Thursday, May 31, 2012

Plant Profile: Helianthus debilis, Beach Sunflower

By Kelsey Olsen and Stephanie Shankle

This post is one of a series from professor Nisse Goldberg's Botany students at Jacksonville University. 

Figure 1. Helianthus debilis, note heart-shaped leaves
and yellow ray flowers with red-brown disc flowers.
Photo credit: Shirley Denton.
Going to catch some waves? If you're lucky, you'll see some beach sunflower, Helianthus debilis, also known as east coast dune sunflower. This Florida native and member of the aster family (Asteraceae) can be found on beaches and in dunes along the east coast and has been introduced up the coast to North Carolina. As its common names suggest, it can survive in dunes where it may be exposed to salt spray and salty soils. Despite its fondness for waterfront areas, Helianthus debilis does not do well in flooded areas.

Two subspecies also occur in the state. One of these, H. debilis ssp. cucumerifolius (cucumberleaf dune sunflower), is common in Florida's central and western counties, while the other,  H. debilis ssp. vestitus (west coast dune sunflower), is endemic, and found in six counties (from Pinellas south to Lee) along the west coast of the state.

You can recognize the plant by its heart shaped leaves and spreading growth pattern (Figure 1). Its inflorescence is a head (typical of the Asteraceaes) with two types of flowers: yellow ray flowers and reddish-brown disk flowers (Figure 1). H. debilis produces achenes, a dry fruit, and blooms year-round..

This plant plays an important role in beach conservation, used for dune stabilization, wind erosion protection, and beach beautification efforts. It also serves as a source of nectar for butterflies and bees, and its fruits are eaten by birds and other animals found in the dune habitat.

Interested in growing your own? Beach sunflower does best in full sun. Not surprisingly, they are drought-tolerant and grow well in sandy-soils. Vendors that sell the plant can be found using this link from the Florida Association of Native Nurseries:


Image source

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Conference Tees!

So you heard what a great conference we had this May, but simply weren't able to attend? Well, you can still show your support with this great conference tee. Get 'em while they last, as sizes and quantities are limited.

$12.  You save $5.

Women's and Men's sizes in two colors at the following links:

When you wear or use FNPS logo merchandise, you spread the word on the importance of native plants, advertise our society, and you also support FNPS with your dollars!

Shop The FNPS Store!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Jaret Daniels and His Charismatic Pollinators

Jaret Daniels PhD
 Jaret Daniels is assistant professor of entomology at the University of Florida and assistant curator of lepidoptera at the Florida Museum of Natural History. He also established the Florida Butterfly Monitoring Network and has worked to address declines in the endangered Miami blue butterfly.

Jaret was a speaker at the 2012 FNPS conference in Plant City, FL. I'd heard him speak twice before, but Jaret has so much information to share that there is always something new to learn or a different way of viewing ecological problems in our landscapes.

Charismatic Pollinators

He urged us to approach landscape conservation from an economic viewpoint and to emphasize the Charismatic Pollinators—butterflies and bees. 70% flowering plants need pollinators, including more than 100 crops worth more than $20 billion/year.

Native pollinators are filling the gaps left by colony collapse disorder for honeybees. Unlike the European honeybees that are highly managed and carried to specific crops that need pollination, the native pollinators tend to stay local in an environment.

Beyond agriculture pollinators are keystone species in terrestrial ecosystems and are inherently tied to native plants in the landscape. Especially important are the larval food sources. 70% of the native pollinators are ground nesters and 30% are cavity nesters. Brush piles in the landscape are good for both types of nesting bees.

It doesn’t take a lot of money or effort to grow the flowers the bees can use. Plan to have plants blooming throughout the season and grow them without pesticides. Use ecotype Florida seed very important so the flowering comes at the right time for the native bees.

Operation Pollinator

Work at University of Florida includes strategies to maintain roadsides or other utility corridors for bee movement. Also, Operation Pollinator, a cooperative effort between three universities with one of the goals of enhancing agricultural field margins. The project was begun in 2010 in Michigan, Florida, and California. The first phase was to test different regionally adapted flowering native plant mixes, to assess the cost and ease of establishment, and their attractiveness to wild pollinators.

In Florida, Blanketflower (Gaillardia pulchella) was shown to be the top attractant for bees. And it's one of the easiest wildflowers to grow. Other top flowers for bees are Goldenmane Tickseed or Dyeflower (Coreopsis basalis), Lanceleaf Tickseed (C. lanceolata), Partridge Pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata), Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), Dotted Horsemint (Monarda punctata), Leavenworth’s Tickseed (C. leavenworthii), Ironweed (Vernonia spp.), and Narrowleaf Sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius).

