Jack in the Pulpit Highlight

Posted & filed under Native Species.

Arisaema stewardsonii is typically thought of as a spring ephemeral since that is when it blooms. However, if one were to continue watching, a stunning seed head will form in the fall! While most homes are built on land that has been drained off, this swamp-loving plant will sometimes grace homeowners with more wet and shady areas. This lower-growing plant could be the perfect solution for hard-to-grow spots under a tree.

Look for the blooms pushing through the leaves in early May around wet areas. photo credit: Kristi Shepler

Growing Conditions

Jack in the Pulpit prefers to grow under deciduous trees, gaining full sun in the very early spring before the tree puts on leaves. Then it enjoys the shade from the trees during hot summers and the nutrients when the leaves fall to replenish the soil. It does prefer moist to wet soil that occasionally drains off for short periods of time. No maintenance is required, as it has co-evolved to survive on its own. Just needs a little help to propagate by not mowing the area so the seed heads can form.

The Plant

The plant itself is a simple set of 3 leaves which can become slightly problematic. There is a nice verse out there to protect people from poison ivy; Leaves of three leave them be. Hopefully, most people will leave them be to grow because they might be pleasantly delighted with Jack in the Pulpit! Trillium is also an early spring native plant that starts with leaves of 3. All the more reason to be delighted and leave them be.

Photo Credit: Kristi Shepler

Bloom

The blooms of Jack in the Pulpit is an elegant cup with a hood and start off bright green. As it ages and depending on the verity the green may darken. Stripes of burgundy will sometimes stripe across to add to the drama. Or maybe the stripes are white and just start to stand out more as the bloom ages.

Photo of Jack in the Pulpit growing around the foundation of a brick house.

Seed Pods

This is just one of those plants that keeps giving! In early fall keep an eye for a funky seed head to burst forth in blazing color. These berries will attract wildlife that loves to taste them and help sustain them over the fast approaching harsh winters.
Please note that many parts of the plant can cause irritation if eaten by humans. This may be better suited in an area where a wandering child won’t be tempted to eat these enticing “berries”. While many native plants are edible this one is best left for the birds.

Propagation

In the wild birds and even box turtles enjoy the berries encasing the seed. Often these berries need to be separated from the seed before they can germinate. This is often how Jack in the Pulpit plants pop up in new areas as the wildlife carry the seeds along.

If you are lucky enough to have these plants pop up in your yard and you want to help nature along, here are some helpful tips. Some people have had success with root division. Just make sure the plant is dormant and can reestablish during periods of high moisture. If not, wait until August or September to remove the small brown seeds from the pulp. Leaving the pulp outside for wildlife to enjoy. The seeds will need to go through at least 60 days of cold moist stratification, which you can try to replicate indoors or just plant the seeds right before winter sets in.

Wild Ones

Wild Ones Capital Region New York is a chapter of Wild Ones a national organization promoting the use of native plants in the garden. Membership is a great way to support this mission on both a local and national level. Check out membership.wildones.org for more details including all the great benefits you will receive as a member. Our local chapter works diligently to provide specific information about our local native plants. This includes not only this blog but also handing out materials when we are out in the community. Even if you are a Wild One’s member, please consider donating directly to our chapter.

Sustainable Living Center

Posted & filed under Local Native Gardens.

The Sustainable Living Center is a section of the Schenectady County Cornel Cooperative Extension. They sure know how to pack in a lot of features into an area. Activities for kids, a seasonal food share program, and what brought us there a pollinator garden that is being converted to plants native to New York! Keep an eye on their website as they are only open for select hours during the growing season, but might set up an appointment too!

In addition to the food share program, they also have cut flower bouquets to take home. Most importantly they have a nice selection of native plants ready to go home with you! Check out the native plant garden for some inspiration on what your yard can look like.

The tour event included a little glimpse behind the scenes where plants in waiting are growing. Thankfully some of the workers let this common milkweed continue to grow! There are two Monarch caterpillars most likely the ones that will migrate to Mexico for the winter.

Wild Ones Membership

Wild Ones Capital Region New York is a chapter of Wild Ones a national organization promoting the use of native plants in the garden. Membership is a great way to support this mission on both a local and national level. Check out membership.wildones.org for more details including all the great benefits you will receive as a member. Our local chapter works diligently to provide specific information about our local native plants. This includes not only this blog but also handing out materials when we are out in the community. Even if you are a Wild Ones member, please consider donating directly to our chapter.

