Native Trees, Shrubs, & Vines: A Guide to Using, Growing, and Propagating North American Woody Plants

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Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2002 - Nature - 354 pages
For gardeners, for landscape professionals, and for anyone who cares about preserving the natural world, NATIVE TREES, SHRIBS, AND VINES is the first national guide to using, growing, and propagating North American woody plants.
Written in lively, informative language and illustrated with more than two hundred photographs, William Cullina's book is a comprehensive reference to almost one thousand native woody plants. An invaluable guide for naturalists, restorationists, nursery owners, landscape architects, and designers as well as gardeners, it points out that ecological gardening offers specific benefits to the individual as well as the environment. Even more than wildflowers, native trees, shrubs, and vines are essential to providing the food and shelter that attract birds and insects to the garden. And plants that are native to an area are far easier to grow and maintain than ordinary cultivated garden plants.
The author's acclaimed companion volume on wildflowers, GROWING AND PROPAGATING WILDFLOWERS, was called "an inspired effort, beautifully written and loaded with useful information" by Robert G. Breunig, director of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Along with that volume, NATIVE TREES, SHRUBS, AND VINES provides a definitive reference to the native plants of the temperate North American continent. And because Cullina writes from personal experience with the plants in his books, he offers information that is considerably more helpful (and more interesting) than the facts one finds in most plant references.

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Native trees, shrubs, & vines: a guide to using, growing, and propagating North American woody plants

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Nursery manager and propagator at the Garden in the Woods of the New England Wild Flower Society, Cullina has written a companion to his excellent The New England Wild Flower Society Guide to Growing ... Read full review



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About the author (2002)


Plants have an ability that no animal does: they can, theoretically, live forever. An orchid living in the duff on the forest floor simply grows a complete new self each year -- new roots, new stem, new leaves, new flowers. Barring some catastrophe like a systemic disease or the chomping jaws of a burrowing rodent, a herbaceous plant like the orchid can go on this way for eons like the phoenix rising anew from the ashes each spring.
Woody plants differ from herbaceous plants in that they retain the same framework from year to year, pasting on a new layer of living tissue over the dead bones of tissues past. Unlike the orchid, a shrub or tree pastes on a veneer of new tissue atop those preceding it. An old, massive oak is simply a thin, living skin stretched over a long-dead framework of supporting wood. Woody plants were the first master builders, laying down lignin and cellulose to strengthen their stems and lift their leaves higher and higher above other plants that would otherwise shade them, or browsers bent on eating them. After the invention of photosynthesis -- whereby leaves manufacture carbohydrates from carbon dioxide, water, and light -- the invention of wood was the next great leap forward that allowed trees and shrubs to dominate all the places where liquid water is abundant enough to nurture their lofty canopies.
Inevitably, this very woody framework that is their strength is also their undoing, as fungi, ants, and termites discover it and begin to slowly but relentlessly undermine it from within. Trees do not die quietly. Their bleached skeletons remain like whale bones on the beach long after their living skin has withered. Colonizing plants like box huckleberry and quaking aspen combine the strategies of the oak and the orchid, outliving even the most ancient woody tree by sending up new stems or trunks from a slowly spreading root system. DNA testing has shown that individual colonies of aspen or huckleberry, which may stretch over many acres, consist of a single individual that has gradually been expanding over the last 10,000 years. Barring climate change or human interference, it could easily go on for 10,000 more!
Woody plants have been called the "bones” of the garden, and you could say the same of their role in the wild as well. They are the structure that holds everything together, both physically and aesthetically. It takes a little getting used to, planting things that will long outlive us and that we may not see reach maturity. (Rapidly growing wildflowers are much more satisfying in this regard.) In fact, it is hard to really get to know individual trees or even large shrubs because they go about their business above our heads, out of view -- mysteriously. Most of the time we can catch mere hints of a tree’s ongoing life processes -- a falling leaf, a discarded cone, or an intricate, spotted caterpillar that has dropped from somewhere above. So planting a tree is in some senses an act of faith: faith in my own longevity maybe, faith in the future probably, faith in the power, importance, and mystery of trees certainly.
I have met very few people interested in native plants who are not also interested in the rest of life on earth. One of the things you quickly learn about woody plants is the staggering number of birds, small mammals, insects, and fungi, not to mention people, that depend on them directly for their existence. Sara Stein, the author of the Noah’s Garden series, told me recently of her unrestrained delight upon finding pipevine swallowtail butterfly caterpillars feeding on the Dutchman’s pipe she planted in her yard. Truly, if you plant it, they will come. It is with the same sense of satisfaction that I watch migrating birds feeding ravenously on the winterberry holly I planted out back near the terrace or bees buzzing around my sweet pepperbush. So, planting a tree, or vine or shrub is also an act of faith in the marvelous complexity of life -- a complexity that is impossible to really comprehend but truly awesome to behold. Go plant a tree.

