Questions about native and/or invasive flora

Gastonia, NC(Zone 7b)

I almost posted this in the Intermountain invite thread, but then thought it might well deserve its own thread.

I know Katlian is knowledgeable about the plant communities around where I live, or I have gathered that you are! and I imagine others in this forum are similarly knowledgeable, or at least know more than I about such matters.

My situation is of attempting to begin a garden on an area that has not been previously cultivated but has been damaged nonetheless, due in part to a housefire here before this current building was constructed to replace what burned down. That whole process, before my time, left not only piles of debris around but also whatever fire control chemicals got used, and then of course various and sundry construction debris and leaching of god knows what substances.......

If I had more control or more time, or if the situation were not quite so far from health, I might even attempt some kind of restoration gardening involving plant communities that were here beforetimes....... but as it is I have only told part of the story..... there was also earlier massive logging around here, and subsequent to that some kind of farming (so when I say my little patch has not been cultivated I am not even sure of that!) and so it seems so very far removed from what its original state of health may have been, it seems futile to even think of that.

However. I do intend and hope to garden in such a way as to assist any potential resumption of a healthy plant community here, so for example when/if I move away, I will have introduced things that might have a chance of naturalizing without becoming destructively invasive -- etc. And I am not likely to do piles of research on this and instead hoping to feel my way perhaps with some good advice.

That is all background. What inspired me to begin this thread is a post in the Hummingbird and Butterfly forum:

The poster and the one responding are both in Nebraska I believe. I am wondering about trying this -- would this plant be a mistake here, does anyone think?

Am I being too fiddly with something I should just instead allow to unfold as it will? Does anyone know of a reason not to plant this (can't recall its name, was it Virginia Snakeroot??! info is all in the thread at that link above) to attract the swallowtail butterflies? It kind of seems "a natural" and yet, and yet, I thought I might just raise this particular question and also make a thread for this kind of consideration in general, if there is interest.

thank you


Gastonia, NC(Zone 7b)

Okay, just found this good page about it:

and it looks like it would not do well here at all...... but then, Horizon Herbs does carry it and they are at least closer by than Nebraska......

I am pretty much concluding this is not a good idea based on it's needing more of a wetland condition, so I would be wasting my time with this one.

Rather than reply to myself yet again, editing this post to say, a third reference says its preferred habitat is dry, rocky woods, so maybe it would work after all:

This message was edited Jan 26, 2009 11:30 PM

Calgary, AB(Zone 3a)

Kyla I always check the state invasive plant lists before sending seeds. This is the one I use for CA and I don't see it listed.
When in doubt I contac the USDA. Very helpful.

Aurora, CO(Zone 5b)

Kyla, Where loess is looks rather close to the Missouri river, and his climate is probably more humid and wet than the drier praries of western NE. There is a reticulata that grows along the Red River. If that includes the Wichita Falls area, that is dry and very windy, but as they also include Lousiana, I'm doubting this. With over 500 species, I would imagine there is something. If they can grow it in Maine, I'm sure you can find a way to grow it there. I saw nowhere that it is invasive. In fact, several states show it as endangered. If you provide the loamy soil and moisture, will probably make it. This is gardening, so trying never hurts.

Los Alamos, NM(Zone 5a)

I found this description of Virginia snakeroot:

Apparently it is an endangered species and the environments it likes are eastern. I doubt very seriously it would grow well in Nevada and it would be unlikely to be invasive there. Here is the invasive species list for Nevada:

as you can see Virginia snakeroot is not mentioned there.
I have seen this butterfly -- or something very much like it here in New Mexico where we also don't have Virgina snakeroot and I suspect it comes for the following list of plants it feeds on ( as per Wikipedia):

Adults seek nectar from flowers, including thistles (Cirsium species), bergamot, lilac, viper's bugloss, common azaleas, phlox, teasel, azaleas, dame's rocket, lantana, petunias, verbenas, lupines, yellow star thistle, buckeye, and butterfly bush.

The plant I have seen it on, or its spitting image on, is my korean lilac. But I think it goes to many of the flowers in my yard. I bet you can grow lots of the above plants in your garden.

