This site is for people who like plants -- growers, enthusiasts, aesthetes, novices and professionals, those who appreciate wild things and those who appreciate the cultivated. I garden in Chelsea, and I've been visiting people's yards for 20+ years in the course of my work. My goal is to make this blog a community project, so if you share my interests, please consider becoming a participant and contributing content -- Guerin. Info:

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Big bad gypsy moth in Dexter; Arum and chestnut oak

Never saw this coming: nearly 100% defoliation of white oaks in Dexter due to a sudden explosion in the population of gypsy moths. What is strange to me is how localized this is. I have noticed no caterpillars in Chelsea. Just west of Ann Arbor, I saw a medium amount of damage, which probably would have gone unnoticed if the insect droppings hadn't been falling into a swimming pool.

An entomologist at MSU asked me and others to keep an eye on the caterpillar as it morphs into its final stages before pupation. With a high density of insects, the population is prone to collapse because the recent rains are favorable to the development and spread of an insect-killing fungus, Entomophaga maimaiga. The fungus was deliberately introduced into the environment for the purpose of controlling gypsy moth, and it has been doing an excellent job for the past 24 years.   

Enough of that! Let's look at some plants: One doesn't see Arum italicum in gardens very often, but it's an easy plant to grow, and it seeds around at a healthy but manageable rate. It's mostly grown for its foliage (absent in mid-summer!), but the flowers can make a nice effect. This picture was taken a couple weeks ago. (Also note the yellow spider-spaceship flower from an unidentified ever-flowering(!) Epimedium).

I was on the MSU campus recently and pulled my car over to check out an unfamiliar recently-planted street tree. Such luck: it still had its label, "Quercus montana." I thought I knew my oaks but I had never heard of this one. Turns out Q. montana is synonymous with Quercus prinus, the chestnut oak, which is a major species that I know from Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Previously it was listed in Michigan Flora as being native to Michigan, one specimen having been 'located' in Waterloo Recreation Area. (My guess is that the specimen was actually an exceptionally large dwarf-chestnut oak, Quercus prinoides.)
Chestnut oak along the Jersey shore
Before I test my readers' patience any longer, let me say that chestnut oak is a lovely tree, it has distinct blocky bark, and kudos for the folks at MSU for planting it.

I've never been certain about the identity of a certain tree-forming viburnum that one sees around town, particularly around old houses in older neighborhoods. This one is at a residence on Geddes Rd, and I've seen others on Pineridge on the west side and also around Grosse Pointe. The attractive fruit starts as a pink-red but turns very dark with age. My guess is that it is Viburnum sielboldii, which my old reference books say can grow into a tree.
I don't recall ever seeing it for sale at a nursery. Perhaps one day it will become the fashion once again, just need someone to tidy it up a little and then slap a fancy cultivar name onto it.


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