Marsh Marigold Madness

On one of our jaunts through the woods and parks in NE Ohio, my wife was thrilled to see glorious blooms of intense yellows created by Caltha palustris or Marsh Marigold (MM).  The genus name “Caltha” is derived from the Latin meaning “yellow flower” and the specific epithet “palustris” means marsh-loving.  Therefore, the Latin binomial for this plant literally means “yellow flower marsh-loving”!!  This North American native plant thrives in bogs, ditches, swamps, forested swamps, wet meadows, marshes, and stream margins from as far east as Newfoundland to as far west as Alaska.  MM then slips down into Nebraska and then over to Tennessee and North Carolina and that is as far down south that it is able to tolerate the intense summer heat.

MM flowers are a cheery yellow and a welcome signal that Springtime is just around the corner!  In fact, MM is really NOT a marigold nor in the family, Asteraceae, the family to which marigolds belong, but it is a perennial in the Ranunculaceae or buttercup family.  Looking closely at the flowers, you clearly see the shiny, yellow, buttercup-like resemblance.  These plants may commonly be referred to as Caltha cowslip, cowslip, cowflock, or kingcup.

As an herbaceous perennial, MM prefers full sun to light shade and grows 1-2 feet tall and wide, with a naturally mounding growth habit.  The planting site would of course have to be consistently moist or even wet.  MM flowers are 1-2 inches in diameter, with 5-9 waxy, rich, golden yellow “petals”, which are really sepals, that appear in early Spring; specifically, they can bloom April to June depending on elevation, temperatures, and exposure to sunlight.

In fact, humans see MM sepals as yellow, but to insects, the outer half of the sepal is a mixture of yellow and the ultraviolet “bee’s purple”, while the inner most portion of the sepal is yellow.  MM flowers have anywhere between 50 to over 100 stamens.  The flowers offer an early source of pollen and nectar to insects, butterflies and hummingbirds, but they are most commonly pollinated by hoverflies (Syrphidae)!  MM can be propagated by either using “fresh seeds” (planting mature seeds immediately harvested from existing plants) or by dividing mature plants.

The more exposed MM are to direct sunlight in their site, the more quickly the soils will warm up and plants will bloom; conversely, the less exposure and more hidden or cooler the site, the flowers take much longer to mature and emerge.  While it is true that the best flowering will occur in full sun during the Spring, later in the season, especially during the heat of the summer, MM will do better if they have partial shade.  If sited in full sun in warm summer climates, the plants can actually go dormant with summer heat and dry conditions and drop their leaves!

MM’s have waxy, glossy green, basal leaves that may be round, oval, heart or kidney shaped and by mid-summer they may mature in size to about 7 inches across.  The leaves can have smooth margins or small scallops or teeth along the leaf margins.  The basal leaves of MM’s have long petioles with a deep, narrow sinus or notch where the petiole attaches to the leaf blade.  The upper leaves are alternate on thick, hollow stems with shorter petioles or no petioles at all and tend to be smaller than the basal leaves.

I found it fascinating that parts of MM are processed and used medicinally but handling the plant can cause skin irritation and blisters, and uncooked parts are toxic to humans.  WHAT?!  Now this is where plant research REALLY gets fascinating!  All plants of the buttercup family, Ranunculaceae, contain the toxic glycoside protoanemonin, sometimes called anemonol or ranunculol!  MM contains this yellow oil irritant, protoanemonin, throughout the entire plant, especially the older foliage and supporting plant parts.  Protoanemonin can be broken down or destroyed by heat!  Cattle and horses can be poisoned too by consuming raw or fresh MM, although dried plants, like those that may be found in hay, are no longer toxic to them!  That is so WILD!!  So, if you are outdoors and need to go on a buttercup binge, just look and enjoy these beautiful marshy, swamp loving plants but NO TOUCHY!!

Authors: Erik Draper





Mining Bees Can Cause Minor Panic

By: Joe Boggs- Buckeye Yard and Garden OnLine – April 4, 2020

Last week, I came across one of the largest collections of soil “mining bees” that I’ve ever seen in Ohio. The “colony” was located in a picnic area and numerous males were making their low-level flights in search of females.  The sparse turfgrass coupled with early-evening lighting made conditions perfect for taking pictures.

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Ticked Off by Ticks

By: Ashley Kulhanekand Christine Gelley, April 1, 2020- Buckeye Yard and Garden OnLine

engorged tick

Ticks are on the move!  Be sure to check yourself and your pets as tick reports ramps up!

While spring is a peak time for tick reports, many ticks are active year-round when temperatures allow.  Now that temperatures are picking up and we are getting out where we can, tick reports have been coming in.

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Is It A Pine, Spruce, or Fir?

Originally posted on the Buckeye Yard and Garden OnLine

By: Amy Stone and Curtis Young

White Fir, Photo Credit: Curtis Young

Everyone has probably struggled with plant identification at some point in their life. While some of us may still be learning – it can be on ongoing process, others may have mastered the skills involved in identifying plants in the landscape, woodlots or streetscapes.

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Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalists Wanted!

Learn: Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalists (OCVNs)  trainees receive University level training in natural resources from The Ohio State University Extension in the areas of : ecological concepts, art in interpretation, exploring Ohio’s watershed, aquatic life, stewardship, soils, geology, plants, forests, insects ans macro-invertebrates, reptiles and amphibians, birds and mammals. Trainees complete a minimum of 40 hours of training.

