Monday, December 30, 2013

Go Green in 2014

By Laurie Sheldon

Most of us are not so perfect.
Except me, of course. ;-)
Well, here we are at the close of another year. For most of us, it's a time for reflecting on the past and determining what changes we hope to make in the future. This process typically boils down to making one or many resolutions about how we're going to turn those hopes into realities. Now, I've been on this earth for more years than I'd like to admit, and I must say that I've met very few people who actually follow through on these resolutions indefinitely. Why? Maybe they're too vague or a touch too ambitious. That's one to talk over with your respective headshrinkers. I'm not here to psychoanalyze. Rather, I'd like to make a few unsolicited suggestions (just humor me, please) for some green resolutions we can all make good on through 2014 (and beyond). Here goes...

Dish Out
If you enjoy following us on Facebook/Twitter or reading our blog and you aren't already a bona fide member of F.N.P.S., please consider joining. Membership dues are used to protect Florida's native plant heritage, are as low as $15/yr for students and $35/yr for one person, and - bonus - if you join today you can deduct them from your 2013 taxes.

Many hands lighten the load for all!
Pitch In
Contact your local F.N.P.S. chapter to find out if/when they'll be having environmental cleanup or restoration activities you can participate in. Be sure to bring along family or friends to help share in the work! There are also plenty of Committees that need volunteers, so don't be shy! None of us bite too hard.

Speak Up
Make your voice heard on at least one environmental issue this year. Perhaps there's a parcel of Florida Forever land en route to the auction block that you know is ecologically valuable. Or maybe your heart hurts as you watch the eutrophication of our once crystal clear springs. Make a habit of checking F.N.P.S. action alerts to learn about current issues of concern. Let your local congressional representative know your point of view! You are their eyes and ears on the street.

Three Sisters Springs provides a warm
refuge for Florida's endangered manatee.
Go Wild
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service maintains a National Wildlife Refuge System that includes more than 30 protected areas throughout Florida where you can learn firsthand about individual species of threatened or endangered plants and animals. Set your sights on going to at least one before the oppressive summer heat rears its head, and another one before year's end.

Park It
Demanding schedules - for both adults and kids - have made relaxing and enjoying the outdoors a challenge. At the same time, these are proven to be the very activities that enable us to think more clearly and perform better at work and in school. Plan a day trip to a state park in your area. Fortunately, Florida has 169 state parks and 9 state trails to choose from.

Get Smart
Alexander Pope said that, "a little learning is a dangerous thing." Expand your knowledge of native plants, ecology, and much more by attending the 2014 F.N.P.S. Annual Conference, which will be held in May at Florida Gulf Coast University (referred to as "Florida's Environmental University") in Naples. There will be enough information presented at this event to fill up a notebook with - trust me. I took about 50 pages of notes at both the 2012 Conference in Plant City and the 2013 Conference in Jacksonville if that's any indication of anything. It may just be a sign that I secretly want to go back to school. 

Bottles and Bags, people. Sheesh! Kick the bottled water habit with an at-home filtering pitcher and a reusable bottle to pare down on the 1.5 million barrels of oil used to make plastic water bottles each year. Money talks, right? Check out this study of how much cash you can save each year by not buying bottled water at the grocery. Did you know that one million plastic bags end up in the trash every minute? Keep a reusable shopping bag or two in your car or have one that folds up tucked into your purse. They're cheap, have a large capacity, and are infinitely sturdier than their thin plastic counterparts! Florida's future residents would thank you if they could bounce backwards in time, then quickly go forward to when they originally came from.

Easy? Check! Rewarding? Check! Just do it. Period.

Wishing you all a safe, happy, healthy, and GREEN new year!

Just for fun...

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas is for the birds

My daughter sends a wreath to all the family members each year. They are perfectly fine wreaths that are part of a local fund raiser in her community.  This year it is a full spruce wreath with a bow, some pinecones and plastic red berries that you can stick in the wreath--a product of Nova Scotia.  I wrote about how I make my own wreaths in The Recycled Wreath to supplement her yearly gift.

And each year I feel bad for the small birds that are attracted to those fake berries. So this year I decided to take action and I added cranberry chains to both the original wreath and the recycled ones so the birds will find something to eat. The fake berries are still there, but they now hold up the cranberry chain. I also added various seed heads to the original wreath. So now all of my wreaths are bird-friendly. For more on making wreaths using native plants see Sue Dingwell's post from a few years back: Native plant wreath making.

Original wreath So this is what it looks like now.

The eastern red cedar (Juniperus
) makes a great
Christmas tree and is an important
habitat tree.

O Christmas Tree

As for your other holiday décor, we hope that you've been purchasing live trees each year so that you now have a thicket or hedgerow of native evergreens to enhance the habitat value of your yard. The birds would love you for this. In colder regions of the country buying live trees is problematic because of frozen soil and harsh winter conditions, but here in Florida, January is a great time for planting trees.  Just be sure to supply enough irrigation, because it is the middle of our dry season. See my article Trees and Shrubs: the Bones of your Landscape for planting and irrigation guidelines.

After the holidays, cut trees can still offer winter
habitat for your birds. 
If you don't have space for more trees in your landscape, you can still help the birds with your cut tree. After the holidays, instead of just leaving the tree for the county pickup, stand it in the back corner of your yard for the winter. Lean it against an inside corner of a fence, stake it in place, or tie it to the trunk of a tree. Just having the dense evergreen mass that birds can use for shelter during the cooler months will help them, but you can also add some food such as popcorn or cranberry chains, and peanut butter smeared pinecones.

If you do this each year, birds will learn to depend on this temporary habitat and food source. So after your celebration, help the birds survive.

By spring the tree will have lost its needles and then you can cut off the branches to use as a path or woodland mulch. The advantage of using it in a path, so the fragrance released when you walk on the fir or spruce. The trunk can be left in place as a snag or laid on the soil in an out-of-the-way place for use by bees and woodpeckers.

