Leave the Leaves!

Justin Wheeler of The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation (https://xerces.org/) makes the case for leaving the leaves to support our pollinators as among the most beneficial things you can do in your winter landscape.

Read the full article here or visit this international non-profit organization here.

You can also revisit our SCNPS article Winter Gardening for Wildlife for more information about providing winter habitat for our beneficial wildlife.

November Upstate Monthly Meeting – Using iNaturalist to Bring the Smokies Alive

Korrin Bishop

Using iNaturalist to Bring the Smokies Alive

Nature-writer and editor Korrin Bishop will be presenting, “Using iNaturalist to Bring the Smokies Alive”.  Korrin Bishop works with passions for both mission-driven work and the great outdoors. Her writing is heavily influenced by a sense of place, as over time she has found home amongst California’s redwoods, Washington, D.C. ‘s cherry blossoms, Oregon’s caves, South Dakota’s badlands, Florida’s Everglades, and Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains. Korrin was a 2020 writer-in-residence at Sundress Academy for the Arts in Knoxville. She is currently working on hiking every trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and earning her certification as a Tennessee Naturalist. She has written for Misadventures Magazine, Sierra MagazineSmokies Life, and Fodor’s Travel, among others.

During her presentation, you will learn about iNaturalist.  iNaturalist is a citizen science app that goes beyond the basic identification of plants, animals, fungi, and other species. In this talk, writer and avid iNaturalist user Korrin Bishop will cover the app’s wide range of uses through the lens of Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP).

Click here to get to the event and Zoom link.

My rocky relationship with Virginia creeper

By Jessica Bragg

Photo credit: Leonora (Ellie) Enking

It was not love at first sight.  My first impression of Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinqefolia) was “that plant that’s not quite poison ivy”.  They look quite similar in my eyes.  Although the old rhyme “leaves of three, let it be” alerts us to poison ivy, while Virginia creeper typically has five leaflets in each leaf, do you really want something that sort of looks like poison ivy growing on your fence?

Thus was my mindset when it started creeping over the fence from my neighbor’s yard.  I was annoyed.  But a few months later, I was becoming enamored with the scraggly plant.  How did it win me over?  I discovered this native plant has a lot of value for wildlife, despite a few downsides for the homeowner.

The Good

I first learned that some caterpillars love it.   For example, there is a Virginia creeper sphinx moth that is very commonly found near host plants.  I don’t especially love moths, but I know that in every stage they are an essential part of the food chain.  Lots of caterpillars means the baby birds in my backyard will not go hungry.  Even better, birds can also eat the berries of Virginia creeper.  In fact, many birds rely on this fruit during the winter.

Along with benefits to wildlife, there are also benefits to the grower.  For the average homeowner, it’s easy to grow.  The plant is drought tolerant once it’s established.  And Virginia creeper seems to thrive despite neglect.  Actually, it can grow a little too well with neglect.

The Bad

I would say that Virginia creeper is invasive in ideal, sunny conditions, but that’s a word we tend to reserve for pesky exotic plants.  Virginia creeper is native to Eastern North America, so we will just call it aggressive.  Trim it away from small trees that you don’t want smothered.  Left out of control, it can also climb up buildings and damage wood siding or stucco.

Virginia creeper is also not especially people friendly.  Eating the berries causes the irritation of the mouth and throat.  And although Virginia creeper doesn’t have the irritating oils of poison ivy, I wouldn’t roll around in it.  Once the leaves are broken, the sap can be irritating to some people.

And the Ugly?

Like beauty, I think a weed is in the eye of the beholder.  Hanging over fences or growing on trellises, Virginia creeper does have a certain appeal.  With enough sun, it can have beautiful red foliage before it loses it’s leaves in the fall.  Sometimes Virginia creeper is sold at nurseries, so I can’t be the only one that thinks it’s beautiful!

I’m curious to try it out as a ground cover in a shady spot in my back yard.  The plant is well behaved in dappled sun.  And it’s supposedly easy to grow from cuttings.  If things turn sour between us, I know it would be difficult to eradicate.  This is a big commitment.  But I think I might be in love with Virginia creeper.

Field Trip to Bald Rock Heritage Preserve

September 13, 2022
By Dan Witten

Polygala curtissiiThe beautiful day brought out a pretty good crowd of 13 plus a neighbor that tagged along for a while.  Susan Jordan began the day by talking about the history of Bald Rock beginning when the highway US276 was built and then when in 2001, Bald Rock was added to the Heritage Preserve program and continuing into what may happen in the future to restore and protect the natural qualities of the area.

