Sunday, October 30, 2011

An Excellent Day at Longleaf Pine Preserve

    October began with great weather for a field trip to Longleaf Pine Preserve.  This is a Volusia County Land Acquisition and Management property and the trip was an event of that department's outreach program.


    Thirty people joined Volusia County naturalist Bonnie Cary for an eco-buggy ride into the preserve.  This included 12 members of the Pawpaw Chapter of FNPS, many of which helped answer native plant and other questions from the public participants.
All of the FNPS chapters have field trips open to the public.
Find a chapter near you at the homepage

    Longleaf Pine Preserve  is one of the many properties in the Volusia Conservation corridor that extends through rural parts of the county mostly between the more populated western towns - including Deltona, Orange City and Deland – and the developed coastal towns that include New Smyrna Beach, Port Orange, Daytona Beach and Ormond Beach.  This preserve has been acquired in several purchases made from 2005 trough 2007 through the Volusia Forever program - a county version of the state's Florida Forever - with help from the St. Johns River Water Management District, and now totals about 12,000 acres.  All of these programs are being significantly effected by the current economic and political climate.  Land Acquisition and Management is currently being merged with the county's Environmental program.

    Natural communities found here include both mesic and wet flatwoods, cypress domes and strands and scrub.

Delaware skipper on liatris
  Two trails provide access by foot, bicycle and horseback.  A six-mile loop trail extends into the preserve from the west entrance on Hwy 44.  The 11 mile long blue trail provides a route through the preserve from the west entrance to the east entrance on Pioneer Trail, where this trip originated.  Primitive camping is allowed in a designated campsite along the trails.
    The eco-buggy provides opportunities for more of the public to experience the natural areas, and these events are almost always filled up.  This is a covered trailer with four bench seats running the  length of the buggy, and is usually pulled behind a pick-up truck or a tractor.

Examining a bladderwort
    After some brief stops to point out some of the grasses, our first exploratory stop was where some small ponds were beside the road, one containing many bladderworts.  Here we examined one of the plants.  Pawpaw member Dot Backes had done a report on carnivorous plants in her Florida Master Naturalist wetlands class, and she explained how they feed on the small organisms in the water.  Another carniverous plant in the low areas near the ponds was sundew.

    The next stop exposed the group to some native Liatris and the skipper butterflies that were feeding on them.  Pawpaw members Mike and Gail Duggins identified one of them as Delaware skipper.  Another butterfly that I think was a Baracoa skipper was also visiting the Liatris.  Then Bonnie Cary pointed out the invasive cockleburr (Xanthium strumarium) that came in with a load of fill dirt.

    At the Dahoon holly, someone new to to the state mentioned that they did not think of holly as a Florida plant.  As people wandered along the dirt road in small groups, we heard the excited call “Pine Lily!”, the first of several seen that day, and one of the highlights.
Ever wonder what, exactly, went on inside a pitcher plant?

At our last stop we saw the third carniverous plant of the day, hooded pitcherplant (Sarracenia minor).  Bonnie Cary opened up the specialized leaf of one of the pitchers to show the inside and there was a surprise creature – some kind of grub – among the digesting insects.

 Even though this was not a Pawpaw Chapter field trip, the participation of so many of our members provided an excellent opportunity to interact with people interested to learn more about the plants and ecosystems of our state.  The chapter has participated for a number of years in Volusia County outreach program field trips to various conservation lands, especially the fall wildflower events.

Paul Rebmann 

Paul Rebmann is a Florida Master Naturalist, nature photographer, longtime FNPS & Audubon member, and FNPS Webmaster, with a day job as a network administrator. You can see more of his beautiful photos, and learn lots about them, too, on his website above.   He is also exhibiting at the Halifax Art Festival on November 5/6

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Occupy Your Lawn With Florida-Friendly Plants!

