Autumn fern, fringetree win state’s plant of the year title

June 8, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Beauty pageants like to stress that it’s not just good looks but also talent and poise that make a winner. Likewise, the Delaware Nursery and Landscape Association Plant of the Year designation isn’t given to just any pretty plant but one “particularly well suited to thrive in Delaware,” notes Valann Budischak, executive director of the association.

That being said, the newly announced 2012 Plant of the Year winners are knock-out beauties – even if these plants weren’t easy to grow you’d want them in your garden. Dryopteris erythrosora, aka autumn fern, sports a copper pink color when its leaves first unfurl in spring, eventually maturing to glossy dark green. And Chionanthus virginicus, commonly known as fringetree, is a Southern charmer, with airy panicles of fragrant, fringy flowers in May.

“Fringe tree is an apt moniker for this delightful, small flowering tree, whose white blossoms do resemble a fanciful white fringe suspended in the spring sunlight,” wrote Landenberg, Pa., landscape consultant Rick Darke, a University of Delaware alumnus, in his 2002 book The American Woodland Garden.

Delaware and southeastern Pennsylvania are the northernmost habitat for the fringetree. It also grows in south Jersey, nearly all of Maryland, Virginia and the Carolinas, into the Deep South, and as far west as Texas.

With its ethereal appearance, you’d think fringetree would be a high-maintenance plant. But it’s a cinch to grow in full sun to partial shade. “Fringetree prefers moist, well-drained soil but it also will tolerate extremely dry conditions,” says Budischak. “And it’s especially well-suited to urban sites because of its high pollution tolerance.”

Dozens of fringetrees planted in the I-95 median north of Wilmington to the Pennsylvania state line are exposed to exhaust fumes 24/7 but look just as good as if they were growing in the wild. These trees were installed as part of the Enhancing Delaware Highways project, a joint venture between UD, the state Department of Transportation and Delaware Center for Horticulture (DCH).

DCH also has planted fringetree in several spots in Wilmington, including a 911 Memorial Garden on Scott and 14th streets and along a railway embankment on Union Street. At the embankment planting, fringetree was mixed with Eastern ninebark, a hardy native shrub, and a variety of perennials, including false indigo. Fringetree also works well on its own as a specimen tree.

“I like fringetree because it’s very stalwart, very dependable and it’s a good habitat for pollinators and other wildlife,” says Lenny Wilson, assistant director of horticulture and facilities for DCH.

Female (fruit-bearing) fringetrees are especially attractive to wildlife. Bluebirds, thrashers, finch, vireo and eight species of caterpillars enjoy the tree’s dark blue fruit, according to Doug Tallamy, chair of UD’s Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology. The trees aren’t labeled “male” or “female” at the garden center so the only way to know if you’re getting a female tree is to buy the plant in the fall, after the fruit has appeared.

Unlike fringetree, autumn fern isn’t native to Delaware. However, Budischak is quick to note that autumn fern is not invasive and spreads very slowly over time via creeping rhizomes. An arching, vase-shaped fern, it grows in medium to wet soils, in partial to full shade. Ultimately, it reaches a height of one and one-half to two feet.

June 13 Garden Day

If you have questions about growing fringetree or autumn fern, head to the June 13 Garden Day at the New Castle County Cooperative Extension office in Newark.

Master Gardeners will be on hand to lend their expertise at this event in the Native Teaching Garden. It is held from 9 a.m. to noon on the second and fourth Wednesday of every month, through September.

There also will be an evening open house in the garden June 20 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.  Call 831-COOP for more info about either event.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily


UD research project hopes to curb water pollution from lawns

June 4, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

At first glance, Tim Schofield’s internship duties don’t appear much different from what any landscape worker does. Every week, June through August, this rising junior at the University of Delaware will weed landscape beds, cut back straggly branches and rake up plant debris on a one-acre yard in Applecross, a neighborhood off Route 100 in Greenville.

But Schofield also will catalog the diversity of beneficial insects, birds and other wildlife on the property, document evidence of soil erosion, and keep precise records of the time it takes to complete his tasks. It’s all part of a UD research project to see if replacing the typical suburban yard of mostly grass with one containing diverse vegetation can help protect the environment and make landscapes more sustainable.

One of the primary goals of the project is to curb water pollution at its source — preventing pollution in the first place rather than waiting to treat contaminated water after it enters waterways.

“I think people understand that water quality in urban watersheds is degraded when you increase impervious surfaces, such as roads and parking lots,” says Doug Tallamy, chair of UD’s Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology and a co-investigator of the research project. “But they don’t always realize that increasing the amount of grass in an urban watershed also degrades water quality.”

