Running Bamboo – July 2017 Plant of the Month (NOT)

by Ann Farnham

In May of 2016 a bill (A3735) was introduced in the New Jersey Assembly to establish requirements for the sale and planting of running bamboo in response to the pleas of a frustrated new homeowner who, after purchasing her property, discovered running bamboo invading hers from a neighboring property (see Making Bamboo Taboo).

The bill specifically pinpointed the genus Phyllostachys and a species, arundinaria. However, Phyllostachys is not the only invasive running bamboo that grows in New Jersey. There are other running bamboo genera; Pleioblastus, Sasa, Arundinaria, and Semiarundinaria, grow here, and some grow as far North as Boston, primarily along the coastal regions. There are three native North American species and more than 700 species world wide, most native to China, Japan, and Asia Minor. Bamboos are not all tropical nor confined to lower elevations.

The common names “Heavenly Bamboo”, “Lucky Bamboo” and “Japanese Bamboo” are not bamboos but unrelated genera.

About Bamboo

Bamboo is a grass, but unlike most grasses we are familiar with, they have underground stems (rhizomes), from which new clumps (culms) arise. The rhizomes of running bamboos can range to 25 feet in length from a single culm in one single growing season and thus, before long, a significant number of plants emerge from them, sometimes intruding into unwelcome areas like neighbors’ lawns, driveways and flower beds. There are “clumping bamboo” genera which have rhizomes as well, but they do not have the invasive properties of the running bamboos.

Many bamboos, both clumpers and runners, make beautiful and graceful garden plants and thick privacy screens. They are usually low maintenance and care-free except for the rigid control that must be practiced to contain the runners’ rhizomes.  They are available in many sizes, colors and shapes, striped and solid. Some are among the fastest growing plants in the world:  up to 3’ in 24 hours, some to a height of 100 feet. Bamboos flower or set fruit infrequently; some species do so only after anywhere from 15 to 120 years, after which most die. Many are attractive in containers indoors, outdoors, or as bonsai.  Insect and disease pests are not very prevalent.

Economically, bamboos are very important throughout the world, not as garden and home plants, but as food, textiles, art objects, paper, tools, fishing poles, furniture, and building materials, among others. Ecologically, bamboo is a workhorse, sequestering carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen prodigiously, and providing unique wildlife food and shelter. It is a vital food for Pandas, whose populations have been seriously affected when groves die after flowering; likewise, animals which proliferate eating the seeds, die when the grove stops producing.

Clumping Bamboos

There are beautiful clumping bamboos, such as Fargesia (Pandas’ favorite) and other clumpers, which are cold hardy and disciplined. They can serve as privacy screens as well as accent plants and focal points. Clumping bamboos, contrary to running bamboos, do not require 2-3’ plastic, concrete or metal buried barriers, or surrounding ditches which require seasonal cleaning out of new rhizomes, or frequent 15-20’ wide perimeter mowing.

Running Bamboo Negatives

Running bamboos deplete surrounding soil of nutrients, which prohibits complementary planting or a wildlife friendly understory. They require a lot of real estate, none of which should approach neighbors, public land or highways because if not properly contained, the hardy plants spread aggressively and can cause damage to concrete sidewalks, home foundations, and other structures. Running bamboo is particularly problematic when it spreads from one property to another, and causes damage to the neighboring property.

Summary

There is much more to write about bamboos (physiology, restraint methods, maintenance, physical characteristics, distribution, propagation), as well as the many other species that have been categorized as invasive in NJ.  The Ewing Environmental Commission recommends that all homeowners learn more about the problem of invasive species, the damage that they cause in our ecosystem, and what you can do to halt their spread.   The New Jersey Invasive Species Strike Team is an organization that is dedicated to that purpose.   For starters, take a look at their Do Not Plant List and then check out their Go Native Brochure for beautiful, native alternatives to plant in your home landscape.

Running Bamboo Legislative History

Bill (A3735), establishing requirements for sale and planting of running bamboo, was introduced in the NJ Assembly (217th Legislature) on May 19, 2016. It was sponsored by Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo from Legislative District 2 (Atlantic).  It moved to the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee.  On October 13, 2016 the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee reported favorably upon the bill.

