Tuesday, January 31, 2017



I've done my best to stay positive these past few months. My very, very, very, very best, despite every fiber of being trying to drag me down to wallow in all my fears, anxieties, and rage, but at this point I think I owe it myself to give in to the bottomless panic that's been threatening to swallow me whole. So for the moment I'm going to stop re-assuring myself that somehow everything will work out, that humanity will finally stop fumbling around in the dark and somehow manage to find its way out of the massive hole we've dug ourselves. Everything is not ok, we are all horrible, and each and every one of us is royally screwed. And so without further adieu I give you multiple (ecological) reasons to lie awake at night, knowing full well the future is not bright, and we are all collectively to blame (and for the record this is only a fraction of the human induced disease and infestations that are currently afflicting our forests here in the northeast. I chose to focus on either recently-ish introduced disease and pests or those that have, for whatever reason, yet to be widely publicized outside of the scientific community). Enjoy.

Disease/Pest: Geosmithia morbida, Thousand Cankers Disease
Description: A fungus spread by the Walnut Twig Beetle, Pityophthorus juglandis.
Primary species affected: Black Walnut, Juglans nigra & Butternut, Juglans cinerea
Mortality: ≈ 100%
Resistant varieties: None
Other Susceptible species: Juglans spp.
Year first reported and location: 2001, Colorado
Successful efforts to combat: Given the recent appearance of the disease there have been no coordinated efforts to fight back, simply curb the spread. Currently, there are no reported cases of resistant J. nigra individuals.

Disease/Pest: Butternut Canker, Sirococcus clavigignenti-juglandacearum
Description: A spore spread fungus.
Primary species affected: Butternut, Juglans cinerea
Mortality: ≈ close to 100% (with an occasional resistant individual)
Resistant varieties: None
Other susceptible species: Black Walnut, Juglans nigra
Year First reported and location: 1967 in southwestern Wisconsin
Successful efforts to combat: Yes, a germplasm of resistant Butternuts has been gathered by the forest service and partnership state and private organizations for breeding. While efforts are promising, they have yet to publicly release any resistant Butternut strains. To further complicate matters some resistant "Butternuts" were actually hybrids between J. cinerea and J. ailantifolia (Japanese Walnut).

The northeastern and mid-atlantic forest once had economic value far beyond the raw materials of the trees themselves. American Chestnuts, Butternuts, and Walnuts once sustained local people well beyond simple subsistence, forming the backbone of local economies up and down the eastern seaboard. But with the appearance of chestnut blight at the turn of the 20th century this economy quickly began to collapse as the once great American Chestnut went functionally extinct. While not as productive or as prevalent both the Black Walnut and Butternut (also highly valued for their nuts) are now at risk of succumbing to the same fate. The 2 diseases that threaten these trees highlight what exactly it is we lose when these foreign pathogens are unleashed upon an otherwise healthy functioning landscape: productivity. Natural systems that could once support diverse populations of native flora and fauna along with local human populations all but collapse leaving the disparate elements to compete for the few resources that remain.

Disease/Pest: Winter Moth, Operophtera brumata
Description: A moth native to Europe and the near East. Males are most commonly observed in late fall and early winter in the evening in search of flightless females.
Primary species affected: Multiple deciduous trees and shrubs including Acer spp., Quercus spp., Fraxinus spp., Malus spp., Vaccinium spp., etc.
Mortality: (?) less than 5% maybe, buy this is a total guess. It may indirectly be much higher (they weaken the trees and make them more susceptible to other disease).
Resistant species and varieties: Conifers
Year first reported and location: Nova Scotia sometime prior to 1950.
Successful efforts to combat: Yes, a parastic fly and natural predator of the moth (Cyzenis albicans) has been studied (see article), and appears to have successfully curbed infestations. It has already been used successfully in Nova Scotia and British Colombia, and results in the northeast look promising. The fly is a specialist and does not appear to target other native lepidoptera species. While not yet available to the larger public, UMass Amherst professor Joseph Elkinton has done several controlled releases across Massachusetts in hopes of curbing the outbreak (see article).

