Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Obama at National Academy of Sciences

Just a quick post to mention President Obama's address to the National Academy of Sciences Annual Meeting on Monday April 27. Without becoming overtly political here, I will just say that it is refreshing and indeed hopeful, that this young President is proposing to base national policy decisions on science, rather than seeking out only the supposed science that will support the policy decisions that have already been made. You can see a transcript of his address here:
Nat'l Academy of Sciences

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Beneficial Insects like native plants

Here's a quick note of a book and some recent research on beneficial insects and how native plants may help them. You can help by planting even a small section of your yard (a 10 X 10 foot piece of your yard is a hundred square feet and can hold a nice splash of 6-10 native species or more) with plants native to Minnesota. I will be posting lists of plants native to Minnesota in the near future, and also the places where you can buy seeds and plants of these species.
First, the book (actually the author's website) "Bringing Nature Home", By Douglas Tallamy

Next, the recent research..... (from Michigan State University, but some of the plants are native here also, and we can just extrapolate with our own natives, I say.)

And, just for fun, Bug Girl has a link to the President with dirt on his hands (no wisecracks from the Right here) ......

Monday, April 20, 2009

New Spring Growth comments

Ok, until I learn how to post a little comment by each picture I upload, I'll have to do it this way. Ahhh, learning curves, gotta love 'em. The top picture is Cornus alternifolia, Alternate-leaf or Pagoda Dogwood. A lovely woodland shrub which will reach to 25 feet and likes part to full shade. It's the native counterpart to the Kousa Dogwood from Asia. Really nice horizontal structure and beautiful leaves and nice berries too. Next is Silphium perfoliatum, Cup Plant, a tall plant of wet prairies, growing in hopefully the wettest part of my yard. These plants were seedlings last year, so have some work to do, but should reach 6 feet this year, I expect, if they can puncture the clay subsoil. Interesting that this photo shows a bit of petiole on the leaf, but as the species name suggests, these leaves will actually clasp the stem when mature, making small cups which will catch rain and sustain bugs and birds in their thirst. Third plant down is Salix discolor, Pussy Willow, which had a cloud of bee-like insects buzzing around them like electrons, but which escaped the camera's image, exactly opposite of the fairies so drawn to certain photographers lenses who capture them all over the British Isles. Really, they were there ! Fourth, I introduce Agastache foeniculum, Anise hyssop. If you like the smell of Anise or Black Licorice, you must obtain some of these amazing scented herbs. Wow! And pretty blue flower spikes which bees also love. (But not yet) I hear you can make a tea of the leaves, which I haven't tried yet, but I'll try to remember to do that this year. (they don't have caffeine though, as far as I know) Next, (number 5) you'll find Rudbeckia laciniata, Wild Golden Glow. This plant could easily be a replacement for the crazy tropical that some people like to grow right next to their front door as an annual, Castor Bean Plant. Why? Beacuse the clump I have in my front yard grew to be at least 8 and maybe 9 feet tall last year ! Really. And with it's awesome foliage and pretty yellow flowers, it's a fine specimen. It, however doesn't display the red on green foliage that Castor Bean does. But unlike Castor bean, it will come back all by itself the next year. And, well, native pollinators will be fed another year. It also can grow in very shady to full sun situations. I'm not sure which of either sun or water are bigger limiters of size for this one. Ok, last up for this post is Aquilegia canadensis, the Columbine, beautiful woodland forb. Really pretty red and yellow flowers, can handle full sun to near full shade, and also fine with fairly dry settings. The seedpods yield a bounty of seeds to scatter about the garden for a bigger crop next year. Note that you can click (or maybe double-click) on any picture to get a bigger version, try it

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

What is Native?