A landscaping philosophy that views plants as mere ornaments has prevailed for more than a century, resulting in the replacement of native plant communities with expansive lawns. Today, a whopping 92 percent of all suburban yards consist of turf grass. Because plants are the mechanism in which water is cleaned and stored, carbon is sequestered and complex food webs are maintained, any reduction in native plant communities can only mean bad things for water quality.

“People care about clean water,” says Tallamy. “If homeowners realize that they can use their properties to clean water, sequester carbon and help pollinators, it could help change the mind set of those who demand huge lawns.”

The Applecross property is just one aspect of the UD multidisciplinary project involving five faculty members and dozens of undergraduate and graduate students. Another research site is located at Winterthur, where the team will compare the quality of a stream impacted by traditional mowed landscapes versus another stream that only receives runoff from meadows, forests and landscape beds.

Co-researchers Sue Barton, Cooperative Extension ornamental horticulture specialist and Jules Bruck, associate professor of landscape horticulture and design, worked together to create a landscape plan for the Applecross property to replace the existing turf grass monoculture. The homeowners received the landscape installation at no cost and have agreed to allow researchers onto the site every week for the next three years.

“We were starting with the typical suburban landscape with lots of grass, some foundation plantings and one or two trees in the yard,” says Barton.

Last month, Schofield and other students and volunteers set to work on the new landscape, planting 200 woody plants and 1,200 plant plugs in a matter of days. They created a 6,000 square-foot meadow of native grasses and reforested an area of lawn that adjoins a wooded tract. Invasive plants were removed and replaced by white oaks, blueberry bushes, ornamental grasses and other native species.

“There is still turf on the property but it’s being used purposefully, for recreation areas, circulation, or as the green carpet that sets off other plantings,” notes Barton.

Although the new landscape will need a year or so to fully fill in, it’s already attractive and a vast improvement over the previous vast expanse of grass.  The UD researchers recognize that homeowners aren’t going to change their ways to improve the environment unless the results look good.

“Some people have the misconception that native plants are sloppy or somehow less appealing than non-natives,” says Barton. “I think the landscape we have created in Applecross is dense, rich and beautiful and should put such misconceptions to rest.”

UD will host several public tours of the Applecross property beginning in 2013. To receive a notification of tour dates, email Barton at

Schofield, who is double majoring in landscape design and agribusiness, is excited to be a part of the research project. He says he wants to learn as much as he can about sustainable landscaping so he can incorporate into his own practices. He has operated a small landscape company in Malvern, Pa., since high school and hopes to expand the business after college.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily


Professors, students travel to UFLA; interns selected for collaborative work

April 24, 2012 under CANR News

Three professors and two graduate students from the University of Delaware spent spring break in Brazil, visiting the University Federal de Lavras (UFLA) campus, strengthening the academic and cultural bonds between the two universities and taking in the sites and sounds of the South American nation.

In addition, four UD College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) undergraduate students have been selected for an opportunity to develop international teaching modules in conjunction with professors and students at UFLA and UD, and to visit this University in 2013.

About the UFLA trip

During the spring break trip, the UD delegation spent its time meeting with faculty from UFLA, touring the facilities, teaching classes and taking trips to remote locations ranging from waterfalls to biodiesel factories. They were escorted by Eduardo Alves and Antonia dos Reis Figueira, both professors of plant pathology at UFLA.

Greg Shriver, assistant professor in CANR’s Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology, said he found it to be a very informative trip and found that much of the research being conducted by entomologists at UFLA is similar to research under way at UD.

Talking with Jùlio Louzada, the head of UFLA’s applied ecology department, Shriver said, “They actually have a forest fragmentation study going on in and around Lavras, which is a lot like the study we have going on in and around Newark.”

Shriver and Zach Ladin, a CANR doctoral student, were able to visit part of the Cerrado, a vast tropical savannah ecoregion near the UFLA campus where the study is taking place, and said that the two universities hope to collaborate on their studies regarding dung beetles.

Nicole Donofrio, assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, said she was impressed by the campus, noting that “the academic buildings are gorgeous and equipped with an impressive array of new research equipment,” and added that the trip was crucial in providing strong connections between the two universities for the coming years.

“One of the goals was to make more connections and try to find additional links for people to have ‘sandwich students’ here in the next two years,” Donofrio said. Sandwich students refers to a program established between the universities in which UFLA doctoral students spend one year studying at UD that is “sandwiched” between their studies at UFLA.

Donofrio and Emily Alff, a CANR master’s student, taught a class on fungal transformation for the UFLA students. Alff said that being on the UFLA campus was a tremendous experience. “All the research they do is so applied,” she said. “It really makes you think about the bigger picture of research as a whole.” She added that the food and climate were perfect, saying, “Brazil is just a gorgeous country.”

Tom Powers, assistant professor of philosophy in the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) and director of UD’s Center for Science, Ethics and Public Policy, said he was impressed by a UFLA practice in which they try to “leave nothing behind.”

