Category Archives: Landuse Changes

Posts relating to land use change requests at city and county planning bodies

Beautiful hibiscus

This is based on an article I wrote for the July issue of the Parkwood Inside/Out. There were some website issues, so I haven’t posted in a few months. Hibiscus are probably still blooming; they were still in bloom in the Coker Arboretum last week, but it is getting late in the season for them, so now is the time to go to your local pond.

Parkwood Lake Hibiscus

Hibiscus or mallows are the showiest natives growing along the margins of Parkwood Lake and local beaver ponds in midsummer. The most common species is a small bush with soft, dark green leaves and huge white 5-petalled flowers with dark red or purplish centers, each flower lasting one day. I think this is Hibiscus moscheutos, or H. palustris, but they seem to be considered the same species now. The other Hibiscus is a rare species with bright red flowers, probably H. coccineus, native to Georgia, Florida, and Alabama, but apparently introduced in North Carolina relatively recently, since it doesn’t appear in the comprehensive Manual of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas written in the 60’s. There were some small Hibiscus at the Clermont end of the Lake before it was deepened last year, and I thought they were killed, despite the ribbons I tied on them, but there are still a few small Hibiscus there. They aren’t flowering, possibly because they get too much shade, or they were cut back, or maybe they sprouted recently. Elsewhere in Parkwood there are rose-of-Sharon (H. syriacus), a tree-sized Old World Hibiscus. Hibiscus are in the mallow family (Malvaceae) with marsh mallows (Althea officinalis, a European plant found in North Carolina whose roots were used to make the first marshmallows), okra, hollyhocks, and cotton.

I’m not completely sure what the white Hibiscus are. Both H. moscheutos and H. palustris have been called swamp rose mallows, and the former has also been called wild cotton (but don’t look for a cotton boll), breast root, and crimson-eyed rose-mallow. Both can have pink flowers, but H. moscheutos is usually white and I only see white flowers around here. The name would make more sense if the rose in rose-mallow just means rose-like. The Greek word for mallow is hibiscus and moscheutos refers to the smell of musk roses, another relative. These plants are perennials, but their tough stalks seem to regrow from the base each year. I usually see hibiscus growing around 2 to 4 feet tall, but they can reach 8 feet. They have oval to three pointed, red maple-like leaves alternating along the stalks. The leaves don’t look particularly fuzzy, but they still have a soft texture. The large flower buds are surrounded by an array of needlelike, but soft green bracts and larger sepals that extend after flowering to protect the developing fruit. The petals have a soft, pleated appearance and the male and female parts are united to form a structure like a radio tower jutting from the center, like other Hibiscuses. The flower gives way to a dry capsule that opens in the fall or winter, releasing many seeds. Hibiscus don’t produce fibers, but the fruit resembles an unopened cotton boll. These mallows like to grow in marshes and beside ponds in full sun, but yards with moist soil and those around Parkwood Lake should be able to grow them.

H. coccineus is called rose, scarlet, or brilliant mallow, and scarlet mallow comes closest to describing the color. Supposedly it is also called Texas star, but it shouldn’t grow there naturally. This species can grow up to 10 feet tall and has palmate, or hand-like, leaves with three to five points. There must be some red Hibiscus in yards around the Lake, and they self-seeded into the marshy ground along Clermont, or someone planted them there, because I’ve never seen them naturalized elsewhere. These plants seem more lofty and airy than the white Hibiscus and very tall examples can be seen waving over the flowerbeds along the central brick path at UNC’s Coker Arboretum.

Hibiscus are supposed to attract butterflies and ruby-throated hummingbirds, but I mainly see bees visit them. I also don’t see many insects eating the leaves, but Japanese beetles and the spiny caterpillars of Io moths, one of the smaller giant silk moths, can eat Hibiscus, and common checkered-skippers, painted ladies, and gray hairstreak butterfly caterpillars, eat plants in the mallow family and this might include Hibiscus. Cooks can use Hibiscus leaves as a thickener like okra and as cooked greens. Hibiscus, especially H. moscheutos, leaves and roots are mucilaginous and were used herbally to soothe and soften tissue and H. moscheutos was used against breast cancer.