Giant Yellow Hyssop Highlight

Posted & filed under Native Species.

Hyssop is a popular plant to attract pollinators to their garden. However, the native Giant Yellow Hyssop is considered endangered here in New York. If you are looking to attract butterflies and hummingbirds to your garden then this is a must-have. Another great perk is that this one is deer resistant.

Growing Conditions

Place the Giant Yellow Hyssop in a sunny spot as an architectural statement as it reaches 6-7 feet in height. Tolerates up to part shade but may not reach the same height. Make sure the area has good drainage as well but other than that will grow in just about any type of soil.

The Plant

While many people use the plant for tea, Native Americans used the plant to create a poultice to relieve the itch from poison ivy rash. Some have found success in using in cut and dried floral arrangements. Just remember when harvesting leaves start from the bottom of the stalk, work your way up, and leave at least 60% of the plant. Remember that our pollinators and other wild life use all parts of the plant so the more you leave the more you will see of them.

Bloom

While the soft yellow/cream blooms often go unnoticed the bloom head is still a striking spike to add a new texture to your garden. Unlike most mint family members, this bloom lacks the minty fragrance. Holds blooms for one to two months in the fall, often lasting until the first frost. This is a great option for those providing nectar for migrating wildlife, such as the Monarch Butterfly.

Giant Yellow Hyssop towers over this mix of native plants in Tim’s private garden. The bloom spike provides height over the wild bergamot but doesn’t overpower with its muted colors. Photo Credit: Kristi Shepler

Propagation

Harvesting the seeds should happen once the flower spike has turned brown. Threshing is the best method to remove the seed from the spike, but shaking into a container can work as well. Seeds develop and release from the head at different rates, so repeat the process over the course of a few days. When growing from seed, a cold stratification process is needed by direct sowing in the fall or recreating the conditions for at least 60 days.

Wild Ones Membership

Wild Ones Capital Region New York is a chapter of Wild Ones a national organization promoting the use of native plants in the garden. Membership is a great way to support this mission on both a local and national level. Check out membership.wildones.org for more details including all the great benefits you will receive as a member. Our local chapter works diligently to provide specific information about our local native plants. This includes not only this blog but also handing out materials when we are out in the community. Even if you are a Wild Ones member, please consider donating directly to our chapter.

Five Rivers Environmental Education Center

Posted & filed under Local Native Gardens, Uncategorized.

Education Center at Five Rivers with a living green roof and solar panels on the roof.
Education Center at Five Rivers with a living green roof and solar panels on the roof.

Settled on 450+ serene acres of wetlands, forests, and fields with 10+ miles of trails Five Rivers is located at 56 Game Farm Road, Delmar, NY 12054. The environmental education center is not only filled with educational displays but also topped with a mix of solar panels and a living green roof! Please make sure to leave no trace and that no pets are allowed in the preserve. This is to help protect the environment and the fragile ecosystem.

Our Native Garden Tour

The group listening to Robin discuss the plants in the middle of the roundabout in the parking lot.

We took a chapter garden tour led by Robin, an employee who has worked diligently to bring native plants right up to the education center for all to enjoy. Honestly, we never made it very far from the building, there was just so much to see. I don’t even think most of the group went into the building to check it out because there was so much to see around the building.

Turns out, when the building was constructed, they had a landscaping company put together the flower beds. Even though they asked for native plants, the landscapers didn’t completely understand that request. Many of the plants the landscaper put in were native to the USA and a few cultivars. Robin has been working diligently to edit out and replace with native to the area. This included transplanting plants found on the property and harvesting seeds from others. All while not disturbing the ecosystem within the preserve.

Raingarden with native plants nestled in-between the main walkway and the building.

In addition to the green roof, the education center was designed with a rain garden. This helps manage the water runoff from the solar panels atop the building. The plants help to filter and control the rate of flow of that water, preventing massive puddles and sheeting water. Raingardens are a great project to include in your own home garden and native plants are spectacular at managing water.

