Author: The Naturarian

Holly grew up growing veggies with her Father & flowers with her Mother. She has a horticultural degree in Natural Area's Management & certificates in Landscape Design, Landscape Maintenance & Urban Forestry Management. Holly is a licensed arborist through the International Society of Arborists. She has taught Computer Landscape Design (DynaSCAPE) at the College of Lake County and has over 15 years of experience in the high-end landscaping industry. Her heart lies with volunteering for many organizations including the Illinois Extension Master Gardener program, Illinois Extension Master Naturalist program, 4H and multiple wildlife rescues. Any free time is spent camping or kayaking.

Prairie Fires – Cleansing the Midwestern Landscape

prairie fire with person in fire gear

Fire has played an instrumental role in affecting many of the prairies in the Midwest.

Historically, tall grass prairies are shaped by one of three types of disturbances;

  • Drought
  • Animal grazing
  • Wildfires

There are many misconceptions that if the prairie (or other natural area) was left alone, it would revert to native. In the absence of disturbance, prairies often revert to either poor quality grasslands or thorn woodlands.

Native American Indians were keen on this information, observing what Mother Nature did naturally to herself to cleanse her skin, fire. They learned that fire removed the thorny brush, which gave access to animals and hunters alike. The open areas were also available to grazing animals and native plants that equal medical supplies and food to the Indians.

Many people aren’t happy about the burning that takes place in our area. They state they have allergies and the smoke drives them from their homes. Prescription burns are actually quite predictable and knowledgeable burn coordinators can adapt during the small percentages of uncertainty and plan accordingly so smoke avoids entering inhabited areas. A prescription burn coordinator is required to know the ecology, natural history, fire behavior, fire effects, and suppression techniques for the area.

I have a degree in Natural Areas Management and have been trained by the Chicago Wilderness Group as a Burn Crew Member. I’ve only enjoyed the privilege of three burns in my career, but I’ve always had pyro tendencies… Remember, I’ve had chemistry sets since a young age. Mom only let me play out in the yard, to keep the explosions/fires/mess outdoors. I didn’t think there was a profession that actually paid you to start fires… If I had the opportunity to do this full time, I would!

A brief description of how a burn takes place from planning to completion:

  • An area is chosen to burn
  • Timing (spring or fall)
  • Management goals and existing conditions are recorded
  • Plan is implemented, permits pulled, municipalities informed
  • When correct weather patterns are predicted, which include; moisture levels, wind, load levels (how much is expected to burn)
  • Crew availability
  • Burn takes place
  • Area is monitored and information recorded for future management goals.

prairie fire

Simply, to describe what happens during burn, there are two general jobs on the crew, excluding management; the fire starters and the fire stoppers called ‘moppers’. Everyone on the burn crew gets a job, equipment related to the job and who to report to, or the ‘Buddy System’. Burns can be conducted with a very small crew, however my county sends emails to prospective certified burn members that can volunteer for the day to help. Barely a burn goes by without at least a few volunteers.

Fire starters receive a fuel-dripping type device to start the fire. Generally, the LEAST experienced crew member gets this job, as this job has the least chance to screw-up. I guess the crew member could fail to start the fire… But, it’s stopping the fire that is the hard part. Fire starters start their burning in the pattern that has been determined to work for the area. Depending on the terrain and firebreak options (rivers, roads, mountains, already burned areas, etc.) most burns either burn into themselves, i.e. burn the edges first and the fire burns itself inward towards the center or it can end at the respective firebreak.

prairie controlled burn fire

The burn needs to be monitored and managed. Most of the time tall grass prairie fire is only a couple of feet high, just creeping along at a slow walk, other times (cattails especially) the flames can leap two stories high.