Powers joined Donofrio and Alff on a visit to UFLA’s model biodiesel and bioethanol plant, located on the campus. “They use the water from the roof and the parking lot to run a lot of the processes,” he said, adding, “They use everything from, or have the potential to use everything from, fish guts to waste from sugar cane and castor beans. So, in terms of using all of these materials for the production of biofuels, it’s really astounding. And then what they don’t make into biodiesel they make into soap and everything else. They’re really trying to find some use for every byproduct in the production process.”

About the Brazil internships

Four CANR student interns have been chosen for an opportunity to conduct research and teach courses at UFLA.

The four interns who have been chosen for the project are:

  • Sarah Thorne, a junior;
  • Sara Laskowski, a junior;
  • Jacqueline Hoban, a freshman; and
  • Melanie Allen, a junior.

The internship will run from April 2012 through June 2013, with the interns supervised by UD faculty teams.

Hoban said she is looking forward to getting to travel to Brazil, and “excited about getting to work with a lot of interesting people and learning about a wide variety of research topics.” Hoban said that the internship “appealed to me not only because of the exciting travel opportunity, but also because it seemed like a really interesting way to apply the material that I have been studying in class.  The project gives me a different perspective on the subjects that I am interested in learning about. It also opens my mind to the educational aspect of my fields of study.”

Hoban added, “Everyone on the team seems like they have a lot of passion for their research and I cannot wait to work with them.”

The project is led by a faculty team from CANR and CAS and is intended to help build longstanding academic programs and research partnerships with UFLA that will enhance the international nature of curricula in areas of common interest, such as food security, bioenergy animal agriculture and biodiversity.

The project will also aim to stimulate creative thinking in the students who participate about how to develop innovative solutions to complex global agricultural and environmental problems.

There will be a curriculum enhancement portion of the internship, where students will assist faculty on both a part time and eventually a full time basis, and an experiential learning aspect, where the students will travel to Brazil for up to four weeks with UD faculty.

The interns will be responsible for developing a minimum of two teaching modules per course, and the modules will consist of PowerPoint presentations or other innovative learning methods that provide detailed information on the course topics developed by the interns and their faculty advisers.

This new research and teaching project is supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s International Science and Education Program.

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily


Jeff Buler joins the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology faculty

December 20, 2011 under CANR News

Not many collegiate departments can boast about having a radar ornithologist among its faculty, but with the addition of Jeff Buler, the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources can now claim to have one in its ranks.

After conducting his post-doctoral work the past four years at the University of Delaware, Buler has joined the department faculty with his main area of research in what he terms “radar ornithology.”

“I use weather radar to quantify bird distributions, and to track migratory birds,” Buler said. “Only a handful of people do it, and I’m interested in mapping species distributions with radar and I’m also interested in stopover ecology of migratory birds.”

With regards to the stopover ecology of migratory birds, Buler explained that he is “interested in understanding how they select the habitats where they stop and how that impacts their behavior and the success of their migrations.” He currently has two research projects that will collectively map important stopover areas for birds during their migrations along the entire US Atlantic coast using the national network of weather radars.

Buler’s research has mostly involved the study of songbirds but he has also used radar to map wintering waterfowl distributions in California to assess their response to wetland restoration efforts of Farm Bill conservation programs.

Buler explained that radar data are archived back to the 1990s, which allows him to look at how bird distributions change over the period of time before and after areas are restored. “Waterfowl respond immediately to restoration efforts by using the new wetlands as soon as the former crop fields are flooded.”

Also part of Buler’s research is a project to monitor bird and bat flight activity at the UD wind turbine in Lewes, Del., to assess the turbine’s impact to wildlife in southern Delaware. The project was initiated last spring.

Tracking Buler’s own educational travels, one finds a migratory pattern that started in the mid-Atlantic, then headed south to the Gulf Coast before returning back north and landing at the University of Delaware.

Buler received his bachelor’s degree in biology at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, his master’s degree in wildlife at Louisiana State University and his doctorate in biology at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Originally from Pennsylvania, Buler said he is pleased to be working at UD and specifically in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology. “My family is originally from this area so it’s nice for me to be in this area,” said Buler.

Of the department, Buler noted, “I enjoy the department. It’s a very friendly, inviting environment and we all get along very well. So hopefully that is conducive to being a productive environment.”

Buler said his favorite part of becoming a professor has been the ability to mentor students and teach courses. “My position before was purely research so now I’ve got the opportunity to teach undergrads and grad students, and so I’m looking forward to that.” He will be teaching a landscape ecology course in the spring and a wildlife habitat management course in the fall.

Another thing that Buler is excited about is the ability to have graduate students help him conduct research.  He is currently building an “aeroecology” program here at UD for the study of flying animals in the airspace.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Danielle Quigley