Biodiversity

The reason why we could spend so much time in just one small area of the preserve was not only Robin’s extensive knowledge. Not even the inquisitive questions our members asked. Rather, it is all the different plants that are growing right up where it is easy to enjoy.

Wild Ones Membership

Wild Ones Capital Region New York is a chapter of Wild Ones, a national organization promoting the use of native plants in the garden. Membership is a great way to support this mission on both a local and national level. Check out membership.wildones.org for more details including all the great benefits you will receive as a member. Our local chapter works diligently to provide specific information about our local native plants. This includes not only this blog but also handing out materials when we are out in the community. Even if you are a Wild Ones member, please consider donating directly to our chapter.

Jewelweed Highlight

Posted & filed under Native Species, Pollinator.

Jewelweed is another plant with “weed” in the common name and, while it may grow like a weed, there is so much more to this fantastic native plant! Spotted Jewelweed Impatiens capensis and Pale Jewelweed Impatiens pallida are the two species that live here in the Capital Region of New York. Make sure to add this one to your native garden for a whole host of reasons!

Pale Jewelweed Impatiens pallida bloom photo credit: Kristi Shepler

Growing Conditions

Jewelweed prefers full to part shade but will tolerate full sun where the summers are cool. It also prefers wet to moist soil which can help with brighter locations. Mulching and occasional watering also help but for the most part, does not require any maintenance. The best part is that once the plant grows if in a thick grouping it will shade out most weeds.

The Plant

One reason to love this plant is that it sprouts in early spring and looks similar to radish sprouts. Then it spends energy growing tall thick stems that are full of a watery gel. This gel can help ease the pain of poison ivy and stinging nettle, so it is nice to have on hand. Some have even said it has anti-fungicidal properties and can be used to treat athlete’s foot.

Close up of Pale Jewelweed Impatiens pallida stems photo credit: Kristi Shepler

Water from rain or morning dew delicately collects on the very tip of the leaves. Creating a stunning display to hunt for when the conditions are just right.

Close up of Pale Jewelweed Impatiens pallida leaves with water drops photo credit: Kristi Shepler

Bloom

The beautiful blooms are sometimes hard to find as they blossom beneath the leaves. However, the hungry hummingbirds know where to find them. This is one of the great native plants to use in place of a sugar-water feeder. Bumble bees are often known to curl up in the blooms as well to sleep. It is almost like a little Bee B&B! The blooms can start to emerge in mid-July and last into August.

Seed Pods

Another common name for Jewelweed is “Touch-Me-Nots” which relates to their spectacular spring-loaded seed pod dispersal. Once the plant is brushed by wildlife, the seeds are flung out, to spread the propagation of the plants. The pods will start to form once the bloom has been pollinated and should be ready by fall, if not sooner.

Propagation

Since the seed pod is spring-loaded, it is best to move quickly when collecting its seeds. This is done by closing your hand around the entire pod, but be careful not to accidentally brush the pod before closing your hand or the seeds will go flying. Once you successfully enclose the pod in your hand, ever so slowly loosen your grip. You will feel the pod burst open but it doesn’t hurt. Open your hand the rest of the way, with your palm up, so the seeds don’t fall away. Cold stratification is necessary for the seeds to germinate. Place the seeds in the fridge for two months or just scatter them in the spots you want them to grow in late fall/early winter.

Wild Ones

Wild Ones Capital Region New York is a chapter of Wild Ones a national organization promoting the use of native plants in the garden. Membership is a great way to support this mission on both a local and national level. Check out membership.wildones.org for more details including all the great benefits you will receive as a member. Our local chapter works diligently to provide specific information about our local native plants. This includes not only this blog but also handing out materials when we are out in the community. Even if you are a Wild One’s member, please consider donating directly to our chapter.

Spicebush Replaces Forsythia

Posted & filed under Butterfly, Gardening Tips, Native Shrubs, Native Species, Pollinator.

Spicebush replaces Forsythia as a harbinger of Spring! Makes a great title even if it is a bit of a misnomer. Spicebush has been around for quite some time and because of that, it does so much more than make a seasonal privacy fence.