Ok, this is going to take some time, patience, and more than one post. This is a controversy in the gardening community on the scale of Global Warming/Climate Change in the environmental community. What IS a native plant anyway? Minnesota was covered in ice about 10-12 millenia ago (except for you characters in the "Driftless Area" of Southeastern MN). Which means the slate was fairly well wiped clean. Plants gone. So we could reasonably look at a time frame of between then and now for "What's a native plant?" But about 350 or a few more years ago those amazing French fur traders started paddling west in their oversized canoes with mud on their boots from not only the East Coast, but some of them didn't scrape before they started paddling up the St. Lawrence Seaway, or wherever they first touched "America". Thus started the invasion of plant species from other continents, and from the East to the West.

Fur traders were followed by Pioneers, not just human, but also the plants they brought with them from their home environments. People like to bring pieces of their former environment to their new one to avoid feeling strange in a strange land. And they unwittingly brought the mud on their boots and the feed for their animals and the resultant dung from their animals.

So, most descriptions of native Minnesota plants use a time frame between the glaciers melting and the Europeans arriving. It's a start. Not conclusive in some peoples minds, but a start.

I want to insert here, for the sake of building the controversy, another blog, much more established, and probably also more credentialed than I. Though I will not defer to credentials alone, rebel that I apire to be. Here's Doug Green's Blog, which I just found using Google, and which from my other searching appears to be somewhat representative of typical gardeners' opinions about native plants. This blog appears to have an abundance of interesting gardening ideas and info which I hope to explore further. I will note that he does seem to belittle native plant proponents as having a "politicized charge", whereas he and his kind, being artists, are after simply an esthetic production, an appeal to the senses, a sense of respite. Sounds good, we all are looking to connect with beauty, a sense of peace, ourselves, or maybe "Nature", whatever we might describe that as.

I agree with him that a garden is an artificial construct, no matter how well constucted. Even an arduously researched and planned prairie restoration is a "garden", a construct of human choice. But it is far different from simply an ephemeral work of art designed just to please the senses and to fit the artists mood and space. It has certainly taken into consideration plants that evolved together with each other and also with a multitude of other critters in a certain proximity to the soils and climate of the geographical area. It thus has a more true ring of genuineness to an area historically than an assemblage of plants however lovingly placed in the ground simply by the whim of the artist's esthetic choice.

To be continued...
and I leave you with the above, Polemonium reptans or Jacobs Ladder, blooming last year about May 18th.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Mourning Cloak on Easter

Here's the Mourning Cloak sunning on the sidewalk on Easter Sunday. I'll be watching the Pussy Willows in the next few weeks for egg clusters or caterpillars. Here's some good info about it: BAMONA . I note that Pussy Willows aren't actually listed as a host tree, so maybe the attraction in the neighborhood is the neighbors mature (read large & messy) Cottonwood tree. Here's another link...BugGuide

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Early Spring Butterfly

I saw a Mourning Cloak butterfly today in the yard about noon, with the temperature only in the low 40's. I saw one about three weeks ago too, when we had a surprise (and teasing) day of 60 plus degrees. I also just tonight read about a frog that can sustain much of it's body tissue freezing and live to tell about it ! These critters have developed amazing feats of adaptation through thousands of years of contending with the local climate. I have a motley cluster of native plant seedlings from last year in plug pots sitting on a back patio which have also toughed it through a winter that would give lesser plants pause, or a ticket to the compost. What changes will the next 20 years bring that will give even species adapted to this region pause, or a group pass to the compost? Does my gardening give me faith, or do I bring my faith to the garden?

Monday, April 6, 2009

Prairie Smoke, Geum triflorum, blooming in the garden last year, sometime in May.

New Minnesota Native Plant Blog

My purpose with this blog will be to share my experiences growing (mostly) plants native to Minnesota in my Minneapolis yard. My hope for my yard is that by replacing lawn with native plants, I will produce an area that is attractive to a much larger and more varied web of living things than one planted with turfgrass and standard Nursery Center shrubs and flowers. My hope for this blog is to promote a greater connection to the natural world by making a place where ideas and observation about how nature works can be discussed, debated, and advanced.