Weeds, Invasives and Books Part 2


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Sometime beyond 30,000 years ago the climate had changed, and the cold and ice advanced out of the arctic covering a large portions of North America, Europe, and Asia. The ice sheet was estimated to be a mile thick and with so much of the water of this planet frozen, the oceans were as much as 450 feet lower than they are today. As the ice sheet advanced to cover what we now call home, it had scraped and scoured the earth carrying soil particles, boulders and anything living in its’ path that couldn’t flee its’ approach. The areas south of the major ice sheets were what might be considered sub-arctic; a tundra and open boreal woodland with very little rain. Around 13,500 to 11,000 years ago the ice sheets receded and the flora that had managed to survive south started to advance north and grow in…

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Whos of Whoville


antilandscaper

 

The Whos live in Whoville on a speck of dust, and there were many types of Whos on many different specks, they wiggle and giggle, crawl, walk, swim and hop. They come in different shapes and sizes and each do different things, but what they all shared is that they do things that are necessary for other things to live. For they consumed the organic debris that settles around their homes and turn it into food so other things to survive. It is a system that for all living things works very well, a tree sheds it leaves, branches break, becomes food for the Whos of this earth and they in turn make the food to give back to the tree. The Whos are food for other creatures and then they in turn become the consumed. Starting with Whos and they may be very small, for even if we…

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Pillows and Cradles


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Have you ever travelled thru the forest and have come upon the terrain that had pits and mounds that is sometimes referred to as pillows and cradles which is the result of a tree or trees being blown over by wind sometimes by thunderstorm microburst or straight line winds when the soil is saturated or hurricanes. The cradle is the depression caused by the roots torn out of the ground and the pillows is the soil around the roots that drop to the ground as the trunk and roots decay.

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This area of pillows and cradles might have been from 1938 hurricane that came thru New England and cradles have flatten out over the course time.

In areas where there is a few or more of pillows and cradles you can see if each are in the same direction this might indicate a single event or are they different directions which might mean different trees were blown over at different times with winds from different directions.

I might suggest an interesting book called “Reading the Forested Landscape – A Natural History of New England” by Tom Wessels published by The Countryman Press

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In the book Tom Wessels has drawings of different forest scenes and then goes into discussions about what is there and indications of what it might have look like 100 years ago.Such as stone walls and rock piles which suggest that this land was once open farm land and if the walls were just large stones, it might have been pasture land. The rock piles or smaller stones pile on top of the walls would indicate that the land continually tilled for food production rather than for just livestock.

Who’s Coming To Dinner? Or Life is a Buffet



Who’s Coming To Dinner?
Or Life is a Buffet
Part 1
As different birds land on the feeder, you might be wondering why it is that there are certain species of birds that come to enjoy your offerings, while others don’t. If you live in a city, or live in the woods, who is “a coming and calling for dinner”, may be very different from one place to another, even if it is only a short distance separates the two. Other birds may only show up at certain times of the year or may only stop by for a short visit of a day or week. You hold a handful of soil and you know or have been told that millions of living things are right there in your hand, are they be the same if it were handful of a forest soil verses a handful of a city lot soil? What kind of creature are making holes in your maple or rhododendron leaves? As you discover the leaves of some of your plants have eaten, yet the plant next to it hasn’t been chewed on at all and why is it many times you never see them, but you surely know they were there. What we are observing is species requirements and types of different habitats. From microorganisms, fungus, lichens and mosses to plants and trees and from insects to birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals.
We might think to landscape for wildlife whether for ourselves or for our clients, who have expressed a desire for butterflies or hummingbirds to frequent their gardens with a colorful display. So what is it we need to do attract a particular species or wildlife in general. We all know the 4 basic requirements for a habitat: food, water, cover and space. It sounds simple, at least for the first three and the forth (space) is the area that is required to fulfill the first three including cover which is a place to seek shelter from the weather, protection from predators, cover for predators seeking prey and for reproduction and raising young.

