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Friday, January 13, 2017

Northern Alabama: Discovering Natives with our Neighbors

Submitted by Devon Higginbotham

Devon's quest to find a stateside location for an FNPS Native Plant Tour, brought her and her husband to North Alabama, where they found the natural areas and plants to be as diverse as anywhere in Florida, and the people just as dedicated to preserving them. You too can discover our native plant neighbors on the FNPS NORTH ALABAMA NATIVE PLANT TOURAPRIL 17 – 22ND, 2017.

Though I’ve travelled throughout the United States, it never seems to be enough.  The United States is so huge, and every state and region has its own unique features; sugar white beaches, rocky cliffs, huge peaked mountains, rolling hills, prairies and alpine meadows.   Every state is diverse, and each season brings different wildflowers and foliage. Spring is nothing like fall, winter or summer. Newly emerging leaves in spring are translucent, ephemeral, pale green.  Fall evolves to the crisp oranges, reds and yellows. I want to see it all……over and over.

Pitcher  Plants, Kaul Wildflower Garden
Last October, my husband and I set off “to see what we could see”.  We had never spent much time in north Alabama, but it was a day’s drive away and far enough north to support different plant communities than Florida.  In anticipation, we poured through magazines, websites and joined the Alabama Wildflower Society (AWS), the Alabama equivalent of our Florida Native Plant Society.  

Then we found Linda.  Actually, I think, Linda found us; two lost souls wandering through the Alabama Wildflower Society website.  You see, Linda has been involved in the AWS for quite some time and she was thrilled to hear that some of the Florida members are interested in her state. We became fast friends, just over the phone.  But that’s the south, where everyone is “Darlin” and no one is a stranger even if you just met, especially if you are another native plant lover.  The world does not know more welcoming people than native plant people!

When we arrived in Birmingham, Linda was waiting for us, along with about 20 other local native plant enthusiasts.  You see, she had already contacted the native plant members in her area and they were ready and eager to showcase their state.   

Marty Shulman, the retired Land Manager of Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve, explained how Birmingham became one of the top steel producing regions in the country, first utilizing Longleaf Pines for the process, then moving on to coal, just as the pines were nearly depleted. Iron ore, coal and limestone are the three ingredients needed to make steel and central Alabama has all three.  Thus, explains the 56-foot-tall cast iron statue of Vulcan, the Roman God of fire and forge, in the center of Birmingham.

Bibb County Glades Preserve

Charles Yeager, Manager of Turkey Creek Nature Preserve, in the heart of the Birmingham, explained how this inter-city preserve had been abandoned by all and utilized by gangs who drove their cars into the river to wash them.  When the land was at its bleakest point, the city proposed building a prison on the site. But to the local residents, this was the last straw. They rose up, banded together and demanded the city preserve it.  Today, it is a beautiful urban renewal project, much loved and used by the local residents.



While visiting the Birmingham Botanical Gardens we met John Manion, Curator of the Kaul Wildflower Garden, a 17-acre garden within the main Garden.  John is the charming personality who created the native plant studies program at the Gardens.   He also manages one of the world’s rarest plants, the Tutwiler’s spleenwort, Asplenium tutwilerae, a fern so rare that less than 5 acres of land hold the only known population in the world.

As we ventured north from Birmingham, the terrain became more rugged, sporting steep canyons with gorges sliced by rivers and streams.  We climbed the mountain in Cheaha State Park, the highest point in Alabama.  

Jim & Fy Lacefield, Cane Creek Canyon Preserve
Linda set up a meeting with more locals, like Jim and Fay Lacefield, two school teachers who saved their own salaries and bit-by-bit bought up 700 acres of canyon land with coursing streams, then, gave it away!  In perpetuity, Cane Creek Canyon Preserve will remain a wilderness area protected by The Nature Conservancy, thanks to two people who had the love and foresight to preserve it.

On to Huntsville where the US Space and Rocket Center is located, the sister facility to Cape Canaveral, and Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, a 37,000 acre preserve for migrating birds, established by FD Roosevelt.  

Cathedral Caverns State Park
Just to the east is Scottsboro and underground is one of the most beautiful caverns in the United States. Cathedral Caverns State Park has some of the largest chambers in a cave system that I’ve ever seen.  One stalagmite is the size of a school bus and bears witness to the earthquakes the region has recently endured.

As we fanned over to the northeast corner of the state we crossed a national preserve, part of the US National Park System. Cousin to our western parks, and equally impressive, the LittleRiver Canyon National Preserve sports a river flowing atop a mountain. The steep canyon walls, appropriately named "Little River", are the most extensive canyon and gorge system in the eastern United States, and habitat for the carnivorous green pitcher plant and Kral’s water plantains.