An identical bill (A2301) was introduced in the NJ State Senate on June 6, 2016.  It was sponsored by Senator Jim Whelan, from Legislative District 2 (Atlantic).  It was referred to Senate Environment and Energy Committee.  No action has been recorded since.

More Bad News About Non-native Plants – April 2017 Plant of the Month

by Ann Farnham, LLA

We continue to hammer away on the disadvantages of using non-native plants. Remember, a good definition of a native plant is one that existed in any specific region before the European settlement in this country. Ewing is in the Mid-Atlantic region and our natives are well adapted to our particular soils, precipitation, temperatures, elevations and exposures. Our native wildlife – insects, mammals, birds, reptiles – developed along with them.

Many people believe that if a plant is sold at a local nursery or garden center that it is all right to use. Unfortunately, that is not correct. Because we have no laws or ordinances that prohibit the sale of introduced or invasive plants (some states do), they are widely available. What we can do at this point is to be informed and avoid buying them.

What are some of the popular, non-native plants sold in local nurseries and garden centers?

In March, 2016 we wrote about Bradford Callery Pear, (Pyrus calleryana); In June, 2016 it was Acer platanoides, Norway Maple; in July, 2016, we wrote about Burning Bush, (Euonymus alatus); and in August, 2016, Winter Creeper, (Euonymus fortunei).  Unfortunately, these are all available at local nurseries and garden centers. A few more garden center boarders – invasives and aggressors – are listed below; most, having few natural predators, form un-challenged thickets at the expense of our native plants.

  • Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii): This vigorous, nectar-producing butterfly attractor is an attractive shrub with fragrant, colored flower spikes, It self-seeds prolifically, however, and before long your planting bed will be overcome with a Buddleia thicket which crowds out everything else. It is classified as noxious weed in Oregon and Washington.
  • English Ivy (Hedera helix): This popular and sometimes very lovely vine easily goes astray, spreading throughout woody areas and gardens, choking out other vegetation. English ivy kills trees and shrubs by smothering them.
  • Heavenly Bamboo (Nandina domestica): This is not a bamboo, in spite of its popular common name. All parts of the plant are toxic, especially to Cedar Waxwings, cats and grazing animals, resulting in many deaths. Heavenly Bamboo crowds out other plants with prolific seeds and underground stems.
  • Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii) : This shrub is banned in Wisconsin and Massachusetts. It displaces native plants with prolific, bird-dispersed seeds, and harbors ticks (due to the high humidity in its dense foliage) mice, and, as a result, lyme disease.
  • Japanese Spirea (Spiraea japonica): this plant harbors many insects and diseases but still outcompetes and replaces native plants. Its seeds, dispersed by birds, form dense thickets which are very tolerant to many conditions. It impedes the germination of native seeds.
  • Japanese Wisteria (Wisteria floribunda): This very adaptable vine shades out other plants and girdles trees and shrubs as it climbs, cutting off nutrients by choking the trunks and producing dense shade.
  • Maiden Grass/Chinese Silver Grass Miscanthus sinensis: More than 50 ornamental varieties of this grass are sold in the United States. The wind-dispersed, viable seed forms thickets which are very adaptable to many conditions, choking out native plants. This is a very popular ornamental grass which is popular to use in a lot of landscaping.
  • Periwinkle Vinca minor: ( not V. major).This groundcover forms dense, extensive mats, choking out other plants. It harbors blights and is allelopathic, meaning that its chemical compounds inhibit the growth of nearby plants.               
  • Privet (Ligustrum sp):  This popular hedge plant is toxic to pets and mildly toxic to humans. Thousands of fruits outcompete and replace natives. The seeds, dispersed by birds, form  very dense thickets. Compounds in the leaves protect the plant from feeding insects, so it is “trouble free” for the hedge-growing home owner.

For more important information about non-native plants, read Plant Invaders of Mid Atlantic Natural Areas by Swearingen, Reshetiloff, Slattery, and Zwicker

Go to www.MAIPC, the Mid Atlantic Invasive Plant Council for additional plant lists.

Native plant alternatives to exotics can be found in the Brooklyn Botanical Garden’s Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants. In addition, be sure to visit the web sites:

  • The Native Plant Society of New Jersey for their
    • Tree recommendations for planting (both large and small)
    • Wild and Native Plants of NJ
    • Trees and Tall Shrubs by County
    • Invasive Species list
    • Wildflowers and Garden Conditions
    • link to the USDA database and
    • Plants by county.

