Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A Butterfly Journey

Story and Photos by Ryan Inskeep

Collage of Native Florida Butterfly Wings

I will always remember the day my journey started, just five years ago.I was strolling through the nursery on a typical hot summer day when a beautiful native milkweed plant caught my eye. At the time I was drawn to the blooms alone (not realizing the many benefits this one plant would soon provide). It was not long before the female Monarch butterfly flew in to lay her eggs on the Milkweed. Suddenly, my entire outlook on gardening changed. 

If this one plant could bring in so much life, imagine what would happen if more native plants were added. I began by incorporating butterfly larval host plants and adult butterfly nectar plants. Implementing both host and nectar sources allows the butterflies to complete their entire lifecycle in my small urban garden. 

(Top left to right: Black Swallowtail on Cirsium horridulum, White Peacock on Bidens alba, Horace's Duskywing on Callicarpa americana, Cassius Blue on Heliotropium angiospermum)
A good starting point was planting the larger shrubs first: Walter’s Viburnum (Viburnum obovatum), Simpson’s Stopper (Myrcianthes fragrans), Privet Senna (Senna ligustrina), and Firebush (Hamelia patens). These shrubs provide food for birds, nectar for ollinators and shelter for all kinds of wildlife. I also added Wild Lime (Zanthoxylum fagara), the host plant for our largest butterfly, the Giant Swallowtail, and for several species of Sulphur butterflies. 

Eastern black swallowtail, Papilio polyxenes asterius 
Underneath the shrubs I planted Corkystem Passionflower Vine (Passiflora suberosa), which attracts Zebra Longwings and Gulf Fritillaries. Maypop (Passiflora incarnata) is also a great host for both of these butterflies and has fragrant, showy flowers. 

(Top left to right:  Queen on Conoclinium coelestinum, Horace's Duskywing on Gaillardia pulchella, Cassius Blue on Salvia coccinea, Fiery skipper on Heliotropium angiospermum) 

For ground cover, I planted Frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora). Frogfruit is the host plant for the White Peacock, Phaon Crescent as well as the Common Buckeye. Sunshine Mimosa (Mimosa strigillosa) is another wonderful ground cover that attracts the Little Sulphur butterfly. 

Collage of Native Wildflowers
Wildflowers are interspersed throughout the garden to provide nectar. Some of these include Indian Blanketflower (Gaillardia pulchella), Blue Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum), Spotted Beebalm (Monarda punctata), Seaside Goldenrod (Sempervirens solidago) and Scorpion Tail (Heliotropium angiospermum). 

Queen butterfly (Danaus gilippus)
The next reasonable step was to certify my yard as a wildlife habitat and a safe haven for Monarchs and other butterflies. This can be done by providing food (seeds and berries from native plants), water (small pond or even a birdbath works) and shelter while using sustainable garden practices such as no fertilizers or pesticides. 

Ryan's Yard is a Certified Wildlife Habitat and a Waystation for Monarchs

Butterfly gardening was just the beginning of my journey. As I continue to remove existing exotic plants and replace them with natives, I envision my native garden, full of insects, birds and other animals. 

Gulf Fritillary Caterpillars and Passion Vine leaf
Ryan Inskeep is a member of the Serenoa Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society.  He believes that conserving our Florida starts in our own yards to attract butterflies, birds and other wildlife.  He also enjoys sharing his knowledge and educating others about the importance of using native plants in our landscapes.  Ryan currently writes about his native wildlife garden experiences at the Florida Native Plants Facebook group page.  

Submitted  by Ryan Inskeep /Posted by DBollenbach

Monday, May 16, 2016

Going North? Four Places to Visit North of Daytona Beach

Submitted by Donna Bollenbach

If you are like me, if you are travelling to Daytona Beach for the FNPS Conference, you may plan to stay a few extra days, or make a few stops on the way there or home. Here are a few parks and preserves, a short distance North of Daytona Beach that you may want to check out. Click on the name of the park for more information and fees.

Tomoka State Park

8 Miles N

Sunset over the Tomoka River. Photo by Donna Bollenbach
Tomoka State Park is only 8 miles north of the Daytona Beach Resort. The 900-acre peninsula offers several short hiking trails, including a mile long paved multi-use trail and a one and a half mile interpretive trail that winds its way through a hardwood hammock.

