Friday, December 31, 2010

A Walk In the Longleaf Pines

Happy New Year to ALL!  Enjoy this piece by Eleanor Sommers, a member of the Paynes Prairie Chapter. If you or your chapter has a story to tell that includes something about Florida native plants, let us know. We'd love to host more guest bloggers. Email us at with your ideas and plant some Florida native plants to celebrate 2011.   Ginny & Sue

A Walk along a Longleaf Pine Trail

If you haven’t explored the Longleaf Ecology and Forestry Society’s (LEAFS) trails in eastern Alachua County near Waldo consider doing so next time you are in the area. This private demonstration project has been designed to show small private landowners (100 acres or less) how to “harmoniously and profitably” restore and sustain a longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) habitat using fire, selective harvesting, and replanting of desired species. Once reestablished, the habitat can be “maintained and utilized for the production of forestry products (LEAFS brochure).” Fire is a major part of the restoration efforts, and it is used in ways that mimic how these habitats would have naturally burned prior to human intervention. LEAFS proposes a sensible balance for sustaining conservation lands without stripping owners of value and income from their properties.

Vanillaleaf (Carphephorus spp)

My husband Paul and I and our neighbor Joni Ellis recently strolled through the short (1/2 mile) self-guided interpretive trail off County Road 1471 just northeast of Highway 301. Although it was obvious that Florida is suffering severe drought conditions, we enjoyed identifying late fall seed heads and finding the occasional flower still in bloom. We saw ghostly patches of goldenrods (Solidago spp), blazing start (Liatris spp), deer tongue and vanillaleaf plant (Carphephorus paniculatas and C. odaratissimus), and silk grass (Pityopsis graminilfolia), as well as graceful Andropogon species swaying in the breeze and floating seeds into the midday sun. Some gallberries (Ilex glabra) remained on the bushes awaiting the interest of a passing animal or birds. We did not see much wildlife although several nut hatches called to us from atop the pine trees.

Young longleaf pines don't produce
branches until they are taller. This way
they have more fire resistance.
As the winter sun angled low in the northwest and an afternoon chill descended, I thought about our ancestors trying to eke out a living in these sandy flatlands, thick with longleaf pines and saw palmettos (Serenoa repens). Before the settlers descended on Florida, pine flatlands covered two-thirds of the state. For sure these pioneers used everything they could, and the magnificent longleaf pine habitats fell into decline. Early Florida settlers used the pines for building shelter and tools and then the barren flat land for farming. The saps, resins, and cellulose from pines were processed into soaps, pitch, and turpentine. Wood not used for building was made into charcoal. The resin is antiseptic and has many medicinal uses, including healing skin salves. A dye can be made from the needles, which can also brewed into a healing tea rich in vitamins A and C. (Chop them finely and steep in boiling water.) And of course, if you can get to them before the squirrels, you can roast the edible winged nuts inside the scales of the cones.

Unfortunately, the usefulness of the Pinus palustris contributed to the demise of hundreds of thousands of acres of arresting habit. Fortunately, many state and private organizations are attempting to reestablish these native environments. LEAFS is doing so in practical ways that allow owners as well ecosystems to benefit. For more information about LEAFS go to The LEAFS tracts, each of about 90 acres, are located in northeastern Alachua County, Florida, on County Road 1471. The nearest town is Waldo, midway between Starke and Gainesville. The turnoff onto County Road 1471 from U. S. Highway 301 is about 2 1/2 miles southeast of Waldo.

Eleanor K. Sommer
Paynes Prairie Chapter

Monday, December 27, 2010

One Person CAN Make a Difference

As the year comes to a close, many folks rate the past year on items that they've accomplished or good deeds that they've done. This feel-good story, published in the Florida Times Union in Jacksonville shows just how much difference one man made...

Read the whole story here:  Willie Browne's Enduring Gift to Jacksonville: Nature
Here's a link to the Park Service website for the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve.
It includes Ft. Caroline, the Kingsley Plantation (the oldest plantation house in Florida) and miles of wonderful trails through the woods and over ancient shell mounds left from the Timucuan Indians.

