Preserving, conserving, and restoring the native plants and native plant communities of Florida.


Sunday, October 23, 2016

Discovering Grassy Waters Preserve

Richard Brownscombe, Coontie Chapter

Ilex cassine, Dahoon Holly (female) 
and Taxodium ascendens, Pond Cypress
Last month James Lange, Researcher and Field Biologist at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, took us on a wonderful walk in Grassy Waters Preserve just an hour north of Fort Lauderdale in West Palm Beach. This wetland is an example of doing the right thing to build a sustainable urban environment. The naturally clean waters of the preserve are supplying the drinking water for West Palm Beach and helping keep the aquifer healthy. At the same time, all these wetland plant and wildlife species have a place to thrive and townsfolk have easy access to this beautiful place.

The facilities of the parking lot, restrooms, picnic tables, waterside deck, canoe and kayak launch, rain shelter, benches, and boardwalk, say "Welcome. Enjoy." We were so fortunate to have "our botanist", James, along to name the plants and point out many interesting things we would not have known. As a few other couples, groups, and individuals passed by us, I wanted to say, "Stop! Did you see this!" (I did engage one or two, but people are doing their own thing, too.)

Nymphaea odorata, American Waterlily
The others who came on the walk spotted quite a few interesting flowers, butterflies, birds, and insects that neither Jimmy nor I saw. With many excited eyes looking around, we found many more interesting plants and wildlife than we would have seen otherwise. It is interesting to observe how people's different experiences allow them to each discover different things to see in the wild.

The Lubber grasshopper, a native and beautiful in orange
Photos never do justice to the experience. The wildlife is especially difficult because it moves. This still Lubber was an exception. 

Peltandra virginica, Green Arum
Arum has an interesting encased white spike in the flower that we can try to capture on another visit. This would make a nice pond plant if you have a water feature. The long stems are spikerush. 

Hydrolea corymbosa, Skyflower

This photo fails to capture the wonderful blue intensity of this blue-like-the-sky Skyflower. These flowers are less than an inch, but easily catch your eye.

Diospyros virginiana, Persimmon
The tasty Persimmon needs to be fully ripe to enjoy that great flavor without the overly-astringent bite of the under-ripe fruit.

Vittaria lineata, Shoestring Fern

This pleasant epiphytic fern with young uncoiling leaves might be available from an enthusiast grower, but it needs a place of high humidity and favors the Sabal palmetto. 

Fraxinus caroliniana, Pop Ash, Blechnum serrulatum, Swamp Fern,
and Thelypteris interrupta, Interrupted Maiden Fern (in front)
Both ferns shown here were abundant. If you find ferns confusing, keep looking and comparing the pinnae (leaflet) margins and veins and look at the underside of fertile fronds to see the pattern of the sori (spore capsules that become brown). This closer look shows off their many differences.

Magnolia virginiana, Sweet-bay
 This Magnolia is another reason to visit again in spring or summer to see its bloom. The flower is not the grand one of the non-native Southern Magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora, but it is also lovely. The leaves are aromatic when crushed. If you have wet soils, you might want to consider this accent tree for your garden. The Institute of Regional Conservations says, "Most botanists would consider this to be the most primitive tree native to South Florida," meaning of course, that its ancient origins are manifest, for example, in the flower structure.

Nymphoides aquatica, Big Floatingheart and Taxodium ascendens, Pond Cypress (branches reflected)

These would seem to be the perfect pad for a smaller pond. The flowers are not like the American White Waterlily, but small, simple, white, and delicate.

Hypericum cistifolium, Roundpod St. John's-wort

   The seedpods of this Saint John's-wort are a glossy mahogany color, distinctive and as showy as the flower.

Hyptis alata, Musky Mint

 The flowers and square stem help identify this as a mint (but not so much, the smell).

leocharis cellulosa, Gulf Coast Spikerush
Beware those common names, this spikerush is native on our Atlantic coast, too.

