Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Family Profile: The Convolvulaceae

By Michelle Remogat and Alana Walker

Figure 1. Ipomoea pes-caprae ssp. brasiliensis, railroad vine,
has nectar guides to direct its pollinators. Photo by B. Navez.
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 with their initial drafts, providing suggestions for editing and content development.

Leaves: Simple; sometimes lobed or compound
Fruit: capsule
Flower: actinomorphic, funnel-shaped corolla

The Convolvulacaeae family is known as the Bindweed or Morning Glory family and is found primarily in the tropics and subtropics, but has become cosmopolitan. The family takes its name after the genus Ipomoea (Figure 1), but another 14 genera are also found in the state. In Florida, the family is home to 40 native and 27 non-native species (including varieties and subspecies). The state-listed endangered Bonamia grandiflora or Florida lady’s nightcap (Figure 2) is a member of this family.

Figure 2. The state-listed endangered Bonamia grandiflora,
Florida’s lady nightcap. Photo by Scott Zona.
You can recognize the Convolvulaceae by their trumpet-shaped flowers and many have a twining herbaceous habit. Nectar guides serve to direct pollinators such as hummingbirds and insects to nectar (Figure 1).

Fun Facts!
  • Ipomoea batatas (Figure 3) is the popular sweet potato.
  • Ipomoea aquatica, water spinach, is eaten in many Asian cultures; in the U.S., it is a federally listed noxious weed.
  • Many species are used for medicinal purposes.
      Figure 3. Ipomoea batatas, sweet potato

      Image Sources

      Friday, July 27, 2012

      Grass-free and Deed-Restricted: An Impossible Dream?

      An impossible dream in an HOA-controlled community? Pam Brown's front yard In Pinellas County.
       by Nanette O’Hara
      I hear it all the time. Folks who live in deed-restricted communities tell me they can’t remove even a blade of grass from their front yard for fear of recrimination from their evil HOAs.

      But is this really the case? Probably not. I think acceptance of “non-traditional” landscapes depends largely on how you deliver your pitch, and the effort you put into making your case for an alternative to the typical turfgrass-dominated yard with a couple of scraggly palm trees and a neatly manicured hedge of shrubs along the front of the house.

      State laws enacted in recent years make it clear that HOAs cannot prevent homeowners from implementing Florida-Friendly landscapes. Many homeowner associations may not be aware of this (especially if no one has bothered to inform them about it), and still more are unclear about what a “Florida Yard” looks like. They fear, understandably, a profusion of neglected yards filled with weeds, ugly bare patches or gravel. I don’t blame them for that. Neglected, unmaintained yards are not Florida Yards. They are just neglected, unmaintained yards.

      I believe concern for aesthetics is what drives much of the resistance to alternative landscapes. After all, this is why there are deed restrictions in the first place – to protect the overall appearance and property values of the neighborhood.

      So, how does a homeowner who lives in a deed-restricted community but wants to transition to a more water-saving, sustainable landscape – even one that features, GASP, native plants -- open a positive and civil dialogue with their HOA Board? Here are a few tips:

      1. Read your HOA documents! Many residents automatically assume their deed restrictions say they must have only grass, and St. Augustine grass at that. That is rarely the case. Yours may specify that the front yard must be “grassed” or “vegetated” but I don’t know of any that mandate ALL grass, or even that a majority of the landscape must be turfgrass. Knowing the specific rules in your community is the first step; this is your responsibility.

      2. Understand your limitations and work within them. If you choose to live in a deed-restricted community, then you have agreed to abide by the restrictions required of residents. This doesn’t mean you can’t create a beautiful, Florida-appropriate landscape, but it may well mean you can’t put a vegetable garden in your front yard, or have a landscape composed primarily of mulch, or stick a rain barrel by your front door. Although state law allows Florida-friendly landscapes even in HOAs, the HOA itself still has the right to impose aesthetic standards that are consistent with the community norms.

      3. Follow the process. Send a formal letter to your HOA Board asking to present your landscaping request at an upcoming meeting. Don’t know what to say? Find a sample letter, and other great resources, in the “Homeowners Toolkit” on the Be Floridian website at www.BeFloridian.org

      4. Get A Plan! Go to your HOA meeting with a landscape plan in hand. People fear what they don’t know, and pictures truly are worth a thousand words. Sketch out your proposed landscape changes (a butterfly garden area, for example, or a curvy bed of shrubs and groundcovers). You don’t need to be a professional landscape designer; a rough drawing as much to scale as possible will do. Cut out photos of the plants you want to use and stick them on the plan, or gather photos of how those plants are used in other residential landscapes. Face it -- if you didn’t know how pretty tickseed is, would you want it in your neighborhood just based on its name? Ditto for any plant with the word “weed” in it – butterfly weed, milkweed, rosinweed, ironweed. Your HOA board members may not know much about plants in general, and less about native plants. Show and explain to them what you want to do and how it will maintain or enhance the overall beauty of your neighborhood.

