Thursday, July 17, 2014

Reaching Out and Digging In for Native Pines

Amanda Ugarte, planting organizer and
Oasis High Charter School student.

On Tuesday, July 8, 2014, representatives from the Coccoloba Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society, students from Oasis and Mariner High Schools in Cape Coral, and other volunteers planted twenty native Slash Pine trees, donated by the Florida Forest Service. The planting was arranged by Oasis High Charter School student Amanda Ugarte. These trees supplemented a prior planting in the median on Oasis Boulevard between SW 37 Street and SW 37 Terrace, where some trees from a previous planting perished. Two species of native bunch grass were also added to the median.

Students assisting with the planting on this toasty day were Alex Boesch, Christopher Byron, Sara Logan, Jillian Lucia, Anthony Morales, Branden Pearson, and Amanda Ugarte. Sara’s father, Tom Logan assisted, as did Pascha Donaldson, Martha Grattan, Russ Ringlund and Marlene Rodak.

(left to right) Martha Grattan, Coccoloba Chapter President, explains the qualities of native slash pine
trees to students Alex Boesch, Christopher Byron, Jillian Lucia, Branden Pearson and Anthony Morales.
Jillian Lucia (L) and Sara Logan (R) take turns
trying to dig a hole in the hard, rocky ground.
The planting included a lesson on the slash pine and the mycorrhizae fungus that supplements the function of its roots.  Since the tree roots are inoculated with the native fungus, the students handled the root balls very carefully. If the soil is disturbed, the mycorrhizae fungus can be removed from the roots, resulting in a slower start for the 3-gallon sized trees. Students also learned to properly plant the trees, assuring they were not planted too deeply. Then, pine straw mulch was added and the plants were watered in well. Mrs. Donaldson and Amanda Ugarte will check on the plantings through the summer and assure they are manually watered between rainfalls.

South Florida Slash Pines are often misunderstood by residents of the area. These hard yellow pines can reach heights of 80’ to 100’ tall. The durable bark is hard and scaly with plates. Slash Pines have extensive root systems with a moderate taproot. Southern Slash Pines are only found in south Florida, and the seeds propagated for these trees were likely harvested by the Florida Forest Service in nearby Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest.

A newly-planted 3-gal slash pine with pine straw mulch.
Eventually, the seeds in the pine cones of these trees will provide food for squirrels, mice, and dozens of species of songbirds. The pine needles will provide nutritious meals for moths, butterfly larvae and inchworms. Pine trees also host many native insects, which will not feed on anything else. Close inspection of the trees typically reveals “caterpillars,” which are not really caterpillars at all, but sawfly larvae, more closely related to ants, wasps, and bees, who also enjoy eating pine needles. They, in turn, are eaten voraciously by small mammals, birds, and other insects. Pine trees also provide habitat to many nesting birds.

Perhaps one of the best aspects of the slash pine is that it is self-mulching.  Once the tree is tall enough, it will start to shed enough needles to retain soil moisture and control surrounding weeds.  Plus, the lovely slash pine needles break down into nutrients and provide microbes to build healthy soil.  Once the tree is between 10 and 15 years old, it will produce a good pine cone crop about every four years.

(left to right), Amanda Ugarte, Pascha Donaldson, Anthony Morales, Branden Pearson,
Christopher Byron and Alex Boesh preparing their native flags.
At the conclusion of the planting of Oasis Boulevard median, the students added native flags to the site, indicating that the land was reclaimed for nature.

• More Florida Forest Services Slash Pine trees will be planted on Saturday, July 12 on Veterans Parkway.  This planting is being coordinated by Russ Ringlund and will enlist the help of the Cub Scouts.

This article is provided by the Coccoloba Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society. The Society meets at Calusa Nature Center on the second Thursday of each month, between September and April, at 6:30 for socializing. Meetings start at 7 pm. All are welcome to join this friendly bunch and learn more about native plants. Visit for more information or call (239) 273-8945.

posted by Laurie Sheldon

Friday, July 11, 2014

Coccoloba Chapter @ Lowes

Back row: Mark Miller, Pat Moyer, Lowe's employee Sandra; front row: Suzy Callanan and Barbara Wallace.