The  Ewing Environmental Commission welcomes suggestions for the Plant of the Month from all Ewing residents.

(Native) Plants of the Month – March 2017

istock_000045324030_large_monarchby Ann Farnham, LLA

Why do we emphasize using native plants? What are native plants? Are they better than introduced, exotic, non-natives? Why does the Ewing Township Code, Landscaping, require at least 45% native plants in all non-private property planting plans?

A native plant is one which, over countless years, developed with our environment’s soil types, precipitation, temperatures, elevations and exposures. A good definition of a native plant is one that existed, in any specific region, before the European settlement in this country. Our region is the Mid Atlantic Region.

Since that European settlement, hundreds of plant species have been introduced from many parts of the world. They are often very beautiful, sometimes seem to fit a specific need, might grow easily, and show off an owner’s sophistication and botanical interests. Many, however, have turned out to be invasive and some are toxic to people and wildlife.

Native plants, then, are adapted to their particular regions, in our case, the Mid-Atlantic. They are compatible with the physical geography and factors mentioned above. As a result, they require, after establishment, much less maintenance, less water, and do not require chemical applications of fertilizers, pesticides, and soil amendments. Birds, butterflies, beneficial insects, reptiles and mammals rely on their fruit, nuts, nectar, and seeds. Many birds depend upon native plant insects, such as caterpillars. Many alien plants are toxic to these native insects.

Imported exotics interrupt the food web by frequently out-competing the natives for space, exposure and nutrients. They usually do not support the insects upon which our bird population depends. For example, one brood of Chickadees requires 6000 caterpillars as food by the time it attains maturity (birds require the protein and fats from insects in order to mature or to lay eggs; in non-breeding times seeds and fruit do the job). A native oak, for example, can support more than 500 species of caterpillar, whereas a non-native Gingko only supports 5 species. Bird populations are in steep decline, certainly not only the result of habitat loss.

Our penchant for beautiful, green lawns has destroyed functional ecosystems by the use ofchemicals. In the process our waterways, air and health become polluted as well. The lawn mower itself compacts the soil and emits pollution where there used to be meadows, fields and woodlands, now lost to urbanization. We need to develop yards and gardens with friendlier habitats by using native trees, shrubs and flowers, and reducing lawn areas.

Many of our native plants have died or been seriously compromised with introduced pests such as the Emerald Ash Borer (ash trees), the Wooly Adelgid (hemlocks), the Japanese Beetle (almost everything), and fungal diseases brought in by the nursery trade. The attached Native Tree List has several trees, such as the Ash, Eastern Hemlock, American Sycamore and Flowering Dogwood, which now should not be used at all. Some selected, resistant varieties of Flowering Dogwood, however, are available such as the Rutgers-developed Cherokee series.

We want to recommend three books for your further understanding in alleviating the problems above.

  1. Bringing Nature Home by Doug Tallamy;
  2. Native Plants of the Northeast by Donald Leopold;
  3. The Brooklyn Botanical Garden’s Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants.

In addition, be sure to visit the web sites www.npsnj.org/plant-lists-native/trees_ for_ landscaping and plants.usda.gov.

See also, the Native Plant Society of NJ’s excellent list in Native Trees for Residential Gardeners.


The  Ewing Environmental Commission welcomes suggestions for the Plant of the Month from all Ewing residents.

To calculate the value that trees add to your property, go to tree benefits.com/calculator/

Eastern Red Cedar – February 2017 Plant of the Month

By Quadell at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1685290

By Quadell at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1685290

by Ann Farnham, LLA

We miss the foliage of our beautiful deciduous trees at this time of the year and look at our evergreens with more respect: the pines, hollies, firs, spruces, cedars and junipers stand out.

Perhaps one of the least appreciated of the needled evergreens is our native (to 37 states) Eastern Red Cedar, Juniperus virginiana. It is very hardy, withstanding all sorts of conditions, (rocky or clay soil, drought, wet areas, deer, erosion, air pollution) and spreads readily by birds and mammals disseminating the easy-germinating, tasty seeds everywhere.

