Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Evil Weeds

By Devon Higginbotham, Suncoast Native Plant Society
(originally published in the Plant City Observer)
Spanish Needles is NOT a weed.
It is native, a great pollinator plant and edible!

“Is that a weed?”  That’s my sister, Candi.  She lives in one of those golf communities where the maintenance crews mow and primp everyone’s yard as well as all the common areas.  I think they allow her a 3 square foot area to “garden”.

“No, that’s a Spanish Needle.  It’s a native plant that’s edible and the pollinators adore the flowers”, I replied, sounding a bit defensive.  “Oh” she replied.  She was trying to sound chipper but I knew what she really said was, “I’m not eating any weeds!”

She’s my big sister which should explain everything.  Her house and yard are always spotless and manicured, whereas my yard is 15 acres in the middle of nowhere. Anywhere farther than 10 minutes from the nearest grocery store was nowhere to her.  Even her dog smells good, whereas, mine smells like she’s been chasing varmints all day and swimming in the pond, which, alas, she has.

Skunk Vine was purposely introduced from Asia as a potential fiber crop.
That didn't work out so well for us, but the Skunk vine loves it.
It has invaded much of central Florida is now considered a number one
"Florida Noxious Weed." It smells bad too (as the name implies).
We wandered along the dirt path amid the butterflies and bumblebees zipping along.  Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted two hummingbirds jostling for territory in a firebush. Suddenly I shouted, “THAT”S a weed!”, as I spied a skunk vine trying to gain a foothold along the path.  I promptly ripped it out of the ground and flung it on the trash pile.

So, what is a weed?  I accuse my sister of calling a plant a weed if she doesn’t know the name, but according to the dictionary, it’s “a plant that is not valued where it is growing and tends to choke out more valuable plants”.  

Most people know about the Brazilian pepper, Australian pine, melaleuca, air potato and kudzu.  But have you heard about Caesar’s weed, Japanese climbing fern, coral ardisia, cogon grass, Mexican petunia, chinaberry tree or nandina?  Most varieties of lantana and Mexican petunia are invasive but are still sold in abundance at plant nursery centers, and most homeowners would be miffed to discover their camphor trees are on the noxious plant list.
As pretty as it is, Chinaberry is a successful weed. A popular
ornamental, when it escapes to the wild it tends to form dense thickets
and crowd out native vegetation. Yapon Holly and Redbud would be
better native choices and are just as pretty. 

Many invasive plants were deliberately introduced into Florida as long ago as 100 years as an “ornamental” or cultivar that “escaped cultivation”.   Without natural controls of insects and diseases these plants had in their native habitat, they grew rampant, blocking out sun and nutrients for native plants. 

Camphor trees were listed in a mid-1900’s forestry guide as “native friendly”, appropriate for streetscaping.  It takes a long time for us to realize we have a problem on our hands and, by then, it is nearly impossible to control.  Birds, wind and time spread the seeds into natural areas and soon the exotic plants crowd out the native plants and create monocultures, dramatically change the landscape. 

Hydrilla, an invasive aquatic plant native to Asia,  have choked our waterways for years and were just recently discovered to harbor a blue-green algae on the underside of their leaves that has proven deadly to birds.  Coots eat the Hydrilla and Eagles eat the dying Coots and end up dying themselves.
Caesar's weed, from India and Asia, has made itself at home in Florida.
where it has no natural enemies, it grows rampantly in many
natural areas, destroying habitat and crowding out native plants.

To be fair, not all exotic plants become invasive.  Most are quite docile and well behaved, but it is impossible to determine in advance which will become the rogue plants, spreading unabated into our natural areas never to be stopped, like a villain from a superhero comic.  

Unfortunately, we don’t have a Batman or Incredible Hulk to come to the rescue.  Our municipalities are financially stretched and don’t have the enormous resources of manpower and herbicides required to combat them.  And if we remove them at the wrong time of year, they immediately drop thousands of seeds only to re-sprout, carpeting the ground with offspring.