The mopper’s equipment can consists of either a backpack tank of water, rakes, or ‘a-mudflap-on-a-stick’. Most likely, I don’t need to explain the water-tank or the rake… The mudflap-on-a-stick is exactly what you are envisioning. It is used to blot the fire out along the fire line. There is a technique in using this piece of equipment. Slapping it down causes a gust of air and fans the fire, obviously not the desired outcome. The flap should be placed on the fire line (the burning foliage) and dabbed along to snuff it out. Fire is more delicate than some think, if one of the three ingredients for fire is removed (air, fuel, spark), no more fire.

During the fire, there is one hard fast rule of safety. STAY IN THE BLACK! The BLACK is the already burned areas. Fire can’t go where there is no fuel.

I’d love to develop a cologne called, ‘Campfire’. I looove that smell. =-)

 

© The Naturarian

Know, Know, Know Your Oaks


I was taught this song in my college trees class. The student that shared it with the class said she had learned it Girl Scouts.

There are several species or types of oaks. The White Oak is the state tree of Illinois, among other states. Sing this song to the tune of “Row, row, row your boat” to try to identify what type of oak you are looking at. The branching structures will match the song.

Know, know know your oaks,

Look at how they grow

Red oak, White oak, Pin oak, Bur oak

Red Oak (make a ‘V’ with your arms above your head)

White Oak (hold your arms straight out from your shoulders)

white oak

Pin Oak (make an upside down “V” with your arms pointing toward the ground)

pin oak

Bur Oak (make your arms twist in different directions)

Bur oak

And the acorns down below! (wiggle your fingers and point to the ground)

© The Naturarian

 

Propagating Woodies in the Midwest

There are many benefits to propagating with cuttings (opposed to seed) such as instant maturity, faster growth and easier transplanting.

The first step would be to find a healthy specimen from which to obtain the cutting. You should scout for plants while they are still actively growing and mark healthy branches, as when they are dormant, it will be hard to tell healthy from not.

The rooting media has four functions:

  • To hold the cutting in place
  • To provide moisture
  • To permit the exchange of air at the base of the cutting
  • To provide a dark environment for the cutting’s base

A cutting of evergreen spruce tree with hormone on cut to be potted

With this in mind, there are many options for rooting media. Any mixture of sphagnum moss, perlite, vermiculite, coarse sand, peat, or crushed shale will do well.

Keep the cutting moist, but not over-wet is a very important step in the process. Again, there are many methods to provide a moist atmosphere:

  • Misting
  • A plastic bag surrounding the pot
  • Soaking the pot in water

Auxins or growth hormones are of great help to the success of cuttings. Note that there are different strength suggestions for different types of wood.

Timing

In the end, timing will be the largest factor of success or failure. It is also the one factor that is hard to put an exact date on. Below is general information regarding timing (and other information) separated by types of wood.

My propagation professor told me if 1 out of 10 of your cuttings take root, be happy.

Late fall to early spring cuttings:

Deciduous Hardwoods

  • Examples: privet, forsythia, roses, willow, sycamore, crape myrtle, euonymus, dogwood, fig, quince, pear, plum.
  • The cuttings length should be 4-10 inches, with at least two nodes. Cut just below the node and smash end with a mallet.
  • Use an auxin of 2,500 – 5,000 ppm.

Evergreen Hardwoods

  • Examples: juniper, yew, spruce, abies, arborvitae.
  • The cutting’s length should be 4–8 inches, with at least two nodes. These cuttings are hard to root and take time. It is important to maintain adequate moisture levels during rooting.
  • Use an auxin of about 2,000 ppm.

Late spring to late summer cuttings:

Semi-Hardwoods –

  • Examples: holly, rhododendron, olive, euonymus.
  • The cutting’s length should be 3-6 inches. Some leaves towards bottom should be removed to reduce moisture loss.
  • Use an auxin of 1,000 – 3,000 ppm.

Spring to early summer cuttings:

Softwoods

  • Examples: maple, magnolia, spirea, weigela, peach.
  • The cutting’s length should be 3-5 inches. Try to use lateral or side branches for the cuttings. Remove all flower buds.
  • Use an auxin of 500 – 1,250 ppm.

