Category Archives: New England native grasses and sedges

Norcross Sanctuary – Hidden Jewel of Monson, MA

The small south-central Massachusetts town of Monson (population 3,800) is home to a nature lover’s dreamland, Norcross Wildlife Sanctuary. Free and open to the public – Norcross has over 1000 acres of fields and trails, beautiful vistas and an education center that offers free classes, tours and lectures throughout the year.norcross-little-bluestem-meadow-october-IMG_1016

I’ll be doing a free talk on Pollinator-friendly Landscaping at Norcross Wildlife Sanctuary on Saturday, February 23rd at 1.30pm. Reservations are required because space is limited – please call 413-267-9654 or email Leslie Duthie to reserve a seat.

It’s worth coming back to Norcross during the warm season though. Norcross covers an area of over 1000 acres, containing a variety of different natural habitats found across New England, including wet and dry meadows, ponds and streams, upland and wet woods, plus cultivated culinary, herb and rose gardens near the visitors’ center. If you’re looking for plant combination ideas and inspiration for your own garden conditions, a trip to Norcross is definitely worth the drive!

This white-flowering Mountain mint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium) grows in a wet meadow with the grass-like wetland sedge (Carex). This calming, pollinator-friendly combination is easy to replicate in a small area with moist to wet soil and sun:

MountainMint

 Norcross is home to the biggest patch of black bugbane (Actaea racemosa) that I’ve ever seen.:

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A large old millpond on the property is being encouraged back into native shoreline plant communities. In summer, you can see the beautiful blooms of Plymouth gentian (Sabatia kennedyana), a plant native to freshwater ponds near the coast — now very rare in the wild due to development on New England’s coastline.

PlymouthGentian

In a small sandy garden near the visitors’ center is a stand of spotted beebalm aka horsemint (Monarda punctata), with its interesting pink/yellow stacked blooms:

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I long to grow this plant for its impressive blooms, but it prefers sandy soil, which we do not have here on our farm. If I can find seeds for it, I may try growing it on a sunny hillside where drainage is good, but I don’t have high hopes that it will ever look this good.

Because Norcross’s founder established it in 1939 as a wildlife and plant sanctuary, no hunting is allowed at Norcross, which puts the sanctuary staff in the awkward position of trying to try to protect native understory plants from being grazed out of existence from the abundant population of white-tailed deer.

Unfortunately, deer fencing in certain wooded areas has been the only solution to allow native “deer candy” such as trilliums, lilies, Canada mayflower and most woody native shrubs to flourish. In the rest of the sanctuary, deer have grazed most of the native understory layer out of existence, and careful management is needed by sanctuary staff to ensure that these areas don’t fill with invasive non-natives such as barberry,  burning bush and Asiatic bittersweet.

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Come visit the sanctuary, walk the trails, attend a free class or even take a free van tour of the sanctuary (pre-booking required). Afterwards, visit the town of Monson and stop for lunch. They’ll appreciate the business. Monson was hit very hard during the Tornado that blew a terrifying path across southern MA on June 1st, 2011. The photo below was taken over a year after the tornado hit — all the houses and trees on this hillside were destroyed. The homes have now been rebuilt, but it will be many years until the woods will fill in again.

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Blue-eyed Grass

In another example of the “it’s amazing what will grow if you let it” category, today’s blog entry is devoted to Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium), shown below at Garden in the Woods:

Blue eyed Grass Sisyrinchium reducedNot actually a grass but a member of the Iris (Iridacaea) family, this cute little New England native plant blooms in early summer with small blue flowers with yellow eyes. This spring, I happened to notice a small population of Blue-eyed Grass growing in a small grassy clearing next to our barn, where Rob’s mower hadn’t yet reached. I would never have noticed it except for its blooms! Otherwise it just looked like a few blades of grass. I dug them up and transplanted them into another bed, where they appear to be thriving.

Blue-eyed Grass does well in moist areas with some sun, and if happy in its spot, will spread to form stands. Its diminutive size is perfect for adding a grasslike effect to a small garden area where an ornamental grass would be too overwhelming.