Wednesday, December 28, 2016

X Marks the Spot: The Search for the Celestial Lily

submitted by Donna Bollenbach, Suncoast Chapter
(originally printed in The Grapevine, the Suncoast Chapter's  monthly newsletter)

The Map

The Map

Back in October, I ran into a friend at a native plant talk. He enthusiastically told me about a colony of Celestial Lilies, Nemastylis floridana, that were blooming in central Florida, and hastily drew me a map to locate the beautiful and endangered wildflowers. The map was very rough, so I tried to ask questions, but the talk we were both attending started, and I was left with this somewhat cryptic diagram. In any case, that weekend my husband, Bob, and I decided we were going to try find the spot, and invited a few unsuspecting friends for the hunt.

I first tried to see Celestial Lilies at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve. It was late fall, a little pass their peak blooming time, and all we found was one bud. With at least six pairs of eyes staring at it, it did not open. I should also say that Celestial Lilies are unusual in that they only open for a few hours in the late afternoon. For this reason, Roger Hammer has affectionately named it “the happy hour flower.”

Fly visiting Dicerandra modesta

The Quest

We left for our journey at around 2 pm the following Sunday, with the map and some information I had pulled off Google. I remembered the words Huckleberry, Poinciana, and 17-92. So, when I found a preserve off Huckleberry Road in the vicinity of those roads, we thought we had it.

Blushing Scrub Mint

Dicerandra modesta

The first property we visited didn’t look like the habitat for the Celestial Lily, but it was perfect habitat for Blushing Scrub Balm, Dicerandra modesta, and we saw lots of it. It is also an endangered Florida native, but endemic to scrub habitat versus the moist open flatwoods that the Celestial Lily like to grow in. The flowers of the Blushing Scrub Balm are white with bright pink spots, reminding me of mint peppermint candies. This was our first time seeing it, so we did not mind being off track for the lilies.

 The Treasure

Nemastylis floridana
After leaving the first location, we were not about to give up. There were still a few hours of daylight, and we knew we were close. We looked at the map and decided to take head toward Poinciana Drive. Bob, my husband was driving, and he had to pull off the road a few times to let local traffic by. He also made a few U-turns as we barked out directions. It reminded me of “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” at Disney world. We finally arrived at a second “Huckleberry” location and a habitat much more suitable for the Celestial Lily, Nemastylis floridana. A short walk into the preserve and our persistence was rewarded with a large patch of the blooming flowers.

Nemastylis floridana

The lilies looked like little blue stars that had dropped down from the cosmos. They were delicate, yet vibrant. They were scattered about in an understory of pine. Bright yellow sunflowers stood in contrast with the purple/blue flowers. A few isolated blooms were right along the trail. There was one rare white lily morph that seemed past its prime. The sight was a perfect end to serendipitous day.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Personal Thoughts: Share the Earth

submitted by Richard Brownscombe, Broward Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society

(Richard wrote this inspirational holiday appeal to help make Broward County a better place for all creatures, large and small. The same could be said for any county in Florida, or place in the world.)

The holidays engage us in the kind and generous inclinations of the human heart. We hear holiday stories of the world's needs and generous people doing something about it. In this era of climate change and species extinction, we think not only of other people, but the other species upon the earth. Some of the best we do for the environment and nature is in our home, yard, neighborhood, city, and our efforts in Broward County that celebrate nature and inspire us to create a sustainable community.

Dahoon Holly, Ilex cassine, Mary Keim
The paradigm for Broward should become sharing our land and resources, making space and leaving water for all the creatures great and small. As we set about evolving our homes and cities to be sustainable, we would do well to be a bit more modest than we have been about what we know. Our understanding of the natural world is quite limited, reflecting the amount of attention we have given it over the past few decades. Sharing the earth with nature is not so much a gift from us as a gift to ourselves. Some of what we need to know about sustainability already exists in nature. These Broward species have existed in this place for 5,000 years. Their lineage is impressive, billions of years. Within their structure, behavior, growth, resilience, and being, a lot is to be discovered about a very complex system that renews resources as it uses them (see How ecosystems work here includes their adaptation to our climate, our water resources, our natural disasters, our bedrock and the process of recycling, energy use, carbon sequestration, and more. Don't we want to preserve this rich legacy not only for its usefulness, beauty, and fascination, but because nature has a right to exist here with us?

Yes, like others I am very impressed by science and the fast rate of our discovery and knowledge (see Google Earth Time-lapse). Yes, discoveries about energy and carbon could be very important to us (see And yes, it is fascinating (see Daniel Csobot). The changes ahead are not just solutions for humans. To create a sustainable community, we need to step back far enough to see the gestalt of the ecosystem and planet, especially the place of other species that we so easily forget to include. Maybe we forget because we don't yet know much about them. There has never been an in-depth study of the species and ecosystems in Broward County. The public and school children don't see a lot of photographs or even anecdotal stories of what the species in our own nearby natural areas are doing.