So I only found out recently that the multitude of moths I've been seeing fluttering around at night during the end of November are not only pretty much all the same species (and all male), but a noxious introduced pest that has been responsible for the (often) complete defoliation of a multitude of deciduous tree species, including many natives. This, along with 2 other introduced lepidoptera pest (Gypsy Moth, Lymantria dispar and Browntail Moth, Euproctis chrysorrhoea - both of which have their origins in my great state of Massachusetts...ugh) make a destructive trio that are wreaking havoc across the northeast and continuing to expand their range with each passing year. 2016 was a particularly bad year given the record setting drought (drought compounds the infestation as one of the few natural controls of these voracious little wrigglers is a virus, baculovirus, that relies on rainfall to spread). This confluence of accelerated population growth and extreme drought resulted in some pretty disturbing scenes. There were stretches along the drive to my garden (from Boston to Ipswich) this past summer where it looked like it was winter in mid-July. Thousands upon thousands of big mature oaks were stripped down to their bare branches for pretty much the entirety of the summer.

Disease/Pest: Woolly Adelgid, Adelges tsugae
Description: A miniscule sucking insect. Egg sacks are visible as white cottony masses.
Primary species affected: Tsuga canadensis
Mortality: ≈ 100%
Resistant varieties: None
Other susceptible species: Tsuga carolina
Year first reported and location:
Successful efforts to combat: Tentative yes?, research is currently underway looking into the effectiveness of a few species of predatory beetle (see article). Unfortunately, at least one of the beetles has even less cold tolerance than the adelgid itself, so it may only be effective in the southern Appalachians. There are also efforts to propagate resistant individuals of both native hemlock species as well as various breeding programs looking at crossing both T. canadensis and T. carolina with more resistant Asian species. T. canadensis has not yet made any successful crosses with asian species.


This insect has become a relatively recent poster child for how disastrous invasive pests can be. These nearly microscopic little SOBs have rivaled chestnut blight for the speed at which they've spread and their virulence (granted the trees take a few years to succumb, but mortality is nearly 100% and unlike the chestnut, hemlocks lack the ability to re-sprout; once they're dead, they're dead). I've written about this so often mainly because I've witnessed the before and after of this plague first hand, and it has had a profound impact on me personally. Hemlocks were not particularly common in my area to begin with, so when you were lucky enough to come across a stand it made the ecological influence that the trees had on their environment even more profound. Overall, these places were quieter, cooler, and lusher than the surrounding woodland. As tragic as it has been to see this species all but wiped out in my area, where the hemlock are more common and a dominant species, their loss has been catastrophic and will permanently change the landscape they once called home.

While I could go on, and probably should, I'll leave you with an image of the current state of our forests relative to a decade ago. If anything these numbers have probably increased. You can see what it looks like for other parts of the east (here) as well and it ain't pretty. The reality is that soon enough they're may not be any species left to take the place of the ones that get wiped out... and where are we then? And just in case you weren't concerned enough, I'll leave you with a list of a few of the other wonderful human induced plagues that are currently ravaging woodlands up and down the east coast. Keep in mind I didn't even touch upon native disease/pests or other invasive plants... I can only fit so much negativity into one post.

