Thursday, August 30, 2012

Hashing it out, Brady style

by Laurie Sheldon

If you've been reading our blog or following us on Facebook, you are probably aware of what I can only think to describe as either the Battle of the Blogs or Blogominoes. One blog fueled another, and another - from Washington to Michigan to Florida - and the dirty gardeners' fingernails came out... onto the keyboard.

No eyes were scratched out, and no one wore tights like a wrestler (that I know of), but the virtual tension was palpable, and the cross-blog commentary stunk like Black Cow. Rather than re-setting the scene, you can catch up to speed by checking out Taryn Evans' blog. Jeff Gillman (a Minnesota-based contributor to the "Garden Professors" blog) graciously responded to Taryn's post by inviting us to a video-conference using Google+ technology. This morning at 11:20 Eastern, 10:20 Central, 9:20 Mountain and 8:20 Pacific, a group of nine suprisingly sane people gave their typing skills a rest and discussed government requirements to install native plants in home landscapes. Unfortunately, Ginny's computer connection prohibited her from participating, despite numerous attempts to jump back into the "hangout" (that's Google+ lingo). Suddenly I was the Lone Ranger with no Tonto, but I think I held my own (I have 3 male brothers and no sisters, so I'm used to being outnumbered). Want to know how it went? Watch the video!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Plant Profile: Yellow or Orange Fringed Orchid, Platanthera ciliaris

Figure 1. P. ciliaris, orange
or yellow fringed orchid.
Photo credit: Kenneth Sytsma.
By Tyra Davis

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

Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Liliopside
Order: Orchidales
Family: Orchidaceae
Genus: Platanthera
Specific epithet: ciliaris

Florida is known for beautiful beaches and theme parks but the “Sunshine State” is also home to the native and endangered Platanthera ciliaris! Of the other 9 native Platanthera species, 5 are listed by the state as endangered or threatened.

Figure 2. Fringed lip and long, narrow nectar
spur of  P. ciliaris. Photo credit: Roger Hammer.
Commonly known as the yellow or orange fringed orchid, it is easy to see how P. ciliaris got its common name. As for its botanical name, consider that the margin of the flower's labellum looks as though it has fine whiskers or cilia - hair-like projections (figure 2). This terrestrial orchid is not one to hide; when in bloom it can reach up to 3 feet tall (figure 1).

The orange fringed orchid is mainly pollinated by butterflies. They stick their ‘tongue’ or proboscis far down the nectar spur to reach the nectar and at the same time pick up or deposit pollinia, masses of pollen.  Butterflies that pollinate this species include Papilio troilus (spicebush swallowtail), Battus Philenor (pipevine swallowtail), Papilio glaucus (white-lined sphinx mouth), and Phoebis sennae (cloudless sulfur).

Orange fringed orchids flower from July-September but are especially abundant during the month of August. Look for them in the central to northern counties in swampy and woodland habitats. You may be lucky enough to find patches along the roadsides!


Image Sources

Monday, August 20, 2012

Are Natives the Answer? Professor Cregg, Why Are You Asking?

Introduction by Laurie Sheldon
Article by Taryn Evans


The Seattle Department of Planning and Development is focused on long-term green priorities (water and material conservation, sustainable transportation and healthy landscapes) and working on a draft of some new "Green Code Provisions." These provisions were presented to the public on August 13, 2012. Comments and questions were encouraged.

The "Healthy Landscapes" component of the "Green Code Provisions" outlines the following initiatives:
Invasive Species and Native Vegetation (Regional Plan)
Who it Applies To: All new vegetated landscapes, or those being replaced
• Existing invasive plant species shall be removed and no invasive species planted.
• 75% of all new plantings will be native to Western Washington.
• A vegetation plan must be submitted for review.
• Existing native plant species shall be protected whenever possible.
Code Impacted: Code appropriate to jurisdiction
Washington State University's Linda Chalker-Scott, Ph.D., received an invitation to the public meeting. Rather than attending, she chose to voice her opinion about the "Healthy Landscapes" initiatives in a blog entitled The native debate continues... wherein she criticized the Planning Department's push for native plants, and concluded her blog with the following question: "What's wrong with using well-chosen nonnative plants that will tolerated urban conditions, support wildlife, and add some aesthetic interest?"

In response to Linda's post, Bert Cregg, another WSU professor, published Are natives the answer? Revisited. Cregg's comments were inflammatory, to put it mildly. Ginny Stibolt provided a link to Cregg's blog on the FNPS Facebook page, and in doing so, sowed the seed to the following narrative by Taryn Evans, President of the Marion Big Scrub chapter of FNPS.