If you look for Hibiscus at the Lake, you will probably notice the color of the water. At the start of July the Lake was opaque yellow with silt eroded from the Meadows at Southpoint construction site at the corner of 54 and Barbee Road, the headwaters of the stream feeding the Lake. Durham Stormwater Services investigated and said there weren’t any big problems with the erosion controls and the contractor was very cooperative. This is how the Lake fills with muck, but soil also bleeds from yards with every rain and much of Parkwood drains into the Lake, so when people pile leaves and logs in the streams, this is also usually where they are heading. I’m not sure how much of a problem the recent runoff is for aquatic life, but excessive siltiness is harmful for some organisms. Further downstream a beaver pond bordered by Hibiscus, roses, dogbane, spotted jewelweed, and beds of brilliant green knotweed is still the color of tea, naturally dyed by decaying vegetation. Northeast Creek turned brown with the recent storms, hopefully not only because of the massive grading at sites just north of RTP. The poor water quality tolerant carp are jumping in the Creek, and they are the subject of my article in the latest issue of Chatham County Line (www.chathamcountyline.org).

English Ivy: Coming to a woods near you

This is an article I wrote for the January issue of the Parkwood Inside/Out, serving the Parkwood community, next to Northeast Creek in southern Durham.

English Ivy: Coming to a woods near you

Now that Parkwood’s green areas are bare, the full extent of the English ivy problem is plain to see. In places behind Newhall, Euclid, Revere, and between Highway 54 and Euclid ivy thickly covers the ground, smothering native vegetation, including the next generation of canopy trees, creating what might best be called “ivy deserts.” A few native and non-native plants do sprout through the ivy, including poison ivy, but the spring beauties, trout lilies, bluets, pink wood sorrel, pussytoes, and other flowers and forbs that should gild the forest floor are excluded. Ivy might affect invertebrates living in streams flowing through an ivy-filled woodland and change the soil, because ivy has nitrogen-rich leaves, a vital plant nutrient. It can carry bacterial leaf scorch, which infects trees such as maples, elms, and oaks. Ivy vines thickly festoon trees, which might make them more likely to fall, though there is some controversy, and less able to get to sunlight.

Once in the canopy, ivy gets enough sun to flower and produce clusters of black fruits, which birds spread into new areas. In my yard there is some ivy kept under control in pots, but in the last 10 years a lot of ivy has crept in through seeding. Without pests or diseases, cold weather is probably the main factor limiting ivy here, by preventing fruit production and temporarily stopping photosynthesis, an advantage evergreen ivy has over deciduous plants. For this reason, ivy is not a major problem further north, but it is rampant in the Pacific Northwest.

As its name suggests, common or English ivy (Hedera helix) is native to the continent of Europe, as well as the Middle East and north Africa, but it was introduced here starting in the 18th century. In its native range it is kept in check and is a valuable food source for birds, some of the species that have become problematic introductions here, such as European starlings and house sparrows.

English ivy is in the same family as ginseng, so it is not a relative of poison ivy or Virginia creeper (in the cashew and grape families, respectively), but I thought it was related when I took a large cut stem and pressed it to my wrist to see what would happen, and my skin blistered, but less intensely than it would with poison ivy. I’m pretty sure it was an ivy stem, and not Virginia creeper, and some people do react to ivy, but from a different toxin than that in poison ivy.

Ivy has evergreen, palm-shaped leaves with three to five points in shade, but they become more lance-shaped in the sunny treetops. The vines appear hairy because of glue-producing roots, while vines high in the treetops lack roots. Stems can be almost a foot wide, and reportedly a 433 year old vine in Europe was more than 20” across. Ivy has tiny and inconspicuous yellowish flowers that appeal to insects with a short proboscis, such as flies, wasps, and moths. The resulting fruit, technically called a drupe, contains a few hard seeds and a toxic glycoside that sickens humans and can make birds vomit. Still, the fruits are nutritious and fatty, and are often eaten by robins, mockingbirds, and cedar waxwings. As with some other non-native plants, human disturbances, such as new roads, give ivy inroads into new areas. There is a lot of ivy in Parkwood now, but it is rare or nonexistent in intact woods nearby. Livestock and deer can apparently eat the leaves, but don’t appear to be making much of a dent in the problem. Non-native rats might be the main animal that can use an ivy desert.

Other than landscaping, people have used ivy for its antifungal and antibacterial properties and in dyeing, tanning, and varnish resin.

Controlling English ivy and other non-native plants is a good New Year’s resolution. Many non-natives can be grown without causing too much trouble for native vegetation and the neighbors. There are more controllable non-natives, such as the groundcovers Vinca minor and Vinca major (they are similar, but V. major is larger and possibly more difficult to keep in check), which only spread vegetatively, but they spread a lot in shade. There are also many native alternatives. Crossvine is an evergreen vine with showy spring flowers that attract hummingbirds. Yellow jessamine is also evergreen and showy. Virginia creeper is a pretty deciduous vine with red fall foliage and dark blue berries. There are several evergreen groundcovers, such as doghobble, Galax, and partridgeberries (common in Parkwood).