But, as consumers, we can help.  By knowing what plants are native and which are exotic, you can be a better consumer by buying only plants that are known not to invade.  To be safe, choose native plants which have existed in Florida for centuries, providing habitat, food and shelter for our wildlife since the dawn of time, without going rogue.  Educate yourself on identifying evil weeds so you know them when they sprout in your yard and you can remove them before they get mature enough to reproduce.

As for my sister, Candi, she called yesterday and said she planted milkweed in her “garden” for the Monarchs.  Maybe we can all learn something from each other.

To learn more about evil weeds, visit the website of FLEPPC - Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council.   

To find native plants, visit the Florida Association ofNative Nurseries website at  or visit the native plant sale sponsored by a local chapter of the Florida NativePlant Society .  

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Exciting Things are Happening at FNPS...

In case you missed it, the FNPS Board Meeting and Council of Chapters Meeting was on August 13 at the FFS Leadership Training Center in Haines City.  If you want to know more about what the Society is doing on the state level to support chapters and further our mission, or if you want to make a meaningful contribution to the society, please consider attending one of the quarterly retreats. Here are some of the highlights of what  we discussed and accomplished. To read the complete summary, along with additional topics, click here

Submitted by Donna Bollenbach
FNPS Meets the Wild West….

The venue for the 2017 FNPS conference (May 17-21, 2017) was unveiled and approved by the board, and the winner is Westgate River Ranch Resort & Rodeo. In a secluded location just south of US Hwy 60 on the Kissimmee River, Westgate River Ranch is centrally located between the Atlantic and Gulf beaches within Polk County, Florida.

Lodging options include everything from rustic lodge suites with full or partial kitchens, to glamping (completely furnished air-conditioned tents) to RV and tent camping. There are also more expensive options, such as luxury teepees, cottages and cabins, but these are not part of the FNPS block or rooms. This venue was chosen for its availability in May, excellent lodging and food options, and its ability to accommodate our various space needs for meetings, vendors, plant sales and socials. While there are no nearby towns, stores or alternative lodging, it is surrounded by conservation lands and state parks for excellent fieldtrip opportunities. The lodging rates will be good for 3 days before and 3 days after the conference, so our members can take advantage of the venue’s other activities, such as airboat rides, fishing, horseback riding, hayrides, swamp buggy rides and more. Mark your calendars and dust off your cowboy boots.

You spoke, we listened: The New FNPS Conference Protocol:

Photo by Vince Lamb
The new conference protocol was revealed by the Conference Committee. Based on the input of FNPS members, FNPS conferences will be handled by a state committee and regional chapters, rather than individual chapter. Basically, one chapter will no longer be responsible for hosting the conference, but a state conference committee will take care of finding the venue, negotiating contracts (lodging, food, socials) and final scheduling. Since conferences will be planned by regions instead of individual chapters, several chapters in the region will be asked to take on one or two other tasks, such as registration, social activities, exhibit area, silent auction and program assistance. Chapters in and around the region may host field trips. 

Landscaping or Education: Make a difference and have fun doing it!

The next big topic of discussion was a need for a chair and members for the FNPS Landscape Committee and Education Committee. In my opinion these committees are not only two of the most important to the mission of FNPS, but probably the most creative and fun. Many ideas for projects that these committees could develop on the state level, then introduce to the chapters for distribution were discussed, such as:

  • Creating a “Good Neighbor” program to educate people who live adjacent to state parks and preserves so they are made aware of the problems with planting or disposing of invasive plants in or around a natural public land.
  •  Pick a native plant of the year and work all year to “inject” it into mainstream landscaping (in other words, create a demand and a market for it.)
  • Create a native plant “starter pack” with plants, care instructions and other materials and to make it easy for people to pick and a purchase a set of plants for a “butterfly garden,” a “coastal area” or a “the edge of a pond.”
  •  Work with local garden centers to create a once-a-month native plant sale/event.

So, if you are interested in being a chair of either of these committees, please contact Juliet Rynear or Catherine Bowman today. 

What do Craft Beers and Native Plants have in Common?