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So when we think about ‘space’ we might look from our own point of view; for we might consider that our homes and our yards as being our habitat; a source of water, food and cover. Yet our water comes from a larger area, even if we have well water that is taken from the ground under our feet. For our ground water is that of a the watershed where all of the moisture that is received in the form of rain and snow slowly peculates thru the soil and recharges our aquifers and ground water. Even if you are on public water, the area that is required to supply its’ residents, may be well beyond your town or city’s limits and may cover hundreds of sq. miles and in some areas in dryer climates it they might be drawing on water from thousands of miles away. Our food may ideally be local, but even that would be regional rather that from our own food sources that we grown or raise at our homes. And for most of us, it isn’t ideal and the food we eat comes from thousands of mile away and today most likely some of it comes from the other side of the planet. The other factor of space for us is that we need to travel in our work in order for us to make the money that allows us to buy the food, the electricity to power our pumps, to have water at our faucets and to keep that roof over our heads. So our space requirements when we think about it , is a series of habitats that would have be considered part of our individual habitat that cover our base needs.

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All living things have their own type of habitat and yet for almost all habitats they are dependent on other habitats for their own survival. It can be direct or indirect but they are interdependent and influence by each other. All living things fall within a range of their ability to survive different habitat requirements, from generalist that can survive in many different habitats to species can survive only in very narrow range of moisture requirements, to types of food and cover it requires. From the smallest such as what lives in that handful of soil, what life is there is dependent on the larger habitat where that soil comes from. The handful of material in your hand might be a fine particle base such as clay, silt or the larger particles of sands and gravel and stone and what microorganisms that can live there are dependent on the same 4 basic requirements water, food, cover and space. So with water (or moisture) with each of these different particle sizes interact in different ways; from clays ( poorly draining to very poorly draining) where there is very little space between particles that when the water table is high those spaces are fill with moisture pushing the air out. and on the larger scale of habitat what plants and trees that can survive seasonal water saturation and for how long it remains that way. The other characteristic of clay soils is in periods of dryness it takes a lot of rain or snow to re-moisten it again for much of the rain runs along the surface because of the smallness of space between particles and the water it follows the path of least resistance. Sandy and gravelly soils are generally well draining to excessive well draining and tend to dry out quickly, especially if sand particles are deep in the soil horizons. (As a side note these areas are where many our aquifers are located). Food the next requirement of microorganisms which are dependent on the larger living organisms that can live in the different types of soils for they provide the food for the microorganisms both directly and indirectly. Either they consumer other living organisms or the organic waste from other species consuming other living organisms within a given habitat and in turn they provide the food for other living things.

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So given the different soil habitats from very wet to very dry and those different habitats in between. What each habitat can support for life in the whole range of living things. Starting with wet such as lakes, ponds, marshes, peat lands, wetlands, swamps, river riparian areas and floodplains. To the dry habitats of alpine and sub-alpine, shallow soils on bedrock, rocky ground, cliffs and talus, upland dry forest to sand dunes along the coast. Each of these habitats are unique, they may share species that can survive such different conditions, but there are also species that can only exist in a particular habitat and the layering of species, one dependent on the other that make each of these habitats unique. There are other habitats that fall between the range of wet and dry and all of these habitats may be approximate to each other the are separated by the conditions of soil, topography, weather and exposure.

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I guess I’ll end for now where I started, at the bird feeder. I live in a residential area within a small city, but before had lived in woods, and what I notice is that many of the birds I seen in one location I see at the other, from chickadees, to nuthatches, fitches and tufted titmouses and one of the things and I wonder is where do they all live in my neighborhood? How far do the travel to feed upon the seeds I provide? And because I have squirrels who certainly aren’t going to give up a meal that I offering to other species (no matter how clever I think I am in trying to stop them) and with their messy eating habits, they wind up providing seeds for ground feeding birds such as mourning doves and dark eye juncos and for the rodents the tunnel under the ground and the snow to enjoy easy pickings. There are other birds that I never had before, such as wrens and house fitches that come with living in an urban environment. Yet there are many other species that never come to the feeders, like the robins or cedar waxwings that even in the dead of winter when have very little food sources other than the little fruit there is on a crabs or a pears and winterberries, they never consider sunflower seed even with raisins and berries that are mixed in? So the fact that I have bird feeders and a heated bird bath for winter and there are trees on the surrounding the edge of my property for shelter, have I created a habitat? Would they not be here if I didn’t keep the feeders full?