The similar Pipewort listed for Grassy Waters Preserve is called Flattened Pipewort, Eriocaulon compressum, and this button looks quite puffed up, so we are going with Eriocaulon decangulare. Let us know of any misidentifications. We welcome learning and passing the information on.
Eriocaulon sp
These are probably the leaves of the Pipewort, but the photographer in me was just enjoying the reflections.

Note: James Lange contributed to the identification and some of the information, but any foolishness is likely our own.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

My Habitat Garden: Attracting Butterflies-Bees-Birds & Other Forms of Life, Zone 9a

By Bill Berthet, Ixia Chapter

In the year 2000, with the help of Ron Davis (Butterfly Gardens-Jacksonville) and plants from Edith
and Stephen Smith (Shady Oak Butterfly Farm-Brooker) I started to transform my newly purchased property into a N.E. Florida pollinator habitat.

The many benefits of gardening include: stress-relief, moderate-intensity exercise, hand strength and dexterity (wearing gloves helps prevent fire ant bites) brain health & risk reduction for dementia, and depression and mental health. For me, going through a nasty divorce, gardening was key in bringing more balance to my life.

Polydamas Swallowtail w chrysalis
             It’s exciting to raise butterflies in your yard. It gives one the opportunity to take witness and share the miracle of metamorphosis with others. Plus, you get a real sense of accomplishment when releasing adult butterflies, increasing their population and diversity in your area. The added bonus is their progeny will visit your garden in the future.

             Since 2003, with the right selection of host and nectar trees, plants, bushes, and vines, I have been rewarded with documenting 61 species of butterflies in my .31-acre property, with only .19 acres developed for habitat gardening.  The diversity of butterfly Families and Subfamilies include, 8 Swallowtails, 2 Whites, 7 Sulphurs, 6 Hairstreaks, 1 Blue, 3 Milkweed, 4 Longwing,6 True Brushfoots, 2 Admirals and their relatives, 1 Emperor, 2 Satyrs, and 19 Skippers.

Julia ovipositing on P. biflora tendril 
Creating a Habitat Garden to attract Butterflies requires research of what species fly in your area and, most importantly, what host plants these species use. Selecting the right host plants greatly increases the possibility to attract females to oviposit on these plants, then of course, the males will not be far behind!!!!!   Put the same host plant in multiple locations in your yard to help increase the survival rate of eggs and caterpillars from predators.  Identify the sunny to shady areas, and the dry to moist areas in your garden.

My sweetheart and I enjoy watching wildlife from the inside comfort of our home from three outside viewing areas. I have focused on planting the most effective host and nectar plants, dovetailed with bird feeders, in these areas and am rewarded with constant entertainment from butterflies, birds, and other four legged critters. I recently painted and added a tile backsplash all around the kitchen, During the day I would see 7 or 8 species of butterflies nectaring inches away from the window.

Arbors and Decks
Architectural Features  
5 large wood arbors
76 linear ft. of Trellis
3 tiered 20 x 20 wooden decks
1-15 x 10 and 1-18 x 30 wood decks on water
2 heavy duty treated wood potting benches
1-8 ½ x 12 ½ ft. Rion Greenhouse
3 water features
1 Bat house
1 Mason Bee house
Rock gardens
3 bird feeding stations
1 Yankee Droll type feeder
1 suet cage
Varity of Talavera Pottery
Irrigation for about 3/5 coverage of garden
6 wrought iron vine stands.                                                                             

The trellises are on the property line to provide privacy and cover for critters. They are covered with native vines, including Purple Passionflower, Passiflora incarnata, Woolly Dutchmen’s Pipe, Aristolochia tomentosa, Carolina Jessamine, Gelsemium sempervirens, Cross Vine, Bignonia capreolata, Coral Honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens, Scarletcreeper, Ipomoea hederifolia,  Muscadine, Vitis rotundifolia, and Virginia Creeper,  Parthenocissus quinquefolia, providing an assortment of berries for birds. The 5 arbors add height and visual appeal. They are also covered in vines.

I use ½ whiskey barrels for planters to grow grasses: Fakahatchee grass, Tripsacum dactyloides, Muhly grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris, and Lopsided Indian grass, Sorghastrum secundum. The Indian grass is reminiscent of the large stands of this beautiful grass swaying in the breeze in the wet and dry prairies in Bull Creek and Three Lakes Wildlife Management Areas in Osceola County, where I love photographing the rare Loamm’s and Arogos Skippers that uses this grass as a host plant.