If this intrigues you, stop dreaming, and join FNPS on a tour of Northern Alabama, April 17-22ndWe will learn more about Alabama native plants, meet the local native plant enthusiasts, learn what inspires them, and discover a world beyond Florida’s borders. Plan to meet Linda and other members of the Alabama Wildflower Society, walk the woods of a Benedictine Abbey, and seek out native trilliums and wild orchids. Check out the itinerary, register, mark your calendar and pack your bags for north Alabama!  For questions, call Devon at 813-478-1183.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Wednesday's Wildflower: Horned Bladderwort & Small Butterwort

Utricularia cornuta, Horned Bladderwort 
Submitted by Carole Tebay, Longleaf Pine Chapter

Photo by Carol Tebay, Escambia County

"How charming," was my thought upon noticing dainty yellow flowers blooming on the floor of a nearly dry ephemeral pond. Then I remembered their identification and realized I was strolling among predators.

The diminutive horned bladderwort, Utricularia cornuta, has an underground bladder which sucks in tiny insects and worms when its hairs are triggered.

The plant's genus, Utricularia, comes from the Latin for bladderwort. Cornuta, is from the Latin, horned, which describes the horn on the snapdragon-like flower. Thus the common name, horned bladderwort. It is also called leafless bladderwort because the small leaves are underground.

The flowers of the horned bladderwort are a reminder of the drama taking place in the world just below our feet.

  • Family Name: Bladderwort
  • Genus/Species: Utricularia cornuta
  • Common Name(s): Horned Bladderwort
  • Type of Plant: wildflower
  • Blooms: year round
  • Native Range: Newfoundland and Quebec to Michigan and Minnesota, south to Florida and Texas
  • Conservation Status: Obligate wetland. Occurs almost always under natural conditions in wetlands.
  • Hardiness zone: Zone 3 - 11a
  • Soil Preference: Acid lakes, sandy or muddy shores, peatlands
  • Height at maturity: stem and leaves are underground, with flowering scape on a 4-10" leafless stalk.
  • Propagation: Seed, seedling. Not many references to cultivating this plant except by carnivore enthusiasts.
Other Links:
USF Plant Atlas: http://florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/Plant.aspx?id=2208

________________________________________________________


Pinguicula pumila, Small Butterwort
Submitted by Jean Evoy, a 30-year veteran of FNPS. She has been active in several chapters including Miami-Dade, Serenoa, and Mangrove.

Photo by Jean Evoy, Manatee County

Six species of carnivorous plants in the genus Pinguicula are found in Florida. Three are widely distributed, and three are only found in the Florida panhandle. These wetland plants are commonly called “butterworts”. 

The succulent basal leaves of the butterwort serve as traps for insect prey. They are equipped with special glands: One gland secretes sticky drops that trap the unwary prey; the second gland produces enzymes that break down the parts of the insect that can be digested. 

Butterwort flowers are held high above the insect trapping basal rosette, thus potential pollinators are spared so they can perform a useful function for the plant.

This Pinguicula pumila, or small butterwort, was photographed in a wet depression in the Coker Preserve in Manatee County. Small butterwort is usually less than 5” tall. It’s flowers, ranging from pale violet to white, may be seen from January to May in moist to wet areas. 

Friday, January 6, 2017

Critically Imperiled Elfins Disappearing from the Forest

     
        
 Article and Photos by Bill Berthet Ixia Chapter


Frosted Elfin Panhandle area

Heart pounding, intoxicated with adrenaline, kneeling in a field of swaying 2-3 foot high wiregrass (Aristida stricta) I was trying to follow the fast, low erratic flight of a small brown butterfly. As it finally landed several feet off the ground on a curved section of wiregrass I was able to observe, photograph, and ID this butterfly as the frosted elfin (Callophrys irus Godart, 1824) Florida ssp. arsace (Boisduval & LeConte 1835) FNAI S1 (critically imperiled). I looked up into the clear blue sky with a fist pump yelling “YES!,Thank you mother nature for this moment!”. 

Dusky Roadside-Skipper 
nectaring on shiny blueberry 
(Vaccinum myrsinites)
Treasure hunting comes in many forms. A minute later I spotted two tiny dark butterflies whirling and darting around several feet off the ground finally landing, “Excellent” a pair of Dusky Roadside-Skippers (Amblyscirtes alternata) Florida Natural Areas Inventory S2 (imperiled).

