Saturday, February 22, 2014

Good News for Florida's Roadside Wildflowers!

By Lisa Roberts
Florida Wildflower Foundation Executive Director

Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad recently signed the department's new Wildflower Management Program Procedure, which will allow more of the state's native wildflowers to flourish along roadsides through reduced mowing and other management practices.

Left to right - Jeff Caster, FDOT landscape architect; Jeff Norcini,
FDOT wildflower horticulturalist; FDOT Sec. Ananth Prasad;
Florida Wildflower Foundation liaison Eleanor Dietrich
FDOT state transportation landscape architect Jeff Caster said, “Roadsides are the state’s most visited and visible landscape.  The department is committed to increasing the visibility and enjoyment of native wildflowers.” 

State Road 65 - roadside wildflowers; photo by Eleanor Dietrich
"We salute the department in enacting this forward-thinking program," said Vince Lamb, Florida Wildflower Foundation board chairman. "In Florida, wildflower tourism is building as its own brand of ecotourism, as is exemplified in the eastern Panhandle. There's no doubt that FDOT's new statewide procedure will help preserve native wildflowers, the most beautiful roadside assets of all."

Roadside ORCHIDS! Platanthera species; Photo by Eleanor Dietrich
Hairstreak butterfly on roadside Oclemena reticulata (white
topped aster) in Leon County; photo by Eleanor Dietrich
Not only are they beautiful, wildflowers provide habitat for the pollinators vital to Florida's agricultural success. Together, they are essential to the production of every third bite of food we eat.

On Jan. 28, the Florida Wildflower Foundation and the Magnolia Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society hosted a meeting of more than 100 Panhandle Wildflower Alliance members in Tallahassee to introduce the new program. Established in 2012, the Florida Panhandle Wildflower Alliance is an informal network of regional wildflower enthusiasts that advocates for conservation of wildflowers in the state’s Eastern Panhandle.

For additional information, see the following links:
Panhandle Wildflower Alliance
Florida's wildflowers

posted by Laurie Sheldon

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

February 2014 Board Retreat

Haven't been to the Circle B? You're missing out on
some fabulous birding and tons of trails for hiking!
The 5 Ws, More or Less
On February 8th and 9th, 2014 your F.N.P.S. Board of Directors (a.k.a. "Fearless Leaders") congregated in Lakeland, Florida for a weekend of meetings, which were held at the Circle B Bar Reserve. The first day began with the usual: approval of minutes from the previous meeting and reports from the Executive Committee. We quickly navigated through the morning's business like a motorcyclist in a traffic jam. After a short break for lunch, we reconvened to tackle voting on Bylaw revisions and take part in a goal-focused workshop derived, to some degree, from the Strategic Plan that the Bristol Strategy Group submitted some time after our last retreat in November.

SurveyMonkey is a web-based service used
by a multitude of industries to ask questions
of a target audience and compile responses
in real time.
Bylaw Changes - Voting
Cindy Liberton took on the super-fun task of writing up potential changes to the FNPS Bylaws, bless her heart. Prior to a discussion of the content of those changes, we proceeded to come up with a schedule and plan for voting on them. When all was said and done, it was determined that the Board of Directors would/should be able to review and comment on the proposed revisions through the FNPS forum until February 26th, and would cast their votes (yay/nay/abstention) sometime between February 27th and March 6th. This would be an all or nothing kind of vote (i.e. the revisions will be voted on as a package). If the revisions pass, the general membership will be informed of them via the Sabal Minor by about March 7th (this could be a bit later for those who receive the Sabal Minor via snail mail). An additional email with advisory info about the vote will be sent out a handful of days later, just in case any members did not see the writeup in the Sabal Minor. Three weeks after the Sabal Minor announcement about bylaw voting, mail-in ballots will be sent to members without email addresses; everyone else will receive an email with a link to the SurveyMonkey voting site, on which voting will commence April 12th and conclude at midnight on April 19th. Mail-in ballots, postmarked no later than April 19th, will be tallied by representatives of the Council of Chapters by April 25th, the results of which will be shared first with the Board of Directors, then with the general membership.

