Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A Pine can have lightning scars that run down the trunk. Why doesn't an Oak?

 by Cecilia Catron, Tarflower Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society

(reprinted with permission from the August 2016 issue of Tarpaper)

Pine Scar
 When days are hot, as they have been for the past month, it seems like a sensible idea to lie in or around the pool all day, like a motionless alligator. Curds of bright, white thunderheads rise higher and higher, expanded by the increasing heat. Gradually air pushed from the east and west coasts meets in the middle of the peninsula. By mid-afternoon it becomes charged by the collision of the fronts and summer lightning is created, with or without a storm.
Knotty Oak

Have you ever noticed a stripe spiraling down the trunk of a pine tree where lightning has stripped the outer bark off? You may have also noticed there is no such stripe on the trunk of an oak tree. Oaks and Pines, both dominant here in central Florida, have different lightning survival strategies. Most pine species have long, straight trunks. They are relatively fast-growing with soft wood. Oak trunks on the other hand are often twisted and full of knots. They grow more slowly (except Laurel Oak, Quercus laurifolia) and the wood is very hard, dense, and heavy. 

Lightning is attracted to the tallest tree, regardless what species it is. Energy is conducted down the trunk of a typical pine with little to stop it since the cells are constructed in long, continuous rows. Knotty oaks  on the other hand do not have such unobstructed cellular highways. When a knot is struck it may explode, but a lightning bolt's energy is spent before it can progress down the trunk, limiting damage. Good planning, oaks. Also a case for organisms that create knots on oaks - part of the ecological give and take. New pines grow relatively quickly to replace trees that are destroyed, which is also a viable strategy.

 Be that as it may, never take shelter under any tree to escape a storm. Especially here in Lightning Alley nature can put on an awesome show, but it's important to remember that a tree may be a target.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Carol's Corner

by Carol Hebert, Conradina Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society

The following is a collection of Carol's Corner from the first half of 2016 reprinted in part from the Conradina chapter newsletter. They are the reasons to "Plant Native." Enjoy!

May 2016
Simpson Stopper, Photo by Carol Hebert

Carol’s Corner: Smells So Good!

This wonderful plant is so durable, grows so slowly, and also rewards us with small, beautiful flowers that smell so incredibly wonderful! Simpson Stopper (Myrcianthes fragrans) is categorized as a small tree. I guess you can recognize why the species name is fragrance in Latin. It grows slowly with very little need to prune. I enjoy seeing it used as hedges for commercial businesses. We even have it as a hedge in front of my work place at Dr. Martin Luther King Library on University Boulevard. I loved making my co-workers smell the flowers. It grows on the mainland and beach-side also.  Plant native! C

Lupine (Lupinus diffusus) Photo by Carol Hebert

April 2016

Carol’s Corner: Lupine in Bloom!

We had an enjoyable walk at Turkey Creek Sanctuary, and we saw wonderful plants. There was Conradina grandiflora in bloom—the plant our chapter is named after. Blueberry (Vaccinun myrsintes) and Deerberry (Vaccinum stamineum) were also wonderfully in bloom. We took a walk on a boardwalk done by a Scout recently to see huge Giant Leather Ferns. Toward the end of our walk, we enjoyed the sight of many bunches of Lupine (Lupinus diffusus). They were drop dead beautiful! Plant native! C

Shiny Lyonia (Lyonia lucida) Photo by Carol Hebert

March 2016

Carol’s Corner: Spring Has Arrived!

We enjoyed a wonderful walk through Cruikshank Sanctuary in February with Vince Lamb and saw Shiny Lyonia (Lyonia lucida) in bloom. It is a beautiful shrub that likes full sun. Rusty Staggerbush (Lyonia ferruginea) was also in bloom. We enjoyed about six to seven Scrub Jays. It was a fun walk through sandy soil and the best season to enjoy the scrub. I personally also enjoyed Adam's Needle (Yucca filamentosa) with fiber swirling out from its leaves. Scrub is an enchanting habitat and is wonderful to walk through to see its vast diversity. Plant native! C