Insect Landing Strip

To attract flying insects in my area I created a 60 x 10 ft. long “landing strip” in the sunny area of my front yard featuring a mix of the nectar sources that work in my garden.

Plants That Like Wet Feet

             We custom built a small running water feature that I used for years, however I got tired of the birds skewering the pond fish, so I turned this area into a small wetland habitat. I also used a pond liner to create a 10 x 15ft. rock lined pond in the backyard, and a small plastic tub filled with sand and dirt to create another wetland habitat.

 Spicebush Swallowtail Cardinal Flower  
             The wetland habitat, running along the creek, allows me to grow Lizard’s Tail, Saururus cernuus, Elliot’s aster, Symphyotrichum elliottii, and Spotted Water Hemlock, Cicuta maculate. The first week in June, I always look forward to Eastern Black Swallowtails ovipositing on the flower heads of the Water Hemlock.
I also planted Bandanna-Of-The Everglades, Canna flaccida, host plant for Brazilian Skipper, Coastal Sweetpepperbush, Clethra alnifolia, Southeastern tickseed, Coreopsis gladiate, Cinnamon fern, Osmunda cinnamomea, American elderberry, Sambucus nigra subsp. canadensis, Maiden fern, Thelypteris spp., Red Maple, Acer rubrum, and Beaksedge, Rhynchospora spp.

             Excellent nectar plants that like wet feet include Cardinal Flower, Lobelia cardinalis, Common Buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis, TiTi, Cyrilla racemiflora, and Pickerelweed Pontederia cordata, a skipper favorite.

Creating a 5 to 15 ft. High Habitat using Small Trees and Large Bushes

High Habitat

High habitat is important for shelter, perching areas, host plants for butterflies, feeding stations for lizards, and berries for birds. The central areas of my backyard are planted with American Beautyberry, Callicarpa americana, Wild Lime, Zanthoxylum fagara, Southern Bayberry, Myrica cerifera, Black Cherry, Prunus serotine, Smallflower  PawPaw, Asimina parviflora, Red Bay, Persea borbonia, Walter’s Viburnum, Viburnum obavatum,   Southern Arrowwood, Viburnum dentatum asheii, Yaupon Holly, Ilex vomitoria, Simpson’s Stopper, Myrcianthes fragrans, Holly, Ilex spp., Wild Olive, Osmanthus americanus, Oakleaf Hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia, Swamp Doghobble, Eubotrys racemosa, Saw Palmetto, Serenoa repens,  Chickasaw Plum, Prunus angustifolia, Parsley Hawthorn, Crataegus marshallii, and Gallberry , Ilex glabra. Over the years some pruning will be necessary for height control.

    The understory for this habitat includes:  Muscadine, Vitus rotundifolia, Marlberry, Ardisia
escallonioides, Sand Blackberry, Rubus cuneifolis, Switchcane, Arundinaria gigantea, attracting the Southern Pearly-eye butterfly, Painted Leaf, Poinsettia cyathophora, Coral Bean, Erythrina herbacea, Twinflower, Dyschoriste oblongifolia, Northern Spicebush, Lindera benzoin, and Pinxter Azalea, Rhododendron canescens.


Oak Snag
Several years ago a large part of a rotting oak tree came tumbling down leaving a hollowed out ten-foot-high tree trunk, creating a focal point in the backyard. I left the trunk undisturbed and have been rewarded with a shelter for four legged critters and other forms of life. Vines use the snag for support, while birds peck away at it for insects, including Pileated Woodpeckers.  My neighbor and I also decided to leave a 25 ft. tall, multi-branched, decaying trunk of a large Pignut Hickory Tree, Carya glabra in the landscape, which hosts insects and birds.  Barred Owls and Ibis use it as a perch.

