Category Archives: Toxicity

The Real Light Show

After more than half a century, Lenox Square announced that it will discontinue its 4th of July fireworks show. [12]   Since it’s about as close as we get to tradition, we will miss it.  Goodbye Lenox Square – it’s been fun.

So now what are you going to do on the 4th?

A suggestion is to enjoy a free light show in your own back yard without all the noise and pyrotechnics.  Beginning in late May through the end of July fireflies (lightning bugs) will visit your yard if the conditions are right.  Turn out the yard lights, sit quietly and watch.  It’s quite a show.  There have been nights in mid June where our trees, shrubbery and lawn were flashing with hundreds of them.

Fireflies in south Georgia – photo: Jud McCranie

You know this – you used to collect them in a glass jar with air holes poked in the lid and a bit of moist paper towel in the bottom  to keep them safe until you released them.  It’s much more fun than a bazillion dollar fireworks show and it lasts a lot longer than 15 minutes.

Georgia has more firefly species (56!) than any other state, each having its own distinct flash. Males flash while flying; wingless females sit on vegetation and emit their own light signals, which the males cue on. [6]  They prefer warm, fairly wet weather, and in this part of the country they tend to appear in May, June or July.  [7]

Photo Wikimedia Commons: NEUROtiker

Fireflies hibernate in winter during the larval stage, some species for several years.  Some do this by burrowing underground, while others find places on or under the bark of trees. They emerge in the spring.  Help keep them safe: no pesticides on your lawn and please don’t spray for mosquitoes.

Learn a little more about fireflies including synchronous fireflies (hundreds flash in unison) by checking out the links below.

Mysterious and little known organisms lie within walking distance of where you sit.  Splendor awaits in minute proportions. – E. O. Wilson

References and Additional Information

[1]  Silent Sparks – The Wonderous World of Fireflies – Sarah Lewis, Princeton University Press
[2]  Fireflies, Glow-worms, and Lightning Bugs – Lynn Frierson Faust, UGA Press
[3]  Georgia DNR – Out My Back Door:  Fireflies Create Sparkling Backyard Wonderlands
[4]  National Park Service: Synchronous Fireflies
[5]  The Smokey Mountain Hiking Blog: The Synchronous Fireflies of Elkmont
[6]  AJC – Charles Seabrook:  Blinking fireflies are icons of Georgia summer nights
[7] Fifty Questions
[8]  Smithsonian Magazine: 14 Fun Facts About Fireflies
[9]  [Boston] Museum of Science:  Firefly Watch
[10]  Wikipedia: Firefly
[11]  Wikipedia: Elkmont, Tennessee
[12]  AJC – May 3, 2017
[13]  National Park Service – Congaree National Park: Synchronized Fireflies at Congaree

Ready for Spring?

Even though it’s been a mild winter, about this time of year we begin thinking of warmer weather and dressing up the yard with annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees.  As you ready your yard for Spring, we offer these thoughts:

Native Be

Native Bee on Blueberry

  • Plant with wildlife in mind (this is, after all, a blog about wildlife) – insects, pollinators, birds and critters.
  • Include plants that provide nectar, pollen and food.   We’ve compiled a list of suggested perennials for your yard that work well here in Peachtree Park.
  • Plant for all seasons – aesthetics for you, and food and shelter for wildlife year-round.
  • Leave dead stems from plants like River Oats, ornamental grasses, Goldenrod, and Joe Pye Weed in place all winter since the seed heads are valuable for the birds, and hollow stems are used by small native bees.  Since we’ve started gardening this way, we’ve realized that our yard is as attractive in the winter as it is in the other seasons (see our post Brown is Beautiful).

    Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly

    Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly

  • Make more butterflies by including host plants for their caterpillars: e.g. Pipevine for Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars and milkweed for the Monarch butterfly.
  • Use mostly native plants when you can.  No need to be a purist, but natives have lots of advantages and there are many wonderful native plant alternatives for common non-natives.
  • Expand diversity in your yard.  The more diverse, the greater the variety of insects (food for birds) and native bees that you will attract.  And, correspondingly, the greater the variety of  birds and critters you will attract and support.
  • Reserve areas for nesting and hiding.
  • Don’t use pesticides and don’t spray for mosquitoes.  Build a healthy ecosystem and encourage nature to control pests.
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird - Archilochus colubris Peachtree Park, Atlanta, GA - July 13, 2016

    Ruby-throated Hummingbird

    Don’t buy plants that were treated with lethal chemicals, especially neonictinoids – support local growers who know their plants’ histories.  If you live in Atlanta, there’s a list of suggested growers below.

Nearby Toxin-free Plant Suppliers :

We contacted a few plant suppliers in and near Atlanta and came up with this short list of those who get it.  That’s to say they understand the dangers of chemicals, including neonictinoids, and avoid them either by growing their own plants or screening growers for you.  These sellers are doing the right thing.  It’s good to support them.

If you shop at a big-box store, ask which plans are toxin-free.  They may or may not be able to answer your question, but at least you’ll let them know that it’s important to you.


Thanks to  Nearly Native Nursery  for their list of native plants as alternatives for non-natives.

