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Garden Q&A: On native water lilies and millipedes

Garden Q&A: On native water lilies and millipedes
This is not a native water lily because the stem is not striped. - Original Credit: For the Baltimore Sun (Ellen Nibali / HANDOUT)

Are these water lilies native? I love their cool whiteness and how frogs like to sit on the leaves, but everything I read says native leaves sit on the water surface. These are tough and come back year after year, no matter how cold.

The native water lily, Nymphaea odorata, looks much like this. It’s known for its fragrance, if you can get close enough to sniff. Leaves usually float on the water surface or just beneath, but can be elevated somewhat when water levels are low. However, leaves are purple underneath, so, no, this beauty is not native. There is a native subspecies with green undersides, but its stems are striped. Apparently the frogs don’t care.

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I am inundated with centipedes, millipedes — what? I have been finding an enormous amount of worm-like insects in flower pots, under mulch, in the garage, on sidewalks, well, everywhere. Even a few in the house. What are these? If I disturb them, they try to get away fast with all those legs. Ones in the house curl into a spiral. Is anyone else finding these critters?

We’re getting many questions about millipedes this year. Shiny, brown and crunchy underfoot, they’re harmless. Their populations can go up occasionally though and be a nuisance. It’s usually weather-related, i.e. weather conditions favored their food/shelter sources or disfavored enemies. They feed on decaying vegetation and thrive in moist conditions.

Since millipedes are a normal part of a healthy environment, you don’t want to eliminate them entirely, just manage them. Try to dry up the areas a bit, exposing soil, flower pots, etc., to sun and drying breezes. Predators will reduce their numbers eventually.

For more tips, search ‘millipedes’ on the Home and Garden Information Center website.

University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information at extension.umd.edu/hgic. Click “Ask Maryland’s Gardening Experts” to send questions and photos.

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