Archive for the ‘Recommended Plants for the Watershed’ Category

Do you have something growing in your yard that looks like this in early May?

What Is This Mystery Plant?

What Is This Mystery Plant?

Here is another picture of the same plant in another yard.  In this picture you see why it is called Rudbeckia triloba.  Many if its leaves are “three lobed.”  Not all though — the shape of the leaf can vary considerably.  Other names for it are “thin-leaf coneflower” and “brown-eyed susan.”

Mystery Plant Identified as Rudbeckia Trilobz

Mystery Plant Identified as Rudbeckia triloba

If you ARE lucky enough to have some of this in your yard, put a little fence around it right away to prevent it from being mowed.  Come August or so, it will look like this:

Triloba in Bloom

Rudbeckia triloba in Bloom

These flowers are loved by goldfinches and many pollinators such as butterflies.

They are especially wonderful blooming in large masses:

Rudbeckia in Mass

Rudbeckia triloba in Mass

If you gaze closely at a mass of them, you can become a little “hypnotized” and swear they are looking back at you.  No flower expresses more wonderfully the “joy of being alive.”



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Many thanks to those who attended the WATERSHED EVENT.

Please stay tuned for more events and projects.


Join us on Saturday September 21, 2013 for 


A walking tour of rain gardens and bayscaping installations

at Westover Baptist Church and nearby homes.

Registration is required. The limit is 30 participants.


rain garden is a planted depression that allows runoff from impervious surfaces (roofs, driveways, walkways, parking lots,and compacted lawn areas) the opportunity to be absorbed into the ground.

This reduces runoff since water soaks into the ground rather than flowing into storm drains and surface waters degrading water quality and habitat.

 The purpose of a rain garden is to improve water quality in nearby bodies of water by reducing pollution & sediment that enters our streams.

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Aster vimineus “Small White Aster”


Small White Aster Blooming in the Fall

This photo is courtesy of Greg Stack, University of Illinois Extension

Have you seen a plant growing in your yard that’s been green all summer and looks like this:

small aster before flowering_sm

For better identification look for small leaves at base of large leaves:

small leaves at base of large

Perhaps, because it’s been green all summer, you’ve thought of pulling it up or mowing it down.  DON’T DO THAT!!

Like all asters, this one blooms in the fall and then gives us one of nature’s small miracles: small white flowers everywhere!

In addition to being beautiful and free, the flowers of this plant  seem to attract a wide variety of insects, particularly in sunny areas. More common insect visitors include short-tongued bees, wasps, and flies, and less common visitors include long-tongued bees, small butterflies, skippers, beetles, and plant bugs.  Small White Aster serves as a host plant for caterpillars of Chlosyne nycteis (Silvery Checkerspot) and Phyciodes tharos (Pearl Crescent) , as well as the caterpillars of many kinds of moths (http://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/146700-Aster-vimineus).

So by all means, if you’re lucky enough to have some of this plant in your yard, let it thrive!

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Heliopsis helianthoides   is native to much of the United States east of the Rockies and can be found on roadsides, in open woods, at the edges of fields, and in waste areas.  Considering these locations, you might think of it as weedy or unattractive, but think again.  This vigorous, upright,  3 – 4 foot perennial deserves consideration for your sunny flower garden.  Tolerant of conditions many other plants won’t like – dry locations,  poor soils, and clay soils – this plant should do well here in town.

What does Heliopsis helianthoides provide besides beauty?

  • Nectar for bees and butterflies.  There is even one bee that is a specialist pollinator of this plant.
  • Larval host * for the painted lady butterfly, Vanessa virginiensis.
  • Seeds for birds. The American goldfinch, Spinus tristis,  is likely to visit.
  • Winter cover for beneficial insects, assuming you leave the stems to overwinter in the garden.
  • Cut flowers for you.


*A larval host is a plant that insect larvae require for food.  Many insect species  are dependent on   only one or a few plant species for the larvae to feed on; others  are not picky eaters. The painted lady  will lay it’s eggs on several plant species,  including Helioposis.   It’s important to note that native  plant species feed many  more insects that non-natives do. 

Make room for native species in your garden.  

You’ll have more than just flowers.

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We need to remember that butterflies and other insects, along with the birds whom they sustain, are important and irreplaceable co-residents of our watershed, i.e, our “neighborhood.”

Reedy Creek Coalition members will be planting native milkweed seed in the near future.  We hope to have plants to share and would love to see milkweed coming up all over the watershed!

Why do we lay such a heavy emphasis on the value of using native plants in our landscapes and gardens?

In an earlier post, we talked about the importance of “host” plants for the larvae of butterflies and other insects.  Monarch caterpillars, in particular, have an absolute dependence on milkweed as their food source.  Host plants for our native insects most often must also be native. 

The plight of the Monarch is made only too clear in an article from the University of Minnesota website entitled “Milkweed Loss Hurts Monarchs.” (http://www1.umn.edu/news/features/2012/UR_CONTENT_378473.html)

This article states that researchers have determined that a decade-long decline in Monarch populations is tied to the loss of milkweed from the corn and soybean flelds of the Midwest.  Estimates are that between 1999 and 2010 Monarch egg production in the Midwest dropped by 81 percent. The loss of Monarchs parallels the rise in the use of glyphosate herbicides, which kill milkweed and other crop weeds while leaving intact crops engineered to tolerate the herbicides [“roundup ready” corn or soy].

The article goes on to say, “Now that we have a better handle on the causes for the decline in monarch numbers, the areas outside agricultural fields are more important than they used to be… it underlies the importance of putting milkweed in garden plantings, prairies and roadsides.”