Lu:  We were sitting outside, talking about a picture we had seen on Facebook that was labeled “Occupy the Tundra,” when Forrest said he had thought about making a similar photo for “Occupy North Florida.” My mind started spinning, and I came up with “Occupy Your Lawn with Florida-Friendly Plants.”
Here are the results of a no-water, no fertilizer, no pesticides largely native yard!

  and a resource drain!
When I bought the house, we agreed that the lawn was too big and we wanted to replace it, over time, with mostly native plants. Our primary motivation was that we didn’t want to spend all our free time mowing, but Florida’s water issues were a motivation, too.

Forrest:  We do not water, fertilize, or use pesticides of any sort on the lawn, so in that respect it’s low maintenance. It does require mowing about once a week at the height of our long growing season, however. Each mowing session expends at least three hours of precious leisure time and consumes about 3 gallons of gas. For my time and expense, I would rather have more bang for my buck than a monotonous expanse of green carpet.
Planning is important;  here, in order, are the
plants used for this island: Stokes' aster,
blue-eyed grass, scrub mint, horsemint, blazing
star, rudbeckia, swamp sunflower, tickseed
purple coneflower, muhley grass, beautyberry

Lu:  I grew up swimming in Florida’s springs, and I’m brokenhearted about how quickly we are losing them to overpumping and algae blooms. Cynthia Barnett, in her excellent new book Blue Revolution, says that turf grass is our 51st state because lawns now occupy an area of the country that’s larger than many states! Horticultural products, including turf grass, have become Florida's #1 agricultural commodity. So we’re losing our springs in part because of our felt need to water turf grass—lawns—but do we really want an aesthetic that we borrowed from England to define our water ethic in Florida? My answer is no.

 Red mulch was chosen in order
to show neighbors some structure.
An all-hardwood, no cypress mix.

Forrest: We have well over an acre of turf—a rather motley mix of Bahia, crabgrass, and various "weeds." Some of the latter are turning out to be desirable native groundcovers that provide nectar and larval food for butterflies. Since we live in a rural setting, we don't feel pressured to conform to the picture-perfect manicured lawn aesthetic prevalent in suburbia, but at the same time we don't want the yard to look like it has "gone to weeds."

Lu:  I gave Forrest the book Urban and Suburban Meadows by Catherine Zimmerman for Christmas last year, and we relied on that and Florida’s Best Native Landscape Plants by Gil Nelson for guidance. We wanted to provide food for pollinators, butterflies, birds, and other wildlife.

Forrest:  We had a couple of low areas in the yard where the builders burned trash when the lot was being cleared. We decided to use those spots for our first conversion to small meadows. Readying the sites was a labor-intensive process of digging out the grass, laying soaker hoses, planting, mulching. Once the plants were established by late spring, they needed only occasional watering from the soaker hoses. The photo shows the results.
Monarda punctada  (aka horsemint) going to town with wonderful aroma
and lots of pollinator visits. The blue-eyed grass and scrub
mint are hidden but thriving. Maybe they like some relief
from summer heat.
Lu:  Part of our motivation for the meadow plantings was aesthetic. These plants are gorgeous! I especially love how the horsemint, muhly grass, and swamp sunflowers peak in the fall, which is my favorite time of year. I’m hoping that our neighbors might even be inspired by what we’re doing.
Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) grass in the fall
Forrest:  I've already given seeds from our purple coneflowers to one neighbor, and she has requested some from the swamp sunflowers and horsemint when they are ready.

Lu:  We worried a little bit that our photo might be disrespectful to the folks who are part of the Occupy Wall Street movements, but I don’t think it is. Sustainability—of the economy, of financial institutions, of the government, of the environment—really seems to me to be a core issue here, and I think all these areas are connected. I’ve started envisioning Florida as the state with the best educational system in the country, the cleanest waters in the world, and an economy that prospers because of the first two. Florida-friendly plants are definitely part of that picture. I’d love it if all the folks in Florida who are growing turf grass would suddenly find it’s more profitable to grow native plants; that will happen when more of us start using them!