As for what has been done to the soil previously, probably it is no big deal since it was a while ago, but you can send it off to be tested. Here in New Mexico for an extra few dollars they will test it for trace minerals -- but I am not sure they would catch the kinds of chemicals used for fighting fires -- but I doubt if the local fire department uses any of the really bad stuff. Probably mostly water and CO2. Chemicals from the house itself -- well, don't plant any veggies there.

Actually I don't think you have to worry about much except lack of fertility which is a big problem all over the west, but maybe not if the area used to be forested. Just add a bunch of organic matter and plant away.

I found the Nevada invasive species list by googling:
invasive species Nevada.

The government posts it for each state because they want people to get the word.

This message was edited Jan 27, 2009 11:24 AM

Gastonia, NC(Zone 7b)

Thanks everyone, all most helpful. I did see the plant in question is considered threatened or endangered, after I posted. Paul, yes, I like that spirit of "this is gardening, give it a try." ;-) At the same time, I have in the past blithely planted things that were in fact not all that good for the situation I was in, so I hope to be a bit more aware here.

More later probly, t his morning is one of those times of everything happening at once, I seem to have more of those these days......


Los Alamos, NM(Zone 5a)

Don't we all. After looking up swallowtail butterflies, I realized that the one I see is more likely the Black Swallowtail -- similar but not the same. Next time I will look more carefully.

Carson City, NV(Zone 6b)

Hey Kyla,
have you checked out your local chapter of the California Native Plant Society?

The native plant societies are great because they do all kinds of fun things like field trips and workshops and the members usually know a lot about local plants and gardening with natives.

Los Alamos, NM(Zone 5a)

Oh, duh. Just realized you are in California, not Nevada. Here is the invasive species list for California:

Gastonia, NC(Zone 7b)

Hey, folks!

First, I have decided not to do the snakeplant experiment thing. I realized what would happen would be if I got it into the ground then I would start worrying about it and it would take the pleasure out of the experience -- this garden, at least at first, is going to face lots of challenges and I really don't have the place for things I need to baby too much. Though I wish I did.

Kat, yes, thanks, I have checked them out to the extent of locating the website....... but not taken it further as of yet. I hope in spring to connect with some events or gatherings. And Paj, thank you for the resource!

Right now I am still sort of assembling information and making plans, have not really even explored much!

Albuquerque, NM(Zone 7b)

Kylaluaz, another thing you might consider with respect to remediation is a healthy microorganism population. They can deal with a great many chemicals that may be in your soil. Heavy metals, no. Organics, yes. As an example, I looked at Morel mushrooms recently. They apparently like to grow in areas that have been burned by fire. I don't know that they would like Weed, CA per se. At any rate, the microbial population of your soil is a significant part of a healthy system.

Gastonia, NC(Zone 7b)

Yes, indeed, I so agree! Tell me more about Morel mushrooms! I have been proceeding with the idea that composting will generate or replenish the microorganisms needed -- although I have yet to really get my composting set up, I am digging some things in.... and I did spread some purchased compost that was labeled as having the microbial active components in place (did not save pkg have no idea exactly what!)

Don't mushrooms need dark and wet? Kind of the opposite of what I have here.....

Albuquerque, NM(Zone 7b)

Something like dark and wet. More ...

I started on this last Spring when I went to plant tomatoes in the raised bed along my back fence. I found the stumps from the Arizona Cyprus that used to be there a couple inches below the surface. Too big to dig out really. So I went online to look up how to get rid of them, having some familiarity with people pouring stump rotting concoctions on stumps but not wanting to dump toxic chemicals into my tomato bed. Info I found said you can plant a fungus/mushroom innoculant in the stumps and microbially digest them. Seemed a better solution to me.

So I bought a product that consisted of 1 inch long innoculated hardwood dowels. You drill holes into the stumps and tap the dowels in with a hammer. I put many into the stumps from 4 different types of fungus. I covered them up with woodchips from the trees that had been left as a mulch. This was in May. I added sprayers for the stumps to the watering line I had put in for the tomatoes and watered my stumps too. When I checked last fall I had had good mycelia poplulations that had grown up into the wood chips and all over the stump faces. I am hoping to get a crop of mushrooms this Spring.

