Sunday, August 28, 2016

Lovable, Adaptable Beautyberry

Ripening berries
Beautyberry midsummer
The stunning jewel-toned berries that adorn Florida native Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) tell us that autumn is just around the corner.  Cooler weather and a less frightening electric bill are on the horizon!  This morning I watched as several Mockingbirds happily noshed on them for breakfast.  Yum!  Our feathered friends really do fancy these beautiful berries.  There are so many lovable qualities about Beautyberry that it is no wonder this gorgeous shrub gets a great deal of publicity.  In the wild, Beautyberry prefers to grow as an under-story where they receive filtered light or bright shade.  If you were to take a stroll through any dry hammock or open woodland you will likely find Beautyberry growing there.  Adaptable to most landcapes with well-drained soil, Beautyberry can be grown in every county in Florida north to south.  Callicarpa americana is also widely cultivated and is offered by most native plant nurseries.  It is always welcoming news when a native plant is so easily accessible.  

Beautyberry blooms
Because Beautyberry is deciduous, the leaves will shed in winter and the plant will be completely or mostly bare.  If the birds have not completely devoured the berries, they might remain on the branches after the leaves have fallen.  This only lasts a short time and it is not long before spring arrives and new leaves begin to grow.  The flower buds will also start showing up around the same time the leaves appear.  These flowers will attract many pollinators such as butterflies.  When summer rolls around, the flowers will then turn to green berries, only to ripen to that gorgeous shade of purple.  The ripe berries are edible and can be made into a jelly.  I have never tried the jelly and have found that the raw berries do not have much flavor on their own.  We skip the jelly making around here and leave the berries for the birds and squirells.  Here is a basic Beautyberry jelly recipe for those interested.  Another fun fact is that the leaves and stems of Beautyberry have been historically used to repel mosquitoes, ticks, horseflies, deerflies, ticks and many other biting insects.  A scientific study has proven this folklore remedy to be true.  I have rubbed the leaves on my skin before and the skeeters did seem to be less interested in biting me.  

Beautyberry in winter

Horace's Duskywing
butterfly perches on
When researching the care of Beautyberry, you might read that it should be planted as an understory in filtered light.  This makes sense because this is where Beautyberry typically grows in the wild.  In our garden we have a total of five Beautyberry shrubs.  I went against the rules and planted two of them in full sun.  Relentless, all day full sun.  The leaves are paler in full sun, but this is not at all unattractive.  They also produce more flowers and berries than the others that are planted in filtered light.  If you do not yet have the lovable, adaptable, wildlife attracting Beautyberry, it might be time to add this to your landscape.   

*Callicarpa americana can also be found with white berries.  This is also native and sometimes called Callicarpa americana var. lactea, but most botanists do not recognize this as a distinct variety and is lumped in with the name Callicarpa americana.  

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Bring Your Garden to Life with Spotted Beeblam

When we grow native plants, especially wildflowers, we attract pollinators.  Attracting pollinators and other wildlife is often the driving force behind why we incorporate native plants in our landscapes.  Native wildflowers are not only aesthetically pleasing, they are animated with life.  The appeal goes beyond just another pretty flower to a higher level of interest that delights us in ways we might not have seen before.  One of the best wildflowers to attract an abundance of pollinators is Monarda punctata (Spotted Beebalm).  If this were a talent show competition on who attracts more pollinators, Monarda punctata would be a hard act to follow.  Pollinators that you have never seen before will show up right when the blooms appear.  When the blooms have faded, these special pollinators will move elsewhere, only to return to your garden next year when this wildflower comes back to life.  Butterflies and hummingbirds will also be enticed by the blooms, but the real draw is the bees, wasps and other unusual pollinators it attracts.  

Monarda punctata puts on the best show towards the end of summer and early fall.  Although this wildflower can reseed aggressively, it is not difficult to remove unwanted seedlings.  The seedlings can also be dug up and easily transplanted to a more desirable location.  I have done this many times with little or no transplant shock.  Spotted Beebalm has a preference for sandy, well-drained soils and lots of sunshine.  If planted in wetter, more nutrient rich soils, the plant can get overly tall and fall over from its own weight.  If the conditions are too wet, the plant will also be vulnerable to fungal issues.  That said, Spotted Beeblam is considerably drought tolerant, but will appreciate some water during extended periods of drought, especially in spring when rain is scarce.