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Bonsais, a Circus of Trees and Every 35 feet Part 3


Oh it is a beautiful day! A nice day for a walk in the woods. We can meet at the hay field down the road and walk in, be careful to park on the field side of the road because as you will notice the field across the way it hasn’t been hayed or mowed for years and show signs of early succession with perennials, shrubs and tree seedlings and at the stone wall on the edge of the road the rosa multiflora and autumn olive has taken over and you don’t want to get too close. It’s about 1/4 mile hike thru the fields, but it shouldn’t be too bad as the fields have had its’ first cut and is just starting to grow anew. As we look what is growing here we see timothy, clover, vetch and annual and perennial grasses such as orchard, rye, switch grasses and maybe other plants that we might consider to be weeds. but for the person who is cutting this field they do try to keep out plants that might be poisonous to horses, cattle and other livestock and introduce plants that might have higher nutritional value. We notice an area that hasn’t been cut and the reason for that is that there are ground nesting birds like bobolinks or meadowlarks who’s brood has yet to fly off from the nest. How this field is maintain is a factor in what plants grow here. If the field were to be mowed once a season we might find that plant species would change over time, for plants that might take longer to flower and set seed might start to replace those that can survive being cut two or  three times a season, and if as some time happens, this field is used for grazing of livestock, again over time the plant composition might change again due to the greater input of fertilizer in the form of manure and what plants can survive being grazed on.

We move on and before we reach the edge of the woods we come upon brook and some wetlands and we notice the signs of  a past beaver encampment on the brook, large girdled dead trees some distance from the brook, beaver chewed stumps and maybe the remnants of their dam. When the beavers were here they would have ponded the area upstream, the expanded  the wetlands that were already here and change the flow of the brook downstream. The area around the pond would have changed ; trees were taken down by the beavers or died from the soil becoming saturated or being girdled and some remain standing. Whether the beavers were evicted or they had moved on to new food sources, this is area is one of transition with the pond being gone, the wetlands area being reduced as the soils dry out and others plant species able to grow  here again. Even if the beavers hadn’t populated this area, this brook and surrounding wetlands might still be going to changes; from changes in the brooks’ flow either from changes in precipitation or divergence of the water flow upstream, whether natural or man-made  and/or deposition of sediments in the area from land disturbances upstream.

As we walk along the edge of the wetlands to the beginning of the wooded area notice that forests’ edge is dense with many shrubs and younger trees we might also notice that some non-native and some invasive plants have managed to get a foothold here with their seed being deposited or blown in from surrounding areas. We walk in to the woods we notice it is a bit cooler, the sunlight only reaches the ground in little patches, the understory plants and trees seedlings are more scattered. As we walk on we see the changes in tree dominance in one area beeches might have larger numbers than oaks or maples. There are larger size beeches  with surrounding younger ones that haves spouted from the older trees roots. we travel a little farther on  we see oaks and maples mixed with white pine, white ash, hemlock and spruce. Off to side there is dense hemlock stand with nothing growing underneath except for some smaller hemlocks that may be older than their size would indicate, their growth is slow as they wait for an opening when the sun might reach them and then they can take up the space allowed them. We also notice changes in the understory plant material some plants in abundance in one area but not in other areas, including ground covers, sometimes more plants growing where more sunlight reaches the ground. Maybe a tree or trees were blown over in a wind storm allowing more light to reach the ground. We see evidence of past openings with ‘pillows and cradles’ which are mounds next to depressions which indicate that trees had been blown over raising the roots out of the ground and being that the trunks  or roots having decayed  and the soil dropped where the roots were.

As we have been walking we have notice  series of stone walls which indicated that this land had been cleared of forest and was either farmland or pasture maybe dating back more than a couple of hundred years ago. At some point this area was abandoned as farmland and allow to regenerate to forest, we can assume this from the few trees that may have been here for a hundred years or more. Yet we notice that many of the trees by their size may not be more the fifty years old, so we can also surmise that these woods had been logged again and the older trees were left because they didn’t have any timber value or were in locations too difficult to cut and remove.

We all have different perspectives to what these different habitats are and what they mean, and we are just beginning to understand how each of these habitats do effect each other. How changes in one area might have impacts on surrounding habitats from natural or man-made changes or how continuous changes in each affecting the other. They are unique environments that are woven together by the soils, types of organic debris,  micro-organisms, moisture and water, flora and fauna. One can spend a life time observing  and studying it and still not know or understand it all.

