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.  

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.