Fall Tree Planting Stats

An email from Margaret, our Urban Forest Project Coordinator (and amazingly awesome forester), arrived this week with a tally of volunteer work for fall 2015. It’s pretty exciting. Here are the stats.

UFP Fall 2015 Planting Season

  • Logged over 400+ volunteer fall planting hours
  • Total of 106 trees planted
  • Planted at 5 city parks
  • Planted at our first dog park!
  • Planted at 2 Grand Rapids Public Schools campuses

Urban Forest Project Planting

The above is a photo snapped at an October 25th tree planting at Congress Elementary. This little one (the girl, not the sapling) is one of our youngest participants yet. However, she was able to ID trees from their leaves more accurately than most of us there. Here she is zipping up a Treegator® bag so we can fill it with water for the tree.

Planting For Our Future

Margaret also sent along info on a new program called Planting for our Future. She says “this is a collaborative effort between Friends of Grand Rapids Parks and the Grand Rapids Public Schools to help raise awareness, increase understanding of Urban Forest issues, and further grow the City’s canopy all while using trees to teach students important cross-curricular lessons.

As a part of this project, we are offering teachers and school administrators and/or collaborating GRPS/parents the funding, technical assistance, trees, or support to host an urban forest project or event within the schools.”

Interested parties can contact Margaret through the Urban Forest Project website.

Hort Horrors – Deadly Nightshade

Sally and Deadly Nightshade
Sally at the Pantry

I love Halloween, so a holiday-appropriate post appearing on my garden journal was only a matter of time. For October, I wanted to further research some of the more gruesome features of a garden. The first choice was a given. Deadly Nightshade is known throughout literature, film, and even bits of history for its poisonous properties. When a witch is shown cackling over her cauldron, you can bet money one of those potion ingredients will be nightshade. So, I wanted to learn more about this plant whose name is more fun if you whisper it in your most spooky tone of voice.

Nightshade Cameos

Bittersweet Nightshade in Penny Dreadful
Vanessa Ives and Dorian Gray admiring Nightshade

Recently the Other Half and I were watching an episode of Penny Dreadful where the characters Dorian and Vanessa were strolling through a greenhouse together. Vanessa mistakes the flower to be attractive and sensual but otherwise harmless. Dorian identifies the plant as deadly nightshade. Though the plant is a great symbol of Dorian’s role in Vanessa’s life, I of course noticed the plant looked just like one I had ripped from the Lot.

While researching deadly nightshade, I identified the flower in Penny Dreadful and the Lot as Solanum dulcamara or bittersweet nightshade. I’m wondering if this flower had the attractive face for film, so it was chosen over the actual deadly nightshade plant. According to the Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health,  all parts of bittersweet nightshade (foliage, flowers, fruit, root, stem) is toxic so one should wear gloves when handling the plant. Though I love the feel of soil in my hands, I decided seasons ago to begin wearing gloves in the garden. Thank goodness.

The Real Deal – Atropa Belladonna

Atropa belladonna is a perennial belonging to the family Solanaceae, or the nightshade plants. Colorful, common names for this plant include devil’s berries, naughty man’s cherries, death cherries, beautiful death, and  devil’s herb. Other plants in this family include tomatoes, tobacco, potatoes, and eggplants. Deadly nightshade hails from Eurasia and prefers to lurk about wetlands in shady areas. How appropriate.

Atropa Bella-donna3.jpg
Atropa Bella-donna3” by Tom Oates at the English language Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

The United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service states when “Linnaeus formally applied a scientific name to this plant in 1753, he acknowledged its toxic nature as well as its social value.” Many sources shared that “belladonna” is translated as “beautiful lady.”  Women of the Venetian court would use deadly nightshade to dilate their eyes, making them appear more alluring. “Atropas” is one of the three Fates in Greek Mythology, her tool being a set of shears she would use to snip the thread of (and therefore end) life.

Effects of Deadly Nightshade

All parts of deadly nightshade are poisonous, including the seductively sweet berries. Most poisonings with the plant happen through ingestion. The North Carolina State Cooperative Extension site identifies belladona poisoning symptoms as “Fever, rapid pulse, dilation of pupils, hot and dry flushed skin, headache, dry mouth, difficulty of swallowing, burning of the throat, hallucinations, convulsions.” Doesn’t sound like a good time.

But why?!

Yeah, I couldn’t stop the research at “this plant is bad news.” I wanted to know why it caused these symptoms. Stick with me because this is really interesting. Atropa belladonna contains toxic tropane alkaloids. These have the ability to block functions of the body’s nervous system. In fact, I discovered many optometrists use eyedrops containing atropine to dilate a patient’s eyes before the exam.

For Evil or Good

However, the Medicinal Plant Genomics Resource (a project through Michigan State University) cites how several of these alkaloids are utilized as medicine. Atropine is used for bradychardia and Wenckebach block, scopolamine for motion sickness, and hyoscyamine treats symptoms of gastrointestinal disorders. Sister G, being a nurse by profession, put atropine’s general use in medicine into layman’s terms for me.  She summarized it’s use as “something to dry up secreting glands.” For example, hospice patients are given a drop of atropine beneath the tongue so their airway is not blocked by saliva.

Rip it Out

I agree with most horticultural sites I browsed when they say nightshade should be viewed as a weed. It rambles about and can easily lure domestic animals or neighborhood children to their doom… or at least an expensive vet / doctor bill. In its stay on the Lot, I hardly ever saw pollinators visiting the bittersweet nightshade. Plus, when I removed the plant, it released an awful smell and the fleshy root constantly broke. Deadly nightshade is supposed to have the same root structure.  Either way, it will try your sanity as a gardener.

