English Ivy

Hedera Helix is more commonly known as English Ivy, common ivy or simply ivy. It is native to most of Europe and western Asia, ranging from Ireland to Ukraine. Colonial settlers brought the ornamental vine to the United States with them as early as 1727.

 

What it looks like  ivy-on-wall

 

Hedera Helix is a green vine with alternating leaves. There are two types of leaves. The first type is the  five lobed juvenile that grows out of  the creeping and climbing stems. The second it the mature unlobed leaf.

 

Flowers and Fruit     

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Ivy is getting tall, and beginning to attach to the house

 

Mature ivy plants will produce flowers in late summer and into the fall. Flowers can grow up to 2 inches and are a greenish yellow color. Birds and insects are attracted to the flowers and black to orange fruit that ripens in winter. Birds and animals like and in their native environment depend on the fruit, but it is poisonous to humans.

 

English ivy is considered invasive to a lot of the areas it has been introduced. It is not very picky when growing conditions are concerned. It may grow up to almost a 100 feet long if is able to find adequate support such as a fence or house. It shoots out aerial rootlets that from matted pads that help to stick to buildings if it is not trimmed. Also if left to it’s own devices the roots could possibly do damage to porous materials, such as a wooden fence or house.

 

Where it likes to Grow    

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Before trim

 

If the vine is kept well maintained it can be grown as a groundcover or nice low kept shrubs or hedges. With the aid of a wire frame English ivy can even be sculpted into creative topiaries.

 

Ivy prefers cool, moist dark areas and will fill any empty corner that it can. Since it is an evergreen it can withstand cold winters up -9 degrees fahrenheit. Making it a good plant for U.S. hardiness zones 6 and up. It will also grow in full sun if it can get enough water, although it may not winter very well in the sun if it gets too dry.

 

A Caution 

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After trim

 

English ivy is a wonderful ornamental evergreen that can bring color to your yard all year around. It is however, important to keep it under control so that it does not take over your home and yard. Many areas consider it invasive for just this reason. It can cause hundreds of dollars of damage to your home in a single season if it is not trimmed or sculpted properly. I love nostalgic pictures of ivy covered houses but would not want it on my home or in my trees.
Give 2 J’s a call if your ivy or other plants have started taking over.

 

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Yucca Arkansana

I honestly did not know that the yucca was native to NWA. That could in part be that I didn’t know it’s real name was Yucca Arkansana, or it could just because I don’t really care for them. Maybe knowing that this cactus, succulent actually belongs here will help me like them a little bit more.

 

The Smallest Yucca

The Yucca arkansana is the smallest of the yucca family aparacarceae.  It only grows in Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas. Out of the 40 species in its family the arkansana  is truly tiny especially compared to the monstrous Joshua Trees of California that can grow 40 feet tall. The arkansana on the other hand only grows  stalks up to about 30 inches tall.      joshua tree

 

What it Looks Like

 

The tall stalks that boast the gorgeous white flowers grow out of a base of blue green leaves with sharp tips (be careful this is part of the reason I don’t like them, the tips are very dangerous).  The flowers have 3 whitish green  petals and  3 sepals on each flower. Sepals are found under the bloom, they protect the bud as it grows and later provide support for the flower once it blooms (on a rose the sepal would be the green section  between the stem and petals). The yucca  stalk  can have many blooms all the up  it, the flowers are gorgeous when they bloom between April and June.    yucca 2

 

Where it Likes to Grow

 

Like most yucca this one likes to grow in rocky well drained soil. It can be found on rocky hillsides or dry prairies. It likes full or partial sun but may grow in the shade too. Soil content is not really a big factor for the yucca.

 

The yucca arkansana’s indifference to where it grows makes it great to landscape with.  It’s roots are great at stabilizing rocky slopes where erosion is an issue. Being a perennial and an evergreen are also big marks in it’s favor. The arkansana will thrive in the coldest weather it’s native environment can throw at it, as long as it is in well drained soil so that the roots stay dry. It will stay in place forever to provide a stabilizing force where it is needed. This plant is nearly impossible to kill.

 

How it Reproduces                        yucca flowers

 

Fallen seeds will germinate themselves when temperatures reach between 60 and 70 degrees. It will also reproduce with rhizomes, stem cuttings or by transplanting offsets from the side of an existing mature plant. I am telling you the yucca just keeps coming back it is a very hardy and self sufficient plant.

The Yucca Moth is one of the most amazing things about the yucca family. For millions of years these two species have had a symbiotic relationship. These two species cannot survive without each other. The moth population varies from region to region depending on the yucca population. Without the yucca seeds for the moth larvae to feed on their species would become extinct. In turn the moth is the only insect that can   pollinate the yucca.

