Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Darke Designs

Rick Darke’s keynote speech at last week’s FNPS Conference was a richly layered presentation beautifully illustrated with photographs that delivered. He arrived at the conference early so he could go on one of the field trips and incorporate local information and pictures, like the one on the right.  His talk, “Liveable Florida: Native by Design," included ideas for designing in gardens, but extended beyond garden borders to suggest designs, or plans, that contribute to a more sustainable world.

Although he had worked for many years at Longwood Gardens, Mr. Darke discovered that nothing from his experience there was helpful in designing his own eighth of an acre in Delaware. So he made a decision to go out into the woods there and learn directly from the source. Over the course of a year he took numerous photos of the exact same spot in in the woods, in all seasons, all kinds of weather, all times of day. The drama and visual interest of that study which was revealed through the photos, was compelling.

There was one flowering tree in the vignette he chose, a dogwood. Of particular note is that the dogwood’s flowers appear in the scene only briefly, but they are not the driving force in the interest of the composition even when open. In other words, it was the interest of contrast, texture, light, shape and form that made the picture appealing, not the blooms. This idea was punctuated with a truly lovely shot, all greys and browns, of bare winter trees shrouded in tendrils of fog. Point taken.
Rick Darke photo illustrating play of light and shape using a local and native plant
Mr. Darke noted that in general people today are becoming more disconnected from the natural world, hence it is more unusual for folks to understand what he referred to as ‘biological reality.’ This points directly to the fact that those who understand and appreciate the natural world have a special role in sharing those things with others. I know for me, and I suspect for many others present, that message was a great affirmation. “Know the signature of your landscape, and you will be able to teach and reach others” he said.

He also spoke of understanding plants not as isolated ‘things,’ but as elements that occur in relationship to each other. We need to combine gardening with ecology so that plants can grow in coherent groupings for sustainable perpetuation. We need to plant in masses to shelter wildlife, not just plant for a few berries or blooms.

He urged a more experiential approach. “Landscaping is about the language of mood; how do these things make you feel?" I liked that idea; while some of us may question our ability to draw a blueprint, we can all answer the question of how we feel about design elements we observe!

More Darke advice: "Relax into the wonder of life, give yourself permission to look more closely. Avoid 'nasty-neat,' you need holes for woodpeckers!"

Showing us a photo of magazine cover found in Miami's Museum of Decorative and Propaganda Arts
depicting an angelic figure flitting through a stylized orange grove, Mr. Darke cautioned, "We don't want to turn back the clock," our cultural heritage is important. What we want to do is to make sure we are measuring the functions of our natural systems, and understanding the benefits that they bring.
In a conversation outside the main hall, Mr. Darke mentioned that he never told people to “plant natives," instead he helps people to focus on what they really want their landscapes to be doing for them. One of the first ways people are drawn to natives is by a desire for birds and butterflies, and starting with those desires is the best way to motivate people to think about their gardens as functioning systems. He finds that negative examples aren't motivating...in other words, he refrains from  telling  people "Don't plant that."

If we really want to reach out to people, we have to acknowledge the power of technology, said Mr. Darke. It's the WOW presentations that are critical to reaching the audiences we want to connect with. It's up to us to teach ourselves to use these tools.

Toward the end of the talk, we saw the many ways Mr. Darke incorportated what he calls 'landscape ethics' into his own landscape at home: a lawn of naturally occurring groundcovers that needs no irrigation or fertilizer, the use of plant masses, primarily but not wholly of natives, the formation of useful spaces outside, to sit, eat, shower among other things! He doesn't use pesticides and is warning that it is imperative for us all, farmers included, to find ways to control insect problems without them.

His books are a great resource: The American Woodland Garden, The Encyclopedia of Grasses for a Living Landscape, and the new edition with his forward and photos, of The Wild Garden by William Robinson. His website, RickDarke.com, commerce free, is also a terrific resource, with links to lots of stuff both informative and fun, from a YouTube video of a truck that seems to roll through his garden without a driver to a 150+ page PDF for those who want to know how to plant wildflowers along a highway.

Thanks to Mr. Darke for a grand and memorable talk, and to FNPS for bringing him to Florida!

sue dingwell
Walter Taylor relaxing into the wonder of life, photo by Rick Darke


Thursday, May 26, 2011

What was All that BUZZZZ at the FNPS Conference?

