Sunday, May 30, 2010

Edible Native Recovers from the Frost

As I surveyed our acreage in north central Florida after the months of frost damage, I wondered if the Opuntia would make a comeback in time to flower. As I walked about, I noticed the cactus pads were flat, “deflated,” and reddish. As the weather turned warm and then hot, it looked to me as if the Opuntia was suffering all the more. And then we received a few spectacular rain storms that seemed to revive the plant from its winter shock. And now the field around our house is covered with yellow blossoms the dog is once again limping toward me holding up his paw for spine extraction.

There are more than 200 species of Opuntia, which is endemic to the western hemisphere but has naturalized worldwide. Our native species include O. humifusa, O. stricta, and the rarer O. triancanthos (tropical), O. pusilla, and O. cubensis (tropical).

Opuntia species are nourishing food for gopher tortoise that luckily lack pain receptors in their mouths. For us the effort to prepare them may outweigh the culinary attraction, although “nopales” have been a traditional food in native cultures in the Western hemisphere and seeds have been found in archeological sites in Texas.

Found on sandhills, in pinelands, and near the edges of dry woods, the plant is easy to identify, especially if you happen to walk into one! Edible species have flat joints (pads) and inedible ones have rounded joints, but there are no poisonous look-alikes (Brill). Leaves are absent, and the edible pads—once the spines and fine hairs (called glochids) are removed—are actually the stems, which store water and nutrients. Tea can be made form the yellow, waxy flowers, which are radially symmetrical and solitary with one pistil. The red pear-shaped fruit, which is also covered with glochids, is edible and medicinal.

Harvest Tips
The pears are best picked when they are young and succulent, sometimes in the spring, but particularly near the end of the summer and into the early fall. When collecting the pads, choose young, healthy, and succulent ones. In Florida usually around the beginning of May, the prickly pear cactus blossoms begin to open, dotting the field with gorgeous yellow flowers attracting all manner of insects and butterflies. Their schedule this year was a little off probably due to the extra cold winter, and they are now finally in full blossom.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The first-ever Summit of Southeastern Native Plant Societies

Gene Kelly, FNPS president, says, "It really presents exciting possibilities that so many NPSs are interested in forming a coalition. I will include a more substantial summary and discussion about the Summit for the upcoming Sabal minor as my closing 'presidential' letter." Meanwhile here is a short summary he wrote for us:

"The first-ever Summit of Southeastern Native Plant Societies was a very constructive initial meeting, with participants representing the states of Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

"There was complete agreement among the participants that a second Summit should be conducted in association with the Cullowhee Conference to be held in July 2011 in western North Carolina. A series of committees will be formed between now and the 2011 Summit to develop strategies or propose courses of action to address these shared issues:

1) defending and/or expanding protections for endangered plant species;
2) promoting land conservation;
3) preventing the introduction of new invasive plant species;
4) working across state lines to manage invasive species that are already present;
5) increasing the availability of native plants for use in habitat restoration projects and landscaping;
6) maintaining the genetic integrity of natural native plant populations; and
7) identifying administrative or organizational efficiencies that should be shared among the states.

"Committee chairs were assigned from among volunteer Summit delegates and the committees will be composed of representatives from among the participating states. Although several invited states were unable to attend the Summit, they will be invited to participate in the committees and to attend the 2011 Summit."

"I’ll also point out that Cullowhee is in the mountains of western NC, and is hosted every year by Western Carolina University on their campus. Our own Gil Nelson is a regular participant and speaker there and is Chair of the 2011 Steering Committee. Conference info and previous programs etc are posted on the Cullowhee Conference webpage. Peter Raven is scheduled to be a keynote speaker at the 2010 conference this July. Wow!"

The website for the conference is

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Horizontal Cocoplum in the Landscape

Horizontal cocoplum makes a nice replacement for turfgrass; and here are some tips for establishing and using it in the landscape which were shared by Melissa McGaughey-Moyroud of Lorax Design in Lake Worth. 

The Moyroud's yard was opened to the public earlier this spring during a native plant tour, and this is the lovely sight that greeted visitors as they got out of their cars. The cocoplum is the plant with round-y leaves draping so beautifully over the rocks. I don't know about you, but this line does it all for me. It's simple yet elegant, natural, interesting and mostly native. I asked Melissa to share some of her techniques with me, and she gave generously of her time. 

Here are a few of the things I learned. The first year is critical. Melissa emphasized that this is true for any bed that is planted to replace grass. The gardener must be vigilant in keeping the new plants happy by making sure they are well hydrated and kept free of weeds. Cocoplum must be watered faithfully for a couple of months before it is truly established. Work in keeping the weeds out now will mean easy maintenance later when the new plants fill in and keep weeds out on their own. Also, once established, don't move. Cocoplum does not like to be transplanted once it has grown in.