Historically the frosted elfin has been documented from Ontario, Canada to Northern Florida (being the Southernmost extent of this butterflies range), from N. Carolina west to Wisconsin and Texas, for a total of 32 out of 50 states plus Washington D.C. and Ontario, Canada. The NatureServe classification is G3 (globally vulnerable)

Frosted Elfin larvae feeding on
Sundial Lupine 
The larvae feed on sundial lupine (Lupinus perennis) wild indigo (Baptisia tinctoria) blue false indigo (B. australis) and sometimes rattlebox (Crotalaria sagittalis). In Florida the larvae feed solely on L. perennis growing in 19 counties.

Historically this hairstreak had vouchered records from 17 counties in Florida. Recent records show this butterfly is only found in Clay, Franklin, Leon, Liberty, Nassau, and Okaloosa Counties at five localities. Locality records from Leon, Franklin, and Liberty Counties are within Apalachicola National Forest.

Frosted Elfin Nassau Co.

Frosted elfins, measuring a little over an inch, are hairstreaks in the Family Lycaenidae with hindwing tails, appear drab brown-grey with an olive iridescence, and are univoltine, having one brood of offspring per year. 

Sundial Lupine with Polyphemus cocoon 

In general adults are found near their larval host plants. They prefer shady areas where there is sundial lupine, yet this lupine is much more common in sunnier areas. Greater success in viewing adults is achieved on sunny days, minimal to no wind, and after 12:00 P.M. Males are territorial, often perching (sometimes moving its hindwings forward and backward in a wingsawing motion) on vegetation close to host-plant patches, and engage in vertical aerial combat flights. 

In Florida the adults fly during the months of February-April. In Nassau Co. I have observed adults nectaring on sundial lupine, shiny blueberry (Vaccinium myrsinites) and hawthorn (Crataegus sp.) but also use huckleberry (Gaylussacia sp.)







The fragile status of this butterfly in Florida can be found in frequently disturbed habitats such as oak-pine barrens, oak savannahs, upland pine or sandhill that share an open understory and a heterogeneous mix of open and closed canopy and edges that are managed by periodic fire (but not annual burns) where this butterflies larval host plant, sundial lupine (Lupinus perennis ssp.gracilis) is found. Non-woody plants would include wiregrass (A. stricta) gopherweed (Baptisia lanceolata) wooly pawpaw (Asimina incana) pinewoods milkweed (Asclepias humistrata) and shiny blueberry (V.myrsinites)

Open canopy Frosted Elfin habitat

Closed canopy Frosted Elfin habitat

Frosted Elfin eggs
on Sundial Lupine 
In Northern Florida the emergence of C. irus adults is strongly timed to coordinate with new host resources provided by its sole host plant L. perennis ssp. gracilis with a preference towards larger plants with increased depth of litter/duff around the plant, and the lack of feeding presence from other organisms.  One to seven eggs are laid on new leaf growth, on a joint between two leaflets, the growing flower stalk, or an opening on mature flowers. 

Larvae feed on leaves, stem, flowers, and early seed pods taking 4-6 weeks before pupating. Final instar larvae are usually found at the base of the plant and have a dorsal nectary organ that attract Ants of various species. Pupae are found in the leaf litter or soil near the base of the host plant. Some study has indicated that perhaps up to 25% of larvae pupate below the surface up to 1.20 inches in depth. This allows C. irus the possibility to survive seasonal burns that would kill other species.




Frosted Elfin larvae with ants 
Frosted Elfin eggs 

Sundial Lupine Seed Pod
Frosted Elfin Pupa 

Frosted elfins are thought to be extirpated from Ontario, Maine, Illinois, and Washington D.C., with populations declining through the rest of its range. Frosted’s are rated as S1 critically imperiled, or S2 imperiled in 20 of the 32 states it has been documented to inhabit. (table 1-2 Natureserve 2013)

Many factors are contributing to the decline of frosted elfins, including, habitat loss, direct mortality, land development, fire or disturbance suppression, local extinction of larval host plants, and browsing of flower heads by white-tailed deer.

Fire can have many positive effects on an ecosystem, including releasing nutrients that were previously locked up in inaccessible tissues in dead wood, litter, and duff, to live vegetation, animal matter and reduced fuel loads. Studies have shown that frosted elfin mortality from fire is significant. It is critical for land managers to understand fire tolerance for both the economically important and the rare, imperiled, or endangered species that need the habitat managed correctly. The timing and extent of prescribed fire is an important factor in the management of C. irus populations in sandhill pine and turkey oak forests. Some suggestions to improve fire as a habitat management tool for Frosted elfin habitat include designating portions of managed areas to be left unburned, better timing and extent of burn, using a longer fire return interval (not burning every year or two) the use of other types of management such as light grazing, mowing. or mechanical cutting.