Native metallic green bees go crazy in the
prickly pear (Opuntia humifusa) flowers.
Bees! We learned a lot about Native Bees from two fabulous presentations and a BEE Movie.

On Friday during lunch, Tracy McCommon, of Nature Wise TV, screened their video “Gardening for Native Pollinators of Florida,” which was so popular that they ran it again the next day. It’s for sale on their website, if you’d like a copy.

Stephen Buchmann makes apoint to a crowded room

Friday afternoon Stephen L. Buchmann, author of “The Forgotten Pollinators,” gave his presentation, “Trouble in Paradise: Are we Losing our Native Bees?

Akers Pence of Uiversity of Florida studies our native bees
Then on Saturday Akers Pence: “Restoring Native Pollinators Habitat: Native Bees in the Landscape.” Here’s a link to Akers’ work at the University of Florida.

It was good to have so much information about one topic--that way more information actually sinks in...

Here’s what I learned:

· There are 316 species of bees native to Florida

· Most of the native bees are solitary and shy.

· Female solitary bees dig long tunnels lined with excretions to make it waterproof, gather pollen in their branched hairs and deposit the pollen ball in a side tunnel, lay an egg on it and repeat 20 or thirty times. After laying all her eggs the female seals up the tunnel with a plug of soil. (Sometimes the "cowbirds" of the bee world wait for the female to leave the tunnel, go in and lay their own egg on the pollen sac.)

· Leaf cutter bees cut perfect circles from leaves and use them to wrap the pollen ball and an egg. Think of them as “ba-bee” blankets.

· Other native bees carve nests into wood.

The difference between a wasp and a bee is

1) the diet—most wasps are carnivorous, while bees exist on pollen and nectar.

2) the branched hairs—bees have them to collect the pollen, wasps do not.

A carpenter bee has hairs on its legs
to gather pollen for its young.

A wasp does not have hairs to carry pollen.

What we can do to encourage our native bees:

· stop using pesticides.

· leave bare soil in undisturbed areas so bees can dig their tunnels.

· leave some snags, stumps and logs so the wood borers have a place to next.

· And, of course plant native plants that the bees love.

The extreme details of bees of Florida: www.bio.georgiasouthern.edu/Bio-home/Pascarella/Intro.htm

Native pollinators being studied in Florida: www.panhandlefresh.com/articles/Pollinators.pdf

The great sunflower project is asking for citizen scientists to analyze bees that visit the same type of sunflower on a nationwide basis. Their website also has lots of information: www.greatsunflower.org

Ginny Stibolt

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Reflections on the FNPS Conference

A guest post by Deborah Green

Wekiwa Springs State Park has a beautiful spring and river to canoe. But it is the diversity of habitats and rare plants that draws FNPS folks to the park. On the Sunday field trip associated with the 2011 Conference, a group of avid botanists enjoyed this diversity. Learning new plants and challenging oneself with identification is great fun. Seeing how the plants fit into this diversity of habitats makes it even better!

Wekiwa Springs State Park Field Trip associated with the FNPS Conference
had plant ID challenges for everyone. Photo by Deborah Green.

FNPS traditionally holds a plant identification contest for beginners and advanced at one of the conference evening social events. This year since the conference was held in conjunction with Florida Exotic Plant Pest Council (FLEPPC) (www.fleppc.org), an additional contest on identification of invasive plants was added. Shown here with FNPS founding member Dr. Eliane Norman (right) is the winner of the contest, Chris Lockhart of Habitat Specialists, Inc. Second prize went to Ray Jarrett of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in Volusia County, who is a new At Large FNPS Board member. Third was Dr. Walter Taylor, author and emeritus professor, University of Central Florida. Collecting for the contest looks like I stumped Walter with pothos, a Category II invasive in Central and South Florida.

Winner of the Invasive Plant ID contest Chris Lockhart and FNPS founding member
Dr. Eliane Norman at the 2011 FNPS Conference. Photo: Deborah Green

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Native Plants for Sale Here

It's like being a kid in a candy store! There are tons of native plants on sale at the Conference today, plus the chance to talk to knowledgeable growers for advice. A real treat! We usually feature plants here, but I thought you might like to meet the people behind the plants, and hear a little of what they had to say.