They found that native flowers attracted two to four times the butterflies, but five to fifty times (average nineteen times) more bees.

Tilling the soil is devastating to native bees. In agriculture the enhanced margins must stay in place. So the farmers they worked with left the wildflower plots unplowed for multiple years to allow the bees to burrow.

Tropical Milkweed

The last item Jaret spoke about was the non-native tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica), sold in many nurseries provides nectar and host plant material for monarch butterflies and others, but tropical milkweed year round in many parts of Florida and this can result in a protozoan disease that infects monarchs and other milkweed feeders. In colder climates, the milkweed dies back each year. Infested monarchs living year-round on the tropical milkweed may breed with migrating populations, possibly jeopardizing the migration.

So this is another reason to stick to native plants in your butterfly gardens.

It was a pleasure to talk with Jaret after his presentation. He said he loves speaking to groups like FNPS, because it gets him out of the office. He also said that he might write a couple of guest blog posts for us. Won't that be great??

Jaret's field guide is an important
resource for butterfly gardeners.
Purchase your copy own here.


For more info on Operation Pollinator see:
Miami blue butterfly:
Community-wide butterfly landscaping:
All the EDIS articles written by Jaret Daniels:
Founder and director of the Florida Monitoring Network website:

Ginny Stibolt

Thursday, May 24, 2012

2012 Conference Highlights, Part 1

By Laurie Sheldon


Triumph the Insult Comic Dog
Before getting into the body of this blog, I’d like to take a moment to describe my experience last weekend at the FNPS conference in Plant City. For starters, this was my first conference, so, aside from knowing the lineup of speakers, socials, and field trips, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I kept recalling a sketch I saw on late night television many years ago in which Triumph the Insult Comic Dog interviewed a gathering of Star Wars fans, and did just what anyone would expect of a talking, cigar-smoking, bow-tie wearing canine - he made fun of them. Granted, nerdy adult men in Ewok costumes are fairly easy targets, but still… I couldn’t help wondering if I was headed into a variation of that scene, less the dog and light sabers, of course. “Jeez, I hope not,” I thought, “since I really don’t care for science fiction.” After receiving an invitation to report about the event to the blog-reading world, I booked a hotel room, packed my bags and headed towards the Gulf coast, undaunted by my feelings about the genre.

I’ve already blogged about evening one of the conference, which you can read about here, so I’m skipping directly to the first full day. I woke up Friday morning at 4:30am, excited, nervous, and sweating after making the mistake of turning off the noisy swamp-cooler in my room before hitting the sack. I recited my mantra from back when I was a Landscape Architecture student, “sleep is overrated,” jumped into the shower and got dressed. I jotted down directions to the Trinkle Center and read from a book penned by that day’s keynote speaker until the hotel’s continental breakfast was open. After breezing through the lobby for bean juice and a handful of generic cheerios I was out the door.

Early Friday morning at the Trinkle Center
The conference center was already buzzing at 7:30am. Vendors, shoppers, lecturers, and volunteers weaved skillfully among one another, while friends from different parts of the state stopped to chat and review the schedule. Over the next two days, I attended 12 presentations and took almost 50 pages of notes. The speakers each had unique insight, grounded in personal experience, on subjects that extended well beyond our state’s native flora. Citizen advocacy, historic gladesmen, shifting legislative policies, and karst topography represent a sampling of the words that jump out at me as I flip through the scribbling in my steno pad. That said, it seemed that everyone in attendance DID have at least one thing in common - a love of the state of Florida, a desire to “keep it real, yo”, and respect for the life that existed here long before blogs and indoor plumbing.

I plan to share all of the wonderful information I took away from the conference on this blog - but not all at once. Believe me, it’ll be much better that way. Was it like a gathering of Star Wars enthusiasts? No… and yes. You see, there were no talking robots or hirsute wookies, the issues at hand were/are not imagined, none of the conference took place in space, and there was no soundtrack by John Williams. At the same time, the Jedi-like will to protect our state's natural resources was palpable, and the Yoda-esque wisdom involved in embracing natives was everywhere. An excellent conference it was.


