Native Plant Expert Charlotte Adelman Dispels Myths about Native Gardens in Urban Areas

Native Plants; Bernard L. Schwartz

Fig. 1:Native Wild Beebalm & Common Milkweed; Credit: Bernard L. Schwartz

This is the first installment of a serial interview with Charlotte Adelman (Bio below):

Q: Assume that I am a homeowner or gardener with a conventional lawn. I have heard the news about the decline of pollinators and of monarch butterflies. I am thinking about adding native plants to my garden, but I am concerned that a native planting might look “messy” or “weedy.” What should I do?

A: From an appearance point of view, whether the plant is native or introduced from Eurasia makes no difference. A plant’s origin is the key to its ecological role, but it does not determine its ornamental role. (However, native plant gardens

Orange Coneflower; Bernard L. Schwartz

Fig. 2: Native Orange Coneflower; Bernard L. Schwartz

Orange Butterfly Milkweed; Credit: Bernard L. Schwartz

Fig. 3: Native Orange Butterfly Milkweed; Credit: Bernard L. Schwartz

experience few disease problems, so keeping them attractive is easier.) The key to a neat looking planting is garden design, style and layout. Mulching and edging, even paths, walls or fences, and large patches of color facilitate the desired well-groomed look.

Many native species resemble or look exactly like popular nonnative species. When thinking of plants for your native garden, you can choose native species that share ornamental characteristics and cultivation requirements with popular nonnative species.

For example, instead of orange or yellow daylilies (Hemerocallis species) (Fig. 4) from China, that host no North American butterflies, you can plant orange butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) (Fig. 3)- a monarch butterfly host plant – and orange coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida) (Fig. 2), which hosts many butterflies including the pearl crescent.

Non-native, Orange Daylillies; Bernard L. Schwartz

Fig. 4: Non-native, Orange Daylillies; Credit: Bernard L. Schwartz

If the space is small, choose clump-forming, compact native plants like the sun loving prairie dropseed grass (Sporobolus heterolepis) which hosts skipper butterflies. For larger spaces, select some suckering native plants. For helpful, pre-created garden plans, check native plant nursery catalogs.

Expectations help create our garden perceptions. We often see what we expect to see. Because we think of daylilies as pretty flowers, we ignore the messy stems, unattractive seedpods, and dying leaves that dominate the plants for most of the season. This clump of daylilies (Hemerocallis species) (Fig. 4) was photographed the same day as the clump of native purple coneflower (Echinaceae purpurea) (Fig. 5) and the clump of native wild

Purple Coneflowers; Bernard L. Schwartz

Fig. 5: Native Purple Coneflowers; Credit: Bernard L. Schwartz

beebalm (Monarda fistulosa) and common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) (Fig.1). Which clump looks messy and weedy?

Charlotte Adelman and Bernard L. Schwartz are the authors of The Midwestern Native Garden, Native Alternatives to Nonnative Flowers and Plants, an Illustrated Guide, winner of the 2012 Helen Hull Award, presented by the National Garden Clubs and Prairie Directory of North America-The United States, Canada, and Mexico. In 2014, Charlotte Adelman was awarded an Audubon Chicago Region Habitat Project Conservation Leadership Award. 


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Invasive Plant Early Detection and Rapid Response – Volunteer Programs around the World

I sent out a request on various listservs for examples of volunteers doing early detection of invasive plants. The response was

Photo property of SiSSI, Italy's early detection program.

Photo property of SiSSI, Italy’s early detection program.

phenomenal. There are lots of people doing early detection work around the world!  Examples are listed below.

Why is early detection so important? Once established, invasive plants can be virtually impossible to eliminate but their ecological and economic repercussions are profound – at least $50 billion a year in the United States. It is vitally important that people who are outside in their communities, parks, preserves, and natural areas become involved in the process of identification and responding to plant invasions.  These programs are known as Early Detection and Rapid Response (EDRR).

The starting place for anyone in Canada and the United States to learn about EDRR is EDDMapS – the Early Detection & Distribution Mapping System.  This mapping system allows registered users to report the location of suspected invasive plants.  You don’t have to be an export to make a report.  In registering you will be asked to state your level of expertise and “Beginner” is one level.