Non native Forsythia in bloom

Forsythia’s Rise in Popularity

Now many of you may be wondering how did Forsythia manage to become so popular. It is a tale as old as time. With the modernization of garden centers and magazines once one person says Forsythia makes a great living privacy fence, the idea just took off. However, this sacrificed the bees. Forsythia is sterile so the blooms do not produce pollen. While bees might flock to it they typically don’t hang around when they realize there is no food. Not to mention Forsythia may soon join the invasive species lists as it grows quickly and makes it difficult for anything else to grow near it.

Spicebush’s yellow blooms on a gray early spring day. Photo by: Kristi Shepler

Return of Spicebush

Spicebush can be grown as a living privacy fence if so desired. However, this understory tree is shade tolerant for anyone with a part to full-shade garden. It can also survive in full sun which provides fantastic fall color. Roots prefer moist soil that drains well, so if in full-sun make sure it gets plenty of water. Make sure to plant male and female plants for cross-pollination and the female will produce berries.

Spicebush Ecosystem

One of the many reasons to grow Spicebush is that it is a host plant for the Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly along with Sassafrass and Tulip Tree. While most have seen the butterfly, the larva is often time missed as it hides in a leaf that it will later use in metamorphosis. Who wouldn’t want this little cutie hanging out in their garden! For more on Papilio troilus check out this article from the NC State Extention.

The fall berry of the Spicebush will also attract animals to your yard. Some of the birds that will come include:

  • American Robin
  • Eastern Blue Bird
  • Gray Cat Bird
  • Great-Crested Flycatcher
  • Hermit Thrush
  • Red-Eyed Vireo
  • Wood Thrush

What not to do?

Just remember that no matter what you plant, if you are spraying pesticides they are typically a broad spectrum. This means even our native friends are killed off as well. With the introduction of plants from across the globe into our everyday garden we have forgotten that plants are meant to be eaten. It is time to embrace an imperfect garden that has lots of chew marks!

Removing Forsythia

The best way to remove Forsythia becomes more intensive the larger the plant. Start by cutting back the branches but leave some of the lower ones to grab onto later. Next start digging around the drip line of the shrub moving your way in until you find the roots. Use an old pair of loopers to start cutting through the roots. Try pulling on the lower branches that you left to bring up the shrub with the root ball. You may need to use a chain and a truck if the bush is large. Just make sure you have something to replant in the space or weeds will take over.

Ready to plant?

If you have planned out the perfect spot in your garden for a Spicebush, or maybe two, or three check out our resources page. On this page, you will find a list of greenhouses in the Capital Region of New York. If you are out of this area check out Wild Ones journal for nurseries in your area or one that ships nationally.

Grow Milkweed From Seed

Posted & filed under Gardening Tips, Pollinator.

Even though it is March the Monarch Spring Migration is starting! Thankfully for those of us up North, we have just enough time to grow Milkweed from seed and be ready for their arrival. If you want to watch the Monarch’s progress, check out Journey North. There are a few stages that our Milkweed seeds need to go through before they take off. First is cold stratification, second is germination, and then you will see sprouts ready to grow into full Milkweed plants.

Cold Stratifying Milkweed

Honestly, this should say cold moist stratification. Stratification really just means the seed has a coating on it that needs something, in this case, cold and moisture to prep itself for gemination. There are a few methods that you can use and we will start with the least successful, then work our way to the most successful.

Of course, if you are really short on time you, can just scatter your seeds in the garden. Milkweed is a perennial so even if there are not enough cold days right now they will come up next year. Just keep in mind that the success rate is very low this way. Many animals will find the seeds to be a tasty treat!

Another option is to clip a very small portion of the tip of the seed. Some people say this provides just enough space for the first root to erupt from. However, cutting the seed too deep will prevent its ability to germinate.

The last method which will drastically increase your success rate is to mimic the winter conditions for 30 days. Take a wet paper towel and wring it out so it is just damp, too much water might cause mold. Then on one half of that paper towel sprinkle milkweed seeds. Make sure they have enough space between them don’t be afraid to move a few if you need to. Then fold the empty side over on top of the seeds and then fold one more time to make it a square. Now take a plastic bag with a zip-top and write what type of milkweed and the start date (or end date). Lastly, place the seeds into the bag and then into the fridge. Leave it undisturbed for 30 days between 33-38 degrees F. This will break the dormancy cycle that the seeds are in.