Conference coverage: Friday evening at Tall Timbers Research Station

Tall Timbers Research Station was originally Henry L. Beadel's quail-hunting plantation. Beadel had no heirs, so in 1958, Tall Timbers Research Station was established. In 1990, the Red Hills Conservation Association was formed as a program of Tall Timbers to conserve working lands that are used for forestry, agricultural, and recreational hunting. It focused its conservation efforts in the Red Hills Region located between Tallahassee, Florida and Thomasville, Georgia.

The 30-year FNPS members gathered for a photo shoot. Is it a coincidence that this weekend was also the 30th anniversary of Pac-Man? I think not.

Banquet tables, decorated with copies of herbarium specimens, were set out under a spreading live oak tree. The food was great and the company was fabulous. There were two plant identification contests, an easy one and a more difficult one. We found out the next day that the winner of the more difficult contest guessed only about 50% correctly. Now that's hard, considering this group!

The Weeds provided great rock and roll. There was lots of dancing. The Weeds started playing together in 2000 after many informal sessions at the annual meetings of The Exotic Pest Plant Council. See this document for more information on who they are and what daytime jobs they hold.

Ginny Stibolt

And while not officially part of this conference, click here for coverage of the first ever Summit of Southeastern Native Plant Societies

Saturday, May 22, 2010

We interrupt conference coverage with an "invasives" debate...

Our friends over at GardenRant ( opened a debate on invasives today.  Here's the start of their post:

"Challenging what we think about invasive plants

"'Don't Sweat the Invasion' is the attention-getting title of a conventional-wisdom-knocking article on that we somehow missed when it was first published last year. Thankfully it was republished in Landscape Architecture Magazine, where it naturally provoked a few letters to the editor.
"The author names a few scientists who are "challenging what they consider old prejudices about 'alien' species..."

So what do you think about this discussion?  It's time to weigh in.  Florida's problems with invasive species is worse than other states as we've been finding out here at the conference.  Please share your opinions here and on Gardenrant.  Thanks.

Ginny Stibolt

Friday, May 21, 2010

Blogging LIVE from Tallahassee

Just a quick post before dinner at Tall Timbers...

For folks wanting to attend just the 9:50am Bailey White/Gil Nelson presentation.  It will cost you $15 for this presentation only.  You may also register onsite for to attend the programs and presentations all day. 

See for details.

Wish you were here! Ginny Stibolt

Continue onto the next session, which covers the dinner and social at Tall Timbers with the band called The Weeds.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Blogging LIVE from Tallahassee

On the way over to the social on Friday night...

The gathering on Friday night on the 22nd floor of the Capitol Building was filled with conversations of every type. Lots of networking! And then some of us participated in a session of native plant Jeopardy!

Kariena Veaudry, Executive Director of FNPS is excited about the first ever summit of native plant society's from all over the SE US on Friday. Gene Kelly, president of the FNPS board of directors, initiated this meeting to take advantage of our location in Tallahassee this year. Kariena will report back to us here with a summary of this important meeting. Just think of the larger voice that all these Native Plant Societies will have as a group.

Ginny Stibolt

Continue on to the next session of live blogging at the 30th Annual Conference.

Blogging LIVE from Tallahassee

This is a busy conference and there is so much to do and learn. If you have not pre-registered, you may register onsite. Registration is in the lobby of the downtown Doubletree Hotel Thursday night until 9pm or at the Leon county Civic Center on Friday or Saturday mornings starting at 7am. See for pricing and schedule of events. Hope to see you soon!

I'm here talking to Tom Greene, member of the Magnolia Chapter, who assisted on the field trip to Apalachee Wildlife management area and Three Rivers State Park. A total of nine folks went on this trip. Highlights: several sand hill communities and found a number of rare plant species. They talked about how burning is an important factor for some of the rare natives found there. After lunch and a hike in the state park they took another side trip into Chattahoochee Nature Park where looked at plants living in a ravine system: a watershed area of the Apalachicola River. Most of the participants were from other areas, but even the locals learned a lot.

Ginny Stibolt

Continue to the next session of live blogging

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Dirt on Mulch in Florida: Part II

Editor's Note: this is the second part of Steve Woodmansee's post on mulch, the first part can be seen here or you scroll down.
Organic Mulches

Yard Clipping and Leaves (stuff from your yard)
For permanent plantings, it is ideal to use clippings and leaves from your own yard. This helps prevent the overfilling of landfills, leaves no carbon footprint, and also saves money. Any leaves raked should be incorporated into the landscape. Pruned branches may be further cut up, and then spread over the area desired, or kept in brush piles (adding to the wildlife component). Larger branches may be left in a specific area for a time being so that the leaves fall off the dead branch and may be gathered later. When tree services are used, plan on keeping the mulch created. Lawn clippings may be also used; be aware that weed seed may be a component of them. Another source of green manure is excess algae and plants from your pond or water feature, this is best reserved for fruit trees and vegetable gardens.

