A Touch of Scarlet

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What is your favorite autumn color? 

A preposterous question, I know.  Sort of like, “Which is your favorite child?” or “Where is your favorite beach?”

Each autumn color has its own place in the progression, and its own astounding beauty.

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Just as the bare branches against a winter sunset display an elegance all their own.

But,  early in the season, I am always delighted to find a touch of scarlet amidst the still mostly green forest.

Euonymus alatus, known as Burning Bush, begins to turn scarlet in late summer.

Euonymus alatus, known as Burning Bush, begins to turn scarlet in early autumn.  These shrubs, common in our community, crop up as “volunteers” in wooded areas.  Originally imported from Asia, it is considered an invasive species in many areas along the East Coast of the United States.

 

Scarlet jumps out from the masses with its invitation to revel in the pleasures of autumn:  Fresh apples, freshly pressed cider, pumpkins, and woodsmoke on the evening breeze.

Birds enjoy the Euonymus berries, and we enjoy its scarlet leaves.

Birds enjoy the Euonymus berries, and we enjoy its scarlet leaves.

 

And much of the scarlet in our early fall landscape appears from the incidental “wild” things we might not even plant in our gardens:  Virginia  Creeper and other vines, Staghorn Sumac, “The Devil’s Walking Stick” tree, and native Dogwoods.

Dogwood

Dogwood berries feed migrating birds over many weeks.

 

I believe it is in some way a reward for allowing these wild native plants space in our gardens.

Even Poison Ivy turns scarlet each autumn.

Even Poison Ivy turns scarlet each autumn.  Although it creates a terrible rash when we touch it, Poison Ivy is an important plant for birds and nectar loving insects.

 

We  watch for these gorgeous reds as we drive around Williamsburg, deeply satisfied with every sighting of scarlet.

Virginia Creeper lights up this tree on the Colonial Parkway

Virginia Creeper lights up this tree on the Colonial Parkway

They preview the beauty about to unfold as our forests blaze into color.

We heard, earlier this week on the Weather Channel, that our  forecast for  peak fall color has been pushed back to early November this year.

That would be the latest ever for peak color in central Virginia; at least in modern times.

Staghorn Sumac sports scarlet leaves and burgundy berries.

Winged Sumac,  Rhus copallina, sports scarlet leaves and burgundy berries.

 

A friend and I discussed the strange autumn weather  as we inspected her Passiflora vine, showing new growth and tiny flower buds, this afternoon.

There are Paperwhite flowers already in full bloom on our street.  A strange sight indeed, this early in the season, before our first frost. 

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What has caused the strange timing of our seasons this year?  Is it the  pole shift?  Climate change?   Radiation in the atmosphere?

We are both keen observers of the unfolding seasons.

 

Pineapple sage lights up our garden in October.

Pineapple sage lights up our garden in October.

 

And we’re wondering whether it is still too early to plant our daffodil bulbs this year.  There’s talk of some afternoon temperatures close to 80 degrees for us next week….

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But some of the Sumacs have already dropped their leaves.  And the trees across the creek get a bit brighter with each passing day.

Looking across College Creek this morning, watching it get a bit brighter each day.

Looking across College Creek this morning, watching it get a bit brighter each day.

 

The Dogwood berries shine scarlet in the sunshine, and I have faith that this touch of scarlet will soon spread far and wide as autumn comes suddenly upon us once again.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

Paperwhites in bloom on October 15.

Paperwhites in bloom on October 15.

 

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Pick Your Poison….

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The other evening, just after dusk, as I was walking from computer to kitchen; I happened to glance out of our front windows at the patio.  Gazing back was a beautiful doe, interrupted from perusing the buffet of our potted garden by my passing.  Her calm gaze told me she had snacked on our Violas before, and had every intention of finishing this meal, too.

Now, my friends know the extraordinary lengths my partner and I have gone to keep the deer out of our garden.  Deterring the deer has consumed our efforts, and resources, and become something of an ongoing conversation among our extended family.

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These newly emerging Heuchera leaves are growing into replace the many mature leaves recently eaten off by hungry does.