The following is a recap of Herbivory Affects Morphology, Physiology and Sex of a Common Perennial Vine, Passiflora incarnata, a research presentation given by C. Bennington of Stetson University’s Department of Biology:

Gulf Fritillary caterpillar
Roughly 10% of plants the species Passiflora incarnata is consumed by herbivores (leaf-eaters). In addition to climbing via tendrils (the plant version of grappling hooks) this vine is rhizomatous (grows laterally underground), and typical of disturbed sites. It is protected from herbivory by generalists (non-picky leaf-eaters) because it contains hydrogen cyanide. The same chemicals that offer it protection are ineffective in deterring specialist herbivores (extremely picky leaf-eaters) like fritillary larvae, who are able to sequester the chemicals (store them internally) and use them in their own defense against predation.

The researcher’s goal was to determine how P. incarnata allocates its energy in the face of herbivory, and whether an increase in production of defense mechanisms is conversely related to the energy it puts into reproduction and growth.

Trichomes can impale soft-bodied caterpillars
Physiological Defenses
Closeup of nectaries on a species of Passiflora
This study focused on two of P. incarnata’s physiological defenses against predation by specialists. The first line of defense - trichomes - are stationed on the surface of the vine’s leaves. Trichomes, while practically unnoticeable to my calloused hands, are tiny hooked hairs that can impale the soft body of a caterpillar. A second line of defense comes by way of the nectar-producing glands located on the petiole at the base of the vine’s leaves, and on the three bracts directly beneath its flowers. The nectar produced in these locations is a favorite of ants, which will populate passionflower because hey - free food. The ants recognize that passionflower is a veritable gold mine for them, and, like faithful squatters, patrol the vine and often consume the small, specialist herbivores (caterpillars and caterpillar eggs) that might otherwise gnaw off the vine’s nectaries.

The flowers of this vine are self-incompatible (cannot successfully produce seed from their own pollen), open synchronously and last for only one day. They are andromonoecious, which is a fancy way of saying that they have both bisexual and male flowers on the same plant. At this point I became a bit confused with what the researcher was describing as “male,” and the photos she was showing, since it had been my understanding that male flowers had only male reproductive organs, i.e. anther-topped filaments. I learned later on that, in andromonoecious plants, flowers with non-functioning female organs are classified as male. With that piece of information the researcher's description of the difference between the male and bisexual flowers (males do not drop their stigmas whereas bisexual flowers’ stigmas do a sort of backbend and end up in a boy-girl circle alongside the anthers) made perfect sense.

Bisexual (L) and male (R) flowers of P. incarnata
It was predicted that when P. incarnata uses energy to defend itself against herbivory, it will reduce the amount of energy it allocates towards reproduction, and would therefore produce smaller flowers, fewer flowers, or an increased percentage of flowers would be male.

Testing and Data Collection
- 9 genotypes (plants of the same genus and species but not necessarily the same parents) of Passiflora incarnata were collected from sites separated by a considerable distance.
- In a screened area, 6 pots of each genotype were cultivated, of which 3 were the control and three were subject to simulated herbivory (leaf clipping). By potting the plants, each genotype could be positively identified; had they been planted in the ground, the vines’ rhizomatous tendencies might have lead to the creation of offshoots whose origin could be difficult to pinpoint.
- The amount of nectar each plant produced was quantified, all flowers were tagged and data regarding the flowers’ sex, size, pollen count and quantity of ovules was recorded. Additionally, an average trichome count was calculated from leaf samples of each plant.
- At the end of the experiment, each plant’s specific leaf area (SLA) was determined by dividing the area of a portion of a leaf by the dry weight of that same portion of leaf. SLA is (more or less) related to leaf thickness; flat, thin leaves have a high SLA, and tough, dense leaves have a low SLA.
- Although it was presumed that low SLA and high trichome count went hand-in-hand, and that, when resources were allocated towards producing trichomes, nectar quantity would be low, data from the “herbivory group” suggested otherwise. This group both produced more nectar AND had a lower SLA than the control group.
- Herbivory did not appear to effect flower production.
- Genotype seemed to have a large impact on male flower production.
- Plants that produced male flowers tended to be larger than their counterparts, and were of higher fitness overall.
In Hindsight
Following the presentation, the lecturer reflected upon what role, if any, the caterpillar’s saliva might have had on the vine’s response herbivory, and whether simulated herbivory by manual leaf cutting was a comparable substitute for the real thing. Although I am in no way a scientist or researcher, it seems to me that rhizomatous growth would be an excellent way for vines subject to herbivory to channel their resources. Perhaps we will hear more on the subject during next year’s conference in Jacksonville.