In the debate about which is greener: a cut tree or an artificial one, the recent research leans in favor of the cut trees. (See this article, Which Christmas tree is greener, real or artificial for the argument.)

For more information on building a bird-friendly habitat, see my post, Can the Birds Count on You?
I wish you a merry holiday filled with family and fun.
Post and photos by Ginny Stibolt.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Plant Shopping 101

by Laurie Sheldon

If there’s one question we answer over and over again on the FNPS Facebook page it’s, “where can I find (insert name of plant) in my area?” We are thrilled that you are looking for natives to incorporate into your landscapes! This blog should hopefully become a great reference tool for you to use when shopping for plants and/or seeds in your area. So, without further ado, here are the four different webpages I typically use when asked to locate a particular native species; one is for wildflower seeds and the remainder are for plants.

Wildflower Seeds
Literally hundreds, if not thousands, of seed sources can be found on the internet - why do I limit my seed search to one resource? Simply stated, WHERE seeds are collected is just as important as what species they come from. Allow me to briefly touch on the notion of ecotype without getting completely carried away...  Within a given plant species there are varying degrees of genetic adaptation to the surrounding environment that occur over time. These slight genetic shifts presumably give local populations of a species (ecotypes) a competitive advantage over those grown out-of-state. For optimal results, it is advisable to sow seeds harvested from a site with an environment similar to your own. Fortunately, the Florida Wildflowers Growers Co-op offers seeds collected in Florida in a variety of different packages. Simply looking for packets of a single species? Want to sow a large field or roadside with a Florida Ecotype Mix,? This is the place to go.
Whether it's a native tree, shrub, or groundcover you're hoping to get your hands on, the internet is the best place to begin your search (and save on gas)! The Florida Association of Native Nurseries (F.A.N.N.), our sister organization, maintains two webpages through which you can locate that specimen you've been drooling over - one is primarily for homeowners and gardeners, and the other is directed toward industry professionals. Both provide information about which plants are native to your neck of the woods. Just enter your zip code to find out if what you were considering buying is appropriate for your site.
One of the largest plant directories is plantANT. Allied with the Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape Association (F.N.G.L.A.), plantANT is easy to use and includes features that allow users to sort their search results by distance from a particular zip code, price, and container size. You must register in order to use the site, but that is a fairly painless process and the price is right (it's free)!
Last, but not necessarily least, are the directories offered by the Betrock Network. This group goes back a LOOONG way. When the internet was in its infancy, their PlantFinder and PlantFinderWest catalogs were worth gold in countless landscape design studios, and were frequently hidden from the sticky fingers of classmates - particularly when it came time to specify plant sizes in planting plans. Aside from their all-encompassing database for individuals who haven't been bitten by the native bug yet, they have a search that is limited to native plants (shown below), which is kind of nice.
Please note that the information contained herein is in no way all-inclusive. It is intended to be used as a guide and a jumping point to get you headed in the right direction. Happy plant shopping, and green-thumbs up!
graphics by Laurie Sheldon

Monday, December 9, 2013

Native Landscaping Course to be Offered in Fort Pierce by the University of Florida

By Robin Koestoyo

The native section of the Ft. Pierce "teaching garden".
What do Mexican firebush, gumbo-limbo, and Stokes aster have in common, aside from their versatility and compatibility with a wide array of landscape settings? For starters, they are native to Florida, require a minimal amount of care, and are  featured in either of two botanic gardens situated at the University of Florida/IFAS Indian River Research and Education Center near Fort Pierce. Lucky for you, they are among the more than 100 plants to be studied in “Florida Native Landscaping,” an upper division environmental horticulture course offered at the UF Fort Pierce campus. Many industry professionals, nursery owners and state employees have completed the course.

Course Schedule
Registration for “Florida Native Landscaping” is taking place now for spring semester 2014.  Course lectures will be delivered live with laboratories will take place on Wednesdays, and will begin Jan. 8, 3:00 until 6:00 p.m., and will continue each Wednesday through mid-April. “Florida Native Landscaping” is offered as both an undergraduate course, as well as a graduate-level course. Graduate students who enroll will complete an additional project.

The course will take place at the University of Florida/IFAS Indian River Research and Education Center near Fort Pierce, located at 2199 South Rock Road, Fort Pierce, Florida, 34945. The Center is situated between Interstate 95 and the Florida Turnpike, located conveniently at both Fort Pierce/Okeechobee Road exit ramps.

Florida's native plants are clearly labeled and
identified as seen here.
The course is designed to introduce students prospective degree and non-degree seeking students with a plant science background to a wide array of native plant species used in Florida landscapes, according to Sandy Wilson, who will instruct the course. “This is a very popular course every time I teach it with direct applications as we learn how to create environmentally sound, aesthetic landscapes that benefit our wildlife,” said Wilson, who has garnered multiple national teaching awards and holds a doctorate in plant physiology. She devotes equal amounts of her faculty time to teaching courses and to research projects.

Each week, students will participate in lectures and laboratory work that will cover plant nomenclature and taxonomy, native plant requirements, propagation, environmental issues and native landscape design and implementation. Portions of the course will take place in the center’s 1-acre “IRREC Teaching Gardens”, and the half-mile-long “Linear Garden,” both outdoor gardens planned and implemented by students of environmental horticulture.

Dr. Sandy Wilson
Dr. Sandy Wilson is a prominent environmental horticulturalist nationally recognized for her research programs and innovative teaching skills in classroom, laboratory and distance education platforms. Her research focuses on characterizing the invasive potential of ornamental plants, and native plant physiology, propagation and production.

Recently, Dr. Wilson obtained a grant with which to produce material for newly created web-based lectures by statewide native experts specifically for this course. In addition, she is co-inventor of a new multiple-key entry online key for identifying plant families.

