Thursday, August 3, 2017

How to Determine If A Plant Is Edible

Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia) fruit.

I don’t claim to be a fanatical foodie, though I love to cook and eat. But I am fairly serious about food, particularly native plants. My impressive credentials include:

One question that often enters my mind when eating any herb, spice, fruit or vegetable is, “How did someone decide THIS would be a good thing to eat?” Was it tested on "Mikey" first?

Kirsten Rechnitz, Head Instructor at Boulder Outdoor Survival School (Utah) suggests the following test for edibility if you’re in a survival situation where you have to subsist on mice and a few greens.

“The first thing you want to do is take a tiny bit of it and rub it on the inside of your wrist. And then you want to wait a number of hours to see if you have a reaction. If you don’t have a reaction…take the tiniest of bites, put it on your tongue, leave it there for a few seconds and then spit it out, and then rinse with some water. See what happens after a few hours, if you have anything going on. If you don’t, then maybe you want to take a tiny piece, chew on it, actually swallow it, take it down with some water. If you don’t have a reaction within a few hours, go for a small but larger gathering of that plant. Have that, then wait a full day and see what your system actually does. Anything like diarrhea, …itchy throat, ...stomach ache. Maybe that food isn’t actually poisonous, but it’s new to your body and if it’s causing you harm, you probably shouldn’t be eating it.”

That's one way it's done; courage born of starvation. Sylvester Stallone once remarked, “When I was a kid, my mother used to feed me mashed-potato sandwiches, Brussels sprout sandwiches; my brain cells were starving from lack of food. I'll eat anything. I'll eat dirt.”

Or, determining whether something is edible or delicious, even, can be born of an adventurous spirit.

There isn't anything I don't eat, although I'm not too keen on creepy crawly things. Other than that, I'm quite adventurous.  - Cherie Lunghi (Actress)

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Wednesday, August 2, 2017

FAQ: How can I tell if my holly is dead?

I transplanted a large Fleming holly in the spring. Soon afterward the leaves turned brown and fell off. I've been watering and fertilizing it, but I believe it's dead. I hate to dig it up unless I'm positively sure. How can I tell if it's truly dead?

With a pocket knife or your fingernail, scratch several places on the stems, starting at the top and working downward. If you see green beneath, it's still alive at that point. If it's brown, cut it off.

Even if the cambium is green, the plant might eventually die. But if you care enough to keep it, continue watering when needed. Don't add fertilizer. Keep an eye out for tiny vegetative buds forming and leaves emerging. It's still possible your holly will survive.

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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Foundation Shrubs for Home Security

In my recent article, Ten Simple Landscaping Ideas for Home/Land Security, the first two safety precautions were: 
  1. Choose low-growing foundation and border shrubs. (Low-profile shrubs require less pruning to keep them in bounds);
  2. Prune foundation shrubs to 3 feet high. (This might be necessary if you are working with an existing planting.)

The reason should be obvious; home intruders prefer to do evil in secret than in plain view.

Here are two examples.
This one shows a clean foundation planting with few places to hide.

This one exhibits a foundation planting that practically hides the house.

Which home would you choose to burgle? (Don’t get any ideas, now. Google is watching you!)

Some examples of low-growing shrubs include:

This is by no means an exhaustive list.
Don’t think that tall plants are always excluded. If they're narrow, they don't provide such good places to hide. Some fine examples include:

Foundation shrubs such as these will help to make your home a safer place for yourself and your family.

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Thursday, June 15, 2017

Needle Palm: A Cold-Hardy Palm with Hot Points

Needle Palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix)

Gardeners are known for returning home with botanical souvenirs. Many of the plants are doomed (they know it before they buy them) but can’t resist. If you want a memento of the subtropics in your own back yard, and you want it to thrive, try Needle Palm.

Needle Palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix), native to Florida and other areas of the southeast, is reliably cold-hardy through USDA climate zone 7. Some growers report success in colder areas. It’s more like a shrub than tree, with a dense, mounding habit, growing about twice as wide as its height. The typical size of a mature Needle Palm is four to six feet high by eight to twelve feet wide.

Needle palm foliage
Needle Palm is fairly uncommon even in its native habitat. Outside of that, you’ll own bragging rights for miles around.

Don’t let its name put you off. The evergreen, cut-leaf fronds are not harmful. In fact, the tips of the leaflets are blunt, as though they had been snipped. The long, sharp needles are at the base of the plant protecting the inconspicuous flowers and fruit.

Needle palm needles
The needles do offer a significant benefit, however. They discourage through-traffic. Intruders who encounter them will get the point and hotfoot it out of there. If you're looking for a plant that offers a degree of crime prevention - call it "homeland security"- this is the palm for you.

Needle Palm prefers slightly moist, well-drained soil. Nevertheless, it is somewhat drought-tolerant when established. Space 6 feet to 10 feet apart in full sun to light shade. Soil should be moist to well-drained, pH from 6.1 to 7.8. Allow soil to dry between watering.

Pruning can be done at any time to remove damaged fronds. Fertilize with a balanced fertilizer from late spring to midsummer. Needle Palm is very resistant to insects and disease, deer resistant and salt tolerant.

Needle Palm is excellent for native plant collections, coastal and tropical gardens, screens and hedges. Suitable native companion plants include Cut-leaf Coneflower, Goldenrod, Wax Myrtle, Inkberry Holly, Red Buckeye, Sensitive Fern, Allegheny Pachysandra, and Partridge Berry.

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Thursday, May 25, 2017

FAQ: We want to cover walls to hide the brick.

We have an outside patio behind our house and we want to cover two of the house walls around the patio with an evergreen plant, just to hide the brick that's pretty old. Is Creeping fig (Ficus pumila) a good plant for that? Will it destroy the brick wall? Should we run some fishing nylon strings on the wall so that plants' roots attach to the nylon instead of the wall? Or would you recommend another plant altogether?  We're in New York.

I doubt this plant would survive the winter in your area. It is cold-hardy to USDA climate zone 8. You are in climate zone 7. When I visited Washington Irving's home - Sunnyside - in Tarrytown a few years back, I was impressed by the wisteria and trumpet creeper that had overgrown it, but I personally wouldn't recommend the wisteria. 

Trumpet creeper is a possibility. My wife insisted on planting a Campis radicans (Trumpet creeper) against a wall. It also attaches by little roots, but I've been able to pull juvenile vines off the wall without damage to the wall. Mature vines leave some of their roots attached.

Boston ivy is often used to cover walls of buildings and highway sound barriers, but it is a species of Parthenocissus which has little discs at the ends of modified roots that look like suction cups. They vines are very difficult to remove from a wall once attached (if you ever decide to remove the vine). It is deciduous.

Hedera helix (English ivy and such) produces little roots that find cracks and crannies in the wall and worm their ways into them. This can cause damage when removing the ivy.

Arctic Kiwi (Actinidia kolomikta) is a beautiful vine and produces edible fruits, but it is deciduous. Five-leaf Akebia (Akebia quinata) could be a good choice, but is deciduous. So are many of the other vines popular in your area such as hops, clematis, trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens which is evergreen in the south but probably not in the north), climbing hydrangea, Schizophragma, etc.

One option would be to plant a climber next to your wall, let it grow and don't plan on pulling it off. Growing on the wall doesn't necessarily harm it; pulling it off does. After all these years, Sunnyside is still standing.

Now that I'm thinking about it, you might consider a shrub or tree espalier to cover the walls.

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