Tuesday, June 21, 2016


by Donna Bollenbach

The tiny moss has been the theme of many a gifted poet; and even the despised mushroom has called forth classic works in its praise. But the Lichens, which stain every rock, and clothe every tree, which form:

                         Nature’s livery o’er the globe
Where’er her wonders range
Have been almost universally neglected, nay despised.
Lauder Lindsay

Christmas Lichen on a fallen tree, Florida. 


Imagine our continent after the last ice age: Glaciers cut deep gorges in the land and miles of granite boulders, silt and the bones cover the hills and plains of North America. Life has all but disappeared, but there is hope for new life in a simple living entity that is neither plant nor animal, the lichens.

Lichens on a rock in Yellowstone National Park. 

Lichens, a partnership of a fungus and an alga, are able to survive in the most extreme temperatures. The lichens that partner with cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, produce their own nitrogen, so they are able to grow on nitrogen-poor substrates. They form colonies on the surface of the rocks and bare soil. The chemicals in these lichens are capable of penetrating and breaking down the rock. As the lichens die the debris becomes thicker and nitrogen rich. Mosses began to grow. The decay of the mosses and lichens make the soil even richer, allowing other vegetation to take hold and a new habitat evolves.

For this reason, lichens and mosses are considered pioneers of succession. Today, they are still the primary plant-like species of the deserts and tundra where they thrive in conditions that are inhospitable to most other plants. They are also an important source of food for animals in those extreme climates where other vegetation is scarce.

Fruiticose lichen in the Florida Scrub


– from the Greek word tapis for carpet; a fabric with a woven design resembling tapestry, varied entwined and intricate (i.e. the tapestry of life).

Lichen, a living organism that is neither plant nor animal, is one of nature’s true tapestries.  A fungus and a suitable green alga or cyanobacteria (blue-green alga), intricately woven together in a symbiotic union, lichens carpet trees, rocks, soil and other substrates with their rich colors and textures.

There are over 14,000 species of lichen living in nearly every habitat in the world. In addition to rocks, lichen grows on an array of natural and manmade substrates, including bark, stone, wood, soil, leaves, moss, bone, human artifacts and even some living creatures. Unlike the pioneer lichens that break down rocks, lichens found on living substrates are not parasitic, they simply use the host as a place to live.


Yet lovely was its pleasant shade;
Lovely the trunk will moss inlaid;
Lovely the long-haired lichens grey;
Lovely its pride and its decay.
Mary Russell Mitford

Crustose Lichen on a Palm Tree

The task of defining and classifying lichens is a daunting one for scientist. The international Association for Lichenology defines lichen as “an association of a fungus and photosynthetic symbiont resulting in a stable vegetative body having a specific structure.” Noted Lichenologist, Trevor Goward, went further to describe lichen as “fungi that have discovered agriculture.”

Scientifically, lichens are classified by one of four general growth forms: Foliose (leafy, lobed and most often with an upper and lower cortex), Fruiticose (hairy, tubular, multi-branching strands or lacey balls with a single cortex), Crustose (crusty, flat patches that can be somewhat smooth or thick and bumpy) and Squamulose (an intermediate between the Crustose and Foliose, with thick, scaly shingles).

A combination of lichen forms and mosses on tree bark.

While these scientific terms do suggest the general shape of the lichen classes, they do little justice to the lichen’s true beauty.

The Foliose lichens have a leaf-like form. They have many lobes., often curling slightly inward and layered on top of each other.

Foliose lichens on a tree. 

The Fruticose lichens are highly branched. They can be thin and stringy, or round, lacy and soft in appearance. Some of the Fruticose lichens found in the scrub look like puffy greenish gray clouds.

Fruiticose lichens, or powder puff lichens in the Florida Scrub. 

The Crustose lichens are flat, often circular patches, tightly adhered to their substrate. Colorful fruiting bodies adorn their cortex. 

Crustose, or flame lichen growing on a rock. 

While many lichens are white to greenish-grey to brown, many are bright red, yellow or orange. Even a green or gray lichen may be adorned with a bright red fruiting body. Some of the fruiting bodies are mere dots, while others are more like little mushrooms. The combination of color and texture in lichens are as varied as the substrates they live on, and have given many a painter or photographer a reason to pause and admire nature's finest fabric. 

Foliose lichen (British soldiers) with an Earth Star (fungus) in the center. 

And these are all the reasons I Love Lichens!

