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


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A Pine can have lightning scars that run down the trunk. Why doesn't an Oak?

 by Cecilia Catron, Tarflower Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society

(reprinted with permission from the August 2016 issue of Tarpaper)

Pine Scar
 When days are hot, as they have been for the past month, it seems like a sensible idea to lie in or around the pool all day, like a motionless alligator. Curds of bright, white thunderheads rise higher and higher, expanded by the increasing heat. Gradually air pushed from the east and west coasts meets in the middle of the peninsula. By mid-afternoon it becomes charged by the collision of the fronts and summer lightning is created, with or without a storm.
Knotty Oak

Have you ever noticed a stripe spiraling down the trunk of a pine tree where lightning has stripped the outer bark off? You may have also noticed there is no such stripe on the trunk of an oak tree. Oaks and Pines, both dominant here in central Florida, have different lightning survival strategies. Most pine species have long, straight trunks. They are relatively fast-growing with soft wood. Oak trunks on the other hand are often twisted and full of knots. They grow more slowly (except Laurel Oak, Quercus laurifolia) and the wood is very hard, dense, and heavy. 

Lightning is attracted to the tallest tree, regardless what species it is. Energy is conducted down the trunk of a typical pine with little to stop it since the cells are constructed in long, continuous rows. Knotty oaks  on the other hand do not have such unobstructed cellular highways. When a knot is struck it may explode, but a lightning bolt's energy is spent before it can progress down the trunk, limiting damage. Good planning, oaks. Also a case for organisms that create knots on oaks - part of the ecological give and take. New pines grow relatively quickly to replace trees that are destroyed, which is also a viable strategy.

 Be that as it may, never take shelter under any tree to escape a storm. Especially here in Lightning Alley nature can put on an awesome show, but it's important to remember that a tree may be a target.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Carol's Corner

by Carol Hebert, Conradina Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society

The following is a collection of Carol's Corner from the first half of 2016 reprinted in part from the Conradina chapter newsletter. They are the reasons to "Plant Native." Enjoy!

May 2016
Simpson Stopper, Photo by Carol Hebert

Carol’s Corner: Smells So Good!

This wonderful plant is so durable, grows so slowly, and also rewards us with small, beautiful flowers that smell so incredibly wonderful! Simpson Stopper (Myrcianthes fragrans) is categorized as a small tree. I guess you can recognize why the species name is fragrance in Latin. It grows slowly with very little need to prune. I enjoy seeing it used as hedges for commercial businesses. We even have it as a hedge in front of my work place at Dr. Martin Luther King Library on University Boulevard. I loved making my co-workers smell the flowers. It grows on the mainland and beach-side also.  Plant native! C

Lupine (Lupinus diffusus) Photo by Carol Hebert

April 2016

Carol’s Corner: Lupine in Bloom!

We had an enjoyable walk at Turkey Creek Sanctuary, and we saw wonderful plants. There was Conradina grandiflora in bloom—the plant our chapter is named after. Blueberry (Vaccinun myrsintes) and Deerberry (Vaccinum stamineum) were also wonderfully in bloom. We took a walk on a boardwalk done by a Scout recently to see huge Giant Leather Ferns. Toward the end of our walk, we enjoyed the sight of many bunches of Lupine (Lupinus diffusus). They were drop dead beautiful! Plant native! C

Shiny Lyonia (Lyonia lucida) Photo by Carol Hebert

March 2016

Carol’s Corner: Spring Has Arrived!

