Two programs featuring native plants – identifying maple trees/making maple syrup and gardening with native plants – recently drew dozens of Dunwoody gardeners and plant enthusiasts to the Dunwoody Nature Center.
New Program Manager David Boyd led the maple trees program. It began with a classroom presentation on the history of tapping maple trees to extract the sap (which is made into the syrup), included a walk to identify maple trees in the Nature Center forest that featured the tapping of a maple tree outside the main building and ended with a syrup tasting.
Pancake syrup that’s available in many stores tends to be a high fructose corn syrup, Boyd told the group. Maple syrup is expensive to make, he said, pointing out that it takes 40 gallons of maple sap to make one gallon of maple syrup.
Boyd also explained that the Southern Sugar Maple is not tapped for commercial production like maples in the northern United States and Canada because the tapping procedure requires a long, cold winter. Southern winters are just too short to make commercial maple tapping practical in areas like Dunwoody, he said.
That makes tree tapping in the South for the birds, literally, Boyd told the children. He explained that sapsuckers tap trees to start a sap flow not to eat the sap but because the sap attracts insects. They then make a meal off the bugs, he said.
In either case, tapping doesn’t harm the trees. Trees can be tapped to make syrup for a hundred years, he said.
Master Gardener Kendra Boyer led the class on native plants for Dunwoody gardens, which was the first in the Nature Center’s 2012 Lunch and Learn series for adults.
Boyer showed several dozen gardening and native plant enthusiasts a slideshow of beautiful photographs of native trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and ephemerals. Boyer took the photos around Ellijay and in Dunwoody.
During the program, Boyer discussed the benefits of native plants, their various types, how to identify them, how to grow them and shared such interesting aspects about native plants as:
- Where plant names came from – colonists used the Sourwood tree (Oxydendron aboreum) to quench their thirst.
- Interesting facts – The American beech (Fagus grandifolia), examples of which can be seen in the DNC forest, was a primary food source for once-massive flocks of passenger pigeons in the eastern United States. The DNC records, she said, include a report about a visitor who said that when the passenger pigeon became extinct, thanks to hunters, there was less spreading of the seed by the birds. That is why, according to the visitor, there are fewer beech forests now than when the colonists arrived, The thinking is that the decline of the beech trees led to the huge oak forests that exist today because the oaks no longer had competition from the beech trees. Beech trees can be easily identified in winter – they are the understory trees with the brown leaves.
- Planting tips – Hollies (Ilex) require at least one male for pollination to occur. The male tree doesn’t have to be the same species as the female trees.
- Sources for plants – White flower Farm is a good source for red bud trees (Cercis canadensis). The slide show included numerous cultivars.
- Bonus tips – Use variegated leaf forms, such as variegated Florida Anise (Illicium floridanum), to brighten up shady areas.
Boyer concluded her talk with a discussion about invasive plants such as several types of honeysuckle, non-native wisteria, vinca and others that can crowd out desirable plants.
The next program in the Lunch and Learn series for adults will be on amphibians. It will be held Thursday, March 1 from 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. at the Dunwoody Nature Center and will be taught by Joseph R. Mendelson III, PhD, curator of Herpetology at Zoo Atlanta. Mendelson will discuss the health and decline of this group of amphibians and how they affect ecosystems. Attendees can bring their own sack lunch or pre-order a box lunch. Cost: Lecture $5, lecture and boxed lunch $15. To register, call the Dunwoody Nature Center at (770) 394-3322.