These programs can work, but they begin at the local level.  Take the state of Wisconsin.  As noted below by Kelly Kearns, an Invasive Plant Coordinator for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, “Japanese hedge parsley, European marsh thistle and black swallowwort have spread a fair amount in a few counties, but early detection and quick removal has kept them from establishing in many sites, in particular managed natural areas. Giant hogweed is extremely distinctive, so we are fairly confident that we know of and are en route to eradicating almost all populations in the state.”

Consider Texas’s Invaders of Texas Program: Over 2,000 trained citizen scientists have volunteered, and the network has cumulatively mapped and reported over 16,700 invasive plant observations since 2005!

Here are highlights from programs around the world.  This list is not comprehensive, and I hope to do an update.


Weed Spotters’ Network – Queensland:  This program aims to find, identify and document those new occurrences of potential weeds at an early stage so that preventative actions can be taken. Their website offers a very comprehensive, step-by-step guide on how to collect plants and send botanical specimens.  Contact: Melinda Laidlaw; Email:

The Weed Spotters’ Bulletin of April, 2014,

Weed Spotters’ Program – Victoria: You can register to become a Weed Spotter and training is provided.  Weed Spotters report suspected invaders by email or telephone.


Research Institute for Nature and Forest – The Institute maintains a very easy to use identification and mapping system.  One webpage has photos of key invasive species with links to detailed identification information and to maps showing where the species have been detected.  Contact: Tim Adriaens;


Korina: This is a mapping system in Sachsen-Anhalts that permits reports from registered users. As reported by Katrin Schneider with the agency that protects nature sanctuaries in Sachsen-Anhalts,”In the centre of our early warning system is an online information system, where species information can be accessed and sightings can be uploaded. We receive an alert and start an assessment of the sighting and if it is confirmed organise a fast reaction. Some parts of this system are already working. Others are soon ready to be launched. The next steps will be to increase our network, find more people who look out for the invasive plants and to improve their identification skills.”  Contact: Katrin Schneider;


SiSSI:  This program focuses on three species, chosen among the most invasive and easily recognizable plants in Italy: Senecio inaequidens, Ailanthus altissima and Ambrosia artemisiifolia. Each report is validated by a group of experts before entering the distribution map. This permits data to be sent by a wide range of volunteers. The SISSI website gives a lot of information and images to avoid false positives (including a list of similar species and their differences with the target species).  SISSI is part of DRYADES – Key to Nature EU project (access to interactive identification tool devoted to plants, fungi and animals) and SIIT (the initiative dedicated to projects for school). Contact:Leonardo Pizzo;

United Kingdom:

GB non-native species secretariat.  The Secretariat coordinates Species Alerts for Great Britain.  A person with a sighting can report: what you saw; where you were; and who you are.  This information is transmitted to the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.  The mapping system allows a sighting to be pinpointed to an exact location in Great Britain. An email can also be sent.  Great Britain has an extension network of Local Action Groups.

New Forest Non-Native Plants Project – This is a very active Local Action Groups working in the New Forest, an area in southeast England containing forest, heathland, and unenclosed pasture land.  The Project depends partnership with landowners, volunteers, contractors, universities, the media and the general public.  The Project has responded to a number of reports of new invasive species.  Two examples: A volunteer discovered bog arum Calla palustris in the New Forest on a tributary of the Beaulieu River.  A local naturalist discovered creeping water primrose Ludwigia grandiflora growing at Breamore Marsh Site of Special Scientific Interest in 2009.  Both of these infestations were successfully eliminated.  Contact: Catherine Chatters; email:

United States:

Mid Klamath Watershed Council, Klamath Wilderness Inventory Project – This is an interesting program that deals with identifying and inventorying invasive plants in remote wilderness areas.  Since 2010 they have covered hundreds of trail miles and mapped over 100 weeds sites.

Salmon River Restoration Council, Community Noxious Weed Program – The Council focuses on the Salmon River watershed (1,945 square k; 751 square m).  Their Noxious Weed Program focuses on inventory, mapping and removal of a number of different invasive plants from spotted knapweed to tree of heaven.  Interestingly, the Program promotes manual removal, mulching, and other non-chemical methods.