Fish to watch

This is from the June issue of the Parkwood Inside/Out. It might be past time for some of the behaviors described, but all summer the daily lives of fish are easy to observe, or easier than in winter.

Our next meeting is scheduled for July 13th at 3pm at the Parkwood Volunteer Fire Department. [The meeting has been moved up Seaton Road to the Parkwood Village Pool.]

NECSW was represented at a community consultation in June about a proposed apartment development at the intersection of 54 and Revere Road, but no neighbors attended.

Fish to Watch

June is a good time for fishwatching in the many waterways in Parkwood, as many species enter shallow water to spawn, often in bright breeding colors and exhibiting complex behaviors.

In Parkwood Lake there are swirling black masses of cute baby catfish, guarded by their parents, camouflaged in the murky water. The babies, or fry, are tadpolelike, with big heads and fins, but short tails. They are a species of bullhead catfish, probably black bullheads. In summer a pair swims in circles to excavate a round nest among plants or under a log. The parents guard their many eggs for the few days until they hatch and then stay with them until they grow to about two inches. Later in the summer light-colored fry can be seen darting alone over the bottom to deeper water when a person approaches the shoreline. When caught, bullheads hold their front pectoral and dorsal fins rigid, exposing sharp spines. Small madtom catfish inject painful venom through these spines. Bullheads grow to around a foot and a half long, but the Lake’s channel catfish can grow to around four feet. Channel catfish are grey, slender, and have sharply forked tails. Both channel catfish and black bullheads were probably introduced to this part of North Carolina from the Mississippi River basin.

The nests of sunfish species honeycomb the shoreline of the north Euclid Pond. There are many species, often lumped together as panfish or bream, but these fish are probably bluegills and/or pumpkinseeds. Their colors are hard to see in the water, but bluegills are blueish with stripes and males have red throats now while pumpkinseeds are reticulated with orange and blue. Most sunfish have a black opercular lobe behind the eye, and this is plain black in bluegills, but bordered with orange and white in pumpkinseeds. Males use the motion from their fins to create nests, where they court females. Smaller males try to get in to fertilize the eggs by mimicking females or sneaking in when the owner is distracted. Males guard the eggs and fry until they leave the nest. Sometimes sunfish will even nip at feet placed close by, if they don’t know a human is attached! Surprisingly large sunfish can live in Piedmont brooks and in summer sunfish travel far upstream from the Lake. Largemouth bass are a species of sunfish, and they create correspondingly large, isolated nests.

The minnow family, the biggest family of fish, seems more abundant in clear rocky streams than in suburban lakes, but there are some species in Parkwood. Common carp are gold-colored minnows with short barbels on the corners of their vacuum-like, down pointing mouths. There are carp three feet long in the Lake. To breed, groups of one or a few females and several males enter weedy areas and carry on with splashing and jumping. Carp were introduced from the Old World as a food fish. Japanese koi are colorful, long-lived, and sometimes expensive domesticated carp. Carp tolerate poor water quality and are eaten by predators like otters in Northeast Creek, but they degrade habitat for native fish by uprooting aquatic vegetation and muddying the water. In late summer large carp can be seen gulping at the surface of deep pools in the Creek, such as below the American Tobacco Trail bridge. There are or were large goldfish in Parkwood Lake. Wild goldfish are drab and can grow over a foot long. They are non-native and can hybridize with carp. Small shiners, of which there are many native species, can be found in Northeast Creek and possibly in Parkwood Lake.

The Lake’s ever-present, nondescript grayish “minnows” are actually mosquitofish, Gambusia affinis, basically a wild guppy, and have black spots and a neon violet sheen up close. The large females have a large black spot and give birth to live young. If you look closely, their mouths are turned up, to pick off insects such as mosquito larvae, breathing at the surface. The Lotus Pond doesn’t have much flow in the summer, so some guppies are afflicted with a white fungus on their fins.

In nearby weedy beaver ponds, if not in Parkwood Lake, there are toothy bowfin, also called dogfish, living fossils that can breathe air and make bass scatter. Males guard schools of young until they grow to about four inches. It would be cool to see a prehistoric-looking longnose gar, but I have only heard of them being seen at Westpoint on the Eno and maybe in north Raleigh. Chain pickerel with ducklike snouts also lurk in weedy beaver ponds and wetlands. Pickerel are lunging predators, cylindrical, with fins set far back, so they can dart out at prey. On the other hand, sunfish have a pan-shape that lets them catch small prey up and down the water column. Shoals of filter-feeding shad sometimes ruffle the surface of Parkwood Lake. In Northeast Creek there are many small species, such as darters and mudminnows.