Legend of Tomokie monument
Photo by Donna Bollenbach
When we camped there one winter, my husband and I really enjoyed exploring the park's lagoons and rivers, and spending evenings watching the sun go down over the river.

A short walk takes you to a legendary 45 foot high concrete monument.  It was made in 1955 by sculptor Frederick Dana Marsh who called it the “Legend of Tomokie.”

According to the park website "the legend has Chief Tomokie taking a “golden cup” and using it to commit the forbidden act of drinking from a sacred spring. as once inhabited by Timucuan Indians. According to the legend this particular spring water had fountain-of-youth-like powers but actually Tomokie had doomed himself and his tribe. Use of the sacred water and theft of the cup was avenged by other natives and specifically by the female warrior Oleeta (center), who in turn was slain by Chief Tomokie’s warriors." 

Bulow Creek State Park

12 miles N

Bulow Creek protects nearly 5,600 acres, more than 1,500 of which are submerged lands. The highlight of Bulow Creek is one of the largest remaining stands of southern live oak forest along Florida's east coast. The reigning tree is the Fairchild Oak, one of the largest live oak trees in the South. 

The Majestic Fairchild Oak. Photo by Donna Bollenbach

As the park website describes it: "For more than 400 years, the Fairchild Oak  has been a silent witness to human activities along Bulow Creek, including the destruction of the neighboring Bulow Plantation during the Second Seminole War in 1836."

Visitors can picnic in a shady pavilion or at a table on the lawn within view of the Fairchild Oak."
or hike the seven mile Bulow Woods Trail to the Bulow Plantation Ruins Historic State Park.

17 miles N

While camping at Tomoka State park, I discovered this piece of paradise on the fringe of Flagler Beach, a breath of fresh  in a busy beach community.  If I were to recommend one place to visit off the beaten path in this part of Florida, this would be it. 

Twilight  at Betty Steflik Memorial Preserve by Donna Bollenbach

Betty Steflik Memorial Preserve protects more than 200 acres of mangrove marsh, mudflats, and coastal uplands. Opened in 1995, the preserve was named in honor of Betty Steflik, a Flagler Beach City Commissioner who dedicated the last 25 years of her life to preserving Flagler County’s fragile coastline and wetlands. 

The preserve has an extensive network of boardwalks that curve through estuarine creeks and out to the Intracoastal Waterway, offering panoramic views and excellent wildlife viewing. A descent off the boardwalk envelopes you in a sun dappled loop trail through a maritime hammock and a coastal scrub.

Intracoastal  from boardwalk by Donna Bollenbach
It offers everything a naturalist would desire: bird watching, pristine coastal plant communities, stunning landscapes and  wildlife views.

Open from dawn until 11:00 pm, the preserve is located in Flagler Beach and lies along the eastern side of the Intracoastal Waterway south of State Road 100.

Washington Oaks Gardens State Park

30 Miles N

 Placed between the Atlantic Ocean and the Matanzas River, this property was once owned by a distant relative of President George Washington. The gardens were established by Louise and Owen Young who purchased the land in 1936 and built a winter retirement home. They named it Washington Oaks and, in 1965, donated most of the property to the State. The gardens make remarkable use of native and exotic species, from azaleas and camellias to the exquisite bird of paradise, sheltered within a picturesque oak hammock. 
The roses come in all colors at the formal gardens. 
Photo by Donna Bollenbach

Although the formal gardens are the centerpiece of this park, Washington Oaks is also famous for the unique shoreline of coquina rock formations that line its Atlantic beach. A number of short trails provide opportunities for hiking and bicycling. 

If you are travelling north along the east coast, this would be a good stop for a picnic lunch. 
Coquina rock formations at Washington Oaks. Photo by Donna Bollenbach

