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Spotlight on Ferns

By: Stacey Wildberger

Our Annual Fall Plant Fest and Sale is right around the corner (September 25th 9am-noon).  In addition to thousands of native plants we will have many experts on hand to help you.  There will Master Gardeners, Master Naturalist, Master Watershed Stewards, Pollinator Pathways, and Cape St Claire’s Chris Pax (a native plant landscape designer). 

We will have a variety to choose from: groundcovers, perennials, grasses, carex and ferns.  This year we have greatly increased the quantities of each species but we will also have a few new varieties.  Let’s talk about ferns—we will have five this year!

Royal fern

This moisture loving fern, Osmunda regalis royal fern is one I just started using at the Serene Ravine last fall and I fell in love with.  I have planted it along the areas of erosion in hopes to slow down the run off.  It can handle part to heavy shade.  The up to 3’ fronds have large, separated leaflets giving it a pea-family appearance.  Plant this beauty in a place to naturalize or use it in shady rain garden.  The fall color will delight!

Cinnamon fern

Another fern for medium to wet conditions is the Osmunda cinnamomea cinnamon fern. It can reach up to 3’ height with a 3’ spread.  Fiddleheads emerge in early spring and the plant features two fronds, a sterile yellowish-green that remains attractive throughout summer.  The other frond is the fertile stiff, spore-bearing frond that quickly turns brown.  It can also tolerate heavy shade and rabbit browsing. Beautiful as shade border, woodland garden feature or along streams, water gardens or bogs.

Christmas fern

If you are looking for an evergreen option in a fern consider Polystichum acrostichoides Christmas fern.  Growing to heights of 2’ with an equal spread this clumping fern with stays green all winter!  It likes dry shade so it makes it an ideal plant for many our Cape gardens.  Use this to help fight erosion on dry slopes,

Another beauty I discovered accidently to use at the Serene Ravine is Athyrium filix-femina lady fern.  The fern I was ordering wasn’t’ available so the nursery suggested this as an alternative and I have not regretted the choice.  It lines the edges and paths of the Ravine with 3’ lacey-cut, light green fronds.  Works well in rock gardens, woodland gardens or as a border plant in a shaded area. (See picture above title)

Marginal wood fern

Rounding out the fern selections for this year’s sale is Dryopteris marginalis marginal wood fern, another shade loving fern that can handle average soil, not too wet or too dry.  This is another one that will give you some winter interest as it is evergreen like the Christmas fern.  This will work well in woodland areas, mixed with some early spring flowers such as Dicentra eximia wild bleeding heart or Phlox divaricata woodland Phlox.

Where are the Insects?

With the emergence of the cicadas this summer I noticed something had been missing-insect splatters on the car windshield.  Remember as a kid driving down the highway on a summer evening the amount of insects that would meet their untimely demise on your windshield?  The sad fact is insect populations have sharply declined in part due to loss of habitat, pesticide use and monoculture crops.  Without the “little things that run the world” EO Wilson: insects are so ecologically important that their disappearance would have dire consequences on our ecosystem.  Insects are the start of every terrestrial food web! We have already begun to see the effects of insect declines in Central America tropical forests as there are parallel declines in insect eating frogs, lizards and birds. Insects don’t need us: we need them! 

Native Plant Swap: SUCCESS!!

By: Stacey Wildberger

Cape Conservation Corps recently offered residents of Cape and Atlantis three FREE native shrubs if they agreed to remove the highly invasive and toxic to birds Nandina (there have been several cases of dead Cedar Waxwing birds with bellies full of their berries). The rules were simple, dig up at least one Nandina domestica Heavenly Bamboo shrub, bag for the landfill (no curb alerts!) and send us picture of the dead shrub and you can choose any combination of the native shrubs we were offering as a replacement.  We opened it up to 25 residents and quickly filled the spots.  Some people had been wanting to remove them for a while and this was just the motivation they needed.  Others read about the dangers of this invasive beast and jumped on board.  And some just wanted more natives in their yard.  Whatever their reasons our swap was a success!  I visited one of our participants and they had about 50 Nandinas.  When she came to pick up the replacement shrubs she let me know they had begun to remove some every weekend and were making huge progress.   I don’t know exactly how many total shrubs were removed due to the swap but my guesstimate is at least 90-100 with 75 new native shrubs being planted. 

Why were we encouraging the removal of this overused shrub?  To begin with it offers no wildlife value.  The berries have been found to be toxic and even lethal to birds.  The berries contain cyanide leading to a quick but painful death. While it isn’t their first choice if there are other resources they will eat them when they have exhausted all other food sources. These shrubs are also highly invasive and will spread rapidly outcompeting native plants that are beneficial to birds and other wildlife.