Host Trees, Plants, Bushes, and Vines in my Yard

      Live Oak and other Oaks, Quercus spp., Carolina Willow, Salix caroliniana, Red Bay, Persea borbonia, Hackberry, Celtis laevigata, Northern Spicebush ,Lindera benzoin, Southern Bayberry, Myrica cerifera, Beggerticks, Bidens alba, Fogfruit, Phyla nodiflora, Partridge Pea, Chamaecrista fasciculata, False Nettle ,Boehmeria cylindrica, Florida Pellitory, Parietaria floridana, False Indigo, Amorpha fruiticosa, and  Groundnut, Apios Americana.

Nectar Trees, Plants, Bushes, and Vines in My Yard

Zebra Long-wings Roosting

Snow Squarestem, Malanthera nivea, is by far the best nectar plant in the yard!!!!! Beggarticks, Bidens Alba, Butterflyweed, Asclepias tuberosa, Giant Ironweed, Vernonia gigantea, Firebush, Hamelia patens, Fogfruit, Phyla nodiflora, Blue Porterweed , Stachytarpheta jamaicensis, (I have to dig it up and put into greenhouse to survive winter months) Scarlet Rose Mallow, Hibiscus coccineus.

Nectar Plants for Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in My Garden

Firebush, Hamelia patens, Coral Honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens, Cardinal Flower, Lobelia cardinalis.

Memorial Gardens

             I have created two small memorial garden areas to remind me of those persons who were mentors in my life. One contains the original plant given to me by this person in 200, and the other a plant that this person really liked.

Rion Greenhouse

The Fine Points

  • I like the surface of my potting benches to be 35 or 36 inches high, which allows for a more comfortable posture when working.
  • When pruning, leave several dead stalks 3 to 6 feet high for dragonflies to perch on.
  • Use a lawnmower to mulch tree leaves.
  • Include windbreaks in your design, such as fences, dense shrub planting, buildings.
  • Weediness encourages butterflies and is a lot easier on arthritic hands than a manicured bed.
  • Take photos and start a list of butterflies, bees, birds, and other life forms.
  • For the suet cage:  Hot Pepper No-Melt Suet by Wild Birds Unlimited is a real winner!
  • Take the time to research a plant before you dig it up, you may have a plant that belongs right where it is.
  • The returns on investing in a quality Rion Greenhouse far out way the initial expense. It allowed me to develop the skill of rooting plants from cuttings and growing from seed; enabled me to transfer cold sensitive plants during cold weather; and provides additional storage. 

The Verdict

     Around 6 years ago the City of Jacksonville gave me a Chapter 518 Code Violation, excessive growth of weeds, grass, or noxious vegetation. My home is zoned residential.  I appeared in court to explain to the Magistrate why my yard looked this way and the benefits it provides to a wildlife, and I have not been bothered by the City since.


Note: The vast majority of Trees, Bushes, Plants, and Vines in my yard are native, however for color, growing a species I liked while traveling in another country, and adding the range of nectar and host sources to increase numbers and diversity for critters in the yard I also have some species that are Exotic and Naturalized.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

October is Florida Native Plant Month, and a great time to buy natives…

by Donna Bollenbach, Suncoast Chapter
Originally published in part in the Plant City Observer to promote Florida Native Plant Month and the Suncoast Native Plant Society Fall Plant Sale. 

 For the second year in a row, The Hillsborough County Board of Commissioners and the Mayor of Tampa have officially proclaimed October as “Florida Native Plant Month.” The Florida Native Plant Society (FNPS) chose the month of October because, while many states have stunning displays of spring flowers, Florida’s mild climate provides for a spectacular showcase of native flowers and grasses in the fall as well. Additionally, with a slight drop in the temperature, October is the month when many Floridians escape the confines of their air-conditioned home to visit our wonderful parks and preserves, or to work in their gardens.