The frosted elfin habitat in Nassau Co. is around 55 acres, and, I have observed the eggs, larvae, and adults from 2008-2013. After numerous trips during the years 2014 to 2016  I have not observed any adults, and have checked over 600 L. perennis host plants for eggs, larvae, or any kind of feeding activity , but none were observed. Too many prescribed burns over this 9 year period may have resulted in this critically endangered butterfly becoming extierpated from this site.

Comment from Matt Thom: It is such a challenge to try and find these butterflies, even when you know they should be there! I hope that it has been a matter of timing, that you missed the window for when they are active. Hopefully it isn’t because of the land management there. Could be just the ephemeral nature of butterfly populations; they can just disappear so fast with no real understanding of what caused it. If they are gone from this location, I’m glad I had the priviledge to study this population and document it’s particular unique characteristics.


References
Matthew D. Thom:  The Ecology and conservation of Callophrys irus Godart: The Role of Fire and Microhabitat 2013
Mathew D. Thom, Personal Communication
Dean K. Jue, Personal Communication
Atlas of Florida Plants Institute for Systematic Botany






Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Wednesday's Wildflower: Wiregrass Gentian

Gentiana pennelliana 

Submitted by Kitty Loftin, Sarracenia Chapter


Genus: Gentiana
Species: Gentiana pennelliana Fernald
Family: Gentianaceae
Common name: Wiregrass gentian

Photo by Kitty Loftin, Sopchoppy, Florida

Wiregrass gentian is a small, rare perennial plant of moist to wet flatwoods and savannas.  It is an endemic species, restricted in distribution to nine counties in the Florida panhandle. It needs to have sunlight for growth and for the flowers to open. It is often found growing with wiregrass, thus the common name. 



The 1 1/2 to 2 1/2-inch-long flowers are borne singly or in pairs at the tip of the stem.  They are white inside and white suffused with purple outside. They bloom in winter, typically December-January It's threatened by habitat loss, fire suppression, and is listed as endangered.  



The genus Gentiana is named after Gentius, a 6th century King of Illyria, who used the roots of the yellow gentian to treat malaria in his soldiers.

Kitty Loftin photographed this Gentian in Sopchoppy in the Florida Panhandle where she says, " Nothing better than hiking or biking in the woods.... well maybe fishing :)"


Other Links: 
USF Atlas:Gentiana pennelliana 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

X Marks the Spot: The Search for the Celestial Lily



submitted by Donna Bollenbach, Suncoast Chapter
(originally printed in The Grapevine, the Suncoast Chapter's  monthly newsletter)

The Map

The Map


Back in October, I ran into a friend at a native plant talk. He enthusiastically told me about a colony of Celestial Lilies, Nemastylis floridana, that were blooming in central Florida, and hastily drew me a map to locate the beautiful and endangered wildflowers. The map was very rough, so I tried to ask questions, but the talk we were both attending started, and I was left with this somewhat cryptic diagram. In any case, that weekend my husband, Bob, and I decided we were going to try find the spot, and invited a few unsuspecting friends for the hunt.

I first tried to see Celestial Lilies at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve. It was late fall, a little pass their peak blooming time, and all we found was one bud. With at least six pairs of eyes staring at it, it did not open. I should also say that Celestial Lilies are unusual in that they only open for a few hours in the late afternoon. For this reason, Roger Hammer has affectionately named it “the happy hour flower.”

Bee visiting Dicerandra modesta

The Quest


We left for our journey at around 2 pm the following Sunday, with the map and some information I had pulled off Google. I remembered the words Huckleberry, Poinciana, and 17-92. So, when I found a preserve off Huckleberry Road in the vicinity of those roads, we thought we had it.


Blushing Scrub Mint

Dicerandra modesta





The first property we visited didn’t look like the habitat for the Celestial Lily, but it was perfect habitat for Blushing Scrub Balm, Dicerandra modesta, and we saw lots of it. It is also an endangered Florida native, but endemic to scrub habitat versus the moist open flatwoods that the Celestial Lily like to grow in. The flowers of the Blushing Scrub Balm are white with bright pink spots, reminding me of mint peppermint candies. This was our first time seeing it, so we did not mind being off track for the lilies.