Let’s look at the shrubs we offered as replacements as well as some other alternatives.

Lindera benzoin Northern Spicebush is a small understory tree that grows 6-12’ in dappled to full shade, tolerating some sun.  I chose this for the beautiful yellow early spring color from the blooms, the bright green leaves of the summer that turn yellow in the fall, accented with bright red berries.  Spicebush is the host plant for the Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly (the caterpillar looks like a Pokémon creature!!) The birds will also benefit from the bird-safe berries.  Cardinals, catbirds, vireos and more can be seen flocking to this tree in the fall.

Callicarpa americana American Beautyberry has a beautiful bright purple display of berries that hug tightly to the stem.  It grows 3-5’ tall but can spread up to 9’ wide with its wide arching branches.  Beckoning to the birds to come enjoy the tasty berries.  Other small wildlife will also eat the berries (squirrels, raccoons, opossum and fox).  Plant in moist, rich organic soil in part shade. You can prune it back to 2’ less than the desired height.  A beautiful shrub for any backyard landscape or restoration planting. Consider using Eastern Columbine, Pink Muhly Grass and Black Eyed Susan as companion plants.

Itea Virginica Sweetspire “Henry’s garnet” I chose this smaller alternative as it grows 3-4’ and spreads about 4-6’.  The tiny fragrant white flowers grow in a cylindrical configuration, bloom in early, and offer early pollinators a much needed source of food. The fall color is spectacular with leaves of red, orange and gold persisting well into the winter.  Itea will grow well in moist, shady to part shade and even tolerate sunnier areas of the yard.  Would work well around a pond, as a woodland border and as foundation planting. 

Another great alternative to Nandina is Ilex verticillata Winterberry.  The red berries (see picture at top) are a beautiful and safe alternative to the invasive non-native shrub we wanted to replace.  You need at least one male mixed in with the females in order to produce the berries. Growing 3-12’ high and wide for a beautiful mass hedge row.  The red berries are not only safe but offer a beautiful winter interest view. Prefers moist, organic soils in full sun to part shade. 

Even though the swap ended we hope you will still consider removing these shrubs from your landscape and planting one of these great native alternatives.  At the very least cut those berries off! We are looking forward to offering another invasive plant swap in the future to encourage all those who want to make a change to using native plants in their landscapes for a better ecosystem but need a little incentive.  Tell us what invasive plant you have wanted to get rid of, and for the right replacement you just might do it!  I am thinking of targeting the overused Butterfly Bush that offers no ecological value, is highly invasive and low on nutrition.  Email president@capeconservationcorps.org and give me your suggestions.

Understory Trees for your Home Landscape

By: Stacey Wildberger

There are many plant layers to successful ecosystems-from the groundcover, herbaceous plants, shrubs, understory up to the tall canopy layer.  Each level plays a vital role in the health of the ecosystem and biodiversity in the landscape, but the understory is an often overlooked layer in our home landscapes.  We often plant lush garden filled with flowering plants, a few ground covers plants, some shrubs and of course we all know Cape has plenty of canopy trees shading us!

Eastern serviceberry

Amelanchier Canadensis Eastern serviceberry –this wonderful tree will provide 3 seasons of interest starting in early spring with beautiful berries that feed robins, catbirds, chickadees and cardinals.  Serviceberries fall color is spectacular.  It is also of high value to many of our native bees.  This moisture loving trade can be planted in sun to shade conditions.

Eastern Redbud

Cercis Canadensis Eastern Redbud –nothing says spring like the glorious purple blooms of the Redbud, they can be seen blooming along the roadways, parks and neighborhood streets.  These early blooming trees offer an early source of nectar for foraging insects and bees. The leaves, seeds and blooms are utilized from songbirds, pollinators and mammals.  It can tolerate part shade to shade so it makes an ideal specimen for many Cape yards. 

White Fringe tree

Chionanthus virginicus White Fringe tree –this 15-30’ tree is known for its drooping clusters of fragrant, white blooms.  One of the last trees to leaf out in the spring, it often appears dead until the leaves and flowers appear.  The flowers are pure white, wispy and cloudlike. The blue plum-like berries are attractive to birds and mammals and the flowers are attractive to many pollinators.