This tree has many present day uses. The fragrant wood repels moths so is used to line closets and chests; the heartwood is rot resistant and is popular for shingles, furniture and fencing; wind breaks; hedges; foundation plants; perfumes; a flavoring for gin; and medicinal applications. Prior to the 1940s it was the wood used in pencils. Years ago it was a favorite for building log cabins and coffins. It is used now, especially in the South, as a Christmas tree.

Van Cotter, one of the Ewing Environmental Commission’s early members, said, “My wife and I would tie ropes to both ends of a red cedar tree and pull it up and down the chimney of our Virginia home, with me on the roof and her by the fireplace. It did a good job of cleaning the chimney.”

Our native Americans used Red Cedar as an antiseptic, for rheumatism relief, childbirth recovery, coughs, intestinal worms, canker sores and to help cure mumps. We know now that it can be toxic in inappropriate doses.

Wildlife also loves Red Cedar. It provides year- round dense shelter and the blue-grey, succulent berries seem irresistible. Cedar Waxwings were named for this favorite food ( juniper is not a true cedar, however) and French traders named the city of Baton Rouge after it: in French, Baton Rouge means “Red Stick”, of which there were many. The bark of the tree is grey to reddish-brown.

This tree can reach 30’ to 60’ in height with a spread of 8’ to 25’, depending on the variety. It is usually broadly conical to columnar with dense, horizontal branching.  Easy to transplant, it prefers a dry to medium, well-drained moist soil, and full sun. The trees are dioecious, meaning that they are either male or female, usually not both. The berries, of course, are borne on the female trees. Foliage is flat, scale-like and prickly.

Eastern Red Cedar

By Famartin (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The biggest Red Cedar problem seems to be Cedar Apple Rust and Bag Worms. The Red Cedar is an alternate host to a serious fungus that affects apple trees; do not plant them near apple or crabapple trees as the fungus is hard to control. Bag worms “bags” can be removed easily from small and few trees, but this should be done as soon as they appear. Bag Worm homes can easily be mistaken for cones; although birds do a good job eating the larvae, and if hand picking does not work, call your Cooperative Extension Service for advice on insecticides and timing.

Most Red Cedars become brown-to rust colored in the winter, losing their normal green color. However, there are many cultivated varieties (cvs) today which retain the green color all winter, such as ‘Corcorcor’, ‘Canaertii’,  ‘Emerald Sentinel’, and ‘Hillspire’, among many others. A wide variety of green tones (grey-green to blue-green) are also available. There are also shrub and groundcover cultivars of Juniperus virginiana  in many garden centers and nurseries.

The Ewing Environmental Commission welcomes suggestions for the Plant of the Month from all Ewing residents.

To calculate the value that trees add to your property, go to treebenefits.com/calculator/.

River Birch – Jan 2017 Plant of the Month

river_birch

By John Phelan (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

by Ann Farnham, LLA

The January  Plant of the Month is an unusually beautiful and useful tree that affords all season interest.

Betula nigra, River Birch, is a fast-growing, medium sized tree which has become popular as a specimen tree or in groups for large residential properties, parks, golf courses, and other situations. Growing to 40’-70’ or more with a slightly smaller spread, this tree is hardy to USDA Zones 4-7, ranging from New Hampshire to southern Minnesota to northern Florida and west to Texas. Ewing is in USDA Zone 6b.

The tree’s habit, when young, is pyramidal, and it can be multi- or single trunked. At maturity the tree becomes rounded.

river_birch_exfoliating_bark

Close up of the beautiful exfoliating bark By Googoo85 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

River Birch has many great assets. It has an exfoliating ( “peely”) bark, which ranges from peach to reddish-orange-brown to salmon-pink and reveals a creamy inner bark where it peels. This makes the tree unusually attractive, especially in the winter after its leaves have dropped.

This tree is low-maintenance, and is the most disease resistant of the Birch family. Unlike other birches which are suited to more northern habitats, River Birch is very tolerant of heat, standing water (it is also drought resistant), and most important, it resists the Bronze Birch Borer, which kills most other birch species in our area and warmer zones. It hosts few diseases or pests. Deer don’t favor it, which is another plus here.

The water tolerance of River Birch makes it very useful for planting along ponds, streams, flood plains and other low areas. It is used frequently to naturalize detention basins as it will tolerate standing water as well as dryness. It is a good tree for bioswales or rain gardens.

