Category Archives: Botany

An Aggressive Aquatic Plant Invades The State

by Categorized: Botany, Ecology, Invasive Species, Plants Date:

HydrillaThis is an alarming development: Hydrilla, a highly invasive species, has been found in Coventry Lake. Invasives displace native plants and can dramatically alter the environment and food chain.

Boaters, in particular, should be on the lookout for Hydrilla and take steps to prevent it from spreading further.

David Moran has the story:

Vegetal Venom, Poisonous Plants

by Categorized: Books, Botany, Gardens, Just Because, Plants Date:

Ali MarshallAgatha ChristieGardens often are replete with mystery, but murder? Well, yes.

In a very entertaining story, The Financial Times reports on a garden at Torre Abbey in Torquay, England, where the various plant species that Agatha Christie used in her murder mysteries to dispatch hapless victims have been assembled. Torquay is a seaside town on the south coast of England where Christie was born and had a vacation home later in life.

From ricin hidden in fig paste sandwiches to digotoxin, derived from the foxglove plant (which Agatha used to bump off Mrs. Boynton in “Appointment With Death”), the Potent Plants Garden, managed by head gardener Ali Marshall, seems like quite a deadly delight.

FoxgloveClick here for the full story.

Photos via the Financial Times, from top: Ali Marshall, Agatha Christie, foxglove.

Lucky Bamboo

by Categorized: Botany, Holidays, Plants Date:

Former Courant colleague Bill Daley of the Chicago Tribune takes a look at lucky bamboo, a fortuitous plant for the Chinese New Year, which arrives this Thursday, Feb. 19, and other food and flowers that are ripe with symbolism for the holiday.

Turns out lucky bamboo isn’t bamboo at all:


Not Really Bamboo

Lucky bamboo resembles bamboo but is in the Dracaena family. It’s sold in many shapes and with various numbers of stalks. The plant pictured here has eight stalks, a number that symbolizes wealth and prosperity in Chinese culture. (Photo via ML Harris, Iconica)


Berries So Lovely, Yet So Insidious

by Categorized: Botany, Ecology, Invasive Species Date:

It’s come to this. Oriental bittersweet is now such an invasive plant in the state that the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has  issued a release urging residents not to use it in holiday decorating.

Gabelman UConn bittersweet fruits top lr

Use a native plant like Winterberry holly (below) instead, DEEP recommends.

Gabelman winterberry UConn 2013 lr

Sad to say, we have a spectacular mass of the berry-filled branches of Oriental bittersweet high in an immense rhododendron. I admit the berries are gorgeous, and years ago, when I didn’t know any better, I would have been thrilled to use them in a wreath or centerpiece. Now I’m glad they’re out of reach to other holiday decorators who might spot them and be tempted to clip a few.

As soon as there’s enough snowcover on the ground, I’m going to try to pull down the mass of berries using a telescoping pruner. I figure the snow will help me spot where they land. For now, I know the birds are feasting on the berries, which only contributes anew to the continuing spread of the invasive plant.

For years I’ve chopped at the vines of Oriental bittersweet, which have a vexing habit of wrapping around branches and girdling them. The plant just keeps popping up with a vengeance. It’s a never-ending battle.

Logan Senack, the state’s invasive plant coordinator, says Oriental bittersweet is “certainly one of the 10 most common [invasive species in Connecticut], and it certainly has a dramatic and negative impact on ecosystems.”

While it’s not new — it’s been here since the 1860s — and is fairly widespread, there still are parts of the state where Oriental bittersweet isn’t a problem.

And that’s why DEEP wants to keep it from spreading.

It’s actually against the law to sell or move Oriental bittersweet. A state law that went into effect in 2004 prohibits moving, selling, purchasing, transplanting, cultivating or distributing 80 invasive plants — with fines of $50 a plant.

Logan says that while the law has been on the books for a decade, no one could “write a ticket” until 2010 when DEEP was given the enforcement authority. And DEEP does get complaints, but so far, Logan says, they have been resolved with education and voluntary compliance.

As far as eradicating Oriental bittersweet, Logan says you can pull up smaller plants by hand — the bright orange roots are easy to identify. A larger patch or bigger plants might require a professional. You can cut plants that have large woody stems at the base and then apply an herbicide (labeled for woody vegetation) at just the cut portion.

For more information — or if you find someone selling invasive plant species —  contact Logan Senack, at 860-208-3900 and

And the Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group’s website at has lots more information on invasive plant species in Connecticut.

PHOTOS: Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), at top, and Winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata), both by Nicole Gabelman, via DEEP.


Master Gardener Application Deadline Is Extended

by Categorized: Botany, Ecology, Gardening, Horticulture, Invasive Species, Plants, Trees Date:

Bartlett Arboretum

Master Gardener Application Deadline Extended

Just about every truly serious gardener I’ve met in Connecticut is a Master Gardener; it’s a credential I aspire to and hope one day to find the time to attain. It takes serious commitment.

The UConn Extension System’s 2014 Master Gardener program, which begins the first week of January, provides horticultural and environmental training to people who want to expand their gardening know-how and share it with the public through volunteer activities.

The program includes more than 100 hours of classroom work — in 14 all-day class sessions once a week — covering botany, plant pathology, entomology, integrated pest management, herbaceous and woody ornamentals, edibles, turf grass, invasive plants and diagnostic techniques. Classes can be taken at the Bartlett Arboretum in Stamford, or at the County Extension Centers in Norwich, Torrington, Hamden or Vernon.

Students also do supervised research — on identifying insects and plants, diagnosing plant diseases and providing recommendations — and participate in community outreach projects, such as community gardens, educational booths at Earth Day events and county fairs, and working with the Connecticut Invasive Plant Group. In all, it involves about 60 hours of volunteer work.

The fee is $415, and partial scholarships may be available, depending on need.

The deadline for postmarking applications has been extended to Nov. 8. Details about the program and the application form are available at the Home and Garden Education Center’s website at and at County Extension Center offices.

Photo: Bartlett Arboretum