Image sources
- Triumph:
- Fritillary caterpillar:
- Trichome impalement:
- Nectaries:
- Inflorescences:
Additional resources:
- Dai, C. and Galloway, L. F. (2012), Male flowers are better fathers than hermaphroditic flowers in andromonoecious Passiflora incarnata. New Phytologist, 193: 787-796.
- McLain, D. Kelly (1983), Ants, Extrafloral Nectaries and Herbivory on the Passion Vine, Passiflora incarnata. American Midland Naturalist, 110 #2: 433-439.
- Triumph the Dog video

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Live blogging from the 2012 FNPS conference.

The Saturday night social took place at Crystal Springs Preserve. As we walked to the entrance, we were urged to apply insect repellent and saturated wipes were handed out.

The learning center featured animal skins and a beautifully painted ceiling. 

The guides told us that unlike some of Florida's springs, this one doesn't have just one big vent, but instead has several sources of water in the area. No matter, the water is still crystal clear and the surrounding vegetation is beautiful.

A sandhill crane tends her eggs on a mud bank, while ibises and herons occupy another section of the stream bed.

A cabbage palm, before it starts growing vertically, looks like a rangey palmetto.

There is never enough time to talk to old friends.

A little added ambiance.

A delicious dinner was served in a screened pavillion.
After more talking out on the boardwalks. Sunday lots of attendees went on field trips around the area.
And so ends another fantastic Florida Native Plant Society conference.  Next year the Ixia chapter will host the conference in Jacksonville. Make your plans now.  It'll be great!

We hope you enjoyed the live blogging series from the conference. We will post more detailed pieces on individual presentations and and other conference topics in the next several weeks.
Ginny Stibolt. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Doug Tallamy at FNPS

Dou Tallamy at the 2012 FNPS conference
in Plant City, Florida. 

Doug Tallamy, author of “Bringing Nature Home: What You can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, is speaking to us this morning about the problem of isolation of habitats and what happens to wildlife populations, especially small ones.  He suggests that we restore all of the landscapes in between corridors. Use more plants, but any plant won’t do.  Choosing native plants makes all the difference for the insects.

Think about your yard as an opportunity to perform ecosystem services.

He showed us an impressive number of butterflies and their larvae. And most important… the plants that are needed to support them.  And insects support birds, toads, frogs, and the insect eaters support the higher predators.

Tallamy suggests that we reverse the “normal” landscaping so that there be turf only where you walk with bunching grasses, perennials, shrubs, and trees—both tall and understory species.

For more information see Tallamy's website:

Purchase your own copy on Amazon:
Bringing Nature Home: What You can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants

Friday, May 18, 2012

Live blogging from Gigis Garden in Plant City

The FNPS conference Friday night social took place at Gigis Garden in Plant City.
The food was great, but the networking even better. Many members stayed late planning their next projects.

Live blogging from FNPS conference

Live from Plant City!
Jeff Klinkenberg, award winning Florida journalist, describes himself as a Charles Kuralt of Florida.
He is telling us tales of the "Real Florida."

Lisa Roberts of The Wildflower Foundation.

Prem Subrahmanyam will talk about Florida's native orchids on Saturda at 1:30pm
Meanwhile, he's selling some ofhis great orchid photos.

Homeowners: A special two-hour session with Michael Miller on how and why to install native landscapes.
You don't need to attend the whole conference to attend this special session just for you and just for $25!
After the session, he'll meet attendees outside amongst the native plants. 

And we're off!

By Laurie Sheldon

After a day of travel, field trips, and an exceptionally well attended Board of Directors meeting, FNPS conference attendees headed over to the Red Rose Inn Ballroom, where they showed that, contrary to what you may have heard, they're not JUST about natives...

The room was buzzing with friendly conversation.
...they like cheese, fruit, crackers, drinks, socializing, and - most importantly - showing off their plant smarts! FNPS Jeopardy, a perennial favorite among members from across the state, was the featured entertainment, and believe you me - the stakes were high.

Setting up for the game. Do not try this move at home.
Well, sort of. Nevertheless, the competition was so fierce that we had two hosts officiating over the crowd of green-thumbed hand-raisers. Beat that, Alex Trebek! Although Ray Wunderlich did an outstanding job as scorekeeper, everyone was a winner as far as I was concerned. Perhaps that's why I felt the urge to blurt out one of the answers without raising my hand (oops)!

I'd like to buy a vowel. What do you mean, "wrong game?"
We concluded the evening with a guitar serenade, and wandered off to our respective rooms to get a good night's sleep before our first full day of speakers. This is my first time at an FNPS conference, so I'm very excited to be here in Plant City for it and to have the opportunity to share my experience with everyone out there.