These newly emerging Heuchera leaves are growing in to replace the many mature leaves recently eaten by hungry does.

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Not yet willing to give up gardening or move elsewhere, I’ve devoted the last two gardening years to planting mostly “deer resistant” plants.  I’ve studied and compiled lists of plants the deer are “supposed” to leave alone.

We’ve surrounded vulnerable plants with smelly herbs, trialed a half dozen “deer repellents,” made the fences higher, chased the deer who have found their way in, and experimented with lighting.  My “deer resistant” Oakleaf Hydrangeas ended up nibbled to sticks. The Heuchera and Violas grown in pots at the foundation to the house have been decapitated. And, we still find hoof prints and deer scat to prove the deer’s efforts at getting in and out, on both sides of our fencing.

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Caladiums, ferns and Begonias remain my favorite plants for shade.

Caladiums, ferns and Begonias remain my favorite plants for shade.

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So what is a “deer resistant” plant?  There are plenty of things I perhaps don’t enjoy eating, but will in a bind.  Same with any creature bent on self-preservation.  And the overpopulation of deer in Virginia this year is at legendary levels.

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We’re seeing stories about them on our news.  Too many Bambis, not enough hunting, and intense pressure on the environment have left our deer especially hungry this winter.  Local drivers are encountering deer with deadly consequences here in James City County. Rutting season is now underway, and deer are running across our roads more than ever.

That is why, as I consider plant choices for the coming season, “deer resistant” is no longer good enough.

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Have you ever considered how members of the Plant Kingdom defend themselves?  Some have thorns.  Some have tough bark.  And many are poisonous.

The topic of poisonous plants is not polite conversation.

We may hear whispers of Belladonna and Oleander, but most of us have left the topic strictly alone.  Until now.

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Mountain Laurel, a small evergreen tree, blooms each May.  Since every part of it is poisonous, deer leave it alone.

Mountain Laurel, a small evergreen tree, blooms each May. Since every part of it is poisonous, deer leave it alone.

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In my reading about plants that are “deer resistant,” more and more I’ve noticed notes about some of those plants also being- poisonous.  Sometimes just the seed is poisonous, or just the leaves.

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Does this look poisonous to you?  The daffodils and Columbine are both highly poisonous.   The tiny periwinkle blue flowers and evergreen leaves of Vinca shine among the leaves.  Although not listed as poisonous, Vinca contains over 50 alkaloids and is never nibbled by the deer.

Does this look poisonous to you? The daffodils and Columbine are both highly poisonous. The tiny periwinkle blue flowers and evergreen leaves of Vinca shine among the leaves. Although not listed as poisonous, Vinca contains over 50 alkaloids and is never nibbled by the deer.

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We all know that both potatoes and tomatoes were considered poisonous until fairly recently in our history.  Their leaves are highly poisonous, as are the leaves of the poinsettia plant.  Potatoes which have turned green must be peeled due to the poisonous substances in their skin.

Sometimes the poison has a mild effect, sometimes a deadly one.  One bean from the Castor plant (Ricinus communis) is said to be sufficient to kill a cow.  Some plants may have alkaloids which cause burning of the lips and tongue, or which cause nausea without being fatal.

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Daffodils and Columbine are poisonous, and so left stricltly alone by the deer.  Daffodils are useful planted around other plants as their roots are also poisonous, and offer protection from voles.

Daffodils and Columbine survive in our garden.  The pink Phlox to the left didn’t survive the season.  It is too tasty…

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So, as I work on plans for the spring garden, I’m also compiling a list of poisonous ornamental plants which will grow in our region.  But not out of a malevolent desire to inflict harm on our beautiful and gentle woodland creatures, mind you.

Some of my best friends are Bambi lovers, and I hope to keep their friendship.  In fact, some of those friends and I have commiserated over their grazed flower beds.  Rather, I want the plants in our garden to actually have a chance at survival.

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Elephant Ear, Colocasia, contains poisonous compounds which irritate the lips, mouth, and throat.  The coleus and sweet potato vine behind it are, sadly, tasty.