Lucinda Faulkner Merritt and Forrest Stowe
October 18, 2011

I agree with Lu! This wonderful, sustainable garden is a compliment to the folks on Wall Street, and also a fabulous example to turf owners everywhere. Lu and Forest have kindly shared a link to their Meadow Conversion Facebook page:

where you can see more photos and read  details of their journey. Many thanks to both of them for their effort in sharing this with our blog.

sue dingwell

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Ecosystem Gardening: Blog Action Day on Food 10/16/11

Meadow garlic (Allium canadense), a Florida native,
belongs in your herb garden next to the chives.
More and more people are growing at least some of their own food. The reasons for this resurgence include food safety issues, lack of money for fresh vegetables, educating the children that carrots grow in the ground (not on the supermarket shelves), and simply the desire to replace an unused and expensive-to-maintain lawn with something more productive.

What is a post on food doing on a native plant society blog?
Native plants play an important role in sustainable edible gardens. Sometimes native plants are the crops such as meadow garlic (“A Native Herb has Earned a Spot Amongst the Mediterranean Species” ), prickly pear ("Edible Native Recovers from the Frost"), and dotted horsemint (“Dotted Horsemint: An Appreciation”), but mostly native plants play a supporting role. An edible garden with all its non-native plants, both the carefully-bred cultivars and ancient heirloom species, does not exist in isolation; it is part of the larger ecosystemthe surrounding landscape and neighborhood.

Butternut squash (Curcubita maxima). Squash flowers
need to be visited by 8 or 9 pollinators to ensure
good fruit formation.
To have a successful, poison-free edible garden, the surrounding landscape should include features that house, feed and shelter pollinators and pest predators—informally known as the "beneficials." Pollinators are essential for many of our favorite crops and it’s been estimated that every third bite of food has been pollinated by a bee. (“Every Third Bite”) For instance, crops in the squash family (summer squash, butternut squash, melons, cucumbers) need to be visited by a pollinator 8 or 9 times to ensure the formation of the fruit.

We’ve heard a lot about the honeybees and the colony collapse disorder that beekeepers have been grappling with, but if you practice ecosystem gardening, you’ll attract native bees that can do a fantastic job as pollinators for your crops and fruits, plus if the non-native honeybees find their way into your yard, you’ll be supporting them, too.

A native blue bee works a prickly pear cactus flower
(Opuntia humisfolia), an edible native.
In addition to bees, the other beneficials include birds, bats, frogs, toads, lizards (but not the larger plant-eating lizardsthe iguanas found in south Florida), snakes, spiders, centipedes, predatory insects, and parasitoid insects. Encouraging them is an important part of your integrated pest management (IPM) program and overall ecosystem management. There are a number of excellent advantages for this method of control:

· Your crops will not have any pesticide residues.
· The predators do much of the work, although you will help with physical controls.
· It helps to prevent the development of pesticide resistance in target bugs.
· You are not contributing to overall environmental pollution.
· Insect predators will wax and wane in pace with pest populations.
· It's a more balanced ecosystem. A poisoned landscape requires ever vigilant, total life-support from you.

Beggar ticks (Bidens alba) may be a weed, but it attracts
a wide variety of insects including these cool
polka-dotted wasp moths.
Attracting and Keeping Pest Killers

Provide good habitat for both the insects and their predators--some have called this farmscaping. You'll want to encourage a large insect population to keep the predators supplied with plenty of food. This may seem counter-productive since you're trying to get rid of problem insects, but your goal as an ecosystem gardener is to let the populations reach a balance or equilibrium. The predator populations expand and contract in reaction to the pest populations. You can purchase ladybugs and other predatory insects, but adding too many predators at once rarely works, and of course, the ladybugs will fly away home or at least to some other place.