Richard Brownscombe mentioned that we should marketing native plants as the “craft beers” of landscaping. “Craft beers,” he stated, “have taken a big share of the beer market and have traditional beer retailers and distributors jumping on the bandwagon.”  Craft beers did not do this by trying to be the same, but they achieved this status by being different, independent and innovative. They take the traditional beer ingredients and add down-to-earth flavors, such as pumpkin, spice, cocoa, fruit and nuts. They transformed beer from merely a happy hour drink to a social experience. People seem to feel better about themselves when they choose a craft beer from an independent brewery vs a mass produced product. We want to make them feel the same way about native plants. We want to people to feel good about buying natives from our independent native nurseries. One day, we want to be able to say: “Native plants have taken a big share of the landscaping market and have traditional distributors and retailers jumping on the bandwagon.”

Florida Native Plant Month, the proclamations are coming…

Attending a proclamation of Florida Native Plant month for your locality is another way to get FNPS in front of your legislatures. Andy Taylor will be contacting each chapter as the proclamations dates roll out. Please plan to send as many representatives to the proclamation as possible. While only one personal needs to speak, the presence of several people from your chapter is important. Also, it is nice to take a gift of native plant or native plant seed, along with an informational package) to give each of your commissioners. Speaking of Native Plant Month, please advertise all of your events in October on your Facebook page, website and in the FNPS calendar, then copy Andy on the details so he can promote it on the state level. Also, follow up by sending Andy photos of your proclamations and events.

Clearing the right-of-way for native plants…

Juliet Rynear, speaking as the chair of the conservation committee, mentioned that monitoring natives in the right-of-way does not mean “no mowing.” What needs to be developed is a prescription for mowing that first defines what plants are in the right-of-way, then when is it ok to mow, and when not to mow.  Just like we have developed prescriptions for fire to sustain plant populations, we need to develop prescriptions for mowing for the DOT.

Membership…the road to 4000 members...

The other side has a detachable membership card. 
Currently the FNPS membership stands at 3700. Jonnie Spitler, membership chair and president of the Nature Coast Chapter, introduced a new membership postcard/membership card to be sent to all new members.  The Nature Coast Chapter generously donated the money to have these cards printed. Jonnie says our goal should be to have 4000 members by January of 2017. We should be pushing for more sustaining memberships. Sustaining members are those the that give $10.00 a month through an automatic payment. Are you a sustaining member?

The donor policy has passed…
You would think taking money would be a no-brainer: Someone offers it, you take it. Not so, especially for political candidates, environmental organizations, and people with a conscience. After a full year of committee involvement in writing and re-writing a donor policy, Devon Higginbotham, VP of Finance, presented a four-page policy that was unanimously approved by the board. In simple terms, the policy sets the level of approval (Executive Board vs. Full Board) by the type and amount of the donation. Donations come in the form or donors, grants, sponsors and bequests. The bottom line is we can solicit money from anyone, but board approval in required before the money, and any terms associated with it, are accepted and received. 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Keeping a Nature Journal: Understanding your environment through observation, writing and drawing.

Submitted by Donna Bollenbach. Journal Drawings by Marjorie Shropshire

There is no better way to connect with nature than by keeping a nature journal: a collection of observations, interpretations and feelings that describe or illustrate your personal view of the natural world. Nature journals are most commonly in the form of writing, drawing or photographs, or a combination of these.  Nature Journaling is rewarding for both children and adults. It is a great a learning tool, as well as a way to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of nature by recording and sharing memories.

What is a Nature Journal? 

Marjorie Shropshire, 2012
A Nature Journal is a personal record, but it is not a diary. A diary is generally about you and your relationships to other people, while a Nature Journal is about your relationship to the natural world-animals, plants, seasons and climates.

While you may not want anyone to read your diary, many people enjoy sharing their nature journals with others. Most group members find it fun and educational to read each other’s interpretations of what they saw, especially when studying the same subject. It is amazing to see the different perspectives people have on a single flower, insect or bird!