Elephant Ear, Colocasia, contains poisonous compounds which irritate the lips, mouth, and throat. The Coleus and sweet potato vine behind it are, sadly, tasty.

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Whereas birds will nibble a seed here and there, and bees will suck nectar and collect pollen; deer graze a plant to oblivion.  Deer will eat every scrap of edible material, and walk away looking for more.  They have no sense of conservation or sharing.

They have no awareness of the cost of the plant they just grazed, or our anticipation at watching it actually live, and perhaps grow.  Worse, many of the plants destroyed by deer would have benefited other creatures in the forest, had they been allowed to grow.

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Every part of Hellebores are poisonous from root to flower.

Every part of Hellebores are poisonous from root to flower.

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And so it’s come to this.  Your gentle Woodland Gnome is compiling a list of poisonous plants in the hopes of making our garden a shade less appetizing and alluring.

Our hope is that the deer are canny enough to leave these lethal buds and twigs strictly alone.  This list I’m preparing is not exhaustive.  It’s culled from ornamental plants suited to our climate.  And there are probably a few plants you can add, that I’ve overlooked.

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Elephant Ears, Colocasia, and Canna lilies are never grazed by deer.

Elephant Ears, Colocasia, and Canna lilies are never grazed by deer.

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If you know of others, or can make suggestions for your own region, please be kind enough to leave a note in the comments.  At least these plants will stand a chance to survive in our forest garden this year.

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Ligustrum leaves are poisonous to deer, although the berries sustain birds each winter.

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Poisonous ornamental shrubs: 

Angel’s Trumpet:  Brugmansia and Datura

Daphne

European Holly Ilex aquifolium

Elder Sambucus

Ligustrum

Mountain Laurel Kalmia latifolia

Oleander

Rhododendron

Yew

Some species of Oak are poisonous

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Artemesia, also called Wormwood.

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Poisonous Perennials and Bulbs

Artemesia

Wolfsbane, Monkshood Aconitum

Columbine

Caladium

Daffodil

Bleeding Heart  Dicentra cucullaria

Elephant’s Ear Colocasia

Foxglove Digitalis

Hellebore

Hyacinth

Lily of the Valley  Convallaria majalis

Larkspur Delphinium

Plumeria

Sauromatum venosum, Voodoo Lily

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The Passionflower vine is poisonous, and strictly ignored by deer, although its fruit is edible.

The Passionflower vine is poisonous, and strictly ignored by deer, although its fruit are edible.

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Poisonous Annuals

Castor Bean Ricinus communis

Tomato leaves (though the deer have grazed my tomatoes)

Potato leaves

Poisonous Vines

Ivy Hedera

 

Passion Flower Passiflora Caerulea (leaves)

Many of these plants, like daffodils and Mountain Laurel, already grow in our garden, and have for decades.  They pose no problems for pets or people.

I was frankly surprised to learn some of these are poisonous.  But these are the plants left growing, untouched, as their less lethal neighbors suddenly are eaten.  Handled carefully, and with awareness, all of these plants can be used to create a beautiful garden, even in areas, like ours, with ever growing herds of deer.

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All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013-2015

Deer Resistant Plant List

Keeping Deer Out of the Garden

Serendipity

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A Passionflower nodding out of a peach tree?

 

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How could that be?

 

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A wider perspective

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What an amazing vine, and what a beautiful surprise so late in the season.  Passiflora incarnata is naturalized all over the southeastern United States.   This perennial vine has had a phenomenal season, growing many many feet to first cover the deer fence, and now climb the peach tree. 

 

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The plant, dried, has been used to make tea.  It has a calming effect and can help treat insomnia. 

Native Americans and early settlers ate the fruit out of hand as you might an apple.  The fruit is still enjoyed today.  It is sometimes made into juice, and that juice can be cooked into jam and jelly.  Mostly, its flower brings a smile with its wild form and bright colors.  Especially when its found peeking out of a peach tree. 

 

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A serendipity:  A happy, unexpected surprise.

All photos by Woodland Gnome 2013

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