Donna Bollenbach

If you also love Lichens, check out this great book: "Lichens of North America" by Brodo, Sharnoff & Sharnoff.  It is rather expensive, but it is nearly 800 pages of fascinating information and beautiful color images.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Saints of Hillsborough County: The Genus Hypericum

Submitted by Carmel vanHoek
Photos courtesy of the Florida Plant Atlas

All Saints

Of the thirty-one species of the genus Hypericum that have been vouchered for the state of Florida according to the USF Plant Atlas, twelve may be found in Hillsborough County. The genus has been known world-wide since pre-Christian times for its healing properties and each people group has given it common names of their choosing. One of the beliefs of the Romans and Greeks was that the flowers were sent by the gods to provide a holy sacrifice to repel evil, the Greeks naming it Hupereicon and the Romans, Hypericum, meaning perhaps the plant had power over evil. A sacrificial ritual would take place annually during Summer Solstice, also known as Midsummer’s Day, the flowers being thrown on fires to appease the gods. With the advent of Christianity pagan rituals were incorporated with church-based festivals. Thus, because St. John’s birthday was near to Midsummer’s Day, the European species, Hypericum perforatum, which usually bloomed at this time, was given the common name of St. John’s-wort in his honor; “wort” meaning “plant”. As new species were discovered in the New World, other Hypericum species were also called St. John’s-wort of one adjective or another. St. Peter’s-wort and St. Andrew’s Cross were also named in honor of these respective saints.

Our St. John’s-worts have so much in common that they are not easily identified as to species, but recognizing the genus Hypericum is almost half the battle. They all have leaves and branches that are placed on opposite sides of each other. Their leaves and green sepals and sometimes even their petals and stems are dotted with translucent sunken glands or colored dots. Their flowers are yellow to yellow-orange and they bloom from summer to fall, some as early as spring. Their fruit is a capsule with many small seeds. They are to be found growing mostly in wet or moist acid soils and a few in dry sandhills and coastal scrubs. Most are perennial evergreen shrubs and a few are annual or perennial herbs. 

Four Petals

Three of our species have 4 petals instead of the usual 5; the petals are placed to look like the letter X. Hypericum hypericoides or St. Andrew’s Cross is the one shrub we most often see on field trips. It’s a bit funny that its name actually translates to mean a Hypericum that looks like a Hypericum. It’s a medium-sized shrub with many small, very leafy branches. With magnification one may see the 2 styles atop the developing fruit capsule. The styles connect the pollen on the stigmas to the ovary or seed pod. The flower has 2 large outer sepals and 2 very small inner sepals, with a pair of tiny bractlets just beneath the flower.

Hypericum crux-andreae, whose name seems to translate to St. Andrew’s Cross, is instead named St. Peter’s-wort. Like H. hypericoides it is a medium-sized shrub but has several differences. It has fewer branches making it look less dense; its leaves are a bit longer and broader, and it has usually 3 but sometimes 4 styles instead of 2. It is found in seasonally wet woods throughout our state but is more prevalent in north Florida and the Panhandle.

Our third species of 4 petals is Hypericum tetrapetalum or Fourpetal St. John’s- wort. Its leaves are heart-shaped just like its 2 larger sepals. The 2 lobes of the leaves clasp the stem just as the large outer sepals clasp the developing fruit; the 2 inner sepals are narrower than the outer ones. This species also has 3 styles.

Five Petals

The remainder of Hillsborough County Hypericum shrubs will have 5 petals, 5 sepals and 3 styles and can be divided by their leaf types. We have 3 species with needle-like leaves. 

Hypericum fasciculatum, so called because its needle-like leaves appear to be in fascicles or bundles,
can be over 5 ft. tall. Sandweed, as it is commonly called, has midstem leaves 13 mm long or longer; it is often found surrounding the margins of ponds and swamps, and will sometimes develop prop roots if inundated for long periods.

The stem leaves of Hypericum brachyphylum are 11 mm. long, and its height is a bit shorter than H. fasciculatum. Its common name, Coastalplain St. John’s-wort tells me it can be found in dry as well as wet sites. “Brachy” means short and “phylum” means leaf. 

Hypericum tenuifolium was previously named H. reductum. Its new name translates to slender
leafed. It’s quite easy to identify because of its low height, less than knee-high, and its branches that often lie on the ground and take root.

Three shrub species in our county with 5 petals have broad leaves. 

Perhaps I shouldn't mention Hypericum galioides, Bedstraw St. John’s-wort. It is common in north Florida, but Hillsborough County has only one record of a specimen collected in 1843. 

Hypericum cistifolium is striking for its combination of colors, bright yellow flowers and glossy, mahogany-brown capsules. It has simple stems with stiff, oblong leaves, each pair of leaves at right angles to the next pair, with the stems terminating into branched inflorescences. It grows in wet woods to about waist-high.

Hypericum myrtifolium is another beauty about waist-high, leaves with somewhat heart-shaped bases lightly clasping the stems, flower buds pink-tinged and petals that bend backwards to expose a large, rounded cluster of yellow to yellow-orange stamens. It can be found in wet woods and pond margins.

The remaining three Hypericum species in our county are herbaceous plants with 5 petals and sepals and 3 styles. 

Hypericum mutilum, Dwarf St. John’s-wort, is a perennial not more than 10“ tall. Its sessile leaves
are thin, about one inch long with rounded tips. The solitary stems branch at the apex into a leafy inflorescence. It grows in wet, sandy areas.

Hypericum gentianoides, Pineweed or Orange-Grass, is so called because its flowers are yellow-orange in color that gives the plant an orange aura. It’s about knee-high and can be found in pond margins as well as disturbed dry soil. Its scale-like leaves appressed closely to the stem gives the plant a wiry look. Its tiny flowers are on terminal branches. 