This was a fun event on Saturday, July 5th from 10am-2pm at Lowe's in Estero (southwest Florida).  Coccoloba Chapter representatives, along with UF/IFAS Lee County Master Gardeners, set up a table at Lowe's on Corkscrew Road to explain the importance of native plants, low-impact landscaping, Lee County fertilizer ban, etc.

The morning started off rather busy.  The local News-Press ran an article informing readers the volunteers would be at the store to answer gardening questions.  Several customers indicated they came to Lowe's just to talk to volunteers and get information!  One man walked in with a list of questions on a small sheet of paper explaining that his wife sent him down.  When they saw the Slime Monster poster several commented they had seen the commercials and enjoyed them.  One gentleman was really happy (somewhat stunned) to see the volunteers and display in the garden center providing this type of information.  Capable volunteers on hand leapt into action providing information, handouts, advice and conversation.

1-on-1 with the Lowe's staff

Then, about 11:30, a thunderstorm rolled into the area and cleared out the garden center.  However, this gave the visiting volunteers an opportunity to chat with the Lowe's staff for awhile without interruption.  They learned that the staff really didn't understand what the fertilizer ban meant and which products their customers were allowed to use during the ban.  So, volunteers literally walked them down the fertilizer aisle to explain the numeric values and how to interpret them.  Then, they walked the soil aisle and discussed methods for using mushroom compost and Black Cow.  Of course, when everything grows like crazy in southwest Florida summer and lawns can be saturated during our wet season, the notion of adding fertilizer at all was discussed.  The volunteers felt that working directly with the staff in the garden center was a huge benefit of the day.  They were able to leave some fertilizer ordinance and slime monster brochures and promised to check into aisle signage on the fertilizer ordinance/slime monster for the employees.

Slime monster!

As the customers started returning to the garden center, the volunteers were able to discuss the importance of attracting insect pollinators to Florida yards.  Two of the three orange geiger trees they had in stock were scooped up by customers and they were not even in bloom!  (The third was in our display.)  Once customers learned about them, they wanted them and bought them.  It was also helpful to have excellent examples of alternative ground cover in the area.  The Estero medians on US-41 north of Corkscrew Road have wonderful examples of sunshine mimosa and the Florida-friendly perennial peanut.  Although not native, the scarlet milkweed was moving out the door.  The milkweed was worked into the display where volunteers were able to demonstrate the life cycle of the monarch caterpillars and butterflies.  During the event, a caterpillar even climbed from the milkweed onto the nearby clusia in the display area to eventually form a chrysalis!

Caterpillars were a bonus!

Kids coming in with parents squealed with excitement when they saw the caterpillars and butterflies.  Volunteers were able to explain the goal of the caterpillars eating the plants and the plants growing back.  City of Bonita Springs native plant coloring books, CHNEP reusable tote bags, WaterWise guides, butterfly brochures and other materials were given away.  The garden center employees were delighted to receive a WaterWise book for reference.  Volunteers showed them how to use it and the books were referred to throughout the day.  At one point, a young garden center employee named Joe rattled off the page number from memory for the orange geiger in the book!

The basis of this event was to show off what Lowe's does right and to help educate their customers on creating a balanced ecosystem on their real estate.  Along those lines, volunteers could explain ways to nurture "bugs" and micro-organisms in the soil and on the native plants. Volunteers could explain the importance of insects to the songbird population and to humans.  Homeowners learned that improperly applied fertilizers impair our waterways and cost us all money, disrupt the ecosystem, etc.  They could also learn how native plants in the landscape can be beautiful, thrive and save them money.  If Lowe's customers start to ask for native plants and are willing to buy them, hopefully Lowe's will expand their selection. 

This event was a great experience and will hopefully be repeated at this and other Lowe's stores, Home Depots and other garden centers around the area ... and throughout the state.  It was wonderful for the various organizations to work together on this outreach project.

Chapter perspective

From a Coccoloba Chapter perspective, the event was less work than a plant sale because we did not "create our own event," but were able to take advantage of a place where people were shopping for plants and gardening materials anyway.  This meant we could just show up and get to work (although we did put out a brief press release to the two local newspapers -- News-Press and Naples Daily News).  Quite frankly, this reduces the event organizer's stress level tremendously by not having to worry about making sure people show up.

