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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Scoter Sightings!

I can not tout the powers of observation enough.  Last weekend I was sitting on the beach looking out at the Delaware Bay when I noticed three slightly unusual looking birds on the surf.  I got my scope (actually my husband nicely went and got it for me) for a better look at these birds.  After viewing them, I thought they looked like Scoters, though I was not sure whether Scoters were common to the DE Bay, or what type of Scoter they were, so I went back to the house for a bird book for a little closer observation.  

After referencing the book, I came to the conclusion that I was looking at one male Black Scoter and one male Surf Scoter, and a Black/Surf Scoter Female.  As I have stated, I am definitely a very amateur birder, so I did not want to tell someone to have them get excited by the wrong bird.  I decided to just be happy that I thought I saw the Scoters because the markings were very distinguishable and in keeping with my bird book reference.  The beak of the male Black Scoter had what I would consider "Black Lipstick" and there was a large black dot on the beak of the male Surf Scoter, and he had a very noticeable white eye.  The bird book that lives at the beach is not the  most accurate, so I did not even attempt to decide on what the female was.  See the black "lipstick" in the photo above, and the dot on the beak in the photo below.

After I got home, I searched some more information about Scoter's and found this through the Cornell Ornithology Site: 

A black-and-white seaduck common on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts in winter, the Surf Scoter has a boldly patterned head that is the basis for its colloquial name "skunk-headed coot." 

A coastal duck that breeds in the subarctic, the Black Scoter is not well studied in North America. Only a few nests have ever been found. 

Given the above descriptions, I decided that maybe I did not see the Scoter's and had probably misidentified some more common duck..........

 Then an email popped up in my in-box from the DE-Birds listserve stating that someone had just seen Scoters on the DE Bay in Lewes, DE.  Lewes is the next beach south of where I thought I had originally viewed the ducks, and this was only a day later.   I was/and still am ecstatic that I actually saw these ducks and noted they were something different.  I take this as proof that my sighting was confirmed, perhaps someday I will feel confident in identifying these birds myself!! In the meantime, I'm going to stay observant and keep my bird book/scope/binoculars handy, because I never know what I may see.  

At least this time, I was not driving a car, and stopping traffic to decipher the strange waterbird! There's a first time for everything!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Monarda didyma

Monarda didyma (Bee Balm) is a wonderful addition to any garden planting that gets some shade or in an area where the soil stays consistently moist.  This plant is touted for attracting hummingbirds and is pollinated by bees.  This perennial plant spreads by rhizomes in the soil and can take over a large portion of your garden. I like to intermix it with other more aggressive plants, and let them duke out the soil space.

The leaves and young shoots are touted as edible, but eating plants out of my garden is typically not my cup of tea, so don't do it because I told you to! Monarda fistulosa (Wild Bergamort) is a closely related relative that is a light purple shade as opposed to M. didyma's reddish pink.  The Monarda's are definitely plants that should be described by their Latin name as some call M. didyma Bergamort and M. fistulosa Beebalm. Just another lesson in why learning the Latin, though obtrusive at times, especially when they keep changing species, genus, and families, is important in making sure that everyone is discussing the same plant! 

I'll leave you with a picture from my garden!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Great Study of Root Structure

Some trees will grow anywhere! I thought I would share this unique photograph of a Betula lenta (Sweet Birch) that I came across on a recent hike.  This just proves that native plants are much hardier than some of their non-native counterparts!  Where does the rock and and the roots begin?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Found in the meadow

We were out in the heat removing some invasive shrubs in a meadow when I came across a sight for sore eyes!  A native rose! I'm fairly sure it is Rosa palustris (Swamp Rose).  It was quite exciting to be able to focus on a NATIVE for once! I thought that I would share my excitement, and photographs with you.  Native roses are a great and typically more disease resistant alternative to the knockout's and other roses that are in abundance. 

Planting native roses is a great way to provide habitat and cover for birds throughout the year.  It can also help you with deer browse if that happens to be an issue. The photograph of the stem is one of the ways that you can distunguish the native roses from the infamous Rosa Multiflora.  The Multiflora Rose has more hairs on its stems and curved thorns as opposed to the more pleasant straighter thorns of our native roses.  My last word of advice on roses, if you are not sure of Rose ID, I would recommend purchasing the roses from a reputable native plant dealer so that you do not end up with the invasive Multiflora Rose!