Germenating Milkweed

On to the next phase of growth, germination. This means we will actually get to see some growth depending on the method you choose. The method you choose really comes down to how much time you have and your dedication. In both methods, keep in mind that if you have a seed heat mat, use it. This process requires warmth instead of cold. Too much water with soil in this stage will also terminate the seed. Of course, at this stage, you can once again direct sow right into your garden if you wish.

The first method is pretty simple and it is time to get a bit dirty. That is right, fill up your containers with dirt and then place your seeds right on top. Yup, right on top Milkweed seeds actually need light to germinate, so don’t cover with dirt or bury into holes. You may wish to use some clear plastic wrap over the top with just a few air holes to create a greenhouse effect. Just make sure to take it off after about 5 days.

The second method is fun because you can actually watch the root start to grow. Place the seeds in water and place them in a warm spot that receives light. Then, ideally twice a day once, in the morning and once at night, change the water out with room temp water. Within 3-5 days you will start to see a little root pop out. As soon as you see that white bit, transfer it to your containers. Again do not burry the seed. Try using tweezers to gently set the seed into the soil with the white root pointed down into the dirt.

Milkweed Seedlings

Now that the seeds are safely in the dirt it is time to watch the green portion of the plant emerge. Milkweed loves sunlight so use grow lights when possible. Place them right over the top of the containers. Watch daily to see if the growing plant is just about to touch, then raise the grow light just a little bit. About the time that the first set of leaves appear is a good time to set up an oscillating fan. This will recreate the wind that the seedlings would normally endure outside and is a great first step in hardening off your plants.

The next step is transplanting. While it has been fun watching the seeds grow into little green stems with leaves, it is time for them to move out. Milkweed has a taproot that does not like to be disturbed, so do not repot. After any and all chances for frost has passed, it is time to start the move. First, give your plants a drink and place your seedlings outside where they will get sun for a few hours, about 2-4 hours. Then the next day place them outside for 3-6 hours. On the third day give them about 5-8 hours. Finally, on the last day, it is time to plant them in your garden for those Monarchs to enjoy.

Time to Grow Milkweed

By now you have fully enjoyed watching Milkweed grow from seed. But the best is yet to come. Milkweed has a beautiful ecosystem unlike any other. With this one addition to your garden, not only will you welcome the Monarch, but so much more. You may find yourself researching a bunch of new fascinating insects. Even the bird population might increase from this powerhouse plant!

As always, make sure to check out our events page to see what that chapter is up to. We host an annual seed swap where you can pick up a few verities of milkweed. Sometimes we even hand out free milkweed seeds at our events!

Asclepias

Posted & filed under Butterfly, Native Species, Pollinator.

Also known as Milkweed, even though it is not a weed, but in fact a widely beneficial native plant. This plant puts out leaves in early spring but doesn’t bloom until the summer months. In the fall watch for the seed pods to burst open in a dazzling show. Don’t forget to leave the stems over winter for beneficial bugs to hide in.

Close up of Butterfly Weed and the insects it supports.

According to the New York Flora Atlas the following milkweeds are native to New York but check their website to ensure the plant grows near you.

Asclepias amplexicaulisblunt-leaved milkweed
Asclepias amplexicaulis × A. syriaca = A. ×intermediaintermediate milkweed
Asclepias exaltataforest milkweed
Asclepias incarnata ssp. incarnatawestern swamp milkweed
Asclepias incarnata ssp. pulchraeastern swamp milkweed
Asclepias purpurascenspurple milkweed
Asclepias quadrifoliafour-leaved milkweed
Asclepias rubrared milkweed
Asclepias syriacacommon milkweed
Asclepias tuberosabutterfly weed
Asclepias variegatawhite milkweed
Asclepias verticillatawhorled milkweed
Asclepias viridifloragreen milkweed
Milkweed that is native to New York
Milkweed seedpods are hard at work developing seeds that will burst forth and float away in the fall.

Monarch Butterfly

While milkweed plays a vital role in the ecosystem for many insects, it is of utmost importance to the Monarch caterpillar. While the butterfly will gather nectar from just about anything that is blooming, the caterpillar will only eat milkweed. The monarch has co-evolved with the milkweed in an attempt to protect itself from predators. For example, the caterpillar can handle eating the toxic sap contained in the stems of the milkweed. Important note, wash your hands if you happen to touch the sap. If any happens to get into your eyes seek medical attention immediately. The transformation of the monarch is quite astonishing, read more about it on Monarch Watch.