 The Treasure


Nemastylis floridana
After leaving the first location, we were not about to give up. There were still a few hours of daylight, and we knew we were close. We looked at the map and decided to take head toward Poinciana Drive. Bob, my husband was driving, and he had to pull off the road a few times to let local traffic by. He also made a few U-turns as we barked out directions. It reminded me of “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” at Disney world. We finally arrived at a second “Huckleberry” location and a habitat much more suitable for the Celestial Lily, Nemastylis floridana. A short walk into the preserve and our persistence was rewarded with a large patch of the blooming flowers.

Nemastylis floridana











The lilies looked like little blue stars that had dropped down from the cosmos. They were delicate, yet vibrant. They were scattered about in an understory of pine. Bright yellow sunflowers stood in contrast with the purple/blue flowers. A few isolated blooms were right along the trail. There was one rare white lily morph that seemed past its prime. The sight was a perfect end to serendipitous day.



Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Personal Thoughts: Share the Earth


submitted by Richard Brownscombe, Broward Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society

(Richard wrote this inspirational holiday appeal to help make Broward County a better place for all creatures, large and small. The same could be said for any county in Florida, or place in the world.)

The holidays engage us in the kind and generous inclinations of the human heart. We hear holiday stories of the world's needs and generous people doing something about it. In this era of climate change and species extinction, we think not only of other people, but the other species upon the earth. Some of the best we do for the environment and nature is in our home, yard, neighborhood, city, and our efforts in Broward County that celebrate nature and inspire us to create a sustainable community.

Dahoon Holly, Ilex cassine, Mary Keim
The paradigm for Broward should become sharing our land and resources, making space and leaving water for all the creatures great and small. As we set about evolving our homes and cities to be sustainable, we would do well to be a bit more modest than we have been about what we know. Our understanding of the natural world is quite limited, reflecting the amount of attention we have given it over the past few decades. Sharing the earth with nature is not so much a gift from us as a gift to ourselves. Some of what we need to know about sustainability already exists in nature. These Broward species have existed in this place for 5,000 years. Their lineage is impressive, billions of years. Within their structure, behavior, growth, resilience, and being, a lot is to be discovered about a very complex system that renews resources as it uses them (see Biomimicry.org). How ecosystems work here includes their adaptation to our climate, our water resources, our natural disasters, our bedrock and the process of recycling, energy use, carbon sequestration, and more. Don't we want to preserve this rich legacy not only for its usefulness, beauty, and fascination, but because nature has a right to exist here with us?

Yes, like others I am very impressed by science and the fast rate of our discovery and knowledge (see Google Earth Time-lapse). Yes, discoveries about energy and carbon could be very important to us (see HowToConserve.org). And yes, it is fascinating (see Daniel Csobot). The changes ahead are not just solutions for humans. To create a sustainable community, we need to step back far enough to see the gestalt of the ecosystem and planet, especially the place of other species that we so easily forget to include. Maybe we forget because we don't yet know much about them. There has never been an in-depth study of the species and ecosystems in Broward County. The public and school children don't see a lot of photographs or even anecdotal stories of what the species in our own nearby natural areas are doing.

We don't even have up-to-date inventories of our species, let alone understand the complex interdependence among them, or their effect on the air and water, or how insects are using the food supply and feeding others, or the overall energy exchanges taking place here. We don't know much. And we haven't yet engaged the public in very compelling ways about the beautiful and fascinating things happening every day and every night in the natural lands around us.

Butterflies in amber older than 65 million years,
Royal Society image in NewScientist.com
Sandy Koi opened a small window for us to see some of what is going on. She talked about the complex use of plant poisons by a particular species of butterfly. Then told us how a different species employs different plants with a very different strategy to survive and reproduce. She explained that these specific and complex uses of chemistry and behavior have evolved between butterflies and particular plants over a period of tens of millions of years (from the time of dinosaurs)! We know this in part because of butterflies wonderfully preserved in amber.

Scientific detail isn't for everyone. Photography, short videos, drone photography, down-to-earth stories about wildlife, fresh and hopeful ideas, beautiful native gardens, pleasant trails, beacon technology (like signage, beacons tell your smartphone about the plants and wildlife in your immediate proximity), and local naturalists are other ways to communicate the richness of natural areas. A community determined to keep its last remaining natural areas will find solutions.

People like butterflies so we study them, but what about similar species-specific coevolution among other insects and plants, insects and animals (such as bug species being fed to hatchlings)? What chemistry and biology is going on there? And what is going on in the soil with fungi and bacteria? A lot of essential services (recycling, fertilizing, and cleaning) and likely even communication among plant roots is taking place in the soil. This is fascinating, endlessly complex, and helps us understand what nature needs. It also teaches us applied biochemistry, quantum biology, growth and self-organizing systems, and other useful stuff for understanding sustainable systems. There is a lot we don't know happening in the small places of wild Broward.