The tools to keep a Nature Journal are as simple as paper and pencil. While most journals include both writing and drawings, some people prefer to do more of one than the other. If drawing is to be a large part of your recordings, you will want to use unlined paper, such as a sketchbook, and drawing pencils. If you will be writing more than drawing, than a comfortable pen and a lined composition book or loose-leaf binder may be all you need.  Whichever you chose it should be compact enough to carry easily and have a sturdy, weather resistant cover. Children could be allowed to make their own journal books with a handful of paper bound between two pieces of white cardboard that they decorate themselves.

Organizing Your Journal

from the journals of Marjorie Shropshire
While the content of your journal is a personal choice, it is helpful to state a purpose for your journal, and to keep your entries organized by date. The purpose of your journal may be as broad as “recording my observations of nature while kayaking in the swamp,” or as focused as “observing native plants that grow in my yard,” but each journal entry should start with a quick note of the following:  

  1. time of day
  2. date
  3. temperature (cold/hot/warm)
  4. weather (windy/calm/rainy).

You will find those details very useful when interpreting your observations later.

Starting Your Journal

“But I can’t draw…or write.”  These are the most common obstacles to overcome when starting a nature journal. If you draw a line and a circle, you have the ability to do simple sketches of plants and animals. By making written notations next to your drawings, you will develop a complete picture of what you observed. With practice, both your drawing and writing will improve. Here is a suggestion to get you started:

Learning to observe…the purpose of this lesson is to learn to focus on details while not losing sight of the whole and its relationship to its surroundings. 

Visit the edge of a river, stream or pond. Find an interesting plant or flower, and a dry, comfortable spot to sit while you study it. Begin by making a simple sketch of one of its leaves. Is the leaf is long and skinny? Heart-shaped? Or mostly round or oval? Are the edges smooth or toothed?  Sketch the basic shape and make written notes next to the drawing. After focusing on the leaf for a while, turn your focus to the whole plant. Note how the leaves are arranged on the stem. If it has a flower, focus on it with all your senses: What color is it? Describe its shape. How does it make you feel? Does it have a scent that reminds you of something else? Record your observations and feelings freely. Draw the flower if you wish. Next, move your focus out even further to the surrounding vegetation. Are there more of the same plants, or is it a loner? Does it seem to have a relationship with its surroundings? Is it taller or shorter? Ask yourself “why?” Write down your thoughts. Don’t worry about being right or wrong. These are your observations, so there is no right or wrong. Your observations may change, and they most certainly will evolve as you spend more time in the field writing and drawing in your journal.

from the journals of Marjorie Shropshire

Sharing Your Observations

While the act of journaling is a very personal one, sharing nature journals is very enlightening. Perhaps on your next chapter field trip you can provide a pencil and paper to each participant, and when you find something particularly interesting stop and let everyone “journal” about it for 15 -30 minutes. After the field trip you can share your observations. You will be astonished to see how different each observation is, and how much you can learn from each other.

Friday, August 5, 2016

In Case You Missed It...Noteworthy highlights from the speakers at the FNPS 36th Annual Conference, May 18-22, 2016

Submitted by Sid Taylor

The conference was at Dayton Beach Resort right on the Atlantic Ocean.  Surf temp was a warm 78 degrees.  There were Least Terns on the beach.

Tom Hoctor. Photo by Vince Lamb
Dr. Tom Hoctor, Director of the University of Florida Center for Landscape Conservation Planning, updated us on the status of the Florida Wildlife Corridors and habitat preservation. 

  •  With the loss in oversight of growth management at the state level, we need to step in with science to help local governments understand the impact of decisions in new building projects and sprawl.  He quoted Frank Egler:  Ecosystems not only are more complex than we think, but more complex than we can think. 
  • Panthers need a population of 240 individuals to be delisted by the Federal Government as an endangered species.   The Florida Black Bear was delisted four years ago but it still needs corridors for connectivity and exchange of genetic information for healthy offspring.  They have an expanding population, but a shrinking habitat. The Panther would do well in the Florida Panhandle, but females’ offspring stay in the home range of their mothers, so it would take many generations to expand there on their own.
  • See the Conservation Trust for Florida, Inc. for more on protection and connecting Florida’s wild and working landscapes.