Bristol for Dummies
To rewind for a minute, there were these consultants (the "Bristol Strategy Group") we paid to come boss us around for two weekends and ask a whole bunch of questions, then write a report about it that was somewhat difficult to interpret. Fortunately, several members of the Board, including Jan Allyn, Scott Davis, and Shirley Denton (apologies if I omitted anyone), took the liberty of interpreting the Bristol directives and using them, along with their knowledge of FNPS, to determine which five aspirational goals the organization needed the most help with, namely Landuse Planning, Field Trips/Active Programs, Educational Programs for Landscaping, Habitat Restoration, and Native Plant Advocacy. Scott presented an executive summary of all of that, then Jan took the helm, and divided the Board into five groups, one for each goal. The groups discussed the goals they were assigned and developed workplans and a list of resources needed to accomplish those goals, whereafter they suckered one person into presenting their group's findings to the rest of the Board (see images at left). Five presentations later, all of the Board members were allotted three votes, which they could place on either three different goal/group ideas or two on one and one on another. Jan secured the votes with scotch tape and, to the best of my memory, the meeting was adjourned for the day. Yippee!

Later that Evening
Most of us met for dinner at Harry's in downtown Lakeland, but a few of the cold-sensitive south Floridians could not handle the slight nip in the air on the outside patio where we were seated. I will not name these individuals, but will simply refer to them as "the wimpy bunch." So the wimpy bunch bailed and hit up an indoor barbecue joint catty-corner to Harry's. We all got home relatively late, and with "homework" - to read and review the proposed Bylaw changes so that we could have an intelligent conversation about them the following day, when they were scheduled to be formally presented.

Sunday Funday
Julie Becker
Bright and early the next day, the Council of Chapters (Chapter Reps) met back at the ol' Circle B. Julie Becker kept a tight grip on the reins and divided everyone into groups once more; this time, each group was tasked with working out Council specifics. While one group developed a schedule of meetings, including how/where they would take place (via webinar, conference call, live, etc), others were focused on topics like the criteria that Regional Representatives of the Council should meet, Standard Operating Procedures, the role of committees within the Council, and how the council would communicate with the general membership. This was all very productive, and a great way to achieve consensus about what might otherwise be construed as nit-picky details. 

When the Council meeting was over, the remainder of the Board of Directors filed in and Cindy Liberton took the floor. She went through the Bylaw changes and fielded comments and suggestions like a pro. Naturally, FNPS Board members are very shy and not even remotely opinionated, so hardly anyone had any input. HAHA. Despite the comments from the peanut gallery, the meeting was civil and effective for hammering out potential Bylaw kinks. 

As soon as the whistle blew, I slipped down my dinosaur, out of the gravel pit, and into the Reserve that had been calling my name since the previous morning. It gave me the boost I needed to drive for hours through cow pastures, yard sales and/or surrounded by aggressive, unlicensed drivers. And I do it all for you - and pay for my own gas to do it! Almost all of us do. So the next time you see a Board Member, give him or her a hug. We are all working hard to keep FNPS great, one meeting at a time. 

Respectfully submitted by Laurie Sheldon

Monday, February 10, 2014

Giving Gifts

by Laurie Sheldon

I have two nephews - brothers, in fact - who turned 4 and 6 a few days apart in early January. Naturally, I gave them each birthday gifts. I generally ask my brother and sister-in-law what their kids could use before buying anything… but this time I did not. Instead, I took a cue from my oldest nephew, Kai, who, one year earlier, told me he had a butterfly garden at school, and asked if any of the plants I’d installed at his home would bring monarchs (to which the answer was, “no”). I replayed this conversation in my head, and, without hesitation, jumped in my car and headed toward Homestead.

Asclepias tuberosa and Calotropis procera
I picked up two 3-gallon containers of milkweed, two large clay pots and saucers, some potting soil, and headed back home, where I repotted them and made a mess of my mother’s patio. Despite the fact that the boys were/are beginning readers, I carefully wrote the genus and specific epithet of each plant on the back side of its respective pot - just in case either one developed an early interest in binomial nomenclature. On the front side, I cut out their names in sheet foam, and attached one to the lip of each pot. I got them different types of milkweed too - one native, one non-native - just to avoid potential quarreling about which plant belonged to which boy. I removed all of the caterpillars before delivering the plants, as I feared that they would wander off of the plants and hide under the seat of my car, where they’d die of starvation.