Thursday, June 21, 2012


 I was elated to see that my Asclepias tuberosa was blooming, it may be a little early in the season, but the insects are certainly happy about the blooms! Check out all the pollen on the stems of this plant, it has obviously been a big hit with the neighborhood insects.  
I'm sure you notice that I'm not using the common name of this plant, due to the bad name (Butterfly Weed) I have decided to only use the Latin name of the plant in an attempt to get more people to use this in their landscaping.  This plant is ideal if you are someone that lives near a farmer.  Farmers are not big fans of the Asclepias family, but this one does not spread as readily as another great Asclepias--Asclepias syriaca (Milkweed or MONARCH FLOWER) I encourage everyone to refer to this plant as Monarch Flower if you do not feel up to the Latin name.  With a slight name change, I bet this plant can become the center piece of any garden!  I must say that I enjoy the bright orange color of the A. tuberosa.  This past weekend, I actually ran out in the middle of a hayfield to rescue some from a farmer before he mowed it over.   Needless to say, that my friends all looked at me like I was crazy, the good news, is I have four more plants that I put in my home flower beds!!

Does anyone know the name of the  Lepidoptera that has landed on the MONARCH FLOWER in the fuzzy picture on the left? I'm still in the process of learning the zillions of butterflies and moths out there though I recently purchased a very helpful and awesome book at the Millersville Native Plant Conference by Dr. David Wagner.  This field guide is the most amazing that I have found, and I look forward to taking it out in the field with me to learn more about all of the caterpillars, moths, and butterflies.  TLC's summer interns are not quite as thrilled by the prospect, now I'll be distracted by one more thing while we are out on the preserves.....
Here's a link to the book:  I highly recommend it for all things Lepiodoptera!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

In an effort to improve the health of the soil by removing harmful DDT, the Land Conservancy conducted a mycoremediation project on June 14th, 2012 at the Vincenti property. With the help of Peter Gray from Phillip's Mushroom farms, who delivered over nine tons of mushroom soil, 6 TLC interns and 4 Winterthur interns who worked tirelessly, the project was completed in just under 3 hours. The steps involved with the project were, spreading the soil, applying wood chips, dampening and applying small pieces of cardboard,  applying oyster mushroom spawn, and spraying water to provide adequate growing conditions for the mycelium. Thanks to everyone's effort, in three months to a year we will be able to plant fruits and vegetables that are fit for consumption and free of DDT. We can even consume the mushrooms because, instead of absorbing toxins, the mycelium excrete enzymes that chemically break down DDT.  Mycoremediation is a relatively simple and effective way to clean up soil, and has even been used to clean up areas effected by oil spills. Suffice it to say that our community, plants, and wildlife all benefit from a healthier ecosystem.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Thalictrum pubescens or Tall Meadow Rue, is a June blooming woodland plant that can be found in open woodlands, moist meadows, roadside ditches, or even in deep shade.  It gets approximately 3'-8' in height and has interesting leaves.  While this plant will not work for many garden situations keep your eyes open while you are hiking around a trail in the next few months as you may come across this plant.  Here is  photograph of a plant that I found growing on a rock, in the middle of a creek.  Not the most likely place for plant life, but I came across some pretty amazing plants on my trek.  

Monday, June 18, 2012

Leaves of Three

Though you may not know what it is referring to, I am sure that everyone has at least heard the old addage: "Leaves of Three Let Them Be."  This is referring to poison ivy, and the burning itchy rash that it leaves on some unlucky hikers when they come across this plant.  I must first tell you that I do not really react to the plant (now that I have said that, I'll probably be covered in a rash the next time I go into the woods) however, I have seen countless people who do not fare well when they come in contact with the plant.  I completely understand your aversion to the plant! The example on the right of the text is a great way to visualize what poison ivy looks like, but this white color is an unusual form that does not happen that often.  This is a form of chlorosis or lack of chlorophyll most typically from a lack of iron in the soil. 

Perhaps we can come to a compromise about Toxicodendron radicans (Poison Ivy) even the Latin name seems intimidating doesn't it?  While the plant gives you a rash, the berries it produces tend to be a great source of food for overwintering birds, or birds that migrate through our area late in the year.  Have you always wanted to see Cedar Waxwings? One of the berries that sustain them is the berry from the poison ivy plant?  My thought for a compromise, remove it from the places on your property that you frequent so that you will not be plagued with a rash but try to keep it on the property in places that no one tends to go.  This will leave some of the plant as food for birds while keeping you from having to deal with the itching.  

If you do come in contact with poison ivy and you know that it will create a rash.  It is important to take a cold shower as quickly as possible.  Lava soap is a great way to help to remove the oils from your skin.  The cold water thing may be an old wives tale however the line of reasoning that I have heard makes perfect sense.  The cold water does not open up your pores as quickly so the oils are easier to remove from your skin.  One of nature's great remedies for poison ivy will show up next to it in the wild is Jewelweed (
Impatiens capensis) as you can see in the above photograph, the two plants are growing together. If you happen to be out on a camping trip and touch poison ivy, just take a jewel weed plant, break it in half, and then rub the aloe like material onto your skin.  This is a great natural remedy for poison ivy.   Please be respectful if you use this technique and do not pull the plant up from the roots. I subscribe to the "Leave No Trace" theory but I do understand if you need to break a piece of a plant off to remedy any ill effects from poison ivy.