      5. Last but by no means least, be patient. Don’t go in with guns blazing, looking for a fight. Your HOA board is composed of your neighbors, who are volunteering their time on behalf of the entire community. Give them time to respond. Consider starting out with small landscape changes, rather than asking for a wholesale makeover right away. That is what my friend and colleague Pam Brown did in her deed-restricted community in North Pinellas County. Over time, Pam obtained approval for more changes as her HOA became more comfortable with her evolving landscape. Now she has a completely grass-free front yard and I don’t think anyone would be unhappy living next to her house!

      Watch this short video with Pam discussing how to work with Homeowner Associations to implement Florida-Friendly landscapes. Most of the tips I’ve provided here came from Pam, a retired University of Florida/IFAS Horticulture Extension Agent who now helps others work with HOAs as a Gardening Coach.

      Pam Brown's yard showing the sunshine mimosa, beautyberries, and coontie.
      Pam Brown's yard. Wouldn't you love to rest a spell on her bamboo bench?

      Nanette O’Hara is the Coordinator of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program’s Be Floridian fertilizer education campaign. www.befloridian.org

      (editor's note: Thanks Nanette! Great advice.)

      Monday, July 23, 2012

      AGNET - The Palm Tree Whodunnit, Part 2

      By Laurie Sheldon
      Based loosely on Robert Northrop's presentation at the 2012 FNPS Conference. (If you missed Part 1, click here.)
      (Please start by playing the following video)

      This is the city: Ruskin, Florida. Located on Florida’s central west coast, Ruskin occupies about 15 square miles of land in unincorporated Hillsborough County. From 1934 until the early 1950s, the major social event of the year was a Tomato Festival. We’ve stepped things up a bit since then, but we’re still something of a sleepy little town with a population of about 17,000… so when a deadly disease makes its Florida premiere in our backyard, I go to work.

      Monday, December 11, 2006, 59°
      I had just arrived at headquarters when I got a call from the lab Shannon and I sent tissue samples to the week before. Phil Shannon’s my partner at the Department of Agriculture’s Plant Industry Division. Our boss is Captain Crunch. My name is Sunday - Moe Sunday - I carry a badge.

      8:45 A.M.
      I phoned Shannon to give him the news. “Hey - where are you?” He responded, “well, seeing as that you called my home phone number and I answered, where do you think I am?” “Oh, right,” I answered sheepishly, “my bad. You’ve got to come in PRONTO. I have news that you just won’t believe.” “Can’t I wait to not believe it for another few hours?” I quickly barked “NO,” then hung up so he couldn’t argue.

      9:15 A.M.
      Disease trajectory
      Shannon trudged through the office and over to my desk, then promptly demanded an explanation for why he had to come in early. “Remember that grumpy old guy whose date palm we sampled a few weeks ago?” Shannon nodded. “Well it doesn’t have lethal yellowing,” I said. Shannon’s eyebrows raised, “no? Then what?” “You might want to sit down,” I replied. Shannon pulled up a seat, looked me in the eye and said, “okay. Enough of the drama. What gives?” I cleared my throat. “It has Texas Phoenix Palm Decline,” I asserted, in my most official-sounding voice. Shannon busted out a, “Whoa, but that doesn’t exist in Florida!” “It does now,” I countered. “We’d better call that man to give him the news. What was his name again?” Shannon ran over to his own desk, rifled through some papers, and came back with the homeowner’s name and telephone number. “Curt Meanie. 813-645-6465. Do you want to call him or should I?” I pointed at the phone receiver then pointed back at my partner.