Sharon Dolan, left, of Maple Street Natives in Melbourne, said that people were looking for plants that were drought tolerant and cold tolerant. She has been selling a lot of Adam's needle and Asclepias tuberosa. She's holding starry rosinweed, another big seller.

Her husband, Brent, enjoyed going in and hearing some of the presentations yesterday, especially Stephen Buchmann's talk 'Trouble in Paradise: Are We Loosing Our Native Bees?' Brent appreciated the fact that Stephen was so personable and he was able to go up and ask questions after the talk. I went to that one, too, and learned so much. You'll be hearing more later on topic!

Jim Nelson, of Green Images, in Christmas, said that one of their biggest sellers was Serenoa repens. They sell a lot of palmettos for restoration and development, but are open for retail two days a week, (407-568-1333). They have a lovely blue variety, the Seranoa repens, var. glaucus, for sale. Jim had a huge variety of plants for sale in addition to the palmettos, lots of flowers and shrubs. He said he was not going to have to take as many home as he had feared!
Nursery sales have taken a hit lately, along with everything else, but there were a lot of people here who had lists they had been longing to fill.

How to plant a pawpaw
"I figured people were gettin' hammered with four-dollar-a-gallon gas prices, so I figured I'd give 'em a break. I dropped my prices today," said Terri, of Pietro's PawPaws. As I walked up she was explaining patiently, "There is only one plant a zebra swallowtail will lay their eggs on, because it's the only one the caterpillar babies can eat..." There are eight species of native pawpaw in Florida, all of fruit-bearing. Terri had four species on sale today in a specially designed container that accommodates their long taproot. We've blogged about Terri before; click her link above for contact info.

Brightman Logan, All Native
Brightman Logan, of All Native in central Florida said that groundcovers were among his biggest sellers this weekend. He sold out of Mimosa strigillosa "People are tired of turf," he said. "You have to realize that there is still going to be maintenance," he cautioned, "It's just a different kind of maintenance." More on that later, too!

Marc Godts, Green Isle
 Terry and Marc Godts were here from Green Isle Gardens. They had a lot to say about why there are in the business of selling of native plants, and Terry is going to blog for us here soon. Look them up on Facebook.  Terry expressed her gratitude for hearing Doug Tallamy's keynote speech at the Palm Beach Conference two years ago. He really did do a lot of good! (My chapter! Go Palm Beach!) Terry told me that Marc recently completed a design where a sterile turf yard was transformed to an all-natives forest. Terry, we are waiting for those pictures!

Frances Alsobrook, on the left, from Hawthorne, said that the tarflower was his biggest seller. "People see them and know what they are and they want them," he said. 

We voted on some changes to the FNPS by-laws this morning, to streamline the board meetings, and Frances told me that he had helped write the first by-laws over 30 years ago! Now that's pretty cool. He doesn't have a website, but he knows a ton, and you can call  him at 481-3795 if you're near Hawthorne.

Sarah Keifer, The Natives
William and Nancy Bissett, of The Natives, were both here this weekend, along with Nancy's daughter, Sarah Keifer, who is their office manager. Nancy gave a presentation this morning about scrub restoration on former orange groves. More later, again! Honestly, you should have been here! The Bissetts sold a lot of wildflowers, and said folks were asking a lot of questions about xeriscapes. They too, sold out of Mimosa strigillosa because of demand for groundcovers. 

There has just been so much going on this weekend, it has been impossible to take it all in and write about it, too. But you can bet you will be learning more as we have the chance to read our notes and share. 

Congratulations to the 2011 Conference Team, you have done a fantastic job!

sue dingwell


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Conference Blast Off!

The Weeds at work
The 31st Annual Conference is definitely off with a bang! Plant enthusiasts from all over the state have been  arriving since yesterday, and excitement is in the air. Both the Florida Native Plant Society and the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council are holding events here at the Sheraton Orlando North Hotel this weekend. You wouldn't think a group like this would like weeds, would you? But in fact, The Weeds are rockin' and rollin' tonight with no control measures anywhere in sight!