It's a good idea to keep a variety of flowers with different colors and structures blooming in areas in and around your edible gardens throughout the growing season—that means year round here in Florida. This way you provide nectar and pollen for both the adult predatory insects and the important pollinators. Create different layers of vegetation in the areas around your edible gardens by planting native hedgerows that have leaves from the ground to high shrubbery level to provide good shelter--hedgerows make a good windbreak, as well.
Some specific plant types attract your beneficials:

1) Low-growing creepers provide cover for ground beetles.
2) Small florets arranged in a flat flower head are good for the adult phase of those tiny parasitoid wasps. Plants from the carrot family (Apiaceae) work well. These are plants that you'd have in your herb garden anyway such as parsley, fennel, coriander, and dill.
3) Flowers in the daisy family (Asteraceae) such as asters, mist flowers, coreopsis, black-eyed Susans, marigolds, zinnias, and goldenrod.
4) Flowers of the mint family (Lamiaceae) members such as monarda, salvia, scarlet sage, and various mints to attract hummingbirds, predatory wasps, hover flies, and robber flies.

Plant a bug garden with some parsley or dill so
you'll have a place to deposit the beautiful
black swallowtail larvae. This way you can
eat your herbs and still support the butterflies.
When you look at this list, most of the flowers that attract beneficial insects are also attractive to humans. Some gardeners set aside an area with parsley and/or dill for the bugs. You can relocate those swallowtail butterfly larvae to the bug garden so they may dine in peace on your non-crop parsley or dill. And when these plants bloom, the beneficial parasitoid wasps will also enjoy the nectar and pollen and later birds will enjoy the seeds. Your bug garden will become a bird and butterfly garden.

In addition to maintaining a large insect population, attract and keep carnivorous birds and bats on your property by supplying appropriately designed bird and bat houses and other shelter such as snags and brush piles. Hummingbirds eat insects when they are raising young, so keep them coming to your property with red or orange tubular flowers and hummingbird feeders. (“One Native Plant = Three Habitat Benefits” ) Install a purple martin apartment house in an open area near a body of water. Maintain some of your property as an open meadow (rather than a closely cropped lawn) for the bluebirds and other ground-feeding birds. If you garden in a small urban plot, a balcony, or just a cinder block raised bed garden, you could plant butterfly and insect-attracting plants nearby: in containers near the front door, in a hanging basket under eaves, or at the local community center, school, or church yard. This way, your whole neighborhood becomes a functioning ecosystem.

Leave some out-of-the-way places uncultivated with no weed barrier and no mulch, but with a log or a pile of brush where critters can make their nests in the ground. Most solitary bees, which are important native pollinators, build their nests in the ground or drill into dead wood. Create permanent toad shelters in and around your gardenstoads will return the favor by dining on your slugs and bugs. A toad shelter can be as simple as a piece of a clay pot or a flat rock with a small crevice under it.

Green darner dragonflies mating and depositing their
eggs in the water. Water features should include still
water with emergent plants such as this
native spatterdock (Nuphar advena).
To provide habitat for frogs and dragonflies, you need a pond or a water feature nearby so they can complete their life cycles. It doesn't have to be large (just a half barrel or a sunken pre-formed hard plastic pond), but it should include a good variety of plant materials, fish, snails, and both shallow and deep water. If your pond has a beach, or mud flats, the butterflies and wasps will also enjoy it. If you are raising watercress, you will need a circulating water feature such as a multi-layered fountain with a solar-powered pump. This fountain can also be designed for frogs, birds and bugs, if you have a relatively still section where the over-flow collects.

Your Neighborhood Ecosystem

Many people call themselves locavores and try to use only local sources for food. What could be more local than growing edibles in our yards, school gardens, and community gardens? More native plants in and around your yard and the entire neighborhood provide the backbone for a bug-welcoming ecosystem, which provides the perfect environment for the neighborhood edible gardens.


· My post over on the Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens blog includes an explanation of the harmful poison cycle: "A Poison is a Poison is a Poison."
· At the FNPS conference last May we learned about native bees: “What was all that Buzzz at FNPS?” and “More Buzz About Bees
· Why are they Dying?” From the New Internationalist Magazine
· On Einstein, Bees, and the Survival of the Human Race” from the Entomology Department at the University of Georgia.
· U.S Fish and Wildlife Service’s “pollinators” web page with lots of resources:

I am proud to be taking part in Blog Action Day OCT 16 2011

The post is part of the Blog Action Day October 16, 2011

The official Blog Action Day tag is #BAD11

Now is a great time to start an edible garden in Florida, where we grow the cool weather crops right through the winter. Producing your own food—now that's action.
Ginny Stibolt

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Dotted Horsemint: an Appreciation

A short piece about a tall mint…

The purple dots on the pale flowers are the reason for the
common and scientific names. The flowers are arranged
in a whorl above the pinkish bracts.