We enjoyed a wonderful walk through Cruikshank Sanctuary in February with Vince Lamb and saw Shiny Lyonia (Lyonia lucida) in bloom. It is a beautiful shrub that likes full sun. Rusty Staggerbush (Lyonia ferruginea) was also in bloom. We enjoyed about six to seven Scrub Jays. It was a fun walk through sandy soil and the best season to enjoy the scrub. I personally also enjoyed Adam's Needle (Yucca filamentosa) with fiber swirling out from its leaves. Scrub is an enchanting habitat and is wonderful to walk through to see its vast diversity. Plant native! C

Acer rubrum(Red Maple) Photo by Carol Hebert

February 2016

Carol’s Corner: Autumn Colors

Fall is almost over and there are still a few autumn colors there to enjoy. Red Maple (Acer rebrum) is showing its display of how wonderfully its leaves change color and contribute to the soil. There are several other leaves changing color and falling such as the deep red of Virginia Creeper and the yellow leaves of the Grape vines (Vitus sp.) and the American Elm (Ulmus americana). I have already seen the Laurel Oaks showering their leaves! This is the best time to leave all those leaves in your yard to enrich the soil. Since Melbourne is about four inches above the average rain fall, spring is on it's way. Plant native! C

Photo Skyblue Clustervine by Carol Herbert

January 2016

Carol’s Corner: Winter Blooms

December 21st was Winter Solstice and the beginning of the winter season. It’s almost hard to believe we are in this season since we have hit (or close to) a record high temperature on each day. Plants are wonderful how they bloom in different seasons. Fall brings us so many colors such as yellow with Goldenrod (Solidaga sp.), Coreopsis, and Silkgrass (Pityopsis graminifolia). A nice variety of purple blooms contrast beautifully such as Gayfeather (Liatris sp.), Ironweed (Vernonica gigantea), and Stokes’ Aster (Stokesia laevis). Currently, my favorite fall blooming purple flower plant is Skyblue Clustervine (Jacquemontia pentanthos). This vine grows nicely on the north side of my house so it receives partial sun and shade all day. The flowers are small, about an inch wide and have the “morning glory” look. No fragrance but they are so pretty to see everyday because they open just for a day so flowers are in different places on the vine each day. Find a fence or trellis and decorate it with this evergreen vine named Skyblue Clustervine. This plant will give a wonderful display of lavender flowers at the end of each year. Plant native! C

Monday, July 11, 2016

My Quest for Milkweeds

Story and photos by Janet Bowers, Suncoast Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society

At the beginning of my ‘Natives’ life, I learned a lot from working on the plant sale plant profiles, so I thought the only milkweeds in our area were Asclepias incarnata, A. tuberosa and A. perennis. Apparently those are the ones that nurseries have grown for a while. If I had known better, I might have checked out the USF Plant Atlas where I could have looked up genus Asclepias and would have seen that there are many more species in our area.

 Butterflyweed, Asclepias tuberosa, Lake Blue Scrub

I have seen 9 milkweed species so far this year in relative proximity to our area, and I have now done the USF Plant Atlas search so I know there are more out there. An advance search in Hillsborough County lists twelve species.Oddly enough (at least to me), two of the species I have never seen in the wild are the swamp milkweeds that we sell at our plant sale. They are at the top of my list to find.

Curtiss' milkweed, Asclepias curtissii, Lake Blue Scrub   

The most recent milkweeds I saw were at Lake Blue Scrub (Auburndale) in early July. There I added A. curtissii to my list and saw some reddish A. tuberosas that were gorgeous. I was thrilled to find A. lanceolata at Hillsborough River State Park recently. I had seen it before but not in our county, so it seemed like a big deal to me but of course other people were well aware that they grew there. 

Fewflower Milkweed, Asclepias lanceolata, Hillsborough River State Park

My favorite milkweed, A. longifolia, I first saw in the Green Swamp, and I got to revisit it on our way home from Cayo Costa in April. We stopped to see a mass of bladderworts and Devon saw the milkweed. I was tired, dirty and cranky, but that milkweed made me very happy. I have noticed that some of the paler milkweeds are easy to miss if you’re not looking closely. The others I have seen this year include - A. humistrata that has the gorgeous pink veined leaves, A. pedicellata A. feayi (quite a few on our May fieldtrip to Triple Creek Preserve), A. verticillata and A. amplexicaulis (in Hernando county). Last year I saw A. tomentosa.

