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


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Prairie Wildflower Walk: So Many Thanks to Give!

Thanksgiving always makes me feel, well, thankful. With the first official Wildflower Walk at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve over, and a great success, I am especially thankful. It was the first park event sponsored by the Friends of Kissimmee Prairie Preserve. Our goal was to bring new people to the preserve, show them the beauty of the dry prairie and educate them on the importance of its preservation and protection. We also wanted to recruit new members to the group, and send people home with wonderful memories that they will share with others. I believe we achieved all of our goals, and we owe that success to many. Here are my thanks:

Mother Nature: Some might say she was a bit too generous with the wind that day, but she kept us cool, and provided a beautiful blue sky and the perfect light to view the prairie. Thank you, Mother Nature.

Roger Hammer and Craig Huegel each know a lot about plants. Together they are walking encyclopedia of Florida wildflowers. With each question asked, they not only provide an answer, but add a bit of trivia or a personal anecdote to their replies.  Oh, and did I mention they are really funny too? When asked what the most bizarre thing that he encountered in the Everglades was, Roger said it was probably him after emerging from a five day trek into the swamp. Thank you, Roger and Craig, for your knowledge, your passion, and your good humor

KPP Management and Staff: KPP Biologist Paul Miller likes to say "A dry Prairie is a wet prairie when it is not wet."  It is the simplest way to acknowledge that a dry prairie isn't always dry. Paul gave an introduction to the prairie before each walk. He stood by Caroline, the pet name for the statue of the now extinct Carolina Parakeet whose last known nest was on the preserve. It is his segue into the preserve's present day quest to save the nearly extinct Grasshopper Sparrow. Thank you Paul, Park Manager Evan Hall,  Natalie, Joy, and all of the preserve staff for your support, but especially for your role in the preservation and protection of this critical Florida habitat and the wildlife that depend upon it.

FNPS and all Attendees: We had a great attendance on the wildflower walk. For most it was their first time visiting the preserve. Many were members of the Florida Native Plant Society, others were members of the Friends of KPP, and several were members of both. A few were inspired to join the Friends of KPP group before they left.  They came from all over the state. One couple, from Canada, registered for the walk while looking for something interesting to do while driving to their winter home in south Florida. The FNPS educational committee hired a wonderful videographer, Jennifer Brown, to film the event. I am sure that once others see the film, they will want to visit KPP too. Thank you to FNPS, Friends of KPP and others for their attendance and support.
Swamp Buggy Rides: All attendees were treated to  a swamp buggy ride to and from the walk site. If they wished, they also got a 45-minute buggy ride, complete with historic and educational narrative along the Kilpatrick Hammock Trail. This was an abbreviated version of the 2-3 hour buggy rides the preserve provides (for a fee) every weekend from November through March. People return year after year to take the swamp buggy through the prairie, so if you want to go, make your reservations now. Thank you to AmeriCorps volunteer Katie Ferguson and Preserve Specialist Frank Verello for taking us out on these buggy rides and sharing your knowledge and love of the prairie.

Mother Nature, again (she deserves most of the credit): From high atop the buggy one gets a beautiful view of a vast expanse of saw palmetto and sweeping grasses. It is a nearly treeless mosaic of dry prairie, wet prairie marshes and sloughs. But to really experience the dry prairie one must climb down from the buggy and walk into it.  Wispy strands of tall purple liatris stand tall against the warm grasses, bunches of bright yellow sunflowers mingle with the saw palmetto, while sprays of white to lavender asters add a delicate mix to the bouquet of autumn wildflowers. Look under the grasses and see bushes of false pennyroyal, bright yellow bladderworts and red sundews.

As Mother Nature would advise:
To really see the prairie, one should look into it, not at it. 
Thank you, Mother Nature, for your wise words

Submitted by Donna Bollenbach on behalf of the Friends of Kissimmee Prairie Preserve

To see more images from the Prairie Walk visit the Friends of KPP FB Page.

Posted by Laurie Sheldon 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Prairie Wildflower Walk

Sponsored by the Friends of Kissimmee Prairie Preserve

When most people think of prairie they think of the Midwest; flat, treeless land with acres upon acres of wheat or corn. Few conjure an image of dwarf palmetto and wiregrass stretching to the horizon, interrupted only by sparse hammocks of cabbage palm and small seasonal ponds. Yet Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, located in rural Okeechobee, is just that. KPP protects the largest remaining tract of the unique Florida dry prairie. Its 54,000 acres contain a mosaic of dry prairie, wet prairie, marshes, sloughs, cabbage palm and oak hammocks, flood plain - no less than 14 distinct natural communities - which sustain a vast and diverse array of flora and fauna. This is prairie in Florida, shaped by the sea, maintained by frequent fire, and with its own history. This is the land made famous by author Patrick Smith in A Land Remembered.