What Is a Native Plant?

For the purposes of this work, "native” means plants growing in North America prior to European settlement, and the term "woody plant” means any species with at least a woody (or lignified) trunk or base. The use of native plants in landscaping has become very politicized in recent years, and this is unfortunate. Like the noted writer- philosopher Wendell Berry, I am suspicious of movements, and do not want to see the enjoyment and appreciation of our wonderful flora needlessly polemicized under the auspices of a native plant movement. Therefore, I think both the term "native” and some of the reasons foor choosing to grow these plants need further clarification.
It is natural for us humans to think of time in terms of our own life spans, and it isssss certainly understandable that we see organisms that live and die over longer intervals as having an air of permanence. A Douglas fir that has lived 1,000 years is incomprehensibly old to us, and to think, further, of the land itself as having a life span is nearly impossible. In geological time, 1,000 years is roughly equivalent to 10 minutes in the life span of a person. In this sort of relative time, it has been about two years since the age of the dinosaurs and about two hours since the last Wisconsin glaciers retreated north. If we could only view the earth with some sort of super-time-lapse photography for a few minutes, geological time would be understandable as the powerful dance of continents, mountains, ice, and water, where forests ebb and flow like waves on a beach and ancient trees are mere momentary bubbles in the changing surf. With this sort of perspective it becomes clear that what we see in the wilds at this particular moment in time is but a split-second-long freeze frame in a much larger process, and to draw too many conclusions about particular elements in this composition without putting them into a geological context is a dangerous proposition. This becomes particularly important when one is discussing rarity and extinction or even the concept of what is a native plant. In geological time, a plant is native somewhere only as an airplane’s transient vapor trail is native to a particular place in the atmosphere. Species are always in a state of flux, advancing and receding, evolving and disappearing, their presence in any one place only transitory. Even the land itself is constantly moving, shifting, and recombining. How can we then say that anything is native anywhere? It is equivalent to taking a photograph of a busy street and from then on assuming that these people caught in mid step have always resided on this bit of pavement and will always continue to, unless some great catastrophe intervenes. To argue this point would be an exercise in futility.
The important point, then, is not simply what it means to be native, but what possible consequences displacing a particular species from a particular place may have on the ecosystem as a whole. This is the key argument for what ecologists call the preservation of biodiversity. Individual species do not exist in a vacuum -- the actions of one species radiate outward like ripples on a pond, affecting many others. For example, say the eggs of an insect that feeds on hemlock trees are transported halfway around the globe by some freak weather event (or with human assistance). The hemlocks in the new region have never experienced this pest, have no defenses against it, and begin to die out over much of their range. As the range of the hemlock recedes, so too do the ranges of the fungi that feed on its wood, the birds that feed on its seeds, the caterpillars that consume its needles, and so on. The gap left in the forests by the death of these trees allows the advance of other trees that could not grow in the shade of the hemlock, and as this may well have been the climax tree in the forest succession of the region, the whole life cycle of the forest itself is altered. Should the diversity of life be great enough, other organisms that depend on these advancing species will move forward as well, and a few may eventually adapt to feed on the hemlock pest itself, reversing the tide and restoring some kind of balance. In a healthy ecosystem, such disturbances can over time actually increase biodiversity, and the more species there are in a particular region, the more flexible and proactive the whole ecosystem will be. Just as it is easier to write poetry with a vocabulary of 10,000 words as opposed to 200, so too will a large number of species be more responsive to change and able to restore balance after disturbance or insult. The elimination of biodiversity dams this flow, so to speak -- the water still trickles by, but the salmon cannot swim and the bears cannot feast, the dragonfly nymphs have less to feed on and it is hard to say whether even the quality of the mud doesn’t change for the worse. More than any other species on the planet, we humans have the ability to shape our environment. I firmly believe that if we all decide to make an effort to restore some of the local plants to our landscapes, we will in no small way help make our own piece of the world a richer, more diverse, and by consequence a healthier place. This is not politics; it is simple truth.

How to Use This Book

Three years ago, when I decided to write The New England Wild Flower Society Guide to Growing and Propagating Wildflowers of the United States and Canada, I did so with the conviction that there was a vital need for a comprehensive guide to the culture, personalities, ecology, and propagation of these plants. But wildflowers are only part of the story. What about trees, shrubs, and vines? There is certainly more information available on native woo

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