native plants and avoiding invasive species are
important to preserving the Earth’s good health. Here,
two members of the John Clayton Chapter, Virginia Native
Plant Society in the Williamsburg/Yorktown area of
Virginia share their thoughts on plants that fit those
comes courtesy Helen Hamilton, past president and author
of "Wildflowers and Grasses of Virginia’s Coastal
Plain," and Phillip Merritt, chapter president.
Learn more about Hamilton’s book at
alternative to the aggressive-growing Chinese and
Japanese wisterias, American Wisteria, or Wisteria
frutescens, grows slowly, and is easy to control with
branches twine freely up tree trunks and trellises, and
hanging masses of beautiful purplish-white flower
clusters cover the plant in spring," Hamilton said.
blossoms of the native and introduced species are
similar but those of the native vine have no fragrance.
Further, the flowers on the native vine bloom after the
leaves appear, while the flowers on the Asian vines
appear before the leaves. The native species blooms
April-May, while the Chinese and Japanese species bloom
wisterias are high-climbing vines with feather-compound
toothless leaves -- only subtle differences distinguish
the native from the introduced species. Fruits are
brown, bean-like pods that persist until winter; the
native wisteria fruits are smooth while the Asian
species produce velvety pods.
Wisteria is not aggressive, and is well-suited for
garden plantings, on a trellis or along a deck
railing," Hamilton said.
vine prefers moist or wet woods and riverbanks, and
occurs occasionally in roadsides and fencerows. The
plant grows throughout the eastern United States, but is
found in the wild in only a few counties in southeastern
cultivars are available in the nursery trade. But the
straight species is a larval host for the long-winged
skipper butterfly, and is pollinated by carpenter bees.
Cultivars may not be attractive to pollinators, and may
not produce copious blossoms. And cultivars do not host
Chinese and Japanese wisterias are very difficult to
control when established, reproducing by seeds and by
forming roots at the nodes," said Hamilton.
cut back or trimmed, new shoots will be produced. These
non-native species are highly aggressive, growing up
shrubs and trees, eventually shading and killing native
name suggests the activity of these bees -- the eastern
carpenter bee, or Xylocopa virginica, which use their
large mandibles to scrape tunnels into wood, excavating
a cavity that grows over an inch long per week,
according to Hamilton. The opening is circular, about
half-inch wide, and when complete the average tunnel is
5-7 inches long. This is where the female will lay eggs
and store food, a ball of pollen and nectar to feed the
emerging larva. Each female produces six to nine eggs,
which develop in individual cells in the tunnel.
adults visit a great variety of flowers in gardens as
well as natural habitats. Eastern carpenter bees are
important pollinators for some plants -- American
wisteria (Wisteria frutescens), passionflower vine (Passiflora
incarnata), and, like bumblebees, they are effective
"buzz pollinators" of tomato, eggplant and
bees are large, about an inch long and resemble queen
bumblebees, but their abdomen is glossy, not hairy, and
black but without yellow bands. Males have a conspicuous
white spot on their face which is lacking in females.
Females are docile, but can sting when aroused. The
males are aggressive, defending territory and mates, but
insects build their nests in wood siding, the ends of
logs used in modern log houses, the back face of the
trim under eaves where the surface is not painted, or
other areas where bare or painted wood is exposed,"
for homeowners, the tunnel excavating process produces
yellow sawdust containing waste materials which leaves
unsightly stains on the wood. Since the tunnels are
small, structural damage only occurs after many years
when the bees bore new holes or enlarge tunnels in the
same location. Occasionally the carpenter bee larvae
attract predatory woodpeckers that extend the damage
caused by the adults."
the east, eastern carpenter bees occur almost anywhere
— from coastal southern Maine west through southern
New England, New York, and extreme southern Ontario to
eastern Iowa south to eastern Texas and nearly all of
Florida. They are most conspicuous when they form
nesting colonies in the exteriors of houses, barns,
other out buildings and fence posts, but they are also
common in forests where they nest high in dead trees or
large dead limbs on living trees, Hamilton said. They
may prefer to nest in pines and other conifers, but they
are not restricted to them. They tend to nest in dry
wood in sunny places.
is a common garden plant that can be invasive when
planted in or near woods or other natural areas, and it
loves growing in the Hampton Roads climate, according to
classified as a perennial twining vine, but it doesn’t
climb very high, typically forming dense mats about 6-
to 18-inch high. Its pale blue flowers are very delicate
are two varieties: Vinca major (commonly called vinca)
with leaves up to 2½ inches long, and Vinca minor (also
known as periwinkle) with leaves about 1½ inches long.
There are also variegated varieties of each species.
not confuse Vinca major or minor with Catharanthus, a
common garden annual that’s also called vinca,"
wanting evergreen groundcovers to cover areas not
already covered in lawn often plant vinca, unaware of
the damage it can do, Phillip warned.
people find the leaf litter in wooded areas unattractive
and plant vinca for its pretty evergreen and
shade-tolerant leaves," he says.
it’s free in the woods though, it is almost
unstoppable, taking away critical habitat from native
doesn’t seem to spread by seeds, and is probably OK to
use in a well-contained area, preferably as a draping
pot in container gardens.
be careful," Phillip warns again.
has nothing better to do than to wait around for a
chance to spread out its vines and wait for an escape
path to appear."
to Doug Tallamy, author of ‘Bringing Nature Home,’
vinca supports little to no insect species, unlike the
native forest herbs it displaces. Insects are very
important part of the food chain that nourishes our song
birds, amphibians and other animals.
Missouri Botanical Garden website says one of its uses
is ‘naturalizing.’ If you’re concerned about the
environment, beware of anything that is described as ‘naturalizing.’
There’s nothing natural about it. ‘Fast-growing’
is another suspect label that should be applied to vinca."