In the fall, the Florida dry prairie is ablaze with color and texture: rich yellow goldenrods and sunflowers, purple blue Liatris and Carphephorus, and tall, tawny grasses sway gently among the bright green saw palmettos. (as seen in the photo above). This spectacular sight is not to be missed. Fortunately for all of us, Roger Hammer and Craig Huegel, two of Florida's most recognized wildflower experts, will lead two wildflower walks at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park on November 1, 2014. Their extensive knowledge of Florida's flora, along with their well known wit and humor, are guaranteed to emake the trip both educational and entertaining.

All aboard the Swamp Buggy Express!
Participants may also sign up for a free 45 minute buggy ride in the prairie.

Cost for the plant walk is $24 for Friends of Kissimmee Prairie Preserve members and $34 for non-members. Walks are scheduled at both 9:30 am and 1:30 pm and are limited to 20 participants each - first come, first serve.

To register, and for more information, visit:
Click on "Special Event" on the home page.
Roger Hammer is a well known author, photographer and botanist, with several excellent guides to Florida wildflowers. He is a very sought after speaker and workshop leader. He holds an Honorary Doctor of Science from Florida International University and has received numerous awards for his work as a naturalist from the Florida Native Plant Society, Audubon Society and the North American Butterfly Association.

Craig Huegel is an accomplished Ecologist, Environmental Consultant and author. He is an expert in the design of wildlife-attracting landscapes in Florida. Craig is the author of several very popular books on wildflowers and native plant landscaping for wildlife. He has a Ph.D. in Animal Ecology from Iowa State University and has received numerous awards for his environmental education, restoration and preservation work.

Additional Photos taken at KPP

The inflorescences of these grasses give the prairie a mist-like glow
Eastern meadowlark (Sturnella magna) among the goldenrods (Solidago spp.)
 D.Y.C.s (darn yellow composites) might be hard to key out but they're cheerful to look at
This could be you!
Florida Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo osceola)
Blazing star (Liatris spp.) and Skipper butterfly
The rare is commonplace at KPP. Clockwise from top left:
Bachman's sparrow, Catesby's lily, crested caracara and zebra swallowtail

Text provided by the Friends of Kissimmee Prairie Preserve
Photos courtesy of Donna Bollenbach, Christina Evans, Stan Czaplicki, Craig Huegel, and Paul Marcellini
Posted and edited by Laurie Sheldon

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Magnolia Chapter Gets College Students "Hooked" on FNPS

By Scott Davis

It is a wide known fact that the attention span of today's youth is short—and getting shorter. Twenty years ago, it would have taken hours (or days) of research to acquire the same amount of knowledge that can be obtained in just a few seconds of keyboard finger tapping today! Though the future of FNPS depends upon the successful recruitment of members from all age groups and cultures, it is obviously paramount to the society's future to adapt for the ever-changing interests of young people.

The Magnolia Chapter's outreach has included local
universities and the USFWS. If your chapter hasn't
forged partnerships with like-minded organizations,
now is a great time to start.
Recently, the Magnolia Chapter developed some ideas that have proven to be very effective in "hooking" local youth. Magnolia chapter officers voted recently to establish three chapter leadership positions for student board members. These three positions reflect Tallahassee's three large educational institutions: FAMU, FSU, and TCC. In establishing these positions, the chapter's primary goals were to achieve the creation of university student liaisons, receive feedback from individuals familiar with the wants and concerns of young adults, establish relationships with environmentally-oriented student organizations, and create activity/field trip leaders that potential youth membership are more likely to seek camaraderie with.

The first individual to be voted in as a student board member was Brent Williams. Brent is a talented chemical engineering student with an interest in exploring the vast number of plant species whose chemical properties have not yet been researched. Through chemical profiling, Brent seeks to find sustainable ways to balance nature and society through the development of sustainable native plant resources. Brent also manages the FSU organic garden and native plant permacultural guild, and he is a standing board member with the Tallahassee Sustainability Group.

Brent has three primary native plant interests: pollinator support systems, invasive plant species management, and native plant food sources. These interests have worked to facilitate the accelerated development of relationships not only with the university students in the Magnolia Chapter's region, but also to forge a strong relationship between FNPS and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

Brent worked closely with fellow Magnolia board members Gail Fishman and Scott Davis to develop a volunteer program cooperative between FNPS and USFWS. This program aimed to further the mission of FNPS, help develop the Educational Field Trip Initiative of the Council of Chapters, and assist a primary land management agency with society-sourced expertise and leadership.

