Ready for another weather change? Yes! OK, the rest of this lengthy blog is totally focused on the Native Plant Materials Conference held at OSU. Several growers, speakers, collectors, and plant people gave presentations about Oklahoma native plants from many different perspectives. If you were unable to attend, here is a condensed version.

October 12th 2013 Blog

Becky Emerson Carlberg

The weather is fixing to change once again.  Another run at autumn is coming, accompanied by cooler temperatures and moisture.  As I stepped out the door this morning, I could smell rain.  The humidity was quite high, and condensation was dripping off our metal roof.  Then the wind switched around and a cool northeast breeze began flowing in with fast moving clouds heading south.  The first frontal boundary had moved through, but there are others lined up waiting to come into Oklahoma the next several days.

Thursday, October 10th (my brother’s birthday) was the Native Plant Materials Conference at OSU.  I got in my dew-covered van and trucked up to Stillwater, maneuvering past the construction of bridges and new road outside and around Perkins.  In case you were wondering, the donut shop was open.

I drove into the parking lot behind the Wes Watkins Center, and lo and behold, David Hillock, Master Gardener Coordinator, was handing out parking permits.  I graciously accepted one, parked the van, went inside and located handouts, name tag and auditorium where the speakers and attendees were. 

“Indigenous Ornamentals” presented by Dr. Mike Schnelle, specialist in ornamentals and floriculture, opened the Conference.  I would like to write something about his talk, but, as usual, came in late and missed most of it.  Blame the refreshment table loaded with fresh fruit, pastries, hot coffee and folks hanging around who were engaged in interesting conversations.  Who actually connects words at 8:30 in the morning?  Mike did have a handout with thoughts and points about natives.  Arborists, landscape architects, master gardeners, horticulturists and many others were in attendance this early morning hour.  By 9:00 am, I had found a good spot in the auditorium and was ready for Marilyn Stewart’s talk on “Oklahoma Natives, the Weird and Wonderful”.  Marilyn is president and founder of Wild Things Nursery in Seminole OK and has a wealth of knowledge about native plants.

There are 2,700 plant species native to Oklahoma, as well as 25,000 insect species, 1,000 spider species, 365 bird species and the list goes on.  Marilyn had an Adder’s Tongue fern come up in her yard.  This fern has 1,262 chromosomes, the most of any living organism on earth!  One palm is native to Oklahoma and is known as the Dwarf Palmetto (Sabal minor).  You can see it in the OKC zoo and in private landscapes.  This palm may only get 2 to 4 feet tall, with leaf fronds 2 to 3 feet across. 

Dodder, the parasitic thin yellow twisting vines seen wrapping around Indian Paintbrush and grasses, produces seeds that can lay dormant on the soil 5 to 10 years.  But, butterflies love dodder so it isn’t so bad.  There is a penstemon (Penstemon oklahomensis), only native to Oklahoma, with a closed throat, but open slits in the back of the flower. 

The bush morning glory (Ipomoea leptophylla), also called Man Root, is very drought tolerant due to its huge root system.  It puts out a tap root that swells to over 2 feet in diameter, and over 5 feet long, with more lateral roots extending out beyond 20 feet. Portions of the root were hollowed out and hot coals placed inside when Native Americans were moving from one camp to another.  The morning glory root was known as the “Fire Keeper”.   

Marilyn brought persimmon seeds which were sliced directly through the middle.  In weather folklore, persimmon seeds were used to forecast the winter.  Inside, the little embryo can resemble a knife (ice), fork (mild) or spoon (snow).  Her seed embryos had the knife shape, which indicates an icy winter.  We’ll see.

A good book Marilyn recommended was “Bringing Nature Home” Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants written by Douglas W. Tallamy.  It is available on Kindle as well as hardback, softback, new and used.

Mark Andrews, Supervisor of New Product Development of Greenleaf Nursery, Park Hill, OK, followed Marilyn with “New Selections of Commercially Available Native Plants”.  He started with a story about their line of Silverwood sycamores that originated from one sycamore that had been spotted growing in Utica Square in Tulsa.  They were given permission to bring in a bucket truck to get cuttings for asexual propagation.  In the process, all traffic was stopped for a period of time.  