 

In the central U.S. the yucca moth is species that pollinates the yucca arkansana is the  Tegeticulla yuccasella it only comes out at night. When the female is ready to lay a clutch she collects pollen from the yucca flowers with two short tentacles near her mouth. She rolled the pollen into a ball and sticks it to her head. She takes her ball of pollen to a yucca flower and opens a hole in the flowers ovary and lays her clutch there. She then packs her pollen ball into the flowers stamen and markes the flower with her sent to alert other moths that the flower has been used.  This allows the moths to control how many eggs have been laid in each plant so that the plant does not abort the eggs. When the eggs hatch they eat the seeds inside the the yucca plant fruit until the burrow their way out. The scent pheromone the mother laid to alert other moths of her clutch not only keeps the plant from aborting the eggs but also helps control the population of both species. To many moths would eat too many yucca seeds and to many yucca seeds would create too many plants. Nature is an amazing thing.           yucca moth

 

Uses

 

American Indians made use of almost every part of their native yucca. The flowers of most yucca are edible raw, boiled and even pickled. The stem of some is also edible and the roots can be used to make soap. I was unable to find anything specific on the uses of the arkasana as far as recipes and such but most sources seem to think that it is no different from most of its cousins along this line.

 

The Amazing Yucca                 

 

A perennial and evergreen with an amazing symbiotic moth relationship in our backyards.

 

Love or hate them the yucca arkansana that cover the hillside on my property aren’t going anywhere. Even the few that I have tried to remove have spited me by growing more. I think we will add some native grasses to add contrast amongst them and leave them to continue doing their job of keeping the hill intact. We will now also be watching more closely at nighttime for the yucca moths.

 

Why Plant Native

Some of our past blog articles have talked about native plants like Butterfly Milkweed. A couple of them have talked about invasive species that are found all over our area and have been here for a very long time like Queen Anne’s Lace. But we haven’t talked about why native plants are important. So why plant native?

Why Natives

Natives as a general rule of thumb are adapted to their environment.  This makes them more hardy to their particular climate conditions. honey bee on butterfly milkweed

PROS:

  • Less water
  • More tolerant to drought (if the area frequently has them)
  • Provide homes and food for native insects and animals
  • Don’t require as much fertilizer
  • Don’t require as many pesticides
  • Root systems are designed for the area’s geography, stabilizing rocky terrain or river banks for example.
  • Native plants have also developed to withstand their regions climate like wind and sun.

 

How Invasive Species Affect the Environment

 

Invasive plants have not had the time to adapt to their new conditions in some cases. In other situations non-native plants compete with the native plants and even effect the animals and insects. Queen Annes Flower

CONS:

  • Need more water
  • Need more fertilizer
  • Need pesticides
  • Take over native species, in essence choking them out
  • Take away nutrients from natives
  • Take sunlight from natives
  • Don’t provide sufficient food or shelter for native insects and animals
  • Do not have natural controls in place to control their expansion
  • Run rampant on uninhabited property

 

Yard Scenario 1

 

In a yard that just consists of a grass lawn and all non-native plants on average there maybe about a dozen native insects present.

 

Yard Scenario 2

In a yard with a grass lawn and all native tree, shrubs and flowers there should be hundreds of mostly all native insects.

 

Why Insects are Important

 

It is estimated that 97% of native insects are beneficial. They provide food for birds , bats , fish and other native animals. Spiders and other predatory insects keep fly and mosquito populations under control, along with a horde of other nuisance pests.

 

Native Plants and Animals Create a Sustainable Ecosystem

 

Incorporating just 20% – 30% of natives into your homes landscaping will encourage more native insects and birds to take up residency.     chickadee

 

A single pair of chickadees need up to 9,000 caterpillars to produce a clutch of eggs.

One native oak tree supports the caterpillars of 500 native moth and butterfly species. caterpillar-monarch

 

If we stop planting and encouraging native trees to grow on our property the caterpillars won’t be present for the chickadees to feed on in the quantity they need to breed.

 

We have turned 54% of the continental U.S. into a mixture of suburban and urban development, another 41% is being used for some sort of agricultural pursuit.  This leaves only about 5% undeveloped and still wild. With numbers like that our individual yards and landscaping choices can make a big difference to the environment and ecosystem as a whole.

 

To be honest I grew up in a family that loved to garden but in reality this doesn’t mean that I know a whole lot about native plants. My family loves plants like  elephant ears and banana trees, these are both far from native and are no use to our visiting wild rabbits.

We try now to incorporate as many natives into our personal yard as we can along with companion gardening. But…. the elephant ears and banana tree are both fond childhood memories that I still continue to plant every year. Native or not I feel close to my grandpa ever year when we plant them.         wild rabbit

 

Planting native is a choice that is beginning to give a whole new meaning to the term “Victory Garden”.   