Monarch butterfly resting in a field

How to Help

Now you may be wondering how can you help this beautiful monarch butterfly. The good news is there is hope even if you are not a master gardener. There are plenty of opportunities to help, check them out:

  • Help reforestation efforts of the overwintering sites (Forests for Monarchs and Monarch Butterfly Fund)
  • Ask your mayor to take the Mayors’ Monarch Pledge
  • Help raise the quality of life for the locals in Mexico so they do not resort to logging (Alternare)
  • Plant native milkweeds to support the monarch life cycle
  • Plant native nectar powerhouses especially fall blooming ones such as goldenrod and aster
  • Introduce native shrubs and trees as they also support a bunch of butterflies and benefical insects
  • Register your polinator garden on Polinator Pathway
  • Add signs to your garden about polinators

Don’t forget that sharing is also caring. Share this blog with friends or even gift them milkweed for their own garden! Share information that you learned with your circle of influence. All of the little acts add up to some pretty big impact!

What Not to Do

Likewise, there are a few “do not” items that we need to cover as well. These topics may be hotly debated but we are going to share what the scientist who have dedicated their careers to and what they have found.

  • Avoid non-native milkweed species as they can harbor parasites (Tropical and Hairy Ball)
  • Do not spray pestacides and encourage others to stop as well
  • Say no to captive breeding and monarch releases
  • Do not rear monarchs indoors, if you would like to for education pourpuses limit to 10 and keep them outside in a mesh net.

Saving the Monarch butterfly always seems to raise strong emotions. If you have participated in an item on the “what-not-to-do list” that is ok. We are all learning and working on doing better. Keep in mind as more scientists research these topics, these best practices will also change. Keep reading and learning and we will do our best to update this blog as more information becomes available.

Tagging Monarch Butterfly

This topic gets more than a bullet point as it is a bit more involved. Monarch Watch has a program where citizen scientists can place a small round tag on the last generation of Monarch butterflies. This is the group of butterflies that will migrate to Mexico in the East. Once these beauties make it to Mexico the locals are compensated for each tag they bring in, helping their economy. There are several ways you can help. First, you can help by tagging the migratory generation just sign up for a kit on monarch watch. If you are not into catching butterflies then you can always keep an eye out for tags and report any that you find.

Before entering into this program, take some time to really think it through. For the time being, there has not been very much research done on the tags used on the butterflies. Clearly, they don’t do any short-term damage. However, it is unclear if there is any long-term or unseen damage done. In addition, only the tags are recovered which means the butterfly itself is not studied. With the rising number of OE, it would be beneficial for those tagging to provide test results. Then, in Mexico, have the butterfly recovered with the tag and tested for OE again. This would provide some data for researchers and the butterflies could be further studied on other projects as well.

If you enjoyed this post make sure to check out more of our blogs. We will be adding more so make sure to come back and visit often!

Hemlock

Posted & filed under Invasive Species, Native Species, Native Trees.

Once again it is winter and the evergreen trees are taking center stage. The hemlock drops needles too much making it not a prized Christmas tree however our native hemlock looks beautiful on the snowy landscape. Tsuga canadensis has provided much-needed shelter for example the Ruffed Grouse, and food for wildlife such as the porcupine and red squirrel. Not to mention, who doesn’t love the smell of pine needles as the cold nips at your nose?

Hemlocks are also important nesting sites, food sources, and even breeding habitat for the following birds.

Blackburnian WarblersYellow-rumped WarblersRed-shouldered Hawks
Mourning DovesBlue JaysRed-breasted Nuthatch
Northern FlickersBlack-capped ChickadeesBoreal Chickadees
Common GracklesWhite-winged CrossbillsBay-breasted Warblers
Magnolia WarblerAmerican RobinsBlack-throated Green Warblers
Evening GrosbeaksPine SiskinsBlue-headed Vireo
Dark-eyed JuncosRed CrossbillsAmerican Goldfinch
Golden-crowned KingletNorthern ParulaWood Thrush

Identifying Hemlock

First look for the Eastern Hemlock feathery silhouette, with fine, lacy twigs whose tips tend to droop gracefully. Then take a closer look for short, flat, flexible needles attached to the twig by tiny slender stalks, about ½ inch, long. They are rounded at the tip, dark green above but pale silvery below. When the tree is young, the bark is gray-brown and relatively smooth becomes cinnamon brown, with thick, ridges forming flat plates as it ages. Male flowers, which appear from April to early June appear in light-yellow clusters at the axis of needles from the preceding year. While the Female flower develops on the terminals of the previous year’s branchlets; and is pollinated by the wind. After pollination, the light green cones gradually turn into brown cones about ¾ inch long. They remain soft and flexible until the seeds are released in the fall.

