And the Winner Is….

Every year since 1995, the Garden Club of America has identified a worthy North American native plant to receive its Montine McDaniel Freeman Medal for Plant of the Year. The medal was established to honor underutilized but valuable trees, shrubs, ground covers, vines and perennials, make them more familiar to gardeners and nurseries and encourage their use in both personal and public landscapes. It is the only GCA award presented to a plant. The medal is awarded to a herbaceous plant in even years and to a native woody tree or shrub in odd years, with vines falling in either category.

This year’s GCA winner is the Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa) and Honorable Mention was Arctostaphylos densiflora “Howard McMinn”. As the GCA website ( reports, Bur Oak is noted for its beautiful shape, long horizontal branches and tolerance for pollution, drought, wind and cold. Hardy to USDA Zones 4 to 8 and parts of Texas, the tree often reaches 100 feet at maturity and commonly lives to be over 200 years. Its nine inch dark green leaves turn yellow-brown to russet in the fall, and the acorns are the largest of all native oaks.  “Oaks are critical in supporting native pollinators and providing food and shelter for wildlife,” says Alice Thomas of the GCA. “The outstanding specimen is ideal for parks, street-side locations and large yards.”

Now is the time to nominate your favorite herbaceous native plant or possibly vine for the 2016 Freeman Medal. The deadline is December 1, 2015. Information is available on the GCA website:( or through your GCH Hort chairs, and Put your thinking caps on, grab a friend and nominate. Everyone will benefit.

Scholarship Opportunities

Want to study botany, native bird habitat, landscape architecture, urban forestry… the list of horticultural fields covered by the Garden Club of America (GCA) scholarships is long. In March 2015, 91 scholars and students were awarded over $315,000 in funding for everything from summer environmental study and field work to graduate level research at schools and institutions across the country and abroad.

For information on GCA scholarship opportunities visit


Showy Lady’s-Slipper (Cypripedium reginae).

Showy Lady’s-Slipper (Cypripedium reginae).

Plants in Peril

Take a walk in the woods or along the shore, and you’ll see a variety of the nearly 3,500 plants that are native to New England – but not as many as your parents might have. According to a study by the New England Wild Flower Society, 22 percent of the native plant species in Connecticut are now extinct, rare or in a state of decline. They’ve been strangled by invasive vines like the Japanese bittersweet engulfing trees along the highway; they’ve been trampled by hikers, threatened by rising water levels and temperatures, obliterated by new dams, eaten by deer, and bulldozed out of existence.

What’s taking their place? Thirty one percent of the plants growing here aren’t native, and invasive species, plants that have no natural enemies, produce multiple seeds and proliferate without check, now make up 10 percent of the plants in New England ( for the CT invasive plants list). These garden thugs crowd out more desirable plants.

And when a plant population declines, the wildlife supports declines, too. Purple milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens), once prolific, is now rare – and so are the monarch butterflies it supports. In fact, many pollinators – as well as animals and other insects — are threatened in today’s non-native environment.

Northern Blazing Star (Liatris novae-angliae)

Northern Blazing Star (Liatris novae-angliae)

The report makes the following recommendations about ways to take the stress off native plants.

What You Can Do In Your Daily Life

  • Enjoy the great outdoors, and learn about the plants you see • Grow plants native to New England, as the centerpiece of your garden and to replace your non-native lawn • Minimize fertilizers and pesticides, which pollute water and kill pollinators • Identify and control non-native invasive plants on your property • Support   and volunteer with your local land trust or conservation organization.

In Your Community

  • Urge your local garden centers to sell New England native plants grown from seed • Advocate for your schools, environmental centers, and scout troops to teach botany and ecology
  • Encourage local farms to use low-impact or organic methods, without the use of pesticides that harm pollinators • Talk with town officials about the value of using native plants in public projects • Get involved in your town’s planning process, to advocate for ecologically sensitive development

At State and National Levels

  • Advocate for funding for land protection, management, and restoration • Support strengthening laws that protect wetlands and other sensitive habitats from unwise development or use • Advocate for laws that protect endangered species and eliminate loopholes • Support legislation to reduce greenhouse gas and pollutant emissions.

For more information, go to:


Invasive Plants

Invasive plants are a menace to native species across New England.orientalbittersweet

They can spread profusely, cutting down on habitat and foods for native wildlife. Look out the window along nearly any highway and see what Asiatic bittersweet (left), Japanese knotweed (right) and a host of other invaknotweedsives have done to the landscape. These plants SHOULD NOT be planted in your garden, nor should they be included in floral designs.   Click here for a list of plants considered invasive in CT.