 

Asclepias tuberosa or Butterfly Milkweed

Asclepias tuberosa  or Butterfly Milkweed is a perennial that blooms May through September in zones 4-9. It spends these months attracting and feeding butterflies. Including the gorgeous Queen and Monarch butterflies.

 

Physical Characteristics  honey bee on butterfly milkweed

 

Orange  Milkweed is one of 15  milkweed species native to Missouri. It grows 18 to 24 inches tall, with a 24 inch spread. The hairy dark green stems and foliage provide wonderful contrast to the bright orange heads. The vibrant orange flowers also make it stand out against the fields and open rocky areas that it prefers to grow in.

 

Other Common Names

 

Butterfly Milkweed   gran-canaria

Orange Milkweed

Pleurisy Root

Chigger Flower

 

This small bush like flower grows a very large tap root. The root makes transplanting this plant very difficult, so it is better to propagate from a seed. The root also gives the plant the name Pleurisy Root. Native Americans chewed the tough root to help with a variety of pulmonary  ailments or inflammation of the chest and lungs. This helps with things like bronchitis, allergies and other respiratory problems.

 

Save the Monarch    caterpillar-monarch

 

Yep I am sure you have heard somewhere by now about this. The Monarch species is diminishing and milkweed may be the cure. So here we go with milkweed and the Monarchs.

 

Orange Milkweed is most commonly known for attracting hummingbirds and the diminishing Monarch butterfly. It is a plentiful source of nectar for the Monarch. There is a chemical in native milkweed that is thought to be the source of the butterfly’s toxic and bitter tasting properties. Milkweed is also the only plant that Monarchs lay their larvae in. A study done earlier this year in 2016 has seen a ten fold drop in the number of Monarch Butterflies over the past decade. At this rate scientist are estimating a high probability that they could go extinct in the next twenty years. Propagating and promoting the native species of milkweed that attract them and feed their young  may very well help bring the Monarch back from their decline for future generations to enjoy.          Asclepias tuberosa or Orange Milkweed

Daucus carota or Queen Anne’s Lace

Daucus carota or Queen Anne’s Lace is a native from Europe and southwest Asia that has been naturalized to North America and Australia. Here in NWA we can find it freely growing in fields and along roadsides from May to October.

 

Common Names    daucus-carota-848680_640

This plant has many common names wild carrot, bird’s nest and Bishop’s Lace  just to name a few. The most common Queen Anne’s Lace comes from a story involving Queen Anne of  England pricking her finger and a drop of her blood falling onto the piece of lace she was sewing.

 

Physical Appearance    Queen Annes Flower

Queen Anne’s Lace grows up to 4 feet tall. It has long fern type leaves that can be as long as 8 inches. The stem  is topped with a large white flat head created from many tiny blooms that may each have a purple center giving the head an appearance that resembles lace. Once the fruit begins to form the flowers fold inward giving the flower the appearance of a bird’s nest.

 

Similar Commonly Mistaken For Plants

 

This plant closely resembles several poisonous plants. If you ever decide to try harvesting Daucus carota for any reason edible or display please have an expert help. Simply coming in contact with some of the plants that resemble it may cause serious physical harm. Some commonly mistaken imitators are:

Poison Hemlock

Water Hemlock

Fool’s Parsley

 

Ancestor to the Carrot

 

This biennial ancestor to the domestic carrot  lives for 2 years. The first year of it’s life it spends getting bigger and growing a long edible taproot. The root is pale and thin with a woody appearance about as big around as a finger. The root  may be used in a tea or soups and stews along with the seeds. The leaves are also edible in the first year and can be used in salad. In the second year the plant has a taste that is to woody tasting for consumption.

 

The Romans once ate the root as vegetable. The Irish, Hindus and Jews used it as a sweetener. It has the second highest sugar content for a root vegetable, the first being beets.

 

As A Medicine queen-annes-lace-324582_640

 

It was used as a medicine before it was considered a food. Ancient people used the seeds medicinally and the leaves as an herb. Today Queen Ann’s Lace is know to be an antihistamine, anti-inflammatory, anti-psychotic, and an anti-oxidant. Researchers are working on using it to help with Alzheimer’s, Crohn’s, Parkinson’s, Cancer and diabetes.

 

Invasive Weed

 

Queen Anne’s Lace provides a great habitat and food source for many insects and animals. As well as being great to use in companion gardening for boosting tomato production and keeping lettuce cooler. All of that being said the USDA has declared it a noxious weed that competes too much with true native plants.

 

For now we will continue to see Queen Anne’s Lace in Northwest Arkansas. It will continue to provide a food source for insects and a habitat for birds. Even as farmers battle to keep it out of their fields.