The life on Spotted Beebalm does not end after the blooms have faded and the stems are crispy.  Come winter, some might choose to cut the dead stems off, while others will appreciate the beauty of the dead flower heads, adding visual interest to their garden.  The spent stems are also valuable to many birds and beneficial insects.  Harmless spiders will spin their webs on the stems and dragonflies will use these stems as landing pads.

Monarda punctata can be grown in every county in Florida and is not difficult to find at a native plants nursery.  To find a native plants nursery in your county visit Florida Association of Native Nurseries.  If you are unable to find this plant for sale, you can purchase seeds through Florida Wildflowers Growers Cooperative.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Does Your Garden Sing?

Zeke likes to hold the leash while
we walk
My neighbors turf grass dead zone
Most mornings I take our dog Zeke for his daily walk around the neighborhood.  This morning when we arrived back home I noticed something.  Not with my eyes, but my ears.  The sound of life in our landscape.  Birds chirping and foraging, frogs croaking, insects buzzing and the scratching of little squirrel feet.  Our garden has a voice and it sings a sweet tune.  It then became clear to me that these alluring sounds of nature were almost mute on our walk.  See, most landscapes in this suburban neighborhood are made up of turf grass.  Nothing much lives in these yards.  You can't see wildlife and you can barely hear it.  You're more likely to hear gas powered edgers, blowers and mowers than anything else.  Of course there are some yards that have attempted a garden.  These are mostly made up of exotic plants.  Non-native plants that do not attract many pollinators, hungry caterpillars or produce berries for birds.  They were plopped there for show and nothing else.  These one-dimensional landscapes are superficial and void of life.  

Life lives here
Signs that show what our
garden is all about
Sometimes I feel like I am living in my own universe in my landscape.  It's like dwelling in a magical nature paradise when everything else around you is so humdrum and static.  I proudly display a few signs at the edge of our property.  One sign reads, "Native plants being life to this landscape" so that curious passersby can see what our landscape is all about.  Maybe they will pause to look at the beautiful wildflowers.  They might stop to observe the butterflies.  Maybe this will spark their inner love for nature.  I can't change the entire neighborhood, but if I can inspire just one person in this community then I've made a difference.  A small one, but a difference nonetheless.  A positive change that enhances their life and the lives of the wildlife that depend on native plants to flourish.  

The next time you are outside in your landscape, listen.  Do you hear busy buzzing bees and the fast humming wing beats of dragonflies as they zoom past?  Listen for the symphony of sounds that only Mother Nature can create.  If you don't hear or see much, it might be time to plant some native plants and wildflowers.  

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Wild Lime, Thorns and Giants

Wild Lime; Lime Pricklyash (Zanthoxylum cresphontes) is native to Florida and grows from Marion County all the way down to the Monroe Keys.  I have heard some refer to Wild Lime as Cat's Claw because of its very sharp hooked thorns.  Height varies from 5 to 20 feet depending on location.  In South Florida, Wild Lime grows taller and can reach heights of around 25 feet.  The spread can be equally broad as tall, so give Wild Lime plenty of room.  Be sure to plant Wild Lime away from walkways or frequently used areas because of those wicked spines.  It might also be wise to wear gloves when planting.  Being the rebel that I am, I did not follow my own advice.  The claws won despite my efforts to avoid them.  However, they are not there just to prick us.  It is these thorns that provide protection for wildlife that seek cover in the foliage.  While the flowers on Wildlime are somewhat inconspicuous, the lime green foliage and overall plant structure is quite attractive and worthy of attention.
Giant Swallowtail
Papilio cresphontes

Wildlime is grown by many butterfly enthusiasts to attract the majestic Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) butterfly.  Some would say that Wild Lime is a must for the butterfly garden.  The Giant Swallowtail is the largest butterfly in North America and one of the most beautiful.  Wild Lime is also the larval host plant for the endangered Schaus' Swallowtail (Heraclides aristodemus ponceanus) butterfly.  This butterfly is limited to tropical hardwood hammock habitat in the Keys.  According to several resources, captive-breeding programs are helping to restore the Schaus' Swallowtail population in the Keys.  Sadly, these efforts continue to be challenged by ongoing habitat destruction, insecticide use, illegal collection and natural causes such as hurricanes and droughts.

