Spotlight on Native Host Plants: Two Powerhouse Perennials

By: Stacey Wildberger

The last couple months have been an interesting time in our lives, unprecedented actually.  I hope everyone is staying safe, healthy and mentally healthy!! Since our schedules were cleared for us many have been able to spend lots of quality time in our gardens, getting our flower beds refreshed and cleaned up, preparing to plant veggies and just taking time to enjoy what nature has to offer in our backyard.  Many Capers can be seen strolling the community with kids and dogs in tow just to take a break from being in the house.  So many of us our spending extra time outside in our gardens and own backyards, possibly planning a new garden bed or thinking about what plants to add this year to make a more pollinator friendly landscape or healthy habitat for the local fauna.  So, let’s take a look at a few top native plants to support biodiversity in our area.  These are some plants that support the most number of Lepidoptera (butterfly and moth) species- the plants they need to lay their eggs on- the #1 Top Rated Host Plants!

Wrinkleleaf goldenrod

Let’s start with the top 2 perennials, both of which bloom in the fall so they not only are the best host plants you can add to your landscape but also will benefit the fall migrating butterflies, mainly the much loved Monarch butterfly. 

Blue stem goldenrod

Solidago goldenrod are available in many species so there is sure to be one that fits your conditions.  These pollinator magnets and top host plants support 115 species of Lepidoptera.  Several caterpillars that feast on goldenrod include the brown-hooded owlet, the camouflaged looper, the common pug, the striped garden caterpillar, and the goldenrod gall moth.  In addition to being a host plant, goldenrods attract a great many pollinators, including solitary wasps, soldier beetles, mining bees, the polyester bees as well as many other specialized native bees.  Butterflies that will frequent your goldenrod include the Monarch, Hairstreaks, and Painted Ladies.  I have also seen many birds feasting on their seed heads, including sparrows, chickadees, juncos, and downy woodpeckers. There are several species that will work well for our Cape gardens, find one that matches your conditions and you will provide food, shelter and happiness for so many species of butterflies, moths, birds and a large variety of other insects!  Solidago rugosa wrinkleleaf or rough-stemmed goldenrod can handle moist to average soil in full sun, it will grow between 1-6’ depending on the conditions. 

Canadian goldenrod

A common cultivar is “fireworks” that stays about 2-3’ so it works well in the garden.  If you are like many in the Cape you often have shade, so look for a more shade tolerant species such as Solidago caesia wreath or blue stem goldenrod.  This particular species is 1-3” and can handle full sun to part shade and dry to medium soil.  Another option for full sun is Solidago canadensis Canadian goldenrod (an MD native despite the name).  It ranges from 4-5’ and prefers medium soil and full sun.  And finally if you are lucky enough to have a moist sunny spot you could use Solidago sempervirens seaside goldenrod (picture as header), 3-6’ in height this salt tolerant variety will be a great addition to your moist to average soil areas.  One last note of interest Goldenrods DO NOT cause sneezing and hay fever.  They are insect pollinated plants, not wind pollinated and are not the culprit to fall allergies (do not confuse it them with ragweed).

New England Aster

The next powerhouse group of perennials are another group of fall blooming plants, Asters.  Their striking purple blooms make a beautiful combination with the aforementioned goldenrods.  The purple of the Asters and the golden yellows of the goldenrods are a can’t miss autumn display that is sure to bring in the butterflies and pollinators.  Asters are the host plant to 112 species of Lepidoptera including pearl crescents, northern crescents, tawny crescents, field crescents, silvery checkerspots, brown-hooded owlets, camouflaged loopers, common pugs, and striped garden caterpillars.  Additionally, they are another strong source of nectar and pollen for migrating butterflies and fall foraging insects. 

Smooth blue aster

There are many varieties, so you should be able to find ones to suit your yard.  Aster novae-angliae New England Aster is popular for full to part sun in dry to average areas with a height of 2’ it would complement your landscape well. The violet bloom last from September well into late October.  Another full sun with dry to medium soil requirements is a smaller 1-2’ is the Symphyotrichum laeve smooth blue aster with blue-purple bloom and a yellow center it will sure to be a spectacular addition to the fall blooming garden.  If you are looking for a shade tolerant aster look no further than Eurybia divaricata white wood aster.  Another fall blooming plant this one tolerates part to full shade with dry to medium soil.  It has small white bloom with yellow centers.   