October is also the month that the many chapters of the Florida Native Plant Society holds native plant sales. The Suncoast Chapter (SNPS) in Hillsborough County holds their sale at the USF Botanical Gardens Fall Plant Festival. In anticipation, my husband clears out an area of our yard to make room for our native plant purchases. This year SNPS also had a buying trip to Sweetbay Nursery in August, so we got an early start to our fall project:

Transforming an eye-sore… 

Our little fall garden in progress
One small area, close to the road in our front yard, used to be a real eye-sore. It was overgrown with non-native grasses and vines. Right before the Suncoast Native Plant Society annual native nursery buying trip, my husband laboriously cleared out the mess to make room for more natives. In full sun, with moist, but well-drained soil, we decided that his little “D” shaped garden would be the perfect spot for a “fall” display of native grasses and wildflowers.

The hard part about visiting a native plant nursery is not going overboard with your purchases. Sweetbay has native plants for every location; full sun and dry to full shade and wet, and everything in between. We had to remind ourselves that everything we purchased also had to planted, which is not fun in the heat of the summer. My husband had done all the labor to prepare the garden, so it was only fair to let him pick the plants. He picked out muhly grass, lopsided Indian grass, love-grass and liatris for the start of our little garden.

A Work in Progress...

Our little garden doesn’t look like much now, but we hope it will grow into a spectacular display of purple and pink, and when we go to the Suncoast Native Plant Society fall native plant sale at USF in October, we will purchase goldenrod and native sunflowers to add yellow to the palette.
A beautiful fall landscape designed by Troy Springer, Springer Environmental.

If you would like to plant a “Fall” native plant garden, here are some simple steps to get started:

1. Pick a small area in your yard that gets full sun and clear out the sod, non-natives, and weeds.

2. Note what type of soil you have: Is the soil dry and sandy? Moist and well-drained? Wet?

3. Go to one of the many Fall Plant Sales sponsored by a Florida Native Plant Society Chapter in your area, or visit a native plant nursery. Experts there will help you pick plants that are right for your landscape.

4. Plant your purchases. Most natives will require watering until well established, but pay attention to the needs of your specific plants; some of them do not tolerate over-saturated soils. Mulch with an eco-friendly pine straw, or leaf litter.

5. When designing your space, traditionally taller plants would be placed in the back of the garden and shorter ones up front, but if you want to create a meadow effect, intermingle the taller grasses and wildflowers in the center of the garden and put shorter specimens along the edges.

You can create a fall garden with these easy to find natives:

Liatris, Courtesy of Troy Springer, Springer Environmental
Blazing Star, Liatris spp., is an attractive wildflower that produces beautiful purple flower spikes in late summer through the fall. Several native species of liatris grow in west central Florida. Some are very tall, and others are short and stout. It can be grown from seed or mature plans can be purchased from a native nursery. All of them prefer full sun, but have different soil requirements. Blazing star will attract a variety of butterflies and bees to the garden.

Goldenrod, Solidago spp., range from 3-6-foot-high with a fall display of golden yellow flowers in slender spikes or bushy heads. They are easy to grow from seed or mature plant, and will readily reseed or spread.  When it is not blooming, it is a somewhat inconspicuous disk of basal leaves on the ground. Pollinators love goldenrod, especially bees.
Goldenrod adds a splash of yellow
to your landscape. 

Grasses: There are many native grasses that put on a beautiful fall display: Among the most popular are:

Purple love grass, Eragrostis spectabilis, is another purple to misty pink grass that grows 1-3 feet high. It prefers well-drained, if not dry, sandy soils.

Elliot’s LovegrassEragrostis elliottii, is a wispy grass with profuse tan flowers that bloom all year, but especially in the fall. It likes dry to well-drained soils.

Lopsided Indian Grass, Sorghastrum secundum, is only 1-2 feet high for most of the year, but has flower stalks that get up to 6 feet tall in the fall. The showy plumbs resemble an upside down Indian headdress, thus the name, “Lopsided Indian Grass.”

Muhly Grass looks like pink cotton candy from a distance. 

Muhly Grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris, a showy grass with silky pink to lavender plumbs in the fall. When view from a distance it looks like a purple cotton candy. It grows 2-5 feet in moist to well drained soils, making it highly adaptable for most landscapes.

If your FNPS chapter would like to submit an informative* blog that showcases an event that you are having in October, please email it with images to Donna Bollenbach. *While you may provide information about and links to your event, please make sure your blog has an educational component as well. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

All questions are good questions, but can you trust the answer you find on line?

 by Amanda Martin, Tarflower Chapter

Where do I find reliable plant information online?

