Shawnee News-Star Sunday April 29 2018 Becky Emerson Carlberg Why am I in Oklahoma?     Just ask my beleaguered Bradford pear that stands guard over the bird feeders.   This native of China and Vietnam has had an interesting life in my backyard.   The 2011 earthquake bounced it around and 5 years ago Tornado Bob decapitated it.   […]

Shawnee News-Star Sunday April 29 2018

Native Honeysuckles

Becky Emerson Carlberg

Why am I in Oklahoma?     Just ask my beleaguered Bradford pear that stands guard over the bird feeders.   This native of China and Vietnam has had an interesting life in my backyard.   The 2011 earthquake bounced it around and 5 years ago Tornado Bob decapitated it.   The tree has spent years recovering and now looks like a Menorah.   Counterpart to the native redcedar in the invasive world, my non-native tree serves as a giant bird perch.   As did Bill Hagen's Bradford pear, my pear also thought it was spring and covered itself in white, pungent blossoms that emitted the lovely scent of cat urine.   I can report while working at the Japanese Peace Garden when the Bradford pears are in bloom and the wind is blowing in your face, their odor is less than grand.   My grandmother once quipped she liked the scent of the magnolia flower until she spent too much time immersed in dozens of blooming magnolia trees.   The delicate lemon scent magnified thousands of times became overwhelming (in her words, a sickening stench.)   Not to be outdone, the female Gingko tree blossoms smell like vomit.   The huge Titan Arum produces an enormous 10 foot tall floral structure with hundreds of minute flowers at its base when heating produce a rotting meat odor but only for a day or two.   We may be repulsed, but nature has ways of attracting necessary pollinators and dispersers by employing horrific smells.   Think of your dog rolling on top of a small dead animal and loving life.

Back to the Bradford.   The past week I have swept the patio each morning of leaves and immature fruits that were frozen for hours at 24 degrees on April 7th.   Small fruits progressing to larger fruits have detached along with piles of rust ridden and damaged leaves.   The cedar waxwings who love Bradford pears will be disappointed.   The tree now appears barren of fruit.   My tree was not sterile although the tag stated it was.   They lied.

Victims of the freeze, the Bradford pears casualties.

The same fate hit my peach trees, also natives of China.   The peach crops in both Stratford and Porter took hits this year.   It appears many landscape trees, including some natives, lost the first set of leaves and are now producing a second set.   All the redbud flowers that would have formed seeds perished.   On the other hand, the wild sand plums were blooming during the cold snap and many continued blooming later. Native pecans are still rather dormant.   They learned to wait eons ago. Let's hope the rest of spring and summer weather is boringly mild to limit further stress.

Native plants better handle extremes. Up to now, they have had the time to adapt to our climate and are better able to deal with the unpredictable weather. Generations have grown up alongside the insect and animal pollinators that share their area.   These tough plants have lived through and developed coping mechanisms to deal with pest attacks and diseases.  They survive.

The native post oak, one of the backbone trees of Cross Timbers woodlands, can tolerate frequent droughts and fires better than most species.   Post oak is in the white oak family that produces acorns (wildlife food) which develop and mature in one year. The native blackjack oak has dark bark and holds onto the lower dead branches.  A member of the red/black oak group, their acorns develop and mature in 2 years, so every year there will be a Cross TImbers acorn crop regardless.   Both species of oaks leaf out later, are tough, underappreciated and make durable landscape trees.

Oaks are host to numerous insects, birds and mammals.   The acorns (51% fat, 42% carb and 5% protein) are eaten by deer, raccoons, turkey, black bear, mice, squirrels and even ducks.   Tree holes become nesting sites for chickadees, wrens, woodpeckers, owls, bluebirds and flickers.   From egg to caterpillar to moths and butterflies, flies and wasps, insects use oaks for food and shelter.

'To feed the birds, you first have to feed the insects' says Doug Tallamy, author of 'Bringing Nature Home.'    A native oak can support the caterpillars of over 500 species of moths and butterflies.   A crape myrtle supports zero species. The protein rich larvae make robust baby birds.   If you only plant one tree, make it an oak!

Every native plant is a part of the local nature support system; for example the Black Swallowtail butterfly.   The caterpillars dine on members of the wild carrot family now appearing.   Adults sip nectar from native wildflowers.   Black swallowtails have already been spotted, so check your Queen Anne's Lace.

I asked Lisa Hair, groundskeeper at Oklahoma Baptist University since 2001 and certified master gardener, to recommend 5 native plants that grow well on campus.   The first is Butterfly Weed (Asclepius tuberosa.)   This milkweed is tough, requires little water, and Monarch caterpillars eat the leaves.   Pollinators love the orange blossoms.

Stiff Stemmed Goldenrod (Solidago rigida) stays fairly evergreen through the winter. The plant is showy in a native, rustic look. The bases of dark green leaves resemble Shasta Daisies, but this goldenrod has a single stiff stem with a cluster of Golden yellow flowers on top, a good perch plant for birds and very unique looking.   Another favorite plant of the Monarch and provides seeds for birds in the autumn.

Blazing Star or Gayfeather (Liatris spicata) dies back in winter but returns early in spring. Usually blooms about the same time as Crape Myrtles. Lilac or purple flowers open from the top down on the floral spike.   Requires very little water but likes to be a tiny bit moist while blooming.  Hummingbirds and butterflies go for this plant.

Indian Blanket or Firewheel blooms (Gaillardia pulchella) are beautiful, but the plant is pretty invasive, reseeds rapidly and dies back fairly fast once it blooms. The public likes it.   This is the official state wildflower of Oklahoma.  The showy bicolored petals of yellow and orange with dark centers attracts pollinators.

Passion Flower

Passion flower or Maypop vine (Passiflora incarnata) grows like crazy and has the most unique and beautiful flowers Lisa has ever seen! Smells like baby powder. The plant can be a bit aggressive, but not hard to keep in check.   Each complicated flower has 'five stamens and three stigmas that protrude from the center like antennae of a spaceship' writes herbalist and author Stephen Foster.  Gulf Fritillary butterfly caterpillars love this plant that comes in white, yellow or purple flowers.

Several of my native plants have been rescued from areas to be mowed.   They appeal to butterflies, bees, hummingbirds and other wildlife.   The Native Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) has trumpet blooms scarlet outside, yellow inside.   Unlike its Japanese cousin with creamy colored flowers, this honeysuckle has no fragrance.   The Southern Dewberry (Rubus sp) is a small wild relative of the blackberry and grows quite close to the ground.   The fruit ripens weeks before blackberry fruits appear.   Daisy Fleabane (Erigeron strigosus) now has delicate daisy-like flowers of white petals that  surround yellow centers and grows on soft stalks two feet tall. The Maximilian Sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani) reaches over six feet in height and produces bright yellow flowers with dark brown centers in September.  Stunning landscape plant.

Don't devote hours of your life every week to mow the same grass over and over.   Put native plants in your landscape and watch nature come alive.   It's much quieter.