 

Yarrow or Achillea Millefolium

Yarrow is a perennial herb that originates from Europe and Asia, but has been naturalized to many other countries including North America. In Northwest Arkansas we often find it growing along roadsides and in open fields.

 

Yarrow is easy to spot as it stands up to thirty inches tall and has long fern like leaves that can grow to four inches. The head of a Yarrow plant is made up have hundreds of tiny clustered flowers that can grow to four inches in diameter. In NWA the flowers are generally white, although they may be yellow or even  pink or purple.

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Yellow Yarrow in bloom

 

Achillea millefolium is the scientific name for this herb of many purposes. It is said that Achilles the Greek warrior used this plant to treat not only himself but also his troops in battle. Yarrow is a bitter,  an antipyretic, antimicrobial, hepatic and vulnerary herb. Meaning it is used to promote appetite, reduce fever, stop bleeding,help with inflammation, prevent viruses, and helps heal wounds and the liver. Thats a lot of things for one flower to do.

 

I could go on about the health benefits of yarrow for pages but I won’t (at least not in this article). Almost the whole plant can be boiled or ground up to make a salve or tincture for some ailment. Just be careful if you are allergic to it, Yarrow is also responsible for a lot of people’s seasonal allergies.  

 

For all of those reasons it has a ton of other common names like  bloodwort, carpenter’s weed, knight’s milfoil, noble yarrow, old man’s pepper, nosebleed and staunch grass.

 

Yarrow is good for more than just your health too. It doesn’t have to have a lot of water or very fertile soil to thrive, so it is great for helping with erosion. Other plants like it too because it attracts pollinators and raises the oil content in other plants which helps them stay more resistant to pests and disease. Plus the whole time it is doing all of that Achillea millefolium is also repairing your damaged soil.
Yarrow is a great herb with a million uses from salve to erosion control. This great roadside weed is worthy of Achilles’s name and I love to have it growing in my yard.

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Yarrow is distinguished by its many tiny flowers and fern like leaves

Echinacea or Purple Coneflower

Echinacea or Purple Coneflower is hardy perennial member of the daisy family that grows in zones 3 to 9. It will grow up to two feet tall with heads four inches across. This gorgeous flower comes in a variety of colors. The original nine species have been cross bred to create a huge variety of hybrids that would look great in any garden. The Purple Coneflower version is generally what we find growing wild along roadsides in NWA.

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Echinacea

 

Echinacea is very hardy withstanding drought, full sun and heat making it a great choice to grow in xeriscapes, meadows, or to use as a border flower. If it is planted in fertile well drained soil with lots of sunlight it will go crazy and produces a ton of brilliant blooms all summer long.  

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Purple Cone flower

 

Blooming from June to September Echinacea will  attract pollinating bees or beautiful butterflies and birds to your garden. If you can keep the birds away from the seeds until the flowers begin to dry out the seeds will drop and reproduce again for years to come.

 

Echinacea was used by the Great Plains Indians as a medicinal herb, it is believed to have antibacterial properties.  Today it sold as a supplement in many vitamin aisles and can also be found in cough drops. Echinacea has been  used to treat anything from the common cold to inflammation and even  HPV. A lot of people have even begun taking it help boost their immune systems at the first sign of a cold. Please always consult a doctor before taking any new kind of medication.
The Purple Coneflower is a gorgeous plant with many uses that I hope to see more of in the future. 

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Cone flower

Fire Pink Silene Virginica or Scarlet Catchfly

The Scarlet Catchfly is one of my favorite native flowers. Their bright red flowers bring a smile to my face as soon as they start blooming every year. They grow in eastern North America as far north as Canada and all the way down to Florida. In the Northwest Arkansas area the Scarlet Catchfly generally begins blooming as soon as April and can last until almost July.

 

Growing up to 2 feet tall the sticky stalk of the Catchfly topped with it’s bright red petals with heads measuring from 1”-1 ½ “ stand out in stark contrast against the rocky wooded backdrop of its chosen habitat. The colorful notched petals are very attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies making a wonderful addition to any yard or garden. The slightly hairy and sticky stalk that prey on smaller insects give the Silene Virginica its  common name of catchfly. It loves rocky well drained soil and can often be found on rocky outcroppings and shaded hillsides.

 

Silene Virginica is very hardy and easy to grow. Its ability to attract its own pollinators and drop its own seeds keep it reproducing every year. Unfortunately in some places like Florida and Wisconsin it is becoming endangered.  Michigan has the Silene Virginica on its  threatened list. Lucky for  us in NWA this beautiful wildflower flower is not on any endangered  list. Lets help keep it that way for butterflies and hummingbirds in the years to come.Fire Red Silene Virginica