Thursday, September 29, 2011

Keyhole Garden In - Lawn Out

"I didn't want grass anymore, and I didn't want a yard that looked just like everybody else's," says Diane Neill, explaining how she came to be the proud owner of this beautiful garden.  "I was interested in conserving water, tired of mowing and feeding the turfgrass, and wanted to get more enjoyment out of my outside space."
Keyhole garden shortly after installation

Diane knew nothing about native plants, or even about garden design; but serendipitously, her son, Brandon, who just graduated with a major in Sustainable Living, came home last spring from Iowa with lots of ideas and some awe-inspiring garden design books. He had been learning  about using planting beds, and suggested those as good alternative. Diane was intrigued with the pictures, and excited about combining flowers with edibles and herbs, but had some reservations: what would the neighbors think? Would the HOA allow it? She definitely wanted something that looked attractive and wouldn't upset the neighbors.

Buy a copy on Amazon

As they poured over the books, Diane was especially fascinated by the concept of a "keyhole garden" that they discovered in Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway. A keyhole garden, explains Diane, is a place you can walk into and kneel down to reach in to all parts of the planting area. As they thought more about it, this concept seemed to fulfill all their needs, and they charged ahead full steam to make it happen.

Diane had gotten just a bit of information about native plants while attending a farmers' market. She spoke with folks there who recommended natives as being easy keepers. Diane took home some brochures and began a search on the Internet to learn more. Her son drew up a sketch using the dimensions of their yard, and Diane, a graphic arts designer herself, went to town with details. She refined and elaborated the design, which had the dual purpose of making it a work of art, and also giving her the data needed to estimate costs.

Now please imagine a full orchestra, as in the movies, with a thundering chorus of doom-denoting music........because when Diane got serious and asked for quotes from the "landscape guys," gloom and doom was what she got. She was told that natives were "not pretty," and was categorically discouraged from using them. However, even though Diane had never created a garden herself, she came from a family of farmers back in Iowa, where her mother had always had a vegetable garden.  So now that she had a vision, Diane knew what felt right!

She had the good fortune at this point to learn about Indian Trails Native Nursery in Lake Worth. She took her book and her drawing out there, to Jane Thompson, who immediately knew it would not only work, but it would indeed be "pretty." Jane gave her choices of a variety of plants for the differing heights needed to implement her plan, and things were really rolling.
Blanket flower turned out to be one of Diane's favorites

Coreopsis, "So cheerful!"
Diane was anxious to make use of her son's fleeting presence to get some of the structural work on the garden done, and she describes the next phase as pretty hectic. They had to decide on the type of rocks that would be in the pathways, not to mention the job of retrieving them from the source and getting them laid down. They stayed on task, though, and finally the big day came. Jane drove up to their house and delivered 900 plants, which they spent the next four days installing!

"The neighbors were lining up in the cul-de-sac to see what was going on!" says Diane. But when it was all over, the compliments just came rolling in: "It looks beautiful!" was the common refrain. Shortly after the initial install, Diane added a bench so that she could sit right in the garden and enjoy it up close. She laughs as she says that one day she went out and a stranger was sitting on it!

Diane has loved learning about the multitude of beautiful native flowers, and teaching others about them, too, along with the added benefits that natives bring. Those of you who already have native gardens will not be surprised to hear this, but Diane has been thrilled to discover that clouds of butterflies are now a part of her new landscape. 

What a great success story!
Send us yours!

sue dingwell

Monday, September 26, 2011

Florida Wildflower Symposium October 15th

The Florida Wildflower Foundation’s 2011 Florida Wildflower Symposium and Annual Meeting on Oct. 15 has adopted a hands-on format that lets participants choose from a variety of workshops and presentations.
The event at the Wekiwa Springs State Park Youth Camp, Apopka, begins with a 9 a.m. FWF member meeting. Morning presentations about wildflower trails and the Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants Web site ( will follow. 