Rare or endangered plants are likewise not good plant material for gardens or arrangements. Though it may seem that planting these would encourage their growth, the problem is the sourcing of these plants – if a nursery takes them from the wild, destruction of habitat is again occurring. Click here for a list of CT endangered plants.

Hort Flash!

Our Need for Bees…and All Pollinators

“Not a single bee has ever sent you an invoice. And that is part of the problem – because most of what comes to us from nature is free, because it is not invoiced, because it is not priced, because it is not traded in markets, we tend to ignore it.”–The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, 2010 United Nations Report–

Honeybees: Bees are the biggest group of pollinators; they account for about 80 percent of all pollination. They’re not native to this country, having been brought over from Europe by early settlers. They adapted quickly though, and without them, we’d be deprived of roughly 1/3 of the foods we eat.

What motivates bees to pollinate? Bees live on pollen, a source of protein and fat, and nectar, a source of carbohydrate. As they forage, bees pick up pollen, which is a plant’s male egg or gamete, and transfer it to the stigma, or female part, of the next flower of the same species, mating the plants. The result is a pear or apple or whatever…and a contribution of roughly $20 billion to the US economy yearly.

Honeybees are social creatures, living in family groups of as many as 60,000. Their colonies winter over and can last for several years. Bees make honey, essentially a concentrated form of nectar, so they’ll have food to live on through the winter. A bee will make about 1/12 teaspoon of this concentrated nectar over its lifetime.

Bumblebees: These fat, furry bees, on the other hand, don’t live a full calendar year – except for the queen. She mates in the fall, finds a hole (a birdhouse, an abandoned rodent hole) and spends the winter there, emerging in early spring to gather pollen and nectar for the energy of birthing. She builds her nest, lays her eggs and incubates them by lying on them and wiggling to generate heat.

and …: Butterflies and moths are also pollinators, and they are also decreasing in number. This past winter, the monarch migration from Canada and the US to Mexico reached an all-time low.

Dying Populations: Bees and other pollinators aren’t doing very well these days. Colony Collapse Disorder — when honeybees simply disappear from their hives en masse — is a complex problem mand probably has a variety of contributors. For instance, varroa destructor, a parasitic mite, is a serious threat.   And last month, a report in an online journal mBio and reported in the New York Times, “found that the increase in honeybee deaths that generally starts in autumn and peaks in winter was correlated with increasing infections by a variant of the tobacco ringspot virus. The virus is found in pollen that bees pick up while foraging, and it may be spread as the bees mix saliva and nectar with pollen to make ‘bee bread’ for larvae to eat. Mites that feed on the bees may also be involved in transmitting the virus, the researchers said.” The report also noted that the rapidly mutating virus had jumped from tobacco plants to soy plants to bees.

Pesticides are also problematic, which makes sense since they are designed to kill bugs.   Recently, fingers have pointed at neonicotinoid pesticides, neurotoxins that act on information processing – the ability to function and perform tasks. Some scientists suspect that the famous honeybee dance — the way honeybees tell their colleagues about potent sources of nectar and pollen – is threatened by these systemic pesticides, which are found in all sorts of agricultural products – from lawn treatments to seed casings to chemicals to use in your compost pile. They’re even found in animal flea treatments. The EU recently imposed a three-year ban on neonicotinoid pesticides.

*Create inviting habitat. Loss of habitat and pesticide destruction of the Monarch caterpillar’s ONLY food – milkweed – are major contributors to its demise.

Wildflowers (even some weeds such as dandelions, which are high in pollen and nectar) or simple, old-fashioned flowers – think cottage garden – are best. Many hybridized plants have had the pollen and nectar practically bred out of them, rendering them sterile. Visit for some ideas about regional plants and their pollinator value. See below for some good sources of seeds.

*Think twice – and then think again – about using pesticides.

*Be willing to pay the price for honey from a local producer who cares about his or her bees – and if the price seems high, remember how much work went into making that honey.

*Eat as much organic food as you can afford. Or grow your own. The fewer pesticides in the world, the better for us all.

For more information, go to or, the website of the Mid-Atlantic Apiculture Research and Extension Consortium (MAAREC), or, a USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) article on the importance of protecting pollinators.


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