A liaison to local educational institutions can bring able
bodied volunteers and future members to chapter events.
Nicknamed the "Groundpounders" by USFSW staff, Brent acts as a "hook" to the universities, exciting the interests of not only mainstream environmentally concerned students, but also to students that are simply looking for an opportunity to get outside, do something new, and make a difference. A number of high school students have also begun to volunteer their time.  Brent has worked effectively with refuge managers to develop (and schedule) a growing list of opportunities.  To name a few, this list includes citizen science volunteer opportunities, invasive plant workdays, educational opportunities with refuge staff, pollinator garden development projects, and off-site rare plant rescues for relocation to protected lands.

Brent says, "There is a strong demand from young folks to see tangible results that are brought about with their own hands." He also lives by the philosophy that "if there is work to be done, and if there are individuals willing to engage in the workings, then there is no reason for the work to not be done when good communication and leadership are brought into the equation." Currently, there are numerous workdays led per month by Brent that focus on invasive plant identification and removal techniques, hiking trail management, plant rescue and relocation, pollinator garden design and maintenance, fire crew prep work, and more.

In the last month, Brent has overseen the removal of invasive plants from environmentally sensitive areas inside of St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge; this includes over 600 invasive coral ardisias (Ardisia crenata) and three tons of invasive torpedo grass (Panicum repens). In addition to these achievements, in the last month he has also led the Groundpounders in projects that undergo pre-fire preparation work for USFWS fire crews, implemented a relocation program for various native plant species from refuge mow strips to designated recipient pollinator garden sites, managed the rescue team of 97 state-endangered moundlilly yuccas (Yucca gloriosa), and begun the process of installing pre-fabricated bridge piles across creeks in areas adjacent to the Florida Trail to give connectivity to through-hikers.

The "Groundpounders" in action...
Case in point, the assignment of Brent as a student board member is a fantastic example of one of the many ways in which FNPS can appeal to the next generation of environmentally aware citizens, strengthen its relationship with land managers, further its mission, and stratify its place as a power player in protection of Florida's native plant communities in the future.


Posted by Laurie Sheldon

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Victory for Wakulla Springs

By Gail Fishman

Beautiful Wakulla Springs sparkled in the summer sun. The first time I floated over the vent—185 feet below—made me dizzy as a child. The water was so clear it seemed that I might fall into the hole.

Geographic and hydrologic elements at Wakulla.
Wakulla Spring discharges about 250 million gallons per day, with a nearly constant water temperature of 69ºF. The Wakulla River gently carries the water to meld with the St. Marks River about nine miles away, and together they flow to Apalachee Bay on the Gulf of Mexico. Mastodon bones and a trove of ancient artifacts have been found in the spring. Movies were made—two Tarzan films, Airport 77, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon—because the clarity of the water allowed for stunning underwater scenes. But such is not the case today, even though Wakulla Springs is a protected state park.

A gallinule chick makes its way across a mat of Hydrilla.
When the water turned dark and the glass-bottomed boats could not run on many days, what had been long suspected turned out to be true. About 300 feet below the ground lays the Wakulla-Leon Sinks Cave system, the longest mapped underwater cave in the United States and the sixth largest in the world. But years of increasing stormwater runoff and effluent from septic tanks and sewage treatment from the surrounding area filtered into the system and ended up in Wakulla Springs. The river is now beset with Hydrilla, an aquatic invasive plant, and the piercing cry of the limpkin is no longer heard because apple snails have disappeared.

A year or so ago, Tallahassee Community College (TCC) announced the construction of an environmental training center in Wakulla County—the Wakulla Environmental Institute (WEI). Recently, they unveiled plans to sublease some 2000 acres of Wakulla Springs State Park for 50 years, build a campground near Cherokee Sink, and begin training the next generation of park managers. Conservationists rallied. A heavily attended public meeting was held on June 17. It was at best an acrimonious gathering that could have turned ugly. The majority of speakers favored the plan. Most environmentalists did not.

I attended the meeting along with two other Magnolia Chapter board members. I had not planned to speak, but I was urged to get up. By the time my turn came, many in the audience had left. I offered support of WEI, but said that the Magnolia Chapter staunchly opposed the campground, pointing out that two other campgrounds, one another state park, were nearby and could be utilized and students could be sent as interns to other state parks. I also noted that it would take more than a two-year Associates degree to train a park manager.