Tim Rumage of spaceshipearth.org supports E. O. Wilson’s new book, Half-Earth:Our Planet’s Fight for Life.
  • The concept being: we need to conserve 50% of the planet’s natural vegetation intact to sequester CO2 so the human population can persist.  Rumage says that 7.3 billion of us have already modified ½ the surface of the earth and we need to stop now to keep breathing.  He also reported more than six times the amount of land sourced plastic is in the oceans than plankton.  He says we confuse “legally safe” (i.e. water standards) and “harmful”.  He talked about traveling to international seminars and seeing (interior) vertical vs. (exterior) horizontal agriculture. 
  • Rumage thinks 6 billion of us will live in cities by 2050. Solutions to human existence will require an intersection of art and design.  Rumage’s book is This Spaceship Earth.

Dr. Patrick Bohlen from University of Central Florida (UCF) spent 11 years at Archbold Biological Station. He reports 82% of North Americans already live in cities. In comparison, 4.74 % of US land use is urban, but in Florida it is 16% now and projected (by the 1000 Friends of Florida) to be 34% by 2060.  Six of the fastest growing metro areas in the nation are here in Florida. We are back to receiving 1000 new residents daily, but we still have bears, bobcats and coyotes on UCF campus thanks to the Little Econ River on west and Big Econ River on the east.  Gallberry doesn’t survive on campus in the landscape due to high pH in water used for irrigation.  Same for longleaf pine.

Steve Kintner of the Blue Spring Alliance, addressed the need for a water ethic. (read Blue Revolution: Unmaking America's Water Crisis by Cynthia Barnett).  Steve was inspirational in his continued “plugging along” of public education for protection and restoration of the quantity and quality of our (finite amount) of water flow.

Dr. John Weishampel introduced us to LiDAR technology for mapping Caracol in the Cayo District of Belize from the air and how it depicts ancient human landscape legacies on the contemporary forest structure.  Inhabited from @900 BC to 1050 AD it supported 100,000 people…till it didn’t.  With this new tool we are learning human impact on the land.

Dr. Hyun Jung Cho has an ID book: Plants in Urban Water Ways within the Halifax River/Mosquito Lagoon that will be a superb resource state-wide.  Bethune-Cookman University, Professor, Integrated Environmental Science, choh@cookman.edu

Dr. Richard Hisenbeck’s topic is the Nature Conservancy’s Florida Panther Conservation and Connectivity.  With our 20 million population and 100 million tourists each year, he still has hope for the female panther offspring moving themselves (eventually) into rich habitat in the panhandle.  He told us of work with Lykes Brothers at Fish Eating Creek to provide a crucial 355,000 protected acres (plus a buffer of 68,000) for movement up a narrow corridor (through Lykes) to a traditional panther Caloosahatchee River crossing.  His equation for panther survival in Florida is 4 million acres.  With the 2.25 million that is the Everglades, Big Cypress, Panther Conservation core and the 1.75 million acres (on 90 individual properties) between Lykes and Disney Wilderness Area, he believes we have what they need.  Current numbers are upward of 160 cats and maybe as many as 180.

Dr. Austin Mast of FSU’s Robert K. Godfrey Herbarium wants our help to get all our buried museum specimens (including herbarium sheets) into digital Information and scientific communication via iDigBio.  There is a worldwide blitz event Oct.23-26, 2016.  Learn more on how easy it to contribute a little time at www.idigbio.org and sernec.appstate.edu and notesfromnature.org. They will work with you (or your group’s) special interests in the cataloging.  Even preschoolers can help.  They look at 3 interpretations of each label to eliminate errors.

Dr. Charles Hinkle has studied C02 at the Kennedy space Center since 1990.  Ambient/background CO2 was 350/ppm when he stated and now it is 400/ppm.  At UCF he records significant differences with tests from the west (Orlando urban smog) and to east (green space, agriculture and St. John’s River).  The Department of Transportation is funding his study on CO2 sinks.  Longleaf Pine forests are back to sequestering CO2 after a prescribed burn within 2 to 3 months.

