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IN THE GARDEN: Native alternative to burning bush also potentially problematic

by Janet B. Carson | November 21, 2020 at 1:45 a.m.
Itea, Virginia sweetspire, is valued for its spring blooms but its red foliage lights up the understory in the fall. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Janet B. Carson)

Q This is in response to your recent column concerning the burning bush. First of all, I have enjoyed your column and have learned a lot from it. I think it's important to mention that burning bush is invasive. Over the years I have seen it spreading in the woodlands throughout Bella Vista. As you know when this happens the invasive plant takes space away from native plants. A good substitute is Henry Garnet Virginia sweetspire. I have 12 of these in my yard and they are also a beautiful red in the fall.

A Burning bush (Euonymus alatus), a plant native to China and Japan, is invasive in some parts of the country. In the northeastern United States, burning bush and barberry can be equivalent to our privet and kudzu. In the central and southern parts of our state, burning bush has not been much of a problem. I have heard reports from Northwest Arkansas and the northern central tier of counties over to Mountain Home that it is escaping and posing a problem. Itea, or Virginia sweetspire, is a native species that has excellent red fall color and beautiful white flowers in late spring. It also can spread in the right conditions, especially in moist soils. I think it is important to plant the right plant in the right location, and avoid species that are invasive in your area.

Q I found these growing on a tree in Sherwood today. Can you please tell me what they are?

Why some trees develop burls remains a mystery. And burls continue to grow as a tree grows. They do not kill trees but can reduce health and lifespan.  (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)
Why some trees develop burls remains a mystery. And burls continue to grow as a tree grows. They do not kill trees but can reduce health and lifespan. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)

A These unusual growths are called burls. Burls are round to irregular bumps or bulges that develop on tree trunks. Their exact cause is something of a mystery. Some people think that burls form in response to some type of damage, a wound, an insect or a pathogen. This has never been proved, but no other cause has either. Some burls seem to develop from a proliferation of bud tissue that keeps multiplying instead of developing shoots. Burls continue to grow as the tree grows. While burls do not kill trees, they can affect a tree's health and shorten its life. The unusual swirling-grain pattern found in burls makes them prized by woodworkers. Entire burls can be carved into bowls or art objects, and thin veneers of highly patterned burlwood are used on musical instruments such as guitars.

Q We'd like to establish a butterfly garden at our residence in Rogers. Can you advise your thoughts on which plants might be attractive to butterflies yet offer some resistance to hungry deer?

A Keep in mind "resistance" doesn't mean they won't get desperate and still munch, but there are a number of plants that are usually pretty resilient. Butterflies are active in the warm summer months, so not too many of these plants are early spring blooming. Some to consider: Monarda (bee balm), Stokes aster, pipevine, yarrow, dill, fennel, Agastache, lavender, rosemary, catmint, ironweed, milkweed, goldenrod, black-eyed Susan, lantana, salvia, echinacea (coneflower) and butterfly bush (buddleia).

Q Pictured is a philodendron that we would like to plant outside in a shaded area. Two questions: When should the planting be done and how should it be done with the extensive root system?

Philodendron is not winter-hardy in Arkansas. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)
Philodendron is not winter-hardy in Arkansas. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)

A Philodendrons are not winter hardy in Arkansas and so need to be indoors all winter. If you want to move the plants outside for the summer that is fine. The aerial roots are used by philodendrons as they climb and grow in trees in the rain forest. Where they are hardy outdoors, the roots give them support and help in feeding them. As houseplants, they have ample roots in the soil that are doing the job of providing water and nutrients for the plant, so it won't hurt them to be cut. But only do it in the spring when or if you move them outdoors.

Retired after 38 years with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, Janet Carson ranks among Arkansas' best known horticulture experts. Her blog is at arkansasonline.com/planitjanet. Write to her at P.O. Box 2221, Little Rock, AR 72203 or email jcarson@arkansasonline.com


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