skip to Main Content

Ilex vomitoria

yaupon holly

Scientific name: Ilex vomitoria

Common names: Yaupon, yaupon holly

Family: Aquifoliaceae

Nativity: Southeastern United States, and — fascinating these disjunct situations — a small area of Mexico, south of the Yucatan.

Location: Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina

Date: March 8, 2016 (top photo), October 2015 (bottom two)

Notes: Yaupon is a popular landscape plant in the Southeast. It adapts to all sorts of growing conditions, takes well to pruning, and female plants have attractive red berries for most of the year. There are cultivars that suit many different design scenarios.

An interesting and not particularly well known tidbit about this plant is that it has caffeine. The vomitoria part of its scientific name might make you think twice about consuming it, but historically yaupon has been used as a daily beverage the same way we use black tea or coffee today. It seems to be the dosage that makes the difference — you’ll throw up if you make the tea too strong, or drink too much of it. Or maybe as some say, the association with vomiting has nothing to do with this plant at all, but with others that were blended with it when it was used ceremonially.

Because it is easy to grow and native to the United States, there has been some interest in bringing back the habit of its consumption. One company in Texas was recently featured on NPR. Don’t be surprised to see yaupon tea in a restaurant near you soon!

You can listen to the program here: Here’s the Buzz on America’s Forgotten Native ‘Tea’ Plant

Weeping cultivars have the most caffeine of all the I. vomitoria cultivars, according to Green Deane. His posts about various Ilex brews have a lot more detail if you’re interested in making the tea yourself.

weeping yaupon

Yaupon holly berries become more translucent as they freeze and thaw a few times over the winter. Some types of wildlife prefer to have them prepared by Nature this way. (The berries are toxic to humans.) Yaupon holly is a host plant for the brown and black butterfly, Henry’s Elfin (Callophrys henrici). This butterfly’s big eyes, and antennae that look like dotted lines of black and white, make it a very cute little visitor.

yaupon holly berries

Bartramia pomiformis

pocket of bartramia moss
Common names: Apple-moss

Family: Bartramiaceae

Nativity: Undetermined, but it grows throughout the northern hemisphere

Location: Waxhaw, North Carolina

Date: March 15, 2016

Notes: As my friend Lisa and I were stalking the trout lilies along the Mineral Springs Greenway, we came across apple-moss. It was growing all mixed in with the trout lilies in several spots along the creek. Apple-moss gets it’s common name from the shape of the spore capsules, which look like little green apples. The genus name honors John Bartram (1699–1777), who is sometimes called the father of American botany, and whose son William traveled and famously wrote about the flora and fauna of the Carolinas.

bartramia pomiformis calyptra

bartramia moss and troutlily leaves

Heirloom Plants

Heirloom Plants book coverI just got a new book from Ball Publishing/Chicago Review Press that makes me so jealous of all you vegetable gardeners! Heirloom Plants: A Complete Compendium of Heritage Vegetables, Fruits, Herbs & Flowers is scheduled for release on April 1.

Authors Thomas Etty, who owns an heirloom seed company in the UK, and Lorraine Harrison, who got her Master’s degree in Garden History from University of London and writes extensively about gardens and botanical topics, have compiled a collection of more than 500 cultivars with a long history and panache of one sort or another.

And, actually, you don’t have to be a vegetable gardener to enjoy the book — there are “directories” for fruits, herbs and flowers, too —but the tomato descriptions alone will make you want to be! The Herb Directory lists more than fifty plants, many of them known at least since the time of Culpepper’s Complete Herbal (1653). Pignut, dyer’s greenweed, and mountain arnica join the more commonly known basil, parsley and lemon balm.

Heirloom Plants book insideEntries describe the plant, explain the uses, and offer the occasional cultivation tip. Feature boxes throughout highlight “Garden Ghosts,” or botanists and others, who were part of a plant’s history.  And “Lost, Rare, or Simply Forgotten” features endangered plants and the stories associated with them.

Heirloom plants are those that have been around for at least 50 years (some say 100), and are open-pollinated. Open-pollinated means the pollen is spread naturally from one plant to another by wind or by insects. The seeds from these plants, unlike those from hybridized and GMO varieties, are likely to produce plants like the parents.

Besides connecting us to the past and our gardening ancestors, growing these plants preserves biodiversity, which helps secure our food supply into the future. As much as 90% of old varieties have been lost already.

