Saturday, September 24, 2016

October is Florida Native Plant Month, and a great time to buy natives…

by Donna Bollenbach, Suncoast Chapter
Originally published in part in the Plant City Observer to promote Florida Native Plant Month and the Suncoast Native Plant Society Fall Plant Sale. 

 For the second year in a row, The Hillsborough County Board of Commissioners and the Mayor of Tampa have officially proclaimed October as “Florida Native Plant Month.” The Florida Native Plant Society (FNPS) chose the month of October because, while many states have stunning displays of spring flowers, Florida’s mild climate provides for a spectacular showcase of native flowers and grasses in the fall as well. Additionally, with a slight drop in the temperature, October is the month when many Floridians escape the confines of their air-conditioned home to visit our wonderful parks and preserves, or to work in their gardens.

October is also the month that the many chapters of the Florida Native Plant Society holds native plant sales. The Suncoast Chapter (SNPS) in Hillsborough County holds their sale at the USF Botanical Gardens Fall Plant Festival. In anticipation, my husband clears out an area of our yard to make room for our native plant purchases. This year SNPS also had a buying trip to Sweetbay Nursery in August, so we got an early start to our fall project:

Transforming an eye-sore… 

Our little fall garden in progress
One small area, close to the road in our front yard, used to be a real eye-sore. It was overgrown with non-native grasses and vines. Right before the Suncoast Native Plant Society annual native nursery buying trip, my husband laboriously cleared out the mess to make room for more natives. In full sun, with moist, but well-drained soil, we decided that his little “D” shaped garden would be the perfect spot for a “fall” display of native grasses and wildflowers.

The hard part about visiting a native plant nursery is not going overboard with your purchases. Sweetbay has native plants for every location; full sun and dry to full shade and wet, and everything in between. We had to remind ourselves that everything we purchased also had to planted, which is not fun in the heat of the summer. My husband had done all the labor to prepare the garden, so it was only fair to let him pick the plants. He picked out muhly grass, lopsided Indian grass, love-grass and liatris for the start of our little garden.

A Work in Progress...

Our little garden doesn’t look like much now, but we hope it will grow into a spectacular display of purple and pink, and when we go to the Suncoast Native Plant Society fall native plant sale at USF in October, we will purchase goldenrod and native sunflowers to add yellow to the palette.
A beautiful fall landscape designed by Troy Springer, Springer Environmental.

If you would like to plant a “Fall” native plant garden, here are some simple steps to get started:

1. Pick a small area in your yard that gets full sun and clear out the sod, non-natives, and weeds.

2. Note what type of soil you have: Is the soil dry and sandy? Moist and well-drained? Wet?

3. Go to one of the many Fall Plant Sales sponsored by a Florida Native Plant Society Chapter in your area, or visit a native plant nursery. Experts there will help you pick plants that are right for your landscape.

4. Plant your purchases. Most natives will require watering until well established, but pay attention to the needs of your specific plants; some of them do not tolerate over-saturated soils. Mulch with an eco-friendly pine straw, or leaf litter.

5. When designing your space, traditionally taller plants would be placed in the back of the garden and shorter ones up front, but if you want to create a meadow effect, intermingle the taller grasses and wildflowers in the center of the garden and put shorter specimens along the edges.

You can create a fall garden with these easy to find natives:

Liatris, Courtesy of Troy Springer, Springer Environmental
Blazing Star, Liatris spp., is an attractive wildflower that produces beautiful purple flower spikes in late summer through the fall. Several native species of liatris grow in west central Florida. Some are very tall, and others are short and stout. It can be grown from seed or mature plans can be purchased from a native nursery. All of them prefer full sun, but have different soil requirements. Blazing star will attract a variety of butterflies and bees to the garden.

Goldenrod, Solidago spp., range from 3-6-foot-high with a fall display of golden yellow flowers in slender spikes or bushy heads. They are easy to grow from seed or mature plant, and will readily reseed or spread.  When it is not blooming, it is a somewhat inconspicuous disk of basal leaves on the ground. Pollinators love goldenrod, especially bees.
Goldenrod adds a splash of yellow
to your landscape. 

Grasses: There are many native grasses that put on a beautiful fall display: Among the most popular are:

Purple love grass, Eragrostis spectabilis, is another purple to misty pink grass that grows 1-3 feet high. It prefers well-drained, if not dry, sandy soils.