Even if you don't own acres of undisturbed land to donate, you can, before the year ends, make a pledge to donate time and/or money to The Nature Conservancy of Florida, The Florida Wildflower Foundation, and of course, the Florida Native Plant Society. Read the end of year message from FNPS president Ann Redmond for a run down on the many ways that this organization makes a real difference FOR Florida.

Together we can all do just a little more to make 2011 a Greener New Year!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Can the Birds Count on You???

Audubon's Call to its Christmas Bird Count
Folks have been counting birds for decades, but can the birds count on you... to provide habitat filled with native plants that provide food, shelter, and places to raise their young?

This is the 111th year that Audubon Society has organized its Christmas bird count. This definitive data shows without a doubt that our native bird populations have decreased dramatically over the decades. Most of the declines are due to decreased habitat, but we are not helpless and we can all do much more than wring our hands in dismay.

Slide from Greg Braun's habitat presentation

Greg Braun from Audubon of Martin County in south Florida created a slide show which illustrates specific examples of how and why people of south Florida can make a significant difference for their birds. 

An important book that makes THE case for more native plants in the landscape for wildlife is Doug Tallamy's "Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens." As our friend Ellen Honeycutt, an active member of the Georgia Native Plant Society, says, “People all over the country are reading this book and smacking their heads while thinking: ‘Of course, it all makes perfect sense now!’ “ You can purchase this book, which we have listed over in the right hand column along with our other favorites--just click the covers to link to Amazon. (When you purchase books here, FNPS receives a small referral fee.)
A little green heron in our front pond.
Supplying water is part of habitat building.

My personal experience in Florida habitat building goes back to 2004 when my husband and I moved to Florida and bought a house on a 1.5 acre lot with a good-sized natural pond in the front and a 110-acre lake out back. Much of the land had been cleared and sodded with St. Augustine and poisoned regularly by the previous owner. We stopped all poisoning right away and let some big patches of lawn go to meadow such as the area on the far side of the pond and on top of the septic tank drainfield mound where the grass was not doing well at all. Since then we have been reducing the rest of lawn area little by little and removing invasive plants.

Early in 2006, I applied for backyard habitat certification from the National Wildlife Federation and we are now habitat #59063. I hung the sign out front so the neighbors might be inclined to become certified as well. We are not in a restrictive HOA neighborhood and I know of several neighbors who have also certified their yards. I wrote about this process in Creating Backyard Habitat. Since then we have enjoyed a tremendous variety of bird visitors--it's always interesting.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Winter Solstice and Hollies

American holly (Ilex opaca)
Plants, especially evergreens, have long played a role in celebrating pagan and religious events and holidays. When celebrating the holidays this year think about planting some native hollies in your landscape. Evergreen hollies are good for screening and offer excellent habitat for birds, while deciduous hollies offer outstanding beauty of berries on naked branches.

Hollies are dioecious, which means that trees will bear either male or female flowers, but not both. The female trees bear those attractive berries. (Nurseries should label whether a holly is a male or a female. Be sure there is at least one male tree in the neighborhood or your female trees won’t produce berries.) Hollies grow best in acidic soil and once they are established, require little care. The USDA reports that the biggest destroyer of holly trees is not disease or insects, but people harvesting its branches for the Christmas trade!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

End-of-Year Message from FNPS President

Ann Redmond sent out an end-of-year message to the membership. Read it to see how you can receive a 22-photograph theme for your Windows computer by our own Shirley Denton.

Here's how Ann begins her letter:

Dear Fellow FNPS Member,

We’re just finishing up our Thirtieth Year as the voice for Florida’s native plants! We’ve really leapt forward – a Resolution from the Governor and Cabinet recognized our contributions this year. Our efforts have spawned development of a confederation of NPS’s in the southeast. Our grant funding has fostered conservation and restoration of Florida’s natural lands. There have been recent scientific publications from research for which we provided grant funding. We are making a difference in many ways throughout Florida.

We entered the world of social media in May and that has been remarkably productive; we gain new followers every week. Our Facebook page has about 700 Fans, as well as almost 600 active weekly users of the page! We have a growing number of people following the FNPS blog , with 78 followers and over 2,000 visits in November. After seeing our blog, the Presidents of two other southeastern state native plant societies have asked our advice on starting ones of their own!


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Green Boots for FNPS

Want to hike and earn money for FNPS? There's an app for that!