Pawpaw

Asimina triloba Pawpaw –this multi-stemmed shrub grows 10-40’ high.  It has large tropical like leaves that turn a beautiful yellow-green in the fall.  The small banana tasting fruit makes a delicious jam if you can harvest it before the opossums, squirrels, raccoons and birds eat them!  The Pawpaw is also the only host plant for zebra swallowtail butterfly.

Eastern Red Cedar

Juniperus virginiana Eastern Red Cedar –the most widely distributed eastern conifer-across 37 states it is extremely resistant to drought, heat and cold and grows to 30 to 40’.  This beautiful tree offers many benefits for wildlife from the berries that are a staple to many birds and mammals including the cedar waxwing named for this tree to offering nesting material and cover.  It does well in dry areas from sun to shade.

My Pretty Pollinators

By: Stacey Wildberger

Pollinators come in all shapes, sizes and species.  They range from the iconic Monarch butterfly to little wasps and bees that you don’t even notice.  Many are in decline due to a variety of reasons, pesticide use, loss of habitat and disease to name a few.  They need our help.  But first we need to understand who they are and why they are important.  Why are they worth saving?  Insects are by far the largest category of pollinators but there are also birds (hummingbirds are best known), mammals (bats, and even rodents), and even lizards (maybe not locally).

Bumblebee

Let’s meet some of the most common insect pollinators you may encounter in your backyard. Bees.  Not honey bees, native bees.  We have almost 4,000 native bees and none of them are the honey bee. Most of them are solitary bees (90%); they are ground nesters (70%) and the rest are cavity nesters.  They won’t sting you:  they have no hive or nest to defend.  They just want to go about their business of collecting pollen and snacking on nectar and most importantly they are pollinating your vegetable gardens and flowers. Plant a variety of plants at different bloom times, with different bloom shapes and colors because different bees will visit specific flower species based on those criteria. Examples of native flowers being pollinated by bees are Asclepias spp. (milkweed), Baptisia spp. (Wild indigo), Monarda (bee balms and bergamot), Soldiago spp. (goldenrods), Penstemon (beardtongue) and Helianthus spp. (sunflowers).

The insect pollinator that gets the most attention and love is of course the butterfly. Many people are easily convinced to plant for the butterflies!  They are typically generalists meaning they more freely nectar on many different flowers as opposed to the bees that tend to be specialist. Their proboscis allows them easy access to a large variety of blooms. Not surprising, the plants pollinated by bees are also by butterflies, so use the list above and add Echinacea (coneflower), Prunus (cherry trees), Ceanothus spp. (New Jersey Tea), Vernonia spp. (ironweeds) and Liatris spp. (blazing star).   I don’t think I have to convince many to plant for butterflies.

Moths are up next, in the same order (Lepidoptera) as butterflies but often not as well appreciated even though there are many more species of moths around the world.  They most likely will be found eating in the evening.  They will also nectar on the same flowers as butterflies they can also be found on Oenothera spp. (evening primrose), Phlox spp. (phloxes), and Yucca spp. (yuccas). Color isn’t a primary factor but having a strong evening scent will attract them.

Question Mark butterfly

One of the oldest and largest group of pollinators are beetles.  Over 350,000 species worldwide and 150-200 million years of pollinating to be exact.  They also rely on sense of smell to find their boom, color not being much of a factor.  Although most plants do not rely solely on beetles for pollination they are helpful.  Some flowers you find them on are Lindera spp. (spicebushes), Asimina spp. (paw-paws), and Symphyotrichum spp. (asters).

Beetle

Flies are another important pollinator.  Not all flies are good at pollinating but the hover flies and bee flies are the two most standout pollinators.  Hover flies are often mistaken bees or wasps due to the close resemblance.  They get their name from their ability to hover.  Bee flies, with their hairy, fuzzy-looking bodes which enable them to collect a lot of pollen are important as well.  Some flower the flies will pollinate are Apocynum spp. (dogbane), Symplocarpus foetidus (skunk cabbage) and Trillium erectum (red trillium).  They are attracted to putrid smells (which is why they like the skunk cabbage!)

Fly that looks like a wasp
Fly that looks like a bumblebee

And finally we come to wasps as pollinators.  Don’t judge them harshly as not only are they effective pollinators but they also are excellent predators and parasites of many garden pests.  They will lay their eggs inside the bodies of other insects and when the larvae emerge they eat the pest from the inside!  Look for these exciting creatures on Pycnanthemum spp (mountain mint), Eryngium spp. (rattlesnake master), and Parthenium integrifolium (wild quinine).

Iridescent green sweat bee

Below are 10 tips for a attracting and sustaining a thriving pollinator population (from “The Pollinator Victory Garden” by Kim Eirman).  I highly recommend getting this book to learn so much more about pollinators and their importance in your garden.