Acer rubrum(Red Maple) Photo by Carol Hebert

February 2016

Carol’s Corner: Autumn Colors

Fall is almost over and there are still a few autumn colors there to enjoy. Red Maple (Acer rebrum) is showing its display of how wonderfully its leaves change color and contribute to the soil. There are several other leaves changing color and falling such as the deep red of Virginia Creeper and the yellow leaves of the Grape vines (Vitus sp.) and the American Elm (Ulmus americana). I have already seen the Laurel Oaks showering their leaves! This is the best time to leave all those leaves in your yard to enrich the soil. Since Melbourne is about four inches above the average rain fall, spring is on it's way. Plant native! C

Photo Skyblue Clustervine by Carol Herbert

January 2016

Carol’s Corner: Winter Blooms

December 21st was Winter Solstice and the beginning of the winter season. It’s almost hard to believe we are in this season since we have hit (or close to) a record high temperature on each day. Plants are wonderful how they bloom in different seasons. Fall brings us so many colors such as yellow with Goldenrod (Solidaga sp.), Coreopsis, and Silkgrass (Pityopsis graminifolia). A nice variety of purple blooms contrast beautifully such as Gayfeather (Liatris sp.), Ironweed (Vernonica gigantea), and Stokes’ Aster (Stokesia laevis). Currently, my favorite fall blooming purple flower plant is Skyblue Clustervine (Jacquemontia pentanthos). This vine grows nicely on the north side of my house so it receives partial sun and shade all day. The flowers are small, about an inch wide and have the “morning glory” look. No fragrance but they are so pretty to see everyday because they open just for a day so flowers are in different places on the vine each day. Find a fence or trellis and decorate it with this evergreen vine named Skyblue Clustervine. This plant will give a wonderful display of lavender flowers at the end of each year. Plant native! C

Monday, July 11, 2016

My Quest for Milkweeds

Story and photos by Janet Bowers, Suncoast Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society

At the beginning of my ‘Natives’ life, I learned a lot from working on the plant sale plant profiles, so I thought the only milkweeds in our area were Asclepias incarnata, A. tuberosa and A. perennis. Apparently those are the ones that nurseries have grown for a while. If I had known better, I might have checked out the USF Plant Atlas where I could have looked up genus Asclepias and would have seen that there are many more species in our area.

 Butterflyweed, Asclepias tuberosa, Lake Blue Scrub

I have seen 9 milkweed species so far this year in relative proximity to our area, and I have now done the USF Plant Atlas search so I know there are more out there. An advance search in Hillsborough County lists twelve species.Oddly enough (at least to me), two of the species I have never seen in the wild are the swamp milkweeds that we sell at our plant sale. They are at the top of my list to find.

Curtiss' milkweed, Asclepias curtissii, Lake Blue Scrub   

The most recent milkweeds I saw were at Lake Blue Scrub (Auburndale) in early July. There I added A. curtissii to my list and saw some reddish A. tuberosas that were gorgeous. I was thrilled to find A. lanceolata at Hillsborough River State Park recently. I had seen it before but not in our county, so it seemed like a big deal to me but of course other people were well aware that they grew there. 

Fewflower Milkweed, Asclepias lanceolata, Hillsborough River State Park

My favorite milkweed, A. longifolia, I first saw in the Green Swamp, and I got to revisit it on our way home from Cayo Costa in April. We stopped to see a mass of bladderworts and Devon saw the milkweed. I was tired, dirty and cranky, but that milkweed made me very happy. I have noticed that some of the paler milkweeds are easy to miss if you’re not looking closely. The others I have seen this year include - A. humistrata that has the gorgeous pink veined leaves, A. pedicellata A. feayi (quite a few on our May fieldtrip to Triple Creek Preserve), A. verticillata and A. amplexicaulis (in Hernando county). Last year I saw A. tomentosa.

Savannah Milkweed, Asclepias pedicellata, Blackwater Creek Preserve

I used to feel bad when we told people to buy native milkweed and they couldn’t find any, but now they are becoming more available. I noticed that both Green Isles and Sweetbay nurseries now have whorled milkweed on their list of plants, so now there are more kinds of milkweed for sale. 