Submitted & Published by Donna Bollenbach

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Cayo Costa: Two Views

An Essay by Devon Higginbotham and A Poem by Donna Bollenbach

Cayo Costa, a Native Journey 

by Devon Higginbotham         

West of Fort Myers, past the shopping malls, gas stations and fast food restaurants, is a place constantly shifting, and yet, frozen in time. Cayo Costa is a barrier island off the coast of southwest Florida, an hour by ferry from the hamlet of Bokeelia, accessible only by boat. It is a state park, one of 161 in our great state, and this one has camping, cabins for rent, miles of empty beaches, hiking trails, plenty of wildlife and native vegetation but no electricity, hot dog stands or hot water. 
This is one place where you don’t want to forget anything. 
Donna Bollenbach
To get there, several concessions offer daily round-trip transport for around $45, camping gear included. We took the Tropic Star ferry, which takes you past Little Bokeelia Island (population, two caretakers). It was previously owned by Charles Burgess, of the dry-cell battery fame (Burgess Battery Company eventually became part of Duracell), though it recently sold to the highest bidder for $14.5 million.
Once on Cayo Costa we were greeted by a lovely New Hampshire couple who weren’t sure if they had discovered paradise or purgatory. They had started a six-week campground host position in March, and the spring weather quickly descended into summer, bringing with it the trifecta of heat, humidity and human blood-suckers. 
The couple operated the shuttle, ferrying camping equipment, coolers, air mattresses, umbrellas, lanterns, and everything essential to surviving — and then some. While some go to Cayo Costa to hunt shells, escape the city or run away from life for a while, our group came to see the native habitat. 
I had been to Cayo Costa 20 years earlier and encountered the removal of the Australian pines that were dominating the island at that time. Although they provided terrific shade, they were an exotic species that crowded native plants, taking over. 
 Donna Bollenbach
It was thrilling to see the transformation of native trees, such as the gumbo limbo and sea grape, growing to 30 feet tall and shading campsites that used to be surrounded by Australian pines. Some massive stumps still remain as stark reminders of their past reign, like footprints from a past empire.

Donna Bollenbach
The exposed west coast is windswept and sparsely populated by sea oats and railroad vine, but as you travel inland, you encounter dense growths of cocoplum, myrsine, wild coffee, wax myrtles, cabbage palms and necklace pods, all growing on the remains of old sand dunes. You can see areas where the waves washed over land in storms, depositing their salt in shallow areas. 
Donna Bollenbach
The prickly pear cacti were in full bloom with their bright yellow blooms covered with beetles seeking pollen. Coral bean were triangular spikes of tubular red blossoms, resembling Asian structures. Moving further east you enter a pinewoods forest with slash pines, oaks and the healthiest poison ivy I have ever encountered. If I were to live on the island, this is where you would find me.
Devon Higginbotham
The island was inhabited long before it became a park. Approximately 20 fishing families lived on Cayo Costa in the early 1900s, where they established a school, post office and grocery store. The old cemetery attests to human settlement and the “Quarantine Trail” gives clues to the islands past life. One grave is marked Captain Peter Nelson, died Sept 7, 1919, age 80 years. “After life’s fitful fever, he sleeps well.” Apparently, he too, was fodder for the mosquitoes, no-see-ums and chiggers.
Donna Bollenbach

Donna Bollenbach

Cayo Costa, The Native Coast
By Donna Bollenbach

There are no bumper stickers here
with the message “I am a Native.”
Just tangled mangroves, thick,
along the sandy shore.
Cabbage palms, oaks, and pines
recede into coastal strands and
maritime hammocks.

Donna Bollenbach
No tee shirts proclaim “I am not a tourist.”
Just sea grapes, with twisted trunks,
waving plump leaves splotched
in green, yellow, and red,
along the sandy trails.  
Saw palmettos grow thick under
a cover of slash pine.

There are no doormats that say “Welcome,”
but the plentiful fruits of the
Donna Bollenbach
golden creeper, coco plums, and
gopher apples blanket the ground.  
They are ripe for sharing.
The wildlife eat their fill,
and scatter seed for next year’s bounty.

The natives don’t make trinkets to sell,
but offer colorful gifts from the sea,
free to guests who stroll the beach.
Whelk, conch, tulip, and olive shells.
Sand dollars, starfish, urchins, and
Donna Bollenbach
the occasional shark’s tooth. 

The natives on this island are colorful:
Inkberry, bright green, with white
fan-like flowers dress the dunes,  
while the prickly pear cactus, spiny,
with showy yellow blossoms
paint the coastal grasslands.
Crimson spikes of coral bean splash
red in the maritime forest., while
lush green robust vines of poison ivy
cloak the trees.

 The natives on this island are
good neighbors.
They feed and shelter their own.
Donna Bollenbach
The gopher tortoise shares
its burrow with snakes, rabbits,
toads, lizards and mice.
The birds find cover in thickets,
while alligators lie lazy on the banks
of the lagoons.  

The natives on this island are content.
They are native born and raised.
They don’t need to wander
to find themselves,
They are already home.  

