The vine and purple flowers of the deadly nightshade, Atropa belladonna. The flowers will set small red berries, which can be deadly if eaten.
The five "leaflet" leaves in the center is a stem from the fine of a Virginia creeper. To the left are several three-leaf stems from a poison ivy vine. Note that the poison ivy shows no signs of red coloring, but still, leaves of three ... ANDREW MESSINGER
Our native perennial pea (Lathyrus latifolius) on the left of an old pine tree and just below it several mullein plants that have naturalized but are not native. ANDREW MESSINGER
Beach pea, or Lathyrus japonica, can have white or pink flowers, and while it’s great at holding dune sand in place it has minimum ornamental value. ANDREW MESSINGER
One of the things we try to look for when integrating plants into our landscapes (or seascapes out here) is what’s native. Chances are that natives and plants similar to natives will do exceptionally well.
So, of course, peas come to mind.
There is a native pea (Lathyrus japonica) that grows along the shore and bay dunes that’s know as beach pea. While it’s not a significant plant, it does hold the dune soil, needs no watering, no fertilizer, and it has lightly scented blooms.
Moving inland just a bit, there’s the native perennial pea (Lathyrus latifolius), which can be found along the highway and in some cases cultivated and adapted in the landscape.
Then there are sweet peas. These are annuals, a bit more difficult to grow, but they offer a wide range of colors, heights, and they are lightly scented.
And, finally, there are the garden peas, which can provide edible pods as well as peas for culinary uses (if they make it all the way to the kitchen). Garden peas can be planted twice, once in the spring for an early summer harvest and again in late summer for the fall harvest.
What would be really cool would be if some genius with some genetics and horticulture background could cross the beach pea with the wild pea to create a new hybrid.
I always get unusual plants showing up in my garden as if by spontaneous generation — which it isn’t. You may recall, three years ago, my adventure with a biennial adlumia (climbing bleeding heart) that took over a portion of my porch.
This year, I was weeding a very small circular garden at the front of the driveway, and there was a butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) about to bloom at the edge of the planting area. I had planted some of these five years ago, but they didn’t survive (my fault). And, here, a new one shows up 100 feet away, while the originals never set any seed that would account for the new one. I am not ungrateful for this trick of nature.
On my back porch, I have several flats of garden plants that I’m growing from seeds for next year’s garden. Most are columbines that are now 2 to 5 inches tall. But yesterday I noticed a different plant coming up in several of the cells.
Turns out they are sunflower plants. I never planted the seeds. About 10 days ago, I did notice, though, that someone had been doing some digging in the cells and presumed that a chipmunk had been snooping around. Little did I know that it was gardening and planting sunflower seeds!
I have to thank neighbor Nancy again for this one. The chipmunks are over there all day, scooping up and “cheeking” every sunflower seed that drops from her bird feeders. Well, this chipmunk seems to be a planter as well as a snacker, because he or she wasn’t simply looking for food but actually planting it. Sometimes you just have to laugh!
This summer is an incredible opportunity to garden with your children and grandchildren. Teach them how to grow something, anything. Plant the seed that will germinate in their heads and give them skills that will last throughout their lives.
One thing that all children should also be taught is what plants and insects to avoid outdoors and in the garden. Teach them not to menace bees and wasps. Many of these insects have a natural stinging response when threatened, so they shouldn’t be swatted at, and their nests, in the ground or hanging from a tree, should be avoided.
Teach them that some of these insects can only sting once and then they die. Others can sting repeatedly. Most of the stingers also contain small amounts of venom, which can be annoying to some — and deadly to others. You should know about anaphylactic shock and how to treat it.
Insect repellents do not repel bees or wasps. Those repellents only work on biting (mostly blood-sucking) insects like mosquitoes, horseflies and gnats.
On the plant side, children should be taught to never, ever eat wild mushrooms, since some are deadly and difficult to identify. Teach them about deadly nightshade and what it looks like, and to never eat the berries from this plant.
Most important, teach the basic lessons about avoiding poison ivy. What does it look like? It always has a cluster of three leaves, but they can often be green or just tinged with red.
Poison ivy can occur as a single plant, a vine, a small shrub or a vine 3 inches thick crawling up a tree trunk. People who claim to be immune to it are often shocked when they get older and discover that they have become sensitive to it.
Just brushing up against a poison ivy plant can cause the irritation. It comes from contact with an oil that the plant produces. If a dog or cat walks through a poison ivy patch then rubs against you, you can get it.
If it’s never grown on your property, that’s no guarantee it won’t be there next year, as birds eat the seeds, which then get distributed in the bird droppings.
Teach the phrase: “Leaves of three … stay away from me.” Show them pictures or plants of Virginia creeper — it’s always confused with poison ivy, but the creeper has five leaflets, not three.
And if the kids do come into contact with poison ivy and you become aware of it quickly enough, the oils can be washed off with a rinse or soap called Tecnu. I always have a packet or tube around, and if you wash with it soon after contact, it will neutralize the oil and either eliminate the contamination or minimize the rash that can develop.
Poison ivy was the bane of my childhood. It was on our property, in the woods that I loved to explore, and it grows really well and often unnoticed in the dunes along the ocean and bay beaches.
Again, teach your children well.
And, of course, keep growing!
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