After a lunch break in the camp’s dining hall, participants will attend a workshop or presentation of their choosing. Sessions include:
  • Native Landscaping for Fall with Dr. Craig Huegel, a naturalist, author and educator who teaches about wildlife and native plant communities. 
  • Wildflower Propagation for Home Gardeners, a workshop led by Claudia Larsen of Micanopy Wildflowers nursery.
  • Selecting and Preparing Herbarium Specimens, led by University of South Florida herbarium specialist Alan Franck, who will teach participants about specimen selection, drying and pressing.
  • Wildflower and Nature Photography, a presentation/workshop led by Vince Lamb, an experienced nature photographer and Florida Master Naturalist.
  • Wildflower Walk with author Dr. Walter Taylor, who will explore the woods and sandhills near the youth camp in search of wildflowers and grasses to identify.
  • Natural Lands Management, led by a Wekiwa Springs State Park ranger who will discuss how fire and other tools are used to maintain the park’s thousands of acres.

A social from 3-5 p.m. will feature refreshments, a silent auction and door prizes. Native plants, seeds and other items will be for sale throughout the day.

You'll be able to purchase wildflower seeds bred from Florida stock.
Admission is $20 for Foundation members and $30 for non-members, including lunch and refreshments. Day-of tickets will be $25 for members and $35 for non-members. Space is limited to 150, with most workshops limited to 25 participants; pre-registration is encouraged in order to receive your first choice of workshops. Visit the FWF Web site,, to register via PayPal or to download a registration form to mail with a check. (To check the status of your FWF annual membership, email Lisa Roberts at or call 407-353-6164.)

FWF members and friends also are invited to paddle on Sunday, Oct. 16, with Lars Andersen of Adventure Outpost, who will lead a trip on Rock Springs Run near Apopka. Lars, who offers regular discounts to FWF members, is offering this trip at a reduced rate of $39, or $29 with your own canoe or kayak. Reservations only – contact Adventure Outpost: 386- 454-0611;


Saturday, September 24, 2011

National Estuaries Day Sept 24, 2011

In Celebration of National Estuaries Day, here's a second look at the projects in the Lake Worth Lagoon:

Lake Worth Lagoon

What is an estuary?

An estuary is a place where freshwater rivers, streams, and canals meet and mix with salty ocean water. This mix of fresh and salt water creates the brackish water unique to coastal estuaries and makes them among the most productive ecosystems in the world.

Plants , such as this cord grass (Spartina spp), growing
at the water’s edge calm the wave action to provide important
habitat. (This is a photo from a north Florida estuary.)

Why are estuaries important?

More than 70 percent of Florida's recreationally and commercially important fishes, crustaceans, and shellfish spend part of their lives in estuaries, usually when they are young. Many of these species migrate off shore to spawn or breed. The eggs develop into larvae (immature forms) that are transported into estuaries by tides and currents. The shallow water, salt marshes, seagrasses, and mangrove roots provide excellent hiding places from larger, open-water species. Some species grow in estuaries for a short time; others remain there for life. Snook, trout, mullet, jack, grouper, redfish, silver perch, spot, catfish, sheepshead, spiny lobster, shrimp, crabs, oysters, and clams are examples of the diverse marine animals dependent upon healthy estuaries. Estuaries also provide breeding and nesting areas, or rookeries, for many coastal birds, including several endangered species, such as brown pelicans.

Lake Worth Lagoon

Lake Worth Lagoon is the largest estuary in Palm Beach County. The lagoon is about 20 miles long and a half-mile wide and stretches from the Village of North Palm Beach at its northern end to the Town of Ocean Ridge and the City of Boynton Beach at its southern end. It is separated and protected from the Atlantic Ocean by two barrier islands, Singer Island and Palm Beach Island. It has two permanent, man-made inlets, Lake Worth Inlet and South Lake Worth Inlet that connect the lagoon to the ocean.

Lake Worth Lagoon and other Florida estuaries are extremely important natural resources. Cities are built along its shores. Its waters are used for recreation and commerce. The fish and wildlife that make Florida unique depend upon estuaries for survival. As long as nutrient-rich freshwater flows and tides interact without too much human interference, estuaries remain productive. But some human activities over the past 100 years have hurt Lake Worth Lagoon. Less food and shelter is available for fish and wildlife. Water running off the land can carry pollutants into the lagoon. At times the quality of the water is poor and murky.
Many partners who care about the lagoon are working to protect, preserve and enhance the lagoon. They are planting mangroves for wildlife and cleaning up trash and debris from its waters and shoreline. Scientists are monitoring manatees, sea turtles, and seagrass. The lagoon is making a comeback from its earlier years, but it is still a body of water that needs continued protection and restoration. To learn more about this local treasure and what you can do to help save Lake Worth Lagoon, go to


