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goldenrod
Most open fields in this area and many other parts of the United States look as if touched by Midas as goldenrod blooms in late summer-early autumn. Numerous species of goldenrod are found in Michigan, and even more in North America. Perhaps because of this local abundance, many gardeners don’t consider this plant garden worthy. It is true that most species are lanky and rampant, and invade places readily.

In Europe, there are not as many species, and when first imported into England from the Middle East, it was an expensive medicinal herb. Its Latin name of Solidago means to make whole, or heal. Solidago was believed to cure kidney ailments, and a compress relieved the pain of fresh wounds and insect stings. Early herbals list a long litany of ailments goldenrod could cure, including calming the nerves. It also had a sweet taste used to hide more unpalatable medicines. Today, medical research has not proved goldenrod capable of curing anything except maybe blah spirits when someone looks at its cheery plumes of tiny yellow flowers.

Goldenrod still has some uses. Weavers use the flower heads for a natural dye. It provides varying tones of yellow depending on how the dye is made. Its dried flower heads provide winter bouquets, keeping their yellow color in a much softer tone. The only other notable use of goldenrod was in 1948, when Texas tried to develop it as an agricultural crop for an ingredient in goldenrod gum and candies. They didn’t succeed.

For many years goldenrod suffered an undeserved reputation for causing hay fever. Insects pollinate goldenrod, so its pollen is large and sticky to make it easier to coat the insect body for pollinating the next flower. This makes the pollen heavy and more likely to drop to the ground than become air-borne.

European gardeners think of goldenrod as an important garden plant and have developed many cultivars and hybrids. These have been exported back to the United States and are now commonly available in nurseries. The hybrids have been dwarfed, and the coarse stems and foliage somewhat refined to produce better garden plants. ‘Golden Thumb,’ also known as ‘Tom Thumb,’ is about twelve inches tall. Other cultivars that grow about twenty-four inches are ‘Baby Gold,’ ‘Golden Baby,’ and ‘Golden Gates.’

I still like mine best in the surrounding fields.
field of goldenrod

Are worms…that is at least what science claims. It seems the forests surrounding the Great Lakes developed without earthworms. Ten-thousand years ago native species disappeared during the glacier period. Since then, our trees and plants have evolved to live in a wormless soils. In this region, a thick layer of duff, the debris of trees and shrubs, lined the forest floor. Duff normally remained for years, slowly decayed by fungi, and providing a habitat for many ferns, delicate wild flowers, and small animals like salamanders.

Since settlers first moved here, earthworms like the red wriggler used in fishing and for composting, have been introduced into the forest lands. Gardeners usually think of worms as a desirable asset to soil. They eat decaying matter, aerate the soil and leave humus-rich worm castings behind as they burrow. In general they do good things for soil where garden plants grow.

In the forests, however, worms eat the duff in just a few years, lowering the soil’s acidity and making nutrients more available. The plants in our forests survived in the poor fertility and the high acidity of our soils. While this won’t necessarily harm the mature trees growing there, the duff’s absence affects the number of seedlings growing in an area. It also makes an advantageous situation for unwanted invasive species that couldn’t have grown in the original, more acidic soil.

As this debris layer disappeared, so did the habitat for plants like Trillium, lady slippers, Solomon’s seal, blue cohosh, sweet cicely, mayflowers, wild ginger, lady fern, bloodroot, bellworts, and the globlin fern. They adapted to germination and growth in the thick layer of duff. The duff layer provided them nutrients, moisture, protection from extremes in temperature and predators, and a habitat for microorganisms like fungi necessary for the plants’ survival.

It is also believed the loss of the duff effected the salamander population that fed on insects living in the debris. The salamanders in turn, provided food for snakes, shrews, thrushes, and screech owls, so the earthworm invasion effected a whole chain of living organisms.

We introduced worms from dumped fishing bait, on purchased plants’ soil balls. The tires on all of our motorized vehicles’ entering our forests often carry worm eggs, so the most severe invasions are usually near roads.

Once the earthworms infest an area, little can be done to remove them without more harm to the forest. We know many of the previously listed plants grow in worm-infested soil, because we grow them in our gardens, but a study in the Chippewa National Forest in northern Minnesota shows these species do not return to worm-infested forests.

Some ecologists hope the ecosystem of the forest may eventually come to a new balance. In the meantime don’t spread earthworms into wormless areas, don’t dump worm bait in forested lands, and keep your vehicles on roads and trails. Gardeners in wooded areas need to keep compost piles and worm contaminated soil from contaminating the woodlands. These may seem like small measures, but a little thing began this big change.

Please take a look at Cadillac Garden Club’s project — a Sound Garden. The Sound Garden is a public park surrounded by gardens, with ‘musical’ instruments, and an entertaining place for citizens and visitors to Cadillac with a view of Lake Cadillac. Plans are in place to add a toddler garden, a ‘human’ sundial, new walkways, and perhaps a gazebo. Like our Facebook page!

site for human sundial

Elizabeth Mountain and site for ‘human’ sundial.

Autumn came so slowly due to warm weather all through September and the first week of October. The colors came with a flash, and are disappearing just as fast.

Popple


Michigan fall

Michigan fall

I didn’t think this winter was so hard for deer. January 1st the ground was bare, and the snow hasn’t been been that deep since then. Yet, as I walked out the door Monday I noticed ice and snow chunks littered the walk that had been cleaned. We had had no snow. Then I noticed all the edges around the walk, including the one in the header of this blog, were shadowed with deer tracks, or the snow gone, dug down to the ground. Those critters had uncovered all the phlox and hens & chicks in the header photo and ate them! No telling what will be left by spring. Gardening is always a struggle.

