Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Diluting Florida's Water Protection

The Florida Legislature is now winding up its business, and one item of concern to environmentalists is House Bill 1445. It aims to make an end-run around the dozens of local governments that have enacted ordinances to restrict the sale and/or use of commercial fertilizer for residential applications. One would like to think that these cities and counties passed their laws out of altruistic concern for the environment. And it may be so, but they've definitely been motivated by pressure from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, though its attention to the quality of Florida's waters is somewhat belated. (Illustration: Map of Florida impaired waters)

Everybody Loves Controversy!

Thanks to all of you who took me up on the invitation to respond by email to the conversation about ghost orchids on 4/24. I am going to publish an excerpt of some the responses here in the next couple days. Still some arguments still being developed! 

If you have an opinion, let's hear it!!


Happy gardening till then.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Ghost Orchid Controversy

Controversy flared up last week down Palm Beach County way, when a local FNPS (Florida Native Plant Society chapter auctioned off one the rare ghost orchids, Dendrophylax lindenii. You may remember this one from the movie, adapted from Susan Orleans' book, and with the same title, The Orchid Thief.

Here's what happened. An irate email was sent to the Webmaster, expressing the opinion that the chapter was at fault both for selling this endangered plant, and for possibly encouraging poaching.

This is a valid concern, of course. No one wants more people out in the Fakahatchee Strand or Corkscrew Swamp, the only places where the orchid exists now, trying to bring home a specimen for their yard.

                                                                               photo by niseidobelle

Thankfully this orchid had not been taken from the wild, but purchased from an orchid grower, Oak Hill Gardens. And, as the Webmaster pointed out in his reply, many natives commonly sold commercially, like Simpsons stoppers and coonties, are now rare in their native habitats.  He posited that if plants are more easily available, then there is less incentive for people to go out and obtain them illegally. A good philosophical debate! 

I didn’t really know much about the Ghost orchid. Looking for some background, I found this website:  flnativeorchids.com. Their site is easy to use and has great photos of a Ghost orchid in bloom.
And I discovered why it’s called a Ghost orchid! It’s actually a monocot (who knew?), with a very thin stem. The leaves have shrunken down so much they have been reduced to scales. There is more explanation on the website if you’re interested. So on the tree, you mostly see a mass of roots, and the flowers are borne on the tiny spikes rising from the root mass. This makes the flower appear to be floating in thin air, hence the name. Well, I guess if you saw the movie, you knew that, but it was news to me!

On a roll, I called the folks at Oak Hill Orchids to find out about what you would actually get if you bought a ghost orchid from them. They were kind enough to answer a lot of questions, but were not very encouraging about success.

They have only one size, selling for $12.50. This is a plant mounted on a grapevine plank, having a root mass of ONE inch. That’s one inch, edge to edge. This plant will be five years to bloom size, if it lives through the first month. I asked the agent if he thought we would have an advantage growing it in the south Florida area. The answer was , “No, the people in Florida are too cocky because they think all they have to do is hang the thing under a tree. They kill thousands of them.”

On the other hand, Rufino Osorio, author of A Gardener’s Guide to Florida’s Native Plants, was at the auction giving excellent advice on how to grow the natives being sold. He avows that it IS possible to grow these orchids at home, and told us about one he knows of with roots over two feet long.  His advice is to pay strict attention to where the plant is placed. This needs to be as close to conditions in the heart of a swamp as you can get. And then to leave it totally alone.

Well, there you have it from both sides. I would say that we have posed a challenge here. Maybe we should have a contest? 

Which leads me to my final comment – we DO want to have great conversations here, and intend to have a place where you can easily comment after each post. Only right now we can’t do it. Long, boring story. We are working on it, though, and in the meantime we would really love to hear from you. 

Until our comment box becomes enabled, you can email us directly @

Send us your thoughts! 

And you can use our new, shorter address now too: fnpsblog.org

sue dingwell

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Native Herb Has Earned an Honored Place Amongst the Mediterranean Species

I found some meadow garlic (Allium canadense) growing in a low spot in my yard. I dug it up and planted it next to my rosemary bush in the herb garden. Over the years, I've found more and have planted the little bulblets that it produces each year and now there's a good stand in the garden.

We have a few native alliums here in Florida. The one I have is the most widespread according to Wunderlin, R. P., and B. F. Hansen. 2008. Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants (http://www.plantatlas.usf.edu/). It occurs from the panhandle down to central Florida. The Mobile meadow garlic (A. canadense var. mobilense) is located only in the panhandle counties and has mostly pinker flowers with all flowers in each flower head--no bulblets. The striped garlic (A. cuthbertii) is rare in Florida and occurs only in the eastern-most counties in northeast Florida. It also has only flowers in its flower heads and its petals are narrower and often have a pink stripe down the middle. Unlike the other two, this garlic’s bulb is covered with a fibrous coating.

I just love the meadow garlic's foolproof, wild-haired inflorescence. It includes a few small six-pedaled white flowers, on long stalks, which will produce seeds if properly fertilized. In addition, this plant produces clones of itself in the form of bulblets. While still attached to the parent plant, the bulblet produces its first wiry leaf. As soon as the leaf emerges, it turns green and starts photosynthesizing. The sugars it produces are stored and the bulblet grows larger and heavier. When a bulblet drops, it falls, bulb-side down like a child's toy top. This way the root area is next to the soil and the leaf points upward and can continue to function using the moisture from the bulb until roots grow and bring in moisture from the soil.

Our meadow garlic earned its way into the herb garden for several reasons:

1) The mild garlicky/oniony taste of its leaves works well in salads.
2) Because its leaves are solid, (unlike chives, which has hollow leaves) they hold up well in a stir-fry. We use the bulbs, bulblets, flowers, and leaves in a variety of dishes. I also use a good amount in my pestos. I rarely buy regular garlic from the store these days.
3) It grows well in the drier, sandy soil in the herb garden that's so good for those species from the Mediterranean region. The standard advice for herb gardens is that poorer soil often produces plants with more aromas. I'm not sure if this is an old gardeners' tale or not, but I keep the soil on the lean side compared to my other edible gardens.
4) It's attractive in the garden. The leaves die back in late spring, but come back in early winter and have great flavor at any time.

Sometimes I dig up the whole plant, but most of the time, I clip off the leaves, bulblets or the flowers as needed. I have started a second patch out in the vegetable garden next to the Egyptian walking onions (A. x proliferum). They both produce bulblets at the top of their flowering stems. The walking onions don't produce any flowers that I've seen. These are both perennials in the vegetable garden so keeping them together makes sense amongst all the other annual crops with all of their rotations and plantings.

Meanwhile, I've planted some chives next to the garlic in the herb garden. The chives, garlic, and rosemary are my perennials in the herb garden, and it's good to have them all in one place. That way, as I plant the annuals (basil, dill, parsley, etc.), I know where not to plant new seed.

I love having my herb garden next to the back door. Being so handy, it encourages me to make liberal use of my herbs for cooking, adding flavor and variety to our meals.

Ginny Stibolt