Recently, FNPS posted a link on its Facebook page to an article posted on The Garden Professors blog. Along with the link, we were asked our opinions on whether the article added anything to a discussion about native plant usage in the landscape and specifically, I presume, about any debate on requiring their usage for a “healthy”, sustainable landscape. We were also asked whether native plant societies as a whole might be “off-base” or “extreme”. The comment I made in response on the FNPS page was that in actuality, the vast majority of the people I had met in local FNPS chapters were practical and clear-eyed. For many, I could also use adjectives like “knowledgeable” and “professional”.

Bert Cregg, the author of the blog post in question, however, chooses to use words like “naïve” and “unable to critically think” (see his comment in the comment section) to characterize those that, in his opinion, unreasonably or unwittingly choose to concur with the Washington State Native Plant Society (and with a broad paintbrush, all other native plant societies) in its unwarranted preference for native plants in landscapes. I admit this is like waving the proverbial red flag in front of a bull, but his unnecessary stereotyping of a large and diverse group of people, left me eager to comment on his whole, seemingly pointless, article. I say this because the average homeowner or gardener, interested in perhaps knowing more about either native plants or the new building code, presumably the audience he was addressing, would come away from this post with no clear idea of what point he was trying to make.

Bee on Florida native beautyberry flowers.
 The name of Cregg’s post is “Are Natives the Answer? Revisited” and I suppose judging by what he proceeds to then write and by his overall tone, the answer is “No, they are not the answer.” But wait! Before we can proceed, the reader must begin to read again to try and determine what exactly is the question Cregg is really asking here? The reader is left to his own devices because nowhere in this post does he ask a simple question which then would have as its answer, “No, native plants are not the answer.” To be fair, of course, he also never explicitly declares this as being the correct answer to the question in his title.

Anyway, left to make assumptions of my own on what question he is trying to have answered, this is what I managed to come up with. He seems to have a problem with not just one part of this new “proposed” building code that apparently seeks to increase the usage of native plants and labels these landscapes as “healthy”, but the whole thing. His mocking, unserious suggestion that goats or armies of child slaves might be needed to remove existing invasive species gives me the first clue that he’s got a particular reading audience in mind as he writes, and they are not just someone seeking to know more about the pros and cons of using native plants in their yard. He goes on to ask a series of leading questions about aspects of the code, some of which may be valid, but others much less so. Nowhere does he say anything about the code being a “starting point”, “necessary”, “needing to be worked on and improved”. So, my belief is the question he wants answered is, and it’s admittedly convoluted, “This building code is bad and does not represent a “healthy landscape”. Can native plants really be the answer if they are part of this terrible code?”

For many butterfly species, natives are the
only choice for larval food.
But, Cregg does not want you to misunderstand him and assume by what he writes that somehow he is “against native plants”. Really! He’s written articles promoting them and given talks as well. And he most especially believes in biodiversity and stewardship, something that many native plant activists do not, including author, Doug Tallamy (who he misrepresents in a couple of places). I will ignore the fact here, that I have never met a native plant enthusiast who does not also appreciate biodiversity! His ending paragraph describes more fully what he means by biodiversity, which includes not only natives, which are “incredible” and should be “celebrated”, “promoted” and “planted” but also “carefully selected non-natives”, i.e. “exotics”.

OK…huh? So since exotics are not excluded from this code and natives are really great, what’s so bad about the code and why are natives not the answer? Well, he says that there are so many problems with the code and questions to be answered that he could “go on and on” and being forced to plant native plants, though in theory all well and good, is truly NOT the answer.

Nectar from native plants provide food for hummingbirds.
And here is where Cregg, in trying to discredit the “Healthy Landscape” code he apparently dislikes goes off the rails. If native plants are “good”, then the real problem is all those gullible native plant advocates who foist stupidly written codes on unsuspecting public utility types, tools of a nefarious “movement” who parrot “the same old lines without ever critically thinking about what their saying. Repeating a LIE often enough does not make it the truth,” he states.

Cregg then goes on to “critically look at some of the reasons for planting natives according to the Washington State Native Plant Society.” I’m sure that any FNPS member would recognize them as similar to what our organization would give. But these are apparently the “lies” that we cherish, naively as truths. Only they aren’t actually lies at all, as he is forced to admit time and again. What you come to realize is that to Cregg, an actual fact does not qualify for his “Really True” Seal of Approval unless it contains all the nuances that he believes it should reflect, in his humbly assumed position as “smart”, even “professorial” native plant advocate.

A wasp on native iron weed.
OK…so at the end of the day, what is the point that Bert Cregg is trying to make by writing this post? And, more importantly, why should you or I care about what some guy writing in a blog says about a proposed new building code in Seattle?

As to the first question, I don’t believe he has any real point for what he writes, other than to muddy the water, so to speak, and thereby making any real discussion about the merits of and changes needed to improve the building code more difficult, by arming those with a predisposition to resent or oppose a “sustainable” building code. Why he would do this I can only speculate, but you would probably come to the same conclusions as I do. Certainly judging by the comments I read to his post, he was reaching his target audience of those who want politicians, bureaucrats and dogmatic treehuggers to take their public policy and put it where the sun don’t shine…again, so to speak.