Wildlime in large planter
Wildlime planted as an
understory beneath a
Laurel Oak
For some folks, growing Wild Lime might not be practical because of limited space in the landscape.  Luckily, Wild Lime makes an excellent plant for large containers.  No matter where you live, you can still bring in the butterflies this way.  They don't care if your plant is in a container or planted in the ground.  In our landscape, we have one planted in the ground as an understory beneath a Laurel Oak tree and several in large pots.  We keep one of the pots by the front porch to view these impressive beauties up close.  It is truly a spectacular site when a female Giant Swallowtail flutters in to lay her eggs on the leaves.  After planting Wild Lime, these giants have become regular visitors.  Each visit is a unique opportunity to connect with nature.  

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

When the Wildflowers Get Too Wild

Although beautiful, I have lost
access to a large portion
of the garden.  
No access to a favorite
sitting area
My motto has always been the more wildflowers the better, even if that meant not leaving walking paths for myself.  This worked a couple of years ago when the garden was much smaller.  We have since extended the garden and it now fills up the entire front yard.  One big garden bed.  After the big annual summer weed pull this year, I realized that I needed better access for garden chores.  I could no longer walk up to my beloved Starry Rosinweed and view the beautiful yellow flowers up close or the pollinators that nectar from them.  I no longer had access to my favorite blue garden bench where I would sit and watch the butterflies.  There was also a forgotten corner in the garden that I had not been able to get to.  You can probably imagine my disappointment when I discovered this neglected area was full of the invasive Torpedo Grass.  No fun!  This is a mistake I do not plan on repeating.  Lesson learned.  On to the pathways.....
A circle was made around
the entire Gaillardia bed

A portion of the new path
The star in the garden this spring and early summer was Gaillardia pulchella (Blanketflower).  Because this large bed of Gaillardia is now past its prime, I decided this would be a good place to start carving out a path.  I began removing the outer edges going in about two feet.  A circle was made around the entire Gaillardia bed.  I left the remaining dead Gaillardia for the critters.  The birds will use the stems for nesting material and some will eat the seed.  Smaller wildlife will use this area to seek shelter.  In late summer, new Gaillardia seedlings will emerge.  I will then remove all of the dead ones.  This will allow the new seedlings a chance to grow and the cycle will begin again.  All I need to do now is add some mulch to my new path to inhibit aggressive "weeds" from taking over.  I am tossing around the idea of adding paving stones to further define the walkway.  

A dried bouquet of
Some of the spent Gaillardia material I removed was kept for composting and some for a small brush pile.  I also made dried bouquets and hung them on the fence.  The birds will use these bouquets for nesting material and consume the seed.  I just recently learned about dried bouquets from fellow wildlife gardener, blogger and Florida Native Plant Society member Loret T. Setters.  Read her article about bouquets and brush piles here.  Try these sustainable methods the next time you think about putting all that dead stuff on the side of the road on garbage day.  Nothing will be wasted and everyone benefits.


Friday, July 29, 2016

The Beginnings of a Native Plant Gardener

I have always been attracted to insects, plants and all things nature.  Growing up as child in Illinois, I remember walking around the woods without a care in the world.  Picking wildflowers to bring home to mom.  Watching fireflies and collecting dead cicadas.  My young eyes were so curious and keen, seeing and hearing every insect.  Every wind blown leaf.  Somewhere along the way into adulthood I lost touch with these things.  Nature has always called to me, but somehow I drifted away from this into adulthood.  It was only after purchasing my first home seven years ago when I regained this spark.  I had an entire yard to plant whatever the heck I wanted.  The first couple of years was a regular trip to the Home Depot garden center.  After hundreds of dollars later, I began to realize something.  The Petunias, Geraniums and Impatiens just weren't cutting it.  Not to mention the time spent watering to save them.  And where are the insects?  Where are the bugs that I so enjoyed as a youngster?  They surely weren't hanging around my yard.

Curious as I am, I began researching online for Florida plants that don't require so much watering.  Ones that won't perish every five seconds if I don't water them.  Plants that do not have to be replaced every few months and deplete my bank account.  Hey, I have a mortgage!  On my online quest, I found Florida Native Plant Society's website.  Wow!  A whole new world for me.  What are these plants I have never seen before?  On the website you can search your county to see what plants grow in your neck of the woods.  I entered mine, Sarasota County.  My gosh, a huge list of plants that say they attract wildlife, butterflies and bees.  Insects!  My faith in gardening has been restored.  Wait a minute!  Where do I find these mystery plants?  They grow in the wild, right?  Thank goodness for Google because I'll be darned, there's a Florida native plants nursery right down the road.  I check their hours and it's Thursday through Sunday.  Great, I'll head over on Saturday right when they open.