Hypericum setosum is either an annual or biennial. Its common name is Hairy St. John’s-wort. I’ve
never seen it before but I may be able to recognize it in wet flatwoods or bogs for its mostly solitary stems, 1-3.5 ft. tall, and very hairy leaves growing straight up the stems. It’s more commonly found in northern counties but has been vouchered in Pasco and Hillsborough counties.

Dan Austin has a lot of information on the history of Hypericum in his book Florida Ethnobotany
 book. Godfrey & Wooten’s Aquatic and Wetland Plants of Southeastern United States book has wonderful line drawings. The USF Plant Atlas has photographs, maps, and specimen photos with a lot of information on the plant labels as to where, when, how often and by whom they were found. Plant keys by Wunderlin & Hansen as well as Clewell help to determine arrangement of plant characteristics. And Walter Taylor has photos with descriptions in non-scientific language. Thankfully there are many avenues available for help in identifying our many beautiful and interesting native plants.

All images reprinted with permission from the Atlas of Florida Plants 

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

It’s a Jungle Out There…and it smells like licorice!

Story and Photos by Donna Bollenbach

Despite the warnings  of  “DIFFICULT” and “YOU WILL GET WET”, my decision to go on the Mormon Branch/Ocala National Forest conference field trip in May, was based on two things:
First, it was led by Scott Davis. I have been on a few adventures with Scott and have enjoyed every one of them. Even though I don’t think I am going to remember every plant and botanical detail Scott rattles off, I always go home knowing more than I thought I would. I think this is because Scott impresses upon the what's interesting and important.  

Second, I wanted to see where the Large-leaf grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia grandiflora) blooms. Though I knew I would not see the flower because it is a fall bloomer, I still wanted to see the plant. I read that the presence of  Parnassia,  along with the Atlantic White Cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides), is an indicator of high plant diversity and rare species. In other words, it would be pristine habitat. 

Pristine it was! So pristine that there were no trails. We worked out way down the slope to Mormon Creek through a forest of loblolly bay (Gordonia lasianthus), sweet bay (Magnolia virginiana),  cabbage palm (Sabal palmetto), laurel oaks (Quercus laurifolia) and red maple (Acer rubrum). As we approached the bottom of the slope the passage became more difficult, but not unpleasant. There was thick understory of fragrant and fruitful evergreen shrubs. Fetterbush (Lyonia lucida), swamp azalea (rhododendron viscosum)  pipestem (Agarista Populifolia), high bush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) and the sweetest of all, the yellow anise (Illicium parviflorum), which filled the forest with the a sweet smell of licorice.

Taller shrubs and small trees grew in mass near the edge of the creek. There we encountered  Wax Myrtle (Myrica cerifera), Dahoon Holly (Ilex cassine), Needle Palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix), and the occasional Florida Willow (Salix floridana). The vegetation was so dense there, we had to walk in the creek to continue our journey.

The soil in this area is mostly acidic peat, or commonly called “muck,” and muck was exactly what we found while navigating the creek. Occasionally someone’s leg would sink knee deep in the soft and muddy creek bottom, and they could only hope to still have their shoe on when finally pulled free of the sludge. Others stepped in deep holes, and were baptized in the Mormon Branch. But, we just pulled up our boots and marched on.

Muck, or acidic peat is what defines this ecosystem. The Atlantic White Cedar, which has its southernmost strand in Mormon Branch, prefers to rest its roots in moist, peaty soil.  A narrow band of these evergreens with ash gray to reddish brown, smooth to ridged bark, rise to nearly 60 - 80 feet tall not far from the creek bed. Underneath its canopy of feathery, needle-like leaves  the vegetation is thin, due to the deep shade it creates. The canopy provides cover for birds and small mammals, while the forest glades under the trees provide passage for black bear, whitetail deer and other animals.

The  large-leaved Grass-of-Parnassus also likes acidic soil and wet, shady habitats. We saw many of the plants along the stream bed in Mormon Branch.  The oblong, nearly heart-shaped leaves are bright green and prominent. While we didn’t see the flowers because they bloom in the late fall,  I read that they stand on stalks up to two feet above the leaves. The flower, white veined in olive green, with red capped pistils, is much admired.

While Mormon Branch is an ecosystem in itself, I couldn’t help but notice the little ecosystems within the ecosystem. Each rock In the creek bed was home to a plethora of ferns and moss. The fallen logs give birth to even more plants, animals and fungus.  The mossy bark of the live trees were alive in epiphytes, and bugs.  The hardest part of the hike was not getting too distracted by the surroundings that you step into a hole or trip over a log, so I was thankful I brought my walking stick. 
Scott and I navigating the creek..photo by S.Denton
In closing, I should mention that Scott and our young guides on this hike, were more than accommodating. They held branches out of the way as we passed, picked us up if we fell, led the way, and left no one behind.

Because of them, it wasn't just a fieldtrip...it was an adventure!