White wood aster

For a complete list of woody and perennial hosts plants click on the link

Cape Conservation Corps Donation of Bat Houses To Local CSC Girl Scout Troop

In 2017, Beverly Triton Beach Park officially went online as the new and improved Beverly Triton Nature Park.  With an upgraded playground, boating ramps, and vision for the 340 acres of green space, Beverly Triton Nature Park’s rangers have been working hard to invite the public into their new vision of the park.  While the space has been open to kiteboarding and fishing etc. for decades, the park is now offering hiking trails and educational programs.  The 4th grade ladies from Troop 55 of the Broadneck Peninsula were ecstatic to explore some new trails in our Anne Arundel backyard.  And as always, these Junior Girl Scouts were happy to leave it better than they found it.

            The troop of 13 girls spent a beautiful, sunny afternoon with Ranger Victor earning their animal habitat badges.  Ranger Victor introduced the girls to local species living at Beverly Triton Nature Park, sharing skins, shells and bone fragments, as well as pointing out occupied animal habitats throughout the park.  The culmination of their exploration of animal habitats in not only Beverly Triton Nature Park, but Maryland as a whole, was an in depth discussion of bats found here in our state.  Ranger Victor discussed the species of bats found here in Maryland and their declining numbers.  As a new park expanding its educational mission and offering new trails, adding bat houses to attract and provide safe shelter for the local bat population has been on the docket for the rangers of Beverly Triton.  While the girls had a blast decorating small bat house kits in vibrant paint colors and glitter, the success rate of habitation and durability of these smaller bat houses is low.  That’s where Cape Conservation Corps stepped up to help some of its youngest residents improve one of our local county parks.  Cape Conservation Corps donated 6 high quality cedar bat houses which the girls stained with the appropriate bat safe, outdoor weather resistant wood stain.  These bat houses were later hung throughout the park in locations the girls discussed with Ranger Victor that would be best suited for bats – high up and along the edge of the tree line, but not obscured by trees.  As Ranger Victor explained to the girls, bats like a clear entry/exit from the bat house along with the protection of the tree line.  A huge thank you to Cape Conservation Corps for helping the girls earn their badge, bring awareness and name recognition to one of Anne Arundel’s newest family friendly green spaces, and most importantly, for encouraging and supporting Maryland’s local fauna.  The Junior girls of Troop 55 cannot wait to work with Cape Conservation Corps in the future right here in Cape St Claire.

Eastern Small-Footed bat, Little Brown bat, Northern Long-eared bat, Tri-Colored bat, Indiana bat, Big Brown bat
Eastern Red bat, Hoary bat, Evening bat, Silver-Haired bat

Planting for Pollinators

©Lisel Jane Ashlock  at

Stacey’s blogs have given us many ideas on helping pollinators in our own backyards.   Here is a wonderful article published by The Nature Conservancy on this topic, this time with a national and international flavor.  Also, enjoy all the wonderful drawings by Lisel Jane Ashlock.

Can we be Nature’s Best Hope?

By: Stacey Wildberger

Wouldn’t you love to step out into your yard and be in the largest National Park in the U.S.? To be part of the solution to diminishing ecosystems and loss of habitat?  According to Doug Tallamy, author and entomologist at the University of Delaware if we convert just 1/2 of the turf lawns covering our country we could create the largest National park in the U.S. We would have the largest National Park- bigger than the combined parks of the Everglades, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Teton, Canyonlands, Mount Rainer, North Cascades, Badlands, Olympic, Sequoia, Grand Canyon, Denali, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Parks!  He would call it Homegrown National Park.  Over 40 million acres of turf grass cover the United States (roughly the size of New England), our small state of Maryland alone has 1.1 million acres. (Tallamy, 2020). In his new book, Nature’s Best Hope, Tallamy tells how and why we should be removing the turf and planting native plants- shrubs, trees, herbaceous perennials, ground covers. The plants that our native fauna has co-evolved with for hundreds of thousands of years. 

The numbers say it all- insects pollinate over 87% of all plants and 90% of all flowering plants, 97% of terrestrial birds rely on caterpillars and insects to feed their babies. Native plants are vital to sustain caterpillars with specific species being far superior (Tallamy & Shropshire 2009).  The Quercus (oak), Prunus (cherry) and Salix (willow) can host hundreds of species of caterpillars while introduced species such as Cladrastis (yellowwood) and Empetrum (crowberry) have almost no record of hosting caterpillars.