Check the cuttings after a few weeks to see if there are roots forming. If the cutting above looks healthy, continue checking bi-weekly. Once roots have formed, the cuttings can be planted in larger pots. Continue to keep the new plant watered regularly.

© The Naturarian

Female Cardinal ~ Cardinalis cardinalis

Happy Valentines Day!

I though today would be a great day to write about cardinals.

Cardinals are monogamous birds whose relationships with their spouses are harmonious, romantic and musical. The male and female sing duets, calling similar songs to each other. Native American lore says if a cardinal crosses your path or attracts your attention, and you’re single, there may be a romantic relationship in your near future. If you’re already in a relationship, you may experience renewed romance and courtship. If you or your partner have been unfaithful, monogamy is the cardinal’s message.

Cardinals make a distinct ‘chirp’, that my ears pick-up quickly. I was home writing posts, when I heard the call. This little gal was under the suet puck I have hanging from a shepherd’s hook. Mr. Squirrel was up on the puck, gobbling and dropping a lot of crumbs. Perfect situation for Ms. Cardinal! I crept up to the window and looked down, hoping not to spook her. The cardinals here are very skittish. Any movement at all has them flying off. This gal had no fear, though. As long as the crumbs rain down on her, she was happy.

Cardinalis cardinalis is what’s called a tautonym: zoological names of species consisting of two identical words (the generic name and the specific name have the same spelling). Such names are allowed in zoology, however not in botany. Clearly, like I’ve said before, botanist’s are EVIL!!! Click here to see the long list of tautonyms available from the Wiki. Some of my favorites: Bison bison, Chinchilla chinchilla, Iguana iguana, Gorilla gorilla. 😉

My gift to you on Valentine’s day; a romantic Native American legend.

The Red Bird

A Choctaw Legend

Once, when time was not quite old enough to be counted, there lived a beautiful Indian maiden. This was a special maiden. She could do all the work that needed to be done to keep her lodge in order and to satisfy her mate. But this maiden did not have what she longed for — her mate. As she sat under the large tree one day, she heard the Red Bird.

“Red Bird, is it so strange for me to wish to have someone to care for, who will care for me?” asked the maiden. “If it is not so strange, why have I not found that one meant for me?”

The Red Bird had no answer for the Indian maiden, but he sat and listened to her because he could hear the lonely in her voice. Every morning for the passing of seven suns, the Red Bird came and listened to the maiden’s story. As each day passed, the loneliness felt by the maiden began to fill the Red Bird.

One day in the Red Bird’s far travels, he came to a handsome Indian brave. The brave saw the Red Bird and called him to him. As he began to talk, the Red Bird felt the loneliness in his voice that the maiden had shown. Soon the Red Bird began to see that these two lonely people had the same wish, to find another who would love and care for them as they would care for their mate.

On the fifth day of listening to the brave, the Red Bird became as a bird that is sick. The brave became concerned, for the Red Bird had become his friend. As the brave walked toward him, the Red Bird began hopping, leading the brave to the lodge of the Indian maiden. Because the brave was wanting to see if the Red Bird was alright, he did not notice that he was going from his home. The Red Bird saw the Indian maiden sitting outside of her lodge and when he came very close to where he knew the brave would then see the Indian maiden, he flew away. The brave saw the Indian maiden and realized that he had wandered far from his home. He went to the Indian maiden to ask where he was.

The Red Bird sat in the tree and watched the brave and the maiden. At first the brave was shy and the maiden would not talk, but they soon were talking and laughing like old friends.

Red Bird saw this and thought it was good. He had done as he could and now it would be up to the brave and the maiden. As Red Bird flew to his home he thought of how Great Spirit had known that someday the two would find each other. Now it was good, thought Red Bird, that maiden had someone who would see for her and brave had someone that would hear for him and that they finally had someone who would care.

