Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Noxious Oriental Bittersweet

First your eyes are drawn to the attractive yellow capsules enclosing striking red fleshy fruits. Then you notice the berried vine climbing high into the tree canopy or draping over a shrub... maybe even flowing over an arbor or fence. You think to yourself, “ What a striking plant! What is it and where can I get one?”

Thus the siren song of Bittersweet begins. The plant just described is Oriental Bittersweet, Celastrus orbiculatus, and is one of the most aggressive and serious invasive, exotic plants in our area. A twining, climbing vine, Oriental Bittersweet can drape and climb over other desirable shrubs and trees, eventually shading out other plants and girdling the unlucky plants that support the vine.

Enormous root systems, robust annual growth, and numerous seedlings allow the vine to spread throughout forest and urban landscapes. The seeds are also consumed by birds and other animals and are then scattered wherever they are deposited. In western North Carolina, Bittersweet vines are commonly made into decorative wreaths, which are sold to unsuspecting buyers. When the vines are discarded, whether in the compost pile or thrown out in the woods, the cycle begins anew and Bittersweet claims new real estate.

Native plant enthusiasts will point out that there is a native American Bittersweet, Celastus scandens, which is nowhere near as aggressive or threatening as its exotic cousin. However, there is documented evidence that the two species can hybridize, leading to more aggressive tendencies of the resulting hybrid vine. The main difference between American Bittersweet and Oriental Bittersweet is the location of the flowers (and thus, later on the berries). American Bittersweet bears terminal flowers at the tips of the branches, while Oriental Bittersweet bears axillary flowers all along the vine. American Bittersweet seed capsules are orangish-yellow and lack the two-toned coloration.

Oriental Bittersweet
Strangely enough, Oriental Bittersweet is still noted as an ornamental species by some sources despite its reputation as an ecological menace. It is listed as a noxious, invasive weed in North Carolina.

While wintertime is not the recommended time of year for eradication efforts of Oriental Bittersweet, it is the perfect time for easily identifying where the vine persists. Flagging tape or selective markings with spray paint can label the plant now so that control efforts can be made during the following growing season. The USDA publication Nonnative Invasive Plants of Southern Forests has information on controlling Oriental Bittersweet as well as other devastating invasive plants.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Free Cut Flower Production for Beginner Mountain Growers

Free Cut Flower Production for Beginner Mountain Growers
Educational Workshop - Thursday, December 9, from 1:00 PM-5:00 PM
Watauga County Agricultural Conference Center

Could growing and selling cut flowers be a profitable enterprise for you and your farm? On the afternoon of Thursday, December 9, a panel of regional experts will present on topics that can help you answer that question. Whether you are preparing to farm for the first time, or just to add cut flowers to your current agricultural enterprises, winter is the time to plan for success. Topics covered will include:
·      What It Takes to Get Started in Cut Flowers
·      Insects and Diseases of Cut Flowers
·      Perennials for Cut Flower Production
·      Organic and Alternative Pest Control Options for Cut Flower Growers
·      Marketing Options for Cut Flowers

The workshop, which begins at 1:00 PM on Thursday, 12/9, is free and open to the public. It is geared toward educating commercial farmers and market gardeners, but smaller-scale gardeners with an interest in cut flower production are also welcome. The workshop program has been approved by NCDA for 2 hours of Pesticide Credits in License Sub-Classes L,N,O,D, and X. The workshop will be held at the Watauga County Agricultural Conference Center, located at 252 Poplar Grove Rd., in Boone, NC.

A team of professional growers and Extension Agents with several decades of experience in the cut flower industry between them will present the workshop:
·      Susan Wright founded Shady Grove Gardens & Nursery in 1986, doing landscape consulting and design. Shady Grove Garden's main business is now growing perennials, cut flowers and offering floral design with locally grown flowers.. She sells cut flowers to several wholesale clients as well as at the Saturday Watauga County Farmers Market and the Thursday Blowing Rock Fresh Market.
·      Hollis Wild is the founder of Appalachian Trees Nursery in Glendale Springs, NC, and a member of the Ashe County Farmers Market. She now raises a mix of vegetables and ornamentals, in greenhouses, high tunnels, and out in the field. She received a 2010 RAFI grant to add perennial species for cut flower production to her operation.
·      Craig Adkins is an Area Specialized Agent for Commercial Horticulture responsible for the commercial horticulture educational program in Caldwell, Alexander, Burke, Catawba, McDowell and Wilkes Counties. He has worked with a wide range of successful flower growers, from small-scale market gardeners to large wholesale nurseries.
·      Richard Boylan is an Area Specialized Agent for Alternative Agriculture in Ashe & Watauga Counties.
For more information and to register, call Watauga Cooperative Extension at 828-264-3061.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Looking for Laricobius

The US Forest Service is trying to determine if breeding populations of a beetle known as Laricobius are establishing themselves on adelgid-infested hemlocks. The beetles are natural predators of the hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA) and are found on western hemlocks on the west coast. Local entomologist, Dr. Richard McDonald, has been collecting Laricobius beetles for the Forest Service to release them here in our adelgid-infested mountains. The Forest Service has established several sampling sites to try and capture the beetles to prove that they are setting up shop, feeding on adelgids, and reproducing on their own.

County Director, Jim Hamilton, has accompanied US Forest Service Intern Bill Sweeney on several sampling trips to a stand of hemlocks adjacent to Valle Crucis Community Park. Pictured below are Sweeney (right) and Brian Chatham from Watauga Soil and Water checking a "beat board" (where foliage has been shaken to see what falls out!). Since Laricobius beetles hatch from eggs laid in the litter below trees, collection traps are placed into the soil in an attempt to capture them as they crawl out of the soil to seek out adelgids. While a few beetles were found in the foliage of these hemlocks earlier in the year, their offspring have yet to be detected in the traps this fall.