Swamp Milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, Sweetbay Nursery

FNPS member and St Mark’s NWR ranger, Scott Davis, is executing his plan to support monarchs by sourcing local ecotypes of milkweeds for the Big Bend area.  A year ago FANN (Florida Association of Native Nurseries) launched Phase I of the Florida Milkweed Project, an effort to expand the production and use of native Asclepias species with funding and support from the Florida Wildflower Foundation and our state wildflower license plate. I can tell you from personal experience that I have seen a big difference in the availability and quality of these milkweeds for sale in the past 5 years or so, and look forward to more availability. 

If you can’t get out to see the wild milkweeds, plant some in your yard and watch the Monarch Butterflies come to you! 

Monday, July 4, 2016

A Passion for Passionflowers in Prose & Poetry

by Devon Higginbotham / Poem by Donna Bollenbach
Suncoast Native Plant Society

The looks like it must be from another planet. _D Higginbotham

The first time I saw a passion flower, with its bizarre, lavender zigzaggy petals and yellow-star stamens, my immediate thought was it must be from another planet. It looks like no other flower shape — daisy, tulip or rose.

Not only is it spectacular to behold but it’s huge, measuring about 4 inches across, and it smells like a sorority house on formal night.

I had to have one!

Sometimes called the maypop or May apple, this perennial vine is native to Florida and the southeastern United States. It grows well in zones seven to 10, climbing on fences trellises or as a ground cover in sunny locations. It spreads underground, sending out shoots some distance from the parent plant. It is attractive to zebra longwing and gulf fritillary larvae, which keep it in check. Thus, supplying your garden with a steady stream of butterflies.

Gulf fritillary caterpillar_D Higginbotham
Just when you think you’ve found the perfect garden plant, one of your flowers will go to seed, yielding a 2- to 3-inch passion fruit, which taste much like a crunchy kiwi when ripe.

For those of you living in dry areas, coastal beaches or dune communities, the passion vine will prosper along with your sea oats, saw palmettos and seaside goldenrod. Mine sprawls across a picket fence, gets watered when it rains and is not particularly fond of being over-watered.

The passion vines have special glands that produce nectar at the base of the leaves which attract ants. The ants roam all over the plants and carry away butterfly eggs or young caterpillars they find. But with a few gulf fritillaries flitting about laying eggs, the butterflies keep up a steady supply of larvae, and some manage to elude the ants to grow to maturity. 

Cross, nails & crown of thorns?_D Bollenbach
There is much speculation as to why Carl Linnaeus, the renowned Swedish botanist, named it Passiflora incarnata some 250 years ago. Incarnata means flesh colored. There is nothing flesh colored about the passion vine. One theory is the significance of the flower pattern to God. In 1610, Jacoma Bosio, an Italian monastic scholar, heard reports of a wonderful flower in Mexico. The design of was said to have been created by God as a sign the native people of Mexico should convert to Christianity.

The theory was the three stigmas represent the three nails used on the cross, the five anthers count the wounds in Jesus, the corona of the flower recalls the crown of thorns, the ten petals equal the disciples (minus Paul and Judas) and the whip-like tendrils represent the whips used on Jesus, thus, the “Passion of Christ.”

Whatever your theory on Linnaeus’ mindset so long ago, the passion vine is a plant any Florida gardener would be passionate about.

Read Devon's entire article published in the Plant City Observer here
Ten Ways of Looking at a Passionflower


Among a thousand bees,
The only fragrance they desire
Is the passionflower's.

I was of three hearts,
Like a vine,
In which there are three passion flowers.

The scent of the passion flower fills the meadow.
The bees and butterflies dance together. 

A bee and a butterfly
Are one,
A bee and a butterfly and a passion flower
Are one.

I do not know which I prefer
The complexity of the flower
Or the complexity of the vine
The passion flower in bloom
Or the fruit left behind.

The butterfly lays its eggs,
In the shadow of the passionflower
The caterpillar cuts swaths
Through the leaves,
It is sacrificial love.

At the sight of a thousand passion flowers
Growing in the meadow,
The pauper and the king
Are equal.

The worker bees lie drunk
In the purple fringes of the passionflower
While the queen paces the hive.

The passionflower spreads its vines,
Tracing many paths
Through the meadow.

The bees are buzzing.
The passionflower must be blooming.