Savannah Milkweed, Asclepias pedicellata, Blackwater Creek Preserve

I used to feel bad when we told people to buy native milkweed and they couldn’t find any, but now they are becoming more available. I noticed that both Green Isles and Sweetbay nurseries now have whorled milkweed on their list of plants, so now there are more kinds of milkweed for sale. 

Swamp Milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, Sweetbay Nursery

FNPS member and St Mark’s NWR ranger, Scott Davis, is executing his plan to support monarchs by sourcing local ecotypes of milkweeds for the Big Bend area.  A year ago FANN (Florida Association of Native Nurseries) launched Phase I of the Florida Milkweed Project, an effort to expand the production and use of native Asclepias species with funding and support from the Florida Wildflower Foundation and our state wildflower license plate. I can tell you from personal experience that I have seen a big difference in the availability and quality of these milkweeds for sale in the past 5 years or so, and look forward to more availability. 

If you can’t get out to see the wild milkweeds, plant some in your yard and watch the Monarch Butterflies come to you! 

Monday, July 4, 2016

A Passion for Passionflowers in Prose & Poetry

by Devon Higginbotham / Poem by Donna Bollenbach
Suncoast Native Plant Society

The looks like it must be from another planet. _D Higginbotham

The first time I saw a passion flower, with its bizarre, lavender zigzaggy petals and yellow-star stamens, my immediate thought was it must be from another planet. It looks like no other flower shape — daisy, tulip or rose.

Not only is it spectacular to behold but it’s huge, measuring about 4 inches across, and it smells like a sorority house on formal night.

I had to have one!

Sometimes called the maypop or May apple, this perennial vine is native to Florida and the southeastern United States. It grows well in zones seven to 10, climbing on fences trellises or as a ground cover in sunny locations. It spreads underground, sending out shoots some distance from the parent plant. It is attractive to zebra longwing and gulf fritillary larvae, which keep it in check. Thus, supplying your garden with a steady stream of butterflies.

Gulf fritillary caterpillar_D Higginbotham
Just when you think you’ve found the perfect garden plant, one of your flowers will go to seed, yielding a 2- to 3-inch passion fruit, which taste much like a crunchy kiwi when ripe.

For those of you living in dry areas, coastal beaches or dune communities, the passion vine will prosper along with your sea oats, saw palmettos and seaside goldenrod. Mine sprawls across a picket fence, gets watered when it rains and is not particularly fond of being over-watered.

The passion vines have special glands that produce nectar at the base of the leaves which attract ants. The ants roam all over the plants and carry away butterfly eggs or young caterpillars they find. But with a few gulf fritillaries flitting about laying eggs, the butterflies keep up a steady supply of larvae, and some manage to elude the ants to grow to maturity. 

Cross, nails & crown of thorns?_D Bollenbach
There is much speculation as to why Carl Linnaeus, the renowned Swedish botanist, named it Passiflora incarnata some 250 years ago. Incarnata means flesh colored. There is nothing flesh colored about the passion vine. One theory is the significance of the flower pattern to God. In 1610, Jacoma Bosio, an Italian monastic scholar, heard reports of a wonderful flower in Mexico. The design of was said to have been created by God as a sign the native people of Mexico should convert to Christianity.

The theory was the three stigmas represent the three nails used on the cross, the five anthers count the wounds in Jesus, the corona of the flower recalls the crown of thorns, the ten petals equal the disciples (minus Paul and Judas) and the whip-like tendrils represent the whips used on Jesus, thus, the “Passion of Christ.”

Whatever your theory on Linnaeus’ mindset so long ago, the passion vine is a plant any Florida gardener would be passionate about.

Read Devon's entire article published in the Plant City Observer here
Ten Ways of Looking at a Passionflower


Among a thousand bees,
The only fragrance they desire
Is the passionflower's.