Give: After training, new volunteers will work with each other in various activities in Knox County to complete 40 hours of service in the first year. Opportunities include: educations/interpretation and outreach, citizen science, land stewardship and program support.

Grow: OCVNs enjoy the social aspect of learning together, volunteering together, and helping others in our county.

Join: If you are interested in nature, want to help your community grow, and want to learn more, the Ohio State University Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist program is for you!

Partnerships: The OCVN program is in partnership with the Knox County Parks District.

For more information or to obtain an application contact Sabrina Schirtzinger at 740-397-0401 or

A Yard Full Of Native Plants Is A Yard Full Of Well-Fed Birds

By Kathi Borgmann -February 27, 2018

Orginally Posted on: Cornell Labs of Ornithology

Carolina Chickadee photo by Doug Tallamy
Carolina Chickadees find more caterpillars in backyards with native vegetation, according to a recent study. Photo by Doug Tallamy.

Taking in the beautiful purple blossoms as the scent of lilac floats on the air seems like a pretty idyllic backyard setting, but new research shows that not all plants are equal. That pretty lilac, porcelain berry, fragrant bush honeysuckle, and ruby red Japanese maple in your yard might look nice, but non-native plants like these consistently have fewer caterpillars than native plants, according to new research published in July in Biological Conservation. And that means less food for birds.

And while fewer insects may seem like a good thing to some, Desiree Narango, a graduate student at the University of Delaware and lead author of the study, found that where there are more non-native plants, one of our common backyard birds, the Carolina Chickadee, stays away. Non-native plants don’t have enough caterpillars, the chickadee’s primary source of food during the summer months, to feed them.

Narango and colleagues from the University of Delaware and the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center studied Carolina Chickadee foraging behavior, monitored chickadee nest success, and counted caterpillars in the backyards of homeowners in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area participating in Neighborhood Nestwatch during the summer months in 2013 and 2014.

Their research also showed that Carolina Chickadees raise more baby chickadees in yards with lots of native plants. But in yards with more non-native plants, the chickadees didn’t fare so well. In yards mostly consisting of non-native plants, baby birds didn’t survive because there wasn’t enough for them to eat.

plants4wildlife native plantings in yardNative shrubs in this Habitat Network yard include red chokeberry, common ninebark, Virginia sweetspire, redosier dogwood, fragrant sumac, and American hazelnut. Photo by plants4wildlife.

“The plants that you put in your property matter and they are not all the same,” says Tallamy, an entomologist at the University of Delaware and coauthor of the research.

“Native oaks, elms, and cherries are phenomenal food producers for birds,” says Narango. But some native plants are better than others. Tulip trees for example, are native, but researchers found that they support about 8 caterpillar species whereas an oak tree can support over 530 different species of caterpillars. If you were a bird, where would you go to get your next meal?

Urban and suburban habitats are increasing around the globe, but that doesn’t mean they can’t also provide homes for wildlife. In fact, Tallamy, says, “Now more than ever we need to create functional ecosystems in our neighborhood. It’s no longer an option.”

Tips For Turning Your Yard Into A Native Haven

What can you do to create better habitat for wildlife in your yard? Tallamy says “Cut your lawn in half, pull out the non-native species, and don’t buy new ones.”

But don’t worry, says Rhiannon Crain, “You don’t have to get rid of all your lawn.” Crain is the project leader for Habitat Network, a joint citizen-science project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Nature Conservancy that offers online wildlife-friendly landscaping tools and advice.

“If your kids play on the lawn you should keep that lawn,” says Crain. “Focus on the spaces that you are just keeping as lawn that no one uses. If no one walks there, no one plays baseball on that lawn, consider taking that part and turning it into something else, something more useful.”

Tallamy suggests that homeowners can start by looking at the kinds of trees on their property, the kinds of trees on their neighbor’s property, and then filling in the blanks with other native plants that support a lot of insects or provide fruit. But Tallamy also suggests making a three-dimensional landscape that also includes shrubs and wildflowers.


Narango, D. L., D. W. Tallamy, and P. P. Marra. 2017. Native plants improve breeding and foraging habitat for an insectivorous bird. Biological Conservation 213:42-50.

What should you plant? Narango suggests choosing native species such as oaks, elms, and cherries. “If your local nursery doesn’t carry the plants you want, demand that they carry them,” Narango says. If you have the option between buying a cultivar or a pure native, go native, she says. Japanese cherry is a popular tree in the Washington, D.C., area, but Narango found that those trees supported fewer insects than a native cherry—only 40% as many, on average.

If you don’t have much time or are renting a property, but still want to help birds and other wildlife in your area, Narango suggests calling your local forester or arborist and telling them what species you’d like to see planted along your street or in your neighborhood. Every little bit can help, says Narango, “even a handful of native trees can function as a really important food hub for breeding and migratory birds.”

Crain also suggests that doing nothing, in some cases, can help out birds, too.

“A little thing like leaving a dead tree standing, if it’s not threatening your house, can help wildlife,” she says, noting that dead trees offer great feeding and nesting habitat for woodpeckers and other insect-eating birds.

And even if you aren’t a fan of bugs and worry that those native plants could support more insects that make your skin crawl, or itch—again the scientists say, ‘Don’t worry.’

“It’s a win-win situation,” says Narango. “The more insects you have the less you actually see them, because the birds are eating them. And besides, according to Narango, “gardening for wildlife is really the easiest kind of gardening there is.”