As to the second question, I care because when a horticulture professor writes this type of post, it leaves people who are just learning about the positive benefits of native plants in the landscape with more questions than answers. It also leaves them with doubts about the real necessity for rethinking our concepts of what is a good, healthy, and sustainable landscape.

Native landscapes even in closely-spaced retirement villages can offer imporatant habitat.
I spend a good share of my time these days trying to educate people I meet about using more natives. Many of them live in retirement communities and are pretty resistant to any change in their landscape requirements. And perish the thought that they, as homeowners, should choose to plant something different but better. So I know what a tough sell it is.

Public policy is needed to give those who want to plant natives, or even “friendly” non-natives, the real opportunity to get approval from those entities that might withhold it otherwise. These policies could also increase the availability of native plants because more and more people would look to add them to their landscapes.

The Bert Creggs of the world, wherever they are to be found, try to delegitimize the public policy they disagree with by making caricatures of its advocates. We need to call them on their smoke screens that masquerade as informed commentary and recognize what they write as a load of hogwash.

The native snow squarestem or salt & pepper attracts many pollinators.
All photos by Taryn Evans.

Editor's note: Thanks Taryn for your important post and thanks for being an active FNPS member spreading the word about natives.

Marion Big Scrub chapter of FNPS
Phone: (352) 821-0298
Meeting Schedule: Third Wednesday of the month at 6:30 pm
Meeting Place: Marion County Extension Services - Main Auditorium
2232 N.E. Jacksonville Road, Ocala, FL

Posted and edited by Ginny Stibolt

Friday, August 17, 2012

Family Profile: The Orchidaceae

By Kellie Glover & Virginia Iwinski

Figure 1. Cyrtopodium punctatum, the cigar
orchid, is an endangered species which is
native to Florida. Photo credit: Al Menk.

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.

Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Liliopsida
Order: Orchidales
Family: Orchidaceae

Figure 2. Orchid leaf with obvious parallel
veins. Photo credit: Fastily.
Leaf: alternate, spiral or 2-ranked, simple, and are often plicate, basal, or along the stem
Flower: bisexual, bilateral with tepals forming a lip or labellum
Fruit: capsule

The orchid family, Orchidaceae, is one of the largest flowering plant families in the world.   It is so large that there are actually more orchid species than twice the number of bird species! In Florida, we are lucky to have so many 109 native species, varieties, and hybrids. Unfortunately, 56 of those species are listed as endangered in Florida. The state also has 13 non-native species.

This family is most commonly found in tropical regions. However, given the large number of species in this family, it is not surprising that they are found growing in a variety of habitats. Some are found in semideserts, and others are pantropical which means they are only found in specific regions or certain countries. There are even species that bloom within the Arctic Circle! Orchids can be terrestrial, found growing on other plants (epiphytic) or rocks (lithophytic). Epiphytic plants differ from parasitic species like mistle toe in that they do not harm their host.
Figure 3. Note the labellum of Encyclia
, a native Florida orchid.
Photo credit: Shirley Denton

Some of the most recognizable features among orchids are the parallel veins in their leaves (Fig. 2) and the labellum or lip (Fig. 3) component of their flowers. The flowers are usually resupinate, which means they were twisted 180° during development.

The family Orchidaceae includes plants that are economically important. For example, Vanilla planifolia is the source of vanilla extract, a product used in kitchens around the world. Vanilla extract comes from the orchid’s fruit or capsule.  The family also includes popular ornamentals Cattleya, Dendrobium, Epidendrum, Paphiopedilum, Phalaenopsis, Vanda, and Oncidium.

Figure 4. Ophrys insectifera, the fly orchid
The orchid flowers attract both specialist and generalist insect pollinators, including  butterflies, bees, and flies. Some even attract birds and others can self-pollinate. There are many fascinating methods that the orchids attract pollinators.  One method known as pseudocopulation occurs in flowers where the labellum resembles a female insect at rest.  Male insects are attracted to the ‘female’ and as they search for their mate, pollinia or pollen sacs  stick to the insect.  The insect may then deposit the pollinia on the stigma of another flower, while it still searches for the ‘female’.  There are also Orchid species that resemble flies (Fig. 4) or bees that even have the same colored hair tufts. Some of these species release pheromones like those of the female insect that their appearance mimics in order to attract the males!

Judd, WS, Campbell, SC, Kellogg, EA, Stevens, PF, and Donoghue, ML. 2008. Plant systematics: A phylogenetic approach. Sinauer Associates, Inc. Massachusetts, USA.