I was of three hearts,
Like a vine,
In which there are three passion flowers.

The scent of the passion flower fills the meadow.
The bees and butterflies dance together. 

A bee and a butterfly
Are one,
A bee and a butterfly and a passion flower
Are one.

I do not know which I prefer
The complexity of the flower
Or the complexity of the vine
The passion flower in bloom
Or the fruit left behind.

The butterfly lays its eggs,
In the shadow of the passionflower
The caterpillar cuts swaths
Through the leaves,
It is sacrificial love.

At the sight of a thousand passion flowers
Growing in the meadow,
The pauper and the king
Are equal.

The worker bees lie drunk
In the purple fringes of the passionflower
While the queen paces the hive.

The passionflower spreads its vines,
Tracing many paths
Through the meadow.

The bees are buzzing.
The passionflower must be blooming. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016


by Donna Bollenbach

The tiny moss has been the theme of many a gifted poet; and even the despised mushroom has called forth classic works in its praise. But the Lichens, which stain every rock, and clothe every tree, which form:

                         Nature’s livery o’er the globe
Where’er her wonders range
Have been almost universally neglected, nay despised.
Lauder Lindsay

Christmas Lichen on a fallen tree, Florida. 


Imagine our continent after the last ice age: Glaciers cut deep gorges in the land and miles of granite boulders, silt and the bones cover the hills and plains of North America. Life has all but disappeared, but there is hope for new life in a simple living entity that is neither plant nor animal, the lichens.

Lichens on a rock in Yellowstone National Park. 

Lichens, a partnership of a fungus and an alga, are able to survive in the most extreme temperatures. The lichens that partner with cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, produce their own nitrogen, so they are able to grow on nitrogen-poor substrates. They form colonies on the surface of the rocks and bare soil. The chemicals in these lichens are capable of penetrating and breaking down the rock. As the lichens die the debris becomes thicker and nitrogen rich. Mosses began to grow. The decay of the mosses and lichens make the soil even richer, allowing other vegetation to take hold and a new habitat evolves.

For this reason, lichens and mosses are considered pioneers of succession. Today, they are still the primary plant-like species of the deserts and tundra where they thrive in conditions that are inhospitable to most other plants. They are also an important source of food for animals in those extreme climates where other vegetation is scarce.

Fruiticose lichen in the Florida Scrub


– from the Greek word tapis for carpet; a fabric with a woven design resembling tapestry, varied entwined and intricate (i.e. the tapestry of life).

Lichen, a living organism that is neither plant nor animal, is one of nature’s true tapestries.  A fungus and a suitable green alga or cyanobacteria (blue-green alga), intricately woven together in a symbiotic union, lichens carpet trees, rocks, soil and other substrates with their rich colors and textures.

There are over 14,000 species of lichen living in nearly every habitat in the world. In addition to rocks, lichen grows on an array of natural and manmade substrates, including bark, stone, wood, soil, leaves, moss, bone, human artifacts and even some living creatures. Unlike the pioneer lichens that break down rocks, lichens found on living substrates are not parasitic, they simply use the host as a place to live.


Yet lovely was its pleasant shade;
Lovely the trunk will moss inlaid;
Lovely the long-haired lichens grey;
Lovely its pride and its decay.
Mary Russell Mitford

Crustose Lichen on a Palm Tree

The task of defining and classifying lichens is a daunting one for scientist. The international Association for Lichenology defines lichen as “an association of a fungus and photosynthetic symbiont resulting in a stable vegetative body having a specific structure.” Noted Lichenologist, Trevor Goward, went further to describe lichen as “fungi that have discovered agriculture.”

Scientifically, lichens are classified by one of four general growth forms: Foliose (leafy, lobed and most often with an upper and lower cortex), Fruiticose (hairy, tubular, multi-branching strands or lacey balls with a single cortex), Crustose (crusty, flat patches that can be somewhat smooth or thick and bumpy) and Squamulose (an intermediate between the Crustose and Foliose, with thick, scaly shingles).