Magnolia grandiflora, one of many native trees
found in the UF/IFAS Indian River Research and
Education Center.
To enroll in “Florida Native Landscaping” or for more information about University of Florida course and degree offerings at the Fort Pierce location, contact Jackie White, Coordinator of Student Support Services, at (772) 468-3922, extension 148, or by e-mail at or on the web at: For specific questions about the course or materials contact Dr. Sandra Wilson at: The course website provides information, including the course syllabus, plant list, review activities, plant images, and recommended native book references. The website is online at:


posted by Laurie Sheldon

Monday, December 2, 2013

Protecting our Native Plant Populations

By Juliet Rynear, Conservation Committee Chair

We took immediate action after being notified of this patch
of Dicerandra cornutissima, an endemic endangered species,
which was growing on a roadside in Ocala.
Photo credits: above - S. Denton; below - K. Puracan.
FNPS members often contact about native plant populations which are in imminent harm – from development, highway and road construction, vandalism, poaching, or even fire suppression. This is especially disturbing when the plant species are state and federally listed as threatened or endangered. All inquiries are forwarded to the FNPS Conservation Committee for immediate action.

It is very important that you contact us if you believe that a native plant population is in danger of being destroyed or negatively impacted in some way. In just the past few months we have received notices of plant poaching by FNPS members, loss of rare plant populations to development (private and commercial), and destruction of populations by the Department of Transportation.

By staying alert to actions in your “neck of the woods,” each FNPS member can be a powerful force in our efforts to fulfill our mission to conserve and preserve native plant populations. Our members are the first responders and the first to alert the state organization of the need to mobilize all of our resources.

There are many steps that we can take to preserve and conserve a threatened population. The Conservation Committee will work with you and your local chapter to accurately assess the level of threat and chart a course of action.

In each case, we will:
  1. Verify the species in question
  2. Determine whether any of the species are threatened or endangered
  3. Contact a local FNPS chapter and help organize plant rescue efforts (includes permitting for collection, coordination with engineers and landowners, locating a legally protected recipient site, etc.) if the plant is not threatened or endangered.
  4. Contact relevant partners in the rare plant conservation community if the plant is state or federally listed.

Above - the Conservation Committee has been actively
involved in monitoring this tract of Warea amplexifolia,
an endemic endangered species, in an off-limits area of
Seminole State Forest. Below - W. amplexifolia closeup.
Photo credits: J. Rynear and S. Denton, respectively.
When a plant species is state or federally listed, there are a number of steps that the Conservation Committee will take. They include:
  1. Determining whether or not the population has been previously documented by the Florida Natural Areas Inventory (FNAI)
  2. Determining the current conservation status in the state of Florida.
  3. Determining whether there are opportunities for land acquisition for all or part of the population.
  4. Determining whether germplasm from the population has been stored within the National Collection of the Center for Plant Conservation.
In Florida, there are two participating institutions in the Center for Plant Conservation. They are Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden and Bok Tower Gardens. Both of these institutions curate collections of Florida’s rare plant species. The collections are maintained both onsite and at the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation (NCGRP) in Fort Collins, Colorado.

As a last resort, a rescue effort of all rare plants can be conducted. In the state of Florida, there are three organizations focusing on the conservation of our rare and endemic plant species. For north and central Florida there is Bok Tower Gardens Rare Plant Conservation Program, for south Florida there is the Center for Tropical Plant Conservation at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, and for the Florida Keys, the Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Garden.

We can all help conserve and preserve our native plant populations. First, by doing no harm to existing wild populations:  never collect plants, seeds, or plant parts without a permit and a comprehensive conservation plan in place. Second, whenever you believe a population is being adversely impacted in any way, contact the Conservation Committee at or the state FNPS at


Posted by Laurie Sheldon

Thursday, November 21, 2013

THEY are the Champions

Although it was not a national champ,
this bald cypress (nicknamed "The
Senator") was the largest native tree
in FL until it was destroyed in 2012. It
stood 118' tall, measured 425" in
circumference, and its crown spread
over an average of 57'.
by Laurie Sheldon

In the Beginning
American Forests magazine has maintained a list of the biggest trees of each species in America since 1940. It began as the "American Big Trees Report," was re-titled the "Social Register of Big Trees" in 1961, and in 1978 it became the "National Register of Big Trees" - a publication in which more than 750 champions are crowned each year. To see the most current edition, click here. The Big Tree Program is active throughout the U.S., and its message has been the same for over 70 years: regardless of size, all trees are champions of the environment. Its goal is to preserve and promote the iconic stature of our country's living monarchs (its remarkable trees) and to educate people about the key role that trees and forests play in sustaining a healthy environment.

The Makings of a Champion
To be eligible for the National Register of Big Trees, a tree must be recognized as native or non-invasive naturalized in the United States. Hybrids and minor varieties are excluded. Based on sources including the USDA Plants Database and the Integrated Taxonomic Information System, the 870+ species and varieties of trees on this list have met eligibility requirements.

Local Contenders
Florida has the most national champions of any state. Its largest is a Ficus citrifolia (shortleaf fig/wild banyan) in Monroe County which measures 444 inches in circumference, stands 48 feet tall, and carries a crown spread of 76 feet. In addition to contributing to the National Register, the Florida Forest Service keeps a state register, the Florida Champion Tree Register, which documents the largest trees of each species within the state.

This Ficus citrifolia has been the national reigning champion since 1987.
Discovering a Winner
Take a look at the list of 100+ native tree species in Florida that don't have designated champions. If you've seen one of these species and it
1) has an erect, woody main trunk with a circumference larger than 9.5 inches (about 3 inches across) at 4.5 feet above the average ground level (see the measurement diagrams at the foot of this article for details about where to measure if the specimen is leaning, on a slope, etc.),
2) is more than 13 feet tall, and
3) has a definite crown of branches or fronds
then I strongly encourage you to nominate it! The process involved is detailed in this pdf document. The online nomination form is available here, and a printable/mail in version can be downloaded here.  Please note that if the tree is located on private property, and you plan on mailing in your nomination, you must also have the property owner fill out this form.
For Further Reading
An article about Mark Torok, a state forester who has measured and verified more than 220 Florida champions and 130 national contenders.
Requiem for the Senator, about the loss of that invaluable bald cypress.