No ribbon needed!
I was very pleased with myself. There have been umpteen articles about recent a shortage of milkweed, so I felt like I was doing something good for both the monarchs and my nephews. When it came time to celebrate, I headed to my brother’s home for a pool party, and presented each boy with a plant. Then I gave them each an equal number of small, medium and large caterpillars to put on their plants. Suddenly things got exciting. The boys liked holding the caterpillars because they “tickled” and kept removing them from their milkweed(s). This worried me a little, but, then again, so does everything. When I left, the boys were beaming. I told them (and their parents) to keep the plants in the sun, give them water when they dried out, showed them how/where to cut them back once they were leafless, and pointed out several  monarch eggs so that they'd know what to look for before tossing anything.

Newly-formed monarch chrysalises
Two days later, we had a freak cold-snap. I panicked and sent my sister-in-law a text message to bring the plants inside, which she did. The next morning she told me that all of the caterpillars had died. Oh no! I asked if they were still attached to the plants (they were), and told her not to jump to any conclusions. I put my scientist hat on, and guessed that they were just conserving energy. Sure enough, only one had died, and the rest were fine (phew!). When the cold had passed, the plants went back out into the sunshine.

Then another cold-snap came. This time, all of the caterpillars went A.W.O.L., save for the two largest. I told my sister-in-law that if she saw either one hanging in a "J" it meant that they would be pupating soon. Within two days, they had two bright green, gold-rimmed chrysalises. Each of the boys claimed and named one for his own... Kai called his "Coo Coo Brain" and Bodhi's was "Chrysallisie". Curious about what happened to the other caterpillars, I went over to their home to investigate. Sure enough, nary a creepy-crawly could be found on either plant, although there were a couple of eggs. As disappointing as that was, it was overshadowed by the presence of the two dangling beauties, which, incidentally, had been formed on leaves and stems that seemed ready to fall off. The plants were inside their Florida room at this point, where the two foot drop to the concrete floor would have put an end to the metamorphosis taking place inside of "Coo Coo Brain" and "Chrysallisse". I brought over a plastic container with airholes that was deep enough to allow the butterfly in each chrysalis to emerge, hang onto its former home, and smooth its wings, and told the adults to tape the silky/webby pad of each chrysalis to the inside top of the container (actually, I drew a diagram too, but it was no artistic masterpiece). I warned them not to freak out when the chrysalis started looking dark - that it was actually not getting darker, but, conversely, it was becoming more transparent, and the darkness they'd be seeing would actually be the butterfly within.

Each step in the process was more exciting than the next. The boys and their parents were both actively engaged and fascinated. One at a time, a few days apart, the butterflies emerged. My brother and sister-in-law applauded me for giving my nephews, "the best gift ever," but I played it down and said it was a, "gift from Mother Nature," and that I was just the delivery boy. I'd raised monarchs many years earlier, and knew how incredible the experience was (and is); I was just happy that the kids remained interested throughout.

A few days later, one of the butterflies died. I'm not quite sure why, but I suppose at this point it's moot. Fortunately, my brother and sister-in-law took the time to explain to their children that death is inherent to life, and that, by raising caterpillars and butterflies at home, they significantly increased the chances that the larvae and insects would reach adulthood.

The boys buried the butterfly together, and the eldest of the two wrote a note (shown below) and stuck it by the graveside with a toothpick. It was the saddest, sweetest thing I'd ever seen. "Well, they still have the plants," I thought to myself, knowing that eventually they'd have more butterflies.

Translation: Poor butterfly. Kai loves you.
With some help from their mom, the boys presented a joint "show and tell" about their caterpillars and butterflies at school a few days later. I hope that they encouraged/inspired some of their classmates to ask their own parents for milkweed. Sharing one's knowledge of and enthusiasm for the natural world is truly a gift that never stops giving.