Photo credit New York Flora Atlas https://newyork.plantatlas.usf.edu/photo.aspx?ID=3130

Apart from this, if you would like more details on identifying hemlock and ruling out other conifers check out this article from Wild Adirondack. https://wildadirondacks.org/trees-of-the-adirondacks-eastern-hemlock-tsuga-canadensis.html

Growing Hemlock

For those with full shade and part shade consider growing a Hemlock as this is their ideal growing condition. While they can be pruned into hedges they have a delicate almost swiping cone shape when left to their own course.

Threats

The Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HWA), is an insect pest native to Asia and accidentally introduced to the US. This invasive pest has led to the decline and mortality within four to ten years. It has thrived along the East coast, damaging hemlock forests from Maine to Georgia including 25 counties in New York State, especially in the Hudson Valley and the Finger Lakes. Consequently, climate change may accelerate the spread into the Adirondacks.

photo credit New York Invasive Species Information
http://nyis.info/invasive_species/hemlock-woolly-adelgid/

Identifying HWA

Adult females are black and oval-bodied. But are usually concealed under the white woolly masses of woolly wax they secrete from special glands. From March through May, these females lay 50 to 300 brownish-orange eggs that hatch from April to June. The winter generation one female produces an average of 200 eggs which in turn mature. Then during the spring, they produce on average another 200 eggs each. That’s 40,000 eggs in one year, per female HWA!

Newly hatched nymphs aka crawlers are reddish-brown with a small white fringe near the front. Crawlers search for suitable sites to settle, usually at the base of the hemlock needles. They hitch a ride on the wind, feet of birds, or the fur of small mammals. This is where they begin to feed with their specialized sucking mouthparts for the rest of their lives.

HWA feeds deep within plant tissues by tapping directly into the tree’s food storage cells and not the sap. The hemlock responds by walling off the wound and this disrupts the flow of nutrients to the needles. Eventually, this leads to needles and twigs drying out and losing color until they die completely. Overall the growth will slow and there will be dieback of major limbs within two years. Generally, this process progresses from the bottom of the tree and can completely kill the tree in as little as four years.

Reporting HWA

Once you have identified HWA make sure to report it to the proper organization. For instance, if you are in New York use the iMap Invasives tool from PRISM. First, check out the helpful training they provide and then create your account. Once you have an account created, download the app, and use your smartphone to report in the field.

Eradicating HWA

At the present time, there are two approaches for managing HWA infestations chemical insecticides and biological control. Both come with pros and cons to ensure we do not do further damage to the environment. Prevention is also a good starting point. As always be careful moving plant material from infested areas especially during March – June when crawlers are most active. Keep bird feeders away from hemlocks to prevent crawlers from coming into contact with healthy trees. If a tree is heavily infested then it may be best to bring the tree down and burn it on site.

Insecticides, typically applied as a soil drench or an injection are incorporated by sap flow into the tree’s tissues. A single treatment can provide multiple years of protection. However, the costs, environmental safety, and the reproductive potential of HWA makes this approach on a broad scale unfeasible. Homeowners can first use horticultural oils and insecticidal soaps provided they apply it so it comes in contact with the HWA. Then try reducing stress in the tree by ensuring there is enough water and prune dead/dying limbs. Last but not least try to avoid nitrogen fertilizers as this can enhance the survival and reproduction of HWA.

Over the last 10 years, researchers have been investigating the use of biological control agents. At this time, scientists are evaluating the effectiveness of several HWA predators. A beetle and fungal pathogen, from Japan and the Pacific Northwest. Further study is needed to test the effectiveness on large scale and if there will be any long-term side effects from releasing another species.