Alligator Point.  This is a cooperative effort between residents of Alligator Point  and the Nature Conservancy to deal with invasive natal grass.  Although natal grass has invaded many parts of central Florida, Floridians are trying to stem its spread into northern Florida.   One resident who has been involved in trying to stop its spread on Alligator Point (and from Alligator Point to inland areas) is Michelle Gomez.  She has participated in efforts to raise awareness by going door-to-door passing out informational pamphlets.  The biggest thing that surprised Michelle was the willingness of private landowners to “let strangers onto their land twice a month” for testing being coordinated by the Nature Conservancy.  According to Michelle, people on Alligator Point have come to understand that natal grass not only threatens ecosystems but also the very existence of Alligator Point because it damages the dunes that protect the point.  Contact: Brian Pelc; bpelc@TNC.ORG.

Great Lakes Early Detection Network – This network includes several organizations near the Great Lakes.  In a way, this network is more ecosystem based than state or federal programs which may have human-made boundaries.

Illinois and Indiana:

New Invaders Watch Program. This program lists recent reports and alerts. It allows volunteers to register. The mapping system is powered by EDD-MapS.  The training materials quite impressive and is broken down into such categories as Forest Pests Training, Insect Only Training, Prairie and Savanna Grass Training.


West Michigan Cluster – Their program for EDRR began in 2009.  In areas where invasive species have been reported, volunteers have gone door-to-door and hung door hangers with information about the species found in the area.  Contacts: Ginny Wanty and Mike Bruggink;


R2Ed. This a highly organized metropolitan program sponsored by the Three Rivers Park District – a system with 27,000 acres (10,927 ha) of parks and trails that serve over 9.5 million visitors annually).  To supplement regular staff, twenty volunteers to do both early detection and rapid response.  The volunteers agree to devote at least 4-6 hours a month.

Ramsey County Early Detection Monitoring Program. This program is county-wide but is being organized city-by-city in Ramsey County located in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.  In this program, volunteers are trained in identifying 10 key early detection species.  Volunteers walk high-risk areas – roadsides, trails, and borders.  They go out 5-6 times a year.  If a volunteer finds an invasive of concern, it is entered into EDDMapS and the landowner is contacted about control.  One interesting success story involved wild parsnip – an invasive species that can cause nasty burns – phytophotodermatitis.  The wild parsnip was found in a wetland, just over the fence from a baseball field on school property. (Kids would climb over the fence to retrieve balls.)  The school district posted the area and has undertaken control efforts.  Contact Carole Gernes;


Invaders of Texas. This is a long established program to detect and report invasive species.  In January of 2014 the 2,000th trained citizen scientist joined the team. The network has cumulatively mapped and reported over 16,700 invasive plant observations since 2005.  Whoa! Their five year report provides details.  Contact: Justin Bush, email:

National Capital Region:

Exotic Plant Management Team – Volunteers help this team by creating documents for distribution, Invasive Plant Alerts.  An example is this one for Italian arum.  Contact: Mark Frey; email:

Washington State:
Citizen Science EDRR program – The Pacific Northwest Invasive Plant Council is working with the state and federal entities on training programs for volunteers.  The program is focusing in 2014 on Olympic and Gifford Pinchot National Forests.  Their website has a great list of documents (e.g., PowerPoint volunteer training presentation) that would help others in setting up programs.  Contact: Julie Combs;


Aquatic Invasive Species Monitoring Protocol –  This is a new program.  It has an easy-to-follow protocol for people to monitor for aquatic invasives from the shoreline, including at public boat launches, parks, or other water access. This document will contain the aquatic invasives monitoring protocol, a list of recommended equipment for the monitoring kit, and some key aquatic invasives of regional interest.  Contact: Patrick Miller; email:

Weed Watchers – This program started in 2004.  After developing their first list of species targeted for early detection, plant species have been added each year.   As mentioned above, their program has identified and slowed and possibly even stopped the advancement of certain invasive plants.  Wisconsin has adopted an early detection rule regulating plant species that are threats but are either not in or only in a few locations in the state.  As Kelly Kearns has noted,  “Once the rule got into place and we did a great deal of outreach, we started getting many more reports. Many are mis-identifications, but we encourage people to report even if they aren’t sure, and to send photos or vouchers. The developing of regulations has done more to get the word out than our citizen science program alone could do, as it allows us to get more media coverage. We have thousands of people who have been trained in the ID and reporting of these plants. Hundreds have submitted reports (usually by email or phone call). We have difficulty getting people to use either paper or on-line reporting forms. We are hoping that the Great Lakes Early Detection Network, developed by University of Wisconsin and MIPN (Mark Renz, Brendon Panke, Tony Summers) and some of the smart phone apps will help get more data entered.”  Kearns notes that “We are still struggling with finding a database that is easy for people to both enter data into and get data out. We currently lack funding to do control of early detection terrestrial plants. We do have a grant program that can be used for aquatic and wetland ED invasives, which is good as it tends to be more expensive getting aquatic populations contained then small terrestrial plant populations.”

