise above foliage in late summer and persist for winter interest. Leaves have a white band along each margin.

'Strictus' is also known as porcupine grass due to the creamy-white vertical stripes on its green leaves. It grows over six feet tall, reaching nine feet in flower. Its plume flower has a very pretty rosy-plum color that turns to silver in late fall.

All these grasses do well in dry soil and drought conditions. They also make excellent erosion control. Always select ornamental grasses carefully because some can be invasive.

For more information ornamental grasses that grow in Illinois go to http://urbanext.illinois.edu/grasses.

Sticky Plants are Annoying http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb253/entry_12935/ Fri, 03 Nov 2017 13:56:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb253/entry_12935/ While hiking recently I got to thinking about the various plants that stick to our sock and pants. Certainly, they are frustrating; but, as a plant geek, I wanted to know more.

Sticky plants attaching to clothes, hair, fur, and feathers to disperse their seeds into new areas. They do this with hooks, spines, barbs, and burrs. Let's look at a few common examples that we find here in central Illinois.

The biggest challenge on my property is Spanish Needles (Bidens bipinnata). This weedy plant grows one to three foot tall in dry, shady areas. Its leaves are finely textured, looking a bit like flat-leaved parsley. The non-showy, yellow flowers develop into 2-4 prong, barbed fruit. They get their name from the fruit's needle-like prongs, each with its own backward pointing barb.

Virginia Stickseed (Hackelia virginiana), also called beggar's lice, has very small prickly bur fruit that clings to clothing. It grows one to four foot tall in dry woods. The burs are less than ¼" in size. Burs are arranged along one side of stems (racemes) that are held 2-8" above the plant.

Probably the most commonly known hitchhikers are burdock and cocklebur. In fact, Velcro is said to have been designed after the burs of the burdock plant. After a hunting trip, the inventor looked closer at the tiny hooks on the bur and created the hook and loop fasteners design.

Burdock (Arctium sp.) is a robust plant. It is also called wild rhubarb due to its large leaves that can reach 20" long. This is a biennial plant that grows rhubarb-like leaves the first year. In the second year, it sends up 2-5 foot stalk with large egg-shaped leaves and ½ to 1" bristly purple flowers. Each fruit is a prickly, clinging bur. Unlike rhubarb whose stems are edible, burdock has an edible taproot.

Cocklebur (Xanthium sp.) is related to burdock. This plant sprouts from seed each year, reaching 2-5 foot by summer's end. Its triangular, lobed leaves are 2-6" long. Cocklebur has both male and female green colored flowers. Female flowers form ½-3/4" burs that are held in the axils of the leaves. The football-shaped burs cling with hook-tipped prickles.

Bedstraw (Gallium sp.) is sometimes called velcro-plant or stickywilly. Bedstraw attached to us in two ways. Its leaves and stems have fine hook-like hairs that cling to clothing and fur. However, it is the extremely small seeds that really create havoc. At less than 1/25 of an inch, the seed burs are covered with small hooked bristles. Because each plant produces hundreds of seeds, they quickly cover large areas of clothing. Their small size and abundance make them difficult to remove.

There are many more, but you get the idea. I have not developed a magic way for removing these from my clothes or pet's hair. Washing clothes does not remove most hitchhiker seeds. They usually need to be picked off individually, though some can be scraped off with a butter knife.

Enjoy a fall hike in the woods, but try to avoid those hitchhikers!

Soil Testing http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb253/entry_8985/ Sun, 29 Oct 2017 11:20:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb253/entry_8985/ Now is the time to take soil tests. If you have plants that are not growing the way they should, a soil test might be needed to see if soil amendments are needed.

Soil amendments should be based on a soil test to know the amounts needed. Be sure the sample is representative of the area to be treated. The teaspoon of soil finally used for analysis weighs a few grams in comparison to about 50,000 pounds of soil per 1000 square feet to a six-inch depth.

Before sampling the area, size it up for differences in soil characteristics, such as color, texture and drainage. If these features are uniform throughout the area to be treated, a single composite sample of the topsoil is adequate. If there is great variation in these features, take a composite sample from each predetermined area.

Soil samples may be taken at any time of the year when temperature (soil not frozen) and moisture conditions permit. Late summer and fall sampling is a good choice based on factors affecting nutrient availability and time available to the gardener.

Within the area selected for a sample, dig a hole to spade depth. With a shovel or trowel cut a thin slice down one side of the hole. Place this slice in a pail or pan. Do not include sod roots. Repeat this procedure in at least eight well-scattered spots within the chosen area. Place each slice in the pail with those previously taken. Break up clods and mix the slices of soil thoroughly with the hands and by revolving the pail while held at an angle of 45 degrees. Use about one pint of the soil as a sample. Discard the remainder.