Measurement Diagrams
A. Typical measurement location   B. Measurement location when tree is forked at 4.5 feet
C. Measurement location of tree growing on a sloped site   D. Measurement location of a leaning tree

Friday, November 15, 2013

Life in the Slow Lane: A Profile of the Gopher Tortoise

By Laurie Sheldon

Gopher tortoise entering burrow; photo by Gary Foster.
Joseph Butler, a U.N.F. Biology Professor and herpetologist, was a guest speaker at one of  the Ixia chapter's recent meetings. He hoped to study snakes when he moved to Florida, but found that they were hard to pin down, so to speak. He turned his attention to Gopher Tortoises, which proved to be a much more reliable subject to study, as they live long lives (50 years +) and there are over 400 burrows on campus.The gopher tortoise is federally protected as a threatened species except in Florida, where it is listed as a Species of Special Concern by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus) are native reptiles that can be found throughout the southeastern U.S.. They prefer sandhill communities, which are typified by longleaf pines and turkey oaks growing in loose, sandy soil. Much of the longleaf pine in Florida has been replaced with slash pine, which grows significantly faster; the unfortunate byproduct has been a loss of 80% of the gopher tortoise's habitat. As these reptiles are primarily herbivorous, they depend on fire to open up the canopy and let in sunlight for understory plants to grow. Fun fact: gopher tortoises do not eat during winter.

Gopher tortoises copulating; photo by Stephen LeQuier.
Their thick claws and strong forelimbs are excellent tools when it comes to digging their burrows to live in, which can be 30' long and 18' deep. Not only do their burrows provide them with temperature control and some degree of protection from predators, but they are also used as shelter for over 300 other species of animals. As such, gopher tortoises are considered to be a "keystone species". The area around the burrow opening is called the apron. It is the happening place for gopher tortoises, as that is where courtship, mating, combat, and egg laying occurs. It is presumed that they choose a location based on the availability of vegetation nearby. Each gopher tortoise has its own burrow. Not all burrows are active. Tracks are usually a giveaway that someone's home. When there are no tracks in sight, a simple way to tell if a burrow is active is to place a stick in front of it (if a tortoise is living there, it will move the stick).

Concave male plastron above. Flat
female plastron below. Photo from .
Males and females are about the same size (11" long). The top portion of their shell is called a carapace, and the lower portion is a plastron. The way to tell them apart is to turn them over. The males have a concave plastron, which enables them to copulate. Gopher tortoises don't reach sexual maturity until they are 12-15 years old, so it's critical to the future of the species for them to be protected until they are old! They mate during spring and typically lay 4-7 eggs sometime between the second week in May and June. Eggs take 70 days to incubate; accordingly, hatching occurs sometime in August or September. Because their shells remain soft for 7-8 years, they are easy prey for hawks, etc.

Tortoise hatching from its hard egg;
photo by Mike Simmons
To monitor the tortoises on campus, Dr. Butler and his team would dig a hole and place a bucket in it just in front of the apron. When the tortoise fell into the bucket, they would measure and weigh it, then set it on its merry way. Tortoise babies are difficult to find. They use their umbilicus for food during the first year of their lives, so they have little reason to wander. As such, it is easier to study them from the egg stage, let them hatch, then equip them with radio-telemetry to keep tabs on them. Where most reptile eggs are leathery, gopher tortoise eggs are hard, and will make a clicking sound when tapped. Dr. Butler attempted to find eggs by listening for that click while probing the ground with a construction-type flag. The problem with this method: rocks also click when tapped... and back to the drawing board he went.

Have you seen a gopher tortoise or a tortoise burrow before? Here's a story by Peg Lindsay about her up-close and personal encounter with the species:

Wildflower gardens have a totally different “look” to them. They’re usually not showy, manicured nor neat. Mine is no exception. My husband and I had intended to trim back the dead stems and apply leaf mulch in the fall, but we noticed Goldfinches perching on the dead stalks snacking from the seed-heads, and Cardinals, Mockingbirds and Palm Warblers scratching through the leaf litter for their dinner. We decided to let it be, through the winter. It was . . . um . . . unattractive. At least it wasn't in the FRONT yard.

When the weather warmed up, new sprouts began to poke through the sand, and all danger of another freeze had past, we decided it was finally time to clean up the mess. That's when we noticed a Gopher Tortoise hole right smack in the middle of our garden. It was about 8 inches wide by about 5 inches high – definitely sized for a youngster. We proudly showed it to anyone who wandered by.

Young gopher tortoise photo by Melody Hendrix.

Both the tortoise and its burrow are protected under state law, so we had to manage our garden while protecting the hole. I was nervous about disturbing it, so I spoke to a friend of mine who has several of these critters in her yard. She said that I can go ahead and plant and weed around the burrow. She also told me that they are opportunistic eaters - although they are primarily vegetarian and will eat just about any plant which grows in Florida, they also snack on insects and other tiny creatures. The variety of native grasses and wildflowers in our garden may have been what attracted the tortoise to begin with!

Additional information:
FWC on Florida’s Gopher Tortoise
For young readers:
The Gopher Tortoise – A Life History
At Home with the Gopher Tortoise: The Story of a Keystone Species

Friday, November 8, 2013

F.N.P.S. Board Retreat #2, August 2013

By Laurie Sheldon

The Bristol Strategy Group's diagram of F.N.P.S. at a
point where changes need to be made in order to insure
the  organization's future growth.
On August 11, 2013, the F.N.P.S. Board of Directors, along with Rebecca Staton-Reinstein and Ellen Bristol of the Bristol Strategy Group, attended a two day retreat at Jonathan Dickinson State Park. A typical B.O.D. meeting was held first thing Saturday morning. After that, we were all subject to Rebecca and Ellen's poking and prodding. These two women were hired to help F.N.P.S. actualize its potential. It was the second Strategic Planning Event they were facilitators for. I was not at the first one (held in February 2013), but Ginny Stibolt was, and she wrote the following blog about it: 2013 FNPS Board Retreat. They felt that, given the way that the organization currently operates, it has maxed out on its potential for expansion and development. Further, they suggested that the only way for us to continue to function and grow would be to make some significant changes to our current system of governance, and soon... otherwise we were headed for a short walk off an even shorter plank. Yikes!