A combination of lichen forms and mosses on tree bark.

While these scientific terms do suggest the general shape of the lichen classes, they do little justice to the lichen’s true beauty.

The Foliose lichens have a leaf-like form. They have many lobes., often curling slightly inward and layered on top of each other.

Foliose lichens on a tree. 

The Fruticose lichens are highly branched. They can be thin and stringy, or round, lacy and soft in appearance. Some of the Fruticose lichens found in the scrub look like puffy greenish gray clouds.

Fruiticose lichens, or powder puff lichens in the Florida Scrub. 

The Crustose lichens are flat, often circular patches, tightly adhered to their substrate. Colorful fruiting bodies adorn their cortex. 

Crustose, or flame lichen growing on a rock. 

While many lichens are white to greenish-grey to brown, many are bright red, yellow or orange. Even a green or gray lichen may be adorned with a bright red fruiting body. Some of the fruiting bodies are mere dots, while others are more like little mushrooms. The combination of color and texture in lichens are as varied as the substrates they live on, and have given many a painter or photographer a reason to pause and admire nature's finest fabric. 

Foliose lichen (British soldiers) with an Earth Star (fungus) in the center. 

And these are all the reasons I Love Lichens!

Donna Bollenbach

If you also love Lichens, check out this great book: "Lichens of North America" by Brodo, Sharnoff & Sharnoff.  It is rather expensive, but it is nearly 800 pages of fascinating information and beautiful color images.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Saints of Hillsborough County: The Genus Hypericum

Submitted by Carmel vanHoek
Photos courtesy of the Florida Plant Atlas

All Saints

Of the thirty-one species of the genus Hypericum that have been vouchered for the state of Florida according to the USF Plant Atlas, twelve may be found in Hillsborough County. The genus has been known world-wide since pre-Christian times for its healing properties and each people group has given it common names of their choosing. One of the beliefs of the Romans and Greeks was that the flowers were sent by the gods to provide a holy sacrifice to repel evil, the Greeks naming it Hupereicon and the Romans, Hypericum, meaning perhaps the plant had power over evil. A sacrificial ritual would take place annually during Summer Solstice, also known as Midsummer’s Day, the flowers being thrown on fires to appease the gods. With the advent of Christianity pagan rituals were incorporated with church-based festivals. Thus, because St. John’s birthday was near to Midsummer’s Day, the European species, Hypericum perforatum, which usually bloomed at this time, was given the common name of St. John’s-wort in his honor; “wort” meaning “plant”. As new species were discovered in the New World, other Hypericum species were also called St. John’s-wort of one adjective or another. St. Peter’s-wort and St. Andrew’s Cross were also named in honor of these respective saints.

Our St. John’s-worts have so much in common that they are not easily identified as to species, but recognizing the genus Hypericum is almost half the battle. They all have leaves and branches that are placed on opposite sides of each other. Their leaves and green sepals and sometimes even their petals and stems are dotted with translucent sunken glands or colored dots. Their flowers are yellow to yellow-orange and they bloom from summer to fall, some as early as spring. Their fruit is a capsule with many small seeds. They are to be found growing mostly in wet or moist acid soils and a few in dry sandhills and coastal scrubs. Most are perennial evergreen shrubs and a few are annual or perennial herbs. 

Four Petals

Three of our species have 4 petals instead of the usual 5; the petals are placed to look like the letter X. Hypericum hypericoides or St. Andrew’s Cross is the one shrub we most often see on field trips. It’s a bit funny that its name actually translates to mean a Hypericum that looks like a Hypericum. It’s a medium-sized shrub with many small, very leafy branches. With magnification one may see the 2 styles atop the developing fruit capsule. The styles connect the pollen on the stigmas to the ovary or seed pod. The flower has 2 large outer sepals and 2 very small inner sepals, with a pair of tiny bractlets just beneath the flower.