During our walkabout, we saw a newly named species, Ambrosia porcheri, McMillan & Provost.  We also saw one of the 6 listed species, Packera millefolium or Blue Ridge Ragwort.  And we saw a not yet named plant, Viola emarginata var. ? or a new variety of Swordleaf Violet.  Plenty of fall asters were flowering as well as Appalachian Milkwort, Polygala curtissii which is pictured here.

It always makes me happy to get out in nature to see what is happening now.  And it is very exciting to be a part of what is going on by working with a survey team to help understand what grows there.

Benefits of Fall Planting

Everyone loves spring planting; the joy of rediscovering the outdoors, the renewal of life, and all that.  Let’s take a moment to consider the benefits of a second planting, Autumn!

It’s a given that the most critical aspect of planting is optimizing new root growth.  Establishing your new plant in its new home will ultimately determine its long-term health and appeal.  That said, planting when both the soil and air are still warm from the summer months is a definite advantage over spring where temperatures are slowly rising.

Planting in the fall effectively provides new plants two seasons to get established before the demands of summer when heat, humidity, and inconsistent rainfall combine with the stress of producing blooms and fruits.  And, of course, the onslaught of hungry insects and pathogens.

Fall potted plant purchases are often a better value than in spring simply because they’re more mature.  If you unpot a nursery plant in the fall, you’ll generally find substantially more root and foliage growth than you’d likely see in the spring. Many nurseries, including the Upstate Native Nursery, begin their seedlings in the fall to winter months in greenhouses, and those that don’t sell in spring, have all summer to grow in a carefully nurtured environment.

And let’s face it; after a long, hot and humid summer, the Autumn months are a joyful time to be outside!

Plan to visit the SCNPS Upstate Native Nursery Fall Sale October 1ST to 22nd!

Gardening for Active People – Part 2; Getting Into Native Plant Thinking

Author: Bill Stringer

In the first installment, I revealed my assay into running as a way to get more exercise and thinking time.  As I began to run a little faster and farther, I recognized the value of external, trail-side distractions in helping me to “make it back home”.  Being a plant guy, I started noticing the natural world along the route.  Interesting plants and bird songs, or even the bird him- or herself, became my great friends and allies in the struggle (I was not a natural runner).

My job commonly involved a lot of long-distance solo travel, and I found the positive impacts of trailside nature to be portable into behind-the-wheel time.  Lo and behold, there were native plants along the interstate highways!  Of course, I had to learn the survival value of peripheral vision to driving on the “super-slabs” (old biker talk) to Florence or Charleston.  This eased the boring agony of long-distance travel.

Along the way, I found my research interests evolving into the natural world along trails and roads.  Then in 1990, I was looking for ways to stimulate student engagement in my course in Forage Plant Management.  I hit upon the idea of posing this question on opening day:  “If you were here in South Carolina in 1491, what would you be grazing your cattle and horses on?”  The answer was obviously Native Grasslands.  Why? Because up to that point, there had been no introduction of plant species from abroad, so there were only native plants that had evolved here over the previous thousands of years.

So, I quickly surveyed roadsides and open areas for native grasses in preparation to provide an answer.  This turned into a pivotal experience for me, as I discovered that, unnoticed by me, there were dozens of native grass and wildflower species persisting, in spite of 500+ years of use (and misuse) of the landscape by the Old World immigrants.  And damn!, most of these natives were beautiful!

So, in 1996, when my then long-haired, soon-to-be-friend Rick Huffman came along with an invitation to help him birth a South Carolina Native Plant Society (SCNPS), I signed on.  Rick had trained with Darrel Morrison, a world-class landscape architecture professor at UGA, where he was steeped in the esthetic and ecological values of native plants.  Mother Nature/Father Time/God had spent many millennia crafting native species and communities in place.  SCNPS posited that to abandon this beautifully crafted gift in favor of non-native plants from abroad seemed poorly thought out, and, well, unseemly.

SCNPS began to offer monthly speaker meetings with native plant experts, and equally important, hiking field trips into the surrounding National Forests, Natural Heritage Preserves, the Clemson Forest, country roadsides, and utility rights-of-way (ROWs).  We saw native plants in the context of their natural habitat.  In response to these offerings, SCNPS membership grew steadily, and it evolved into a statewide organization with five local chapters statewide.  We found that many of our new members were wannabe- and expert bird watchers.

Then, in 2009, entomologist Doug Tallamy came out with Bringing Nature Home, in which he described the positive relationships between native plants and insect reproduction, and between insect reproduction and songbird reproduction.  The 25-cent version?  Native plants host many native moths, butterflies and other insects, and insect larvae are the main food source for songbird nestlings.  This helped to point out the impact of land development and non-native landscaping on declining songbird populations.  This book has stimulated huge interest in native plants and landscaping.