If you want to make your own journey to Cayo Costa, note this:
Hours: 8 a.m. to sunset, 365 days a year
Accessible only by private boat or ferry. There are several private companies offering ferry service from different locations and at varying times and days.
Cost: $2 admission fee to day trippers. Camping fees for a tent site are $22, and cabins are $40 per night. Boat camping is $20 per vessel per night.Ferry to and from for campers; $45.00
Reserve: ReserveAmerica.com.Reservations can be made up to 11 months in advance.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Biocontrol: A Success Story!

Mexican Petunia is a Category 1 invasive species in Florida. 

by Megan Weeks, Cuplet Fern Chapter of FNPS

Florida’s biodiversity is made remarkable by the plants and animals that depend on one another for survival. This delicate yet imperative relationship maintains a healthy natural environment, where the population of plants and animals are balanced. When new species are introduced, natives can be outsourced and the natural balance risks being disrupted[1]. Biocontrol is one method to help restore a balanced environment.

Exotic species have been introduced to Florida both accidentally and intentionally. Most threatening to the natural balance are plants from tropical and sub-tropical regions which are suited to Florida climate and often “take root” in this foreign land[1]. These non-native species do not serve as a significant food source for Florida organisms and are able to outcompete native plants for resources[1]. When an exotic species that is not affected by predators or pathogens becomes established, then the population will grow uninhibited and can potentially become invasive. Approximately one-third of vegetation found in Florida’s natural lands is exotic, and roughly 11% of those species are considered invasive[2].

The air potato beetle is released into an area overrun
by the invasive vine .
Biologists have long struggled to prevent the exotic populations from encroaching on endemic habitats. Manual methods, such as applying chemicals, hand pulling and burning, may help tame invasive populations but are often not a reliable long term solution[3]. As an alternative, scientists spend years researching predators (insects, pathogens, and fish) to target specific invasive species in a method called Biocontrol. This method relies on the predator to consume or destroy the exotic species, restoring ecological balance[1].

Air Potato Beetle. Photo by Mary Keim

In 1905 Dioscorea bulbifera, the air potato, was introduced to Florida and with no natural predators the exotic vine quickly became a threat to native plants[2]. The infamy of this invasive species grew almost as rapidly as the plant itself and is a major concern for the Department of Agriculture[2]. A biocontrol program was launched to find a predator that would consume or destroy the air potato. Scientists returned to Asia where D. bulbifera is endemic and found a small beetle that could survive by eating the invasive plant[4]. Extensive research was performed to ensure that the beetle would not further disrupt the ecological balance.

In 2012 the air potato leaf beetle was finally released to feast on the air potato. Scientists note that the beetle mostly consumes the soft tissues found on the leaves and growing tips which creates difficult growing circumstances and can hinder the plant’s biological processes[5]. Every year between May and October, during peak air potato growth, new batches of the beetle are released[1].

Larva of the Air Potato Leaf Beetle eating air potato leaves.
Photo by Donna Bollenbach 
The air potato leaf beetle is very selective in its diet and only consumes D. bulbifera even excluding all other species of Dioscorea[3]. Research done by the University of Florida has found that beetle establishment in release sites has led to “reduced height of vines, decreased bulbil production, and most importantly, an increase in native vegetation”[3].

Seminole county is one of the release sites for this remarkable and successful form of biocontrol. Through this biocontrol program, professionals were able to contribute to the restoration of Florida’s ecological balance. The air potato leaf beetle is an investment for our future and a vital part of the preservation and conservation of our natural lands. To find out more about the amazing air potato leaf beetle check out the USDAs website: bcrcl.ifas. ufl.edu/airpotatofiles/aboutairpotatoprogram.shtml

[1] plants.ifas.ufl.edu/manage/control-methods/biological-control/
[2 www.fleppc.org/Manage_Plans/AirpotatoManagementPlan_Final.pdf 
[4] bcrcl.ifas.ufl.edu/airpotatofiles/aboutairpotatoprogram.shtml 
[5] entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/BENEFICIAL/BEETLES/air_potato_leaf_beetle.htm

This blog was reprinted with permission from the Frond Forum, the newsletter of the Cuplet Fern Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society. If your chapter publishes informative articles that you would like to share, please send them to me for review. I am especially interested in getting plant profiles and "What's in Bloom?" from different areas of the state.

Donna Bollenbach, Social Media Director/FNPS