Local tree trimmer mulch (seen in this photo) is perhaps the best mulch of the bunch. Just like using stuff from your yard, recycling tree trimmer mulch reduces landfill waste, leaves a small carbon footprint, and can be cheap or even free. It generally comes by the truckload however, so space is needed to store it. Curing the mulch is essential before applying. Let the pile of mulch sit for at least one month. As it breaks down, the composting process creates heat which then sterilizes the weed seed that may be present. You will even see steam rise from the top of the pile. I always keep a pile in my yard to use as needed. In addition to commercial tree trimmers, loads of mulch may often be obtained from local power companies and government agencies, such as parks and recreation. There are often mulch transfer stations where it may be obtained for free in smaller quantities. A potential drawback is that the aesthetic quality of local mulch varies. However the nutrients are largely the same.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Dirt on Mulch in Florida

Editor's Note: The author of this post, Steve Woodmansee, is the owner of Pro Native Consulting in Miami, and also the Vice President of Finance for the Florida Native Plant Society. Steve has written a comprehensive piece on the subject of mulch, which we are going to present in two installments. If you want to learn more from experts like Steve, come to the FNPS conference in Tallahassee, May 20-23. You can attend all days or single days. There will be great field trips, too, check the link!

Mulch can be an important part of landscaping and installing native plants.  Mulch is typically organic matter consisting of wood chips, twigs, bark, or leaves/needles. Some people also use gravel and rocks, or even products made from recycled tires in lieu of natural organic mulch. 

Benefits of mulch can include:
  1.  Increasing nutrients to the plants, thus building the soil.
  2. Conserving water.
  3. Insulating the soil and plant roots (from both heat and cold).
  4. Stifling weed generation.
  5. Providing a habitat for wildlife.
  6. Creating a stylized landscape.
               Hardwood hammock forest using local tree trimmer mulch

Mulch Drawbacks
Before purchasing and applying mulch, determine first whether it is needed, and second what kind is right for you. Some mulches can be messy in high traffic areas.  Another undesirable characteristic is that some mulches float during heavy rains, and will often travel downhill into areas where it is not desired.  During droughts or hot times of the year, organic mulch is flammable, and probably not recommended for planting adjacent to the home.

Friday, May 14, 2010

White-Topped Sedge

The native white-topped sedge (Rhynchospora colorata) grows in many roadside ditches around the state, but it's sparser in the panhandle counties. It often grows with the native rain lilies (Zephyranthes atamasca) There are more than 50 species of Rhynchospora or beaksedges, but only three have white bracts. The other two are R. Floridensis, Florida whitetop, a south Florida native with short hairs on the bracts and R. latifolia, giant whitetop, with large bracts with their white area extended farther than an inch, which grows throughout the state.

Unlike most grass-like plants, this sedge is insect-pollinated and has developed showy white colorization on the bracts that surround its cluster of flowers in each head. The edges of the white bleed into the green color so it looks like Mother Nature spray-painted the white as an afterthought.

These sedges are a good addition to the edges of ponds or rain gardens. They are attractive, interesting, and tough. They can live in standing water, but they can also withstand drought. So add some to your landscape this year.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Interview with Ginny Stibolt

Ginny Stibolt, fellow FNPS blogger as well as book author and news reporter, will be one of the many fabulous presentors at our conference in Tallahassee. Her talk is at 11:15am Friday in room A-3. Although the announced title of her talk is "Sustainable Gardening for Florida," ( also the title of her wonderful new book) we have inside information that she'll be emphasizing rain gardens as part of a sustainable landscape.

Q. Ginny,
Many people today are tuned in to the fact that water is a precious resource we need to protect and use wisely, and rain barrels are being put to use in many yards. But what the heck is a rain garden?

A. A rain garden, also known as a bio swale, is planted in a swale or a low area where rainwater is directed. The purpose of rain gardens is to retain more stormwater on our properties where it then has a chance to percolate into the ground and isn’t whisked away into the stormwater systems. The swale could be natural or manufactured by digging and building berm around the area. It should be located where you can direct rainwater from roadways, driveways, parking lots, downspouts, and/or rain barrel overflows to it. The swale should not be seasonally or perpetually wet without the rainwater, and the swale should not be dug under existing mature trees.

Q. Why not use a wet spot in the landscape for a rain garden?

A. You could certainly plant rain garden plants in that low spot and they would be far easier to take care of there than a lawn. But it's probably not a good idea to actually direct more rainwater there, especially if it's from a parking lot or roadway, because this is an intersection with the water table and you don't want to introduce pollutants (drippage from vehicles) into the water table. You could build a rain garden "above" the low spot so that only filtered rainwater would reach it. Treat a pond this way as well--install rain gardens so rainwater is slowed down and filtered before it reaches the pond.