Wisconsin First Detector Network.  This is a new program training volunteers on ID and online reporting of invasive plants, insects, and plant diseases. Interestingly, they will use online training with Blackboard Collaborate. Hands on trainings are planned for summer.  Contact: Tony Summers;

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African Invasive Plants “Destroying Livelihoods in Africa” – New Video from CABI

A new video from CABI “The Green Invasion – Destroying Livelihoods in Africa” plainly shows the devastating effects of four invasive plants in Africa. The four plants are parthenium (famine weed), opuntia (prickly pear cactus),

Prickly Pear Cactus

Prickly Pear Cactus

prosopis (mathenge), and chromolaena (devil weed).

CABI is an inter-governmental, not-for-profit organization set up by a United Nations treaty. Its “mission is to improve people’s lives worldwide by providing information and applying scientific expertise to solve problems in agriculture and the environment.”

Two things struck me about the video: first, because the people in the video are living close to the margin, you really see the effects of these invasives on their ability to survive; second, the video demonstrates how a plant such as prickly pear cactus can be perfectly well-behaved on one continent but a disaster on another.

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Deer Don’t Like Foreign Foods – Deer Prefer Native Plants and this Changes Forest Succession

Deer Browsing on Native Conifer, White-tailed deer browsing:

Deer Browsing on Native Conifer, White-tailed deer browsing:

For anyone who has spent time in forests where whitetail deer proliferate, this is no surprise: Deer prefer native plants. This leaves non-native plants to flourish and drop their seeds, thereby altering the seed bank. These are the conclusions of a recent study: “Deer Browsing Delays Succession by Altering Aboveground Vegetation and Belowground Seed Banks (free access).”

One of the authors, Antonio DiTommaso from Cornell states “It’s obvious that the deer are affecting the above-ground species, but it’s like an iceberg. There are major effects below the soil surface. We are seeing a divergence of seeds contained within the soil from what should be there. We’re seeing an escalation of non-native seed and the virtual elimination of woody plant seeds.” This will have long-term effects. “Deer are slowing down forest succession or natural establishment. In fact, the deer are preventing forests from establishing,” says Anurag Agrawal, Cornell professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, a co-author on the paper.

The one thing I don’t understand: the authors observed “the nearly complete suppression of woody plants.” What about woody invasives such as buckthorn, honeysuckle, and tree of heaven? I have never seen evidence of deer browse on these non-native woody species.

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Girdling Trees to Create Snags and Coarse Woody Debris and to Improve Wildlife Habitat

A dense overgrown forest provides poor quality wildlife habitat.  See, e.g., Knapp et al. 2013.  Dead wood such as snags and coarse woody debris are increasingly seen as critical to healthy forest ecosystems.  Bottorff 2009. Girdling a tree to create a snag accomplishes two goals: it thins a stand of trees, and it provides the dead wood essential to many species.  I also believe it is a much easier way to thin a stand of trees than conventional logging methods, especially for the land manager with minimal heavy equipment.

Scots pine snag

Scots pine snag

In this presentation, Girdling Trees to Create Snags and Coarse Woody Debris, I describe how we have managed a small woodland for the past several years where snag creation is a critical component of the management.  This is not scientific research, but the experience we have gained may be helpful to others.

What does this have to do with invasive plants? Not much.  I have tried girdling invasive trees like buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) with limited success.  In fact, I would generally not recommend girdling invasive plants because girdling usually kills a tree slowly and may allow ongoing seed production.  Nonetheless, just like invasives removal, snag and coarse woody debris creation is another way to improve habitat.