      Mr. Curt Meanie, the host with the most.
      9:30 A.M.
      “Hello? Is this Mr. Meanie?” A gruff voice on the other end of the line replied, “depends who’s axing.” Shannon sweetly followed, “Hello, sir. This is Phil Shannon from the Department of Agriculture’s Plant Industry Division. We took a sample from your date palm a few weeks ago and just got the results back. Apparently, your tree has the first case of Texas Phoenix Palm Decline (TPPD) in Florida. It’s caused by a phytoplasma, which is basically a bacterium without a cell wall.” Meanie answered, “well how in the devil did it get into my tree? I don’t even know anyone from Texas, damnit!" Shannon calmly explained that it was most likely spread by insects that feed on the tree’s phloem, although the identity of said insect(s) remained a mystery. Meanie, obviously confused, gave up on any possibility of understanding and said, “do I at least get a prize or something - you know, like the millionth person to check out at the grocery - how about a bottle of scotch?” Shannon answered, “I’m sorry, sir, you do not get awarded for having a disease, at least not by my department.” Meanie’s voice rose, “then what the hell are you bugging me for?” With that, he slammed down the phone.

      January 2007 - May 2008
      Central west coast Florida - confirmed TPPD sites
      Over the next year and a half, the calls poured in from homeowners, nurseries, and park managers throughout the central west coast. Palms in southern Hillsborough and Manatee County had been hit hardest by this new disease. Neighboring counties, including Polk, Sarasota, Pinellas, DeSoto, Hardee, Highlands, and Lake were not completely unscathed. We had documented its presence in four different Phoenix species: Silver date (P. sylvestris), Canary Island date (P. canariensis), Edible date (P. dactylifera), and Senegal date (P. reclinata). When the lab confirmed that the phytoplasma had infected a few Queen palms as well, to tell you the truth, it didn't bother me so much. They're messy, susceptible to frizzletop, and they aren't native. I've never liked them anyways.

      While I mapped out the growing number of fatalities, hoping to determine where TPPD would next rear its ugly head, Shannon read me the following list of symptoms, which he'd compiled for agents in other counties to be mindful of:

      1. Fruit drop and flower necrosis (death) - this one's hit-or-miss, though, because if the tree is not about to flower then it's not something you would see.

      2. Leaf chlorosis (yellow coloring cased by chlorophyll deficiency) followed quickly by necrosis. Excess of necrotic older leaves. This won't be apparent if the leaves have been removed, which many homeowners do, and will therefore be a better indicator in the wild than it will in urban settings.

      3. Progressive death of spear leaf and bud, along with outer fronds. The only problem here is that if the tree is very tall it might not be visible without getting into a bucket truck.

      As the ratio between red and white marbles
      narrows, the probability of selecting a TPPD
      positive tree increases.
      I interrupted, "all of these qualifiers make your list a bit soft to use for field diagnoses. It sounds exactly like lethal yellowing to me. Have you not found any differences between the two?" Shannon snapped back, "wait for me to finish, wouldya? We can't run around testing trunk tissue on every palm. Aside from the fact that it's expensive, it's a crap shoot.Think of it as searching blindfolded for a red marble in a bowl full of white marbles. If there is only one red marble (a TPPD positive palm) mixed in with the white ones (TPPD negative palms), the likelihood of selecting the red marble blind folded would be slim. The likelihood of selecting a red marble increases as the number of red marbles increase. Get it? Where was I? Here we go - the last symptom on my list, which is unique to TPPD." He continued:
      4. Weakened or decaying root system.
      Neither of us realized that our most disturbing discovery of the disease's presence was just on the horizon.

      Friday, May 2, 2008, 78°
      Mmm... Donuts.
      We were on our way to punch out when Captain Crunch called Shannon and I into his office. "Boys," he said, "I need you two to take a little trip south. I just got a call from Captain Caveman down in Manatee county asking for our help. He's got three questionable palms for you to look at. You boys have the most experience with palm diseases, so I told him you'd meet him tomorrow morning at 0600. I took the liberty of booking a room for you at the Days Inn Bradenton around the corner from his office so that you have no reason to be late. Hope you didn't have any big plans for the weekend. Good luck." We turned to walk away, and he called us back. "One more thing, if you would. Please bring back some doughnuts - with sprinkles." We grumbled as we left his office, then headed for our patrol car.

      5:30 P.M.
      Shannon and I dashed in and out of our respective houses to pack overnight bags, then got on I-75 south. What should have been a short trip turned into a two-hour journey, thanks to rush hour traffic. By the time we checked in, showered and ate we were both droopy-eyed and headed straight to bed. Tomorrow would be a long day, and we needed all the energy we could muster up.

      Saturday, May 3, 5:45 A.M.
      We pulled into the parking lot of the Manatee county sheriff's office with 15 minutes to spare. "Early is on time and on time is late," I said in my chipper morning voice. Shannon gave me a dirty look and nursed the weak cup of coffee he snagged from the hotel's continental breakfast. At 6:00 sharp, a man in a white convertible Cadillac raced through the parking lot and came to a screeching halt just next to our vehicle. “Follow me,” he hollered. “Alrighty. Good morning, Captain,” I replied, and we pulled our vehicle behind his.