Hypericum crux-andreae, whose name seems to translate to St. Andrew’s Cross, is instead named St. Peter’s-wort. Like H. hypericoides it is a medium-sized shrub but has several differences. It has fewer branches making it look less dense; its leaves are a bit longer and broader, and it has usually 3 but sometimes 4 styles instead of 2. It is found in seasonally wet woods throughout our state but is more prevalent in north Florida and the Panhandle.

Our third species of 4 petals is Hypericum tetrapetalum or Fourpetal St. John’s- wort. Its leaves are heart-shaped just like its 2 larger sepals. The 2 lobes of the leaves clasp the stem just as the large outer sepals clasp the developing fruit; the 2 inner sepals are narrower than the outer ones. This species also has 3 styles.

Five Petals

The remainder of Hillsborough County Hypericum shrubs will have 5 petals, 5 sepals and 3 styles and can be divided by their leaf types. We have 3 species with needle-like leaves. 

Hypericum fasciculatum, so called because its needle-like leaves appear to be in fascicles or bundles,
can be over 5 ft. tall. Sandweed, as it is commonly called, has midstem leaves 13 mm long or longer; it is often found surrounding the margins of ponds and swamps, and will sometimes develop prop roots if inundated for long periods.

The stem leaves of Hypericum brachyphylum are 11 mm. long, and its height is a bit shorter than H. fasciculatum. Its common name, Coastalplain St. John’s-wort tells me it can be found in dry as well as wet sites. “Brachy” means short and “phylum” means leaf. 

Hypericum tenuifolium was previously named H. reductum. Its new name translates to slender
leafed. It’s quite easy to identify because of its low height, less than knee-high, and its branches that often lie on the ground and take root.

Three shrub species in our county with 5 petals have broad leaves. 

Perhaps I shouldn't mention Hypericum galioides, Bedstraw St. John’s-wort. It is common in north Florida, but Hillsborough County has only one record of a specimen collected in 1843. 

Hypericum cistifolium is striking for its combination of colors, bright yellow flowers and glossy, mahogany-brown capsules. It has simple stems with stiff, oblong leaves, each pair of leaves at right angles to the next pair, with the stems terminating into branched inflorescences. It grows in wet woods to about waist-high.

Hypericum myrtifolium is another beauty about waist-high, leaves with somewhat heart-shaped bases lightly clasping the stems, flower buds pink-tinged and petals that bend backwards to expose a large, rounded cluster of yellow to yellow-orange stamens. It can be found in wet woods and pond margins.

The remaining three Hypericum species in our county are herbaceous plants with 5 petals and sepals and 3 styles. 

Hypericum mutilum, Dwarf St. John’s-wort, is a perennial not more than 10“ tall. Its sessile leaves
are thin, about one inch long with rounded tips. The solitary stems branch at the apex into a leafy inflorescence. It grows in wet, sandy areas.

Hypericum gentianoides, Pineweed or Orange-Grass, is so called because its flowers are yellow-orange in color that gives the plant an orange aura. It’s about knee-high and can be found in pond margins as well as disturbed dry soil. Its scale-like leaves appressed closely to the stem gives the plant a wiry look. Its tiny flowers are on terminal branches. 

Hypericum setosum is either an annual or biennial. Its common name is Hairy St. John’s-wort. I’ve
never seen it before but I may be able to recognize it in wet flatwoods or bogs for its mostly solitary stems, 1-3.5 ft. tall, and very hairy leaves growing straight up the stems. It’s more commonly found in northern counties but has been vouchered in Pasco and Hillsborough counties.

Dan Austin has a lot of information on the history of Hypericum in his book Florida Ethnobotany
 book. Godfrey & Wooten’s Aquatic and Wetland Plants of Southeastern United States book has wonderful line drawings. The USF Plant Atlas has photographs, maps, and specimen photos with a lot of information on the plant labels as to where, when, how often and by whom they were found. Plant keys by Wunderlin & Hansen as well as Clewell help to determine arrangement of plant characteristics. And Walter Taylor has photos with descriptions in non-scientific language. Thankfully there are many avenues available for help in identifying our many beautiful and interesting native plants.

