Sunday, February 13, 2011

Birds in Review Part XVI 'Living Bird Feeders'

I want to thank you all so much for your kind words of encouragement and for welcoming me into my third year of blogging. Your comments mean a great deal to me, are saved like precious jewels and will be treasured forever. 

 Continuing on with the 'Living Bird Feeder' theme . . . let me share two berry producing shrubs growing along the upper garden edge, that I now find may be included on Massachusetts 'Prohibited Plant List'. I am shattered to discover that my beloved mystery honeysuckle is thought to be 'Lonicera japonica' Japanese honeysuckle, which is considered invasive and noxious. Truthfully I did not know the possible identity until a few days ago, when I called the local USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services and sent the same photos, as shown here, in an email. I am confused about the biologist's identification, however, as Japanese honeysuckle is classified as a vine. My shrubs are not vines and have no vine tendencies. (The carpet of green beneath this hedgerow planting is unmistakably Bishops Weed!) I love the two honeysuckles and have spent time and money over the last two decades pruning them into graceful shapes. I never see other seedlings around the twenty-one acres I call home. Still . . . 

this lovely floriferous form seems to be prohibited in the state of Massachusetts. After more research I am convinced it must be Lonicera x bella (L. morrowii x L. tatarica.) I came to my conclusion from seeing images on two sites. You can check on this plant atlas site and this site , to see if you agree.  I love how the soft pink flowers add to the French Lilac blooms. Together they create a wall of beauty and fragrance. Alas, what am I to do? 

My resident wild honeybees will be very disappointed not to have the nectar-rich blossoms.

When I bought these plants I had no idea I was introducing an 'exotic' that would later be classified as noxious and invasive . . . then later still - Prohibited!

Birds will miss the luscious red berries. And here is the rift . . . for it is the birds, who spread the seeds across the landscape. This Honeysuckle does not spread by runners or suckers, it is only spread by the seeds cleverly hidden with the alluring berries. This is why growing native plants is so important, for birds will carry the seeds further afield and the non-natives can, and often do, overtake the natives. When these plants were purchased, over twenty years ago, I did not think enough about native plantings. There was not the awareness there is today. Well, I am sure there were many crusaders for natives but I was not aware of the importance then. Mostly, I did not know to ask or do the research.

This native Swamp Rose (Rosa palustris Marsh) survives under one of the large Rock Maples and offers lovely single fragrant flowers just outside the wild honeybee hive. They do delight in dancing within the soft pink corollas. I plan to dig up some of the suckers and begin creating a hedge along the edge of the south field. Birds also choose to build nests in the arching branches.

The rose hips are great treats to the birds . . . especially the Cardinals.

Cedar Waxwings love the berries of the Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana.) Snow damage keeps the growth of this native to only about ten feet . . . not allowing it to reach the possible 30 to 40 feet most stretch to. I have known it for many years growing happily in the blueberry field. There is a problem with allowing Eastern Red Cedar to grow here, however, for it is near my apple trees. This conifer is a host for cedar-apple rust, a fungal disease that can spread to the four apple trees just up the hill in the lower garden. It is often called a 'pioneer invader', for it may be one of the initial trees to sprout and repopulate recently cleared land.

 Deer enjoy chewing on the bark and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are often seen drilling.

Surrounding the Red Cedar, both wild High and Lowbush blueberries thrive. They were not planted by this gardener but by mother nature, once the environment was to their liking. For centuries wild blueberries have been important to North America, her indigenous peoples and later immigrants. Native Americans were known to call the berries "star berries" due to the perfect five pointed stars that form at the tip of the florets before they open into bells.

Native Highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) grow in an open field along the eastern slope of Flower Hill Farm. Over a decade ago, I began a practice of clearing some of the field, that was really more third or fourth growth white pine forest back then. The blueberries began appearing soon after, so I took this successful trial and expanded on it. I now have nearly one hundred bushes growing below the lower garden. The dainty, dangling bells attract bees and the bushes are quite beautiful in the landscape, when abloom with flowers and berries, then later with their showy red and maroon fall colors.

The delicious fruit is highly prized by a diverse wildlife community, including many birds. I believe this is a Veery about to swallow an unripe berry. It is comical to see the excited anticipation of the birds here. They can hardly wait for the berries to ripen and often I see them eating even the immature green blueberries. 

A Rose-breasted Grosbeak is eyeing just the right berry to pick. I think he has his eye on me too!

Blueberries are also a favorite of Wild Turkeys. One sultry summer day, I joyfully watched as this flock of hens and young poults were leaping up into the bushes trying to peck off the berries. They had more luck with the ones that were not wearing nets. I do cover about six bushes, so that I might have some yummy berries to harvest too.

I wrote a guest post for the wonderful blog 'Wildlife Garden' about my process of cultivating this part of my land for wild blueberries and the wildlife, that would benefit from this kind of habitat. If you would like to learn more, you can visit by clicking on the link. You will find many inspiring and informative articles about wildlife gardens featured on this important blog.

Stands of Gray Birch ( Betula populifolia) grow in the southeast facing field, along with the blueberries and Eastern Red Cedar. All require a more acidic soil to flourish. 

Goldfinches particularly benefit from the plentiful, pendulous catkins later forming seeds. Insects are aplenty within the bark and later leafy canopies, making these stunning landscape trees terrific 'living bird feeders' for a variety of birds. 
My gardens are largely made up of 'exotic' or 'alien' plants growing happily along side natives. I will continue to add more native plants each year. In fact I believe I will only add natives from here on out. If I were just starting out, I might choose to plant mostly native plants. I will be certain in future to only purchase plants that I know to be non-invasive. I now buy most of my shrubs and perennials from a nursery that only grows natives . . . native to North America that is.
Now I must have the plants I fear are invasive verified and then decide what to do. Somehow the expression "Ignorance is Bliss!" rises to the surface. Then again I do not follow that way of thinking in any aspect of my life. My conscience must be my guide here.
I try very hard to correctly identify my shrubs and wildlife. Thank you in advance for any corrections that might be called for.

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