In the days afterward, I conferred with local, well-known Florida springs advocates, Jim Stevenson and Madeline Carr. Both welcomed and encouraged the support of the Magnolia Chapter, hoping that our members would write letters to officials and voice their concerns about the WEI proposal. I wrote a letter to the editor of the Tallahassee Democrat addressing my concerns, including the precedent this program might set for other Florida state parks. I sent copies to Governor Rick Scott, TCC President Jim Murdaugh, and Lewis Scruggs at DEP. None responded personally. On Sunday, July 20, the newspaper published letters opposing WEI's plan from Pam McVety, Ann Bidlingmaier, and myself. I soon received thanks from Jim, Ann, and Madeline, as well as several Magnolia Chapter members and others concerned about the issue.

On Friday, July 25, Bob Ballard, WEI director and former DEP deputy secretary, announced that the proposal had been withdrawn. Although Ballard advised that they might come back with a modified proposal, DEP press secretary Tiffany Cowie said, “Due to the withdrawal of the proposal, the department is no longer considering the project.”

"You have to stand up for some things in this world."
- Marjory Stoneman Douglas
Florida's environment has been under siege for decades, but lately the sale of some of the last surviving acres of south Florida's pine rocklands, unprecedented water withdrawal requests from the aquifer, rapidly growing populations of invasive plants and animals, the lack of proper best management practices addressing prescribed fire on state and federal public lands, and more assaults on this paradise are taking place at a quickening rate. Each chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society as well as state level board and committee members have a role, nay, an obligation to take a stand against these egregious violations of the  environment. The plants, animals, and ecosystems cannot cry out themselves. We cannot be silent. We must be their voice.


Posted by Laurie Sheldon

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Conservation, Preservation and Restoration

Written by Jackie Rolly and edited by Juliet Rynear

At the FNPS Annual Conference this year I was listening to Russ Hoffman speaking on “Why People Don’t Get It? - The Psychology of Embracing Native Plants.”  I remember him saying that we should refrain from voicing issues in the negative. The example he used was the state of Texas deciding to put up road signs saying “Don’t Litter,” yet puzzlingly, littering increased. Characteristically, we immediately do what we’ve been told not to do. Later though when Texas put up signs saying “Don’t Mess with Texas,” littering decreased. This was appealing to Texans’ sense of pride of place and even though negatively stated, the pride trait was stronger.

So why am I bringing this up?  I have now volunteered to serve on the FNPS Conservation Committee and we are in the process of writing a draft policy on the Conservation and Preservation of Florida’s native plants and their communities. What’s so hard about this?  We as members are sold on this. We hold native plant sales, provide tours of gardens planted with natives, we restore old orange groves to original habitats, take field trips, and on and on. We believe we are “talking the talk” and “walking the walk” on conservation and preservation. But are we?

West Coast (above) and East Coast (below)
Beach Dune Sunflower - similar, but different.
I was initially horrified to read in the draft policy that, “…Activities that endanger this genetic diversity are in direct conflict with the society's goal of preservation of native plant species in their natural habitats. Such activities include the development/conversion of endangered plant communities, cultivation of native Florida plant species outside their historical range within the state of Florida, cultivation outside their natural community…”  This means that, as members, we should not be planting Pineland Lantana (Lantana depressa) for example outside of the Miami-Dade area. We should not buy or plant Sea Grape (Coccoloba uvifera) inland, but even worse, we should not introduce the East Coast species of Beach Dune Sunflower (Helianthus debilis) to the West Coast, as the West Coast has a different subspecies (Helianthus debilis ssp. Vestitus). Our mission, I thought, was to introduce as many native plants to the general public and get the public to use them in their landscapes. I thought that telling a prospective buyer at a plant sale, that Lantana depressa (a great replacement for Lantana camara), will probably freeze back or die in Central Florida, and that a plant normally found in the Panhandle would not survive our warmer climate here. But if I, or a buyer, liked the plant and was willing to lose it, or spend lots of time protecting it, well, that is our decision. Like the people in Texas, you can’t tell me what I can’t and can do – it’s my garden!

So, how do we come to terms with this dichotomy? Back to Russ Hoffman’s talk, how do we put this in a positive mode?  Let’s address our sense of pride in our beautiful native plants, and actually adhere to our Society’s mission. We need to educate and make members aware of our responsibility, but also inject a “Sense and Pride of Place.” Let’s emphasize in talks to groups, members, and conferences, that we must be aware of the historical range of a plant and why that’s important. Let’s stop trying to make the whole State look the same. We have unique and beautiful plants, and when planted in the right place, i.e., their historical range and natural community, they thrive and we can tell when we have moved from north to south or east to west, thereby achieving a sense of place. More importantly, we preserve the unique genome of each plant rather than risking its loss.