      6:01 A.M.
      Specimen #1
      We headed north on 9th street, over the Green Bridge, and into the Palmetto neighborhood where we stopped in front of a Sabal palm. Its oldest leaves were a warm gray color and obviously dead. Those further up the tree had a reddish tinge radiating from the leaf tips. A half dozen young, green leaves formed a halo above those, encircling a dessicated spear leaf. Neither of us had seen anything like it. The Captain was brief, "any ideas?" Shannon and I both shook our heads side-to-side. The Captain suggested we go to the other sites, and once again we were off.

      6:20 A.M.
      We arrived at the second tree in question - another Sabal palmetto.This one was at least 40 feet tall and had obviously been trimmed. I turned to the Captain and said, "with all due respect, sir, I can't possibly see what's going on with this tree. From here, it looks like there are brown leaves on top of green ones on top of gray ones, which makes no sense. Didn't you say there was a third tree you wanted us to see?" The Captain said, "fine - let's go."

      Specimen #3
      6:45 A.M.
      The last palm we looked at was further inland in a neighborhood called Parrish. There was nothing green on it. The leaves below the spear were badly stunted. "Dead palms tell no tales," Shannon said, while the Captain and I remained silent. I circled the tree looking for clues and noticed that the area beneath my feet had some give to it. "Maybe it's climate change - sea level rise or something - but this ground feels squishy to me," I announced, and leaned against the palm's trunk. With that I heard a creak; the tree rocked under my weight. Startled, I leaped forward into the Captain's arms. He caught me, looked me in the eye, and said, "Let's just keep this a professional relationship, alright," then winked. Shannon perked up. "Bingo! I've got it," he squealed, "I'm going to get a tissue sample to be certain, though."


      Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion of AGNET - The Palm Tree Whodunnit!

      Image Sources

      Additional Resources

      Wednesday, July 18, 2012

      A request for help in locating spiderworts in Florida

      Do you know where the Callisia live?
      See below for more photos to help with ID.
      Polyploid complexes within the genus Callisia Loefl.,  section Cuthbertia (Commelinaceae)
      By Iwan Molgo
      Ph.D. candidate at the University of Florida in Gainesville

      Callisia is a genus in the Commelinaceae and is part of the 39 genera within the subfamily Commelinoideae (Burns et al., 2011). In this project, I would like to focus on Callisia section Cuthbertia, which consists of three species that are endemic to the Southeastern U.S.: C. graminea, C. ornata and C. rosea.

      Giles (1942) documented that there are two types of Callisia graminea that differ in morphology, cytology and geography. One type is a diploid which occurs in the sand hills of both North and South Carolina. The other type is a tetraploid which occurs along the coastal plain from the Carolinas to Florida. Giles also found rare triploids and hexaploids within C. graminea.

      My Ph.D. project will investigate the relationships between C. graminea (diploid, triploid, tetraploid and hexaploid), C. ornata (diploid) and C. rosea (diploid) through both morphological and molecular analyses. I will address the follow questions:
      1. What is the relationship of Callisia sect. Cuthbertia within the genera Callisia, Tripogandra, Gibasis and Tradescantia?
      2. What is the relationship between the diploid, tetraploid and hexaploid forms of Callisia graminea? Are these allopolyploids or autopolyploids?
      3. Has a hybridization event already occurred between these species or is it ongoing?
      4. What are the relationships between the three species? Which are most closely related? Is there a significant difference among them?
      The goal of this research project is to elucidate the systematic relationships between C. graminea, C. ornata and C. rosea . From a conservation standpoint, it is important to know what the relationships are among these taxa, particularly because they are endemic to the Southeastern U.S..

      I need to locate as many populations of the following plants as possible, Callisia rosea in particular, from which I must collect tissue samples and voucher specimens for DNA analysis and study of morphological characteristics. If you have seen these plants, or know where to find them, I would be very grateful if you would contact me, imolgo@ufl.edu, with their location.
      Florida roseling (Callisia cordifolia)
      Florida roseling (Callisia cordifolia) (Photos: Hayden and CICY)

             Basketplant (Callisia fragrans); not native
      Grassleaf roseling (Callisia graminea)
      Grasslike; flowers not overtopping the leaves.
      Florida scrub roseling (Callisia ornata) (Photo: Bob Pederson and Molgo)
      Not grasslike and flowers overtopping leaves. Roots should be woolly.
      Creeping inch plant (Callisia repens); not native
              Piedmont roseling (Callisia rosea) (Photo: Molgo and Namestnik)
      Leaf blades much broader (4 -15 mm)
      Tahitian Bridal veil (Gibasis geniculata)
      Not native but is sold as ornamental.

