Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Little Butterfly? A Tiny Plane? No, it's a Polygala paucifolia!

It's our first spring here in this house, and I have been excited to see what comes up in the woodlands in our yard.  So far some beautiful native plants and wildflowers have started making an appearance - Cinnamon Fern, Starflower, False Lily-of-the-valley, and wild Violets.  Then I stumbled (quite literally, oops!) into a patch of these while walking through our woods:

Polygala paucifolia
I have a little colony of Gaywings growing in my woods!  Polygala paucifolia, also known as Gaywings, Fringed Polygala, or Flowering Wintergreen, are short, little plants, easy to miss unless you look down.. (or trip and fall into them..)

Gaywings, spring-blooming wildflower
Gaywings are native to Eastern North America, growing from Canada down to the Georgia mountains.  They spread on creeping, partly underground stems, and are generally found in moist, acidic, wooded sites.  They bloom in May or June, and the winged flowers are often compared to butterflies or even little pink propeller airplanes.

Looks like a field of little tiny airplanes?
Or a bunch of little pink butterflies, alighting on some leaves?
The 'wings' of the flower are actually made up of sepals.  Each flower does have three petals, two of which form a tube around the reproductive structures.  The third petal is fringed, looking like a propeller for the airplane-shaped flower.  When a bee or other pollinator lands on this third petal, the weight opens up the tube, allowing access to the pollen (or cockpit, if we're still going with the airplane motif?).

ready for takeoff...
The resulting seeds are actually planted by ants.  The seeds have little attachments on them called elaiosomes, that are very rich in nutrients.  Ants like to feed these elaiosomes to their young, and in doing so they end up carrying the seeds off and 'planting' them in their ant nests.

And just in case the insects fail to pollinate the flowers and make any seeds, each plant also has a couple of tiny, inconspicuous flowers that are underground and self-fertilized.

Polygala paucifolia is in the Milkwort family, and people once believed that if they fed the leaves of this plant to nursing mothers or dairy cattle, they would produce more milk (in Latin, 'poly' means 'many or much' and 'gala' means 'milk').

yum, yum..
According to online reports, Gaywings are a little hard to get established, but when they are happy, they will make a nice colony.  I think they would make a beautiful clump of ground cover for a woodland garden, as the leaves stay mostly evergreen.

Polygala paucifolia is honestly quite hard to find if you are hoping to get some for your garden.  I can't find many reports of people propagating these from seeds, or really, too many reports of propagating these at all.  The main suggestions seem to be propagation from stem cuttings or by carefully dividing the rootstock.  I only found one online source for them: Enchanter's Garden Native Plant Nursery in Hinton, WV (maybe someone else knows of other sources?)  You could also try a local wildflower nursery.

For now, I am enjoying them where they are in the woods!

p.s. For a look at other wildflowers that are blooming this May, visit this month's Wildflower Wednesday at Clay and Limestone's blog!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Stone Soup, Anyone?

We haven't even finished building our veggie garden, and we already have an overabundance of our first crop.  

This crop seems to grow a little too easily in this area, as we have harvested dozens in just a small section of soil.  Some even seem to be growing one on top of the other!

While we do love this particular crop, it is pulling them out that is the problem. Some come out easily; others seem to have very deep roots indeed.  

It is somewhat exciting - these didn't grow nearly as big or in so much abundance in my previous garden in North Carolina.  If only they weren't so hard to harvest...

A few had grown so large that it took the efforts of both Mr. Red House and I to uproot them. And then there was the Big One.  It had roots so deep, that it defied both our efforts.  (We decided it was quite fine staying where it was.)

Anyone up for some Stone Soup?  You just have to dig a little... (or a lot!)

Monday, May 12, 2014


Back in February and March, when snow was still coming down and piling up on the ground, this gardener was eager to do something for the garden, so I started planting packets of seeds indoors in my guest room conservatory.

Sorry Mom and Dad, you don't mind sharing your room with the plants when you come to stay, right?
Well, now I have seedlings.. and lots of them!

pepper seedlings
I have seedlings in my guest room conservatory..

seedlings on my deck..

tomatillo seedlings
seedlings in my garage..

I think I might have gone a little overboard.

Some of these seedlings are destined to a local garden club's plant sale and some to friends and family.  We'll see if I can find room in my yard for all that will still be left!

Tomato seedling - one of about 492.  Okay, maybe not that many, but there's a lot!
Of course, for the past few weeks, we have all been waiting for that magic Last Frost Date.  It is now within sight, and it is so warm out, that I could probably start planting now..

Isn't this one of the best uses for the red Solo cup?
...except all of my spare time is being used to work on building our awesome new Veggie Garden!
Stay tuned...
And happy planting!

cucumber seedlings in newspaper pots
p.s. Anyone want a tomato seedling?  I have a few to spare...

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