Although Lantana depressa may grow
elsewhere, it is only endemic to Dade County
Of equal concern, is the risk that comes from introducing a species outside its natural range (i.e. exotic species) and the potential for that species to overpower a natural area where it has not previously occurred. For example, in South Florida, indigenous populations of West Indian Mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni) are found in a narrow range including the upper Florida Keys and the coastline along Florida Bay.  After being planted outside of its historical range, it has been observed invading intact natural plant communities in areas of The Big Cypress National Preserve, Mainland Miami-Dade County, and the Lower Florida Keys including Big Pine Key, where it is altering native plant community structure. As members, we should educate ourselves on a plant’s historical range and ask growers where they procured the seed so we can know where the plant should be located.  It will be hard at first, and I’m not saying that you should rip out the Lantana depressa if you are in Central Florida, but be aware of what you are doing, the message you are sending, and start practicing real preservation. I have spoken to a few members about this and their first reaction, like mine, was “but I like that plant, it grows well in my garden.”  However, after a few minutes reflection, I hear, “now that I know about this, it makes sense and I will try to be more aware of what I plant.”


Sense of place image by Kim Seng
Helianthus images by Shirley Denton
Lantana image by Roger Hammer

Note: if you are unaware of the natural range of a given native plant, you may find that information on the FNPS website.

posted by Laurie Sheldon

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Reaching Out and Digging In for Native Pines

Amanda Ugarte, planting organizer and
Oasis High Charter School student.

On Tuesday, July 8, 2014, representatives from the Coccoloba Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society, students from Oasis and Mariner High Schools in Cape Coral, and other volunteers planted twenty native Slash Pine trees, donated by the Florida Forest Service. The planting was arranged by Oasis High Charter School student Amanda Ugarte. These trees supplemented a prior planting in the median on Oasis Boulevard between SW 37 Street and SW 37 Terrace, where some trees from a previous planting perished. Two species of native bunch grass were also added to the median.

Students assisting with the planting on this toasty day were Alex Boesch, Christopher Byron, Sara Logan, Jillian Lucia, Anthony Morales, Branden Pearson, and Amanda Ugarte. Sara’s father, Tom Logan assisted, as did Pascha Donaldson, Martha Grattan, Russ Ringlund and Marlene Rodak.

(left to right) Martha Grattan, Coccoloba Chapter President, explains the qualities of native slash pine
trees to students Alex Boesch, Christopher Byron, Jillian Lucia, Branden Pearson and Anthony Morales.
Jillian Lucia (L) and Sara Logan (R) take turns
trying to dig a hole in the hard, rocky ground.
The planting included a lesson on the slash pine and the mycorrhizae fungus that supplements the function of its roots.  Since the tree roots are inoculated with the native fungus, the students handled the root balls very carefully. If the soil is disturbed, the mycorrhizae fungus can be removed from the roots, resulting in a slower start for the 3-gallon sized trees. Students also learned to properly plant the trees, assuring they were not planted too deeply. Then, pine straw mulch was added and the plants were watered in well. Mrs. Donaldson and Amanda Ugarte will check on the plantings through the summer and assure they are manually watered between rainfalls.

South Florida Slash Pines are often misunderstood by residents of the area. These hard yellow pines can reach heights of 80’ to 100’ tall. The durable bark is hard and scaly with plates. Slash Pines have extensive root systems with a moderate taproot. Southern Slash Pines are only found in south Florida, and the seeds propagated for these trees were likely harvested by the Florida Forest Service in nearby Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest.

A newly-planted 3-gal slash pine with pine straw mulch.
Eventually, the seeds in the pine cones of these trees will provide food for squirrels, mice, and dozens of species of songbirds. The pine needles will provide nutritious meals for moths, butterfly larvae and inchworms. Pine trees also host many native insects, which will not feed on anything else. Close inspection of the trees typically reveals “caterpillars,” which are not really caterpillars at all, but sawfly larvae, more closely related to ants, wasps, and bees, who also enjoy eating pine needles. They, in turn, are eaten voraciously by small mammals, birds, and other insects. Pine trees also provide habitat to many nesting birds.

Perhaps one of the best aspects of the slash pine is that it is self-mulching.  Once the tree is tall enough, it will start to shed enough needles to retain soil moisture and control surrounding weeds.  Plus, the lovely slash pine needles break down into nutrients and provide microbes to build healthy soil.  Once the tree is between 10 and 15 years old, it will produce a good pine cone crop about every four years.

(left to right), Amanda Ugarte, Pascha Donaldson, Anthony Morales, Branden Pearson,
Christopher Byron and Alex Boesh preparing their native flags.
At the conclusion of the planting of Oasis Boulevard median, the students added native flags to the site, indicating that the land was reclaimed for nature.

• More Florida Forest Services Slash Pine trees will be planted on Saturday, July 12 on Veterans Parkway.  This planting is being coordinated by Russ Ringlund and will enlist the help of the Cub Scouts.