F.N.P.S. baby photo
Backing Up
Don't freak out if none of this makes any sense to you. I probably should have started this piece more chronologically to explain what's going on. Rewind to the year Reagan was elected, gas cost $1.20/gallon, people everywhere were asking "who shot J.R.?" and the Florida Native Plant Society was born. It was 1980. At the time, there were 20 Board Members and 150 members. Today, there are over 3,000 members and something like 60 Board Members. Although the Board has grown in size and brain power, let's just say that, as in many other things, bigger isn't always better. Currently, the Board of Directors consists of an Executive Committee (EXCOMM) and Representatives from each of the organization's 37 chapters. It has become evident that the Chapter Reps (and their respecitve chapters) are not really benefitting from attending Board Meetings, which are largely focused on EXCOMM business. When push comes to shove, what the Representatives really need is to learn about other chapters' successes and failures regarding everything from events (like plant sales) to field trips, and speakers, and to subsequently share that wisdom at their own chapter meetings.

Check out the video above (from Cool Hand Luke) for a statement about the fundamental problem that the F.N.P.S. faces.

Moving Forward
Let's not go here, okay?!
We've targeted communication as our achilles heel. Great. Now what? If we look at this issue as a byproduct of how the organization is structured, perhaps it would be wise to check out how other states' Native Plant Societies are set up - particularly those states in which communication among chapters is not problematic. A bit of research reveals that California's Native Plant Society (the largest in the country in terms of finance and membership) is the ONLY one that isn't operating under the same model we are. They have a streamlined Board of Directors and a separate Council of Chapters for their Chapter Reps. There are two seats on the Board for Council Representatives, which serve as liaisons between the two bodies. That setup is working for them, and if it's good enough for the left coast, then gosh darnit it's good enough for us!

What's that? You are going out of your gourd because we can't just breach our own bylaws? Just sit down and breathe. First of all, if it wasn't legal to change things up a bit, no organization would ever evolve into something bigger and better than its former self... and as scientists, you DO believe in evolution, right? So here's a little Darwin for ya' - natural selection dictates that the species that roll with the punches and make positive changes to their traits (reflecting their changing environments) are going to be the species that stick around and multiply, right? So let's not allow F.N.P.S. to go the way of the 8-track! Current bylaws can be circumnavigated by restructuring "ad hoc" (that's like "beta version" for you tech geeks out there). Once we figure out what works, then we'll adjust the bylaws accordingly. Makes sense, right?

Defining the Council of Chapters
With the Council idea in mind, we got into the business of specifics: purpose, goals, etc. Everyone in attendance was put into a group of about 8 people to do this. Each group brainstormed up a list, then pared down their lists by voting. Eventually all of the groups' pared down lists were combined, and the room voted all together. I think it's fair to say that it was not the most fun thing ever, but we got 'er done. Here's what we came up with...

Gene Kelly, Shirley Denton, and Anne Cox review their group's list.

Council Purpose
Align communication and coordination from Chapter to Chapter, B.O.D. to Chapter, and Chapter to B.O.D.

Operational Goals
Rebecca and Ellen combine all of the groups' lists before
a room-wide vote.
Identify issues at local and regional levels (procatively or responsively) as related to the F.N.P.S. mission.
Prioritize issues and develop action plans.

Aspirational Goals
Expand Society's reach to policy makers.

Qualifications for Council Members on the B.O.D.
Member is active and in good standing.
Member has demonstrated leadership and responsibility in own chapter.
Member is willing to commit time and money.
Member is passionate about F.N.P.S. and its mission.
Member has organizational skills.
Member has communication skills and is tech-literate.
Member is knowledgeable about F.N.P.S..

Kitching Trail Map (L); Anne Cox with Asimina reticulata (R)

Before heading out to fill our bellies, Anne Cox lead us on a  hike through Kitching Creek Nature Trail, which winds through flatwoods along a tributary of the Loxahatchee River. The canopy was largely slash pine, with wiregrass, gallberry, saw palmetto, and wax myrtle in the understory. It was a terrific way to unwind after a day full of list-making.

Day 2
We continued to flesh out details regarding the organization's restructuring on the second day of the retreat. First we determined what the revamped EXCOMM would look like, including a little shuffling around of the current Director positions.

The rough outline of changes to F.N.P.S. Governance that I presented to my own (Ixia) Chapter

Then we listed two sets of "initiatives":

Organizational Initiatives
Governance and Board development
Fund development
Marketing and outreach (including communication to members, recruitment, and bringing in funds)

Aspirational Initiatives
Support land management and review of landuse planning
Educational programs
Habitat restoration

After that, we got back into groups of 8 to determine what the best way to select Board members to lead the implementation of those "initiatives." We started with a "Clarity Decision Map" (which, oddly enough, I felt was very confusing), then came up with various constraints and assumptions (below, L) and success factors and solutions (below, R) as per the map.

Last, but not least, we worked out what the future scheduling of the Council of Chapters and B.O.D. might look like.

Council of Chapters
Julie Becker stepped up and took on the responsibility of bringing the Council of Chapters to life (like Dr. Frankenstein, but much more attractive, positive and not scary)! Go Julie! It was proposed that the Council would hold monthly meetings for one year - primarily electronic (via phone, skype, etc). She planned to organize the first Council meeting/orientation prior to December 15, 2013.