      Sunday, July 15, 2012

      Plant Profile: Rudbeckia hirta, Black-eyed Susan

      By Shannon Sardisco and Shannon Tapscott

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

      Figure 1. Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta.
      Photo credit: Keith Bradley.
      Kingdom: Plantae
      Division: Magnoliophyta
      Class: Magnoliopsida
      Order: Asterales
      Family: Asteraceae
      Genus: Rudbeckia
      Specific epithet: hirta

      Rudbeckia hirta, or black-eyed or brown-eyed Susan, is one of nine species of Rudbeckia native to Florida. As with many of the Asteraceae, the flowers are found on a head with both ray and disk flowers (Figure 1).  The ray flowers are golden yellow and as the common name suggests, the disk flowers are dark brown.  Black-eyed Susan blooms during the months of July through October, offering nectar to pollinators such as butterflies and bees. The bristly stems (Figure 1) are 1-2 feet tall, with oval leaves.
      Figure 2. R. hirta seeds. Photo credit: ARS Systematic
      Botany and Mycology Laboratory

      Black-eyed Susans are not only grown for their beautiful flowers. Their nectar and seeds (Figure 2) attract wildlife, and their leaves can serve as a host plant for some butterfly larvae. Rudbeckia hirta is a relatively low-maintenance, sun-loving, drought-tolerant native. Interestingly, the plant has been used to treat colds, snakebites and even earaches!

      Interested in growing your own? Consider purchasing from a vendor of the Florida Association of Native Nurseries: http://www.floridanativenurseries.org/plants/detail/rudbeckia-hirta

      United States Department of Agriculture. (2012). Plant Database, http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=ruhi2
      The University of Texas at Austin. (2012). Native Plant Database, www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=RUHI2
      Florida Friendly Landscaping. (2012). The Smart Way to Grow, http://www.floridayards.org/fyplants/plantquery.php
      Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, http://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=RUHI2
      Wunderlin, R. P., and B. F. Hansen. 2008. Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants (http://www.florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/).[S. M. Landry and K. N. Campbell (application development), Florida Center for Community Design and Research.] Institute for Systematic Botany, University of South Florida, Tampa.

      Image Sources

      Wednesday, July 11, 2012

      AGNET - The Palm Tree Whodunnit, Part 1

      By Laurie Sheldon
      Based loosely on Robert Northrop's presentation at the 2012 FNPS Conference.
      (Please start by playing the following video)

      This is the city: Ruskin, Florida. Located in Hillsborough County on the south shore of Tampa Bay, it has all of the charm you’d expect from a town with a population of about 17,000. Founded on the shores of the Little Manatee River, its pristine estuarine preserves, untouched natural areas, and mild winters combine to make Ruskin ideal for quiet, peaceful living… so when I get a phone call from a hysterical woman screaming about a killer on the loose, that's when I go to work.

      Ruskin, a sleepy little town on Florida's west coast.

      "My tree is dead and someone just
      mistook me for Barbara Billingsley!"
      Friday, November 24, 2006, 65°
      I was on field patrol, Department of Agriculture’s Plant Industry Division, with my partner, Phil Shannon. Our boss, Captain Crunch, was out fishing. My name is Sunday - Moe Sunday - I carry a badge.

      8:45 A.M.
      Our day got started in a hurry. "Lady, calm down," I said, "did you see the perpetrator?" "No - only the victims," she replied, “they’re all around my neighborhood and one of them is in my front yard.” "Can you describe it to me?" "Yes,” she responded, “it’s 20' tall and looks like it had a run-in with a hairdresser who was bad at highlighting.” I took down her address, instructed her to stay put, and headed out the door with Shannon.