This article is provided by the Coccoloba Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society. The Society meets at Calusa Nature Center on the second Thursday of each month, between September and April, at 6:30 for socializing. Meetings start at 7 pm. All are welcome to join this friendly bunch and learn more about native plants. Visit for more information or call (239) 273-8945.

posted by Laurie Sheldon

Friday, July 11, 2014

Coccoloba Chapter @ Lowes

Back row: Mark Miller, Pat Moyer, Lowe's employee Sandra; front row: Suzy Callanan and Barbara Wallace.

This was a fun event on Saturday, July 5th from 10am-2pm at Lowe's in Estero (southwest Florida).  Coccoloba Chapter representatives, along with UF/IFAS Lee County Master Gardeners, set up a table at Lowe's on Corkscrew Road to explain the importance of native plants, low-impact landscaping, Lee County fertilizer ban, etc.

The morning started off rather busy.  The local News-Press ran an article informing readers the volunteers would be at the store to answer gardening questions.  Several customers indicated they came to Lowe's just to talk to volunteers and get information!  One man walked in with a list of questions on a small sheet of paper explaining that his wife sent him down.  When they saw the Slime Monster poster several commented they had seen the commercials and enjoyed them.  One gentleman was really happy (somewhat stunned) to see the volunteers and display in the garden center providing this type of information.  Capable volunteers on hand leapt into action providing information, handouts, advice and conversation.

1-on-1 with the Lowe's staff

Then, about 11:30, a thunderstorm rolled into the area and cleared out the garden center.  However, this gave the visiting volunteers an opportunity to chat with the Lowe's staff for awhile without interruption.  They learned that the staff really didn't understand what the fertilizer ban meant and which products their customers were allowed to use during the ban.  So, volunteers literally walked them down the fertilizer aisle to explain the numeric values and how to interpret them.  Then, they walked the soil aisle and discussed methods for using mushroom compost and Black Cow.  Of course, when everything grows like crazy in southwest Florida summer and lawns can be saturated during our wet season, the notion of adding fertilizer at all was discussed.  The volunteers felt that working directly with the staff in the garden center was a huge benefit of the day.  They were able to leave some fertilizer ordinance and slime monster brochures and promised to check into aisle signage on the fertilizer ordinance/slime monster for the employees.

Slime monster!

As the customers started returning to the garden center, the volunteers were able to discuss the importance of attracting insect pollinators to Florida yards.  Two of the three orange geiger trees they had in stock were scooped up by customers and they were not even in bloom!  (The third was in our display.)  Once customers learned about them, they wanted them and bought them.  It was also helpful to have excellent examples of alternative ground cover in the area.  The Estero medians on US-41 north of Corkscrew Road have wonderful examples of sunshine mimosa and the Florida-friendly perennial peanut.  Although not native, the scarlet milkweed was moving out the door.  The milkweed was worked into the display where volunteers were able to demonstrate the life cycle of the monarch caterpillars and butterflies.  During the event, a caterpillar even climbed from the milkweed onto the nearby clusia in the display area to eventually form a chrysalis!

Caterpillars were a bonus!

Kids coming in with parents squealed with excitement when they saw the caterpillars and butterflies.  Volunteers were able to explain the goal of the caterpillars eating the plants and the plants growing back.  City of Bonita Springs native plant coloring books, CHNEP reusable tote bags, WaterWise guides, butterfly brochures and other materials were given away.  The garden center employees were delighted to receive a WaterWise book for reference.  Volunteers showed them how to use it and the books were referred to throughout the day.  At one point, a young garden center employee named Joe rattled off the page number from memory for the orange geiger in the book!

The basis of this event was to show off what Lowe's does right and to help educate their customers on creating a balanced ecosystem on their real estate.  Along those lines, volunteers could explain ways to nurture "bugs" and micro-organisms in the soil and on the native plants. Volunteers could explain the importance of insects to the songbird population and to humans.  Homeowners learned that improperly applied fertilizers impair our waterways and cost us all money, disrupt the ecosystem, etc.  They could also learn how native plants in the landscape can be beautiful, thrive and save them money.  If Lowe's customers start to ask for native plants and are willing to buy them, hopefully Lowe's will expand their selection. 

This event was a great experience and will hopefully be repeated at this and other Lowe's stores, Home Depots and other garden centers around the area ... and throughout the state.  It was wonderful for the various organizations to work together on this outreach project.