Green Boot Media is a new organization providing funding and publicity for non-profit environmental groups. They raise revenue from advertisers who pay to be featured on the ad stream that runs while you are walking.

FNPS is officially signed up, and we got our first exposure from Green Boot when they welcomed us on their Facebook page, with a link to us, which went out to all the other Green Boot members nationwide.

In Florida, The North Florida Land Trust, Tampa Bay Watch, Apalachacola Riverkeepers, the Conservation Trust for Florida, and the DuMond Conservancy are also using Green Boot.

You have to have an iPhone to use it so far, but we are hoping it will morph over soon. So if you do have an iPhone, go to the iTunes store where you can download the Green Boot app for free. If you have friends who have iPhones, ask them to do it, too; you do not have to been an FNPS member to get steps credited to us.

This is another avenue, like Good Shop, Good Search, where little efforts can add up to big things.

Whenever you are walking for a bit, whether it's outside or at the grocery store, start up your Green Boot pedometer, and enter our code, 1048. The more steps we have accrued, the more advertising we will get from them. Each month 15% of their proceeds are donated to the organizations that are walking with Green Boots on. More steps will equal more money. So let's get walking!

It's good for you, it's good for FNPS and it's good for the environment.

sue dingwell

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Native Plant Wreath Making

Cora Johnson goes for a spritely look
Native plants make nifty wreaths! The FNPS's Conradina Chapter was creativity in action Monday night as the members, along with their friends from local garden and herb clubs,  joined in a convivial group to fashion wreaths and other seasonal decorations using native plants.

As you will soon see, a wide variety of methods and styles, both conventional and un,  were successfully employed.

Chapter president Martha Steuart started us out by introducing all the plants, and we had an excellent selection, including:
Cora and Sandy choose carefully
Simpsons stopper, sea grape, magnolia - leaves and pods, satin leaf, yaupon holly, yellowtop, southern red cedar, coontie, spanish moss, salt bush, palm fronds, several grasses, dried ferns and polypody, pine cones, and some native-found treasures like feathers and shells.

 Martha gave snippets of information with many of the plants: coontie and spanish moss were among Forida's first cash crops. Simpson's stopper is sometimes known as Naked bark because on a mature tree the bark will form deep fissures and peel. Yellowtop, if it is still in color at this time of year, will hold its color after you pick it. Both sides of the Satin leaf are beautiful in a wreath, the deep green top, and the bronze underside. 

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Prizes, Politics, and Passion

Kariena Veaudry, our own FNPS Executive Director, spearheaded the effort to save 17,000 acres of pristine Florida habitat in Osceola County, winning her an award from the Sierra Club. Here's the story of how one woman used passion, determination, and political savvy to battle bad decisions by government and corporate interests. Kariena shares her top three tips you can use to influence Florida's public input process.

Kariena waxed passionate in her explanation of how this award came about. She began with the observation, “ Investigative reporting is largely gone everywhere, and it left Osceola county extra early." Commissioners there are bent on a huge development project that will benefit one large land owner, destroy one of the most critical areas of conservation in the state, and negatively impact the citizens of Osceola County most of whom know nothing about it. This development is being pushed forward in a county that still has 103 years of growth left before anything new will need to be built out, according the records on file with the Florida Department of Community Affairs (DCA). The DCA is the state agency put in place to ensure that county comprehensive plans follow Florida Statutes and avoid detrimental urban sprawl.

In Kariena's view, the land that lies at the heart of the matter is “The single most important piece of conservation land in Florida.” A mixed mosaic of upland and wetlands, it is unique in the Southeast, in part because it is pristine: it has never been touched by citrus or cattle operations. It contains the headwaters to the Everglades and is home to numerous rare and threatened endemic plants and animals. If that wasn’t enough, it also lies in the middle of a corridor critical to the free flow of hydrology, native plant regeneration and wildlife habitat. 

Endangered Pine Lily-Charlie Fredrickson
Florida Natural Areas Inventory (FNAI) gave it one of their highest ecological ratings. The Florida Forever land acquisition program rated this property as priority 'A,'  the highest rating achievable.