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

Monday, August 13, 2012

FNPS Ixia Chapter Project: Native Park Restoration

The City of Jacksonville’s Native Park, located at 3312 Park Street in the Riverside Avondale Historic District, was established by the Avondale Garden Circle in 1923. The purpose was to increase public awareness of plants indigenous to north Florida and demonstrate that, while exotic species often died during adversity, the Park’s native plants prospered with little care through drought, freeze, and hurricane.

During the nearly 90 years that have passed since that time, the Park became a tangle of invasive exotics and overly vigorous natives. Native Park was adopted in 2010 by the Ixia Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society as part of the City's Friends of the Park program to carry out the Park's original purpose and to advance the mission of the Florida Native Plant Society.

The signs identify the various native plants.

After many Saturday mornings spent digging up vast amounts of invasive and other non-desirable plants, Chapter members and other volunteers have planted 138 native species to add to the 37 native species growing there when work began in 2011. Approximately 60 additional species are slated to be planted. Plants are identified with both botanical and common names.

The coonties are doing well.

Mulched pathways are lined with logs.

Native Park was the first park to receive an Outstanding Park Award presented by the Riverside Avondale Preservation Society/St. Johns Riverkeeper organizations. The Park was also featured for the first time in the 2012 Riverside Avondale Home Tour.

The Chapter’s future plans include an information kiosk, benches, picnic table, and community workshops to encourage people to plant more native plants that still prosper with little care as they did in 1923. The Chapter’s fundraising events and donations by neighbors have made the plantings and improvements possible.

Editor's note: This is a fantastic effort by the Ixia Chapter. It's particularly noteworthy that the neighbors have contributed money and time to help restore this park. 
Does your chapter have a cool project that you'd like people to know about? Let us know at

Ginny Stibolt

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Wildflower Profile: Narrowleaf Silkgrass

Pityopsis graminifolia

By Steven W. Woodmansee, FNPS President

Figure 1. Capitulum and infructescenses.
Photo credit: Joseph Allan Tauscher
Narrowleaf silkgrass is a showy perennial wildflower, a native throughout all of Florida, and a must for any wildflower connoisseur. It is found in mesic (intermediate between wet and dry) to xeric (dry) pineland and prairie habitats. As a result, it tolerates drought fairly well once established. It is a member of the Sunflower Family (Asteraceae), and is a great attractor for pollinators. Its stalkless ray and disc flowers are clustered tightly together to form a capitulum, which is commonly referred to as a "head" (Fig. 1). Upon maturity, plants are generally less than 18 inches in height, and produce 20-30 blooming heads on several branches.
Figure 2. Hairy, grass-like leaves
Narrowleaf silkgrass is herbaceous (non-woody), and has attractive, often "grass-like" leaves , which emerge in the spring. Its silvery-green appearance is attributable to the whitish, silky hair covers the plant's stems and leaves (Fig. 2). Gorgeous yellow flower heads, ranging from 1-2 cm in diameter, begin opening mid to late fall and generally last 3-4 weeks. Seeds possess fluffy awns (hairs) which are wind-dispersed, similar to dandelions (Fig. 1). When flowering has finished, plants may appear to have died; in actuality, they are beginning their winter dormancy, and will reemerge in the spring. Plants do best in full sun, and may be utilized in butterfly (pollinator) gardens, pineland habitats, or showy wildflower displays. As with most wildflowers, if you hope to encourage seed germination and recruitment of this lovely species, consider forgoing the use of mulch when planting.

Image Sources
Figure 1.
Figure 2.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

And the winner is...

By Laurie Sheldon

Palmetto Awards

Paul Lowry with his Green Palmetto
The Florida Native Plant Society bestows various awards to members and chapters for their contributions to the mission of the organization. The Green Palmetto Awards were established in 1986 by Sherry Cummings (then FNPS President) to honor those who had given special service to FNPS. Three Green Palmettos, ordinarily presented at the FNPS annual conference, are awarded each year for (1) service or education, (2) science, and (3) the outstanding chapter of the year.

Winn and Paul Lowry
The 2012 Green Palmetto Award for service was given to Paul and Winn Lowry. It was presented by the board of Southern Brevard County's Conradina Chapter on July 31, 2012. Conradina nominated Paul and Winn because of their longstanding membership and chapter involvement. Although their address changed one year ago, their loyalty to FNPS remains the same. They are currently members of the Pine Lily Chapter in Osceola County.

Unfortunately, because of the unique timing of the award's presentation, the bulk of the chapter was not in attendance. Let's give Paul and Winn the hearty round of applause and congratulations they deserve. We are all sincerely grateful for your commitment to FNPS, and hope that Pine Lily Chapter knows how lucky they are to have you.

(Left to right): Conradina president Martha Steuart, Winn Lowry, Brent Dolan (in back), Paul Lowry, Sharon Dolan
Photo credit: Lisa McCown, former Conradina member and dear friend of the Lowrys