Saturday morning arrives and I am bright eyed and bushy-tailed, anxious to see this new world of plants.  The anticipation while driving was exhilarating.  Driving slowly down the dirt road, I pull in
and get out of the car.  Taking a curious look around, I have arrived at Florida Native Plants Nursery.  Right away I am greeted by a happy dog.  "Boris," a lady said, calling to the excited furry greeter.  This is when I met co-owner of the nursery, Laurel Schiller.  I assured her that I have a dog of my own and did not mind the paw prints on my shirt.  This is a pet friendly place and I feel right at home.  This is exactly where I am supposed to be and I am totally feeling the good vibrations of this place.

Hours were spent perusing around the nursery.  Being a timid guy, I did not speak much to another gal offering me help.  "Are you looking for anything in particular?" she asked.  "No, I am just browsing," I said nervously, even though I knew I needed help.  This was silly of me because come to find out, they are so friendly and it didn't matter that I knew diddly-squat about native plants.  After frequent visits I got to see that they are the coolest people.  Down to earth folks.  As sweet as the wildflowers they sell.  Overtime, I met Laurel's daughter, Annie Schiller.  Annie works at the nursery and also runs her business there, William's Wildflowers, offering sustainably and locally grown floral arrangements using Florida native wildflowers and plants.  Another kind soul I met is Marta Ellis.  Marta is always very helpful and her genuine enthusiasm for plants is contagious.

I am heading home now with plants hanging out of my window.  Hey, it's a compact Toyota Matrix!  I packed in as much as I could.  There was a tree or two in there!  I peeked into my rear view mirror a couple of times to check out my new native plants and wildflowers.  Yep, they were still there!

Little by little I pulled out the existing grass and exotic plants I bought at the big box stores.  I got out plenty of aggression ripping them out.  Money wasted.  The water bill, ridiculous.  As soon as my native plants hit the ground the insects came.  One by one.  The butterflies, bees and the wildflowers.  I am once again at home in my childlike wonder.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Buttonsage: An Introduction

Lantana involucrata - Buttonsage
The Native Lantanas
In Florida, we have three native species of Lantana.  Lantana involucrata (Buttonsage), the endangered Lantana depressa (Pineland Lantana) and the endangered Lantana canescens (Hammock Shrubverbena).  Beware the non-native exotic invasive species Lantana Camara (Lantana; Shrubverbena).  Lantana camara invades natural ecosystems that have been disturbed.  The thick under story created by this aggressor inhibits the establishment of native plant species.  Lantana camara has hybridized with our native Lantana depressa so greatly that you might be hard-pressed to find the true native ecotype of this species.  While Lantana canescens (Hammock Shrubverbena) is difficult to find commercially, this leaves us with Lantana involucrata (Buttonsage).  It is not terribly hard to find Buttonsage at a native plants nursery if you live in central or south Florida.
A Sure Thing
Lantana involucrata - Buttonsage
purple drupes
To be certain that you are getting a true, unaltered native, opt for Lantana involucata (Buttonsage).  Buttonsage is the only Lantana we grow here in our garden.  I have become somewhat of a native plant stickler over the years and try my best to choose the real McCoy.  This species grows in central and south Florida east and west.  On the west side, the range is from Hillsborough County down to Monroe County.  East, the range is from Brevard County down to the Keys.  Lantana involucrata can be found growing naturally in pinelands, dunes and coastal hammock habitats to name a few.  Buttonsage has an upright, shrubby growth habit, reaching anywhere from three to six feet tall and just as wide.  Ours has remained on the shorter end of around three feet. Once established, Buttonsage is drought tolerant, a bonus.
                              The Wildlife
Lantana involucrata - Buttonsage
Like all three of our native Lantana, Buttonsage attracts pollinators galore.  The wide range of butterfly species that visit the blooms is utterly amazing.  Some of the butterflies that we have seen enjoying these flowers in our garden are the Great Southern White, Gulf Fritillary, Giant Swallowtail, Long-tailed Skipper, Red-banded Hairstreak, Cassius Blue and the Dorantes Longtail.  The wildlife value does not end with the butterflies.  Birds will find the purple drupes quite tasty.  You might see Cardinals and Mockingbirds gobble them up.  Yum!  Oh, and we can not forget the bees.  The bees love Buttonsage, too.