We don't even have up-to-date inventories of our species, let alone understand the complex interdependence among them, or their effect on the air and water, or how insects are using the food supply and feeding others, or the overall energy exchanges taking place here. We don't know much. And we haven't yet engaged the public in very compelling ways about the beautiful and fascinating things happening every day and every night in the natural lands around us.

Butterflies in amber older than 65 million years,
Royal Society image in
Sandy Koi opened a small window for us to see some of what is going on. She talked about the complex use of plant poisons by a particular species of butterfly. Then told us how a different species employs different plants with a very different strategy to survive and reproduce. She explained that these specific and complex uses of chemistry and behavior have evolved between butterflies and particular plants over a period of tens of millions of years (from the time of dinosaurs)! We know this in part because of butterflies wonderfully preserved in amber.

Scientific detail isn't for everyone. Photography, short videos, drone photography, down-to-earth stories about wildlife, fresh and hopeful ideas, beautiful native gardens, pleasant trails, beacon technology (like signage, beacons tell your smartphone about the plants and wildlife in your immediate proximity), and local naturalists are other ways to communicate the richness of natural areas. A community determined to keep its last remaining natural areas will find solutions.

People like butterflies so we study them, but what about similar species-specific coevolution among other insects and plants, insects and animals (such as bug species being fed to hatchlings)? What chemistry and biology is going on there? And what is going on in the soil with fungi and bacteria? A lot of essential services (recycling, fertilizing, and cleaning) and likely even communication among plant roots is taking place in the soil. This is fascinating, endlessly complex, and helps us understand what nature needs. It also teaches us applied biochemistry, quantum biology, growth and self-organizing systems, and other useful stuff for understanding sustainable systems. There is a lot we don't know happening in the small places of wild Broward.

That's one reason the Broward Chapter recommends native plants for landscaping. We have no idea what microbes, fungi, countless insects, 200 wild bee species, indigenous and migrating birds, and all the other creatures are doing while we sleep and go to work, but it's pretty likely it's something good for the environment ... and therefore, for us. Native landscaping is something you can do to give much-needed land to nature. Urban Broward has left nature on remnant blocks or islands in a sea of homes and it's pretty tough to stay alive there without natural corridors. Many of our rarest plant species are still surviving in populations of hundreds or even tens of last remaining plants on these remnant natural areas.

Tragically, Broward's 40 natural areas are being overrun by invasive species. The rarest and most fragile populations of last-remaining populations are being strangled for space, light, moisture, and nutrients. George Gann, Chief Conservation Strategist for the Institute of Regional Conservation, hypothesizes that Broward may be the second most at risk county in Florida for species loss (local extinction). We could remove the invasive plants for about a $1 million, and then invest annually in our natural areas to keep them healthy, educational, and fun to visit. There is currently no comprehensive plan or funding to remove invasive plants from Broward natural areas. Would it help if we thought of our natural areas as Broward's living outdoor museum of last remaining rare species and other interesting plants and animals? That's not an inaccurate description. Incredibly, about 500 out of 700 existent Broward plant species live on the small (mostly County) properties within densely populated areas (see this map of yellow County parks, not all of them natural). Two hundred out of 700 species live in the vast unpopulated wetlands of the Everglades Management Areas. That is why it is so important to save them from the rapid invasive plant strangulation in progress.

Within the coming year, the Parks Foundation of Broward and the Friends of Natural Areas of Broward will have a fund and coordinate in-kind and pro-bono contributions so that the Broward community can come together to save Broward natural areas. Invasive plant removal is the first priority. We can do this if we take seriously the idea that Broward should be shared with nature. Call 954-661-6289 or email if you have something to give to this effort.

Since the holidays are fast approaching, visit one of Broward's native nurseries to pick out a beautiful shrub to decorate. Collect some native boughs for a holiday wreath. Buy some seeds for table gifts. Give a potted plant (with a copy of the Natives for Your Neighborhood species print-out tucked inside). Talk with friends and family about making Broward a community that shares its space and resources with plants and wildlife so they can continue to live here with us.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Wednesday’s Wildflower Sneak Peek Grass-of-Parnassus

Grass-of-Parnassus or bog-stars, 
Parnassia grandifolia

Submitted by Roger Hammer

Grass-of-Parnassus or bog-stars (Parnassia grandifolia) is one of Florida’s prettiest wildflowers. The oval, somewhat succulent, shiny leaf blades measure 1½"–4" long with long petioles (leaf stems), and the flowers measure 1½" wide with intricate green, brown, or yellow venation on the petals. Look for it flowering along shaded stream banks and cypress bogs in Liberty, Franklin, Putnam, and Marion Counties. The plant photographed was blooming in the Apalachicola National Forest in November 2016 but its bloom season lasts through December.