Bruce Means, book author
 The music is providing a  backdrop for six authors who are signing books and talking with people about ideas near and dear to their hearts.

The brave and knowledgeable are attempting to win a new contest instituted this year - Invasive Plant ID.

Everywhere throughout the hotel friends are re-connecting, and new acquaintances are exchanging emails as new bonds are formed.

Everyone is looking forward to tomorrow's Keynote speaker, Rick Darke and all the other presentations - so hard to choose just one during each time slot, when three are offered!

Hand made sign holders!
The weather was beautiful for all the field trips that went out today. The photo here is to record the fantastic sign holders that were custom made by Brent MacAllister for this use by FNPS. They break down in two pieces for easy transport and storage, are high enough and sturdy enough to be perfect for the use. They just kind of personify the "extra mile' that so many people give to make these conferences possible.

  My husband and I went on a canoe trip in the Lake Harris chain, and we stopped to tour a NuRF (Nutrient Reduction Facility) site. This is a unique water treatment facility run by the Lake County Water Association and it was extremely interesting. We were treated to a tour of the facility and got to meet Helga, a centrifuge from Germany. Oh yes, a blog post is coming on that one! We also saw wonderful aquatic plants and I was brave enough to take the camera in the canoe. So if i had brought my card reader I could share them......hopefully fix that tomorrow. You'll hear from us then!

Blogging live from Maitland,
sue dingwell

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Invitations for Conference Week

Conference week is here! Online registration is closed, but you can still attend by signing up onsite in Maitland!

Space is available, and you can sign up right at the Sheraton Orlando North Hotel in Maitland, where the FNPS 31st Annual Conference will be held. You can come for one or both days of the speakers, programs and workshops that will be presented on Friday and Saturday. Plus the vendors, social events, author book signing, native plant sale and Serious Sessions of Plant Jeopardy add to the fun! Listen to Ginny's FNPS conference podcast

Our blog was just a few months old when the Conference began in 2010, but we jumped right in and provided Blogging LIVE, bringing the news and the excitement to folks couldn't be there. Well, Ginny jumped right in ... Sue was Missing In Action due to unavoidable conflicts. Wild horses couldn't keep her away this year, though, and we will both be Blogging LIVE, again, with extended coverage. You will hear about the speakers, the programs, the field trips and the social events, along with great photos, of course! 

Ginny & Sue  So you'll know who we are!

We invite you to please come on over and introduce yourself to us if you are there - just say howdy, or, even better, join the Blogging LIVE team!

In addition to the speakers - 40 of them! - many of the Florida Native Plant Society Committees will be giving presentations at the Conference. Anyone who wants to learn about the work of these committees is welcome to attend. This is a great way to find out what is happening in the Society, and also to see where you might enjoy contributing. 

Communications (that includes all the Social Media) will be at 3:15pm on Friday in the Pegasus Room. 

Hope to see you there!

Sue Dingwell & Ginny Stibolt

Friday, May 13, 2011

What's wrong with this picture?

As a garden writer, I've ended up on an email list for garden PR people.  Most of the material is lame: "Here's an article so & so wrote and we think you should repost it on YOUR website or blog..." blah blah boring.

But this week I receive an email with this subject line:

"Hello!Here's a cool video on flowers and native plants for Florida"

I perked up. Someone's finally realizing what we've been preaching for so long. So I open the email:

Here’s a neat video on Florida plants and flowers with great tips on drought tolerant plants and flowers that thrive in Florida’s hot, humid climate and add gorgeous color year-round to any landscape. Plus, for folks who want to attract butterflies to their garden, this quick and lively video will show how to create a beautiful butterfly garden that’s eye-catching and good for wildlife. Many thanks!"

There was the link to the video and it was signed by a PR agent in PA with the motto:

On the web at www.GardenMediaGroup.com and http://blog.gardenmediagroup.com
"Your reputation is our mission."
Here's the video:
Any native plants there?  How about food for larvae? What about placing those plants so close together for an "instant" effect?
I think we still have a lot of work to do!! What do you think? 
Ginny Stibolt

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Stoked on Stokes Asters

Stokes asters make a wonderful showy border.
Stokes aster (Stokesia laevis), an herbaceous perennial, is native to northern Florida and has been collected in the wild in a few scattered counties in north Florida as shown in this profile on the Atlas of Florida’s Vascular Plants: www.florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/Plant.aspx?id=816. It will also grow well farther south throughout central and into parts of south Florida. Normally it’s a lovely lavender, but some varieties are blue, white or pinkish. Boy, does it attract small native bees and various butterflies! If the sun is shining, the flowers are covered with insects looking for its nectar.