The sample is then sent to a soil testing lab. University of Illinois Extension has a listing of labs online at http://urbanext.illinois.edu/soiltest/.

Soil testing and fertilizer application is only one step in effective soil management. For best growth of lawns, vegetables and ornamentals, you should also provide the proper soil structure and soil moisture. Take time this fall to focus on good soil health, because soil management is essential for good plant growth.

Doll's Eyes…A Great Halloween Plant http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb253/entry_12877/ Fri, 27 Oct 2017 10:25:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb253/entry_12877/ Some plants are perfect for Halloween. Bat flowers, devils claw, and corpse flower come to mind. Another creepy looking plant is doll's eyes. I'm not sure why dolls with staring, glass eyes are so scary, but they can be truly frightening to some people. I used to have a recurring dream as a little girl about a scary doll in an old house. Weird, I know!

I recently found a doll's eye plant while hiking at Siloam Springs State Park. I'd seen this plant in flower many times, but this was the first time I saw its fruit.

Doll's Eyes (Actaea pachypoda) is an outstanding plant in many ways. It is a native woodland plant in the buttercup family that is found occasionally throughout Illinois. Www.illinoiswildflowers.info says "This species is found in high-quality woodlands where the original ground flora is intact."

Doll's eye is a beautiful spring flowering plant. A medium-sized woodland wildflower, this plant grows one to two foot tall. Its toothed, compound leaves remain attractive throughout most the growing season. In May and June it has tiny white flowers that stand above the foliage on stout stalks. Blooms last about two weeks and are quite showy and fragrant.

The plant gets its name because the fruit resembles china doll eyes, though I find the fruit to be stunning, not scary. However, I can see how the bright red stalks and shiny white berries could be considered eerie. Each berry has a dark purple pupil in its center. Berries persist for four to six weeks in late summer.

Berries and other plant parts are extremely poisonous when eaten. This is probably why most mammal wildlife won't eat it, though are reports of the white-footed mouse eating the berries. Birds such as the American Robin and Yellow-bellied sapsucker eat the berries and help move the seeds to new areas. Mammals ingesting the berries experience a number of poisoning symptoms, which can eventually lead to cardiac arrest and death.

Luckily the white berries are not particularly appealing to eat. However, Americans and early settlers did make a tea of the root for relieving the pain of childbirth. It was also used to improve circulation and cure headache. Still, I wonder how much severe stomach pain the patient endured during treatment.

Doll's eyes are also called white baneberry. It is closely related to the red baneberry (Actaea rubra), which has red berries. Red baneberry is found only in the upper parts of Illinois.

Do you think this plant is Halloween worthy?

Pine Needle Drop http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb253/entry_7447/ Sun, 22 Oct 2017 15:13:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb253/entry_7447/ Parts of my backyard and woodland are covered with fallen pine needles. We have a large number of mature white pine trees that yearly drop their needles. Annual needle drop is normal and beneficial.

Martha Smith, Horticulture Educator with University of Illinois Extension said it well, "There is really nothing to be concerned about," "What is happening is commonly called inner needle drop or third year needle drop."

All trees and shrubs renew their foliage annually, producing new leaves in the spring of the year and shedding old leaves in the fall. The leaves of deciduous plants such as maples and oaks live for one growing season and then fall off usually in a blaze of color.

Despite the name, evergreen foliage does not live forever. Actually evergreen foliage lives from one to several years, depending on the species. As new growth emerges in the spring, last years growth becomes shaded and is no longer the plant's primary food. During late September and October, this inner or older foliage dies and falls away.

In some species like white pine and arborvitae, this fall browning takes place rather suddenly. The older needles turn a bright gold-yellow and remain attached for about 7 to 10 days depending on the weather. If we have strong autumn winds and heavy rains, these needles fall quickly. Sometimes, this natural occurrence is hardly noticed. But every few years it is very noticeable, and people become concerned.

This natural foliage drop may be distinguished from cases of severe foliage damage due to disease by its uniform appearance over the whole tree and its common occurrence on neighboring trees of the same kind. It is also confined to the innermost or oldest needles. Nearly all pines bear needles in bundles of two to five, and the needles remain together when they drop.

This dropped foliage is beneficial, acting as natural mulch. In fact, pine needle mulch is commonly used in the South where it is overly abundant. The dry needles decompose rapidly and add useful organic matter to the soil. As with other mulches, they help stabilize soil moisture and temperature and aid in weed control.

So, don't be alarmed if your evergreens are dropping foliage this fall. It is normal. If you can't leave them lie, put them to good use as mulch or in the compost pile.


Source: Martha A. Smith, Horticulture Educator, University of Illinois Extension