That's one reason the Broward Chapter recommends native plants for landscaping. We have no idea what microbes, fungi, countless insects, 200 wild bee species, indigenous and migrating birds, and all the other creatures are doing while we sleep and go to work, but it's pretty likely it's something good for the environment ... and therefore, for us. Native landscaping is something you can do to give much-needed land to nature. Urban Broward has left nature on remnant blocks or islands in a sea of homes and it's pretty tough to stay alive there without natural corridors. Many of our rarest plant species are still surviving in populations of hundreds or even tens of last remaining plants on these remnant natural areas.

Tragically, Broward's 40 natural areas are being overrun by invasive species. The rarest and most fragile populations of last-remaining populations are being strangled for space, light, moisture, and nutrients. George Gann, Chief Conservation Strategist for the Institute of Regional Conservation, hypothesizes that Broward may be the second most at risk county in Florida for species loss (local extinction). We could remove the invasive plants for about a $1 million, and then invest annually in our natural areas to keep them healthy, educational, and fun to visit. There is currently no comprehensive plan or funding to remove invasive plants from Broward natural areas. Would it help if we thought of our natural areas as Broward's living outdoor museum of last remaining rare species and other interesting plants and animals? That's not an inaccurate description. Incredibly, about 500 out of 700 existent Broward plant species live on the small (mostly County) properties within densely populated areas (see this map of yellow County parks, not all of them natural). Two hundred out of 700 species live in the vast unpopulated wetlands of the Everglades Management Areas. That is why it is so important to save them from the rapid invasive plant strangulation in progress.

Within the coming year, the Parks Foundation of Broward and the Friends of Natural Areas of Broward will have a fund and coordinate in-kind and pro-bono contributions so that the Broward community can come together to save Broward natural areas. Invasive plant removal is the first priority. We can do this if we take seriously the idea that Broward should be shared with nature. Call 954-661-6289 or email if you have something to give to this effort.

Since the holidays are fast approaching, visit one of Broward's native nurseries to pick out a beautiful shrub to decorate. Collect some native boughs for a holiday wreath. Buy some seeds for table gifts. Give a potted plant (with a copy of the Natives for Your Neighborhood species print-out tucked inside). Talk with friends and family about making Broward a community that shares its space and resources with plants and wildlife so they can continue to live here with us.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Wednesday’s Wildflower Sneak Peek Grass-of-Parnassus

Grass-of-Parnassus or bog-stars, 
Parnassia grandifolia

Submitted by Roger Hammer

Grass-of-Parnassus or bog-stars (Parnassia grandifolia) is one of Florida’s prettiest wildflowers. The oval, somewhat succulent, shiny leaf blades measure 1½"–4" long with long petioles (leaf stems), and the flowers measure 1½" wide with intricate green, brown, or yellow venation on the petals. Look for it flowering along shaded stream banks and cypress bogs in Liberty, Franklin, Putnam, and Marion Counties. The plant photographed was blooming in the Apalachicola National Forest in November 2016 but its bloom season lasts through December.

Parnassia was named for Mount Parnassus in Greece and it is said that cattle grazing on the mountain relished eating the local Parnassia palustris, so the ancient Greeks made it an “honorary grass.” The name grandifolia relates to the large leaves compared to other species, which in no way resemble a grass. Some members of this genus live in arctic and alpine regions and are a symbol of the Highland Scottish Clan MacLea, formally recognized in 2003. There are 3 parnassia flowers on the British flag of Cumberland County, adopted in December 2012. It is in the Grass-of-Parnassus Family (Parnassiaceae) but is sometimes included in the Saxifrage Family (Saxifragaceae) or the Stafftree Family (Celastraceae). It sometimes grows in the company of Parnassia caroliniana.


Photo & text: Roger L. Hammer

Roger is a member of the FNPS Dade Chapter and is currently working on a new Falcon Guide titled Complete Guide to Florida Wildflowers, due to be released in Spring 2018. His other wildflower guides include Florida Keys Wildflowers (2004), Everglades Wildflowers (2nd edition, 2014), and Central Florida Wildflowers (2016).

 Editor's Note: In keeping with out intent to feature a native on  Wednesday Wildflower that is currently in bloom, and this beautiful submission by Roger Hammer would not be in bloom in January, I decided to use it as our Sneak Peek. Please send your January submissions by the end of this month.    

Thursday, December 1, 2016

DON'T CUT DOWN THAT SNAG



Submitted by Donna Bollenbach


Courtesy of Wikimedia 


The Wildlife Tree


SNAGS, often referred to as “The Wildlife Tree”, are dead tree trunks that are still standing.