A typical member of this family has showy ray flowers around
the edge and unadorned disk flowers in the center.
This is the only species within this genus and what makes it different within the aster or daisy family (Asteraceae) is that its disk flowers are showy, but different than its ray flowers. Background: In this sunflower, a more typical member of this family, the sterile ray flowers (or florets) are yellow and act as petals, while the central disk flowers arranged in a dizzying swirl are the ones that attracted this carpenter bee and will be the ones that develop into luscious sunflower seeds.

The stokes aster was named by Linnaeus to honor one of his son’s friends Jonathan Stokes, a doctor who helped to popularize the use of digitalis as a heart medicine. Laevis means smooth or not hairy. The stems and leaves are not hairy, but the bracts around the flower heads have definite hairs. When the flowers die back in the fall, these bracts might turn reddish and provide a second show.

Laevis means smooth or without hairs, but the bracts supporting the
flower heads have distinct hairs along their edges.
The huge aster family (Asteraceae) contains more than 22,750 species and is divided into sub families and then into tribes. You might think that stokes asters are closely related to other asters, but they are in a separate subfamily: Cichorioideae (Chicory) in the Vernonieae tribe. Traditional asters belong to the Asteroideae in the Astereae tribe. And much to the dismay of those of us who try to keep up with the taxonomists, most of our North American asters were moved from the Aster genus to the unpronounceable Symphyotrichum genus.

Stokes asters are readily available and listed as available at six nurseries in northern and central part of the state (as of May 2011) on the Florida Association of Native Nurseries: www.floridanativenurseries.org. You may also find it amongst the offerings (for sale or raffle) at FNPS meetings, because it multiplies. This is how I got started; a few years ago; I brought some home from an FNPS meeting and now I have enough so that I’ll pot some up and bring it in to share at a future meeting. Then someone else can get started with this cool native wildflower and suport even more of our native polinators.

Note to photographers: You’ll have a hard time capturing the rich lavender color of these flowers and others of this hue. It’s called the ageratum effect and it has to do with the infrared that we can see with our eyes, but the camera cannot. It works better if you avoid bright sunlight to reduce the wash-out of the color.

Ginny Stibolt

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Map to Treasures on the FNPS Website

The Florida Native Plant Society may not have coffers as deep as the Federal Reserve, but it DOES have a collective depth of knowledge that not only makes it wealthy, but also gives it the ability to lend out to others. One place that is a repository for some of that wealth is the FNPS.org website. And good news: the information there is free for the taking, no applications needed, no interest charged.

Website overhauls are in the works, but in the meantime, did you know that you can find:
  • a clickable map listing plants that grow in your county? 
  • meaty information on what FNPS does state-wide?
  • a fantastic children's coloring book of native plants and animals?
  • instructions on how to make a butterfly garden?
  • great printable summaries of how to plant for wildlife and how to use bunch grasses?
All of these (which make great handouts for outreach events by the way), and much, much more are at your fingertips from the homepage.

Finding a local chapter and information on the annual FNPS conference are pretty easy,  but let's look behind some of the hidden doors; maybe you will discover solutions that you have been searching for!

Here is the sweet spot for our search, it's on the left hand side of this page as well as the homepage. You can see what I mean about hidden doors!

In 'Contacts' you will find the keys to the kingdom! How to get in touch with FNPS officers and Administrative services - have you been wanting to write to the President? Mail in an application? Get in touch with a Chapter Rep, or share an idea with the Membership committee?  Well, now you know where to look!

By choosing the 'Calendar' option under 'What's Happening' you will have the option of seeing a quick overview of the chapters' meetings, programs, and field trips, along with  some of the major events occurring in Florida that might be of interest to members.  The meetings times, dates and locations of the Society's Board of Directors can be found here.

