Why? Well, you can’t eat it – let’s get that out of the way right off the bat. But it does work into today’s topics in two ways: one, it’s a plant that I’m extremely grateful for and two, it will still work great on your holiday table, just in the form of décor instead of food. I’m grateful for this unique take on our native red-twig dogwood because it has yellow stems instead of the typical red, which really lights up the landscape in winter. It also makes a fun alternative to the red version, and they look great intermixed in both the garden as well as in decorations. It’s every bit as easy to grow as the red one, too.
If native species are important to you, you’ll be glad to know that Arctic Fire Yellow red twig dogwood is actually a selection of our native Cornus sericea – many of the yellow varieties are actually selections of the European native Cornus sanguinea, though these tend to also have orange-coral tones in them, not the pure yellow of Arctic Fire Yellow.
I’m going to drop a little bomb on our listeners here: in the northern part of North America, there are no native earthworms. All of them are invasive, as our native worms were wiped out by glaciers 10,000 years ago, and basically any worms north of Pennsylvania are invasives. This comes as a shock to us as part of a culture that has long told us that earthworms are the best thing for our soil, that they indicate soil health, and so on. They don’t, but up until relatively recently, they were at least pretty benign. However, they are problematic for forests, where they alter both the soil structure and the soil chemistry, often favoring invasive species. And the situation is getting a lot worse with the spread of invasive jumping worms. These worms eat organic matter in the soil much faster than established worms, they grow twice as fast, and reproduce more quickly – in fact, they reproduce without mating. Their speed and adaptability threatens soil structure and nutrients, as well as salamanders and other soil-dwellers.
Jumping worms are pretty well established through most of the eastern half of North America now. You can tell you have them if you are seeing very uniform areas of granular worm castings that look like coffee grounds. If you scratch up the soil in these areas, you’ll see many worms vigorously thrashing around. The good news is that the adult worms don’t survive winter, but they leave behind hundreds of cocoons, which hatch out in spring. Unfortunately, at present, there isn’t all that much you can do. You can learn to recognize them by researching them and getting to know their signs. If you have them, you can pour a mix of one gallon of water with one-third of freshly ground mustard seed over the area where you suspect they are. This drives them to the surface and they can be collected and discarded. This will only work during the growing season, though, and it’s not effective on the cocoons. It’s also important to not give away plants to friends if you know you have jumping worms to avoid spreading the worms even further.
Today, we’re joined by herbalist, forager, urban farmer, and author Lisa M. Rose. Trained as an antropologist, she now uses her knowledge of cultures and interest in plants to study ethnobotany – the relationship between people and the plants around them – around the world. We talk about her discussions and observations, as well as her new book, Urban Foraging. Listen on your favorite podcast platform or watch the YouTube link above to hear our whole conversation.