They provide perches, food and nesting sites for birds and other wildlife. Wildlife also uses dead wood as landmarks for navigation, basking platforms, perching and nesting.








Cavity Dwellers

Nearly 40 species of birds and several species mammals in Florida nest in tree cavities.Woodpeckers, are a “primary excavators.”

Owls, Blue-birds, Squirrels and Nuthatches are a few of the “secondary cavity users.”











Photo by Donna Bollenbach


Snags as Perches

Many birds perch high on snags so they can spot prey below.

Some birds perch on snags for the greater visibility to a potential mate.












Snags as Cover


Birds and small mammals take shelter in the cavities of trees

Bees may also create hives in tree cavities.








Snags for Nesting

Ospreys and eagles will build their nests in the tops of snags, especially if they are located close to a body of water that will provide them fish for their young.

Woodpeckers, wrens, wood ducks, tree swallows, owls gnat catchers, and fly catchers are just a few of the birds that nest in tree cavities.







SNAGS as food source

Wildlife eat the insects that live and reproduce in the decaying wood of the snag.

Raccoons, bears and other wildlife will also search snags for high protein grubs and other insects














This old tree will eventually be a great snag

What makes a good SNAG?

Wildlife will use snags of both deciduous trees and evergreens. The height, diameter and type of wood (soft or hard) may determine when and how it is used. Hardwood trees, such as oaks, maples and elms, may develop cavities while they are still alive. Softwoods, such as pines and cypress trees, are more likely to have cavities after it dies.

Palm trees that lose their top (bud) during a storm, will eventually die. In natural areas that have been impacted by storms, you may see clusters of cabbage palm snags. Woodpeckers will search for insects and a dig cavities in live and dead palm trees.

If you have a dying or nuisance tree in your yard, you may have a potential wildlife snag.




Trees you may want to make into a snag:
  • Weak wood, or disease,
  • A shade tree in an area where you want sun,
  • A tree with invasive roots threatening a drainage or septic system,
  • A tree in a group that needs thinning out
  • A tree in an area where there aren’t any snags

Photo by Donna Bollenbach


Snags, Logs and Woodpiles in Your Landscape


Like vegetation, you should provide different heights of dead wood in your landscape. If you have a lot of property, you might consider having a variety of dead wood features. You can work deadwood into your landscape design for both function and beauty.

You may even “plant” small snags for songbird perches or in water features.

Snags also provide support for native vines, orchids, and bromeliads.









Photo by Donna Bollenbach

If leaving a snag standing is not safe, consider leaving the stump, or the cut logs in a far corner of your yard to rot and serve wildlife.

Logs are essentially fallen snags, and they serve much benefits, for wildlife that prefer to stay closer to the ground.

Also, instead of throwing out branches or other deadwood in your landscape, consider making a pile of it for wildlife.




So, before you remove a tree, consider its value to wildlife...
PLEASE don’t cut down that SNAG!

Photo by Donna Bollenbach

For more information:

Dead Wood: Key to Enhancing Wildlife Diversity in Forests
By Holly Ober & Patrick Minoque, University of Florida IFAS Extension.

Living With Wildlife: “SNAGS” The Wildlife Tree Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife

Landscaping Backyards for Wildlife: Top Ten Tips for Success by Mark Hostetler, Greg Klowden, Sarah Webb Miler and Kara Youngentob, University of Florida IFAS Extension.

Florida Native Plant Society: Comprehensive information on native plant landscaping and landscaping for wildlife. 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Wildflower Portraits: 10 Tips for Taking Great Close-up Images of Native Plants


Submitted by Donna Bollenbach, Suncoast Chapter / Nature Photographer

Taking great close-up images of wildflowers is no different than taking great photographs of people, except the wildflowers won’t ever tell you they look “too fat” or “too old” or “too plain.” But, like people portraits, there are a few tips to taking outstanding wildflower portraits:

1. Get close, but be mindful: If it is the flower you are after, get as close as you can without damaging the plant or the habitat. If you want people to be able to identify a plant from your image, be sure to include features that are unique to the species, such as leaves, fruits or seeds.


Celestial Lily,  Nemastylis floridana, a rare endemic.

2. Be level: The closer you are to a subject, the less depth-of-field you will achieve. So, position your camera so the lens is parallel with the flower, or other feature of the plant, that you want to be the sharpest. If you have a depth of field preview on your camera, use it.


Green Metallic Bee, Agapostemon spp. on False Foxglove, Agalinis spp.