A staff member had seen columnar red cedar happily growing near the Missouri state line.  Several small trees were dug and taken back to the nursery, and were expected to grow tall and thin as they did in their native soils close to Missouri.  Under nursery conditions, the little cedars did grow taller, but increased their girth as well, mimicking their cousins further south. It is still under investigation as to what environmental effects may be taking place to cause the columnar growth they were unable to replicate at the nursery.  Another linear red cedar forest was located near Taylor, Nebraska in 1978, but has been marketed by Monrovia.  Juniperus virginiana ‘Taylor’ has consistently demonstrated the narrow girth, medium height, drought and deer resistant traits.  In the developmental world of new plants, select perennials and grasses may become commercially available after 2 to 3 years of growth trials, shrubs may take 4 to 6 years, and trees often must grow 8 to 10 years to determine that the desired traits are coming through. 

Jenn Olson, OSU Plant Disease Diagnostician, gave a brief discussion of (Hypoxylon) BiscogniauxiaCanker and Dieback of Trees seen all over Oklahoma.  Not only are oaks affected but maples, hickories, pecans, Goldenraintrees (Koelreuteria paniculata) and sycamores have also succumbed.  She described how samples could be collected and sent to her, as she is conducting a survey to access the extent of the (formerly known as Hypoxylon) canker in the landscape.  The fungi willenter stressed trees through wounds.  Leaves wilt and turn yellow to brown as the ends of branches dieback. The fungi descends down the channels to the trunk and girdles the tree, killing the entire crown.  A white to brown cushion (stroma) of asexual spores forms under the bark, eventually pushing the bark off the trees and liberating the spores.  A new batch of sexual spores then forms turning the fungal cushion black.  They in turn also become air-borne, rain-splashed or dispersed by animals.  Be careful around the bark of trees. 

Herman Dittrich of Johnston Seed in Enid showcased “Use of Natives in Floral Arrangements” and brought beautiful native plant arrangements of grasses, milkweeds and seeds.  Herman has been in the business over 60 years.  He briefly talked about native vegetation and their protection by using garlic barriers, etc. around crops. 

“The Ultimate Makeover—Prairie Edition” by Scott Vogt, Executive Director of the Dyck Arboretum of the Plains, Hesston, KS, presented home landscape transformations using sustainable, maintainable and beautiful native plants.  Did you know silver foliage often indicates drought tolerance, or bluestem roots may penetrate down 10 feet in the soil?  He gave instructions for planning a native garden, plant selection recommendations and planting tips.  Examples:  lay out the entire bed before planting, don’t plant too deep, mulch lightly with 1-2 inches (prairie plants do not like pampering), use little or no fertilizers, water daily until established….then lay off to prevent root rot.  He likes to say at plant sales:  “It is not called growing, it’s called gardening”.  Achillea, Coreopsis, Liatris, milkweed, blue sage, grasses, viburnums and cypresses were some of the plants highlighted.  Check out:

A short session with Dr. Dennis Martin from OSU was all about “The Benefits and Challenges of Using Buffalograss” (Bouteloua dactyloides).  This is the only major turf species native in North America.  The native range is from Texas up to the Dakotas.  He has found a very impressive buffalograss stand in the Pawnee Cemetery.  The key is to make sure all other grasses are killed off before establishing buffalo grass.  Maintain sanitation and practice the “Advancing Front” technique by spraying and killing other grasses that try to creep in.

Lunchtime break.  Very tasty chicken or steak fajitas with cookies for dessert.  We all gathered in the expansive dining hall and enjoyed the food and camaraderie. 

Dave Edwards, landscape architect, talked about “Underutilized Woody Plants for Oklahoma” right after lunch.  It was a tough act to follow, but he was good and most of us managed to stay awake.  Retired after 18 years at OSU-OKC, Dave began with the Osage Orange (Maclura pomifera), a good tough tree, and proceeded to show and discuss several other species.  One nearly perfect specimen was the Rusty Blackhaw Viburnam (Viburnum rufidulum).  This is a tall shrub that can take any moisture level, sun or shade, has flower clusters the size of your palm, attractive blue berries in fall, glossy dark green leaves, but has a problem with availability.  It takes a double dormancy, so seeds may take over 4 years to germinate!  The Eastern Red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) is a good performer in urban settings.  Older trees have muscling and folding of the trunk and attractive branch structures.  He mentioned the Dwarf Palm, but noted we are on the northern edge of its winter range, so watch exposure.  This palm has persistent winter fruits and no known pests.  Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) is another plant where pests are not a problem, is drought tolerant, tough and grows head high or shorter. 

