What Have Plants Ever Done for Us? Western Civilization in Fifty Plants, by Stephen Harris.
by Nancy Brooks, Extension Master Gardener
Monty Python’s skit, What Have the Romans Ever Done for Us? (“All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”) may be the inspiration for both this title as well as the very British author’s humorous and entertaining approach to the plant world. Stephen Harris is a plant scientist and curator of the Oxford University Herbaria, where he contributes to courses in plant conservation biology, plant biodiversity, and field biology. Harris has selected 50 plants, which he argues have been important to global history, and he includes illustrative stories of travel, trade, politics, medicine, and chemistry. Among the provocative questions Harris attempts to answer in this book are: “When did the British government become the world’s largest drugs pusher (opium poppy, page 24)?”; “What tree is frequently used to treat cancer?”(yew, page 65); and “Which everyday condiment is the most widely traded spice on the planet (pepper, page 93)?” Continue reading →
Fallopia japonica, syn. Polygonum cuspidatum, syn. Reynoutria japonica (Japanese knotweed) is a particularly aggressive buckwheat family member found throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. The plant was introduced to the United States from Japan in the early 1800s as an ornamental and erosion-control plant and has been considered as invasive, especially in riparian areas, since it escaped cultivation in the 1930s. Continue reading →
Spring cleaning is not just for rugs and rooms. Planting beds need attention early in March. Many weed seeds will have already germinated on warm winter days. But, you ask, “is it a weed, or a plant?”Weeds of the Northeast by Richard H. Uva et al., and the University of Maryland Extension’s Weed Identification Photosare excellent identification sources. Note that many of these annual weeds have poetic names—chickweed, speedwell, henbit or dead nettle, gill-over-the-ground or ground ivy, mulberry weed, hairy bittercress—but they are not at all poetic when they take over your garden. In fact, they need to be pulled before they set seed. Mulberry weed and hairy bittercress seed prolifically, and are two of the most invasive. Pull them by hand or use a hoe to cut off and discard the tops. Do not worry about leaving the roots because most winter weeds are annuals and will not resprout from the roots (although dandelions are perennials and the tap roots need to be dug up). Diligence in weeding now, when it is cool and there are no mosquitoes, even 15 minutes a day, can save you much effort and frustration later in the season.
Flowers are pink and bristly. Photo: Oregon State University
Cirsium arvense, (Canada thistle), a native of southeastern Europe and the Mediterranean, was brought to North America in early 1700s, probably as a contaminant of crop seed. By the end of the century is was already recognized as a noxious weed in crops, and it is now recognized as invasive in open natural areas, such as fields, meadows, wet prairies, and even inhospitable sand dunes, through most of the United States. Continue reading →
All the Presidents’ Gardens: Madison’s Cabbages to Kennedy’s Roses—How the White House Grounds Have Grown with America by Marta McDowell
By Susan Wilhelm, Extension Master Gardener
We who live in the DC-Metro area are fortunate to be surrounded by many wonderful historical gardens, such as Mount Vernon, Hillwood, and Tudor Place. Among these are the gardens at the White House. All the Presidents’ Gardens: Madison’s Cabbages to Kennedy’s Roses—How the White House Grounds Have Grown with America (All the President’s Gardens) by Marta McDowell is a fascinating history of the White House grounds and gardens and how they evolved over time. Continue reading →
One of more damaging invasive species in the Mid-Atlantic region, Microstegium vimineum, (Japanese stiltgrass) threatens wooded areas and is increasingly found on farms and in residential areas where it can invade lawns, landscape beds, and vegetable gardens. This native of China, Japan, and India was first documented in Tennessee in 1919 when it was thought to have been accidentally introduced through its use as packing material in shipments of porcelain. Continue reading →
Microgreens – You’ve likely seen them, but what makes them so good for you? Join us to learn their many benefits, and some simple ways to grow these delicious, nutritious and inexpensive baby plants and sprouts in your own home. Plus, we provide supplies for you to plant your own container. So come prepared to get a bit dirty while you make your own microgreen garden in class!
This event is offered by Extension Master Gardeners.
Here in the midst of winter we invite you to learn more about rosemary and lavender – their backgrounds, growth habits, and needs; their culinary, fragrance, and medicinal uses. Both herbs are ingredients for food or drink served as “tastes” at our annual AutumnFest celebration in mid-September. Rosemary Herbed Pecans and Lavender Poundcake taste-tested recipes are included below.
Another “top ten” invasive plant in Arlington County is multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora), a perennial shrub introduced to the United States from Asia in the 1860s as rootstock for ornamental roses. It was subsequently recommended by state conservation departments to provide erosion control, provide cover for wildlife, serve as an economical “living fence” to confine livestock, and provide a buffer for highway medians. It has since escaped from these plantings and now poses a serious problem throughout the eastern half of the United States. Continue reading →
Glechoma hederacea (ground ivy), also known as creeping Charlie and gill-over-the-ground, is listed as invasive in both Arlington County and the City of Alexandria and has been reported in national parks in Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D. C., West Virginia, and Tennessee. A European native plant, this herbaceous perennial was brought to North America by early settlers as a medicinal plant for skin and internal ailments.
Ground ivy is member of the mint family with square stems, two-lipped bluish-purple flowers, and pairs of leaves at each node. Its leaves are rounded to kidney-shaped with scalloped margins and have a distinct minty odor when crushed. The plant creeps over the soil surface by means of stolons, forming a thick mat and crowding out native plants when it invades roadsides, pastures, orchards, and open woods. It is considered especially troublesome as a weed in lawns. Continue reading →
As we go into the colder temperatures of the year, a very important concern continues to be soil moisture content. Our recent rains notwithstanding, this area has received very little rain in the last 6 months. This fall, all of our plants are a bit ‘thirsty’ as they enter their dormant season.
Young or newly planted trees that have not spread their feeder roots into the surrounding soils will require more attention and regular irrigation because of limited abilities in obtaining water in their growing environment. All newly planted trees should have 1 inches of water per week- even in the winter- for two years. Continue reading →
How to Build Inexpensive and Effective Grow Lights
Give your plants a healthy start with grow lights to ensure your seedlings get great light indoors, even when it’s freezing outside. Grow unusual and hard-to-find varieties of vegetables not offered at local garden centers, or farm nutritious microgreens indoors. Learn the pros and cons of light systems and options for creating your own. Instructions and material lists provided are to help you jumpstart your garden. This class is offered by Extension Master Gardeners.
2020 Tried and True Native Plant Selections for the Mid-Atlantic
Holly species thrive in Mid-Atlantic gardens, and the Inkberry is one with lustrous, evergreen foliage all year. This native holly of the Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plains displays lustrous evergreen foliage, which, along with its adaptability to varying light and moisture conditions, makes it a desirable alternative to finicky boxwoods. Wildlife favor its fruit and honey bees its nectar. More . . .