3. Use a tripod: Lenses with optical stabilizers are great when carrying a tripod is prohibitive, but whenever possible, I use a tripod. A tripod not only helps me achieve a higher percentage of sharp images, but it forces me to slow down and consider the composition, background and depth of field before releasing the shutter.

Pineland Water-willow, Justicia angusta 

4. Control the background: Background clutter probably ruins more photographs than poor light or poor composition. Control the background by repositioning the camera, using a longer lens (which will blur the background), or coming in closer to eliminate the background. The best advice when it comes to backgrounds is to “keep it simple.”

Zebra Swallowtail, Eurytides marcellus, on Yellow Colic Root, Aletris lutea

5. Watch the weather: Too much light and wind will make wildflower photography more difficult. Overcast days with little or no wind are ideal, but not always possible. If the light is too harsh, wait for a cloud to move in, or use a man made diffuser (such as a white umbrella). Constant wind makes close-up photography nearly impossible, but in a mild breeze, there will usually be a break when you can shoot. Flash can be used to to fill in shadows or increase shutter speed, but should be used sparingly. 


Drumhead, Polygala cruciata

6. Choose the best blossom: If you are shooting wildflowers at their peak, and you have more than one flower to choose from, look for the one that is most attractive and representative of its species. If applicable, make sure it has all its petals, good color, and appears healthy and vibrant. Of course, if your intent is capture the beauty of a wildflower after it goes to seed, you would focus on other details.


Adam's Needle, Yucca filamentosa

7. Find Perspective: A photographer’s ability to find a unique perspective on a common subject is what separates a mediocre image from a great one. Many beginning photographers shoot from wherever they happen to be standing. Often, this means they are shooting down on the subject. A seasoned nature photographer knows that sometimes you need to get low, even on your belly, to get a great shot. Before pressing the shutter, walk around your subject, stand-up, lie-low and change between zoom and wide-angle lenses to find the best perspective.

Yellow Pitcherplant, Sarracenia flava
8. Diversify:  Next time you photograph a wildflower, think of it as a person, and consider using one or more of these portrait perspectives to capture its unique features:

           Profile: The profile, or side view exudes grace and beauty. Lines are prominent. 


Scarlet creeper, Ipomoea hederifolia

Forked Blue Curls, Trichostema dichotomum

Three-quarter : The ¾ or “Look over my shoulder” view accents form and shape.



Yellow Butterwort, Pinguicula lutea
Scarlet creeper, Ipomoea hederifolia

Frontal: The frontal or full face view defines symmetry and balance.



Purple Passionflower, Passiflora incarnata

Prickly Pear Cactus, Opuntia spp. 

8. Bugs are a bonus: Bees, butterflies, moths, flies and beetles add a special dimension to wildflower photography. Consider them a bonus. If one happens to fly in the frame when you are shooting, just keep shooting. But, don’t rely on luck. Patience is the key when photographing insects visiting flowers. Rather than chase bees and butterflies around a field, it is much easier to stay focused on one flower and wait for a pollinator come to you.


Progressive Bee Fly ,Exoprosopa spp, on  Blushing Scrub Mint, Dicerandra Modesta,

9. Tell a story: Capturing a close-up of a wildflower does not mean you cannot capture some of the environment where it lives or its relationship to wildlife. One of my favorite techniques is to use a wide-angle lens to get close to my subject, yet show enough of the background to reveal its natural habitat. Even without the habitat, your close-up image will tell a story if it reveals the form and function of a wildflower. 




Donna Bollenbach has been photographing nature for over 20 years. She has written articles, taught workshops, and published an e-book on the art of nature photography. The last five years her primary subject has been Florida Native Plants. She is currently working on a database of her images. Donna is President of the Suncoast Chapter, Social Media Director for the Florida Native Plant Society, and editor of this blog. Her Facebook Page is Natives, Naturally

I was asked what equipment I shoot with, so here is the list, but you should not feel limited by your equipment. You can follow most of these tips even if you are shooting with a cell phone. In any case, I shoot with a Nikon D300 (12 megapixels) (usually on a tripod), a 180 Sigma macro lens and a 17-80 Nikon wide angle zoom. I also have a Panasonic point and shoot with macro capability and a lens that zooms from 55 to 400mm.Most of the images I take with the Panasonic are wide angle close-ups, like the one above.  

Calling all Florida Native Plant Photographers: In 2017 I would like to feature a native wildflower that is currently in bloom each week on this blog. It would be called "Wednesday's Wildflower." I have seen many wonderful images of wildflowers by FNPS members on social media. If you would like to submit your images, along with a species profile for "Wednesday's Wildflower" please send me an email and I will send you more information.