Heirlooms often have superior taste, fragrance, or even nutrition, than hybrids. And they have great names! Learn about Moon and Stars Watermelon, Wolf River Apple, Corncockle Flower, and Mortgage Lifter Tomato.

Appropriately in the style of an old seed catalog, the book is as fun to flip through randomly as it is to read cover to cover. There’s a helpful list of heirloom seed sellers is in the back, which includes many US companies; discovering your own favorite varieties would be just as much fun as tracking down the ones highlighted here.

Weymouth Woods Nature Preserve

Weymouth Woods Nature Preserve in Southern Pines, North Carolina, is just the place to spend some time reflecting and pondering the mysteries of nature…or to add up some Fitbit steps in the middle of a long car ride! Either way, it is a beautiful place to hike. On a recent visit I snapped a few photos as I wandered the sandy paths amidst ancient pine trees and cheerful birdsong.

Savory Seedlings

This week I hovered over my sown seeds every few hours looking for any signs of life. A time or two, I came just short of getting out a hand lens. Maybe I’m a little impatient? These are all Southeastern native plants that I sowed in January to try to give them the cold period they need before sprouting. I’ve kept them on my unheated porch, where temperatures typically fall into the 40s or 50s at night. That may not be cold enough (or enough cold) for some of them, especially with the early warm nights we’ve had. We’ll see.

Where did I get seeds of native plants, you might ask. At the Southern Piedmont Chapter of the North Carolina Native Plant Society‘s December seed exchange, a propagation class at the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference, in the gift shop at the UNC Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill, from a couple of gardening friends, and by collecting some from plants I already have. Seeds of native plants aren’t always easy to come by, but it is worth it to try to find them.

Here’s what I planted:

winter sown seedsButterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Phacelia (Phacelia bipinnatifida)
American vervain (Verbena hastata)
Hoary skullcap (Scutellaria incana)
Whorled-leaf coreopsis (Coreopsis major)
Firepink (Silene virginica)
Great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica)
Forked bluecurls (Trichostema dichotomum)
New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus)
Browneyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba)
Spurred butterfly pea (Centrosema virginianum)
Wild quinine (Parthenium integrifolium)
Bigleaf magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla)
Sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus)

So far the spurred butterfly pea and the wild quinine have sprouted (yay!!), but the tray otherwise looks about the same. I’m looking forward to lots of beautiful natives for my woodland and butterfly gardens, though.

A little more satisfying at the moment is the green shooting up at the windowsill inside. I decided at the beginning of January that I would get back to my herbal roots — herbs (and miniature roses) are the reason I got interested in gardening in the first place so many years ago — so I ordered lots of herb seeds from Richter’s and Baker’s Creek, and picked up a few Botanical Interests packets from Pike’s.

I tried to choose things that might have a shot at growing in part shade, and also that had at least two or three potential uses. I’ve never grown herbs for medicinal reasons before, but this year I added a few of those as well.

Seedlings on the Windowsill

Here’s what’s coming up:

Basil, Dark Purple Opal
Basil, Greek Yevani
Bronze fennel
Thyme, Lime
Summer savory
Winter lemon savory
Creeping savory
Wild basil
Vietnamese mint
Lemon beebalm
Salad burnet
Wild strawberry
Cranberry hibiscus
Mexican Sour Gherkin
Agastache, Apricot Sprite
Nasturtium, Alaska Red Shades
Zinnia, Lilliput Mix
Tong Ho
Clary sage
Milk thistle
Dragonhead balm
Balsam, Camellia Mix
Sweet four o’clock
Marigold, Legion of Honour
Tassel flower, Irish Poet

That’s a long list for me! I’m fairly certain I’ve never had so many seedlings, and I still have more packets on the way.

We have several weeks until our last frost date (April 15), so keeping them all alive until then will be a challenge. They look too wet in this photo, don’t they? And too thin? This is most sun I can give them…maybe I should buy lights. Ugh, the concerns of a plant parent.

Did you start any seeds this year? Any favorites?

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

lucky oxalis

Cape Shamrock (Oxalis bowiei)


A Wish for a Friend

Wishing you a rainbow
For sunlight after showers—
Miles and miles of Irish smiles
For golden happy hours—
Shamrocks at your doorway
For luck and laughter too,
And a host of friends that never ends
Each day your whole life through!