Board of Directors
Board meetings were suggested to be held monthly for approximately one year (also primarily electronic) and to last about 90 minutes to 2 hours. Three live meetings would take place: (1) at the conference, (2) an annual planning weekend, and (3) one other (to be determined). Content of meetings would revolve around strategic planning of the following "initiatives":

I.  Organizational/Operational Initiatives
      A. Annual calendar (what happens, when it happens, who is responsible)
      B. Governance and Board development
      C. Finance, marketing, and fund development
II. Aspirational Initiatives (comparing goal progress and play... what happened or didn't, etc.)
      A. Support of land management
      B. Educational programs
      C. Habitat restoration

Summing it Up
It was a very productive and exhausting weekend. Hopefully, the ideas discussed will come to fruition. If nothing else, know that your current Chapter Reps (now Council Members), Executive Committee Members, and Members-at-Large are doing everything they can to make F.N.P.S. a fabulous organization, and one who you can be proud to be a part of. Go team!
Photos and graphics by Laurie Sheldon
Video c/o YouTube

Friday, November 1, 2013

Florida Native Plant Communities

Do you know Florida's native plant communities?

Have you ever wondered what the heck a scrubby flatwoods is or what the difference is between a slough and a wet prairie?

Well, wonder no more! The FNPS website includes a Native Plant Communities page with all of Florida's complex ecosystems explained and illustrated by photos.

The communities are organized into 13 broad categories: Xeric Uplands, Dry Mesic Uplands, Mesic Uplands, Wet Flatlands, Seepage Wetlands, Moving Water Wetlands, Floodplain Wetlands, Basin Wetlands, Rocklands, Coastal Uplands, Coastal Wetlands, Flowing Water Systems, and Lakes & Ponds. There are two or more specific communities under each broad category. Isn't Florida amazing?

Why is it important to be familiar with all this?

Whether you are just planting natives in your yard or working on a true restoration project, it's important to know what is likely to have been there 500 years ago.  Knowing Florida's native plant communities or ecosystems and the plants that grow there will help you to choose the best plants for your projects.

A sample of Florida's Native Plant Communities

Under the broad category of Moving Water Wetlands, this is the description for "Swale."

Under the broad category of Moving Water Wetlands, this is the description for "Slough."

Under the broad category of Flowing Water Systems, this is the description for "Blackwater Stream."

Under the broad category of Lakes and Ponds, this is the description for "Acidic Low Nutrient Lakes."
The FNPS website has many valuable resources for native plant enthusiasts, but the page on Florida's native plant communities is one of the most important.  Thanks to founding FNPS member Shirley Denton for her insight and photographs of Florida's ecosystems.

Written and posted by Ginny Stibolt.

Update: Several people wrote to ask for references on these communities.  Here is the initial list, which will be posted on the next version of the FNPS website:


The majority of these references were written by members of the Florida Native Plant Society!. Thanks to all of them for their contributions to native plant ecology in Florida.
Austin, Daniel F.; Jones, Julie L.; and Bennett, Bradley C.. 1986 (Summer). The Fakahatchee Strand. 6, #2:3-6.
Batista, W.B., and W.J. Platt. 1997. An old-growth definition for southern mixed hardwood forests. General Technical Report SRS-9. United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. Southern Research Station, Asheville, North Carolina.
Bradley, K., and G. Gann. 1999. The pine rockland forests of southern Florida. The Palmetto 19:12-19.
Clewell, A.F. 1986. Natural setting and vegetation of the Florida Panhandle - An account of the environments and plant communities of northern Florida west of the Suwannee River. Report No. COESAM/PDEI-86/001. United States Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District, Alabama.
Daubenmire, R. 1990. The Magnolia grandiflora-Quercus virginiana forest of Florida. American Midland Naturalist 123:331-347.
Delcourt, H.R., and P.A. Delcourt. 1977. Presettlement magnolia-beech climax of the Gulf Coastal Plain: quantitative evidence from the Apalachicola River Bluffs, North-Central Florida. Ecology 58:1085-1093.
Florida Department of Environmental Protection. 1992. Soil and Water Relationships of Florida's Ecological Communities
Duever, L.C. 1986. Florida's Natural Communities: Overwash Plains and Coastal Berms. The Palmetto 6:10-11.
Duever, Linda. 1984 (February). Florida's Natural Communities: Seepage Communities. The Palmetto 4, #1:1-2, 10-11.
Duever, Linda. 1988 (Summer). Florida's Natural Communities: Mesic Hammock. The Palmetto 8, #2:4-5.
Duever, Linda. 1983 (November). Florida's Natural Communities: Coastal Dunes. The Palmetto 3, #4:4-5.
Duever, Linda. 1985-86 (Winter). Florida's Natural Communities: Coastal Mounds. The Palmetto 5, #4:15.
Duever, Linda. 1985 (Spring). Florida's Natural Communities: Cypress Swamps. The Palmetto 5, #1:4-5.
Duever, Linda. 1984-85 (Winter). Florida's Natural Communities: Flatwoods. The Palmetto 4, #4:6.
Duever, Linda. 1984 (September). Florida's Natural Communities: Floodplains. The Palmetto 4, #3:8-10.
Duever, Linda. 1983 (August). Florida's Natural Communities: Inland Sand Ridges. The Palmetto 3, #3:1-3, 10.
Duever, Linda. 1984 (April). Florida's Natural Communities: Rocklands. The Palmetto 4, #2:8-11.
Duever, Linda. 1987 (Summer-Fall). Florida's Natural Communities: Wet Prairies. The Palmetto 7, #2:6-7.
Florida Natural Areas Inventory (FNAI). 2010. Guide to the natural communities of Florida: 2010 edition. Florida Natural Areas Inventory, Tallahassee, FL.
Florida Natural Areas Inventory (FNAI) and Florida Department of Natural Resources. 1990. Guide to the natural communities of Florida: 2010 edition. Florida Natural Areas Inventory, Tallahassee, FL.
Gann, G.D., K.A. Bradley, and S.W. Woodmansee. 2009. Floristic Inventory of South Florida Database. Institute for Regional Conservation.
Guerin, D.N. 1993. Oak dome clonal structure and fire ecology in a Florida longleaf pine dominated community. Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club 120:107-114.
Laessle, A.M. 1958. The origin and successional relationship of sandhill vegetation and sand-pine scrub. Ecological Monographs 28:361-387.
Loope, L.L., D.W. Black, S. Black, and G.N. Avery. 1979. Distribution and abundance of flora in limestone rockland pine forests of southeastern Florida. South Florida Research Center, Everglades National Park, Homestead, Florida.
Myers, R.L. and J.J. Ewel (eds.). 1990. Ecosystems of Florida University of Central Florida Press: Orlando.
Outcalt, K.W. 1997. An old-growth definition for tropical and subtropical forests in Florida. General Technical Report SRS-013. United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Southern Research Station, Asheville, North Carolina.
Peet, R.K., and D.J. Allard. 1993. Longleaf pine vegetation of the southern Atlantic and eastern Gulf Coast regions: a preliminary classification. Pages 45-82 in S.M. Hermann, editor. The Longleaf Pine Ecosystem: Ecology, Restoration and Management. Proceedings of the Tall Timbers Fire Ecology Conference, No. 23. Tall Timbers Research Station, Tallahassee, Florida.
Schiffer, Donna M. Hydrology of central Florida lakes : a Primer. U.S. Geological SurveyCircular 1137.
Simons, R.W. 1990. Terrestrial and freshwater habitats. Pages 99-157 in S.H. Wolfe, editor. An ecological characterization of the Florida Springs Coast: Pithlachascotee to Waccasassa Rivers. Biological Report 90(21). United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington, DC.
USDA Soil Conservation Service. 198_. 26 Ecological Communities of Florida.
Whitney, E.N., D. B. Means, A. Rudloe. 2004. Priceless Florida: Natural Ecosystems and Native Species. Pineapple Press.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Importance of Native Plants, Part 2