- Asian Longhorned Beetle, Anoplophora glabripennis

- Emerald Ash Borer, Agrilus planipennis

- Beech bark disease, Cryptococcus fagisuga

- Dogwood anthracnose, Discula destructiva

- Viburnum Leaf Beetle, Pyrrhalta viburni

- Oak wilt, Ceratocystis fagacearum

- Dutch Elm Disease, Caused by 3 different species of ascomycete microfungi: Ophiostoma ulmi, Ophiostoma himal-ulmi, Ophiostoma novo-ulmi

- White Pine Blister Rust, Cronartium ribicola

- Chestnut Blight, Cryphonectria parasitica

IMAGE SOURCES: Thousand Cankers Disease Map, Butternut Canker Distribution Map, 2015 Forest Health Aerial Survey, Woolly Adelgid Spread Map, Dead Hemlocks, Northeast Tree Mortality Map

Wednesday, November 30, 2016


We all have moments when we feel like the darker parts of our subconscious seep out to infiltrate our reality, even if just for a moment. It might happen a bit more often than I'd like, but I normally just brush it off and blame it on my over-active imagination and some combination of stress, exhaustion, and coincidence... but this past weekend was a bit exceptional.

I've been pretty desperate the past few weekends (and by "few" I mean since April) trying to get everything prepped and planted before the ground freezes... So I found myself the night after thanksgiving hacking away at the remains of a gravel road with an uncomfortably large number of winter moths fluttering past my head lamp, moving in and out of the cold fog that kept me from seeing much past the end of my pickaxe. Add this to the occasional muffled sound of howling coyotes, faint church bells, and the distant whirring of a passing train and I think any sane person would begin to question if they had wandered into a dream, or at the very least lost their grip on reality...

Getting to my point (I do have them occasionally) this odd out of body experience made me reflect on (not only my own sanity) but if the thing I was doing was really necessary at all. Given that nearly every bit of my free time has been consumed by my pursuit to "finish" the gardens I've started nearly 5 years ago I've been doing my best to try to be more efficient, or at the very least making sure the gardens don't consume me entirely. So while taking a pickaxe to the edge of a road may not have fallen under the category of completely necessary, with the complete lack of soil in certain areas and extreme compaction in others, I don't feel I was (completely) crazy for tearing it all up. BUT the reality is there are more than a handful of plants that are well equipped to deal with barely there heavily compacted "soils" that are a byproduct of current construction practices (a byproduct that at some point nearly every gardener has had to deal with). So if you would rather not rip up a road or that horrible corner of your yard where nothing will grow, consider these amazingly resilient plants that seem to bask in the compacted, clay-ey, gravel-ey poor excuse for soil that is an unfortunate and often overlooked cost of modern living.

Juncus tenuis - Poverty Rush or Path Rush
Zones 3-9
Find any old road in the northeast and this little guy is probably close by. An awkward little fella, but cute and mostly evergreen. Always a few darker shades green than the plants around it. I'm going to attempt to use it as a ground cover on the remainder of the old road I was hacking to pieces. Hopefully it works out.
Purchase from: (RETAIL) - Agrecol, Everwilde Farms, Ion Exchange, Niche Gardens, Morning Sky Greenery, Toadshade Wildflower Farm, Prairie Moon (WHOLESALE) - Northcreek Nursery, Midwest Groundcovers, New Moon Nursery

Ruellia humilis - Wild Petunia
Zones 4-8
By all accounts tough as nails and indifferent to soil. Planted a few during our drought this summer. Barely watered it. Didn't skip a beat. So far hasn't been browsed.
Purchase from: (RETAIL) - American Meadows, Agrecol, Butterfly Gardens to Go, Everwilde Farms, Heritage Flower Farm, High Country Gardens, Ion Exchange, J.L. Hudson, Seedman's, Lazy S'S Farm Nursery, Morning Sky Greenery, Prairie Nursery, Rare Find Nursery, Sunshine Farms and Gardens, Toadshade Wildflower Farm, Wildflower Farm (WHOLESALE) - Midwest Groundcovers, Northcreek Nurseries, New Moon Nurseries, Van Berkum Nursery