  1. Plant for succession—always having something in bloom
  2. Skip fancy double flowering plants—little to no nectar
  3. Use native plants
  4. Be sure to include woody plants like trees, shrubs and vines
  5. Plant a diverse selection of bloom shapes, sizes and color
  6. Plant in large patches of one type of flower to make it easier for pollinators to find their favorite
  7. Provide nesting sites- sandy soil, hallowed stems, stone wall crevices
  8. Eliminate pesticides-even organic can be deadly. Allow the beneficial bugs to take care of pests (see wasps)
  9. Reduce or even eliminate your lawns
  10. Add a pollinator sign to help raise awareness

Our activities in 2019-2020

By: Phil Ourisson

Services provided by CCC in 2019 and 2020 include:

  • Controlling invasive alien plants at the “Serene Ravine”.  This area is shared by Anne Arundel County, the Cape St Claire Improvement Association (homeowners association of the Cape St Claire community, Annapolis, MD), and private properties. 
    • CCC organized a Wednesday Weed Warriors campaign in 2020: every Wednesday during the spring , summer and fall, volunteers came after office hours for 1-2 hours to remove alien plants.  In the spring, the major focus was Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata), and later in the year, the focus moved to Bush Killer (Cayratia japonica)
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Bags of Bush Killer
  • In 2019 and again in 2020, CCC purchased (over $1,000) numerous golden ragwort (Packera aurea), a native plant which reportedly will successfully compete with Garlic Mustard.  These were planted around the areas with Garlic Mustard infestation.
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Packera aurea at Serene Ravine
  • In the fall of 2020 (over $1,100, in part with a $693 grant from Unity Gardens) CCC purchased a variety of native plants, from bushes to ferns, and planted them in areas to hopefully shade the areas with Bush Killer infestation in order to reduce that population.
    • In the spring of 2020 (over $1,100), CCC purchased and planted a variety of flowering native plants to make the ravine more attractive to residents.  In the fall, wood chip mulch was spread to refresh the path through the ravine to maintain access to the area.
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Spring flowers at Serene Ravine
  • In March 2019, CCC sponsored a speaking engagement by a USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center Biologist.  The talk was open to all at no cost, with the schedule advertised in CCC website, Facebook, The Caper (Cape St Claire newsletter) and a signboard at the entrance to Cape St Claire.  The topic of this speaker was native bees, informing the public of the variety of native bees as well as their requirement of blooming native plants. 
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Andrena_aliciae foraging
  • In 2019 and 2020, CCC organized a Native Plant Fest and Sale.  Native plants were purchased from local wholesale nurseries ($9,000 in 2019, $11,300 in 2020), and sold with a minimal mark-up.  These were the third and fourth year that CCC organized this sale which has become more and more popular each year.  In 2020, buyers, while mostly local, even came from outside Anne Arundel County because of the wide selection of native plants, the low prices, and the advice provided by members of CCC.  Each year, plants sold out before the end of the scheduled sale.
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Plant Fest 2020
  • In 2020, CCC purchased six high quality cedar bat houses that were donated to the local Girl Scouts (Troop 55 of the Broadneck Peninsula.)   They, in turn, assembled them, stained them with a safe wood stain, then donated them to the Beverly Triton Beach Park.  They were installed in the Park in locations identified by the Girl Scouts together with Ranger Victor.   Ranger Victor also educated the girls of Troop 55 on the species of bats found in Maryland and their declining numbers. 
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Girl Scouts Troup 55 and bathouses
  • In 2020, CCC purchased native plants (over $300) that were donated to Goshen Farms to support the pond restoration on their property. 
  • In 2020, CCC supported an Eagle Scout project.  This Scout purchased, constructed, and installed three Leopold benches in the Serene Ravine.  The contribution of CCC was to purchase and install one plaque on each bench engraved with a quote of Mr. Leopold on the protection of the Environment. 
  • Every quarter, CCC identifies one homeowner in Cape St Claire who has made a special effort in replacing a “traditional” landscape, which is based on alien plant species, with an “environmental” landscape which is based on native plants.  These plants, in turn benefit native birds and native insects that depend on native plants.  These individuals are honored as Habitat Heroes on the CCC website and in The Caper, and are offered a $25 gift certificate for more native plants at the Native Plant Fest and Sale.
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  • One member of CCC, each month, writes a blog on an environmental topic.  This blog is published on the CCC website (CapeConservationCorps.org) as well as in The Caper. 
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