Sunday, November 6, 2016

Twelve Feet of Diversity

Many roots were cut to make
room for the new plant
Landscape fabric is a
headache later on
After admittedly procrastinating on this small project, I finally removed two exotic Firespike shrubs.   Although they are pretty to look at, they only bloomed well when the weather cooled and maybe these blooms attracted one or two butterflies.  Nothing to write home about!  The more Florida native plants that I incorporated into our landscape, the more out of place they looked.  After all, their native homeland is Central America and this tropical look became more and more obvious mixed in with what I will refer to as "the real Florida".  Shade is few and far between in our small yard, so it made sense to remove these exotics and utilize this precious space for other shade-loving plants that offer more diversity and attract a wider variety of wildlife.

Untangled roots after
removing from container
After removing a pile of rocks,
I found the culprit that has been
most likely damaging a nearby
Passionflower.  The invasive
Cuban Brown Snail.  They
were disposed of and I will
spare you the details.
 Going against my desire to cram in several plants at once for instant gratification, I only chose two to fill in this twelve-foot space.  I've made the mistake of overcrowding too many times in the past and I have finally learned my lesson.  I chose to use Callicarpa americana (Beautyberry) and Psychotria nervosa (Wild Coffee).  Both of these shrubs will attract many pollinators to their blooms.  After flowering, the berries will provide an excellent food source for birds and other wildlife.  Aesthetically pleasing to humans, nectar for butterflies and bees, food for birds, a triple win!

Water in well, creating
a moat
It's always exciting when I get to go out and plant something new.  Of course, it's not always easy with some plantings.  You aren't just digging, plopping, burying, watering and walking away.  More times than not, there are many obstacles to contend with.  While I was planting these two particular shrubs, I ran into several.  There were many large underground roots to be cut and a large pile of rocks I had to move to make room for the Wild Coffee.  I also ran into that landscape fabric that I should have never used years ago.  The landscape fabric became an entire project all its own as I ended up removing all of it from the area.  Fixing your mistakes really teaches you a lesson and the troublesome landscape fabric was no exception.   Landscape fabric is used as a weed barrier, but it does not work.  It is not a permanent fix.  In fact, it creates more work.  It makes pulling weeds more difficult and usually results in having to remove the barrier to properly rid of the weeds you were trying to keep out in the first place.  Weeds will have no problem reseeding themselves right on top of mulch with the fabric underneath, but it makes it impossible for wildflowers or other desirables to reseed and naturalize.  It is just a fact that weeds will become a problem in the garden, landscape fabric or not.  Nothing does a better job than just pulling them and using mulch.  No garden is maintenance free.  Mulch will always need to be replaced as needed to control weeds, there is no way around it.

Callicarpa americana -
Psychotria nervosa -
Wild Coffee
Now that I have a nice clear space to work with, it was on to the planting.  This is the fun part.  I dug the holes twice the width of the container and no deeper than the container.  The roots will usually need to be untangled after they are removed from their pot.  This will allow them to take better hold in their new home, instead of just circling around like they were in their container.  After situating the plant in the hole, ensuring they were perfectly upright, I watered them in creating a moat.  I let the water drain sufficiently and watered a second time before filling the hole back with the soil and gently packing the soil around the plant so that there are no air pockets.  Now that we are in our dry season, I can expect to water these plants frequently until they are properly established.  Soil amendments, such as compost was not needed, as this is the case with most Florida native plants if planted in the right place.  These plants are hard-wired to their environment.  About three inches of mulch was added around each plant, but away from the crown of the plant.  If you pile mulch up against the crown, you risk rotting the plant and this could lead to rot and eventually death.  A safe bet is to leave at least several inches away from the crown.  It is now time to sit back with a cold beverage and enjoy this new area that I know will bring enjoyment to us and the critters for many years to come.  

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Blossoming Purple is Florida Native Twinflower

Dyschoriste oblongifolia
Blossoming purple this fall is Florida native Dyschoriste oblongifolia (Twinflower).  According to Atlas of Florida Plants, Twinflower occurs from Jackson County north to Collier County south where it is commonly found growing in sandhills and flatwoods in soils that are not overly well-drained.  Twinflower is commonly sold at native plant nurseries and is quite adaptable to home landscapes. Typically never reaching more than an inch high, Twinflower makes a lovely groundcover as long as periods of drought are not excessively long.  However, Twinflower (Dyschoriste oblongifolia) is not a wetland plant and does tolerate short periods of drought.  When used as a grass alternative, space the plants close together in large groups for best effect and to adequately fill in the area.  Also, keep in mind that Twinflower can be semi-dormant in winter with a sparse appearance.  The flowers are usually held in pairs as the common name suggests and typically appear from late spring into early winter.  Twinflower is very useful in the wildlife or butterfly garden where it serves as the larval host for the Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia) butterfly.  In the right situation, this plant will spread swiftly, primarily by underground runners, but also by seed and is not considered to be aggressive.
A sparse patch of Dyschoriste
oblongifolia in our landscape. 

