Tag Archives: native plants for birds

The Dreadfully Despicable and Despised Poison Ivy

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Eastern Bluebird and Poison Ivy Berries

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“Leaflets three, let it be!”

Perhaps the most disliked plant of all is poison ivy, despised throughout its range for the blistering rash that oozes and itches when one has the misfortune to come in contact with any part of the plant. What is the substance that causes that most dreaded of unpleasant of rashes? Poison ivy is infused with urushiol, a compound that not only wards off humans, but caterpillars, too (generally speaking, caterpillars are a plant’s number one enemy).

Toxicodendron_radicans_01Poison Ivy in Flower

Several of my landscape design projects are located on Plum Island. I laughed initially when it was first brought to my attention that poison ivy was one of the “approved” plants permitted on Plum Island. Of course, whether approved or not, I wouldn’t dream of planting poison ivy on a client’s property, but I did want to learn more about why it was on the approved list. And here’s the reason why we might want to rethink our disdain towards poison ivy: Plum Island is home to and breeding ground for hundreds of bird species and small animals. The blossoms of poison ivy are a rich nectar source for many pollinators and the berries are a prime winter staple for dozens and dozens of song birds, including cardinals, mockingbirds, and robins.

800px-Toxicodendron_radicans_(L.)_Kuntze_-_eastern_poison_ivy,_poison_ivy,_poisonivy_(3778180456)“Berries white, run in fright.” ~ More than 60 species of birds eat the fruit of poison ivy.

Malign poison ivy if you will for its dreadful rash and clamoring habit. Lets rip it out of our backyard play spaces and public pathways. But knowing it holds an important place in our ecosystem, lets allow it to continue to grow wild in wild and appropriate places. Poison ivy is one of the essential reasons why we are privy to the legions and legions of beautiful birds that dwell, nest, and migrate through our region.

140256018.pF0PzVtqYellow-rumped Warbler and Poison Ivy Fruits

Yellow-rumped warblers are able to withstand our cold winters by switching from a diet of primarily insects, to one of poison ivy berries, bayberry, and other small fruits.

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“Red hairy vine, no friend of mine!”

The telltale reddish hairs of the vine are clearly evident in the above image; leaves, vines, stems, and hairs are all toxic to humans. As I am constantly exposed to poison ivy due to landscape design projects, and oftentimes filming and photographing in locations where poison ivy is prevalent, my number one solution to avoiding contact is to identify its presence and to wear protective clothing. Knowing poison ivy’s mnemonic rhymes will help with its identification: “Leaves of three, let it be!”, “Berries white, run in fright!”, and “Red hairy vine, no friend of mine!”

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My sincere thanks to John Snyder for the use of his photos. Permission to post the bluebird and poison ivy berry photo was requested and John not only graciously allowed the photo, he also forwarded along the photo of the Yellow-rumped Warbler. You can see more of his beautiful photos here: John Snyder Photography.

All other images are courtesy Wiki Commons Media. 

Check Out the Native Wildflowers at the HarborWalk Tonight Before the Outdoor Screening of Wizard of Oz

Bee Purple Prairie Clover Dalea purpurea Gloucester Harbor Walk Butterfly Gardens ©Kim Smith 2014. JPGPurple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea)

Yesterday afternoon and evening while weeding at the HarborWalk butterfly gardens I encountered a gorgeous male Summer Azure butterfly, lots of friendly Red Admirals, and myriad bees. If you are there at the HarborWalk tonight watching the The Wizard of Oz, stroll through the gardens and have a look at these beautiful native wildflowers in bloom today!Veronicastrum virginicum Bee Gloucester Harbor Walk Butterfly Gardens ©Kim Smith 2014

Veronicastrum virginicum

You may notice some bare spots in the garden, which will soon be filled! Hose spigots were just installed this week at the gardens and we now have an improved way to water!!!!! Up to this point, for the past several years, Lenny Linquata has graciously allowed the city to hook up hoses and fill watering cans at his restaurant spigot. Monarda didyma Bee Balm Gloucester Harbor Walk Butterfly Gardens ©Kim Smith 2014

Bee Balm (Monarda didyma)

See previous GMG posts for more information about Gloucester’s Summer Cinema:

Coming This Summer: Free Movie Night

Free Out Door Summer Cinema Series summer-cinema-free-movies Veronicastrum virginicum Gloucester Harbor Walk Butterfly Gardens ©Kim Smith 2014

Hellenium  Purple Prairie Clover Dalea Gloucester Harbor Walk Butterfly Gardens ©Kim Smith 2014JPGHelenium autumnale and Dalea purpurea make a cheery bee and butterfly attracting duo!

I Love Sumac!

Now that’s not an opinion you don’t hear very often. I try to get my clients to love it too or, if they can’t enjoy Smooth Sumac for its unusual beauty, to at least appreciate the shrub for the myriad species of wildlife that it supports.

American Robins Eating Sumac ©Kim Smith 2014American Robin Flock Eating Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra) Berries

Yesterday while walking through Halibut Reservation with daughter Liv, we encountered a very large flock of robins devouring seeds of sumac. The beautiful clump of sumac, with its bare crooked, leaning trunks and raspberry pink furry seedheads made a striking combination of shapes and textures against the windswept ocean vista. We disturbed the robin feast, but then Liv walked further down the path to photograph the Atlantic and I stayed behind, half hidden by an evergreen tree. The robins quickly returned to the ripened seedheads and I got to snap away until the next walker came along.

Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra) is a shrub that naturally forms colonies; it can also be grown as a beautiful single-trunk tree. The yellowy-green flowers on female plants give way to deep rusty red berries held in erect, pyramidal clusters. What makes sumac so invaluable to wildlife? The fruits persist through the winter, providing nourishment for many, many species of birds and small mammals. Additionally, the foliage is a larval host plant for the Coral Hairstreak Butterfly!

robinarrivalsAmerican Robin and Winterberry photo submitted by Jacqueline Bennett. Thanks Jacqueline for sharing your beautiful photo!

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Liv submits apparition from Halibut Point