Garden Notes

Beautiful weeds

Beware the beautiful ladybell. It spreads like wildfire. Photos by Susan Safford

By Abigail Higgins - July 19, 2007

Campanula rapunculoides, C. rapunculus, Adenophora lilifolia (Allen Armitage, the perennial guru, says, "only one i") and A. confusa are virtually indistinguishable. To echo the Clairol ads of bygone decades, only a botanist knows for sure. Perfectly fitting the description of a beautiful weed, whichever one it may be, the plant in question is also known as creeping or rampion bellflower, or ladybells. That word "rampion," sounding like rampant, should tell you something.

The ones growing at our place came from the west side of the former West Tisbury library on Music Street. It was growing, as I recollect, in an attractive muddle of daylily, yucca, burdock, and hosta at the site of the capitol of the Athens of Martha's Vineyard, and I wanted some. I can now scarcely believe that the agent of transport was myself: I brought them home.

When I asked permission to dig a clump, Mickey Barnes, the then librarian and a level, reasonable woman, advised me I did not really want That Plant...but taking away any amount of it would be just fine with her. One might reasonably ask, as I did, what is wrong with That Plant? It spreads prolifically, she said in a level, reasonable tone of voice. I'll just keep it under control, I thought to myself, reasonably. LOL.

As I found out, the plants self-sow unreasonably quickly, despite reasonable attempts at deadheading. The seedlings, unreasonably quickly, form a large swollen white root, almost a tuber, which is unreasonably lower than the ordinary hair roots. You must dig the plant out: you cannot pull it. Eliminating the green portion and the small normal roots of the plant typically leaves the large white radishy root behind, undisturbed. Next week, next month, or next year, there it is back again - hearty as ever.

The photo shows a portion of what has happened over time in just one bed; what does not show is the extensive spread of the seedlings. Please take a good look at the image, and when you see a similar beautiful plant at the garden center or find it magically turning up somewhere in your plantings, know it for what it is, a garden thug. Mickey knew.

Ozone levels and foliar blights

Do you ever inspect the vegetable crops you grow and say to yourself, I wonder how that [damage] got there? Or, what is causing those leaves to [problem] look like that? It is more puzzling when there is no visible insect villain. When there is foliar damage, the plant's overall efficiency at growing your crop is diminished, or the crop's quality reduced, just as much as when there is root damage. I recently received interesting information from a reader concerning the relationship of air pollution and foliar blights of potatoes. Thanks to Tom Hodgson for the following link that may help explain some mysteries:

oriental beetle on lily
An oriental beetle sits on the tip of a lily petal.

More on beetles

I highly recommend checking in with the University of Massachusetts landscape message, a valuable public service for all growers and gardeners at landscape_message.html with the report of UMass entomologist Bob Childs, for an overview of what is happening in our region. Confirming what I, and many of you, have observed, Japanese, Oriental, and Asiatic beetles appear to be plentiful this year.

These so-called scarab beetles have confusingly similar names and the appearance of both larvae and adults is similar too. The larvae, called grubs, feed beneath the soil surface, damaging roots systems of many different host plants. Entomologists identify them mainly by the differences in the hairs and structures at their rear ends. The adults feed on leaves, blossoms, and fruits of the host plants. Asiatic beetles are the smallish chestnut brown beetles, looking like miniature June bugs, that we often see when we are digging in the soil. Coming out to feed at night, they are nocturnal, and are sometimes numerous around porch lights. They return to the soil during the day.

Most people know what Japanese beetles look like, with their glossy, metallic green and bronze carapace and wing covers. When numerous, they make a mess of many different flowers and crops, feeding and mating with abandon in an orgy of chewed plant and fecal matter. Control on and around one's property can be bolstered by putting down Milky Spore disease organisms and predatory beneficial nematodes; on small plantings they can be hand-picked into containers of soapy water to drown. My own opinion is that pheromon-baited traps are a mixed blessing, possibly luring insects in from elsewhere that would not otherwise arrive.

Oriental beetles are very similar in shape and size to Japanese beetles but have a dull and dirty-looking mottled appearance, where the Japanese beetles are shiny and brightly colored. They are found feeding on similar plants too, for instance, now disfiguring the blooms of shasta daisies. In small plantings, use the same handpicking method of control as for Japanese beetles.

Although there is no confusing them with the above-mentioned beetles, the distinctive red lily leaf beetle is also prevalent in large numbers in a number of areas around the Island at this time, with larvae and newly hatched adults simultaneously seen feeding on bulb lilies. Handpicking and using sprays made using Neem products may give the necessary control if they are conscientiously employed.

These insects are more active in the heat of the day, so your capture ratio will be higher in early morning or at just before dusk. For so-called knockdown control, products such as Merit TM, containing imidacloprid, are recommended by the experts; let them apply them too. "Pests," however, can never be eliminated fully, nor should they be: those "pests" are someone's lunch, and the toxic products we spray into our environment build up in us as well. All things are interconnected. Everything goes somewhere. There's no such thing as a free lunch. Nature bats last.