Perhaps the most important aspect is that we were able to develop a relationship with this Lowe's store.   The staff seemed to love learning more information to help them do their job.  The direction of the volunteers was to help educate customers and staff while being a benefit to Lowe's.  So, if certain plants were not in stock, we simply explained that we would make a note of it and ask Lowe's to get them.  It would be rather rude to send customers elsewhere.  Also, the more native plants are "mainstream," the better the demand for ALL native plant nurseries.  Additionally, the Estero store has a resource to contact for more information or assistance.  (I already received an email thanking us from the live nursery specialist.)

Overall, from the perspective of Coccoloba Chapter and Master Gardeners, the event was a success.  Lee County Natural Resources should be ecstatic, too.  This was huge event promoting the Lee County Fertilizer Ordinance and the slime monster campaign.  (And many thanks for creating the Monster poster in time for this event.)

Demographic information was tracked, but not yet received at the time of this report.  Truly, the quantity is much less important than the quality of the contacts from this event.

Respectfully submitted,
Marlene Rodak

(Thanks to Marlene for sharing this creative outreach effort. We can't always be preaching to the same choir--we must find new audiences to become more effective. What outreach has your chapter done lately?)
Edited and posted by Ginny Stibolt

Friday, July 4, 2014

Cucumber Mosaic Virus (CMV): A Growing Problem for American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)

Leaf mottling, late December
Leaf mottling and wilting, late June. Photo by Tom Becker.
Defoliated stem tip with emerging new growth
Leaf mottling, Mid July mid July
Plant diseases are caused by bacteria, fungi, or viruses. Those caused by viruses are the most difficult to diagnose. Symptoms are often quite subtle, and easily confused with nutrient deficiencies and herbicide injuries. Viral plant diseases are most often transmitted by insect vectors or by infected pruning tools. Once infected, a plant cannot be cured of diseases caused by viruses.

Results of Plant Analysis
In November 2011, American beautyberries (Callicarpa americana) exhibiting leaf distortion, mottling, and slowed growth were reported to Lee County Extension. Leaf samples were collected from the affected plants and sent to the Plant Disease Clinic at the University of Florida, Gainesville. The sample tested positive for cucumber mosaic virus (CMV) with the Agdia Immunostrip Kit (ISK 44501). Aphids were also found on the affected plants. Since the initial analysis, plant samples suspected of having CMV have been collected in Lee County from Cape Coral, Fort Myers, Sanibel and Estero.  

Cucumber Mosaic Virus
Cucumber mosaic virus has a wide host range including row crops, vegetables, fruits and herbaceous ornamentals. The aphid-transmitted virus infects plants in hundreds of plant families on nearly every continent. The virus can also be spread by seed in some hosts and by mechanical transmission. The latter includes propagation, pruning tools, and plants rubbing on other plants. Symptoms are most pronounced if the plants are infected at an early growth stage, and can include stunting, deformation, and even plant death in some hosts. 

CMV Symptoms and Transmission in American Beautyberry  
The disease is slow to progress in American beautyberry. It can persist in affected plants for several years and infected plants will continue to flower and fruit. Disease symptoms are present throughout the year. Symptoms include mottling of leaves, leaf distortion, partial defoliation, stunted growth and stem dieback. Plants with defoliated stem tips will likely produce new leaves that will eventually show symptoms of CMV infection. We have observed seedlings with CMV symptoms suggesting seed transmission. The disease is transmitted to American beautyberry by insects known as aphids. Aphids already infested with CMV feed on newly forming plant leaves. They pierce the leaves with their stylet and suck the sap from the host plant. The process deposits CMV in American beautyberry and other susceptible plants. 

Disease Management
Prevention is key when dealing with any virus pathogens. Purchase virus-free seed and healthy transplants from reputable growers. Maintain an effective aphid management program in gardens and landscapes. Remove and destroy plants that have the virus. When pruning American beautyberries, disinfect  tools before moving from one plant to the next even if the plants show no symptoms of the disease. 

Posted by Laurie Sheldon
Research c/o UF IFAS Extension, Lee County faculty, including
Stephen H. Brown, Horticulture Agent
Bonnie Farnsworth, Master Gardener
Tom Becker, Florida Yards and Neighborhood Agent