Irish blessing via Island Ireland

Boiling Spring Lakes Preserve

Brunswick County has the highest plant species density of any county in North Carolina, and the town of Boiling Spring Lakes is one of the most notable spots in the county. A 6000+ acre nature preserve was established in 2004 to protect hundreds of species, some of which are rare or endangered, that live in that small, varied parcel of the Carolina coastal plain. It was designated a nationally significant ecological site in 1995 by the NC Natural Heritage Program.

The Nature Conservancy manages the property and the nature trail, which fortunately for us,  makes some of the property accessible to the public. The trail begins at the Community Center on Leeds Road, running along the edge of a disc golf course before entering the woods and bogs of the preserve.

March is a little early for blooms but there were still some interesting ones when I visited last week. I’ve numbered my photos to match the gallery slider above, or you can click the number links below and see a large view of each one.

(1, 2, 3) As you begin the trail, the first boggy spot appears to your left.

(4, 5, 6, 7) Common pixie-moss (Pyxidanthera barbulata var. barbulata) is visible along the sides of the trail and in some cases, in the trail.

(8, 9, 10, 11) Sand-myrtle (Kalmia buxifolia) has a surprising flower if you think of kalmia as the mountain laurel one. The petals of sand-myrtle are separate and the stamens are free.

(12) Waterproof boots are a good idea. Sometimes you can just walk around the wet and sometimes you can’t.

(13, 14) Pine savanna

(15, 16) A dark water pond

(17, 18) Leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata)

(19) Dwarf sundew (Drosera brevifolia)

(20) Butterwort (Pinguicula sp.) ?

(21) Very big puddle

(22, 23, 24) Mystery shrub (Vaccinium) ?

(25) Dry sand and turkey oaks at the back edge of the disc golf course

(26) Longleaf pine juvenile (Pinus palustris)

(27) Looking up through the turkey oaks to the longleaf pines

(28) Yellow wood-sorrel (Oxalis sp.)

(29) Turkey oak leaves (Quercus laevis)

(30) Moss and lichens

(31) Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides)

(32) Pine needle-y forest floor

(33)  A weather-bleached longleaf pine cone

(34) Sandy path at the outer edge of the pine savanna

NorCal: Fortuna and Centerville Beach

Fortuna Fog

The morning view a couple of weeks ago in Fortuna, California — a little bit of greening ground, a sunlit tree, and a fluffy strip of fog between us and the hills beyond.

Looks like Spring in Fortuna

It looks like spring in Fortuna. Many of the plants we have on the east coast won’t be as far along for a couple of weeks or more. Plum is in full bloom, with a few dark red leaves beginning to peek through.

Blooming Rosemary

Outside the hotel’s breakfast room (and everywhere in California) a prostrate rosemary blooms. Is this one ‘Golden Rain’? Mmm it smells nice.

Fortuna Riverwalk

After breakfast we walk along the river just across the street.

Fortuna Sky

The sky is always changing in Northern California. During a moment of brilliant sunshine (and 70° temperature), we decide to go to Centerville Beach.

Ferns on a Sandy Cliff

Even though the trip is just ten miles, the temperature drops ten degrees! And the clouds are no longer overhead, but on the ground …

In the Fog

… and we are inside them!

Burning Through the Clouds

This is not a Carolina beach.

Centerville Beach

Putting aside any notions of what a beach is, the fog and the cliffs and the dreamy quality of everything is exciting and beautiful.

Shorebirds in the Surf

Can you believe this is a color photograph? Even when the sun begins to burn through, color is slow to return.

Walking on Centerville Beach

There is not a shell in sight on Centerville Beach, but many of the stones are pretty and interesting. It turns out that waves and lots of time have the same effect as that rock tumbler your parents let you run in the storage room when you were a kid.

Looking for Fire Agate

If you’re lucky, you might find a fire agate here. That’s my son taking a shot at it.

Beach Stones

Centerville Beach has a long history of earthquakes and landslides. Layers of past events are evident all along the beach.

Sandy Cliff

Redwood burl tumbles in the surf along with the rocks, making huge pieces of driftwood.

Driftwood on Centerville Beach

Sun breaks through the high clouds, but the surf is still completely hidden by fog. It’s a fog that has often been deadly. More than 350 shipwrecks occurred off of this small bit of California coastline between 1850 and 1950.

Edge of the World

Facing west from this sunny shore, it would be easy to believe you’ve reached the edge of the world.

Just Before the Snow

Backyard Moon Over the Treetops

Just before the snow fell last month I noticed the light at day’s end hitting the tips of the trees, and ran inside to get my camera.