Q. How much space is needed for a rain garden?
A. Your rain garden can be large or small and can be tucked into many places in your landscape, but standing water should be gone within three days to prevent mosquitoes from breeding there. A rain garden should be located so the extra water in the soil won't undermine the foundation of a building. If your rain garden space is small compared to the rainwater it receives, you'll probably want to dig a good-sized drywell as part of its construction so the water will have a place to go. You need to plan for the overflow for the rain garden, no matter what its size, because a heavy storm or hurricane will overwhelm its capacity. The overflow should be directed away from buildings toward an area in your landscape that can absorb extra water like a wooded area or even a lawn.

Q. What kinds of plants will I need for my rain garden? Do they have to be native? Will it be hard to find plants?
A. Rain garden plants need be able to live in standing water and also withstand drought. The plants I recommend are natives, because they are more in tune with our wet and dry seasons, but some non-natives could also work well. While it's not recommended that you dig a new rain garden under a tree, trees are good additions to large rain gardens because the larger the biomass of your plants, the greater the rate of transpiration (evaporation of water through the leaf pores), so the standing water is more quickly absorbed.

Some recommended trees and shrubs: Bald & swamp; pond cypress, beautyberry, buttonbush, cabbage palm, dahoon holly, dwarf swamp; saw palmettos, elderberry, inkberry, wax myrtle, sweetbay magnolia.
Some recommended perennials: Black-eyed Susan, blue-eyed grass, dixie iris, goldenrod, meadow beauty, netted chain fern, rain lily, royal fern, rushes, sedges.

These are mostly easy-to-find plants and should be available from most any native nursery.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Spiderwort: Spring Beauty and Delightful Edible

A lot of Florida is decked out with the purples and yellows of spring. The landscape looks like an impressionistic painting with Lyre leaf sage (Salvia lyrata), cat’s ear (Hypochoeris radicata), false dandelion (Pyrrhopappus carolinianus), wild lettuce (Lactuca graminifolia), phlox (Phlox spp.), and spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis) dotting our backyards and fields and popping up along roadsides.

One of my favorite spring plants, T. ohiensis in the Commelinaceae family, is not only beautiful but also edible! Known also by the names bluejacket and dayflower, T. ohiensis particularly likes moist meadows and the edges woodlands. You’ll find it in dry areas, too, but greatly diminished in stature.

This monocot grows in clusters and can reach a height of 30 inches. The lanceolate leaves are smooth with a deep ridge down the center. The rounded stem supports drooping clusters of flowers that have three blue petals and yellow stamens.

The flowers are yummy to eat as you walk along on hikes, and you can also prepare the leaves and stalks as part of a meal. 

Harvest Tips
The flowers, young leaves, stems, and “peas” are edible. Use flowers shortly after picking as they decline quickly. And pick early in the day as you may not find any open flowers just before dinner. You can cut the stalks and put them in water and the flowers will stay open until late afternoon (and new buds will open the next day). Or pick the blossoms and put them in a glass dish in the refrigerator where they will stay fresh for a short period of time.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Ghost Orchid Controversy Resolved

Well, some of the controversy anyway! The beautiful and elusive Ghost Orchid, and its sale at a recent fundraiser turned out to be a topic that drew a lot of impassioned responses from readers with a range of issues.

First of all, yes: it was legal!

Rufino Osorio knew the law governing this action and replied to our question: 
"The sale of Florida state-listed endangered and threatened plants is governed by  Florida Statute 581.185. The statute specifically states: (7) SALES BY NURSERYMEN - Licensed, certified nurserymen who grow from seeds or by vegetative propagation any of the native plants on the Regulated Plant Index, as provided in the rules of the department, are specifically permittted to sell these commercially grown plants and shall not be in violation of this section if they do so, as it is the intent of the section to preserve and encourage the propagation of these native plants which are rapidly disappearing from the state."

Rick Ehle, an FNPS chapter president, wrote to express his opinion that ghosts belong in swamps, are impossible for homeowners to grow, and are not appropriate as a means of fundraising.

Most readers disagreed with that viewpoint however, and thought that more ready access to these endangered plants would tend to prevent folks from poaching in the wild. Rich Leighton, from  Leighton Photography, who kindly supplied the lovely photo for this post, agreed with that idea, and added that homegrown ghosts could even contribute to starting new colonies. He knows of two thriving colonies that do grow outside Fakahatchee and Corkscrew, although these are in wild settings. Like Mr. Ehle, Leighton was determined to protect the plant and declined to state the exact location of these colonies. You can see them though, (the easy way!) by following his blog at