Dyschoriste oblongifolia 
There are two other Dyschoriste species that are native to Florida.  Dyschoriste angusta (Pineland Twinflower) and Dyschoriste humistrata (Swamp Twinflower).  D. angusta naturally occurs in pinelands and prairies and can be found for sale at some native plant nurseries.  To my knowledge, I am not aware that D. humistrata is being cultivated or offered for sale.  To find Dyschoriste oblongifolia (Twinflower) or Dyschoriste angusta (Pineland Twinflower) at a native plants nursery near or in your county, visit Florida Association of Native Nurseries HERE.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Privet Wild Sensitive Plant is Blooming Yellow

Senna ligustrina blooms
Blooming a brilliant yellow this autumn is Florida native Senna ligustrina (SEN-nuh lig-UST-ree-nuh) - Privet Wild Sensitive Plant.  Senna is a Greek word derived from the Arabic word sana, meaning tender shrub or tree.  The latin word ligustrinus means privet-like.  This fast-growing, small to medium-size shrub grows in disturbed areas, forest edges and hammocks from Gilchrist County south to the Monroe County Keys and Brevard County south to the keys.  Senna ligustrina is drought tolerant and will thrive in sandy, nutrient-poor soils, but does better with some organic content.

Senna ligustrina is an excellent specimen shrub for the residential landscape and can be grown in full sun or light shade.  I have planted this shrub in home landscapes where it thrives with only an hour or two of direct sunlight.  This plant also makes a fine choice for a large pot if you are short on space.  Growth habit can vary from three to eight feet in height and remains taller than broad.  Senna ligustrina can be pruned almost any time of the year, but because of frost sensitivity, winter pruning should be avoided.  Senna ligustrina is considered a short-day plant.  For this reason, you can expect the best flush of blooms in fall through spring when the nights are longer.

Senna ligustrina 
Senna ligustrina mixes in
nicely with Salvia coccinea
in a container
Senna ligustrina is a must-have for the wildlife garden, especially to attract butterflies.  The Sleepy Orange, Cloudless Sulphur and the introduced Orange-barred Sulphur butterfly all use this plant as their larval host.  Ants are also synonymous with Senna ligustrina and other Senna species.  The ants are attracted to the glands at the base of the leaves called extrafloral nectaries.  These glands exude a sugar-rich food source for the ants.  The ants protect the plant from herbivores and will attack butterfly larvae, safeguarding the plant from defoliation.  It might seem like a shame that the ants kill the caterpillars, but they are both equally important to a balanced ecosystem.  Other pollinators such as bumblebees are also attracted to the blossoms.  Native flowering plants are vital to helping promote pollinators and Senna ligustrina is no exception.

*Be sure and avoid non-native Senna pendula var. glabrata (synonym Senna bicapsularis), a category I invasive in Florida.  Common names are Christmas Senna, Christmas Cassia and Climbing Cassia.  When in doubt, always stick to our native species and do your plant shopping at a reputable Florida native plants nursery.  Find a native nursery in your neck of the woods by visiting Florida Association of Native Nurseries HERE.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Dollarweed; A Perspective

 Hydrocotyle umbellata - Manyflower Marshpennywort

Florida native Hydrocotyle umbellata (hi-droh-KOT-ih-lee um-bell-AY-tuh) Manyflower Marshpennywort; Dollarweed is a short-lived perennial ground cover that occurs near and in lakes, ponds, wet prairies and swamps.  There are seven Hydrocotyle species that occur in Florida, five of which are native. The two non-native species occur in North Florida only and have a very small range.  For a list of all Hydrocotyle species in Florida, visit Atlas of Florida Plants HERE.  Dollarweed is also common in over-irrigated lawns where it is often regarded as a pest.  In fact, if you do a quick Google search for Dollarweed, the results are "How to Kill Dollarweed," "Killing Dollarweed" and "How to Control Dollarweed".  These less than desirable headlines are typically linked to having the perfect lawn and it's a bit overkill.  If you were to mention "Dollarweed" to other gardeners or homeowners, the reaction is typically "Yikes, get rid of it!"  In my attempt to dispel negative connotations, I will refer to this plant as Marshpennywort.  