Symphyotrichum cordifolium - Blue Wood Aster
Zones 3-8
Other than being deer candy I have no complaints about this one. Its powder blue flowers are best appreciated in mass (and a great re-seeder so if you leave it to its own devices you'll have plenty in time). All sources list it as browse resistant, the local deer population says otherwise. Closely related a similarly adaptable species include S. drummondii S. ciliolatum, S. shortii, S. sagittifolium, and S. oolentangiense.
Purchase from: (RETAIL) - Amanda's Native Plants, Prairie Nursery, Prairie Moon Nursery (WHOLESALE) - Northcreek Nursery, New Moon Nursery, Van Berkum Nursery

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae - New England Aster
Zones 3-8
Always a bit obsessed with any species that seem to have a ridiculous (and seemingly pointless) level of diversity. All the populations I've come across have purples, light pinks, magentas, and everything in between. Its height is dependent on soil fertility. Gets a bit over rambunctious and floppy in overly rich ones.
Purchase from: (RETAIL) - Agrecol, Amanda's Garden, American Meadows, Everwilde Farms, Grimm's Gardens, High Country Gardens, Ion Exchange, Morning Sky Greenery, Prairie Nursery, Prairie Moon Nursery, Toadshade Wildflower Farm (WHOLESALE) - Midwest Groundcovers, New Moon Nursery, North Creek Nursery

Symphyotrichum pilosum - Frost Aster
Zones 3-8
I know this plant from my bike rides to work, growing happily in what looks like concrete alongside the railroad tracks. This plant will look like crap if you give it good soil, crappy soils of low fertility produce the best plants. Mainly white, but have come across light pink variants as well.
Purchase from: (RETAIL) - Agrecol, Ion Exchange, Prairie Moon Nursery, Plant Delights Nursery, Prairie Nursery, Toadshade Wildflower Farm (WHOLESALE) - New Moon Nursery

Scutellaria incana - Hoary or Downy Skullcap
Zones 4 (although I've seen a few 3 and 5)-9 (a few 8s too)
I'm a sucker for blue, and if it wasn't for the deer I would have given this guy a try. I've seen what they've done to deer resistant plants, can only imagine what they'd do to a plant without the resistance. Supposedly a fan of clays so extra bummer for me.
Purchase from: (RETAIL) - Easy Wildflowers, Everwilde Farms, Gardens in the Wood of Grassy Creek, Lazy S'S
Farm Nursery
, Niche Gardens, Odyssey Perennials, Prairie Moon Nursery (WHOLESALE) - Forrest Keeling, Northcreek Nursery, New Moon Nursery

IMAGE SOURCES: J. tenuis (LEFT, RIGHT); R. humilis; S. incana (LEFT, RIGHT)

Monday, October 31, 2016


The pseudo-branches of T. radicans in full fall splendor using adjacent trees as a scaffold.

So with the unavoidable ascendancy of the evil pumpkin king (aka the Trump) and the coming nuclear Trump-ocolypse® I thought I'd pay homage to one of the plants that will surely thrive after the nuclear holocaust and eventually usurp the great Trumpkin on its path to world domination. Toxicodendron radicans aka Poison Ivy aka our future plant overlord aka the current bane of my existence is quite ubiquitous 'round my neck of the woods (literally... its f***ing everywhere in the woods) and like many gardeners in the northeast I have gone to battle many times with this plant and always come back the loser.

Despite the ongoing war, my respect for this wondrous creature remains constant. It is the only plant I know of that can be found in both highly disturbed successionary as well as pristine climax plant communities (and everything in between). Sun, shade, dry, wet, vertical, horizontal; this plant's fine tuned genetics give it a level of phenotypic plasticity that is unparalleled in the plant world (or at least in the northeast anyway). It's an outlier in habitat succession & evolution in its ability to persist in whatever conditions it finds itself in, and simply adapts in place. Add this steel like constitution with the ability to cause one of the most uncomfortable and nasty looking allergic reactions around (and potentially disfiguring/life threatening if the reaction is severe enough) and you start to think that its super villain name-sake is actually no match for the actual plant... suck it Uma. So to go along with this super toxic, super adaptable plant I give you few other resolute toxic beauties east of the rockies that are a bit more people friendly (unless you eat them... but now you know better... so don't). Anyway if you like to live dangerously and more traditional plants just aren't cutting it, give one of these guys a try.