Elliot’s LovegrassEragrostis elliottii, is a wispy grass with profuse tan flowers that bloom all year, but especially in the fall. It likes dry to well-drained soils.

Lopsided Indian Grass, Sorghastrum secundum, is only 1-2 feet high for most of the year, but has flower stalks that get up to 6 feet tall in the fall. The showy plumbs resemble an upside down Indian headdress, thus the name, “Lopsided Indian Grass.”

Muhly Grass looks like pink cotton candy from a distance. 

Muhly Grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris, a showy grass with silky pink to lavender plumbs in the fall. When view from a distance it looks like a purple cotton candy. It grows 2-5 feet in moist to well drained soils, making it highly adaptable for most landscapes.

If your FNPS chapter would like to submit an informative* blog that showcases an event that you are having in October, please email it with images to Donna Bollenbach. *While you may provide information about and links to your event, please make sure your blog has an educational component as well. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

All questions are good questions, but can you trust the answer you find on line?

 by Amanda Martin, Tarflower Chapter

Where do I find reliable plant information online?

What a great question. When I start thinking about planting in my landscape, I think about foliage color, density, and overall growth shape of the plant. I think a lot about flowers; flower color, flower size, flower abundance, and what time of year can I expect these flowers to emerge? Is there anything attracted to the flower color, pollen or nectar? Is there a berry or larger fruit that will come after the flower is exhausted? Can I eat these berries or larger fruit? I always have many questions, so I try to read a lot.

FNPS "Native Plants for Your Area" is a great resource
when looking for plants that will grow in your region. 
Books, magazines, blogs, and databases are filled with so much useful information, and there are so many reliable sources for Florida gardeners and plant enthusiasts:

Of course,  our own FNPS website section on Native Plants for Your Area has an excellent search engine that will easily find plants by common and scientific names. What I like about the search engine is the ease of finding what you are looking for, even if use just part of the name.  

The Real Florida
 The Real Florida Magazine
is an excellent, free publication that  provides information on FNPS Chapters, professional ecologists, and native nurseries. The native nurseries can help with design, installation and maintenance of your landscape, or recommend a company in the area that can. This FNPS Blog is also a source I like to browse: They will often highlight a genus and offer comparative write-ups that let me know a subtle (or sometimes not so subtle) difference between species.

FWF Flower Friday
The Florida Wildflower Foundation has an educational Flower Friday blog and a 'What's in Bloom' map. Keeping me fed with new information or taking a second look at a plant I thought I knew. Why these plants have evolved to exist in a specific area, with a specific growth habit, makes a big difference as to whether it will live where you are attempting to plant it.

One of the largest databases I reference is the USDA site. This site will show a plant's natural distribution range in North America, invasive or noxious potential, provides pictures and informational links when available. I believe the site has become more user-friendly over time, but it is still important to be accurate when spelling a scientific name into their search engine. It is always best if you use the botanical name, since many plants may share one common name.
USDA Database  Home Page

I use scientific/botanical names when looking up information on the USDA website. If I don't know the scientific name, I'll google search the common name, make sure I put "Florida" somewhere in the search bar, then I'll locate the botanical name in an article below. I copy/paste the botanical name back into the search bar and voila, more accurate articles, write-ups and most importantly…accurate pictorial representations of the plant I'm wanting to learn about. 

The USF Florida Plant Atlas provides the same type of information and can be used similarly. 

Practicality in the native plant world suggests these plants are more specifically adapted to certain conditions. Understanding these conditions by seeing them thrive in their preferred environment teaches us the most. So learn all you can, and then give it a shot in your landscape.

Below I've listed helpful websites (some mentioned above) and below that are direct links that provide a comparative look at one of my favorite plants, Berlandiera subacaulis, Greeneyes. You can use these links to find information on a plant you want to learn more about, maybe a plant you won at one of the plant raffles.

Explore how each site presents information about the same plant:  

The USF Florida Plant Atlas allows you to search
using many criteria,  including common or scientific name,
county, nantve or non-native and more

Specific Links for Greeneyes, Berlandiera subacaulis

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Letting the Light In for Rare Plants!