      9:15 A.M.
      When we got to her house she was standing in the driveway, dabbing at her teary eyes. Her Phoenix canariensis was not looking good, and she thought she was to blame. I told her it was not her fault, and tried consoling her. "Our palms aren’t living on easy street. Lethal yellowing moved into the Keys from the Caribbean, wiped out 75% of the coconut palms in Key West by the mid 1960s. It hit the east coast of mainland Florida around 1970, took out 100,000 palms in just over 10 years, made its way to the Gulf coast and Mexico in the '80s, then turned south towards Honduras. They already had native pests and diseases to contend with, including Palm Weevil, Phytophthora bud/root rot, and Ganoderma basal stem rot.” She blew her nose, and, still sobbing, asked, "so what’s wrong with my palm?” “Ma’am, I’m afraid it has Fusarium wilt, a lethal disease caused by a fungus that blocks water-conducting tissue. It rolled into Florida halfway through the 1990's. Its primary targets are Date Palms."

      (left) Phoenix canariensis with Fusarium wilt. (right) Close-up of unilateral leaf damage.
      She began blubbering again, “my palm has a fungus? Like athlete's foot? That's so gross!" "Lady," I said, "your palm doesn't have athlete's foot. Where do you women come up with this stuff - soap operas? Tell me something, do you use the same company to trim the old leaves off your palm as they do?” I pointed at the house catty-corner to hers, then another a few doors down. Both had Canary Island Date Palms that were in equally sorry health. She nodded. Shannon called her attention to her palm’s fronds, which had dead leaflets on only one side of the rachis, and said, “Is this what you described as ‘bad highlighting’?” She nodded again. He followed up with, “It’s definitely Fusarium. Your tree maintenance people must have spread it around your neighborhood on their pruning equipment. If you’ll give me their number, I’ll tell them what’s going on and give them some information about how to sterilize their equipment before they do any more damage.” A look of relief spread across the woman’s face. “Thank you,” she said. “Just doing our jobs,” I replied, then tipped my hat and headed for our vehicle.

      "Mmm... donuts."
      10:30 A.M.
      We heard a voice coming from the radio in the squad car. “Crunch to Sunday and Shannon. Do you copy?” I grabbed the handset. “10-4, Captain. What’s up?” He told us about a sick Phoenix dactylifera (date palm) he saw on his way back from fishing that morning. “I have a hunch it’s Ganoderma,” he said, “but I was driving and didn’t get a very good look at it. It’s on the southeast corner at the intersection of SE 14th Avenue and SW 1st Street, just off the Tamiami Trail. Please check it out before you return to headquarters. Also, bring me a donut - something with sprinkles.” “10-4. Over and out,” I responded.

      Ganoderma basidiocarp (a.k.a. "conk")
      11 A.M.
      We located the palm and I gave it the once over, noting that an unusually high percentage of its leaves were desiccated and had turned a brownish-gray. The stems upon which its fruit should be were largely barren. I started walking in a slow circle around the tree, staring at its base. Phil looked at me curiously, then asked if I lost something. I kept moving until he stood in my path, at which point I rammed into him with my head. When I stood up straight he could see the puzzled look on my face. "I don’t think it’s Ganoderma," I asserted, "there's no conk." "I don't see what sea critters have to do with this tree, Moe," he chuckled. "Not c-o-n-c-h, it's c-o-n-k,” I explained, “they look like stemless mushrooms growing laterally from the base of the palm. Conks and Ganoderma usually go hand in hand." "Thanks, Captain Obvious. Ever hear of a joke?” I rolled my eyes. “I think it might be lethal yellowing,” I replied, “but I can’t be sure without getting a tissue sample and sending it to a lab for testing.”

      11:10 A.M.
      P. dactylifera with fruit drop
      Shannon and I agreed that we should get permission from the homeowner before testing the tree, so we walked over and rang the doorbell. An older man opened the door, wearing nothing but an undershirt, boxer shorts, socks, and sock suspenders. He did not look happy about having visitors. “Whaddaya want? If you’re one of them religious nuts, I aint interested!” “Good morning, sir,” Shannon responded. “We're here from the Department of Agriculture’s Plant Industry Division. We noticed your palm tree out there doesn’t look particularly healthy.” “That piece of junk?” he huffed and pointed to the specimen in question. “All I wanted was a low-maintenance tree. Not like them damn oaks that drop leaves all over the place. That crook at the nursery told me to get this one. Got more brown leaves than green. Last week almost all the fruit fell off in two days - unripe. Some of it hit me on my head! Low maintenance my foot!” “I’m sorry to hear that, sir,” I countered. “Would you mind if we took a sample from your tree to try to determine what’s wrong with it?” “Go right ahead. It already looks dead - guess y’all can’t make it deader.” We both thanked the man. Shannon told him we’d send him the lab results when we got them back, and took down his name and phone number.