© The Naturarian

Trees and Shrubs For Midwestern Clay Soils

Most of the Midwestern area is comprised of clay soils. Never fear! This is a much better situation to have than sandy soils. Clay soils maintain more minerals and moisture than other soils.

Sometimes clay soils can be bad, such as in conditions where there are more problems than just the soil. If while digging in the soil, it looks blueish-black and smells kinda off, this is because of poor drainage and the smell is from rotting organisms. The area should be assessed for drainage problems before anything else is done.

If the clay is a redish-orange, this is perfect as the soil is holding all the minerals plants crave.

With regards to planting woody plants, be sure to plant these correctly and never lower than the top of the roots of the rootball. If you’re at all concerned about the clay content of your soil, plant you woody plant a bit higher. Trust me, they will love you for it!!

Trees for Clay Soils

Scientific NameCommon NameGrow Zone
Abies balsameaBalsam fir3
Abies concolorWhite fir4
Acer freemaniiFreeman maple4
Acer ginnalaAmur or ginnala maple3
Acer platanoidesNorway maple4
Acer rubrumRed maple3
 Acer saccharinumSilver maple3
Alnus glutinosaEuropean alder4
Betula nigraRiver birch4
Carpinus carolinianaBlue beech4
Carya cordiformisBitternut hickory4
Carya ovataShagbark hickory4
Celtis occidentalisCommon hackberry2
Crataegus speciesHawthorn3-4
Fraxinus nigraBlack ash3
Fraxinus pennsylvanicaGreen ash3
Ginkgo bilobaGinkgo4
Gleditsia triacanthosCommon honeylocust4
Gymnocladus dioicusKentucky coffeetree4
Juglans cinereaButternut4
Juglans nigraBlack walnut4
Larix deciduaEuropean larch4
Larix laricinaTamarack2
Malus speciesApple, crabapple3
Phellodendron amurenseAmur corktree4
Picea abiesNorway spruce4
Picea glauca var. densataBlack Hills spruce4
Pinus nigraAustrian pine4
Pinus strobusWhite pine3
Pinus sylvestrisScots pine3
Pinus ponderosaPonderosa pine4
Populus speciesAspen, cottonwood2
Pyrus speciesPear4-5
Quercus bicolorSwamp white oak4
Quercus macrocarpaBur oak3
Salix speciesWillow2
Syringa reticulataJapanese tree lilac4
Tilia speciesLinden, basswood3
Ulmus speciesElm4

Shrubs for Clay Soils

Scientific NameCommon NameGrow Zone
Amelanchier speciesServiceberry4
Aronia melanocarpaChokeberry3
Caragana arborescensSiberian peashrub3
Cephalanthus occidentalisButtonbush4
Cornus albaTatarian dogwood3
Cornus alternifoliaPagoda dogwood4
Cornus racemosaGrey dogwood3
Cornus sericeaRed osier dogwood3
Diervilla loniceraDwarf bush-honeysuckle3
Elaeagnus commutataSilverberry2
Euonymus alatusBurning bush3
Forsythia x ‘Meadowlark’‘Meadowlark’ forsythia3
Forsythia x ‘Northern Sun’‘Northern Sun’ forsythia3
Hamamelis virginianaWitch hazel4
Ilex verticillataWinterberry4
Juniperus species (most)Juniper3
Physocarpus opulifoliusCommon ninebark2
Potentilla FruticosaPotentilla2
Rhus speciesSumac2
Ribes alpinumAlpine currant2
Ribes odoratumClove currant2
Rosa rugosaRugosa rose2
Salix speciesWillow2
Sambucus canadensisAmerican elderberry3
Spiraea speciesSpirea3-4
Symphoricarpos albusWhite snowberry3
Syringa speciesLilac2
Thuja occidentalisArborvitae, white cedar3
Viburnum dentatumArrowwood viburnum3
Viburnum lentagoNannyberry viburnum2
Viburnum opulusEuropean cranberry bush3
Viburnum sargentiiSargent viburnum4
Viburnum trilobumHighbush cranberry bush2

© The Naturarian

Perennials for Midwestern Clay Soils

Most of the Midwestern area is comprised of clay soils. Never fear! This is a much better situation to have than sandy soils. Clay soils maintain more minerals and moisture than other soils.