The following article, which features Dr. Doug Tallamy's book, Bringing Nature Home, was submitted by Karina Veaudry, FNPS Landscape Committee Chair. Excerpts of Tallamy’s original text were reprinted with his permission. For part 1 of the article, click HERE.

Landuse in Florida today and predictions for 2060; the
rust color depicts developed land, green is conservation
and yellow is undeveloped.
Your Role in Building Biological Corridors: Networks for Life
Throughout the U.S., we have fragmented the habitats that support biodiversity by the way we have landscaped our cities, suburbs, and farmland. This is a problem because isolated habitats cannot sustain themselves or support populations large enough to survive normal environmental stresses. We can reconnect viable habitats by expanding existing greenways, building riparian corridors, and by changing the landscaping paradigm that dominates our yards and corporate landscapes. Replacing half of our lawns (areas that are essentially barren and ecologically sterile) with plants that are best at supporting food webs would create over 20 million connected acres of connectivity and go a long way toward sustaining biodiversity in the future.

Re-designing Suburbia

Illustration from
What will it take to give our local birds and animals what they need to survive and reproduce on our properties? NATIVE PLANTS, and lots of them. This is a scientific fact deduced from thousands of studies about how energy moves through food webs. Here is the general reasoning: All animals get their energy directly from plants, or by eating something that has already eaten a plant. Insects are responsible for passing energy from plants to animals that can’t eat plants. This is what makes insects such vital components of healthy ecosystems. So many animals depend on insects for food (including 96% of all terrestrial birds) that if insects were removed from an ecosystem, the resultant ecosystem would be doomed.

Above: Lagerstroemia indica; below: Prunus umbellata
But that is exactly what we have tried to do in our suburban landscapes. For over a century, we have favored ornamental landscape plants from China and Europe over those that evolved right here. If all plants were created equal, that would be fine. But every plant species protects its leaves with a species-specific mixture of nasty chemicals. With few exceptions, only insect species that have shared a long evolutionary history with a particular plant lineage have developed the physiological adaptations required to digest the chemicals in their host’s leaves. They have specialized over time to eat only the plants sharing those particular chemicals. When we present insects from Florida with plants that evolved on another continent, chances are those insects will be unable to eat them. We used to think this was good, the mantra being, "Kill all insects before they eat our plants!"  The truth is that an insect that cannot eat part of a leaf cannot fulfill its role in the food web. We have planted millions of Crape Myrtles (Lagerstroemia indica), a species from China that supports very few insect herbivores, instead of our native flowering Plum tree (Prunus umbellata), which supports over 450 species of birds, butterflies, moths and pollinators. This is but one example. Non-native plants create an ecological hole because they fail to provide the prerequisite food and nesting sources for existing local wildlife.

Your Yard Has a Function
The Florida Scrub Jay is a federally-listed endemic
species - it needs NATIVES!
In the past we didn’t design home landscapes to reflect the critical ecological roles they play. If we hope to avoid future wildlife extinctions and create a situation from which humans are not likely to recover, then we need to change our approach to home landscape design. By replacing unnecessary lawn with densely planted woodlots, we can foster biodiversity and fill the habitat void. But we MUST do this by landscaping our  properties with native trees and plants

Studies have shown that even a modest increase in the native plant cover on a suburban property will significantly increase the number and species of breeding birds present, including birds of conservation concern. As gardeners and stewards of our land, we have never been so empowered to help save so many  species from extinction, and the need to do so has never been so great. All we need to do is plant natives!

posted and edited by Laurie Sheldon

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Importance of Native Plants, Part 1

The following article features Dr. Doug Tallamy's book, Bringing Nature Home, was submitted by Karina Veaudry, FNPS Landscape Committee Chair. Excerpts of Tallamy’s original text were reprinted with his permission.

The Need to Plant Natives in (sub)Urban Landscapes
As development and subsequent habitat destruction accelerate, there are increasing pressures on wildlife populations. But there is an important and simple step toward reversing this alarming trend: Everyone with access to a patch of earth can make a significant contribution toward sustaining biodiversity. There is an unbreakable link between native plant species and native wildlife - native insects cannot, or will not, eat non-native plants. When native plants disappear, so do native insects; subsequently, the food source for birds and other animals is dramatically reduced. In many parts of the United States, habitat destruction has been so extensive that local wildlife populations have entered a state of crisis and may be headed toward extinction. Bringing Nature Home, by Douglas W. Tallamy, Ph.D., has sparked a national conversation about the link between healthy local ecosystems and human well-being. By acting on his practical recommendations, which are highlighted below, we can all make a difference.