(1) Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection website.
(2) “Lake Worth Lagoon: Discover a Local Treasure Newspaper in Education Project.” Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners.
(3) "Snook Island Project in Lake Woth is Taking Shape" Channel 5 News WPTV
This post provided by an anonymous FNPS member.
Here are some FNPS Blog posts on similar topics"
Shoreline Habitat in the Intracoastal Waterway
We All Live in a Watershed!  
Florida's Marvelous Mangroves

Monday, September 19, 2011

Shoreline Habitat in the Intracoastal Waterway

New islands and pennisulas have been constructed and planted with mangroves and cord grass
in Lake Worth (Palm Beach County, FL). The foliage in the foreground is the mangroves that were
planted several years ago. On the right side, the curvy island has been added and planted this year.
On the left side note the shoreline vegetation next to the golf course. West Palm Beach is in the background.

Up until a few years ago, the wakes of passing boats in the Intracoastal Waterway lapped up against the bare shoreline and seawall of the public golf course and the adjacent Bryant Park without any interferance. Now in several areas, where new living shorelines* have been installed, the wakes don't hit the seawall at all, but are absorbed by the new mangrove-covered extenstions to the seawall and new islands. Several areas of cord grass (Spartina spp) have also been planted. There are 10 acres of mangrove and nearly 3 acreas of cord grass.

In this phase of the project, a public walkway, a kayak lanching dock, an artificial reef, and a new fishing pier are all being constructed along the new mangrove habitat.
These photos were taken from the Lake Avenue bridge over to the barrier island. This new bridge replaced the old draw bridge. Years ago part of the old cement bridge was left as a fishing pier, but it had become unsafe so now the rubble from the old bridge has been used as the artificial reef and the new islands. This Palm Beach County project includes not only these visible barrier islands, but aggressive action to treat storm water so that the sediments and muck-producing runoff are greatly reduced.

With all these efforts to improve the water quality, residents and guests alike will want to paddle their kayaks in Lake Worth Lagoon and even eat the fish that they catch there. Bird watchers will have much more to view now that a wide variety of water and shoreline birds have places to roost and fish.

This photo is one of two panorama shots of the project. This one is closest to the Lake Avenue bridge
and you can see a little of the golf course on the left.
This is the second of the two panorama shots where you can see some of the islands that were created in the
first phase of this project and the mangroves are well underway while others are freshly planted.
"Four mangrove islands and three shoreline mangrove planters were constructed resulting in 10.1 acres of red mangrove habitat. Additionally, 2.8 acres of Spartina marsh and 2.3 acres of oyster reefs were created. Oysters are already growing on the reefs. Threatened seagrass Halophila johnsonii has already begun to recruit to the newly placed fill. Approximately 57 acres of submerged habitat that may be suitable for seagrass recruitment has been created. Fish and wildlife have begun regular use of the new habitat.

"The Spartina marsh will help stabilize sediments and filter nutrients out of the system, contributing to increased water quality. The rock revetment will serve to protect the planted areas and also act as a shallow water reef that is conducive as a substratum for oysters and other attaching organisms. Funding partners include PBC, FIND, USACOE, SFWMD, FDEP & FWC." Quoted from Lake Worth Lagoon Habitat Restoration and Stormwater Projects. Impressive!

This is a fantastic project supported by the cooperation of various public, private, and volunteer organizations. Does your community have a sinilar project where habitat has been created and water quality has been improved?

For more information:

SunSentenial article: "Mangrove project is bringing Lake Worth Lagoon back to health"
Palm Beach County: "The Snook Islands Natural Area" includes several fact sheets including this summary of all the related Palm Beach County Projects: Lake Worth Lagoon Habitat Restoration and Stormwater Projects.

*Living Shorelines

Too much of Florida's original shoreline vegetation has been replaced with bulkheads, seawalls and rock riprap, which create a hard shoreline with little habitat for fish, birds, shellfish, and other wildlife. The water-side plants create a buffer that acts like a sponge that will blunt the exposure to wave action (from storms and boats) and water flows. These waterside plants also absorb nutrients from the water and create habitat for oysters and other filter feeders that will further clean the water.