The leaves are leathery, lustrous, dark green, 1.5” to 3.5” long and up to 2.4” broad, and diamond shaped. They flutter in the wind, revealing a silvery colored underside. The leaf margins are doubly toothed; in the fall the yellow leaves drop quickly.

The blooms, which appear in April or May, are drooping, brown 3” catkins for the male flowers, and smaller, green, upright catkins for the female. The flowers are wind-pollinated and produce small nutlet-like fruit in the late spring.

River Birch requires a moist, fertile, acid soil with a pH of less than 6.5 and sun, although it will tolerate light shade. They are somewhat sensitive to fall planting and transplanting. Avoid pruning River Birch in the spring when its sap is running; save the chore for late summer and fall.

Native Americans used the boiled sap as a sweetener similar to maple syrup. The wood is too knotty and contorted to be useful commercially.

Three favorite cultivated varieties of River Birch are ‘Cully’ (Heritage ®), ‘Dura Heat’, and ‘Little King’ (Fox Valley ™), a relatively dwarf ( to 15’) variety.

The Ewing Environmental Commission (eec@ewingnj.org) welcomes suggestions for the Plant of the Month from all Ewing residents.

Christmas Trees – December 2016 Tree of the Month

christmastreeby Ann Farnham, LLA

Among the pleasures we enjoy in December is choosing a Christmas tree. The choices are many: the firs (Douglas Fir, Fraser Fir, Balsam Fir), pines (Scotch, Eastern White), red cedars, and spruce (Colorado Blue, Norway, Concolor). Throughout the United States there are more than 35 different evergreen species grown for the holidays. They are available either cut, in containers, or balled and burlapped.

If you choose to purchase a cut tree, try to prevent the trunk from being exposed to the air for more than three to six hours; it should be put into a container with water as soon as possible. Next, trim off the lowest branches which might interfere with the tree’s staying upright in a stand, and then remove ragged branch tips or unattractive branches. Saw off an inch of the trunk so the tree can absorb water freely, and fasten it to its stand, which should contain plenty of water. The water, especially at first, should be replenished often.

Artificial Christmas trees are often made of PVC, a dangerous chemical; they are not biodegradable, and do not have the wonderful fragrance of a real tree. However, they may be used for many years and are maintenance free.

A live tree, while somewhat more labor intensive to care for, may also be planted in your yard after its holiday use, and enjoyed for years to come. You must do some planning before you take the tree home but it is well worth while.

  1. Determine what spot on your property affords the correct exposure (full sun) and room. Check a good source or the internet to determine how much space your particular species of tree will require when mature.
  2. Dig the hole NOW before the ground freezes. Digging a frozen hole is no fun. Make the hole approximately 2 times the width of what you expect the container or root ball will be. This is important; and do not dig the hole any deeper than the height of the container or root ball. Fill the hole with leaves or mulch as insulation, and cover the hole and the pile of soil with a tarp and more leaves or mulch to avoid freezing. Throw away whatever sod was dug up as you do not want it included in the backfill.

Your live tree should be indoors as briefly as possible; place it at first (in a waterproof tub or container) in a garage or porch to allow it to acclimate to warmer temperatures. You can water it lightly and frequently, or place ice cubes over the root ball to keep the moisture levels up. Spraying the tree with an antidessicant such as Wiltproof will help control moisture loss through the needles.

When the tree is ready for planting, roll it into the hole and orient it so that its best side faces your house or the street. If the hole is too deep, add soil into the bottom and compact it until it is the right depth. Remove as much of the burlap around the root ball as possible; if it is in a container, remove the container. If it is in a wire basket, cut off as much of the basket as you can. Then, begin to backfill with the soil you set aside. Amendments such as peat moss do not need to be added to the soil, and do not fertilize. Water it thoroughly and slowly as you fill the hole; this will push out air pockets and saturate the sides of the hole as well as the back fill.

It is not necessary to stake or guy the tree. Cover the area – to the drip-line- with 2-3” of double-shredded, hardwood bark mulch, keeping the mulch 2” away from the trunk. Water your Christmas tree every day for a week, twice the second week, and then once a week until the ground freezes and your hose becomes useless.

BEST WISHES FOR THE HOLIDAYS FROM YOUR EWING ENVIRONMENTAL COMMISSION!

