Tag Archives: Beauty in Our Midst

Fringetree on Rocky Neck ~ American Native Beauty in Our Midst

Fringetree Chionanthus virginicus  Gloucester MA ©Kim Smith 2014jpgFringetree (Chionanthus virginicus)

Fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus), the American native small tree, is so rarely planted today. Trees and plants trend at nurseries and, unfortunately, Fringetree has become one of those beauties that we need reminding of its great merits. The above specimen can be seen today in full glorious bloom on Rocky Neck, across the street from Judith and Gordon Goetmann’s Gallery. The botanical name translates lossely as snow flower, aptly describing the fluffy panicles covering the Fringetree when in bloom.

Fringetree Chionanthus virginicus Rocky Neck Gloucester MA -2 ©Kim Smith 2014

The sweetly scented airy blossoms are attractive to bees and butterflies and the ripened fruits are a wonderful food source for songbirds and small mammals. In autumn, the foliage turns a brilliant clear golden yellow. Fringetree grows from Canada to the Gulf Coast, and famously tolerates air pollution, making it ideal for urban landscapes. Grow Fringetree in sun to part sun, in moist fertile soil. At maturity, the tree tops out at twelve to twenty feet high and equally as wide.

The one negative is that Fringetree is slow to leaf out in spring, with a tendency to look dry and woody. Don’t plant it with your spring ephemerals and you won’t notice!

Fringetree Chionanthus virginicus  Gloucester MA -2 ©Kim Smith 2014Fringetrees are dioecious, which means they have separate male and female plants, similar to hollies. Some flowers are “perfect,” meaning they have male and female parts. The male’s flowers are showier than the females, and the female and perfect flowers give way to blackish-blue fruit in late summer. Chionanthus virginicus is a member of the Oleaceae, or Olive Family, and the fruits of Fringetree are similar looking to that of Olea eruopea, the olive tree cultivated throughout the Mediterranean, Africa and Asia for its edible fruit.

I ran into Anne Malvaux while photographing the Rocky Neck Fringetree and she reports that she doesn’t recall seeing any fruit, which means it is most likely a male of the species, or that the fruit is so delicious it is quickly devoured by wildlife (often the case with native trees and shrubs). Or if it is a female and doesn’t bear fruit, it may because there is no males growing nearby. We’ll have a another look in late summer.Fringetree Chionanthus virginicus Rocky Neck Gloucester MA ©Kim Smith 2014

Beauty in Our Midst

Habitat Gardening

Native cherry tree ©Kim Smith 2013

Sunday morning I was planting my friend Janet’s butterfly garden over at Beach Road. She has the most beautiful native cherry tree (Prunus) growing alongside her home. The tree was planted by her parents and has been beautifully maintained over the years. Black Cherry and Chokecherry are often thought of as weed trees however, when they are well-cared for, they will reward you with lovely boughs covered in racemes of tiny white five-petaled flowers. Cherries are a caterpillar food plant for the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail and while at Janet’s, we saw several Eastern Tiger Swallowtails investigating the foliage and racemes. The fruits, too, of the cherry are much loved by the songbirds.

American Robin nest ©Kim Smith 2013

Yesterday was a great day for butterfly sightings and Robins! Under the eaves of Janet’s porch is an American Robin nest. Pa and Ma Robin flew to and from the nest, scolding loudly each time I walked past as they were none to happy to see me.

American Robin male and female  ©Kim Smith 2013

Ma and Pa Robin conferring over my extremely annoying presence

American Robin nest -1  ©Kim Smith 2013 copy

What a sloppy nest by Robin standards!  ~ I actually think it is interesting with the blue streamers

More about the American Robin on GMG

Happy Earth Day and Habitat Gardening 101

To celebrate Earth Day (Earth Week-Earth Month-Everyday is Earth Day!), I am beginning a new series on GMG titled Habitat Gardening 101. The series is based on the lectures that I give to area conservation groups, garden clubs, libraries, and schools and is designed to provide information on the relationships between our native flora and fauna, and how to translate that information to your own garden. You will find in this series information on how to support and encourage to your garden a wide variety of wildlife, including songbirds, butterflies, bees, moths, skippers, hummingbirds, and small mammals, and the trees, wildflowers, shrubs, vines, and groundcovers that sustain these beautiful creatures.

This series could just as well be titled Beauty in Our Midst because there are so many gems to be found along our shoreline, meadows, fields, wetlands, dunes, woodlands, and roadsides. Although the series will cover a wide array of flora and wildlife, the first posts will be about several butterfly attracting trees and shrubs because they are currently in bloom. Coming Wednesday, the North American native Pussy Willow will be featured. For today, the following is one of my Top Ten Tips for Attracting Lepidoptera to Your Garden.

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Habitat Gardening 101 Tip #1: Plant Caterpillar Food Plants

So you want to attract tons of butterflies to your garden and you plant lots of gorgeous, colorful nectar-rich plants—and that is wonderful. To your garden will come many beautiful, albeit transient, butterflies, along with an array of many different species of beneficial pollinators. However, if you want butterflies to colonize your garden, in other words, to experience the grand beauty of the creature through all its stages of life, from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to adult, you must also plant caterpillar food plants.

Black Swallowtail Caterpillar egg fennel ©Kim Smith 2013

Black Swallowtail Butterfly Egg on Fennel (the pinhead-sized golden yellow dot)

Each species of butterfly caterpillar will only eat from a family of plants it has coevolved a relationship with over millennia. We call this a caterpillar food plant, host plant, or larval food plant.

Perhaps you may recall that the Monarch Butterfly only deposits her eggs on milkweed plants. The Black Swallowtail Butterfly deposits her eggs on, and the caterpillars feast on, members of Umbelliferae (Apiaceae), or carrot family of plants, including carrots, parsley, fennel, dill, and Queen Anne’s Lace. Some caterpillars, like the stunning Eastern Tiger Swallowtail feed from several plant families, like those of Magnoliaceae and Rosaceae, which species include the Wild Black Cherry, the Tulip Tree, and the Sweet Bay Magnolia.

  Black Swallowtail Caterpillar Eating Parsley

If you see a green, black and yellow striped and spotted caterpillar munching on your parsley plant, it is not a Monarch caterpillar; it is a Black Swallowtail caterpillar (I am often asked this question). Monarch caterpillars are striped yellow, black, and white, always. You will never find a Black Swallowtail caterpillar munching on milkweed; likewise you will never find a Monarch caterpillar eating your parsley and fennel.

Another question frequently asked is, if I invite caterpillars to my garden, will they devour all the foliage. The answer is, for the most part, no. The damage done is relatively minimal, the plant generally recovers quickly, and bear in mind too, that plants have evolved with many mechanisms to discourage their complete destruction. Remember, the plant was responsible for inviting the butterfly to its flower in the first place!

 Black Swallowtail Caterpillar fennel ©Kim Smith 2013

Note too, that if you invite butterflies to your garden to deposit their eggs, please don’t turn around and spray pesticides, which will kill all, indiscriminately. A habitat garden, by its very definition, is an organic garden, which means no herbicides, insecticides, pesticides, and chemical fertilizers.

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Feel free to send any and all questions, suggestions for a topic, or curiosity, to the comment section under each post.

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Cape Ann Milkweed Project Update: Because of the chilly spring weather, milkweed shoots are slow to emerge.

Link to a list of lectures and workshops at Kim Smith Designs