While this Palm Beach County project is huge, even small projects or installations of appropriate shoreline plants outside of a bulkhead or riprap can make a difference. A little bit of habitat will build into more as your plants will trap more sediment and as birds and other wildlife start to visit or live in the newly created habitat and deposit their fertilizer and new seeds. You can add to your shoreline habitat over the years and when you have the time and energy.

For the first few years, you'll need to monitor the area for invasive species like Australian pine and Brazilian pepper, but eventually the mangroves and cord grass will become so thick that those invasives will be less of a problem. Be sure to check with your local authorities before you start a living shoreline project.

Ginny Stibolt

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Invasive Exotic Plants

What defines an invasive exotic plant? Taking one word at a time:

Wild taro (Colocasia esculenta) with its heart-shaped
leaves and wedelia (Sphagneticola trilobata) with its cute
yellow daisy-like flower heads are both invasive exotics.
· Exotic – the plant was not found in Florida before the first Europeans arrived.

· Invasive – the plant takes over the landscape.

So the definition becomes a plant that is not native to Florida that grows and reproduces aggressively.

Examples of invasive exotic animal species are the python, which is taking over in the Florida Everglades, and the fire ant, which we all know and respect. An example of an invasive exotic plant species is the Chinese tallow tree, brought here because of its high oil content. Its cultivation spread because of its natural beauty and spectacular fall color and is now extremely invasive in Southern forests and wet prairies. A common garden flower, the Mexican Petunia, is also an invasive exotic. It’s hard to comprehend how something so beautiful could be so treacherous. Here in Highland Lakes, we have been working to eradicate invasive exotic Cogon Grass and Primrose Willow from our lakes and marshes.

Many of the introduced, exotic plant species were selected because of their beauty and their resistance to the chewing and sucking insects found here. This resistance gives the exotic species a selective advantage over the native plants. Most of the time, individuals, organizations and even local governments who contribute to the problem are ignorant of the facts that surround invasive plants.

Additionally confusing, is that invasive plants that are not in a certain extremely invasive category are not illegal to sell or to plant, example: Mexican Petunia. Invasive plants may have beautiful blooms and provide limited food for some wildlife, but they can be destructive to Florida’s native ecosystems.

Growing coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)
attracts hummingbirds, which also eat lots of bugs.
We all love to feed the birds. A little-known fact is that all birds, even the seed-eating Cardinals and the nectar-sipping Hummingbirds require insects as a source of protein to feed their growing chicks. Without protein from insects, the chicks will not grow nor thrive. Without insects there will be no birds.

Florida-native trees and wildflowers support a whole host of chewing and sucking insects. And it is a good thing they do. The insects which native plants support are, in turn, eaten by other, larger creatures such as spiders, frogs, anoles and birds. Without the insects at the bottom of the food chain, the charismatic wildlife at the top of the food chain would have nothing to eat. Consider adding at least one Florida native wildflower to your Highland Lakes landscape to help our local bird and wildlife population.

So, to summarize, invasive exotics alter native plant communities by displacing native species, providing little or no food for native wildlife and changing plant community structures and ecological functions.

For an excellent article about the history of invasive plants in the Southeast, go to the American Nurseryman magazine, October 2010 issue, page 20.

Peg Lindsay

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Join the Blog Team

 Cypress head at Grassy Waters Preserve

Shock and awe would just about describe the feeling I had yesterday as I came across a brand new shopping center here in Virginia which had to cover,  in a conservative estimate, about 30 acres. Imagine 
it - 30 acres completely covered by parking and buildings without a single plant or pervious surface of any kind.  I mean not one! With all we know now about best practices. And I had to wonder: why are people surprised that heavy rains have made rivers here overflow, causing massive damage to property and life. Homes are flooded, cars have been swept away, waste water treatment plant overflows have caused campgrounds on rivers to be closed.

Stormwater runoff. I think we talk about it more in Florida than some other states do. But it’s a concept that everybody needs to understand. We can’t always have what we want! We have to pay attention to the changes we are making to our environment, changes that cancel the ecosystem services that we absolutely depend on. Those would be fresh water, oxygen, carbon sequestration, erosion and flood control, small details like that.