 

Autumn Splendor – November Plant of the Month

sassafrasby Ann Farnham, LLA

At this time of the year we are especially fortunate to live in a region which displays brilliant leaf color in many of the abundant deciduous trees. The colors vary from yellow to orange, and bright red to purple. This does not happen throughout the world, but only in the Northern hemisphere and one small area in South America. The Northern hemisphere regions include Eastern Asia, Japan, Southwest Europe, and the United States and Canada. In the United States and Canada the foliage display ranges from Southeast Canada and the Northeastern United States, and its high altitude areas, like the Great Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Rocky Mountains of the Western U.S. and Canada.

The brilliance of the color changes from year to year depending on weather conditions: a warm, wet spring, a summer which is not too hot and dry, and a fall with plenty of warm, very sunny days, lessened moisture, and cool nights.

By Berean Hunter (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Berean Hunter (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The process, which some of us learned in our high school biology classes, begins with the fact that deciduous, green leaves contain chlorophyll, which in the presence of sunlight, water, warm temperatures and carbon dioxide, produces sugars which feed the plant, tree or shrub. Leaves also contain carotenes and xanthophyll, pigment compounds whose yellow colors (the colors seen in egg yolks, carrots and flowers) are masked by the green chlorophyll. When the days become shorter, the chlorophyll has insufficient light to continue making sugars and breaks down, making the green color disappear; the other pigment compounds then become apparent. Meanwhile, the plant begins to form a membrane between the leaf and the leaf stalk, cutting off the movement of the leaf’s sugars to the rest of the plant, sealing off the leaf and gradually severing it. The sugars become entrapped in the leaf. Another pigment compound, anthocyanin, then appears as a result of the accumulation of the sugars; its appearance also depends on warm and bright sunny days followed by cool nights, under 45° but above freezing. The anthocyanin contains the red to purple pigments which we see on Sassafras, Red Maples, Fothergilla, and Flowering Dogwood, among others.

If a plant is located in a shady area it will not produce very brilliant colors as the process requires a certain amount of bright sunshine. A plant might exhibit much brighter color on its sunnier side, as well. A cloudy, rainy and warm fall restricts sugar production by the carotenes and xanthophyll, and what is produced continues to be transported to the trunk and roots, not “entrapped” in the leaf. Thus, poor or no color.

Some plants’ leaves will always turn yellow regardless of weather conditions, and some, such as Beech and some oaks, simply turn brown. All deciduous leaves eventually fall, some turning brown only after they fall from the plant, tree or shrub.

Needled evergreens such as pines, spruces and firs have needles which are covered with a heavy wax coating and have chemical fluids inside the needles which resist freezing. However, needled evergreens do experience periodic leaf fall and some, such as certain arborvitaes and junipers, change color.

Near freezing temperatures, low nutrients and other environmental stresses can also cause more and premature red in leaves.


This is an opportunity to encourage all gardeners to compost and use their leaves. A mulching mower chops up the leaves and returns them to nourish the lawn (mow frequently, however), and a blower-vac can chop up leaves into a bag for later composting and use. These chopped leaves make a fine mulch on beds. Pine needles also make an excellent mulch, being acidic in nature, especially beneficial for rhododendron, azalea, and other broad-leafed evergreen plants. 


  • To calculate the economic and ecological benefits of the trees on your property. go to treebenefits.com.
  • To estimate the age of a tree, go to mdc.mo.gov

The purpose of the Ewing Township Plant of the Month is to call attention to Ewing Township plants of note based on their beauty, size, historical significance or threat, and thus engender a greater appreciation by residents for the plants in our community.

The Ewing Environmental Commission welcomes suggestions for the Plant of the Month from all Ewing residents. Let us know about your favorite trees, shrubs, flowers, and concerns in Ewing Township and perhaps one will be selected for the Ewing Township Plant of the Month.

Tree of Heaven – September 2016 Plant of the Month (Not!)

Doug Goldman, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

Doug Goldman, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

by Ann Farnham, LLA

Tree of Heaven, Ailanthus altissima

“Heaven” in this case does not mean “Heavenly”. On the contrary, this tree is a serious pest; the word “Heaven” is derived from the South Moluccan name Ailanto, which means a tree reaching for the sky.