I got to Morels because the place I got the dowels from (Fungi Perfecti) also sold Morel mushroom kits. I was very tempted. They aren't log mushrooms so I would have needed to give them a different spot. The instructions also said to burn some hardwood and put the ash on/in their bed.

I'm not specifically saying Morels are the thing for you. I do think that any microbial bioremediation of your spot of dirt means that the microbes consider the stuff in your dirt to be food. To that end, the Morels seem to have a taste for wood ash. There may be better options.

Also, if you are seriously concered about chemical pollutants, it may also be worth a test/investigation to check out what chemicals are present.

Gastonia, NC(Zone 7b)

Thank you! Gosh, that info ought to be shared in the Organic Gardening forum where someone wanted to know how to organically kill cottonwoods that were out of hand...... Interesting!

I am checking right now to see how seriously concerned I am. I don't mean that facetiously either, I mean that your consideration gives me reason to examine a little more closely what I do feel about this patch of ground...... and honestly, for one thing, I am not planning to plant much there in the way of food plants, though I did put some garlic in last fall and hope to do onions and probably one cherry-type tomato (thinking it can vine along that fence) but most of the vegetables will be in containers on my deck where I will have better control over conditions of all kinds.

So -- I guess I am not worried at the level of thinking food grown out there would be bad for me to eat, more on the level of feeling the soil needs remedial action such as the microbial population increase -- and that I really do not know what the construction chemicals leaching down there might have done, or how persistent they might be...... pretty much no one else I know ever even thinks about that.

haha there is a healthy ant hill on part of this area, so they aren't bothered by whatever may have washed down there, that's a good sign I guess.

Los Alamos, NM(Zone 5a)

Mushrooms like it wet -- not necessarily moist. It may be possible to cultivate morels but any mushroom that is vigorous in your area would do a good job of healing your soil. Of course, mushrooms live on decaying organic matter, so you will have to have plenty of that to begin with. I find that adding horse manure is one of the best ways to add mushrooms to your soil. Here it comes loaded with shaggy manes and other mushrooms -- that you wouldn't necessarily want to eat. Shaggy manes are edible but not inspiring -- at least to me. But they do break down the organic matter.
Another thing mushrooms like in many cases is trees. Mushrooms often have certain trees they like to have symbiotic relationships with.
Just keep adding compost and the things that feed on it will come. You might ask the county or EPA in your state to test your soil for heavy metals. It might have them, but maybe that is all just a local myth. Anyhow, you might want to do that before eating veggies grown in that soil.

Reno, NV

I just wanted to throw in that composting is super easy. When I set up my bin I was worried about getting starters and the ratios of carbon to nitogen and pretty much everything. Honestly tho I just started dumping stuff in to it and it's doing great. During the sumer I'll add shreaded paper because I don't have many carbo sources other than that it's happy with what I give it. I started last summer and the bottom of the bin is already full of dark, pretty, wonderful compost. And when we have a warm day or two it starts right back up. And no it doesn't smell like much of anything. And I burry the food type stuff and the flys don't bother it.

The point of my rambel is that (as someone on DG put it) compost happens:). Jump right on it.

Los Alamos, NM(Zone 5a)

Oh, btw, many mushrooms love wood ash. When I took my mycology class we went to visit the former sites of forest fires for some of our most interesting mushrooms. They come up like crazy after a while.

Los Alamos, NM(Zone 5a)

Yes, I just put it all in a pile and let it rot. Turning it speeds it up, but it will rot eventually whether you turn it or not. Bacteria are everywhere and worms just turn up -- from ???/ who knows where, but if you put out the organic stuff, they will come.

Gastonia, NC(Zone 7b)

Oh, yes, that is the way, duchess (and Paj) you are singing my song there. ;-)

I have to be a bit careful here, sadly, due to neighbors and other factors. I was digging in scraps for a while but honestly do not want the deer to be digging them up again, which was beginning to happen. So now for the time being I am only digging in coffee grounds and tea bags. I do not have control over much area, so few choices as to how and where to set anything up, and so I am pondering that for now.