Planting Spring Bulbs

ColorBlends BulbsDuring the Garden Bloggers’ Fling in Toronto this past spring, bloggers were gifted a complimentary order of bulbs from Colorblends. We were able to choose from several pre-grouped selections. Since the Lot suffers from late winter blooms, I chose a late winter / early spring blend.

Basic Guidelines for Planting Spring Bulbs

Spring Bulb Assortment

Spring-flowering bulbs should be planted the previous fall. In our Zone 6a, most spring-flowering bulbs should be in the ground before Halloween, October 31st. As a general rule, it is best to plant bulbs in an area of the garden with good drainage so the bulbs do not rot. There are areas on the Lot saturated with water during the spring thaw. I’ve tried to steer clear of those areas when choosing locations for early-spring and spring bulbs.

When planting the 200+ bulbs, I used the above bulb planter because most did not need to be planted deeper than 3″. The notches on the side of this tool made for quick work as I could push the tools into the ground, twist, and remove a plug of dirt and sod to plant the bulb. After placing the bulb and replacing the soil and sod, all the planting sites were watered.

Which End is Which?

Does it matter which end of the bulb is facing upward when planted? Not really. A bulb planted upside down will eventually find its way toward the surface because of gravitropism, a growth response plants have to gravity.

Winter Aconite (Eranthis cilicica)

Winterling-Bluete-70“. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

My friend Miss A introduced me to this very early bloom, but I had yet to plant some on the Lot. Another common name for this plant is winter wolfsbane. Winter aconite, part of the buttercup (Ranunculaceae) family, can grow from Zones 4-7. A frost tolerant plant, it can even be found peaking up out of receding snow cover. According to the Missouri Botanical Gardens, it is “native to western and central Asia (Turkey to Afghanistan)” where the little yellow flowers are found carpeting forest floors.

Winter Aconite BulbWinter Aconite is classified as a spring ephemeral, having a growth habit of woodland perennial plants. Spring ephemerals take advantage of the sunshine available when the canopy of the forest is not yet fully leafed out. Aconite grows quickly, producing foliage, bloom, and seed before the sunshine is no longer available. Then it dies back to the bulb and roots.

Where to Plant Winter Aconite

Bulbs like well-drained soil, preferably hummus-rich which is similar to forest floors. The plant should receive full sun for at least 6 hours. Since they only grow 2-3 inches tall, winter aconite looks great in borders or beneath trees and shrubs.

How to Plant Winter Aconite

Winter aconite bulbs should be planted 3″ beneath the soil and 2-3″ apart.

Glory of the Snow (Chinodoxa luciliae)

Glory of the Snow.JPG
Glory of the Snow“. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

This six-petaled star-like flower is native to the mountainsides of western Turkey. Glory of the Snow is also a very early spring-blooming flower and can be grown in Zones 3-8. Glory of the Snow is so similar to Squill (see below) both plants used to belong to the genus Scilla.

Glory fo the Snow Bulb

Where to Plant Glory of the Snow

Glory of the Snow grows best in areas of full sun to part shade with well-drained soil. The plant is great for naturalizing, so lawns, hillsides, rock gardens, and woodland gardens are fun places to plant them en-mass. When it is time to give the lawn its first mow, the plants’ foliage will have already died back for the season.

How to Plant Glory of the Snow

Glory of the Snow bulbs should be planted 3″ beneath the soil and 2-3″ apart.

Tommies (Crocus tommasinianus)

Crocus tommasinianus (Xytram).jpg
Crocus tommasinianus (Xytram)” by Martyn M aka MartyxOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

One of the earliest blooming crocus, tommies are native to Balkans, Hungary, Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro. They can be grown in Zones 3-8. These early spring bloomers belong to the Crocus genus and Iridaceae family. The Iridaceae include iris, freesia, crocus, and gladiolas, with each plant’s leaves being grass-like.

Crocus Bulb

Tommies are named after the botanist Muzio G. Spirito de Tommasini. Not true bulbs, tommies are instead a corm, or underground stem that serves as the storage organ for the plant.

Where to Plant Tommies

Tommies can be planted in full sun to part shade in well drained soil. Like Glory of the Snow, they can naturalize in lawns and woodland gardens.

How to Plant Tommies

Tommies should be planted 3-4″ beneath the soil and 3″ apart.

Blue Squill (Scilla siberica)

Blausternchen 2.jpg
Blausternchen 2” by Heike Löchel – fotografiert von Heike Löchel. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 de via Commons.

This blue, bell-like woodland flower is already planted on the Lot. I fell for this flower when I discovered it one spring in Miss A’s neighborhood, creating a carpet of blue across a tree covered lawn. I planted some right into the lawn opposite the drive from the alley bed.

Siberian Squil Bulb

Blue squill, also known as wood squill or siberian squill, is native to southwestern Russia, the Caucasus, and Turkey. It is extremely cold hardy and can be grown in Zones 2-8. Blue squill belongs to the family Liliaceae.

Where to Plant Blue Squill

Like Glory of the Snow and Tommies, Squill can naturalize lawns and woodland gardens.

How to Plant Blue Squill

Squill should be planted 2-3″ beneath the soil and 2-3″ apart.

Tete-a-tete Daffodil (Narcissus ‘Tete-a-tete’)

Unlike the above spring blooms I planted, this miniature daffodil is a specific cultivar or type of flower bred and engineered by man. I found many websites trying to sell me the bulb, but not many willing to share its origin story.

Mini Daffodil Bulb

The tete-a-tete daffodil can be grown in Zones 5-8 and tops out in height at a mere 7″.

Where to Plant Daffodils

Tete-a-tete daffodils are to be planted in areas of full sun. Being a shorter daffodil, they can be used to edge perennial beds, grouped together in rock gardens, or planted in containers and window boxes.

How to Plant Daffodils

Tete-a-tete daffodils should be planted 4″ deep.