What a great question. When I start thinking about planting in my landscape, I think about foliage color, density, and overall growth shape of the plant. I think a lot about flowers; flower color, flower size, flower abundance, and what time of year can I expect these flowers to emerge? Is there anything attracted to the flower color, pollen or nectar? Is there a berry or larger fruit that will come after the flower is exhausted? Can I eat these berries or larger fruit? I always have many questions, so I try to read a lot.

FNPS "Native Plants for Your Area" is a great resource
when looking for plants that will grow in your region. 
Books, magazines, blogs, and databases are filled with so much useful information, and there are so many reliable sources for Florida gardeners and plant enthusiasts:

Of course,  our own FNPS website section on Native Plants for Your Area has an excellent search engine that will easily find plants by common and scientific names. What I like about the search engine is the ease of finding what you are looking for, even if use just part of the name.  

The Real Florida
 The Real Florida Magazine
is an excellent, free publication that  provides information on FNPS Chapters, professional ecologists, and native nurseries. The native nurseries can help with design, installation and maintenance of your landscape, or recommend a company in the area that can. This FNPS Blog is also a source I like to browse: They will often highlight a genus and offer comparative write-ups that let me know a subtle (or sometimes not so subtle) difference between species.

FWF Flower Friday
The Florida Wildflower Foundation has an educational Flower Friday blog and a 'What's in Bloom' map. Keeping me fed with new information or taking a second look at a plant I thought I knew. Why these plants have evolved to exist in a specific area, with a specific growth habit, makes a big difference as to whether it will live where you are attempting to plant it.

One of the largest databases I reference is the USDA site. This site will show a plant's natural distribution range in North America, invasive or noxious potential, provides pictures and informational links when available. I believe the site has become more user-friendly over time, but it is still important to be accurate when spelling a scientific name into their search engine. It is always best if you use the botanical name, since many plants may share one common name.
USDA Database  Home Page

I use scientific/botanical names when looking up information on the USDA website. If I don't know the scientific name, I'll google search the common name, make sure I put "Florida" somewhere in the search bar, then I'll locate the botanical name in an article below. I copy/paste the botanical name back into the search bar and voila, more accurate articles, write-ups and most importantly…accurate pictorial representations of the plant I'm wanting to learn about. 

The USF Florida Plant Atlas provides the same type of information and can be used similarly. 

Practicality in the native plant world suggests these plants are more specifically adapted to certain conditions. Understanding these conditions by seeing them thrive in their preferred environment teaches us the most. So learn all you can, and then give it a shot in your landscape.

Below I've listed helpful websites (some mentioned above) and below that are direct links that provide a comparative look at one of my favorite plants, Berlandiera subacaulis, Greeneyes. You can use these links to find information on a plant you want to learn more about, maybe a plant you won at one of the plant raffles.

Explore how each site presents information about the same plant:  

The USF Florida Plant Atlas allows you to search
using many criteria,  including common or scientific name,
county, nantve or non-native and more

Specific Links for Greeneyes, Berlandiera subacaulis

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Letting the Light In for Rare Plants!

Submitted by Michael R. Jenkins, Magnolia Chapter. Plant Conservation Program Biologist, Florida Forest Service, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

Sometimes sun-loving (usually pyrophytic) plant populations are in heavy competition with taller, woody plants and in need of help from an outsider. Here, someone with a pair of loppers, work clothes, water, and a few hours can really help. How about an 80% increase-in-stems kinda help? This situation was encountered where a nice population of White Birds-In-A-Nest (Macbridea alba) highly benefited from hand removing competing small trees and shrubs from around the plants, done to open up the habitat and to mimic fire (somewhat). This was done by one person working for just four hours. This person is the "fuel buster." 