Nandina Warning

Cedar Waxwings eating Crabapples in January

Cedar Waxwings in January eating Crabapples, a safe food

You know how important food sources are to birds, especially in the winter and early spring.  If you’re like us, you have Nandina in your yard and it produces wonderful red berries that last through the cold months.  You’re feeling good about that because you have a plant that provides food in the winter.  But watch out, these berries are poisonous!

GABO – Georgia Birders Online is a wonderful resource for up to date information on birds in Georgia.  This past Saturday we saw the following post:

My family and I came across a gruesome site of a flock of dead cedar waxwings in front of Decatur High school this evening. I wasn’t sure of the total but it seemed like over a dozen birds dead within a small area of a few yards. No power lines or glass windows within the area.

someone responded:

…no way of knowing what they died from. I’ve heard the case of the Nandina poisoning though I never thought it sounded like solid proof.

Nandina Berries - photo: James H. Miller USDA, Forest Service

Nandina Berries – photo: James H. Miller
USDA, Forest Service

We had heard rumors about Nandina poisoning too but didn’t realize that they were true.

Steve Holzman, president of the Georgia Ornithological Society (GOS), is following up with the folks at UGA to ask if they will look at one of the birds and render an opinion on the cause of death since there are other possibilities, such as poisoning via insecticides. When the findings are available, we’ll follow up on this site.

In the meantime, we did a little homework and found out that Nandinas (often called Sacred or Heavenly Bamboo) are indeed very poisonous, especially when ingested in large quantities, which Cedar Waxwings certainly do as they are passing through and refueling for their journey. The berries contain cyanide and other alkaloids that produce highly toxic hydrogen cyanide which is extremely poisonous.

We’ve provided links to some information below on Nandina toxicity to birds as well as other animals including pets.  In the meantime, please consider the following:

  • Remove any Nandinas from your yard and replace them with native plants or others that provide safe food sources.  (We’re working on our Native Plants information and should have it completed soon.)
  • If you can’t remove the plants right away, please remove ALL of the berries before they turn red.
  • Tell others about this. It’s counter-intuitive because the berries look like they would be perfect bird food.
  • Encourage your local suppliers and landscapers not to carry these plants.

[1]  UGA, College of Veterinary Medicine: Toxicity Due to Nandina domestica in Cedar Waxwings
[2]  Wikipedia: Nandina – Toxicity
[3]  Audubon Arkansas: Nandina berries are toxic to birds and other animals

Goodness Snakes

Eastern Garter Snake

Eastern Garter Snake – non-venomous

Or, in the spirit of Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, Goodness! Snakes.  We call this little guy ‘Skimmer’ and he lives in and around our pond.  He’s an Eastern Garter snake and harmless to humans.

We’re well into spring and with warmer weather more snakes will be visible.  We think snakes are terrific and always feel lucky to see one in our yard or neighborhood.

Pantherophis alleghaniensis

Eastern Ratsnake – non-venomous

“Terrific? ” you say.  We say “yes”, because:

  • They are beautiful
  • Biologically they are fascinating since they move without limbs
  • They benefit our gardens by eating pests such as slugs, crickets, voles and rats
  • Snakes are food for others: hawks, owls, raccoons and other snakes

But some snakes can be dangerous so we consulted our friend and local snake expert, Robert Hill.  He gave us great information and permission to use some of his beautiful photos.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

    • There are approximately 30 species of snakes in and around Atlanta, only 4 of which are venomous and the rest are non-venomous.
    • The two harmless snakes most commonly misidentified as venomous in Peachtree Park are Dekay’s Brown Snake and Northern Watersnake.
  • In Peachtree Park , the only venomous snake we are likely to find is the Copperhead so it’s a good idea to learn to identify them.
  • Most bites result from attempts to catch, handle, kill or otherwise harass snakes.
  • Fewer than a dozen people in the entire United States die from snake bites each year.

Screen Shot 2016-03-25 at 8.49.11 AMThis quote is credited to Clifford H. Pope, a noted American herpetologist and native son of Georgia.

See our Snakes page, which has more photos and information on snakes.  There are also additional references and a wonderful poster on venomous snakebites.

If you see a snake, be kind, and give him some room.

Hooray for Local!

Virginia Bluebells

Virginia Bluebells

We like to support our local growers.  You are already aware of the wisdom of buying organic food from local farmers.  The same thinking applies to ornamentals, which provide food for wildlife as well as us.

Plants that are the most likely to thrive in your yard will be grown in your area, as opposed to grown halfway across the country and shipped in.  And because these locally grown plants are conditioned to the local environment, they are less likely to have to be be treated with chemicals.  When dealing with a local owner/grower you can get direct, honest answers to your questions. For example if you are trying to avoid damaging neonic pesticides.  And you are supporting people who are doing important work in your area through conservation, restoration, education and other boots on the ground projects.

GPCWe think it’s fun to seek out Spring and Fall plant sales run by educational and conservation organizations.  They are small, staffed by very knowledgeable people, have hard to find native species, and often have better prices.

GPCOne event we like in Atlanta is the spring sale on selected weekends in April and May at the Georgia Perimeter College in Dekalb County.  You’ll know you are buying the best possible plants for your garden and the pollinators.  Make time while you are there to walk through their woodland garden area including the Ferns of the World Garden.  It’s stunning.

And GPC is only one source in Atlanta; there are many others.  We suggest avoiding Big Box growers until they change their practices and force their suppliers away from harmful pesticides.  Support local growers instead and do something good for wildlife – and yourself.