Dinner Jackets

This week, we fielded a call from our garden staff that there were large yellow jacket (Vespula maculifrons) nests in several arborvitae near where they were working. Knowing how aggressive and toxic the stings of these native vespid wasps can be for humans, they had requested help in getting the nests eliminated.

When Patrick arrived to check out the problem, he noticed that instead of finding nests, the yellow jackets were actually feeding on the arborvitae. Since this species of arborvitae was currently in the midst of pollen and cone production, there also appears to be some type of resin being exuded at the same time, which is a delicacy for the yellow jackets.

We estimate there were between 100 and 200 yellow jackets per plant. Because they were busy feeding, they had no interest in us, despite our close up study of their behavior. Our entomologist, Bill Reynolds, who had observed this phenomenon before with vespid wasps and arborvitae, showed us that we could actually touch the yellow jackets without drawing their ire. This is certainly not the case if you’ve ever been anywhere near a yellow jacket nesting site.

The other interesting phenomenon is that despite being Eastern US natives, the yellow jackets were only interested in the Asian arborvitae species, Platycladus (Thuja) orientalis. Growing adjacent was the East Coast and West Coast arborvitae, Thuja occidentalis and Thuja plicata, but neither attracted a single insect. This is another nail in the coffin of that oft repeated myth that only native plants feed native pollinators. One of many lessons here, but it’s especially important not to spray first and ask questions later.

Wide view photo of Thuja orientalis 'Beverly Hills'
Thuja orientalis ‘Beverly Hills’
Up close photo of Thuja orientalis 'Beverly Hills' hosting a yellow jacket (Vespula maculifrons)
Thuja orientalis ‘Beverly Hills’
Up close photo of Thuja orientalis 'Beverly Hills' hosting a yellow jacket (Vespula maculifrons)
Thuja orientalis ‘Beverly Hills’

Palmetto State of Mind

We are pleased to announce that Dr. Patrick McMillan’s new book, A Guide to the Wildflowers of South Carolina, has been published. While Patrick taught at Clemson, he was approached to update The Guide to Wildflowers of South Carolina (Porcher), first published in 2002.

After studying over 200,000 herbarium sheets (dead, smashed plants), and making countless trips into the field to photograph and study the plants in habitat, the updated book, A Guide to the Wildflowers of South Carolina has been born. This amazing 613-page book is a dramatic update from 2002 version, complete with more images, completely revised distribution maps, and an additional 200+ plant species.

I have known Patrick for over 30 years, and we are so blessed to have him as our JLBG Director of Horticulture and Gardens. We are the beneficiary of his encyclopedic plant knowledge every day, but now everyone can benefit from that same knowledge through this amazing new book.

His new book, which has an official publication date of next month, is available through your favorite on-line bookseller. Whether you live/travel, or botanize in NC, SC, or any of the Southeastern states, you will find this book invaluable.

Patrick McMillan and his new SC Wildflower book
A Guide to the Wildflowers of South Carolina
A Guide to the Wildflowers of South Carolina table of contents
A Guide to the Wildflowers of South Carolina table of contents cont.
A Guide to the Wildflowers of South Carolina

Acacias don’t grow here

If you get your gardening information on-line, where everything written is a fact, you’ll know for sure that acacias aren’t growable in Zone 7b, Raleigh, NC. If that includes you, don’t look at the photo below of Acacia greggii ‘Mule Mountain’ in flower at JLBG. Acacia greggii is a native from Texas west to California. Our seven year-old specimen is from Patrick McMillan’s collection in Cochise County, Arizona.

To be nomenclaturally correct, most of the US Acacias have now been moved into the genus Senegalia, so even though the American species aren’t from anywhere near Senegal, this is now known as Senegalia greggii.

Of course, it you also read the hogwash on-line about native pollinators needed and preferring plants they evolved with, then you’ll also have to ignore the masses of native bees that cause the entire plant to buzz while they’re feeding. It’s good we don’t let our plants and insects read books or the Internet.

An Exciting New Expedition

Please join me in welcoming our newest JLBG team member, Dr. Patrick McMillan. I’ve known Patrick for 30 years, going back to his days as a student at UNC-Chapel Hill, and long before he became a legend in the plant world.

We’ve followed his amazing journey, most recently as Director of Heronswood Gardens in Washington. Prior to that, he was Director of the SC Botanical Garden and Professor of Environmental Sustainability at Clemson since 2000. Patrick was the Emmy Award winning host of the renown PBS series, Expeditions with Patrick McMillan. Patrick is a highly-respected botanist/naturalist, who has won far too many awards to mention, but we’ll let Patrick tell you a bit more about himself and why he decided to partner with JLBG.

My first experience with Juniper Level and Tony was sitting at the kitchen table in 1991, the inaugural year of Plant Delights Nursery, talking about Asarum and star-struck by Tony’s knowledge and passion that has continued to grow into one of the world’s premier gardens and nurseries. In those days I dreamed of the opportunity to work alongside such talented horticulturalists and intrepid explorers.

My love of plants and all things slithering, creeping, crawling, and flying came at a very early age. I can’t remember a time when my life wasn’t centered on them. Fast forward 31 years and I found myself sitting at the same table reminiscing about the past, marveling at how far JLBG has grown, and stirring excitement for the future. I am so enthusiastic about joining the staff at JLBG, learning from the lifetimes of incredible knowledge and skill that is assembled among the employees and sharing my own experience, passion, and knowledge to bolster the mission and the horticultural and conservation accomplishments of this magical place.

I’m probably best described as a plant nerd. I have never met a plant I didn’t love. Every plant has a story and each is connected to our lives and the lives of the biodiversity upon which we all depend. Much of my horticultural experience and focus in South Carolina and at Heronswood Garden in Kingston, Washington has been focused on generating and supporting insect, bird and other wildlife diversity in the home landscape.

My philosophy of natural community gardening and the generation of life is a fairly simple one based on filling every space with life – diversity generates diversity. My exploration of the plant world has taken me from pole to pole and over every continent except Australia. I was trained as a sedge taxonomist but my interests include anything with cells. I’ve described new species ranging from ragweeds to sedges and begonia.

I also believe strongly that our greatest gift is sharing knowledge and I have worked as a lifelong educator. You may also have seen me on your local PBS station, where for 15 years I wrote, hosted, and produced the series “Expeditions with Patrick McMillan” – distributed by American Public Television. Conservation, preservation and generation of life is at the core of my life’s mission and I can imagine no better place to be nested within than JLBG. I hope to meet you soon and share some hearty plant nerd conversation.