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