Submitted by Michael R. Jenkins, Magnolia Chapter. Plant Conservation Program Biologist, Florida Forest Service, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

Sometimes sun-loving (usually pyrophytic) plant populations are in heavy competition with taller, woody plants and in need of help from an outsider. Here, someone with a pair of loppers, work clothes, water, and a few hours can really help. How about an 80% increase-in-stems kinda help? This situation was encountered where a nice population of White Birds-In-A-Nest (Macbridea alba) highly benefited from hand removing competing small trees and shrubs from around the plants, done to open up the habitat and to mimic fire (somewhat). This was done by one person working for just four hours. This person is the "fuel buster." 

White-Birds-In-A-Nest: Macbridea alba, Mint Family, Lamiaceae G2 S2, Federal Threatened, State Endangered,
Endemic to well-burned/mowed, pine dominated habitats adjacent to the lower Apalachicola River) 
 Photo: Michael R. Jenkins

This particular “White Birds” population covers about a quarter of an acre in a habitat classified by Florida Natural Areas Inventory (FNAI) 2010 Natural Community Guide as a Wet Prairie but within a matrix of Wet and Mesic Flatwoods, and Bottomland Forest. Interestingly and untypically, White Birds here grow up to the edge of a small stream. The population has been periodically monitored since it was first found by botanist Wilson Baker in 2003 and documented in the FNAI Florida Element Occurrence database of rare plants, animals, and natural communities.

White-Birds-In-A-Nest bloom in late June and July.
Photo: Michael R. Jenkins
The White Birds bloom in late June and July and in 2015, were in serious competition with smaller Red Maples, Water Oaks, Silver Bay Magnolias, Wax Myrtles, tytys (White and Black), Gallberries, and several species of St. John’s worts, over head high. This competing, woody vegetation is known by Florida biologists as “heavy fuels” because they grow in the absence of fire and when they do burn, they burn really hot because of their biomass, sometimes killing native pine trees that grow in the Wet Prairies.

The population was surveyed for the year and flags were placed around all points that had ever been taken there since 2003. To remove the heavy fuels, the site was revisited in March, when superterranean portions of the White Birds were not visible. All heavy fuels were cut and cleared out over the flagged population with a pair of loppers, cutting them to ground-level and removing the cut plants away from the population to increase sunlight. The cuttings were placed in areas outside of the Wet Prairie in thicker areas of the Bottomland Forest and on top of large briar patches.

  Picture of east portion of White Birds-In-A-Nest population (large, white flowers)
 where heavy fuels were removed and plant reacted very positively.
Photo: Michael R. Jenkins
The population responded so well (estimated an 80% increase in stems) that it was just too hard to walk into the population without stepping on them and crushing them! So I didn’t. 

They had formed quite a groundcover in some places! Flowering increased also with the increase in stems but what was really eye-popping was the stem-density and vigor of the plants in the area where the heavy fuels were removed. The plants also came up into new areas that were not cut but adjacent to the cut site, enlarging the population. They obviously had a very positive response to this management technique that is easy and fun to do. The same effort will be done each year.

This was the best response we have had by a species to this “fuel busting” technique, similar to ones done in the Panhandle by past Florida Park Service biologist, Tova Spector in pitcherplant bogs that increased pitcherplant and terrestrial orchid populations. These are now being continued by Atlanta Botanical Garden and several other organizations and individuals throughout Florida. We have had increased flowering in all fuel buster areas for Pot-of-Gold Lily, Florida Beargrass, Lewton’s Polygala, Godfrey’s Butterwort, and other pitcherplant and butterwort species. It is important to note that you must be committed to follow up treatments of a site for successive years because of the heavy resprouting from the cut woody plants that occurs soon after cutting.

Editor's Note: I asked Michael about the term "Fuel Buster" because I had never hear it to refer to a person. Here is his response: "When I was out in field with Florida Park Service’s Tova Spector (now gone and in the West) at her sites where they had removed competing woody vegetation over pitcherplant bogs, we used to say “bust up the fuels”. Since saying “removal of competing woody vegetation” is such a mouthful, I am just saying Fuel Buster. I have heard it used by other folks in different organizations (e.g., fire suppression) but doing the same activity. Anyway, it would help if it were a more common activity because it works so well for the plants!"

I agree! Where rare native plants are in similar harms way, we need more "Fuel Buster" patrols.