Chapter perspective

From a Coccoloba Chapter perspective, the event was less work than a plant sale because we did not "create our own event," but were able to take advantage of a place where people were shopping for plants and gardening materials anyway.  This meant we could just show up and get to work (although we did put out a brief press release to the two local newspapers -- News-Press and Naples Daily News).  Quite frankly, this reduces the event organizer's stress level tremendously by not having to worry about making sure people show up.

Perhaps the most important aspect is that we were able to develop a relationship with this Lowe's store.   The staff seemed to love learning more information to help them do their job.  The direction of the volunteers was to help educate customers and staff while being a benefit to Lowe's.  So, if certain plants were not in stock, we simply explained that we would make a note of it and ask Lowe's to get them.  It would be rather rude to send customers elsewhere.  Also, the more native plants are "mainstream," the better the demand for ALL native plant nurseries.  Additionally, the Estero store has a resource to contact for more information or assistance.  (I already received an email thanking us from the live nursery specialist.)

Overall, from the perspective of Coccoloba Chapter and Master Gardeners, the event was a success.  Lee County Natural Resources should be ecstatic, too.  This was huge event promoting the Lee County Fertilizer Ordinance and the slime monster campaign.  (And many thanks for creating the Monster poster in time for this event.)

Demographic information was tracked, but not yet received at the time of this report.  Truly, the quantity is much less important than the quality of the contacts from this event.

Respectfully submitted,
Marlene Rodak

(Thanks to Marlene for sharing this creative outreach effort. We can't always be preaching to the same choir--we must find new audiences to become more effective. What outreach has your chapter done lately?)
Edited and posted by Ginny Stibolt

Friday, July 4, 2014

Cucumber Mosaic Virus (CMV): A Growing Problem for American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)

Leaf mottling, late December
Leaf mottling and wilting, late June. Photo by Tom Becker.
Defoliated stem tip with emerging new growth
Leaf mottling, Mid July mid July
Plant diseases are caused by bacteria, fungi, or viruses. Those caused by viruses are the most difficult to diagnose. Symptoms are often quite subtle, and easily confused with nutrient deficiencies and herbicide injuries. Viral plant diseases are most often transmitted by insect vectors or by infected pruning tools. Once infected, a plant cannot be cured of diseases caused by viruses.

Results of Plant Analysis
In November 2011, American beautyberries (Callicarpa americana) exhibiting leaf distortion, mottling, and slowed growth were reported to Lee County Extension. Leaf samples were collected from the affected plants and sent to the Plant Disease Clinic at the University of Florida, Gainesville. The sample tested positive for cucumber mosaic virus (CMV) with the Agdia Immunostrip Kit (ISK 44501). Aphids were also found on the affected plants. Since the initial analysis, plant samples suspected of having CMV have been collected in Lee County from Cape Coral, Fort Myers, Sanibel and Estero.  

Cucumber Mosaic Virus
Cucumber mosaic virus has a wide host range including row crops, vegetables, fruits and herbaceous ornamentals. The aphid-transmitted virus infects plants in hundreds of plant families on nearly every continent. The virus can also be spread by seed in some hosts and by mechanical transmission. The latter includes propagation, pruning tools, and plants rubbing on other plants. Symptoms are most pronounced if the plants are infected at an early growth stage, and can include stunting, deformation, and even plant death in some hosts. 

CMV Symptoms and Transmission in American Beautyberry  
The disease is slow to progress in American beautyberry. It can persist in affected plants for several years and infected plants will continue to flower and fruit. Disease symptoms are present throughout the year. Symptoms include mottling of leaves, leaf distortion, partial defoliation, stunted growth and stem dieback. Plants with defoliated stem tips will likely produce new leaves that will eventually show symptoms of CMV infection. We have observed seedlings with CMV symptoms suggesting seed transmission. The disease is transmitted to American beautyberry by insects known as aphids. Aphids already infested with CMV feed on newly forming plant leaves. They pierce the leaves with their stylet and suck the sap from the host plant. The process deposits CMV in American beautyberry and other susceptible plants. 

Disease Management
Prevention is key when dealing with any virus pathogens. Purchase virus-free seed and healthy transplants from reputable growers. Maintain an effective aphid management program in gardens and landscapes. Remove and destroy plants that have the virus. When pruning American beautyberries, disinfect  tools before moving from one plant to the next even if the plants show no symptoms of the disease. 

Posted by Laurie Sheldon
Research c/o UF IFAS Extension, Lee County faculty, including
Stephen H. Brown, Horticulture Agent
Bonnie Farnsworth, Master Gardener
Tom Becker, Florida Yards and Neighborhood Agent

Friday, June 27, 2014

Study: Roadside Vegetation Can Provide $1.5 BILLION in Ecosystem Services

A recently released Florida Department of Transportation study conservatively estimates that roadside vegetation along the state highway system performs nearly a half-billion dollars worth of ecosystem services. The study found that value would increase to $1 billion if sustainable vegetation management practices such as reduced mowing were adopted. The value would triple to $1.5 billion if wildflower areas were incorporated into roadside landscapes. Ecosystem services include carbon sequestration, runoff prevention, and support of crop pollinators and other insects, as well as contributions to air quality, invasive species resistance and roadside aesthetics.

