For the Love of Plants

For December 5, 2018 

One of the most popular plants in the U.S. at this time of year is actually a tropical plant introduced to the American public at the first Philadelphia Flower Show in 1829. The Poinsettia has become a holiday horticultural icon. Joel Roberts Poinsett -- a botanist, physician, and the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico -- spotted the brilliant red blooms on a trip south of the border in 1825. Enamored with their beauty, he shipped some back to his hothouse in Greenville, South Carolina.  It was there that he began propagating and sending the plants to friends and botanical gardens.  Bartram’s Garden received one of his plants and introduced it into commercial cultivation.

Sales of Poinsettia, or Euphorbia pulcherrima, now peak every year during the six weeks leading up to Christmas. With more than 100 varieties, including pink, white, burgundy, marbled, and speckled, there is a shade to please everyone’s color palette. Often mistaken for flowers, the colored parts of the plant are modified leaves, called bracts. New for 2018, Lyra™ Red and Mirage™ Red both flaunt deep red bracts. For those who love hot pink, Princettia Pink is a show-stopper.

Bundle up your Poinsettia carefully for its ride home from the nursery. Even a few minutes of exposure to temperatures below 50 can damage it. Place it in indirect light in a warm, sunny spot away from drafts. Position it to avoid touching cold windows. When the soil is dry to the touch, water the plant thoroughly.

Poinsettias can be mildly toxic. Prevent children and pets from chewing or swallowing the leaves.


Posted on November 14, 2018

Transitioning the conventional suburban landscape at the Philadelphia Navy Yard into an ecologically healthy, beautiful and natural area has been the primary goal for Tim Majoros, Associate Director of Public Landscapes at PHS. Tim and his team selected a palette of native plants to replace invasives. One of his favorites, Andropogon gerardii ‘Red October’, is a native cool-season grass that will work as well at home in a private landscape as it does on a larger scale at the Navy Yard.

Tim appreciates this perennial for its growing ease and tolerance of a wide range of soils and growing conditions. This plant produces a lot of growth in fertile soil, but is still adaptable to drier, infertile soils. It develops an extensive root system and has outstanding drought tolerance. “’Red October’ is ideal at the Navy Yard,” says Majoros. “It doesn’t require any input, and its leaves emerge gray to blue-green in the spring, turn to green with red highlights in the summer, and change to purplish-red in late summer. By fall, after the first frost, ‘Red October’ turns a vivid scarlet red,” he explains. Perfect for borders or buffer areas, this grass will grow to 6 feet in height and up to 3 feet in width.  Additionally, this easy-going plant will tolerate deer, drought, erosion, and dry soil, as well as proximity to black walnut trees.  

Consider adding this gorgeous, resilient native to your home landscape this season. Plant ‘Red October’ now through Thanksgiving.


Posted on October 3, 2018

Keep an eye out for the newest predator in town – the spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula). This exotic pest is native to China, India, and Vietnam. It was first spotted in Berks County, Pennsylvania, in 2014, and has spread rapidly throughout the area. The spotted lanternfly feeds on more than 70 plants, including grapes, cherries, maples, and stone fruits, but the Ailanthus altissima, commonly known as the “Tree of Heaven,” is its preferred meal of choice.

People all over the five-county region are contacting PHS asking what they can do. If you have Ailanthus on your property, consider removing them, then treat the remaining “trap trees” with systemic insecticides.  This will offer the best long-term solution.

If you find just a few lanternflies and would like to kill them without controlling Ailanthus, swatting or crushing them is advised. These bugs are leafhoppers, so they can be hard to catch. For large populations, two kinds of insecticides will kill spotted lanternfly adults. Contact insecticides will kill them with direct contact; systemic insecticides are absorbed by the tree and kill the insects feeding on it.  Consult a certified pesticide applicator when in question.

Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Agriculture, Russell Redding, has estimated that the spotted lanternfly infestation could result in the loss of as much as $18 billion in agricultural revenue. Governor Tom Wolf has placed 13 counties around and including the Philadelphia area under quarantine, a move designed to stop the pest from spreading any further. It may already be too late; the spotted lanternfly has already been spotted in one county in Delaware, three in New Jersey, and two in New York.

Egg masses are laid during the fall and early winter and appear as one- to two-inch-long gray mud smears with 30 to 50 brown eggs underneath. This time of year, the egg masses turn dark brown and appear cracked and scaly.  Egg masses are laid on any hard surface, including cars and firewood. Always check these surfaces before traveling outside the quarantine area.

Follow these Instructions from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture if you discover eggs or the spotted lanternfly:

If you see egg masses: Scrape them off, double bag them and throw them away. You can also place the eggs in alcohol or hand sanitizer to kill them. Please report all destroyed egg masses to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

Collect a specimen: Specimens of any life stage can be turned in to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s Entomology lab for verification. Submit samples with the Entomology Program Sample Submission Form.

Take a picture: A photograph of any life stage (including egg masses) can be submitted to mailto:[email protected].

Report a site: If you can’t take a specimen or photograph, call the spotted lanternfly hotline at 1.888.4BAD.FLY (1.888.422.3359) with information regarding your sighting.


Posted on September 5, 2018

Not only will this shrub add a splash of color to your garden, it has a story to tell – one with local roots! Enkianthus perulatus ‘J.L. Pennock,’ known as the white enkianthus, has brilliant red foliage in the fall. This rare woody plant has showy white flowers in late spring, but it is the scarlet red foliage in the fall that makes it a show-stopper.

Enkianthus perulatus is native to Japan and Taiwan, where it grows in the mountains and woodlands. The white form, known as J.L. Pennock, was introduced by the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania, where the original specimen lives today. The shrub was named to honor J. Liddon Pennock, Jr., proprietor of Meadowbrook Farm and a long-time Philadelphia Flower Show exhibitor and given to him on his 80th birthday in 1993. The plant that Liddon received on his birthday lives at PHS Meadowbrook Farm, where the perennial walk ends at the plant shop, and can be enjoyed by visitors to the public garden.

A PHS Gold Medal winner in 1999, this specimen is quite rare and not easily attainable. Coveted for its prolonged fiery autumn display, ‘J.L. Pennock’ has a long season of fall color that begins as a blush of burgundy in September, deepens in October, and finally turns dark red to scarlet in November.

In early May, pure white, urn-shaped nodding flowers appear in groups of three to 10, well after azaleas, dogwoods, magnolias, and redbuds have finished blooming. Bright green foliage with finely serrated leaves appear whorled on the tops of the branches.

The original plant at the Morris Arboretum is close to 100 years old. Shelley Dillard, Plant Propagator at Morris Arboretum, developed the propagation technique and held the patent on it until recently when it expired. Propagation is not easy and is most successful when cuttings are taken in mid-May.

Bernard Pettit, Associate Director of PHS Meadowbrook Farm, is currently propagating enkianthus perulatus at Meadowbrook. Time will tell and hopefully bear the fruits of his labor.

This elegant shrub is best used as a feature or specimen within a landscape. Because of its small size and slow growth rate, it is perfect for smaller gardens, foundation plantings, and hillside or rock gardens.  This low-maintenance cultivar requires little pruning and grows easily in acidic soil with full sun to light shade.  The plant is generally pest- and disease-free. It will mature at 5 to 10 feet tall with a 5-to 8-foot spread.