Dotted horsemint or spotted beebalm (Monarda punctata) is found in all but the southernmost counties in Florida and its range continues northward to include three Canadian provinces, westward to Wisconsin southward to New Mexico and jumps over to California.
(The USDA page.)

The dotted horsemint is an herbaceous perennial that dies back in the winter in north Florida and comes back from the roots. It seeds readily, so once you have some, you can collect the seed in the late fall and sow them into pots or spread on soil that has been raked to loosen the crusty layer.

It occurs along roadsides, on sand dunes, in meadows, in scrub areas, and in butterfly gardens–it is an incredible insect magnet. The height depends on the soil: in a sand dune, it will grow to about a foot tall, but in a garden with rich loamy soil, it can reach to six feet or more. When it grows tall, it tends to lean over, so if you want to maintain a neat look, trim it back in the early summer, but it’s best in a meadow area where the height or the leaning blend into the background.

A dotted horsemint flower head where the florets are in bud.
The stalk in the center supports another flower head and
there are two flower heads below this one. The cascading
flowerheads create quite a show.

The monardas belong to the mint family, Lamiaceae, as you might guess from their square stems and opposite leaves, but the monarda flowers are grouped together in a whorl to form showy flower heads. This species forms towers of flower heads and each floret is a pale yellow with purple dots surrounded by more or less pink bracts. Generally it’s much showier than the other mint family members.

Dotted horsemint: insect magnets...

Like many other members of the mint family, dotted horsemint produces a strong odor when the leaves are crushed and sometimes the odor is obvious as you approach a population. The volatile chemical produced is thymol, which is the same chemical in thyme and oregano leaves. So if you’re tired of convincing those boring-looking Mediterranean herbs to love Florida’s climate and soil, substitute the gorgeous, easy-to-grow, salt-tolerant, drought-tolerant, native dotted horsemint. The taste is the same; plus both you and the insects will be much happier.

In a garden, the six-foot tall stems tend to lean over. After a heavy rainstorm
with moderate wind, they'll all lie down. Trim them in early summer if
you'd like to manage their ranginess.

Dotted horsemint growing in the sand dunes in Anatasia State Park in
St. Augustine. In an unscientific study, the taste of the leaves from these
plants were stronger than those raised in a garden and purchased as plants from
a native plant nursery. The bracts were also much pinker, but the plants were only
about a foot tall compared to six feet tall in the garden.

A woman I know likes to crush mint leaves and freeze them in her ice cubes and use them in her mint juleps, but this savory mint would be more appropriate in a bloody Mary. Cheers!

Roadside monardas mixed with a less showy mint family member and some ferns.
Ginny Stibolt

Friday, October 7, 2011

What??! Native Plants are Not Pretty...

The Sea Oats chapter's table with lots of literature,
and sample native plants including this lovely
white-flowered swamp milkweed (Asclepias perennis)
When I read last week’s post about Diane Neill's landscape transformation, “Keyhole Garden In –Lawn Out,” I was surprised at the landscape guys’ comments that native plants weren’t pretty ("The doom and gloom guys"), but last weekend I heard a grower say the exact same thing and more.

I was a vendor at the Garden and Home Show in St. Augustine October 1 & 2. While I’m not on an official book tour, it was fairly close to home and I was available with a box of books to sell. The weather was gorgeous and a fair number of folks came out to buy plants, participate in the 4-H activities, and to hear presentations. The Sea Oats FNPS chapter had a table at the entrance to the hall.