Sometimes clay soils can be bad, such as in conditions where there are more problems than just the soil. If while digging in the soil, it looks blueish-black and smells kinda off, this is because of poor drainage and the smell is from rotting organisms. The area should be assessed for drainage problems before anything else is done.

If the clay is a redish-orange, this is perfect as the soil is holding all the minerals plants crave.

The soil should be mixed with a fair amount of compost to help perennials get a good start. If the soil is very compacted, some sand can be mixed it also. Be sure to surround the perennial bed with leaf compost to aid in nutrients getting to the roots and all the other benefits mulch does for plants.

  • For Trees and Shrubs for clay soils ~ CLICK HERE
Botanical Name Common Name Bloom Color Light
Achillea tomentosa woolly yarrow Jun-Jul yellow sun
Achillea filipendulina fernleaf yarrow Jun-Jul yellow sun
Arisaema spp. Jack-in-the-pulpit May-July green/purple shade
Aruncus dioicus goatsbeard Jun-Jul white ps/sh
Asclepias tuberosum butterflyweed Jun-Aug orange et al sun
Astilbe arendsii & var. false spirea, astilbe Jun-Aug white-pink-red ps/sh
Bergenia cordifolia heartleaf bergenia Apr-May pink ps/sh
Brunnera macrophylla Siberian bugloss Apr-May blue ps/sh
Echinacea purpurea purple coneflower Jul-Oct pink sun
Helenium autumnale
‘Moerheim beauty’
Sneezewort Jul-Sept bronze red sun/ps
Heliopsis scabra Heliopsis Jul-Aug yellow sun
Hemerocallis spp. daylily summer many sun/ps
Heuchera hyb. coral bells Jun-Aug white-pink-red sun/ps
Hibiscus spp. rose mallow Jul-Sept white-pink-red sun/ps
Hosta spp. plantain lily Jul-Aug lavender ps-sh
Houttuynia cordata ‘Chameleon’ houttuynia June white sun/ps
Iris sibirica, pseudo-
acorus, versicolor, etc.
Siberian and blue and yellowflag iris variable blue, violet, yellow et al. sun/ps
Liatris spicata gayfeather, blazing star Jul-Aug pinkish sun/ps
Liriope muscari lily turf Aug-Oct lavender-mauve-white ps/sun
Lysimachia spp. Yellow loosestrife, gooseneck loosestrife Jul-Sept yellow-white sun/ps
Perovskia atriplicifolia Russian sage Summer Lavender sun
Primula spp. primroses Mar-Jun many ps/sh
Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’ Goldsturm rudbeckia July-Sept yellow sun/ps
Salvia spp. salvia, sage Jul-Oct blue-violet sun/ps
Sedum spectabile var. stonecrop, sedum Aug-Oct pink-red sun
Tradescantia virginiana spiderwort Jun-Sept blue-violet-white sun/ps
Yucca filamentosa Adams’s needle summer white sun

© The Naturarian

Arrowhead Plant – Syngonium podophyllum Nephthytis

I had these wicker plants hangers for years before that, not knowing what to put in them… I finally found these two Arrowhead plants from work about five years ago and thought they were a great fit! They love their south facing window, which gives them very little light in the summer and a full days worth during the winter. They really thrive and grow during the winter. They tend to take a pause from growing in the heat of the summer.
These are relatives of the Philodendron, another easy plant to grow. They like moist soils, but don’t over-soak them. They like a light 10-10-10 fertilizer every 3 months.

Plants inside can get spider mites. These don’t get moved outside during the summer, so they’ve been insect free.