We have reach the top of the hill from here the trail to the right heads off to a old gravel pit long unused and you would see that plants are just starting to get a root hold, just here and there and most likely will take decades if not a century  to built up enough organic material to once again become a forest. To our left we look out to see the development below, residential neighborhoods, shopping areas. One thing that might strike you is the vast difference between what we have just experience with our walk and much of our man-made landscapes which mainly is one of well structured islands in seas of black and green. Trees and plants nicely spaced, evenly organized, one of these, three of those or massed plantings for  that visual impact. The reason for our walk is about  landscape zoning ordinances for if we didn’t have any ,how much worse might our landscapes look? Areas of lawns might be just black top or left as gravel. It would be left up to those who enjoy landscapes and gardeners  who always want to add something new to their  homes verses others who just don’t care what it might look like. Some we create laws about landscapes and lawn in the hope to improve the quality of all our lives, to bring our changes to the natural environment from development  and keep the natural integrity of the supporting landscape. The trouble is when laws are written they meant to be clear and understood by the majority and carried out by good hardworking folks who don’t know much about  the nature of trees, plants, soil habitats, what their requirements and how they might  impact the natural ecosystems. We can try to control issues of water, pollution, vegetation and it impacts on us and our environment, we write ordinances that call for a tree every 35 feet, shrubs every 6 feet along the perimeter which is certainly better than none, but how does that fit to a natural environment? When ordinances requires ‘ x’ number of trees and shrubs for ‘x’ number of parking spaces planted within the lot; where rarely they remain healthy or even survive given root space, soil conditions; might it not be better to use that plant material to create natural buffers and leave the parking lot for cars.

We have over time develop an ideal of what  a good landscape should be, that includes lawns, foundation plantings and with islands here and there.  Yet next to the natural landscape does it really fit or does it belong? What if I decided to stop mowing my lawn, allow it to become a meadow; might someone come to my door and cite me for an un-kept lawn? How would I explain my reasoning to that person who can understand what a lawn should be, but not a meadow? How would the neighbors feel if I let my landscape go ‘la natural’, let nature take its course?  As more and more of the natural landscape is being taken over by ‘us’ and we replace what was there with what we consider good landscaping, with the technology and equipment to change our environment on an unprecedented scale and no way of knowing the long term effects  we might be having on whole ecosystems . For our parts as landscapers, designers it is time to reconsider what is a good landscape, one that takes the whole environment in account, addresses our understanding soils,  our choice of plant materials (native and alien), including grass species and give them greater importance in our changes of the natural landscape.

Weeds, Invasives and Books Part 1


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A design is put to paper, plants are installed, and the compost and mulch have been spread, the site cleaned up and the photos taken for the portfolio, and even as you walk away; a new design is coming into play. In that walk, one can look around at the surrounding area of your project and begin to see the future and it might even be from the pieces of root, rhizomes and seeds that are in the soil of your finished landscape. For as much as we might consider the project as neat, orderly and creative, it is also a matter of disturbance and a void from it previous state; when that space was filled and covered by the trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants that had found their niche over an extended period, but now it is an area of opportunities to be filled with new plants and usually they are the ones that have evolved to best move in before others can even spread their roots. From the first person who decided to grow something, first for food and then maybe for pleasure, it required that person to make room for it, by removing the vegetation that was already there and then had to ‘weed’ to keep the native plants from returning either by the seeds that were in the soil and that had gotten tilled up closer to the surface or by seed and root from the surrounding area wanting to take back its’ own.

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So what is a weed? The basic description of a weed is “Something that is growing where it isn’t wanted” pretty basic that can cover a lot of things, including people. An example might be milkweed Asclepias syriaca which when it grows in it’s native environment in meadows, fields and even along roadsides it might be considered a keystone species which is “a species whose very presence contributes to a diversity of life and whose extinction would consequently lead to the extinction of other forms of life” for the Monarch butterfly depends on milkweed in it’s migration north from Mexico as it lays its’ eggs on it, which then become the butterfly that continues the journey north. The butterfly in its’ larvae stage eats only on the milkweed plant which contains glycosides a toxic substance to other animal species, which protects the butterfly from being eaten by birds. Now if that milkweed has gotten into a garden bed, it certainly might be considered a weed, its’ habits such as its’ root structure that runs deep horizontally that when you try to remove the plant most times it breaks where it is connected to the root and even when the root are gotten, each root piece left behind can grow new shoots. When it is left to flower and go to seed it can produce 200 seeds per pod and each seed has silky hairs that help carry it in the wind where it may land where it is allowed to grow or settles in another bed to be regarded as another weed. Grass growing in the lawn is what is wanted and expected; grass growing in the landscape beds is a weed.