Of great concern to us is that the decline in Monarch numbers may be the “tip of the iceberg.” How many other plant species and their obligate insect hosts are also being decimated?  And these other species don’t have the “appeal” of Monarchs.  We need to think of the whole ecosystem.  There are hundreds of other butterflies and insects that have a similar reliance on a particular native plant.  So while working to provide habitat for the spectacular Monarchs, please don’t forget about those “drab” moths and other less spectacular insects and their larvae on whom we (and baby birds!) depend so much, often without realizing it.  It should be noted (and this is mentioned in the University of Minnesota article quoted above) that milkweed also serves as a “nectar” food source to many different kinds of adult pollinators.

Can you help with GOING NATIVE?  (Note that there are some milkweed species that are not native and should not be planted here.)

We will keep you POSTED when we have our native milkweed and other plants ready to share.

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When someone mentions dogwood, most everyone in the southeast will think of Cornus florida, the iconic tree of spring and state tree of Virginia.   That’s  a tree you probably know well, but you may not have met some of the shrubby members of the family.  Here are their bios…

  • Cornus racemosa, who goes by the name Gray Dogwood (or red-panicled dogwood in some circles),  is a medium sized, easy going shrub that adapts well to moist or dry soils and sun to shade.   He’s a late bloomer compared to Cornus florida, producing flower clusters in May and that become white berries in fall.
  • Another shrub,  Cornus amonum, known as Silky Dogwood since her young leaves are sometimes dressed with silky hairs, is not quite as easy going as her cousin, Gray.  She prefers moist soils and wants to be in the sun most of the time. And can she put on a show! White blooms in spring,  bluish purple berries that make her very popular with the birds, purplish fall colors and red twigs for the winter.  No wonder she likes to be called by her stage name, Red Willow.
  • And now meet Cornus sericea (nickname: Redosier Dogwood), also a multi-stemmed shrub with white flower clusters and white berries.  He would prefer to hang out with Silky in a moist environment, but also gets along with Gray in the dry times.  Red is loved by critters for delicious berries and by people for those lovely red twigs he shows off in the winter.
  • Every family must have someone who just can’t make up their mind.  In this case it’s Cornus foemina, Stiff Dogwood, who can be either a highly variable shrub or a small tree.  The berries are beautifully blue.  Stiff Dogwood looks a lot like Redosier (with the exception of blue versus white berries), but this plant is more of a southerner while Red tends to be a northerner;  both can be found here in Virginia.
  • And every family has their unique members as well.  Cornus alternifolia (Alternate leaf Dogwood) arranges her leaves alternately along the stem; that’s different from everyone else who has opposite leaves.  Being special, she also may try to be a tree and is more of a mountain girl – not so common in the piedmont.

Top row, left to right: Silky flower (by milesizz), Redosier berries (by sherwood411), Silky berries (by holdit)
Center: Alternate leaf (image by Boyce Tankersly, morphobank.net)
Bottom row, left to right:  Gray berries (by gmayfield10), Silky berries (by holdit), Redosier twigs (by harshpatel), Gray flowers (by gmayfield10)
All images (except center) are from Flicker Creative Commons

 The Dogwoods have a lot to offer as part of our urban plant communities;  we should become better acquainted!   Most are quite adaptable and attractive in all seasons.   They also do their part to prevent erosion.  And  the family,  properly called Cornaceae, supports about 120 species of insects. Yes, you read that right – supports insects (specifically moth and butterfly species) – and that is a good thing. You see, we need caterpillars for baby birds and other critters to eat.  Without the bugs, the birds and others will not survive.  But beware – there is a non-native in town;  Cornus kousa (the Kousa dogwood from Asia) is not as generous, supporting only six insect species.  He certainly doesn’t do his part!

Reedy Creek Coalition has a limited number young of Redosier Dogwood that will be up for adoption by Reedy Creek watershed gardeners later in the year. Stay tuned to our website for more information.

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Proper landscaping can reduce erosion and therefore the amount of sediment and other pollutants entering our streams. Many plants will reduce erosion, but the plant species you choose can determine whether or not the local ecosystem is supported as well.  In a nutshell, native plants provide appropriate food sources for wildlife; non-natives do not.  May we recommend…

 EASTERN RED CEDAR, Juniperus virginiana

Many people think of eastern red cedar as a tree of old fields or a trash tree; you may have even removed one that appeared in your yard.   If you do find this plant on your property, please consider keeping it.   This drought tolerant, slow growing  tree does best in full sun;  you can expect a tree to be about 25 feet tall in 20 years. When healthy, this juniper can live to be quite old and, during that time,  will stabilize the soil with a  shallow, spreading root system,  provide benefits to many of our urban critters  and provide us with beautiful greenery during the holidays.

Tree canopy is a critical factor for watershed health and you can do your part to improve water quality just by planting trees.  Late fall or early winter is the perfect time to do this.   When choosing a tree,  be sure to consider the size of the tree when mature – it will need to fit the space you have in mind.

If you decide to let eastern red cedar grow on your property, consider having two trees – you will double your chances of having a female plant with berries.   However, if  this is not the tree for you, there are many others to choose from.  Visit the Native Plant Center where you can narrow your plant search by plant type, site conditions, etc.  All plants on this site are native species and recommended for the Chesapeake Bay region.   These are plants with a purpose!

Please note that it’s best not to plant Eastern red cedar near apple trees and some other members of the Rosaceae family.

All photos from Flicker Creative Commons
Photo credits:   hairstreak butterfly – motleypixel
                                junper berries – dmott9
                               cedar waxwing – chefranden





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