More from me tomorrow. Until then, goodnight.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Live Blogging from FNPS in Plant City Part 1

 The 2012 FNPS Conference theme "Preserving the Natural Heart of Florida" and has this cool logo and you can purchase on a tee shirt.

The conference offers something for everyone.  Bunches of folks are out on field trips today. Tonight is the welcoming Social. Thesessions start tomorrow. More on them later.

You may register onsite for one or two days, plus there is an inexpensive homeowners' option for one session. More information here:
Twelve native plant vendors are unloading their great-looking plant this afternoon!

You do not need to register for the conference to purchase the plants.
Native plants are THE sustainable landscaping option.

Greg Krolczyk, manager of the FNPS online store (, is here with various logoed merchandise

On a tee shirt...
Live blog post by Ginny Stibolt

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Family Profile: The Lauraceae

By Lucas Hill

This post is one of a series from professor Nisse Goldberg's Plant Taxonomy students at Jacksonville University. FNPS blogger Laurie Sheldon assisted the students individually with their initial drafts, and provided them with editorial feedback and guidance for content development.

Leaf: simple, entire, alternate (leaves on opposite sides of the stem and do not attach at the same point), and spiral (rotating in position along the stem)
Flower: bisexual or unisexual, radial, usually small and pale 
Fruit: berry-like drupe

Members of the family Lauraceae are mostly trees and shrubs, with one genus (Cassytha) that is a parasitic vine. Many are rich in aromatic ethereal oils that have terpenoids and alkaloids (organic chemicals that have many uses to the plant, including defense). This family consists of 50 genera, 8 of which are found here in Florida. The red bay (Persea borbonia var. borbonia, Fig. 1), silk bay (P. borbonia var. humilis, Fig. 2), and swamp bay (P. palustris, Fig. 3) are native to Florida. The leaves of red bay are white on their lower surface as compared to the lower surface of the silk bay leaves, which are a rusty or copper color. Both varieties of P. borbonia have small hairs on the lower surface of the leaves, giving them a silky texture, while P. palustris has relatively larger hairs on its leaves. Red bay has been devastated in recent years by a fungal infection called laurel wilt (Raffaelea lauricola) which is carried by the ambrosia beetle (Xyleborus glabratus). This disease affects the vascular system of the plant, which transports nutrients and water throughout the plant.

Other well-known species of this family in our region are the native sassafras tree (Sassafras albidum, Fig. 4), the avocado (Persea americana), and the non-native camphor tree (Cinnamomum camphora). Sassafras is unique in that it can bear three different shapes of leaves on the same tree, a condition known as heterophylly. Other more rare species of Lauraceae in our area include those of the genera Cassytha and Lindera (spicebush).

Fun Facts 
Many members of this family are used as spice plants,
   including Laurus nobilis (bay leaves), Cinnamomum
   verum (cinnamon), C. camphora, and S. albidium. 
The leaves of Laurus nobilis, the bay laurel, were formed
   into crowns by the ancient Greeks.
Members of the genus Pleurothyrium have a symbiotic
   relationship with ants that protect the tree.

Judd, WS, Campbell, SC, Kellogg, EA, Stevens, PF, and Donoghue, ML. 2008. Plant systematics: A
     phylogenetic approach. Sinauer Associates, Inc. Massachusetts, USA.
Wunderlin, RP and Hansen, BF. 1998. Guide to the Vascular Plants of Florida. Gainesville: University
     of Florida.
USDA Forest Health Protection. "Laurel Wilt." US Forest Service. USDA Forest Service - Forest Health
     Protection, Southern Region, 04 Mar. 2012. Web. 06 Apr. 2012.

Image Sources
Figure 1.
Figure 2.
Figure 3.
Figure 4.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

It's All Good

By Steve Woodmansee
President, Florida Native Plant Society

Members have raised over $1,000 for the Florida Native Plant Society with their everyday actions, namely, cruising the internet, shopping, and eating! You can show your support for the Society everyday too, by using GoodSearch, GoodShop, and GoodDining. They're free, they're easy, and they're secure.

By using GoodSearch as your primary search engine, you can raise a penny per search for the Society. Powered by Yahoo, it’s not only a great tool to surf the net, but an easy way to generate revenue to fund our programs. Just go to GoodSearch and select the Florida Native Plant Society-Melbourne to get started. Better yet, make it the default search engine on your homepage and watch those pennies add up to dollars in no time!