Dave Westervelt, 46 year Florida beekeeper (charmer),  with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services(FDACS). 
  • Humans have been robbing bees for their honey for 15, 000 years and they were brought from Europe to Jamestown on one of the first ships of colonists 400 years ago.
  • There are 15 kinds of Florida honey; Clover is starting the fill the niche left by citrus greening.  Florida is the 3rd largest honey producer in the world. The greatest quantity is gallberry and saw palmetto. 
  • Almond growers in California are dependent upon the February and March shipments of migratory commercial hives that travel on semi-trucks:  24,000 colonies a season.  We ship bees to 27 or 28 states a year for farming pollination.  We produce Queens that are sold and relocated all over the country. 
  • The Florida State Beekeepers Association is planning a new entomology lab with a teaching lab to seat 400.  Besides honey bees, we have over 60 native species of pollinators in Florida.  You can do your part with planting just a 4-foot by 8-foot plot of native plants. It will increase your local pollinators by three times.

Roger Hammer. Photo by Vince Lamb
Roger Hammer thrilled us with photos from his new book:  Central Florida Wildflowers: A Field Guide and his work in progress, which is state-wide.  He dedicated the former to his best pal growing up, his brother, and his parents who “told me to go outside and play!”  He didn’t tell us about how he is consulting with the Discovery channel on Naked and Afraid.  Probably says things like “don’t climb a poisonwood tree”.

Dr. Jason Smith is studying the remnant Glacier period Torreya tree, its demise and its canker and what other trees the canker will infect. His team has found 645 individual trees in and around Torreya State Park and Chattahoochee.  When they get over a meter tall they show signs of the canker.  They die back, re-sprout and it happens again. Several conifer species that grow in the Great Smoky Mountain National park (like Frasier Fir) are part of his study. The disease does better in cooler climates.  A do-gooder group called Torreya Guardians is growing Torreya and planting them in North Carolina and the southern Appalachians. They say they are getting out ahead of “the science”.  It is called “assisted recolonization”.  Dr. Smith has tried to share his findings with them, but hasn’t been able to convince them they may be taking the canker to other native tree species (which are fitting their own battles). There is a huge, mature Torreya in Madison, Florida on a lawn.

Osborn. Photo by Vince Lamb
Nathaniel Osborn
has a great history book on Indian River Lagoon:  An Environmental History.  It covers from the north end of the Mosquito Lagoon in Volusia County all the way south to Hobe Sound.  And is a good treatise on how man manipulates his locale.

Craig Huegel gave us a common sense lecture:  A Gardener’s Guide to How Roots Work from that chapter in his book in progress.  It starts with “don’t be afraid to pull them out of the pot and see if they are permanently headed in circles around the inside of the pot before you buy them”.  They will have to be cut off; they will never stop growing in circles.  Plants are all about water.  They transpire up to 95% of their daily uptake, daily.  But they also have to have air pockets around the roots to breath.

David Hartgrove of Audubon presented slides and anecdotes of local birds.  The Black-Bellied Plover nests in Iceland, but winters on Daytona Beach and surrounds.  Royal and least terns nest in Florida.  A flock of 10 gull species can be seen all winter, beginning in November, in a grouping of 10,000 that hangs and roosts on the beach from 1900 S. Atlantic Ave to the 2000 block, and spends their days at the landfill.  Dave leads birding tours to the Dry Tortugas.

Clay Henderson wrapped it all up with a rundown of his career in practicing law and working to
Henderson. Photo by Vince Lamb
protect as much of Florida as possible. He reviewed the history of our land buying programs and encouraged us to take advantage of this election year to let our law makers know we expect them to do right by Amendment 1. People are livid that it is being used to cover general revenue expenses and not for environmental protection as we intended for it. There was $215 M for Everglades’ restoration; $50 M for springs restoration; and $5.1 M for Lake Apopka restoration earmarked, out of $752.5 M