I just ask that you keep an open mind when you come across poison ivy, it may give you a rash, but it does have a place in our woodlands.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Emerald Ash Borer

For my faithful readers, I am sorry to be repeating myself with this post, but I feel that the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) is worth another mention.  

At the Native Plants in the Landscape Conference, some discussion came up about the American Chestnut, Castanea dentata, which was at one time the predominant species in any forest.  This tree has now been replaced by oaks and hickories as it was nearly eradicated by a blight.  One estimate has over FOUR BILLION trees lost during the infection.  The loss of the trees also contributed to the loss of at least six known insect specialists. Insect specialists are insects that only feed on one genus of plants, and sometimes only on species within that genus.   If you are interested in further information about the American Chestnut, go to the American Chestnut Cooperator Foundation website: All of this talk of disease and plant death brings us to the Emerald Ash Borer.  

While you may be fearful that your ash trees will die from the insect, it is important to not remove the trees to "prevent them from being killed" because sometimes nature has a way of dealing with some of her enemies, and perhaps the tree will develop some type of resistance to the Emerald Ash Borer.  This does not mean that the insect is not a problem, it just means that perhaps instead of losing millions of trees to the insect and then cutting down the remaining thousands, we may want to consider leaving the remaining trees to see if they can develop resistance to the Emerald Ash Borer.

I had mentioned that the EAB has been spotted in Bucks County, and recently a press release indicated that the bug has now been found in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  

Just a reminder: DO NOT TRANSPORT ANY FIREWOOD WHEN YOU ARE GOING ON A CAMPING TRIP.  No matter what you think about the wood not having insects, or being "safe" there is a great chance that you will be spreading disease or insects like the Emerald Ash Borer to a county that currently does not have the EAB.  Here is the link to the DCNR (Department of Conservation and Natural Resources) page about EAB: 

The pdf on the page has useful contact information . Note that the map showing the spread of EAB is NOT up-t0-date.  Bucks County should be on the list of quarantined counties.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Great Video

As promised over the next few weeks, I will be talking about some of the great information that I learned at the 22nd Millersville Native Plant Conference.  

The first thing that I am going to share with you is an amazing video that was shown to us by Dr. David Wagner, an entomologist.  The topic was titled: The Tangled Fates of Plants, Caterpillars, and Birds.  He also has a great field guide about Caterpillars Native to the Eastern U.S.  The video is about a comet orchid that was sent to Charles Darwin, and scientists were stumped as to how it was pollinated because of the structure of the flower.  Darwin predicted that a large moth with a really long tongue (over 8") had evolved to pollinate the flower, and get the nectar.  He was ridiculed by his peers and the theory went untested for quite some time.  Check out this video for the full story . It is worth the 4 minutes at some odd seconds that it takes: 

Insects have wonderful adaptations.  Check out this image of the Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar.  This caterpillar looks like a green snake to potential predators instead of a tasty caterpillar, or "hot dog with legs" which may have been one of my favorite quotes of the native plant conference, courtesy of Jim McCormac.

How cool is that?!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Yellow Star Thistle

I recently wrote about both Canada Thistle and Bull Thistle, but neglected to mention Yellow Star Thistle.

This plant is certainly more of an issue out west than it is here on the east coast, but it has been spotted in Chester County, so it is worth mentioning.  I found this image from a website in California that give some insight into what a major issue this plant is in CA. At this point of the game, we are still in the "early detection" stage, so let's beat this plant before we have to put up "wanted" signs for our thistles as well!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Native Plants in the Landscape

One of my favorite times of the year is upon us: The Millersville Native Plant Conference.  This conference is an amazing opportunity for burgeoning plant nerds, plant experts, and beginners alike to come together to geek out on all things native plants related.  Every year I anticipate the program coming in the mail containing the newest line-up of speakers.  

