Noticing the native plants

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Winter is slowly on its way. It is becoming harder to find interesting color in the garden. Have you noticed the pockets of color along the roadside? 

Being a Raleigh native and new to the area, I was unsure of what to expect in the fall. It is always a tradition for me to visit Asheville and see the palate of color the leaves create. The rich, reds, bright, yellows and brilliant, oranges are always so vibrant and well worth the trip. 

I honestly was not expecting to experience vibrant fall colors here on the coast due to the milder temperatures and the prevalence of pines, live oaks, and evergreen shrubs in the landscape. When trees experience the chill and short days of winter the process of color change takes place. 

The first sign of fall begins when the Groundsel, Baccharis halimifolia blooms. You can’t miss this gorgeous, woody, native that is found throughout Brunswick County and is topped with delicate, lacey, white flowers that dance above the foliage when the wind blows. 

The interesting thing about this plant is the white color is actually from the fruit. Occasionally referred to as a weed this unusual, native can provide quite a show particularly when seen in masses along the roadside. Another native that is quite prolific and not normally attractive is the Turkey Oak, Quercus laevis. This tree, often referred to as a scrub oak, gets its name from the leaves that really do resemble a turkey foot.

Commonly found in wooded areas, on our drier ridges, this tree is quite a treat in the fall. It offers an interesting burnt, orange color that is unusually and quite appealing. 

Most gardeners are familiar with the Red Maple, Acer rubrum and there are many cultivars sold in the nursery trade. If you spot a brilliant, red color on the edge of the woods it is most likely the red maple. Flameleaf Sumac, Rhus copallina is often found in abandoned fields and has a vibrant red fall color as well. Although it provides an interesting look in the fall it would not be one I recommend in the landscape. 

This native has a tendency to colonize. It is best to enjoy it from a distance. I am sure most of you are familiar with the American Sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua. It is the tree that drops its fruit (gumballs) all over your lawn. Not the tidiest of trees but it does provide a nice, yellow, fall color this time of year. There is a fruitless variety available and the leaves on this cultivar look a lot like a ducks foot. Dogwoods, Cornus florida are typically bought for their blooms in the spring. There are many amazing cultivars available to the consumer. Not only is this tree rewarding in the spring but graces us with a warm, red color in the fall. 

Black gum, Nyssa sylvatica is one of our most beautiful native trees. It grows in a somewhat pyramidal shape and has vivid, yellow to orange, scarlet to purple colors in the fall. It grows fairly slow but becomes a large tree over time. There are many trees to choose from these days for your garden; but don’t forget those natives that may already exist in your backyard. Mother Nature provides us with plants that are happy to grow in our climate with little to no care.