Aconitum uncinatum - Climbing Monkshood, Southern Blue Monkshood
Zones 5-8
The lore surrounding this genus's use as a potent poison dates back to about as long as people have had written language. As toxic as it is beautiful, A. uncinatum is no exception and one of the best garden subjects of the handful of species that call North America home. At its best when it has a few sturdy neighbors to ramble through and shade it during the hottest times of the day and like every other member of the genus not a fan of drought (or even moderately dry soil for that matter).
Purchase from: Enchanter's Garden, Far Reaches Farm

Eupatorium rugosum syn. Ageratina altissima - White Snakeroot
Zones 4-9
Despite my darndest attempt to stay strong, I've given in to temptation and left this plant in the garden which I'm sure I will more than regret as I pull up hundreds upon hundreds of seedlings that will inevitably pop up on every square inch of bare soil within shooting distance. Aggressive self seeders to say the least and also as far as I can tell, super toxic. One of the few plants that I have never seen get even a nibble. The cause of milk sickness, which was attributed to thousands of deaths of early European settlers in the east until someone had the foresight to ask the people who had lived here for thousands upon thousands of years prior. We thanked them by stealing their land and forgetting the name of the Shawnee woman who may have prevented thousands more from being poisoned.
Purchase from: Morning Sky Greenery, Prairie Moon Nursery, American Meadows, White Flower Farm, Niche Gardens, Forest Farm, Lazy S'S Farm, New Garden Plants, Secret Garden Growers

Euphorbia corollata - Flowering Spurge
Zones 3-9
I do my best to try to look at my clay soils as an asset, and while I do a pretty good job most of the time this is one of the plants that sends me a bit off course. But, if you are blessed with sterile freely draining soil you owe it to yourself to grow this plant. It shares the milky irritating latex typical of the genus that oozes from any part of the plant if cut, torn, or otherwise munched on. Unlike the other members its the actual petals rather than bracts that are the showy part of the inflorescence. Spectacular fall color, perhaps one of the best of any native herbaceous perennial in our flora.
Purchase from: Prairie Moon, Avant Gardens, Everwilde Farms, Heritage Flower Farm, Lazy S'S Farm, Niche Gardens, Plant Delights, Midwest Groundcovers, Ion Exchange, Rare Find Nursery, Agrecol

Oxytropis lambertii - Purple Locoweed
Zones 3-8
So named for the behavioral effect it has on livestock after it causes irreversible neurological damage once consumed. However the active toxin (swainsonine) is only produced in association with a symbiotic fungus. Ranchers once offered bounties for this plant and its relatives in the range lands of the west, but so long as cattle aren't an issue, and you have a dry sunny bit of land to keep this guy happy, a very worthy long lived garden subject.
Purchase from: Everwilde Farms, Prairie Moon

Toxicodendron radicans - Poison Ivy
Zones 4-10
See overly elaborate description at the top of the page.
Purchase from: WHY?!!!

Veratrum viride - Green False Hellebore
Zones 3-8
It and its brother from another mother (Symplocarpus foetidus) are quite the pair. Both emerge early and herald the triumphant return of spring with lush bold foliage that gives northeastern forests a tropical, almost primordial feel early in the season. The only problem with springing to life when there's not much other green around is your an easy target so V. viride employs a toxic alkaloid that makes it a little less appealing to voracious winter starved herbivores.
Purchase from: Could only find one western source :/ Far Reaches Farm

IMAGE SOURCES: A. uncinatum (LEFT, RIGHT); E. corollata (LEFT, RIGHT, BOTTOM); O. lambertii (LEFT, RIGHT); V. viride (LEFT, RIGHT)