Parnassia was named for Mount Parnassus in Greece and it is said that cattle grazing on the mountain relished eating the local Parnassia palustris, so the ancient Greeks made it an “honorary grass.” The name grandifolia relates to the large leaves compared to other species, which in no way resemble a grass. Some members of this genus live in arctic and alpine regions and are a symbol of the Highland Scottish Clan MacLea, formally recognized in 2003. There are 3 parnassia flowers on the British flag of Cumberland County, adopted in December 2012. It is in the Grass-of-Parnassus Family (Parnassiaceae) but is sometimes included in the Saxifrage Family (Saxifragaceae) or the Stafftree Family (Celastraceae). It sometimes grows in the company of Parnassia caroliniana.

Photo & text: Roger L. Hammer

Roger is a member of the FNPS Dade Chapter and is currently working on a new Falcon Guide titled Complete Guide to Florida Wildflowers, due to be released in Spring 2018. His other wildflower guides include Florida Keys Wildflowers (2004), Everglades Wildflowers (2nd edition, 2014), and Central Florida Wildflowers (2016).

 Editor's Note: In keeping with out intent to feature a native on  Wednesday Wildflower that is currently in bloom, and this beautiful submission by Roger Hammer would not be in bloom in January, I decided to use it as our Sneak Peek. Please send your January submissions by the end of this month.    

Thursday, December 1, 2016


Submitted by Donna Bollenbach

Courtesy of Wikimedia 

The Wildlife Tree

SNAGS, often referred to as “The Wildlife Tree”, are dead tree trunks that are still standing.

They provide perches, food and nesting sites for birds and other wildlife. Wildlife also uses dead wood as landmarks for navigation, basking platforms, perching and nesting.

Cavity Dwellers

Nearly 40 species of birds and several species mammals in Florida nest in tree cavities.Woodpeckers, are a “primary excavators.”

Owls, Blue-birds, Squirrels and Nuthatches are a few of the “secondary cavity users.”

Photo by Donna Bollenbach

Snags as Perches

Many birds perch high on snags so they can spot prey below.

Some birds perch on snags for the greater visibility to a potential mate.

Snags as Cover

Birds and small mammals take shelter in the cavities of trees

Bees may also create hives in tree cavities.

Snags for Nesting

Ospreys and eagles will build their nests in the tops of snags, especially if they are located close to a body of water that will provide them fish for their young.

Woodpeckers, wrens, wood ducks, tree swallows, owls gnat catchers, and fly catchers are just a few of the birds that nest in tree cavities.

SNAGS as food source

Wildlife eat the insects that live and reproduce in the decaying wood of the snag.

Raccoons, bears and other wildlife will also search snags for high protein grubs and other insects

This old tree will eventually be a great snag

What makes a good SNAG?

Wildlife will use snags of both deciduous trees and evergreens. The height, diameter and type of wood (soft or hard) may determine when and how it is used. Hardwood trees, such as oaks, maples and elms, may develop cavities while they are still alive. Softwoods, such as pines and cypress trees, are more likely to have cavities after it dies.

Palm trees that lose their top (bud) during a storm, will eventually die. In natural areas that have been impacted by storms, you may see clusters of cabbage palm snags. Woodpeckers will search for insects and a dig cavities in live and dead palm trees.

If you have a dying or nuisance tree in your yard, you may have a potential wildlife snag.

Trees you may want to make into a snag:
  • Weak wood, or disease,
  • A shade tree in an area where you want sun,
  • A tree with invasive roots threatening a drainage or septic system,
  • A tree in a group that needs thinning out
  • A tree in an area where there aren’t any snags

Photo by Donna Bollenbach

Snags, Logs and Woodpiles in Your Landscape

Like vegetation, you should provide different heights of dead wood in your landscape. If you have a lot of property, you might consider having a variety of dead wood features. You can work deadwood into your landscape design for both function and beauty.

You may even “plant” small snags for songbird perches or in water features.

Snags also provide support for native vines, orchids, and bromeliads.

Photo by Donna Bollenbach

If leaving a snag standing is not safe, consider leaving the stump, or the cut logs in a far corner of your yard to rot and serve wildlife.

Logs are essentially fallen snags, and they serve much benefits, for wildlife that prefer to stay closer to the ground.

Also, instead of throwing out branches or other deadwood in your landscape, consider making a pile of it for wildlife.

So, before you remove a tree, consider its value to wildlife...
PLEASE don’t cut down that SNAG!

Photo by Donna Bollenbach

For more information:

Dead Wood: Key to Enhancing Wildlife Diversity in Forests
By Holly Ober & Patrick Minoque, University of Florida IFAS Extension.

Living With Wildlife: “SNAGS” The Wildlife Tree Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife

Landscaping Backyards for Wildlife: Top Ten Tips for Success by Mark Hostetler, Greg Klowden, Sarah Webb Miler and Kara Youngentob, University of Florida IFAS Extension.

Florida Native Plant Society: Comprehensive information on native plant landscaping and landscaping for wildlife.