So, next time we will investigate gardening with an eye towards people AND native plants and their native wildlife clientele.

First printed in  Pace Magazine

October Upstate Monthly Meeting – Black River State Park and Water Trails Master Plan and Land Use

Our speaker for October’s program will be Rick Huffman, principal and founder of Earth Design Inc. with over 30 years of experience in landscape design, horticulture, bioengineering, and ecology. He has particular expertise in native plants as they occur in natural models. As founder and past-president of the South Carolina Native Plant Society, he has brought awareness of these natural models to the public through presentations and workshops on a statewide and regional level.

The Black River is a 150-mile-long Black water river with head waters in Camden and empties into Winyah and Georgetown South Carolina. After nearly 20 years of stalled planning, the steering committee embarked upon a report and getting a Master Plan River Trails plan done for a 70-mile reach from Kingstree in Williamsburg to Rocky Point in Georgetown County. The 70-mile river corridor presents a wilderness experience where time and place tell the story of people and culture that make the Black River unique. The new Park will be the first in South Carolina in nearly twenty years.

Earth Design was hired as the Landscape Architecture consultants to study the corridor, conduct community engagement, locate new river access, design a series of state parks, river trails, recreations opportunities including off river camping, picnic, and fishing platforms. The team consisted of Landscape Architects, Architects, Engineers, and Community specialist.

Mr. Huffman will show how the design and community engagement process worked with surveys, public meetings, and local leaders. The program will detail how river landforms, land use and soils dictate decisions on access, Long Leaf Pine restoration, and user experience. Mr. Huffman will show detail designs and renderings of 4 tracts where outfitters, state park amenities, nature-based camping, and fishing will be located. Beyond a doubt a true wilderness experience to be discovered on the Black River.

Make sure to mark your calendars, or download the calendar invitation from our events site, here.

Please join us at 6:30 for social time and the program will begin at 7PM.

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Blue Ridge Parkway Field Trip

Article by Jim Messner

“There’s always something to see on the Blue Ridge Parkway.”  Dan’s eyes shone as he grinned boyishly, eagle-eyed for the next find and completely content.  On this day approaching 100* in Greenville, our group of five was traversing the much cooler environs of Pisgah National Forest, the Parkway and thereabouts on a month field trip with the SC Native Plant Society.  I know, I know.  Don’t quibble.  Let’s be gracious to our neighbors to the north and grant them SC status for the day.  Or at least for the length of this article…  

I am new to the society and have spent as much time killing plants as I have nursing them.  And from what I have seen in my own yard, “Native Plant” is Latin for “something the deer will eat as soon as you plant it”.  But, I am a localist and from the time I was a kid in Boy Scouts I have loved the outdoors and growing things.  I distinctly remember eating cattails with Mr. Etling, the 7th grade science teacher.  I was fascinated with the idea that food is all around me if I only knew where to look.  I learned about the society in my quest to plant what was different; those things that I won’t find at a national home and garden retailer.  I have come to appreciate the mission and the passion the members bring to the society and this field trip was a way to tap into that knowledge base.

That is what put me in the Toyota Tacoma this summer day crawling up 215 outside of Brevard with Dan and Sherrie Whitten, two Certified Master Naturalists.  We were joined by Ken, an affable small business owner who confided to me that his own knowledge of plants was relegated more or less to knowing that trees had bark, and his wife Susan Lochridge who brought an encyclopedic knowledge of the local flora and was frequently heard speaking in Latin as she considered a plant’s taxonomy.  Seth Harris, another Certified Master Naturalist arrived shortly after we began and completed our party. 

The Itinerary

Make a loop including the Blue Ridge Parkway & 276 stopping at interesting places along the way.  Some were known beforehand and others were serendipitous finds. As this was my first field trip with SCNPS I had no idea what to expect or to do.  I certainly was not going to try and identify any plants!  Who wants to be wrong with this group?  To my delight though, the whole day was a scavenger hunt and an opportunity to ask questions and learn more about native plants.  It was also a reminder that even the experts are still learning on these outings.   