Native roadside wildflowers in Florida's Panhandle
The Florida Wildflower Foundation requested the Florida Department of Transportation study on behalf of the Florida Native Plant Partnership, which includes the foundation, Florida Association of Native Nurseries, Florida Native Plant Society, and Florida Wildflower Plant and Seed Growers Association.

"These findings are a significant step toward fully understanding the benefits of vegetation, including wildflowers and native plant communities, along Florida's state highways. It's clear such vegetation, which is often viewed as a financial liability, has significant value to every Floridian in terms of the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the waterways and springs we enjoy," said Lisa Roberts, Florida Wildflower Foundation executive director.

SR 47 roadside view
Research found that the $33.5 million cost of vegetation management during FDOT's 2011-12 fiscal year was more than offset by the value of carbon sequestration alone, a service that potentially could generate income for FDOT with the sale of carbon credits. The University of Florida-IFAS report, "Economic Impact of Ecosystem Services Provided by Ecologically Sustainable Roadside Right of Way Vegetation Management Practices," also concluded that FDOT could reduce its costs by 30 percent by implementing sustainable management practices, such as reduced mowing. Jeff Caster, FDOT's State Transportation Landscape Architect, suggests, “The roadsides where wildflowers occur naturally may be the best places to reduce mowing.”

FDOT manages about 186,000 roadside acres - about one-half percent of Florida’s total area.

To view the full report, visit

Press release by Lisa Roberts
Posted by Laurie Sheldon

Friday, June 20, 2014

Two Florida scrub endemics

The welcome sign for Hickory Lake Scrub.
I visited Hickory Lake Scrub, a 57-acre preserve,  in May and I loved that I found quite a number of plants that I'd never seen before. A scrub habitat is not to be rushed through.  To begin to appreciate it, you need to slow down —way down.

Besides the plants there is a rich ecosystem filled with critters.  It's fun to examine the tracks in the sandy soil to guess what has taken place.

Here are two endemic plants that I found:

Scrub morning glory (Bonamia grandiflora)

Scrub morning glory with its pale lavender flowers.

Bonamia grandiflora distribution
The scrub morning glory or lady's nightcap is obviously a member of the morning glory family (Convolvulaceae), but it belongs to a different genus than the majority of  the morning gloriesBonamia not Ipomoea. This is the only species in this genus native to the US.

It is threatened and endangered and various sources state that there are only 100 populations remaining. Most of them have been lost due to development and fire suppression. This plant is not only adapted to fire with its deep roots, but it requires the fire to clear out overhead vegetation

Isn't it gorgeous? 

For more information read the profile at The Center for Plant Conservation. It's interesting to note that "Bonamia grandiflora is fully sponsored and the primary custodian for this plant in the CPC National Collection of Endangered Plants is Bok Tower Gardens."

Hickory Lake scrub is only a few miles from Bok Tower.

 Feay's palafox (Palafoxia feayi)

Feay's palafox, a shrubby member of Asteraceae.

Palafoxia feayi distribution
The daisy family (Asteraceae)  is one of the largest plant families, but there are not many members that are shrubs or trees. The most common in Florida is the groundsel tree (Baccharis halimifolia), which most of us know, but I wasn't thinking of this family when I spotted this shrub.

The flower head doesn't have the typical petal-like ray florets, just the central disk florets, but they were so pretty. I was relieved when I eventually figured it out. I love the cool palafox name—who knew? It was named for a Spanish general who fought against Napoleon.

It is endemic to Florida, but is not listed as threatened. 

There are 3 species native to Florida, but Texas palafox (P. taxana) has only been vouchered for 1 county in the Panhandle. The coastal plain palafox (P. integrefolia) is a little more widespread: it also occurs in Georgia and is more often found in the native plant trade, but is not as shrubby as Feay's palafox. 

Read Craig Huegel's profile of Palafoxia feayi and the IRC's listing including the 37 conservation areas where it occurs.

The scrub habitat is critical

Visit the scrub conservation areas and be sure to sign the book or register your presence so managers have real numbers to report back to justify their conservation. Please let your elected representatives know that you want these habitats to be preserved and vote "Yes!" on Amendment #1 in November.

Have enjoyed your scrub today?

Written and posted by Ginny Stibolt
Photos by Ginny Stibolt