We can start small removing the turf.  I don’t think it is realistic to go out and rip up half of your lawn all at once.  You can implement gradual changes, small steps. I would suggest carving out a small “island” garden in the middle of a big patch of grass you have or setting up a small shade garden under an oak tree.  By adding some shade tolerant plants and allowing at least some of the oak leaves a place to linger you will be creating the perfect habitat for overwintering insects.  Since the oak tree, as superior host plant that can support 534 species of caterpillars, it is important to let their leaves lie.  The soil beneath the tree can become somewhat compacted over time so that a caterpillar looking for loose soil to borrow into will have to travel a great distance to find an ideal spot. Or the caterpillars looking for leaf litter to spin their cocoon in will find no leaves if you have raked them all away and hauled them from your property. After munching through the oak leaves as a caterpillar many of them drop to the ground to pupate.  They need the cover of the oak leaves and native plants in order to be protected.  The leaves will break down overtime creating a richer, loose soil that the caterpillars and other insects will find much more useful.  I would plant Heuchera Americana Alumroot in mass for a stunning display, or Tiarella cordifolia foamflower mixed with Polystichum acrostichoides Christmas fern for some evergreen coverage.  If you decide to carve out an island garden in a sunny spot of your yard you could use Penstemon digitalis beardtongue, Echinacea purpurea coneflowers, Asclepias tuberosa butterfly weed (milkweed), Eupatorium dubium “little Joe” Joe-Pye weed, Solidago sp. goldenrod and Aster laevis smooth aster.  This combo would offer continuous blooms from early spring right through fall.  It is important to always have something in bloom for the pollinators.  The late season asters and goldenrod will be an excellent source of energy for fall migrators such as the monarch.  As we know the monarch requires milkweed as a host plant but it also needs a nectar source in the fall to begin the migration with lots of energy.  

While I do recommend the use of mostly (ideally all) native plants I understand that is not the possible in most cases.  What I am advocating is for you to start educating yourselves on the importance of native plants and begin to select natives when you are starting a new garden or replacing plants in an existing garden.  Look for a native that will work in your conditions.  Learn and understand how that native plant will contribute to biodiversity and enhance the ecosystem.  What is its importance in the food web?  I am not asking you to rid your yard of all non-natives but consider getting rid of the ones that can be become invasive such a butterfly bush, nandina, barberry, non-native wisteria, English ivy and vinca.

Instead of shopping for your plants at big box stores look for local native plant sales and nurseries.  It may be a little more effort to get to them but they are well worth it.  I recommend Chesapeake Natives in Upper Marlboro.  They will have their first open house of the season on March 30th. Check out their website for additional dates or to schedule an appointment to visit them.  They also have a list of their available plants so you can pre-plan your trip! They only sell Chesapeake Bay Watershed provenance Local-Ecotype-Native* (LEN) Plants.

Another great place to find native plants is Adkins Arboretum in Ridgely, just off 404 on the Eastern Shore.  They have their open house on April 24th-26th and thereafter will sell during the hours that the Visitor’s Center is open.  Check out their website here

And finally since fall is the best time to plant you can Save the Date for Cape Conservation Corps Fall Plant Fest and Native Plant Sale on September 19th.  We will have many experts on hand from Master Gardeners, Master Naturalists, Watershed Stewards Academy, Author and native plant and wildlife expert Nancy Lawson, as well as Cape St Claire resident and native landscape designer Chris Pax.  Check out Chris’ website to sign up for her newsletters, online classes, and to see how she help you with your small scale garden designs at affordable prices.  Or come check Chris out in person.  CCC will host Chris Pax as our next guest speaker on April 17th at the Cape St Claire clubhouse Starting at 7 pm – doors open at 6:30pm.  Light refreshments served, BYO adult beverages.

Chris will talking about “Healthy Connections: Wildlife Corridors and Our Health” What are the benefits to spending just 120 minutes per week in nature? What does a wildlife corridor look like? How can we collaborate to make an impact? Easy design to make it easier to enjoy nature in our own backyard (the connection back to Doug Tallamy’s idea of the Homegrown National Park).

My last recommendation to keep learning more about creating your own backyard connection to nature is to read Doug Tallamy’s new book “Nature’s Best Hope”.  I promise it will change the way you think about your yard and your responsibility to those with no voice!

Spotlight on Native Plants

By: Stacey Wildberger

If you follow Cape Conservation Corps on Facebook you will recognize these plants. I have been highlighting a different type of native plant each week based on feedback from a survey I conducted.  The most popular requests were for host plants for butterflies, “any native” perennial, shrubs and ferns.  This month’s article features those plants that I have spotlighted on FB posts.  Native plants are important to our ecosystem. They have coevolved with our native fauna and the two depend on one other to survive. As a matter fact our human lives depend upon the native flora and fauna interactions. Using natives plants in our backyards and wild spaces promotes biodiversity and supports food webs for every living thing.

