The purpose of the Florida Native Plant Society (FNPS) is to promote the preservation, conservation, and restoration of the native plants and native plant communities of Florida. This blog presents ideas and information to further the cause of Florida's native plants and ecosystems.
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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
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!
Other Names: Dwarf Mulberry, Beautybush, Filigree, French Mulberry, Beautyberry
Introduction: Purple berries clinging around stems with bright green foliage make Callicarpa americana stand out from late summer to winter. It is easy to see how beautyberry got its common name. Don’t let its looks fool you though; Callicarpa is more than just eye candy. Callicarpa americana is useful medicinally and as food for wildlife and people. American Beautyberry is not fussy about location, soil or light requirements. This tough plant is an American Beauty in every sense of the word. Its name comes from Greek: Kalli, means beautiful; Karpos means fruit.
Historic Medicinal Uses:
Native Americans had many uses for beautberry, both internally and externally. According to Taylor (1940), Native Americans used beautyberry externally as a steam and topical application. All parts of the pla…
Australian pines seem to be everywhere in the coastal regions in the bottom half of Florida. Their name is deceiving because, while they are native to Australia, they aren't pines or even conifers. They are flowering trees with separate male and female flowers, and what look like needles are really green twiglets with close-set circles of tiny leaves that drop at the first sign of a drought. In the photo to the right, the light-colored lines are where leaves where once attached. Most of the photosynthesis takes place in the twiglets.
There are three species of Australian pine (Casuarina spp) that have been imported into Florida for various purposes. They were widely planted to soak up the "swamps" in Florida, stabilize canals, and hold beaches. Unfortunately for Florida's ecosystems, the "pines" accomplished all this and more--like seeding prolifically, growing five feet or more per year, producing dense shade, and emitting an herbicide that kills most a…
These perky natives have numerous and endearing charms. Authors and growers disagree about the proper Latin name, but they are in complete agreement that more people should use more coonties in their landscapes.
What's to like?
Coonties are spritely and graceful in their form, tough as the dickens, bright green all year, and host plant for the beautiful blue atala
hairstreak butterfly. In fact, coonties are the only larval food for atalas. You can use them as specimen or accent plants, mass them together for ground cover, or use them in a line as a border. And to top that off, they have an interesting sex life. A subject we hardly ever get to talk about around here. More on that later. See more in Roger Hammer's 1995 Palmetto article, The Coontie and the Atala Hairstreak.
Slow growers, coonties are more expensive to buy than some other natives by relative size, but don't let that put you off. They are well worth the investment. They can be planted in full sun or fairly …