Are you wondering what all this has got to do with Florida native plants? Well, it’s like this. Nothing in life is certain but change, and change has lead me to a new address here in the Old Dominion State. 

The thing I am going to miss the very most is the Florida Native Plant Society, where I have met so many wonderful people, and from them, learned so much about the natural world we live in.

My interest when I first joined the Society, was in native plants. But the Society’s mission extends beyond plants to include “native plant communities.” As my knowledge expanded, I began to appreciate the complexity and wealth of native plant communities, and to understand their value in supporting ecosystem services such as those above. I also began to want to share with others these new-to-me ideas, and to teach others about the contributions they could make to a greener world by using and conserving native plants. 

Both the learning and the sharing have been great joys.

In February of 2010, a blog seemed to me like a great way to share information about native plants, and the FNPSblog  was born.  A Facebook page and Twitter account were naturals at that point, so web-genius Cindy Liberton set all that up for us. Ginny Stibolt quickly evolved into a real workhorse of a partner, and now, here we are 176 posts later. Do you see where this is leading? Well, you are right.  I am now extending an invitation to you, to partake of the special joys of writing about the native plant world, and to become part of the blogging team. 

We need help with writing articles, interviewing people, and getting the word out about all the neat things people and groups are doing these days. Many hands make light work, and it truly, truly is an enjoyable and satisfying activity. If you'd like to join the blog team, or have suggestions about others who might be able to help, please send us an email at:

Write to us, write for us, and help us spread the word: native plants add LIFE to your landscape, wherever it may be!

sue dingwell
Erythrina herbacea   Coralbean or Cherokee bean

Monday, September 5, 2011

More Buzz About Bees

Personally, I'm buzzing with irritation tonight at the park manager in Pohick Bay, Virginia, who has put out a flier for campers here with instructions on how to "re-purpose" water bottles by making them into bee traps. Can you believe it? And then waiting till they are full of bees and throwing them away. Egads!! Oh yes, he will be hearing from me (Sue Dingwell, your roving blog reporter) tomorrow. And guess what? I will be directing him here to our very own blog, where by incredible good fortune, Peg Lindsay has come to my assistance - read on!

Peg says in a report to her HOA:
I was at a meeting and one of the attendees said that our very lives and the survival of our species depend on preserving native plants and native plant ecosystems.  I thought he was a little over the top – one of those wild-eyed, proselytizing environmentalists.  Now, I’m not so sure.

Last May I attended the annual Florida Native Plant Society Conference. Two of the speakers presented topics about native bees.  Both speakers were from different universities and engaged in very different types of research on native bees.  And although off-topic, as the European Honey Bee is not native, both speakers said that unless scientists discover the cause of “colony collapse disorder”, that the European Honey Bee is doomed.  Both speakers said that the cause is not one single agent but an unknown combination of agents (e.g. pathogens, nutrition, stress, pesticides) which causes the colony to collapse.

I had first heard about colony collapse disorder on the TV program “60 Minutes.”  They interviewed principals from a major bee-keeping agri-business who said the honey bees are disappearing from his hives from an unknown cause.  This may drive up the price of honey, but if all the European Honey Bees die off, what will pollinate our crops?  Our food supply depends on pollination.  For some crops, farmers are now being encouraged to plant a hedgerow of wildflowers around their fields to encourage native bees and other pollinators to visit.

One of the speakers at the Florida Native Plant Society Conference, Steve Buchanan, co-authored a publication “Bee Basics, An Introduction to Our Native Bees.” This is a free booklet co-published by the USDA, the US Forest Service and the Pollinator Partnership.  It’s a short, easy read. (Type the title into Google and it will take you to PDF) I learned some bee facts.  There are over 4,000 species of native bees in North America and over 600 species of native bees in Florida.

Click to read about this sleeping bee

Some of the bee behaviors described in this booklet sounded bizarre.  Like the fact that bees are more active in the mornings and sometimes sleep the afternoons away, tucked inside a flower.  So I checked out the bees in my wildflower garden and sure enough, there were bees “sleeping” in my flowers!
While I was looking for sleeping bees, I spied a dragonfly munching on a bee.  Bad for the bee, good for the dragonfly.  Dragonflies are amazing insecting-eating machines and consume large quantities of mosquitos.  And everyone knows dragonflies are one of the favorite snacks of swallowtail kites.  I am happy that my little garden contributes to snacks for the kites. 

