Backyard Botanist


Latin name: Illex Verticilatta

by Wendy Pomeroy

At a time of year when we crave some color, we can be thankful for the Common Winterberry. Humble in its deciduous summer leaves, it cuts loose in the fall, with its shower of red berries that hover over wet areas like stream banks and wet road edges. The berries are in full glory after all the leaves have dropped, giving them little to compete with against the rich tones of the fall and drab winter landscapes. We can cut stems to create holiday bouquets that last beyond Valentine’s Day. Birds love the berries. 

Although this plant surely feels like a New Englander, its native habitat ranges from Nova Scotia to Florida, and as far west as Wisconsin and Missouri, and has a  hardiness range from 3 to 9.  This great plant, also known as Black Alder, Coralberry and Michigan Berry, has few pest and disease problems. 

The Genus Ilex has at least 350 species, 26 of which are in North America.

The species Ilex verticillata has many cultivars available in the nursery industry that are well worth investigating.  It is a great native shrub for wet areas of the garden, and it will do well in shade, and some dry soil, but produces more berries in full, or mostly full sun.  The species grows from 6’ to 10”, and taller if in perfect conditions.   Cultivars are available in all shapes, heights and berry color.  Stunning in mass plantings.  This plant needs male and female plants for fruit set. (3/4/14)


Canadian Hemlock
Latin name: Tsuga canadensis

by Wendy Pomeroy

One of the most magnificent, graceful conifers, the Canadian hemlock is in trouble. Native to New England, the Canadian hemlock, 
, can be identified by its smooth, rounded needles that lie flat on each side of the stem. It is also distinguished by the parallel whitish lines on the upper side of each needle and its small cones.
The hemlock is of particular concern at the moment because of the infestation of the hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae) that has hit Maine. Wingless, the bugs are dispersed by the wind, squirrels, deer, and birds. All around Kittery, you can find evidence of the white “wool” these bugs create as they do their damage (see the image). Look closer and you’ll find the bug—the size of a period—usually underneath the Hemlock stem, from which it sucks out the sap, leaving the tree desiccated and vulnerable. It can take only 3 or 4 years for these bugs to kill an infested hemlock.
Because of the fast and deadly nature of this infestation, I urge landowners to take stock of their hemlocks this spring, and do whatever is possible to save these beautiful New Englanders from becoming another chestnut or elm. The most environmentally sound way to manage these insects is horticultural oil, which suffocates the bugs, and is approved by NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association). However, I strongly  recommend contacting an arborist licensed in Maine, who will use the most environmentally safe products available. Please contact me for a referral.
Sadly, we will not be able to save every hemlock in the woods, but we can protect the ones on our property. We can help keep as many hemlocks as possible alive and healthy and limit the spread of this infestation.  (4/30/13)

Queen Anne’s Lace

Latin name: Daucus carota

by Wendy Pomeroy

Although not a native plant, the elegant delicacy of Queen Anen’s Lace dancing on slender stems in the breeze has been so prevalent recently that it calls for further investigation.

A native to Europe, Queen Ann’s Lace is in the carrot family. Pull one up to take a look at its root, and you will see why.

Queen Ann’s Lace and carrots are members of the Apiaceae family (also known as Umbelaceae), the sixteenth largest family of flowering plants. This family includes parsley, celery, dill, chervil, fennel, parsnips, coriander. It also includes the deadly poison Hemlock plant, which—it’s useful to know—looks like Queen Ann’s Lace, but has a smooth stem instead of a hairy one.

The common name of Queen Anne’s Lace highlights the likeness of the white umbrel florets to lace and alludes to Queen Anne of England’s reported talent as a lace maker.

Tea from the root of Queen Anne’s Lace has been used for diuretic purposes and to combat parasites. The seeds, it is said, have been used as a contraceptive, a “morning after” pill, though this claim needs further research.

Some consider this rangy plant, happily growing in any sunny location with poor soil, a noxious weed. But I think of it as the bloom that graces the fields of New England and precedes Asters.  

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