Midafternoon was Steve Bieberich’s turn.  Steve is the co-owner of Sunshine Nursery in Clinton, OK.  His topic was “Native Plants of the United States”.  His focus was on provenance.  Get to know this word in the native plant world.  Provenance has to do with the origins of the plants themselves.  Where their genetic background became established is considered their native area.  The further plants stray from home, the less robust they perform.  Steve said the same plant species can be moved from west to east in Oklahoma, but the same species may not tolerate the move from their native area in the east to the more hostile west.  The same can be said about the same plant species growing both in the north and south.  It all depends on adaptability. 

The Caddo Maple (Acer saccharum ‘Caddo’) was mentioned by several growers as a good maple to grow in Oklahoma.  Sugar maples do not exactly thrive in most areas of Oklahoma.  They die.  They are out of their native area of northeast USA and Canada.  They prefer well-drained soils with more consistent moisture.   The Caddo maple, probably a subspecies of the sugar maple, is native to Caddo and Canadian counties in OK, is very drought and heat tolerant, and has dark green leathery leaves that turn brilliant red in the autumn. It hates having wet feet. The Big Tooth Maple (Acer grandidentatum) is the Rocky Mountain counterpart to the Caddo, and likes growing in limestone and rocky landscapes in higher elevations.

The Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis) is another drought tolerant tree, but produces gorgeous flowers. It is known to send out the wandering branch here and thee.  Bieberich’s response is “if you don’t like the shape, just cut it off”.  People do not realize this was one of the shelterbelt trees planted by the WPA in the 1930’s in response to the devastating droughts that created the dustbowl.  The Texas Madrone (Arbutus xalapensis) is another small flowering tree that was propagated using the Carl Whitcomb (OSU professor from 1972-1985) graduated milk-carton system now known as “Rootmaker”.  The little saplings grow well until moved into different pots or landscapes.  They then croak.  The growers have yet to be able to propagate the TX Madrone past the “rootmaker” growth pot stage.  Research is being done to determine the best transplant time in coordination with non-actively growing root systems. 

The Sunshine Nursery’s all-star perennial shrub is the Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii).  At his house, Bieberich cuts his plant back by half each year to stimulate growth the next season.  This man always carries his Felco trimmers in his back pocket.  “You never know when you need to get a cutting.  I take my trimmers with me to church”. 

The last presentation was given by Jay Pruett, Director of Conservation of the Nature Conservancy in Tulsa with the surprising title “The Nature Conservancy and Native Plant Conservation”.   The Nature Conservancy has 13 preserves, 26 staff members and the central office is in Tulsa.  In the past, the focus has been to acquire large landscapes for preservation and protection, but this required much maintenance and money.  There is now a gradual shift to working with landowners and their own land, and employing conservation easements.  The property owner agrees to sell or donate property rights to preserve migration routes, water quality, etc.  On the Blue River in southern Ok, water quality is an issue being dealt with.

There you have it.  It’s as if you were almost there, minus hearing about and seeing dozens of other native plants that can be grown in your gardens.  Herman Dittrich’s arrangements were very imaginative, and demonstrated how people can enjoy their native plants indoors after the growing season has ended. 

The Native Plant Materials Conference was a venue for sources and information for native plants.  Not only are the natives part of the urban and rural landscape, they are available as cultivated varieties ready to plant at your home.

Go outside and look at your native vegetation, even if it means getting in your car and driving to the city limits.  Look at the grasses, the flowers and trees.  Appreciate the fact they were not watered or pampered throughout the entire growing season, yet here they are.  Provenance.  Plants thriving in their native area. 

Additional sources:

Oklahoma Proven:

Oklahoma Biological Survey:

Biscogniauxia (Hypoxylon) Canker:

(Look for the fact sheet EPP-7620 on Hypoxylon Canker.  EPP stands for Entomology and Plant Pathology)