A swamp sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius) next to my
table with a Sleepy Orange butterfly guest. I'd also bought
a big pot of coontie and I borrowed a pot of muhly grass.
The natives attract attention and provide talking points
when trying to sell my book.
It doesn’t take long to set up my book table, so I roamed around the plants offered for sale. Two vendors had asparagus fern (Asparagus spp) to sell, although one guy said that this was a non-invasive form; one vendor was selling the invasive lantana (Lantana camera); and the master gardeners were selling the invasive golden rain trees (Koelreuteria elegans spp formosana). Not being shy I talked to all of the vendors—some argued, others did not have any comment, and the master gardeners said they would remove the golden raintrees—but they didn’t.

Then I talked to the event coordinator and politely suggested that for future events that it would be a good idea to stipulate, “No invasive plants.” He replied that they couldn’t do that unless the plants were determined to be illegal. I asked for further clarification and he said there was some other list besides FLEPPC’s (Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council) but couldn’t remember what it was. I asked again about why they couldn’t use the agreed-upon list from FLEPPC; he got mad and stalked off.

Renee Stambaugh, a member of the Sea Oats chapter and owner of
Native Plant Consulting attracted a lot of attention and she ended up
with more than 30 leads for people wishing to redo their landscapes with natives.
Renee also found a local grower to work with--good for the grower to have a
ready market and good for Renee to have a ready supply.
Events like this are great networking opportunities.

I’m on the planning committee for FNPS’s 2013 conference, which will be in Jacksonville. So during the event I talked to all the growers and asked if they’d be interested in participating in the conference plant sale. A couple of local growers said that they were interested and appreciated the lead-time so they could get started now. What other event can deliver 400+ educated and motivated consumers?  But the vendor next to my table flatly refused and said, “I grow pretty plants and natives are NOT pretty. Yes, I sell some Muhly grass and a few others, but generally I can’t sell natives.” I was so surprised that I did not have an answer.

The view from my booth mid-day on Saturday including a bit of the
"I only grow pretty plants" grower's booth.

We Still Have A Lot of Work To Do!

· Don’t be shy: speak up when you see invasives for sale. If enough of us protest, it will eventually make a difference. It’s important to be polite and respectful.

· Ask for native plants wherever and whenever plants are sold. Again, don’t be shy.

· Increase your own outreach by talking to reporters, local groups, HOAs, politicians who are making decisions on vegetation installations, landscape & roadside maintenance. Be prepared with printed materials or at least provide a list of resources where folks can find plants and further information. Ask to be a guest blogger on blogs with a local audience and share photos of your beautiful native plants.

· Increase your chapter’s outreach to the general population. The Sea Oats chapter had an information table for this show and the previous weekend they held a native plant sale at the “Estuary Day” celebration on September 24th at the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve. If you read about Diane Neill's experience (above), you may recall that she learned about native plants at a green market and persisted in her choice of natives even though the mainstream landscapers tried to convince her otherwise—someone was doing a good job of outreach at that green market.

If we all work together to reduce sales of invasive plants, increase awareness of the problems they create, and if we promote sales and awareness of native plants, then maybe, just maybe, the grower at the next table will start to come around.

Ginny Stibolt

Michael mans the Sea Oats chapter table at the entrance to the building.

If you have a story about your work along these lines, please share with us here—your actions may inspire others who may inspire their own circles and so forth until we have even more real momentum. Contact us at

Some additional photos from the St. Augustine garden show

Early Saturday when the outside vendors are ready for the crowds...

4-Hers--start them early...

And down by the pond...

Hempvine  (Mikania scandens)

A great white heron belly-deep in dollarweed (Hydrocotyle spp).
FYI, this post was reposted with a new title.  

Monday, October 3, 2011

FNPS Annual Report for 2010

Here's your answer to "What does FNPS do anyway?" The 2010 annual report is a thorough look at the activities and the finances all beautifully put together. 
The FNPS 2010 Annual Report a 4 meg pdf file to download

Please let the executive committe know of your chapter's activities this year, so you can be part of the next annual report.