Gardening For Life
Chances are, you have never thought of your yard as a wildlife preserve that represents the last chance we have for sustaining plants and animals that were once common throughout Florida. But that is exactly the role our suburban landscapes are now playing and will play even more in the near future.

The traditional residential landscape
does little for fostering biodiversity.
If this is news to you, it’s not your fault. We were taught from childhood that yards and gardens are for lawns and beauty; places to express our artistic talents. And, whether we like it or not, the way we landscape our properties is interpreted by our neighbors as a statement of our wealth and social status. No one taught us about the importance of maintaining native plants for native pollinators. We didn't learn that habitat destruction forces the diverse populations of plants and animals that evolved in Florida to depend more and more on human-dominated landscapes for their continued existence. We have always thought that these other species were happy somewhere out there “in nature” (e.g. in local "woods" or perhaps in our state and national parks). We have heard nothing about the rate at which species disappear from our neighborhoods, towns, counties, and states. Even worse, we have never been taught how critical it is to our own well-being to promote biodiversity in our own backyards.

The face of urban sprawl
We Have Taken It All
The population of Florida (now over 19 million people) continues to grow while our natural resources and drinking water availability have shrunk to all-time lows. Our population explosion has gone hand-in-hand with urban sprawl and hundreds of miles of new roadways that bisect native habitats and large mammal migratory routes (black bear, panther, etc.). The effect on natural ecosystems and biodiversity has been devastating. Migratory birds that have stopped in the same areas for centuries are increasingly finding it difficult to find their native plant food sources. Somewhere along the way we also decided to remove most of the native plant food sources for birds and other wildlife on our properties into huge expanses of lawn. 

Is lawn mowing an activity that deserves the
praise it gets? Furthernore, why is this guy
so happy?
In the U.S., so far we have planted over 62,500 sq miles (45.6 million acres), in lawn. Each weekend we mow an area 8 times the size of New Jersey and then congratulate ourselves on a job well done. And it’s not like the remaining “woods” and “open spaces” are pristine. Nearly all are second-growth forests, thoroughly invaded by non-native, invasive plants like Mexican petunia, camphor trees, coral ardisia and air potato. Over 400 species of invasive plants have invaded hundreds of millions of acres across Florida killing native trees and plants – and displacing the food and nesting sources that our birds, butterflies, pollinators and other wildlife need for their survival. Sadly, because of political pressure from the ornamental plant industry, many invasive plants are legal to sell. Most citizens are completely unaware of this, operating under the reasonable assumption that a menacing species of plant would not be commercially available. They are not told that "Florida 'Friendly'" is a sneaky way to describe a non-native species, or that by purchasing invasive plants they are contributing to the destruction of native habitats. How? Birds will eat from an invasive plant in your yard if there is no other food around. In turn, they fly away and drop the seeds in nearby natural areas, complete with "fertilizer." Seed can also be dispersed by the wind and/or spread by landscape maintenance equipment. Other plants can spread by aggressive rhizomes.

U. S. Land Use (lower 48 states)
To nature lovers, the following statistics will be horrifying. Dr. Tallamy stresses them in his book so that we can clearly understand the challenge before us. We have turned 54% of the lower 48 states into a matrix of cities, suburbs and tiny fragmented habitats that cannot sustain themselves because they are cut off from their natural hydrology and connection to adjacent habitats. We have turned another 41% more into various forms of agriculture. That’s right: we humans have taken 95% of nature and made it unnatural.  But does this matter? Are there consequences to turning so much land into the park-like settings humans enjoy? Absolutely - for biodiversity, wildlife food sources and for us. Our fellow creatures need food and shelter to survive and reproduce and in too many places we have eliminated both. In Florida, 112 plant and animal species are rare, threatened, or endangered and a myriad have already disappeared entirely. Many of those that haven’t suffered local extinction are now too rare to perform their role in their ecosystems. These can be considered functionally extinct. The song birds that brighten spring mornings have been in decline since the 1960s, having lost 40% of their numbers so far. Birds that breed in meadows are in even more trouble. Some species have declined by 65% to 82% in total numbers, and are completely absent from many areas that used to support healthy populations.

We're all in this together
Why Biodiversity Matters
For most of us, hearing such numbers triggers a passing sadness; but few people feel personally threatened by the loss of biodiversity. It IS, in fact, something that should cause every one of us reason to be alarmed. Here is why: a diverse network of native plants, animals, and insect species evolve together in ecosystems - they interact and depend upon one another specifically for what each offers, such as food, shelter, oxygen, and soil enrichment. We humans have inserted themselves into those ecosystems. We benefit from the oxygen that plants create (and the carbon they sequester), the water they filter, and their protection from extreme weather. We eat the fruits that were made possible by insect pollinators, who themselves are a food source for animals.
Humans cannot behave as though they are the most important species on this planet because their lives depend on the services provided by OTHER SPECIES. We encourage our own demise every time we force a species to extinction. Maintaining the species in each ecosystem is necessary to the preservation of the intricate web of life that sustains all living things. E. O. Wilson (known as the "father of biodiversity") said, "It is reckless to suppose that biodiversity can be diminished indefinitely without threatening humanity itself." 

Bringing Nature Home

Because our yards and gardens are part of the terrestrial ecosystems that sustain humans and the life around us, it is essential that we keep them in working order. Tallamy discusses the important ecological roles of the plants in our landscapes, emphasizes the benefits of designing gardens with those roles in mind, and explores the consequences of failing to do so. Gardening in this crowded world carries both moral and ecological responsibilities.

Please click HERE for Part 2 of this blog
---posted and edited by Laurie Sheldon