We followed a simple pattern most of the day.  Look out the window for cool stuff and challenge Dan to find a parking spot in the near vicinity that avoided traffic on one side and precipitous drops on the other.  And room for 3 cars.  No sweat.  At our first stop I was pleased to find that some of my plant knowledge could be validated.  We saw Jewel Weed aka Touch-Me-Not as the ripe seed pods explode when touched, (Impatiens Capensis) abiding as it oftentimes does next to the noxious poison ivy.  I learned about this plant and its treatment of skin irritations when I was in Boy Scouts.  After this many years, it was great to get confirmation of my knowledge and gave me some confidence.  Along the North Fork of the French Broad River, I saw the aptly named Dog Hobble (Leucothoe Fontanesiana) a plant that was introduced to me at the SCNPS annual sale.  While not the most picturesque plant it was great to see it in a natural habitat.  After a few stops on 215 we arrived at the Parkway.

Once called “The most ridiculous undertaking that has ever been presented to the Congress of the United States” by a Michigan Congressman (insert your favorite politician joke here), the Blue Ridge Parkway has hosted over 600 million visitors since its inception in 1935.  It is easy to see why.  A temperate summer climate (by SC standards!) expansive views and of course, the stunning fall colors are the calling cards of the Parkway.  But today, our trip was not about the grand things, but about the small and the particular as we hunted species known to be in bloom.  “What do you see?” Dan would frequently ask.  This was both a question and a challenge to seek out the unique and interesting.  Susan would oftentimes answer this in Latin while my own responses were more along the lines of “Come look at this thing over here.”  I loved for example, the way Angelica (Angelica Triquinata) seems to unfold and reveal its umbels (new word for me!) in a singular fashion.  At another stop I came across Love Vine aka Dodder (Cuscuta Compacta) and its striking orange color.   One of the origin stories of the name is that young maidens would take some of the vine and throw it over their shoulder.  If the love of their suitor were true, the vine would take root; if not the love was a passing fancy and she was better off without that boat anchor.  

 “I can’t understand why folks try to change the landscape so much rather than just planting what will grow there.”  Seth made this observation as we considered a patch of the haunting Ghost Pipe (Monotropa Uniflora L) amidst one of my favorite plants, Trillium (Trillium Grandiflorum).  We were discussing how a plant can be thriving in one spot but not another even just a few feet away.  I grinned sheepishly as I thought of my own efforts to amend soil, water endlessly and change lighting conditions for non-native species.  The Parkway offers a plethora of micro-climates culminating in all kinds of plant adaptations.  One such example is Sundew (Drosera), a carnivorous plant, which hangs on the side of the rock face with a constant drip of water keeping it moist.  It resembled a tiny venus fly trap and was great to see with Dan’s close focus binoculars.  

 There were too many other great plants to list them all…  From the buzzing bees around the descriptive Turk’s Cap Lily (Lilium Superbum) and the bright red of Bee Balm (Oswego, Mondarda Didyma) there was a sight for all eyes.  There were native blackberries and blueberries to taste along with bear huckleberries (Gaylussacia Ursina) and the elusive thimble berry (Rubacer Odoratum) a member of the raspberry family (although some thief had absconded with all the fruit!).  Smelling mountain mint and wintergreen.  Rolling pine needles in my fingers and learning the alliterative “flat is fir”.  Lest I make the ears jealous, I’ll include the caterwauling of a Catbird and the calling of other birds which Sherrie easily identified by their song.  I drove home that afternoon hoping that just one or two things will stick and already looking forward to our next field trip.

Plant S.O.S.

On Saturday, October 1, we will be rescuing Christmas ferns, dogwood saplings, and other native plants from a site in Pickens County, near the Nine Times Forest, just south of Highway 11.  We will start at 9 a.m. and be finished by noon.  Email Fran[email protected] if you want to take part, and you will be sent directions.  The site is just off Meece Mill Road, but the exact address for parking will depend upon how many people sign up.  Wear long pants and long sleeves; bring gloves, water to drink, shovel, and pots.

Naturaland Trust is removing one dam and lowering another one as part of a stream restoration project.  As we did last fall near Oconee State Park, we will be rescuing plants from the dam sites and the nearby area that will be disturbed.  The plants will be taken back to the Native Plant Society’s greenhouse to be part of the next plant sale and/or to provide plant materials for the greenhouse.  Participants can also take some for their own gardens.

Upstate Monthly Meeting – A Guide to the Wildflowers of South Carolina

A Guide to Wildflowers of South Carolina, Three Lifetimes of Experience Exploring and Conserving SC’s Flora

Our speaker for September’s program is Dr. Patrick McMillan, who is a well-known naturalist, biologist, and educator.  Dr. McMillan will give you an overview of the new book, A Guide to the Wildflowers of South Carolina, that he authored with Richard Porcher, Jr. and Douglas Rayner, and highlight our state’s most significant rare plants.