 Hydrocotyle umbellata -
Manyflower Marshpennywort
Having a little diversity and variation show up in a monoculture of grass should be a good thing, right?  Marshpennywort can be aesthetically pleasing and create texture in an otherwise monotonous carpet of lawn.  It is easy to see that the leaves of Hydrocotyle umbellata and other Marshpennyworts are quite intriguing and worthy of forgoing the jug of herbicide.  In our landscape, we celebrate this lovely ground cover that reminds us of small lily pads.  The shiny, leathery green leaves grow roadside at the edge of our property and pop up to say hello after we've had a good amount of rain.  Because we have a diverse variety of other native plants and ground cover, this plant is not aggressive in our yard.  Mother Nature tells us that Marshpennywort is growing there for a good reason, providing ecological benefits in the web of life for insects, microorganisms and other critters.  The leaves are the perfect shape for butterflies and dragonflies to perch on.  You might even find beneficial toads that enjoy this moist habitat.  Marshpennywort also attracts an assortment of pollinators to its umbel of flowers when in bloom.  Look HERE to view the flowers.  

Another benefit of Marshpennywort is its edibility. However, as with any edible wild plant, caution is advised.  Never eat anything unless you are absolutely certain you know what it is.  Marshpennywort has a high water uptake that makes it more susceptible to the absorption of toxic pollutants from herbicides, pesticides, whatever is lurking in the soil, and tainted water runoff.  Be sure you are cultivating from clean areas.  We don't bother to eat ours as many dogs pass by this area to do their business and because of road pollutants that might have washed up into the yard.  For more information, visit Eat the Weeds HERE.  

The lesson here is that we should ease up on what we think is a "weed" and give our landscapes and lawns a little more freedom and allow for diversity.  In the right landscape situation, Marshpennywort can be a beautiful addition. Let Marshpennywort intermingle with other native ground covers such as Phyla nodiflora (Turkey Tangle Frogfruit), Mimosa strigillosa (Sunshine mimosa) or Bacopa monnieri (Herb-of-Grace).  

Friday, September 16, 2016

Five Websites Every Native Plant Lover Needs in Their Arsenal

More and more people are finding the value and beauty of using native plants in their landscapes.  The internet and social media play a large role in this growing trend and useful information is right at our fingertips.  From where to find native plants to informative blogs, seasoned native plant gardeners and professionals keep us informed and make it possible for us to find what we're looking for.  Below is a list of five informative websites to keep in your internet pocket.  
Florida Native Plant Society

The Florida Native Plant Society website is your one stop shop for all things native plants.  Their site offers a "native plants for your area" tool where you can search your county to see what grows there.  This is very useful for the novice just getting started or for the seasoned gardener to reference for ideas.  You will also find a list of events such as native plant sales and other fun happenings around the state.  If you are looking to get a little more involved, you can become a Florida Native Plant Society member.  Once you join your local chapter, you will be able to attend monthly meetings and mingle with like-minded folks, volunteer, take field trips and listen to educational speakers.  Take a look around the Florida Native Plant Society HERE!  Visit the Florida Native Plant Society blog for informative articles HERE!

Florida Association of Native Nurseries

The Florida Association of Native Nurseries website is where you can find a native plants nursery in your area.  Search your county for retail nurseries, wholesale growers, landscape professionals, nursery and landscape products, environmental professionals and commercial services.  You will also find tips on selecting Florida native plants, learn about plant communities and more.  Visit Florida Association of Native Nurseries HERE!

Florida Wildflower Foundation

The Florida Wildflower Foundation is where you want to be to learn about our beautiful wildflowers.  Learn about the importance of Florida's native wildflowers, find resources for Florida native ecotype wildflower seeds and useful tips for growing wildflowers in your landscape.  Browse around Florida Wildflower Foundation HERE!  Jump right to Florida Wildflower Cooperative and purchase Florida native ecotype wildflower seeds HERE!

Atlas of Florida Plants

The Atlas of Florida Plants is an absolute necessity and a website that everyone should keep handy.  Atlas of Florida Plants has a comprehensive searchable database of plants in the state of Florida.  Search for plants by scientific or common name.  This is an excellent tool for identifying plants.  Once you have your results you are able to view images of that plant, a distribution map and if the plant is native, not native or invasive.  Browse around and get familiar with Atlas of Florida Plants HERE!

Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council

Knowing what plants are invasive in Florida is just as important as learning about native plants.  Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council gives us a list of all the invasive plants in Florida, their distribution range, management plans and many publications to keep us informed and up to date. Visit Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council and stay informed HERE!



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.