All images reprinted with permission from the Atlas of Florida Plants 

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

It’s a Jungle Out There…and it smells like licorice!

Story and Photos by Donna Bollenbach

Despite the warnings  of  “DIFFICULT” and “YOU WILL GET WET”, my decision to go on the Mormon Branch/Ocala National Forest conference field trip in May, was based on two things:
First, it was led by Scott Davis. I have been on a few adventures with Scott and have enjoyed every one of them. Even though I don’t think I am going to remember every plant and botanical detail Scott rattles off, I always go home knowing more than I thought I would. I think this is because Scott impresses upon the what's interesting and important.  

Second, I wanted to see where the Large-leaf grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia grandiflora) blooms. Though I knew I would not see the flower because it is a fall bloomer, I still wanted to see the plant. I read that the presence of  Parnassia,  along with the Atlantic White Cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides), is an indicator of high plant diversity and rare species. In other words, it would be pristine habitat. 

Pristine it was! So pristine that there were no trails. We worked out way down the slope to Mormon Creek through a forest of loblolly bay (Gordonia lasianthus), sweet bay (Magnolia virginiana),  cabbage palm (Sabal palmetto), laurel oaks (Quercus laurifolia) and red maple (Acer rubrum). As we approached the bottom of the slope the passage became more difficult, but not unpleasant. There was thick understory of fragrant and fruitful evergreen shrubs. Fetterbush (Lyonia lucida), swamp azalea (rhododendron viscosum)  pipestem (Agarista Populifolia), high bush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) and the sweetest of all, the yellow anise (Illicium parviflorum), which filled the forest with the a sweet smell of licorice.

Taller shrubs and small trees grew in mass near the edge of the creek. There we encountered  Wax Myrtle (Myrica cerifera), Dahoon Holly (Ilex cassine), Needle Palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix), and the occasional Florida Willow (Salix floridana). The vegetation was so dense there, we had to walk in the creek to continue our journey.

The soil in this area is mostly acidic peat, or commonly called “muck,” and muck was exactly what we found while navigating the creek. Occasionally someone’s leg would sink knee deep in the soft and muddy creek bottom, and they could only hope to still have their shoe on when finally pulled free of the sludge. Others stepped in deep holes, and were baptized in the Mormon Branch. But, we just pulled up our boots and marched on.

Muck, or acidic peat is what defines this ecosystem. The Atlantic White Cedar, which has its southernmost strand in Mormon Branch, prefers to rest its roots in moist, peaty soil.  A narrow band of these evergreens with ash gray to reddish brown, smooth to ridged bark, rise to nearly 60 - 80 feet tall not far from the creek bed. Underneath its canopy of feathery, needle-like leaves  the vegetation is thin, due to the deep shade it creates. The canopy provides cover for birds and small mammals, while the forest glades under the trees provide passage for black bear, whitetail deer and other animals.

The  large-leaved Grass-of-Parnassus also likes acidic soil and wet, shady habitats. We saw many of the plants along the stream bed in Mormon Branch.  The oblong, nearly heart-shaped leaves are bright green and prominent. While we didn’t see the flowers because they bloom in the late fall,  I read that they stand on stalks up to two feet above the leaves. The flower, white veined in olive green, with red capped pistils, is much admired.

While Mormon Branch is an ecosystem in itself, I couldn’t help but notice the little ecosystems within the ecosystem. Each rock In the creek bed was home to a plethora of ferns and moss. The fallen logs give birth to even more plants, animals and fungus.  The mossy bark of the live trees were alive in epiphytes, and bugs.  The hardest part of the hike was not getting too distracted by the surroundings that you step into a hole or trip over a log, so I was thankful I brought my walking stick. 
Scott and I navigating the by S.Denton
In closing, I should mention that Scott and our young guides on this hike, were more than accommodating. They held branches out of the way as we passed, picked us up if we fell, led the way, and left no one behind.