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In the book ‘My Weeds’ by Sara Stein the author of ‘Noah’s Garden’ who’s own definition of a weed is “ A weed is a plant that is not only in the wrong place, but intends to stay” In this book she covers wide range of subjects about weeds, including the botany of weeds. How does a section of root know how to grow new roots down and new shoots up? In another chapter she writes about the ‘succession of the landscape’ and observes that in the town where she lived; it had been 80% farm land and pastures until early part of the 1900’s and by the time she wrote the book 1988 most of land had become a mixed deciduous forest; for folks had stopped trying to maintain much of the land as farm or pasture and how that land when thru the succession of plant species reverted from open land to forest. First with annual and bi-annual weeds, crab grass and a mix of other pioneer weeds that spread their seeds far and wide. This was followed by tap rooting perennials such as burdock, curly dock, vetch and tough grasses. In a couple of years the shrubs moved in and pioneer tree species. Over the years, the maples, oak, beeches and hemlocks were filling the canopy over this once farmland.

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The natural landscape is one that is constantly changing; even when it reaches the climatic stage, for there will be natural disturbances that will allow for more changes. So as far as our landscaping goes, it may take days or weeks to design and install a landscape, but it takes so much more time after the fact to keep a landscape as it was intended, and the timing involved in weeding, before different plants have time to establish, set seed and spread their roots, and what plants may be growing off some where that can throw their seed into the mix. I know even working on landscapes I had installed over the years that I now have a more familiar relationship with the weeds that keep popping up than the plants that I had put in. Or to work next to a landscape that haven’t been maintained to see how fast the changes occur and all that wasn’t intended take a firm foothold and outcompete the installed plants. Then to watch when someone finally tries to deal with it, but doesn’t know what should or shouldn’t be there as part of original plan; the area usually gotten back under control is small and never stays that way for long.

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The thing about most plants we work with in landscaping and even those plants used in agriculture is that many of them are clones of plants who’s features and habits have been breed for what we might consider desirable, whether flower, form, fall color, fruit or has some pest or disease resistance and then they are produced asexually so that they have the same characteristics, the same genes. On the other hand weeds are uncultivated, an ever mixing of genes from one generation to the next; thou maybe there is some cultivation involved, for where a weed may stand proud, shallow rooting and takes a long time to go to seed, it may never make it to the next generation, it will be those that are not easy to get rid of that will survive and continue on to the next generation and then the next. So over the course of time, in the constant battle between farming, gardening and nature that we may have breed perennial vetches, red sorrels who’s roots were made to be snapped and then grow new stems again, or a dandelion that has a good size tap root, grows flat on the ground, and even when mowed or chewed it can produce a another flower in a day and go to seed by the next. So in the book  ‘Botany of Desire’ by Michael Pollen he writes about apples and the famous Johnny Appleseed, John Chapman who traveled around the mid- west planting apple seeds which according to Pollen, most folks had used the apples for hard cider rather an eating, from the original seeds, they produced new offspring, new varieties with each genetic mix, one apple with it’s 5 seeds each will become different variety of apple tree from that of the parent tree and each other, some may be better suited to that location, some may flower a little later than the last frost and produce fruit that was more desirable. Today, when we eat the fruit of a Delicious, a McIntosh or one of the other varieties they are each grown from grafted trees that came from that one original tree that had produced that particular fruit and any seedling from its’ fruit would be a totally different apple.

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So for anyone who is trying to maintain the intended landscape; it is important to know the intended and the unintended, to understand the nature of a plants including ‘weeds’; their evolution for continued survival, such as how the move about, when they might set seed, what kind of roots they have and when best deal with them. One of the useful tools you might want to carry with you besides your trowel and cape cod weeder is the book  ‘Weeds of the Northeast’ by Richard Uva, Joseph Neal and Joseph Ditomaso, published by Comstock Publishing Assoc for the pictures are good, it shows what the plant looks like not just when it is flowering, good descriptions of plant habit, leaves, roots and seeds. It covers 299 weed species – moss to grass, herbaceous to woodies and trees that you are most likely to come across.

I’ll add one final thought that is when you compare the 299 species covered in this book with The Nature Conservancy/ National Park Services composite invasive, alien weed species list; 131 (43%) of those species are on both.

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