Aquilegia Canadensis Wild Columbine

Our first spotlight on native plants is both a perennial plant and beneficial to pollinators and birds, it is an early spring bloomer that will provide nectar for the first to arrive hummingbirds. Wild Columbine is easily grown in average, medium, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade and can tolerate a wide range of soils as long as drainage is good. It prefers rich, moist soils in light to moderate shade. It will self-seed and naturalize to form large colonies in optimum growing conditions. You can deadhead spent blooms to encourage continual blooms; keeping the soil uniformly moist after bloom will provide attractive foliage appearance. The bloom is a drooping, bell-like, 1-2″, red and yellow flowers (red sepals, yellow-limbed petals, 5 distinctive red spurs and a mass of bushy yellow stamens). The plant is about 2-3’ in height with a 1-1.5’ spread. It will work well as a border or in open shade gardens and naturalized areas. Mine makes an attractive edging along a dappled shaded area under the pines and along a garden wall coming down the steps. In addition to attracting hummingbirds it attracts many species of pollinators – in particular long tongued ones that can get into the tubular bloom. I highly recommend adding this beauty to your garden for early spring color that lasts into the summer and is an excellent nectar source for pollinators.

Polystichum acrostichoides Christmas fern

One of the things I love about this fern is not only is well suited for the dry to medium shaded areas of our Cape yards it is mostly evergreen throughout the year. This 1-2’ fern provides some winter interest to your landscape. It is a low maintenance fern that works well in shade gardens, along a garden wall and planted in clumps on a slope; it will help control erosion. Its fountain like clumping growth won’t spread out and naturalize but the clumps will spread and get wider/larger over time. I have it planted in a medium moisture area in a shaded woodland area and have enjoyed seeing the beautiful lance-shaped, evergreen fronds throughout the winter. This is a fern that will work well in your yard too!

Antennaria plantaginifolia Plantain leaf pussytoes

The next spotlight plant is Antennaria plantaginifolia: a groundcover and a host plant! The American painted lady butterfly lays her egg on the plantain shaped leaves because it is one of only a few plants that the larvae (caterpillar) can eat. Plant pussytoes and you will be rewarded with this American beauty

This clumping/ mound forming groundcover is best grown in lean, gritty to rocky, dry to medium moisture, well-drained soils in full sun. It will do well in fertile, humusy soils, particularly if drainage is poor. The flowers are crowded into terminal clusters on a rising 10” stem from the basal rosette that forms a thick mat of the plantain leaves. The name pussytoes comes from the fact that the bloom resembles the pads or toes of a cat’s foot.

The soft fuzzy foliage makes a wonderful addition to your garden. It is useful as a small area ground cover in rock gardens, rocky slopes, open woodland areas, prairie areas or other lean, rocky areas in the landscape. I love it along the edge of the garden and encourage it to spread into the garden to act as a “green mulch”

I highly encourage the use of this as a ground cover with the added benefit of attracting the American Painted Lady to your yard. By using native plants we are enhancing our ecosystem and increasing biodiversity. There are several other varieties of the pussytoes for other conditions and with different foliage. All will act as a beautiful ground cover and host plant. Add some to your garden this spring!

Hamamelis virginiana Witch-hazel

Our next spotlight native plant features a beautiful shrub that will offer color and beauty straight through fall and into winter. Hamamelis virginiana Witch-hazel is not only a welcome sight with fragrant blooms it also offers fruit to nourish our feathered backyard friends. The golden yellow fringed flower appears in fall and remains even after the leaves have dropped and is stunning to look at. Pollination occurs from late fall foraging small flies and bees.

This multi trunk shrub with spreading branches will form an irregular shaped open crown and will perform best in moist areas and can handle many soil situations as long as it doesn’t become too dry. Plant in full sun to part shade, it will reach between 15-20’ in height and spread.

This is one I do not have. Yet. It’s on my bucket list as soon as I figure out where to put it. Its native place is in woodland areas, forest margins and along stream banks but if your property doesn’t meet those requirements it can be a lovely shrub border or as hedge/screen border along a property line.

Consider Hamamelis virginiana Witch-hazel for your native landscape to increase biodiversity, provide late season interest, as a host for many moth species and provide food for the birds naturally!

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