When members of Kariena's FNPS chapter, Pine Lily, a small but active group, heard that Osceola County was planning to take the steps necessary to move their Urban Service Boundary outward to encompass the 17,000 acres so that it could be developed  they decided to see what they could do. They teamed up with several other environmental groups, including Sierra Club, and went to work. Kariena used her own personal volunteer time to fight for the irreplaceable land.

Osceola County officials had in fact been meeting with the developer for the past three years, before the public process had even begun.

Endangered Snowy Orchid
This meant that a significant amount of taxpayer money was going to further the interest of a single large land owner. When Kariena objected to this during a subsequent meeting, the reply was, “Well, they are going to develop it anyway, so we are just trying to move things in the right direction.” Kariena pointed out the weightlessness of that answer. Since the county had the decision making power, they were responsible for denying the request to expand the Boundary, and to protect citizens from the costly effects of unneeded urban sprawl.

Kariena led an effort to research pertinent Florida statutes and sections of the county’s Comprehensive Plan. The aligned group collected the necessary data and ecological maps to convey the importance of the area. Information was provided the DCA, the water management district and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Jenny Welch, currently the chapter president, along with other members of the Pine Lily chapter, began to attend and to speak at the public hearings.

The DCA had the authority to approve or deny the request to move the boundary. For the record, Kariena pointed out that the DCA does not routinely squelch development projects.  She said “If the DCA denies a plan, it is because it is really, really bad.” In order to move an Urban Service Boundary, you have to demonstrate need. However in the case of Osceola County, there is approximately 12 million square feet of office/retail approved but not yet built, approximately 69,000 homes approved but not yet built, high foreclosure rates, and empty shopping centers. Remember that 103 years of growth left, mentioned earlier?

Kariena and the crew went through the proposal,  noting the many errors in documentation sent by the developer. Ultimately, the DCA did, in its initial response, find the plan not in compliance. The land is safe for the moment. And thus it was that a group of volunteers from the community banded with some non-profit organizations and brought reason and logic to bear on a county's planning process.

Kariena also noted that this is only one story of unneeded developemnt, one of many in Florida. The future of our state is at stake. With ever weakening environmental regulations it will be even more important than ever for citizens to get involved and to educate those government leaders who don't understand the balance between necessary, responsible development and conservation.

“My experience has been that you don’t need to be professional to be effectively involved with your county,” said Kariena.  “A single voice representing the environment can be the one that makes the difference in saving critical lands. The public input process in Florida has been consistently diminished, so attending meetings and speaking to individual commissioners about conservation issues is vital.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Field trip to Torreya State Park with Gil Nelson: Part 2

This is the second part of a summary of an FNPS field trip with Florida plant guru Gil Nelson.  Click here to read Part 1.

Gil thinks that sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) should be more widely planted. Particularly because of its year round interest including its unusual salmon-y fall color. It's a panhandle plant, but might also do well farther east.

We saw quite a bit of leatherwood (Dirca palustris) which makes quite a show this time of year with its yellow leaves. Gil explains that its common name leatherwood refers to the pliable stems, and that Native Americans used these twigs instead of leather to make ropes or thongs.  It's only found in a few Florida panhandle counties.

We found some partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) groundcover, but very few patches still had their bright red berries. This occurs throughout north and central Florida.

As we came out of the woods, we met up with a troop of boy scouts having lunch at the stone bridge. Some of us chatted with the scout masters, the boys played with Pete's dog, and we paused to catch our breaths and regroup.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Field trip to Torreya State Park with Gil Nelson: Part 1

On the Saturday before Thanksgiving, 25 members from three different chapters of the Florida Native Plant Society joined up with Florida plant guru Gil Nelson at Torreya State Park. The park, located west of Tallahassee,  borders the Apalachicola River. You may have noticed that several books that we recommend over there on the right hand column are by Gil.

What a great way to spend a beautiful north Florida November day--out in the woods with folks who are interested in not only plants, but the bugs, snakes and the whole ecosystem. After posing for the initial photo (Gil is on the left of this group photo.), we were off into the woods.  (Note: For this post, I have included links to webpages with more information on the specimen being discussed.)

Here Gil shows folks how to look for hairy undersides of leaves to help identify this tree that many people confuse with oaks, but instead it's a gum bully (Sideroxylon lanuginosum). It also has thorns and bluish berries, which might be a hint that this is not an oak.