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Map of Invasive Knotweed Along Paint Creek in Northeast Iowa

If you want to see how knotweeds like Japanese, Bohemian, and giant, spread, take a look at this map: Paint Creek Japanese Knotweed. Richard Kittelson from Northeast Iowa Resource Conservation and Development extensively mapped the spread of knotweeds along Paint Creek in northeast Iowa. It’s a beautiful, hilly part of Iowa where small creeks and rivers run through hardwood forests and drain to the Mississippi.

Blackhawk Bluff along the Upper Iowa River

Blackhawk Bluff along the Upper Iowa River

Northeast Iowa Resource Conservation & Development (RC&D) and several partners such as the United States Forest Service and area landowners are implementing a three year initiative to control knotweed in the Paint Creek Watershed. The first part of their initiative was to map.

Knotweed at the headwaters of Paint Creek

Knotweed at the headwaters of Paint Creek

Altogether Richard found about 27 acres of knotweed in the 7 square mile area represented on this map. The vast majority of it was not planted by humans but spread through vegetative reproduction along Paint Creek. No doubt flood waters carried pieces of the stem and rhizomes downstream. The knotweed is represented by hot pink on the map and large sections of Paint Creek are bordered in hot pink.

In conversations that Richard had with residents, he found that knotweed was likely introduced by just a few local gardeners more than 30 years ago. Once the knotweed made it to the banks of Paint Creek, it spread on its own.

What is perhaps most concerning about knotweeds is that the vector that so readily transports it – waterways – also is vital habitat to wildlife. People who have seen knotweed along a stream know that once it gains a foothold, knotweed can form monocultures along the banks where nothing else can grow.

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Winter Invasive Plant Control – Five Reasons to Apply Herbicides in the Winter to Control Woody Weeds such as Shrubs and Trees

freshly cut buckthorn stump

freshly cut buckthorn stump

Foam herbicide applied to buckthorn stump

Foam herbicide applied to buckthorn stump

I did a post a few years back on doing winter herbicide applications on woody weeds.  When I mention winter applications, especially in northern climes, most people, even some experienced herbicide applicators, are skeptical.

There are two main misconceptions.  One is that dormant woody plants will not properly absorb and translocate the herbicide.  Herbicide labels often have a statement such as apply only to weeds that are “actively growing.”  While this may be true for herbaceous plants – you can’t apply herbicide to a dried up leaf – it isn’t necessarily true for woody ones.    The herbicide obviously needs to reach a living part of the tree or shrub.  In the winter if you are using an amine herbicide, this can be done by exposing the cambium using for example a cut stump application technique (as shown in the photos) and applying the herbicide.

A second misconception is that the herbicide will freeze.  I have used amine herbicides such as glyphosate with a water carrier in temperatures as low as 10 degrees F.  While the nozzle can occasionally freeze-up if you wait too long between spraying sessions, this rarely happens.  Generally, it seems the salts in the concentrated glyphosate formulation used for cut stump treatments keep the liquid from freezing.

But even if you can do it, why should you apply in the winter?  I would offer five advantages:

  1. Effectiveness.  I have had great success with winter applications using cut stump and frill techniques.  Others have too.  See Reinartz 2002.  I use a concentrated herbicide solution of glyphosate with between 20 and 25% active ingredient.  I also try to cut the stump or the frill as low to the ground as possible – two to five inches from the ground.  (So, don’t tackle applications in deep snow; it’s not worth it.)
  2. Reduced off-target harm.  You won’t have to worry – assuming you are in a temperate climate – about hitting the leaves of desirable plants.
  3. Ease of movement and identification.  It is amazing how much more open and accessible an area can be without deciduous foliage.  For identification, you just need to know the target plant’s bark and structure.  Fruit, such as buckthorn berries, which stays on through the winter can help you identify your target weeds.
  4. Comfort.  I am serious!  In the summer you are sweating excessively, especially with your protective clothing and equipment on.  In the winter, that extra clothing is appreciated.  As long as you wear layers that can be put on and taken off as activity levels change, you can be very comfortable.  Perhaps most importantly – there are no bugs; no ticks; no poison ivy; and no pollen (for those suffering from allergies).
  5. Enjoyment.  Getting outside on a sunny winter day – there really is nothing like it:  Taking a deep breath of crisp air; listening to the rapping of a woodpecker.  And, if you are burning a pile of woody invasives, you can warm up by the fire!

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