White-Birds-In-A-Nest: Macbridea alba, Mint Family, Lamiaceae G2 S2, Federal Threatened, State Endangered,
Endemic to well-burned/mowed, pine dominated habitats adjacent to the lower Apalachicola River) 
 Photo: Michael R. Jenkins

This particular “White Birds” population covers about a quarter of an acre in a habitat classified by Florida Natural Areas Inventory (FNAI) 2010 Natural Community Guide as a Wet Prairie but within a matrix of Wet and Mesic Flatwoods, and Bottomland Forest. Interestingly and untypically, White Birds here grow up to the edge of a small stream. The population has been periodically monitored since it was first found by botanist Wilson Baker in 2003 and documented in the FNAI Florida Element Occurrence database of rare plants, animals, and natural communities.

White-Birds-In-A-Nest bloom in late June and July.
Photo: Michael R. Jenkins
The White Birds bloom in late June and July and in 2015, were in serious competition with smaller Red Maples, Water Oaks, Silver Bay Magnolias, Wax Myrtles, tytys (White and Black), Gallberries, and several species of St. John’s worts, over head high. This competing, woody vegetation is known by Florida biologists as “heavy fuels” because they grow in the absence of fire and when they do burn, they burn really hot because of their biomass, sometimes killing native pine trees that grow in the Wet Prairies.

The population was surveyed for the year and flags were placed around all points that had ever been taken there since 2003. To remove the heavy fuels, the site was revisited in March, when superterranean portions of the White Birds were not visible. All heavy fuels were cut and cleared out over the flagged population with a pair of loppers, cutting them to ground-level and removing the cut plants away from the population to increase sunlight. The cuttings were placed in areas outside of the Wet Prairie in thicker areas of the Bottomland Forest and on top of large briar patches.

  Picture of east portion of White Birds-In-A-Nest population (large, white flowers)
 where heavy fuels were removed and plant reacted very positively.
Photo: Michael R. Jenkins
The population responded so well (estimated an 80% increase in stems) that it was just too hard to walk into the population without stepping on them and crushing them! So I didn’t. 

They had formed quite a groundcover in some places! Flowering increased also with the increase in stems but what was really eye-popping was the stem-density and vigor of the plants in the area where the heavy fuels were removed. The plants also came up into new areas that were not cut but adjacent to the cut site, enlarging the population. They obviously had a very positive response to this management technique that is easy and fun to do. The same effort will be done each year.

This was the best response we have had by a species to this “fuel busting” technique, similar to ones done in the Panhandle by past Florida Park Service biologist, Tova Spector in pitcherplant bogs that increased pitcherplant and terrestrial orchid populations. These are now being continued by Atlanta Botanical Garden and several other organizations and individuals throughout Florida. We have had increased flowering in all fuel buster areas for Pot-of-Gold Lily, Florida Beargrass, Lewton’s Polygala, Godfrey’s Butterwort, and other pitcherplant and butterwort species. It is important to note that you must be committed to follow up treatments of a site for successive years because of the heavy resprouting from the cut woody plants that occurs soon after cutting.

Editor's Note: I asked Michael about the term "Fuel Buster" because I had never hear it to refer to a person. Here is his response: "When I was out in field with Florida Park Service’s Tova Spector (now gone and in the West) at her sites where they had removed competing woody vegetation over pitcherplant bogs, we used to say “bust up the fuels”. Since saying “removal of competing woody vegetation” is such a mouthful, I am just saying Fuel Buster. I have heard it used by other folks in different organizations (e.g., fire suppression) but doing the same activity. Anyway, it would help if it were a more common activity because it works so well for the plants!"

I agree! Where rare native plants are in similar harms way, we need more "Fuel Buster" patrols. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Evil Weeds

By Devon Higginbotham, Suncoast Native Plant Society
(originally published in the Plant City Observer)
Spanish Needles is NOT a weed.
It is native, a great pollinator plant and edible!

“Is that a weed?”  That’s my sister, Candi.  She lives in one of those golf communities where the maintenance crews mow and primp everyone’s yard as well as all the common areas.  I think they allow her a 3 square foot area to “garden”.

“No, that’s a Spanish Needle.  It’s a native plant that’s edible and the pollinators adore the flowers”, I replied, sounding a bit defensive.  “Oh” she replied.  She was trying to sound chipper but I knew what she really said was, “I’m not eating any weeds!”