      Flame sterilization of drill bit
      Meanwhile, I walked to our vehicle and opened the trunk. I took out a cordless drill, an enormous drill bit, a squirt bottle of distilled water, a golf tee, a hammer, a butane torch, a permanent marker and a ziploc bag. "Look at you getting all MacGyver on us," Phil joked. I pretended not to hear him. I flame-sterilized the drill bit, gave it a squirt of water to cool it off, then bored into the trunk, holding the ziploc below the drill to catch any shavings. I sealed the bag, wrote the date, location and palm type on it with a marker, then stuck it in my lunch cooler. Afterwards, I re-sterilized and rinsed the bit and plugged the hole in the tree with the golf tee and hammer. I returned the tools to our vehicle, where Phil was waiting in the driver’s seat, playing Sudoku. “Where to, partner?” “FedEx - to overnight this sample,“ I answered. “Then I suppose we had better hit Dunkin Donuts."

      Monday, December 11, 2006, 8:30 A.M.
      Neighbor-joining phylogenetic tree of
      phytoplasma 16S rRNA gene sequences
      I had just arrived at headquarters when my phone rang. "Inspector Sunday?" “That’s right,” I answered, “how can I help you?” It was the lab. “We’ve got the DNA analysis of that palm sample you sent in. We ran it twice, as we were confounded by the first set of results we got, but it turns out they were right.” “Oh, great,” I said, “does is it have lethal yellowing?” “Actually, Sunday, it has Candidatus Phytoplasma palmae. It’s similar to lethal yellowing in that they are both phytoplasmas, but lethal yellowing is strain ‘A’. The sample you sent us was strain ‘D’ - an identical match with isolates from southern coastal Texas. We’ve never seen it in Florida before.” I took a moment to process this, then I replied, “wait a minute - are you telling me what I think you’re telling me?” “If you think I’m telling you that the sample you sent us has Texas Phoenix Palm Decline, then yes.” I thanked the man and hung up, then immediately dialed Shannon. I cut straight to the chase when he picked up, “you aren’t going to believe this…”

      Friday, July 6, 2012

      Born in the U.S.A.: Myrica cerifera, Wax Myrtle

      What could be more all-American than native plants? This is the last of our Independence Day posts, in which we've featured species with red, white, or blue flowers or fruit. We hope you've enjoyed it!

      Figure 1. Male flowers of Myrica cerifera.
      Photo credit: Paul Redfearn, Jr.

      By Veronica Gajownik

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

      Kingdom: Plantae
      Order: Fagales
      Family: Myricaceae
      Genus: Myrica
      Specific epithet: cerifera

      Figure 2. Developing fruits of M. cerifera.
      Photo credit: Dennis Girard.
      Myrica cerifera is commonly known as the southern wax myrtle or southern bayberry. It grows throughout Florida, from Key West through the panhandle, where it thrives in sandy areas, upland woods and swamps. It is also found on both the Atlantic and Gulf coast, a testament to its tolerance of salty conditions.

      Its leaves are relatively narrow (Figure 1) and are composed of yellow tiny glands. They can be either gray-green or yellow-green, depending on the time of the year. Female and male flowers appear in late winter. Male flowers grow to about 1 inch and arranged in catkins (Figure 1), while female flowers are smaller and will produce blue berries (Figure 2). The waxy coating on these berries is used for making bayberry candles.

      Wax myrtle is fast growing and can be used as a shrub or trained into a small tree. Either way, it's a winner for any garden because of its beautiful color and fruit, which attracts migrating birds. Interested in planting one in your landscape? Please check with the Florida Association of Native Nurseries to see who sells wax myrtle near you.

      Fun Facts
      • It is said that if you put a twig from this plant in a drawer, it will draw out the cockroaches, and that it is also a good flea repellant.
      • The genus name Myrica means ‘fragrance’ in Greek. You will easily understand why when you crush its leaves and inhale its aromatic scent.

      Image Sources
      Figure 1. http://florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/Photo.aspx?id=9668
      Figure 2. http://florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/Photo.aspx?id=9666

      Wednesday, July 4, 2012

      Born in the U.S.A.: Blueberries

      Happy Independence Day! What could be more all-American than native plants? We don't know.
      That's why we're featuring species with red, white, or blue flowers or fruit this week, so stay tuned!

      Figure 1. Vaccinium myrsinites in FL
      By Steven W. Woodmansee, FNPS President

      While shopping at my local grocery store in Kendall, I bought some blueberries to make a pie. I was surprised at how expensive they were, even when on sale ($2.50/half pint). Unaware that blueberries were grown commercially in Florida, I was even more startled when I read on the label that these were from Winter Haven (near Orlando). After thinking about it, it seemed fairly reasonable, especially given how many native species occur here. I am uncertain what species of blueberry I purchased (they were delicious), but was reminded of a blueberry which is found in almost every county in the state (Figure 1).  