This is a taste of what the next three days are really about:  

The Native Plants in the Landscape Conference Mission: To increase the knowledge, propagation, cultivation and use of native plants in the Mid-Atlantic and New England regions. To promote methods of land management and design that respect “sense of place” by preserving and restoring species and natural processes as well as to engender an appreciation of regionally appropriate, sustainable landscapes that are harmonious for people and nature. While the subject of the conference pertains to native plant communities, the spirit of the conference is to build human communities among a broad range of participants by designing a conference affordable to all, encouraging formal and informal exchanges of information and providing opportunities for social interaction. The conference is held on the campus of Millersville University in picturesque, historic Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

It's too late to sign up for 2012, but if you are in the area of Millersville University, stop by the public book sale and plant sale, or check out: for information about their 2013 conference. I'll come back full of new information to share next week!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Tale of the Magnolia

So when we first purchased our house the landscaping involved four Yew Bushes along the front of the house, and two Japanese Maples in the front yard.  The yew bushes met Mr. Husqvarna before dishes made it in the door, and I was able to plant some of the plants that I periodically mention.  The Japanese Maples continued to wear on my mind, and I have slowly replaced them over the last few years with two Magnolia virginiana (Sweetbay Magnolia).

When I actually replaced the mature Japanese Maples with the Magnolia's my neighbors were in shock.  They couldn't believe that I would remove such "nice" plants, and talked about all of the common "magnolia" misconceptions.  I tried to explain that Magnolia virginiana was a completely different plant than the more common Magnolia stellata (Star Magnolia) whose blooms typically succumb to frost (and of course is native to Japan).  Sweetbay Magnolia is a beautiful plant whose blooms are quite fragrant, and the blooms wait until later in the year.  The two in my front yard just completed the first cycle of blooming and this has been a year when most of the plants are at least a week or two earlier than normal.  

The next time you are looking for some type of flowering specimen tree to spice up your yard, I highly recommend Magnolia virginiana.  Here are some of the great characteristics of the plant: It is semi-evergreen; it will bloom slowly but continuously throughout the summer, it reaches about 15' in height, and the fall red seed pods give added interest and provide a great food source for birds.  

This plant is currently listed as threatened in the state of Pennsylvania so not too many of them are found growing in the wild. 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Early Bird Invasive Warning

Two summers ago, I was introduced to Artemisia vulgaris (Mugwort) by my summer intern who had extensive knowledge of the local flora and fauna.  He was telling me about this invasive plant, Mugwort, that had been a problem at the property he had worked on previously.  I had never really noticed the plant until that summer.  We found a few small populations on the property we were working on and took care of them.  In the past two years, I am starting to notice this plant in more places, and I can see it becoming more of an issue.  I just noticed a hayfield where the mugwort had out-competed both the thistle population that I was trying to diminish, and the grasses in the field. 

I have found the plant touted by herbalists as having great qualities, and while I know nothing about this trade and do not discount their opinion about what it may do for your health; I can attest to the fact that I have seen this plant rapidly spread over the past two years and would recommend that anyone who has a Mugwort population on their property removes it as quickly as possible.  Diligence may help us win this battle before it goes into stage three. 

Mugwort is a clump-forming rhizomatous (spreads through roots) perennial that reproduces primarily by vegetative spread. Reduction of the plant can occur by repeated mowing or herbicide application. The repeated mowing of the plant seems to eventually deplete the rhizomes energy stores.  A broad-leafed herbicide is typically a good bet for chemical control.  This will target A. vulgaris and the other broadleafed plants but not any grasses that may be growing near the plant. 

Keep your eyes out for this plant and remove it by digging, mowing, or chemical control before it is given the opportunity to spread on your property. 

If you have more invasive/identification concerns on your property, feel free to schedule an appointment today with TLC's Landscape Visionaries team by clicking HERE.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Jam and Native Shrubs!

So I was looking for something to put on my toast the other day, and found a forgotten jar of Elderberry Jam.  For those of you who have not tried this great jam, I highly recommend trying it out.  The flavor is a sweet, yet partially mild taste, and best of all, it comes from one of our own native shrubs: Sambucus canadensis  or Elderberry (who would have thought right?!). If you are not a fan of jam with your toast, this does not mean you should exclude this shrub from your landscape.  Birds love the berries, and it has a wonderful white flower that is just starting to bloom which is a nice second tier to the earlier blooming shrubs. 
The shrub likes to be in moist soil, and is typically found growing along creek banks, in an open wet meadow, or a hedgerow.  If the plants are planted in a spot that they really like, they will flourish because of the healthy seed crop that they produce each year.  

Turns out it can even be weedwacked (ask my father) and still continue to grow.  It only kills them the second time you weedwack the plant!  Out on a Landscape Visionaries session a week ago, I found twenty to thirty wild elderberries growing on a property, and then out at Stateline Woods this week, I found another great clump of the wild elderberry.  

This is certainly a plant to add into your landscape for the interesting structure, pretty flowers, and delicious berries.  Though if you decide that you want to harvest the berries, realize that you are going to have to fight off the indigo buntings, and other song birds that prefer the berry from an elderberry tree.  

If you are looking for a jam recipe, I am not the person to ask!

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