Because of them, it wasn't just a was an adventure!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A Butterfly Journey

Story and Photos by Ryan Inskeep

Collage of Native Florida Butterfly Wings

I will always remember the day my journey started, just five years ago.I was strolling through the nursery on a typical hot summer day when a beautiful native milkweed plant caught my eye. At the time I was drawn to the blooms alone (not realizing the many benefits this one plant would soon provide). It was not long before the female Monarch butterfly flew in to lay her eggs on the Milkweed. Suddenly, my entire outlook on gardening changed. 

If this one plant could bring in so much life, imagine what would happen if more native plants were added. I began by incorporating butterfly larval host plants and adult butterfly nectar plants. Implementing both host and nectar sources allows the butterflies to complete their entire lifecycle in my small urban garden. 

(Top left to right: Black Swallowtail on Cirsium horridulum, White Peacock on Bidens alba, Horace's Duskywing on Callicarpa americana, Cassius Blue on Heliotropium angiospermum)
A good starting point was planting the larger shrubs first: Walter’s Viburnum (Viburnum obovatum), Simpson’s Stopper (Myrcianthes fragrans), Privet Senna (Senna ligustrina), and Firebush (Hamelia patens). These shrubs provide food for birds, nectar for ollinators and shelter for all kinds of wildlife. I also added Wild Lime (Zanthoxylum fagara), the host plant for our largest butterfly, the Giant Swallowtail, and for several species of Sulphur butterflies. 

Eastern black swallowtail, Papilio polyxenes asterius 
Underneath the shrubs I planted Corkystem Passionflower Vine (Passiflora suberosa), which attracts Zebra Longwings and Gulf Fritillaries. Maypop (Passiflora incarnata) is also a great host for both of these butterflies and has fragrant, showy flowers. 

(Top left to right:  Queen on Conoclinium coelestinum, Horace's Duskywing on Gaillardia pulchella, Cassius Blue on Salvia coccinea, Fiery skipper on Heliotropium angiospermum) 

For ground cover, I planted Frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora). Frogfruit is the host plant for the White Peacock, Phaon Crescent as well as the Common Buckeye. Sunshine Mimosa (Mimosa strigillosa) is another wonderful ground cover that attracts the Little Sulphur butterfly. 

Collage of Native Wildflowers
Wildflowers are interspersed throughout the garden to provide nectar. Some of these include Indian Blanketflower (Gaillardia pulchella), Blue Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum), Spotted Beebalm (Monarda punctata), Seaside Goldenrod (Sempervirens solidago) and Scorpion Tail (Heliotropium angiospermum). 

Queen butterfly (Danaus gilippus)
The next reasonable step was to certify my yard as a wildlife habitat and a safe haven for Monarchs and other butterflies. This can be done by providing food (seeds and berries from native plants), water (small pond or even a birdbath works) and shelter while using sustainable garden practices such as no fertilizers or pesticides. 

Ryan's Yard is a Certified Wildlife Habitat and a Waystation for Monarchs

Butterfly gardening was just the beginning of my journey. As I continue to remove existing exotic plants and replace them with natives, I envision my native garden, full of insects, birds and other animals. 

Gulf Fritillary Caterpillars and Passion Vine leaf
Ryan Inskeep is a member of the Serenoa Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society.  He believes that conserving our Florida starts in our own yards to attract butterflies, birds and other wildlife.  He also enjoys sharing his knowledge and educating others about the importance of using native plants in our landscapes.  Ryan currently writes about his native wildlife garden experiences at the Florida Native Plants Facebook group page.  

Submitted  by Ryan Inskeep /Posted by DBollenbach