Moon Over the Trees

Winter skies are so variable, with clouds and colors and tree branches that make such nice patterns against them — I’ve been enchanted.

Moon Zoom

While I was paying attention to the light, I didn’t pick up on how fabulous the moon was. It was waxing this night and would be full in a week.

When I processed the photos, I found that I could zoom in close enough to see craters! Wow!

Next time I’ll have to focus on the moon on purpose…and use a tripod. I’m itching to get better shots now.

But how pretty it is!

Saving the Salvia and Optimara Dali Babies

Optimara Dali and Babies

When there’s ice and snow outside, you have a little more time to poke around and investigate the goings on of your houseplants, don’t you? What’s that new bump, and why did that leaf yellow, etc. Today it was spider mites on Salvia elegans ‘Frieda Dixon’ first thing. It didn’t surprise me too much since I had noticed them before. I’ve taken her to the sink a few times and sprayed the leaves off, then soaped and rinsed them again. It seems to set the mites back, but apparently it’s not enough to keep them away for good. Frieda Dixon, by they way, is a salmon-flowered pineapple sage. I bought it at the end of the season (just because I happened to find one) and brought it inside to over-winter. It smells so good, and the flowers are such an interesting shade — I hope it blooms inside for me, but we’ll see. Meanwhile, I’ll keep spraying the insects off and taking advantage of the sweet scent as I do. Fragrant plants make winter bearable.

But the find of the morning, and a much more fun one at that, was this: African violet babies! I had bought Optimara Dali a few months ago, and as soon as it reached full bloom for the first time, I knew I needed more of them. The particular shade of orchid-violet is unusual, and it looks smudged on. How did I make it through life before this plant? So, I broke off a leaf and put it in water on the windowsill for a few weeks. When it had roots, I punched a little hole in the bottom of a 3-oz. solo cup, filled it with potting soil, and tucked the rooted leaf in there. Looking back, I should’ve taken the time to mix in some vermiculite, because the peat mixture is a little too wet. But I don’t water it until it is quite dry, and fortunately Dali is tolerant and forgiving — the best kind of plant for me!

Winter at the Waccamaw River

Waccamaw River Roadside January (3)

January in the coastal plain has a subtle and irresistible beauty. I stopped at the Waccamaw River one day to get a couple of shots of the river, but of course the dried roadside plants got my attention, too.

Waccamaw River January Gone to Seed

This plant’s pods have long since splayed open to release the seeds.

Waccamaw River Goldenrod January

Fluffy down will float these goldenrod seeds far from home, if the birds don’t eat them first.

Waccamaw River Roadside January

The Waccamaw River is a blackwater river, which means the water is rich with tannins from fallen leaves that turn the color deep and dark. You can see the effects in this cattail lined ditch just a few yards from the river.

Waccamaw River Roadside January

The river’s source is Lake Waccamaw; it is the only river in North Carolina to start in a Carolina Bay, but all blackwater rivers begin (and end) in the coastal plain.

Waccamaw River January

Along the banks is a typical Carolina floodplain forest with oaks, tupelo, bald cypress, sycamore, sweetgum, red maple and some emergent pines.

Waccamaw River January

The effect of bleached tree trunks and black water is appealing. Birds call, and the water makes occasional plink and sploosh sounds. It’s soothing. Winter can be quite pleasant here.

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’

Witch Hazel Jelena Blooms

Jelena is a vase-shaped, winter-blooming shrub that grows slowly to a height of around 12 feet. The red-orange flowers are often said to be non-fragrant, but I’ve occasionally caught a mild whiff of perfume. None of the x intermedia hybrids are as fragrant as the native species, but they do have good ornamental value. The odd ribbony flowers stand out in the stark landscape of early to mid-winter, and the fall color is outstanding. One characteristic I don’t particularly care for is that many of the dead leaves are retained until well after the blooms start opening. My shrubs are still fairly small, so I usually just pull them off, allowing the flowers to shine.

Scientific name: Hamamelisintermedia ‘Jelena’, syn. ‘Copper Beauty’

Common names: Jelena witch hazel

Family: Hamamelidaceae

Native Range: Hybrid found at Arboretum Kalmthout in Belgium by Robert DeBelder (whose wife was named Jelena). Parents are the Chinese species, H. mollis, and the Japan

Back To Top
×Close search
%d bloggers like this: