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Spooky Fall Plants

Oct 24, 2022 | Horticulture

Spooky Fall Plants

With Hazel
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Fall is the perfect time to celebrate the strange and unusual. While our gardens are preparing for their deep winter sleep and displaying their finest, fiery fall foliage, here are some of the “creepiest” plants that keep us up at night in Madison Square Park.

Gardens are cultivated works of art, but many times the weedy side of nature can creep back into our tended gardens, giving our gardeners nightmares. Take horsenettle (Solanum carolinense), for example. A member of the nightshade family, this perennial plant has not been intentionally planted in the park, but seeds naturally in its native habitat in North America. Horsenettle can appear frightening, with sharp prickles covering its stems and the undersides of its leaf veins. But bumblebees still pollinate the white, star-shaped flowers of this species, and more than 32 insects feast on its leaves and seeds—which are poisonous to humans if ingested in large quantities.

Then there is dodder (Cuscuta spp.), a group of ectoparasitic plants that are found worldwide. These plants have very thin masses of orange, string-like stems that cover their hosts and feed off their nutrients—like a vampire. Seeds from this plant will germinate near the soil surface and quickly grow towards a host plant, coiling around any object it encounters. The dodder will continue to grow and spread to adjacent plants until it is physically removed or killed by frost.

Not all plants appropriate for the season are unwanted though. The witch hazel (Hamamelis spp.) possesses some interesting lore. The word “witch” in “witch hazel” originates from the Middle English “wiche,” meaning pliant or bendable. The twigs were often used as dowsing rods by early settlers to help locate sources of water. American witch hazels are fall bloomers, sending out their spider-like, yellow flowers just as their foliage turns a brilliant, clear yellow. 

Finally, there is Allium spp. Though they only bear their brilliant, ball-shaped blooms in spring, their pungent bulbs are in the same family as garlic. By keeping some of these bulbs handy for fall planting, you can not only ensure a beautiful garden for next spring, but their fragrance will help keep any vampires away.

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