So where's the BEEF? If you click on 'Committees,' a wealth of information is revealed about the pithy work of these FNPS groups: Legislation and Policy, Conservation, Land Management Partners, Education & Outreach. Find out what FNPS is really up to! What are the Society's positions on water use, invasive plants, biofuels? How do you get your issue added to the Action Alert status? How do FNPS members keep tabs on our conservation areas? Where can you find more information about natives, conservation, teaching others about our issues, finding gardens that showcase native plants? Look no further, the 'Committees' door is open!

The 'Publications' door opens up the last seven years of Sabal Minor issues for you to read or print out, and tells you how to submit articles to our flagship magazine, the Palmetto. Did you know that many Palmetto articles are archived there, too? Great reading!  The following titles are also available for reading or printing:  Landscaping for Wildlife, Bunch Grasses, Alternatives to Cypress Mulch, and the Coloring Book. Free, free, free, and created by expert FNPS volunteers.

The Heart of the Matter......
Now we get to some doors that are enclosing vital and fundamental information that every FNPS member should know they can  access. In case you forget. Or in case you are presenting  a case to an HOA near you! By clicking on 'Planting Natives,' you will see these great choices:

  • Plants for Your Area - this is the map that leads to lists derived from such FNPS member/authors as Wonderlin, Denton, Haehle, Osorio and Brookwell. It's the real thing! Click your county for a complete list.
  • Why Go Native
  • Getting Started
  • Attracting Butterflies
  • Attracting Wildlife
  • FNPS Transplant Policy
  • Find a Native Plant Nursery
And one last, important door that you are invited to open is this one: 'About Native Plants.' Here you will find answers to:
  • Native Plant Definition
  • Threatened and  Endangered Species
  • The Florida Environment
  • Invasive Species
All of the content for these articles has come from that collective wealth of knowledge that was mentioned at the beginning, reflecting the science-based thinking that FNPS is founded upon. So while we wait for the day when the site can be updated, don't miss out on the treasure that is waiting behind those doors, now open!

Have ideas or requests for the new website? Let us know with an email to: fnps.online@gmail.com

sue dingwell

Monday, May 2, 2011

Canoe Shingle Creek, Where Natives Reign

The Shingle Creek Regional Park, offering a unique blend of nature and history, sits quietly hidden within an urban area near Orlando.  At close to 1,000 acres, the park has plenty of space to allow visitors to experience vivid encounters with a wild and vanishing Florida, and to take a look back a site where pioneer families lived and worked long ago.

The agricultural history of Kissimmee began here in the late 1800s, and the park is home to some restored work buildings dating from that time. As you canoe down Shingle creek, you can experience unique beauty that has changed little since those days. You may see river otters, yellow-bellied slider turtles, deer, and gopher tortoises. For birders, the list includes limpkin, swallowtail kites, hawks, osprey, bald eagles, (an active nest at the moment!), kestrel, owls, bluebirds and many more.

And native plants? Of course! Cypress trees, red maple, buttonbush, lizard's tail, and iris all await you at the water's edge. On an easy hike inland, you will see majestic live oaks, paw paw, blackberries, and leafless beaked orchids among many others. And all of these things will be enhanced by the bonus of having expert guides with you if you come with us on this Conference Field Trip, Thursday, May 19th. This is a fantastic chance to really get out in natural Florida in a convenient and timely way. You will have the expertise of  Jenny Welch and Bob Mindink as guides for the trip; they  know Shingle Creek very well and will be able to point out the best viewing spots, and help you with both plant and animal identification. The adventure starts from the park at 9:00 and runs till 12:30.

pioneer buildings at Shingle Creek
The trip costs $50 for FNPS members, $65 for non-members. The cost covers the rental of your canoe and your lunch, too. And if you're a non-member, why don't you go ahead and become one?  Basic membership only costs $35, and you would save $15 on the field trip right away! Join online at FNPS.org

You can just come on a field trip, or you can attend one or both of the conference programs that will be held on May 20 and 21 at the Sheraton Orlando North Hotel in Maitland. For a full list of the speakers, workshops, plant sale and social events, and to register online please go the the conference home page :

Lizard's tail-Saururus cernuus
Nesting Bald eagle
River otter
 Come out and be IN the real Florida! We make it easy!