Monday, August 17, 2015

Escaping from the Garden: Purple Loosestrife and Tansy.

Sadly, some of the plants we enjoy most just aren't good news.  They bring baggage.  Yes, they're lovely to look at but the next thing you know they're taking over wetlands or chasing other plants from your garden or making threats against the hydrangeas.  Yes, they're invasive and it's all your fault.  Well, no, not you particularly, but somewhere in the past gardeners planted some unfriendly (albeit at the time potentially useful) neighbors.

The first I'll mention is Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria).  It was introduced first in the 1800's and became a garden ornamental as well as a medicinal.  Then it started plans for world domination.  The edges of waterways become tinged with a purple haze of flowers when it blooms in mid-summer.  Looks lovely, but the plant chokes out all other plant life around it.  Cold weather doesn't seem to slow it down much as I've viewed it happily growing in Maine and along waterways in the Green Mountains of Vermont.  There are chemical controls, of course, but using them near water is especially risky.  Biological controls are also available and they do appear somewhat successful.  Given the massive number of acres now invaded it will take a great deal of effort to reign this plant in.  This perennial was once a recommended garden plant and it is found in gardening books of the past (including one of the Victory Garden books; Crockett's Flower Garden, from 1981).

This picture of Loosestrife was taken at Red Mill Pond in Woodford, Vermont.  Want to learn more about this plant?  Check out:

Another plant that seems to be attempting a hostile takeover is Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare).  Once planted as a useful medicinal and scented herb, it managed an escape and now turns up in many places it doesn't belong.  The fern like foliage is thick and lush and the yellow button flowers are attractive.  Sadly, it's tenacious, and much like the roadside daylily, it grows along roadsides and in areas where soil is not tilled.  In fact, tilling the soil where Tansy shows up is one method of control.  The foliage has a distinct spicy and herby scent, reminiscent of mint combined with Sweet Fern (Comptonia peregrina).  The plant is poisonous to livestock and some people react badly to it if ingested.  It was used as a culinary herb, an abortificant, packing material to help prevent meat spoilage, insecticide, and as a coffin stuffer to help prevent unwanted smells (according to Wikipedia).  So here's a perennial that has potential use in the herb garden but just likes to wander a bit too much.  Although not as invasive as Loosestrife, it does tend to crop up all over the place.

Both of these photos were taken at Hogback Mountain in Marlboro, Vermont.  It looked quite pleased with itself growing on this hillside.  Closer to home, I've seen Tansy springing up through pavement right next to the parent plant.  It's nothing if not determined.  Want to learn more?  Check out this USDA document from Montana:

Recommended Plant: Alchemilla molllis, or Lady's Mantle.  It grows as a low mound of folded leaves, similar to a cloak or mantle from wardrobe collections of years past.  The greenish flowers mix well with other colors and the overall habit of the plant is similar to a ground cover.  Perhaps the best aspect of the plant are the leaves.  When wet, water droplets collect and bead up on the leaves.  The plant is tough and will grow along walkways with little trouble.  Unlike the other plants mentioned in the post, it's not especially invasive although in some situations it will self sow readily (personally, I've never found this to be the case).

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Roadside Daylilies

The roadside daylily isn't a native plant.  It appears with such frequency, however, that it is now appears to belong.  Sadly, in some places it is quite invasive and difficult to get rid of.  Hemerocallis fulva grows along roadsides, in ditches, near salt water, next to old foundations, and just about anywhere it pleases.  Although it prefers full sun it will also perform admirably in shade.  This massive grouping was found along a sheltered bay in Harpswell, Maine.  The salty ocean was just a matter of fifteen feet away.  These daylilies were thriving.

Recommended Plant: Thalictrum rochebrunianum.  Flowering in summer, this meadow rue send up flower stalks that are 4-6'.  The leaves of the plant stay closer to the ground.  The leaves are similar to columbine and blue-green in color.  It is apparently deer resistant as well, which makes it attractive in certain locations.  This meadow rue does best in full sun and rich soil.  It is best planted in groupings to create a mass of the airy flowers.  One variety goes by the name "Lavender Mist" which is fitting, given the flowers.