She’s my big sister which should explain everything.  Her house and yard are always spotless and manicured, whereas my yard is 15 acres in the middle of nowhere. Anywhere farther than 10 minutes from the nearest grocery store was nowhere to her.  Even her dog smells good, whereas, mine smells like she’s been chasing varmints all day and swimming in the pond, which, alas, she has.

Skunk Vine was purposely introduced from Asia as a potential fiber crop.
That didn't work out so well for us, but the Skunk vine loves it.
It has invaded much of central Florida is now considered a number one
"Florida Noxious Weed." It smells bad too (as the name implies).
We wandered along the dirt path amid the butterflies and bumblebees zipping along.  Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted two hummingbirds jostling for territory in a firebush. Suddenly I shouted, “THAT”S a weed!”, as I spied a skunk vine trying to gain a foothold along the path.  I promptly ripped it out of the ground and flung it on the trash pile.

So, what is a weed?  I accuse my sister of calling a plant a weed if she doesn’t know the name, but according to the dictionary, it’s “a plant that is not valued where it is growing and tends to choke out more valuable plants”.  

Most people know about the Brazilian pepper, Australian pine, melaleuca, air potato and kudzu.  But have you heard about Caesar’s weed, Japanese climbing fern, coral ardisia, cogon grass, Mexican petunia, chinaberry tree or nandina?  Most varieties of lantana and Mexican petunia are invasive but are still sold in abundance at plant nursery centers, and most homeowners would be miffed to discover their camphor trees are on the noxious plant list.
As pretty as it is, Chinaberry is a successful weed. A popular
ornamental, when it escapes to the wild it tends to form dense thickets
and crowd out native vegetation. Yapon Holly and Redbud would be
better native choices and are just as pretty. 

Many invasive plants were deliberately introduced into Florida as long ago as 100 years as an “ornamental” or cultivar that “escaped cultivation”.   Without natural controls of insects and diseases these plants had in their native habitat, they grew rampant, blocking out sun and nutrients for native plants. 

Camphor trees were listed in a mid-1900’s forestry guide as “native friendly”, appropriate for streetscaping.  It takes a long time for us to realize we have a problem on our hands and, by then, it is nearly impossible to control.  Birds, wind and time spread the seeds into natural areas and soon the exotic plants crowd out the native plants and create monocultures, dramatically change the landscape. 

Hydrilla, an invasive aquatic plant native to Asia,  have choked our waterways for years and were just recently discovered to harbor a blue-green algae on the underside of their leaves that has proven deadly to birds.  Coots eat the Hydrilla and Eagles eat the dying Coots and end up dying themselves.
Caesar's weed, from India and Asia, has made itself at home in Florida.
where it has no natural enemies, it grows rampantly in many
natural areas, destroying habitat and crowding out native plants.

To be fair, not all exotic plants become invasive.  Most are quite docile and well behaved, but it is impossible to determine in advance which will become the rogue plants, spreading unabated into our natural areas never to be stopped, like a villain from a superhero comic.  

Unfortunately, we don’t have a Batman or Incredible Hulk to come to the rescue.  Our municipalities are financially stretched and don’t have the enormous resources of manpower and herbicides required to combat them.  And if we remove them at the wrong time of year, they immediately drop thousands of seeds only to re-sprout, carpeting the ground with offspring.

But, as consumers, we can help.  By knowing what plants are native and which are exotic, you can be a better consumer by buying only plants that are known not to invade.  To be safe, choose native plants which have existed in Florida for centuries, providing habitat, food and shelter for our wildlife since the dawn of time, without going rogue.  Educate yourself on identifying evil weeds so you know them when they sprout in your yard and you can remove them before they get mature enough to reproduce.

As for my sister, Candi, she called yesterday and said she planted milkweed in her “garden” for the Monarchs.  Maybe we can all learn something from each other.

To learn more about evil weeds, visit the website of FLEPPC - Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council.   

To find native plants, visit the Florida Association ofNative Nurseries website at  or visit the native plant sale sponsored by a local chapter of the Florida NativePlant Society .