I rent a studio over the garage, and in the house live some folks who pretty much have the yard happening their way, I am working with a small and as yet uncultivated patch in back. Hoping not to have too much territoriality issues....... so taking care. More than I would like, frankly. *sigh*

Reno, NV

I got one of the fancy black compost bins with little doors to take out the finished compost from the bottom. My sister gave it to me for my birthday last summer.

Not worth a 100+$ for me!!!. It's snap together and keeps trying to unsnap. I'll have to find a better way to do it but it looks fine. Kind of like a black pyramid. What about the worm kind of composting? From what I hear you can do it inside and not smelly.

I do dig it a bit to get air into it but that's it.

Roommates can be really difficult. I had one that left recently who had no respect for what I was doing in the garden or anywhere else in my house. So I applaud you for trying. Just hope they're willing to compromise too.

Gastonia, NC(Zone 7b)

Thank you.

I've tried to work with t hose black plastic things and found them -- not very good. There is a system with three 5 gallon buckets I learned about, you rotate them, do it inside, but it requires a little quicklime and I have not searched out a source yet.

Worms are...... a bit tricky though I know many people have great success with those.

It will work out, just takes a bit of time to let things find their path. The old Quakers have a saying I love to remember when things get frustrating (which they do!) "Way will open."

So for now, I put out my coffee ground and tea bags..... ;-)

Reno, NV

I like that saying. My husbands family was Quaker when he was a child. Seems to have a lot of serenity involved.

Albuquerque, NM(Zone 7b)

I don't think the mushrooms will kill a tree so much as decompose it once it is dead.

As for concerns about chemicals, I was responding to your statements in your original post, Kylaluaz. I'm not quite

Compost and mychorhizal fungi. One of the compost starters (bacteria mostly) may be good to help get a pile up and running.

Gastonia, NC(Zone 7b)

Yes. (responding to duchess........)

Woops, dparsons, we cross posted there...... and I see, yes, it wouldn't kill a tree, okay. And, some of your message got missed somehow?

This message was edited Jan 29, 2009 3:53 PM

Albuquerque, NM(Zone 7b)

I guess I did leave a sentence unfinished. Just wanted to express that I don't know what degree of chemical contamination may or may not exist on your property. I'm just responding to what you typed.

Gastonia, NC(Zone 7b)

Gotcha. I don't know either, clearly. But my concern originally is mostly in terms of the health of the land and I honestly was not even thinking so much about how it might impact me if I ate something grown there. Also, the folks in the house do grow veggies, I ate them last fall (good stuff! ;-) ) and no harm....... this little area I am working with, though, is at the bottom of the slope and clearly did have a pile sort of shoved up to form a little mound...... so it seems if anything has accumulated it would be right there.......

and I do thank you for the mushroom info, very interesting!

Casper, WY(Zone 4a)

I'm not familiar with the plant but I have Sunset Western GArden book which states that
there are 3 different species, but your isn't mentioned. However general info is as follows:
Twining vines that are vigorous growers. Unwanted growth needs to be thinned out in late dormant season, or after bloom. It can get thick and tangled to prevent selective thinning. In that case cut it to the ground during early spring. It needs regular to ample water

This plant is related to the Dutchman's Pipe

Gastonia, NC(Zone 7b)

Hi Blomma, thank you for looking it up. I did decide not to get involved with this snakeroot project this year for various reasons but the main one being that this particular plant would be too tricky here at this stage of things...... I am just starting a brand new garden in an unfamiliar climate, so. I learned that the one in question is actually a threatened (or endangered) species, too, and is sought because of its part in the lifecycle of a certain butterfly.... so this is a level of gardening focus that needs to wait til I have some basics in place.


Casper, WY(Zone 4a)

Hi Kylaluaz
I sure know that feeling. I have lived in NY, MA, NE, and now WY and had to learn gardening all over again. NY and MA was more or less the same but the switch from MA to NE put serious dents in my years of gardening knowledge. A gardening culture shock, to say the least. I moved from zone 5, to zone 4. Completely different climate that is harsh on cultivated plants.

Gastonia, NC(Zone 7b)

hahaha "gardening culture shock" is the perfect description!

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