Ailanthus altissima is native to China, Taiwan, and North Korea. It was first introduced to Europe in the 1740’s and to a Philadelphia gardener in 1784. It has since spread greatly and is now naturalized throughout most of the U.S.A., Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, the Middle East, and Africa. In this country it can be found from USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 8A. This is reportedly the fastest growing tree in the United States, 3’ to 6’ per year, and it is difficult to control.

Why has it spread so successfully? When it was introduced to the U.S.A. it was used widely as a street tree, in spite of its very offensive odor (some compare it to cat urine, or worse), and it thrived because it required no care and people wanted the shade. It tolerates conditions almost impossible for other tress: very poor soils, a vast pH range, drought, and pollution such as sulfur dioxide, high salinity, low phosphorus, coal dust, cement dust, and ozone. In addition, it sends up new growth from cut trunks, resulting in countless, vigorous sprouts; new trees also come up from the underground stems (rhizomes) and the female tree is a prolific seed producer. The achene, the flat, reddish fruit 1 ½” long and ½” wide, is twisted, thin, and flat, containing one seed, and is very easily carried by wind as it spins. It germinates in cracked pavements, walls, disturbed sites, roadsides, and woodlots, crowding out all other vegetation. Underground pipes and sewer lines are frequently damaged by the trees’ roots. Ailanthus contains an allelopathic chemical which inhibits other plants’ growth, and the foliage is mildly toxic to foraging animals. Deer do not eat it, nor do birds and squirrels. The odor from both male and female trees often causes nausea and headaches in humans, and contact can cause skin rash. It is easy to understand why this plant is called “Arboreal riff-raff”. However, it was subject matter in the book, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, and it is mentioned by William Faulkner in Sanctuary.

Tree of Heaven will live about 50 years. It can reach a height of 40 to 60’, normally spreading to a width 2/3 that size. It has an upright, spreading habit and casts abundant shade. The compound leaves, 8 to 24” long, are arranged alternately on a stem, with 13 to 25 stalked, finely fuzzy, oval leaflets. The new leaves are bronzish-purple and mature to a dark green in summer. They have no fall color. When crushed, the leaves smell like rubber. The bark is light colored grey, with longitudinal, lighter streaks. The female trees usually flower in mid June, with yellow-green flowers arranged in panicles on an 18” to 24” stalk. The female flowers are odorless, but the male flowers stink as mentioned above, a smell which attracts pollinators.

Diseases and pests are minimal and do not create lasting damage.

Eradication is a challenge. A young seed sprout can probably be pulled up, but more mature specimens require cutting, and the resultant sprouts then should be treated with Glyphosate (Roundup) or an equivalent. Salt and vinegar and other homemade concoctions will not do the trick. If this tree appears in your yard, get to work!

Ailanthus has been used for “impossible situations”, such as eroded areas in mine runoff, but it is nonetheless regarded as having no landscape value. Extracts from the tree have been used in folk medicine, primarily by the Chinese, to address baldness, dysentery, mental illness, inflammatory conditions, and malaria, among others. The leaves have been used to grow silkworms and the fine-grained satiny wood can be used for cabinetry, although the uneven trunk texture-from rapid growth- causes cracking during drying. Most people feel that its best use is for firewood.

Do not confuse Ailanthus altissima with Black Walnut, Staghorn Sumac, or Ash, which have similar leaves. We addressed Ash in a recent Plant of the Month article, and will be writing about Staghorn Sumac (a non- invasive native which also grows prolifically on roadsides) and Black Walnut soon.

To learn more about invasive plants, go to nps.gov/plants/alien and www.maipic.org

The Ewing Environmental Commission welcomes suggestions for the Plant of the Month from all Ewing residents.

Wintercreeper Euonymus – August 2016 Plant of the Month (NOT!)

Euonymus fortunei

Euonymus fortunei

by Ann Farnham, LLA

Wintercreeper Euonymus, Euonymus fortunei

No! Don’t plant this!

Once again we visit the genus Euonymus, with another popular but very invasive species. Wintercreeper, Euonymus fortunei, is native in East Asia, China, Korea, Japan and the Philippines. It was discovered in China by the Scottish plant explorer Robert Fortune (1812-1880) and distributed widely after that time.