But back to the bee story - not every bee can pollinate every flower.  Flower sizes vary, and so do the head sizes and tongue lengths of the different species of bees.  Blueberries, for example, have tiny flowers, and the head of the honey bee is too large to fit. 
Vaccinium arboreum
Paul Rebman

Shiny Blueberry
Vaccinium myrsinites
Shirley Denton
Blueberries are pollinated by blueberry bees.  In Florida, we have 3 species of wild blueberries plus the closely-related deerberry and sparkleberry, all pollinated by the blueberry bee, Habropoda laboriosa.  These wild bees also pollinate the Florida blueberry crops

The honey bee does poorly when compared with native bees in pollinating food crops derived from native, north-American plants, including pumpkins, watermelons, blueberries and cranberries.  The honey bee cannot pollinate eggplant or tomato flowers – these crops also require other pollinators. 

Like our migratory songbirds, bee populations are being decimated by habitat loss and fragmentation, as well as from direct effects of pesticides.  A program to control the spruce worm in our northern forests wiped out native bees from the forests.  Blueberry farmers in Canada could not produce blueberries although their plants were healthy.  These farmers initiated litigation that led eventually to Canadian government restrictions on the use of pesticides.  The blueberry bee population rebounded.  In Guelph, Ontario, Canada the citizens created the first-ever Pollinator Park inspired, in part, by their experience with the blueberry pollination disaster.

Rather than bore you with more bee facts, you can read up for yourself on-line (see the link, below)    And be the first in YOUR neighborhood to have a bee house in their garden!

For more information:
Bee Basics, An Introduction to Our Native Bees”, Moissett and Buchmann, 2010, also available on-line at
The Forgotten Pollinators, Buchmann and Nabhan, 1996

Friday, September 2, 2011

The St. John's-Worts: Under-Rated Landscape Plants

A St. John's-wort shrub planted itself in front of the palmettos, but which Hypericum is it?
 We have several species of St. John's-wort that have planted themselves on our property from groundcovers in our lawn to this shrub with its small yellow flowers, gracefully arching stems and reddish peeling bark. Recently, I decided that it was time to identify which Hypericum it is. So I carefully observed the flowers:

4 petals in a flattened X-shape and
2 large sepals

Turning the flower upside-down, the 2 large sepals are
subtended by 2 narrow bracts
If you're serious about identifying Florida's plants, "Guide to the Vascular Plants of Florida" by Richard Wunderlin and Bruce Hansen, is THE authoritative text. These plant taxonomists are also the experts that provide data for the online Atlas of Florida's Vascular Plants, which we often cite as our authority for mapping which counties plants occur and when identifying whether a plant is native or not.

Here is their list of Hypericum for Florida. Without the book, you could link to all 31 of the species, look at the photos, and try to decide, but the photos may or may not provide enough detail to correctly ID the plant. The book and its keys make the job of figuring out the species or subspecies more certain.

Here is the key in the Wunderlin and Hansen book where I knew I could figure out our shrub.

A good key provides a series of clear either/or choices.

#1 is easy to figure out the number of petals and sepals. There are obviously 4 petals, but I only saw two sepals without my magnifying glass, but still I had to choose the first #1 with 4 petals--not 5.

#2: Styles 2 or styles 3 or 4. I can see that there are 2 styles, so I pick the first #2.

#3: The pedicels (flower stems) are short the the 2 bracts are right under the sepals (calyx). So my shrub is Hypericum hypericoides or St. Andrew's cross. When I look it up on the online plant Atlas, the range covers the whole state and the photos match my shrub perfectly. So now I know what to call my beautiful shrubs.

Flower diagram from wiki-commons
In order to successfully use a key, you'll need to learn (or re-learn) the parts of the flower and some other botantical terms. But once you get started, it's rewarding to know exactly what you have.

When you purchase "Guide to the Vascular Plants of Florida" or any of the other books listed in the right-hand column, by clicking our links, FNPS earns a small amount of money. Thanks for your support.

Ginny Stibolt