Taking the bad with the good

Good weather for ducks is also good for garden slugs. The wet periods we had in the Frederick area this spring have boosted slug populations. Dry conditions will reduce their activity. In drier periods, morning watering, rather than evening watering, can also help reduce slug prevalence.

May frost damage

Those of you who had tomato plants and other frost-sensitive plants damaged or killed by the late-season frosts were immediately aware of the effects of our unusual spring weather. Some trees are now showing browning at branch tips. Trees recover rapidly and are helped by pruning off the damaged areas to allow new growth to occur.

Not-so-dandy dandelions

The dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is a common plant found in many spring landscapes. Dandelions are herbaceous, perennial plants that belong to the aster family. They are readily identified by the bight, sulfur-yellow flower that forms in late April to early May. Dandelions are found in temperate regions throughout the globe. This plant has a deep taproot and is a hardy and resilient part of our landscape.

Courtesy photos

Dandelions get a bad rap as being a weed species, but much of the plant is edible and it has been used for thousands of years as a home remedy, especially in Chinese medicine. The early spring leaves can be eaten raw in salads, tasting best before the flowers are formed. Later in the season these greens can be cooked much like spinach and mixed with carrots and parsnips. Dandelion greens are high in vitamins and nutrients, especially iron and potassium, having more of these nutrients than spinach. The flower can be made into wine, coffee or tea, or cooked in a batter.

Dandelions have been used for thousands of years in Chinese medicine, having value in liver detoxification, reducing inflammation and to normalize blood sugar. They are also important sources of nectar for bees, and many species of butterflies feed on the plant sometime during their life cycle. The town of White Sulfur Springs, W.Va., has a yearly dandelion festival in the spring.

Not-so-heavenly Ailanthus

First brought to the U.S. in the late 1700s, the Ailanthus altissima is sometimes referred to as the Tree of Heaven, based on its use in Chinese medicine. The fast-growing invasive tree is commonly seen along highways and field edges. The compound, pointed alternating leaves have smooth edges. Native trees with similar alternating leaves include sumac and walnut, which are easily distinguished, since the native trees have sawtooth edges.

In China it is widely grown as a host for silkworms. It was planted in the U.S. as a fast-growing ornamental but soon grew out of favor, as it is hard to control. In many New England states it has obtained noxious weed status.

Ailanthus trees are male and female, with the female trees producing many seeds in late summer. It spreads by suckering (sprouts from roots) as well as by seed, and outcompetes native trees in reforesting disturbed areas. When cut down, it will send up shoots from the roots for several years.

Nature Notes for 5/30/2010