This plant is fast growing, evergreen, and very easy to grow; it tolerates most soils except swampy ones, has a wide pH tolerance, and does well in full sun to heavy shade. It thrives in USDA Hardiness zones 5 TO 8. Wintercreeper can be a ground cover, a vine, or a small shrub, depending on its care and culture. No wonder it is so popular, with dozens of varieties or cultivars in the trade.

The leaves can be dark green to bluish green; some varieties have silver veins, and some are variegated green and white, or green and yellow, and some turn dark purple in the winter. They are usually 1” long or less, oval shaped, have toothed margins, and are arranged oppositely on the stem. The mature plant, as can usually be seen at the top of a vining habit, has a differently shaped leaf. Only mature plants form flowers and set seed. The flower is inconspicuous.

However, it is a thug and it took a while to recognize this. The mature plant’s seeds are enjoyed and dispersed widely by birds, squirrels, and deer, among others. It is an attractive groundcover, 4-6” high, or a small shrub to 3’, but easily escapes from where it is wanted and forms very dense thickets which crowd out native plants; its vine form can climb trees to a height of 40 to 70’, killing the trees by smothering their foliage. Wintercreeper is found in most of the Eastern United States to Zone 8.

Euonymus fortunei is attractive not only to us gardeners, but to many insects and fungi as well. Scale is a very frequent problem as are Anthracnose, leaf spots, aphids and mildew.

To control Euonymus fortunei, first of all, don’t plant it, especially where it might escape or be eaten by wildlife. Plants in small areas can be removed by pulling it up by hand, being cautious not to leave roots behind; they will sprout. Large area infestations and vines crawling up trees can be controlled by cutting them down and then spraying or applying Glyphosate (Roundup®) immediately to the cut stems. Mowing or weed whacking definitely makes the matter worse.

To learn more about invasive plants, go to nps.gov/plants/alien and www.maipic.org

The Ewing Environmental Commission welcomes suggestions for the Plant of the Month from all Ewing residents.

Burning Bush – July 2016 Plant of the Month (NOT)

euonymousby Ann Farnham, LLA

Burning Bush, Euonymus alatus

No! Don’t plant this!

This very popular shrub, known also as Winged Euonymus, Winged Spindle, Wahoo, and Winged Spindle Tree, has been listed as invasive in 19 states, primarily in the Northeast, including New Jersey. It is banned in Massachusetts and New Hampshire but its destructive effects are present in most Eastern states where it has not been banned or declared invasive. Unfortunately, most garden centers and nurseries still offer it for sale.

Euonymous_alatus_fall

Information| |Description = Euonymous Alatus in autumn colour |Source = self-made / en.wikipedia.org |Date = created 3. Oct. 2002 |Author = Chris Barton/Gif absarnt

Introduced from Northeastern Asia and China in the late 1800s, it has thrived here because it is very easy to grow, has few pests, and adapts to a very wide variety of soil types, moisture or drought, sun and shade (and non-green thumbed gardeners). Its outstanding fall color, a brilliant red, is also responsible for its popularity as a hedge, a specimen plant, and many other landscaping uses.

While the flowers are ornamentally insignificant, the attractive seeds are prolific and very viable from this self-pollinating plant. Birds and other berry-eating animals disperse them widely, where they form great thickets in woodlands and uncultivated sites, out-competing most native plants.

The term “winged” is based on the fact that many of the stems have corky “wings”. The leaves, 1 to 3” long and up to 1 ¼” wide, are simple and arranged oppositely on the stem; they are bit downy underneath. The spring and summer leaf colors are medium to dark green. Burning Bush might grow to 15-20’ in height but the growth rate after a fast spring flush is slow. There are many varieties today; most of them are shorter and more compact. The shrub’s habit is mounded-rounded.

To control Burning Bush, pull, dig or cut it out. If the plant is very large, cut it down and treat the stump immediately with glyphosate or another chemical weed killer, being very careful to follow instructions on the label.

Readily available native alternatives to Burning Bush are Black Chokeberry, Aronia melanocarpa, Highbush Blueberry, Vaccinium corymbosum, and Fragrant Sumac,  Rhus aromatica.

Burning Bush has been touted as a cure or aid for many medical conditions through the years. Buyer beware!

To learn more about invasive plants, go to nps.gov/plants/alien and www.maipic.org.

The Ewing Environmental Commission welcomes suggestions for the Plant of the Month from all Ewing residents.