Pruning is a bit tricky. You don’t want to cut all the way down to the split or you will nip the tip of the new leaf off. As you look at the stem that branches off, you will notice there is a bulge in the stem, this is where the next leaf is curled up in it’s stem.

A still rolled up leaf.

The plant will start to shoot ‘runners’ (l o n g branches) after a few years. If you like them, keep them. I’ve got one that is about 15 feet long. I just want to see how long it will actually get! To keep the plant bushy, these should be pruned off. If you do this during the summer months, place the piece, now known as a ‘cutting’, into water and it should soon root, then plant it in a light mix.

This is the start of a runner. See the thick ends of the leaf stem at the main branch? Don’t cut below this.

After it grows out, the brown dried-up stem can be cut, do not peel it!

© The Naturarian

Signs of Spring in the Midwest: Yellow Willows (Salix)

One of the first signs of spring (to me) is when the willows start to turn bright yellow. You can’t miss them in the dreary, white, Midwestern landscape.

Some Facts About the Willow (Salix):

  • When compared to other trees, life span of a weeping willow is shorter because of its fast growing nature, some don’t thrive past 30 years.
  • They need to be grown in full sun.
  • Their height and width can be 30 to 55 feet. Willows can grow 10 inches in a good growing year.
  • The fruit of the tree is a small brown capsule. It is around half-inch long.
  • The tree is very brittle because it grows quite rapidly.
  • The bark turns reddish/brown during the winter and yellow/green in the spring.
  • Pests like aphids and tent caterpillars can destroy the tree quite quickly. You should frequently check for conditions like powdery mildew, crown gall, and canker.
  • You may cut some branches in spring, remove the bottom leaves and put them in a jar of water. Keep the jar out in the sun. Roots will grow within 15 to 20 days. However, if you want a specific variety, it is better to buy it.
  • Historically, beautiful baskets are woven using willow stems.

Country folk have known the healing properties of willow for a long time. They made an infusion from the bark as a remedy for colds, fevers, and to treat inflammatory conditions such as rheumatism. Young willow twigs were also chewed to relieve pain. In the early nineteenth century, modern science isolated the active ingredient responsible, salicylic acid, which was also found in the meadowsweet plant Filipendula ulmaria. From this the world’s first synthetic drug, acetylasylic acid, was developed and marketed as Aspirin, named after the old botanical name for meadowsweet, Spirea ulmaria. Botanists love to change the names of plants!

Most willow species grow and prosper close to water or in damp places, and this premise is reflected in the legends associated with these trees. The moon too recurs as a theme, the movement of water being intimately connected with and affected by the moon. For example, Hecate the powerful Greek goddess of the moon and of willow, also taught sorcery and witchcraft, and was ‘a mighty and formidable divinity of the Underworld’. Helice was also associated with water, and her priestesses utilized willow in their water magic and witchcraft. The willow muse, called Heliconian after Helice, was sacred to poets, and the Greek poet Orpheus brought willow branches on his adventures in the Underworld. Apollo also gave Orpheus a lyre, and it is interesting to note that the sound boxes of harps used to be carved from solid willow wood.

© The Naturarian

Succulent Plant Display Terrarium

I had to go to The Big Hardware Box store for some things and I MUST ALWAYYS go through the plant section. I found these three ‘lil guys.

From left to right;

  • Crassula ‘Caput Minima’
  • Sedum nussbaumerianum
  • Hawthorhia fasciata – zebra plant.

The glass succulent bowl was a gift from my brother and his girlfriend. Since no one is perfect… I killed the plants they originally gave me with the bowl… I figured I’d give myself one more chance with these three. May their God have mercy on their souls! I teased out the roots and used a very light sandy soil. These arrangements should stay on the dry side, only watering lightly when necessary. I’ve been using a spray bottle.

Succulents in a terrerium

Enjoy the day & keep on planting!
© The Naturarian