Life is often compared to the seasons, and as I approach my own winter, I’m often reflective on this season. It can be harsh, bleak, cold, scary and dangerous, but there are rewards.

During winter there are days I don’t want to leave my bed, let along my house. Like many animals and plants I feel like I should hibernate. Overcoming that desire can be difficult, but at my age, I know I must make it. While winter offers the hope of renewal, I know my life is winding down. That doesn’t mean giving up. It means seeking to find the treasure of each day.

One benefit of winter is that it highlights the structure of life. Winter strips away the ornate finery of life–the leaves, flowers and abundant grasses– to display the foundation. Those dips and swells of the land, the stark trunks and branches of trees and shrubs, much like monuments to life’s obstacles overcome, allow me to see the intricate patterns of living. The deciduous inter-planted with the subdued grandeur of evergreen.

Another beauty of winter is that it turns the world into amazingly varied shades of white and gray. Black is for the moonless night. In nature’s pallet black isn’t that common. That doesn’t mean there are no other colors, only that they’ve been subdued for the season. Tree trunks vary from cream to charcoal, olive to umber. Pines are drab green, spruce deep blue-green shadowed in plum. The leaves of many oaks cling to the branches, their once verdant green now turned russet.

Winter skies can remain unremitting gray. Even on these bleakest of days, the empty branches shadow the sky, reaching in mysterious appeal upward as if in prayer of freedom from a ground smothered in the white, icy gripe of snow.

Winter both obscures and heightens perception. On Highway 10 traveling west, an unusual grove of Paperbark Birch can be seen from a curve in the road. Often the pale trunks are lost in sheets of descending snow, or winter’s occasional fog, even though they stand in utter contrast to a background of pine and spruce. However, when sun strikes the white bark surfaces on a clear day, the interwoven branches shine like a sublime and ornate sculpture.

Sunlight also heightens all the grayed colors of winter, turning the dark burgundy twigs of the local diminutive dogwood shrub into sprays of burnished copper and blood, the tan bark of Popple to brass, and the hanging flounces of weeping willow twigs to newly minted gold. These signs of hope, promises of renewal, often grab my heart.

Who can doubt in nature’s or life’s rewards, no matter what the season? We only have to look and endure.

winter sky

Winter Sky

The bloodroot (Sanquinaria canadensis) are just beginning to bloom along the road in a wooded depression. Their fat palm-shaped leaves emerge from the ground furled in tight spears, and their blooms spring up not much higher than six inches. These small native glories of the spring also make wonderful garden plants. I have some that I purchases a few years ago in my woodland garden. They are starting to spread. I think I’ll buy more to help them along the way. If you decide you want some, just be sure that you buy your rootstock from a reliable nursery and don’t dig them out of the wild.

According to Armitage’s Herbaceous Perennial Plants the rootstock has a yellowish-red sap when cut. He says, “The sap was used by the Indians as a dye for coloring and war paint(517).” That’s interesting, isn’t it?

They are very hardy plants but ephemeral in that the foliage dies back in summer. Shade is important, as is springtime moisture. They can be divided after their blooms have died off, but I still think I’ll just buy some more.

Armitage, Allan. Herbaceous Perennial Plants. Varsity Press, Inc. Georgia. 1989.

The branches of willows and dogwood along the roadside are coloring, and the pussy willows (Salix discolor) are blooming. They only last a brief time, especially in the very warm weather we have had. It was 80 degrees yesterday, the warmest April 2nd hereabouts. Today is much colder and rainy, which is also good as it was extremely dry, and the cold helps keep the daffodils looking good.

Every time there is going to be something to see in the sky, Northern Lights, Blue Moons, and other special events, our sky is overcast. Last night was no different. Lake effect snows blotted out blue moon. (Sigh.) Just a glimpse would have been nice.

Instead, I stayed warm inside and wrote down some goals for 2010. I’d like to expand my thyme garden, try more xeric plants, grow some new plants from seed, and try growing lettuce under lights. My blue and white shade garden needs something — it’s a very hard spot to grow anything. I’d like to get my telescope set up correctly so I could take photos. I also have writing and art goals. My only resolution is to try and be more understanding of others and less judgmental. Good luck. Some people need some judgment. Oops! Did I already break a resolution?

There are few sights more welcome in Northern Homes at this time of year than a plant blooming its ever-loving heart out.

Christmas Cactus are selling at this time of year, but these store denizens are puny plants compared to the specimens gardeners have lovingly kept for years. Those might have hundreds of blossoms. Schlumbergera hybrids are considered Christmas Cactus, or Thanksgiving Cactus. Usually they bloom in late November through December. Hybridizers aren’t crazy, they have been breeding these plants for decades now, and have achieved some remarkable results. Which is one reason to look over the store plants — they often have some of the newer hybrids.

It is important to remember that while called cactus, these are epiphytic plants (like orchid cactus) that grow in tropical rainforests. They need well-draining soil as the pockets of debris they grow in do not retain moisture. Their roots are adapted to grab moisture quickly. If the roots are kept wet, they develop rot. On the other hand, they need watering more frequently than true cactus.

Schlumbergera can be a problem to bring back into bloom. I take mine out in summer and keep them in a shady location. They are left outdoors until the temperature is steadily below 45 degrees. This almost guarantees bloom, for the two methods of bringing them into bloom are short day (more hours of darkness than light) treatment, or cold treatment. Here they get both naturally, and are often showing flower buds when I bring them in. In St. Charles, Missouri, it wasn’t always that easy. Isn’t it great to consider with all the snow and cold with which we have to put up, there is a rainforest plant perfect for our Northern windows?

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