      Figure 2. Shiny blueberry flowers
      Blueberries are in the heath family (Ericaceae), a temperate plant family whose species usually grow in acidic, nutrient poor, soils. Thirty-three species in the Ericaceae can be found in Florida, five of which are in the genus Vaccinium, the taxonomic group in which blueberries are found.

      Vaccinium myrsinites, or shiny blueberry, grows to about 2 feet in height, and possesses a profusion of urn-shaped flowers that hang down and are white with hues of pink (Figure 2). Fruits are dark-blue to black when ripe and measure ¼ inch across (Figure 3). Mature fruits are quite tasty, and for some reason, they are better tasting when exposed to sunlight on the plant. Leaves are less than ½ inch long (Figure 4) and have stalked glands apparent when viewed with a loupe (hand lens). Shiny blueberry possesses underground stems that spread horizontally, creating patches of plants.

      Figure 3. (inset) Shiny blueberry fruit
      Figure 4. V. myrsinites in the landscape
      In Miami-Dade County, where I live, shiny blueberry grows in sandy pockets of pine rockland, mesic flatwoods, and scrubby flatwoods plant communities. Plants need full sun, and are difficult to grow unless soils are non-alkaline. If you are fortunate to obtain a plant, it is recommended that when cultivating it in your yard here, be sure to grow it in acidic sandy soil, and to not water it with well or tap water which are too alkaline for its tastes. Rather, use rainwater, or if not available, distilled water. As with all pineland plants, mulch is not recommended, but pine needles may be used to help acidify the soil. Although not a commonly cultivated species, it would make a great addition to one’s yard where appropriate conditions occur. It is particularly useful in pineland restoration projects.

      Instead of bringing watermelon, a native of Africa, to your Independence day celebration, consider putting blueberries on the menu. Blueberry season is almost over. Close it out with a bang while watching fireworks and enjoying the wonderful harvest that native Florida has to offer.


      Image sources
      Figure 1: Species distribution
      Figure 2: Flowers, Photo credit: Shirley Denton
      Figure 3: Fruit, Photo credit: Malcolm Manners
      Figure 4: Leaves, Photo Credit: Pat Howell

      Formatted and illustrated by Laurie Sheldon.

      Monday, July 2, 2012

      Born in the U.S.A.: Barbed-wire cactus, Acanthocereus tetragonus

      What could be more all-American than native plants? In honor of Independence Day,
      we'll be featuring species with red, white, or blue flowers or fruit this week, so stay tuned!

      Figure 1. Upright growth habit of A. tetragonus,
      with closed flower. Photo credit: Alan Boatman.

      By Daneisha Hawkins

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

      Kingdom: Plantae
      Phylum: Magnoliophyta
      Class: Magnoliopsida
      Order: Caryophyllales
      Family: Cactaceae
      Genus: Acanthocereus
      Specific epithet: tetragonus
      Figure 2. Night-blooming A. tetragonus shows
      its white tepals with yellow stamens.
      Photo credit: Bob Upcavage.

      Barbed-wire cactus, or Acanthocereus tetragonus, is typically found along the coast from St. Lucie County southward to Lee County, including the Keys. Interestingly, the plant is not vouchered in Broward County. Of the 12 native cactus species in Florida, only two are listed as threatened - A. tetragonus is one of them. This plant is found growing in sandy, coastal hammocks.

      Figure 3. Shiny berry of the barbed-wire cactus.
      Photo credit: Shirley Denton.
      The barbed-wire cactus gets its name from its dangerous-looking white to gray spines (Figure 1). Despite their ominous appearance, the spines do not deter the endangered Key Largo woodrat from eating the plant's stems. Individuals usually grow upright or on other plants (Figure 1). The flowers have white tepals that open around midnight and close at dawn (Figure 2). In those few hours, pollinators such as the hummingbird moth (Hemaris spp.) visit the fragrant flowers for their nectar. The berries are red, shiny, and sweet (Figure 3).

      Where can you see one in the wild? Visit Everglades National Park and Biscayne National Park.

      Image sources
      Figure 1. http://florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/Photo.aspx?id=13328
      Figure 2. http://florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/Photo.aspx?id=5732
      Figure 3. http://florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/Photo.aspx?id=5730