Purchasing power has a new definition! Make a gift more meaningful and your online shopping go further by registering the Florida Native Plant Society-Melbourne as your charity of choice at GoodShop. Thousands of stores are participating, from smaller boutiques you might not have heard of, to names you’ll recognize like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Nordstrom, and Staples. Each store donates anywhere from one to fifteen percent of your total purchases to the Society. By simply starting your shopping from the GoodShop website, your purchases have the power to advance our mission. Whether holiday shopping, buying for your business, or purchasing a favorite indulgence, do so through GoodShop and know you’ve helped the cause!

You don’t have to register to help support the Society, but if you do, GoodSearch and GoodShop will track the funds you’ve personally raised, and that might make you feel a whole lot better about spending time on the internet and money on shopping.

Of course there’s an app for that! Download the GoodSearch and GoodShop toolbar to your favorite device so you can help out the Society wherever you are.

Everyone has to eat! Why not use GoodDining to show your support? If you register this month, GoodDining will donate an extra $5.00 for a meal taken at a participating restaurant. Want to go one step further? Write a review and earn extra donations for the Society! All you have to do is go to GoodDining and register the Florida Native Plant Society-Melbourne as your charity. You’ll be asked to provide the number on the credit card you’ll be using when dining, and you can register more than one, but you’ll never be charged through the website. They just use the information you provide to track your contributions and send you coupons from participating restaurants and bars. Once you type in your zip code, you’ll be amazed at some of the local haunts that will be listed.

A Win-Win
For many of us, funds are tight, and, although we'd love to be able to make charitable donations, the discretionary funds just aren't there. That's what makes this a no-brainer. At no additional cost, you can turn the searching, shopping, and dining you do every day into feel-good fundraising activities. If you haven't already, please join us in raising funds by using any or all of the GoodSearch, GoodShop, and GoodDining websites.

Edited and formatted by Laurie Sheldon

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Fabulous Florida Fish Fuddle Tree

By Steven W. Woodmansee, FNPS President

More commonly known as the Jamaican Dogwood, Florida Fish Fuddle Tree (Piscidia piscipula) merits attention in the landscape as it is indeed a showy flowering native tree. Flowering in May, it holds its own with another member of the pea family (Fabaceae), the Madagascar native Royal Poinciana (Delonix regia). Tree branches become covered by papillionoid (butterfly shaped) flowers possessing a blend of rosy white with green spots (Fig. 1). Also similar to many showy flowering trees, it typically sheds its leaves before flowering (Fig. 2). Fruits are chartaceous (papery) winged seedpods, beige in color (Figs. 3,4). Jamaican Dogwood is a large tree to 45 feet in Florida, and is constituent of rockland hammock and/or shell mound habitats along the coast line from Miami-Dade County, through Monroe County including the Florida Keys, north along Florida’s west coast to Pinellas County in addition to the Tropical Americas. It does not tolerate freezes, but is drought and salt wind tolerant, and well adapted to our soils and climate.  In hurricanes, they tend to shed their limbs first, rather than fall over. It is pollinated by insects (including butterflies) and is a host plant for the Hammock Skipper Butterfly (Polygonus leo ssp. savigny) and likely the Cassius blue (Leptotes cassius), as I have seen dozens flying around the top of my tree.

So what’s up with the funky names of this native tree you may wonder? Well the Jamaican Dogwood nomenclature, is due to the fact that at one time the wood of the tree was used to build dogs (the word dog here is applied to its engineering use, which is a mechanical device used to grip things) on a sea going vessels. It is not due to any physical similarities to true Dogwoods, which are members in the genus Cornus in the Cornaceae. The Scientific Name, Piscidia piscipula and the other common name Florida Fish Fuddle Tree, refer to its use to poison fish. The extinct Calusa and Tequesta Native Americans used the bark, leaves, and roots to go fishing. Native Americans would take advantage of small bays and tidal creeks that occur naturally, or create them as part of their shell mound design (all shell mounds were built by the Native Americans). They would block off the entrance to the pool, and then dump the bark and leaves in the water. The rotenone found in this plant leaches out into the water, fish inhale it through their gills, stunning them, whereby they float to the water surface making them easy to gather. Although toxic in our bloodstream, rotenone is poorly absorbed within our gut, thereby leaving the fish edible. Today it is illegal in Florida to use this method of fish capture.

Early May is ideal for a drive along the Overseas Highway through the Florida Keys as you will see everywhere Jamaican Dogwood in spectacular bloom.

Image sources
Figure 1.
Figure 2.
Figure 3.
Figure 4.