Try these alternatives to common invasive species

Some of the plants that are common to our home landscapes are actually invasive species, many of which are now widespread in Florida’s natural areas. Removing these species from your landscape and replacing them with native alternatives can help prevent the spread of invasive species and will provide suitable food and cover for native wildlife. We suggest some “alter-natives” for your landscape.

hand lens

Add a hand lens to your field backpack

If you have ever walked a trail with a botanist to discover and name each flower you pass, you realize the importance of plant morphology in the taxonomic routine of plant identification. Not only do the “small parts” of each flower and leaf provide clues to each plant’s identity and separate members of the same genus and family, they also show the evolutionary trends that forced that species to specially adapt for survival.

gopher-tortoise

Gopher tortoises love wildflowers, too!

Many of us have had the pleasure of seeing gopher tortoises (or at least their burrows) on nature walks. They live in every county in Florida, and although they are associated with dry sandhills, they may also be found in many diverse areas such as pine flatwoods, oak hammocks, scrub areas and coastal dunes. Open pastures and vacant lots can also be a refuge for them. Gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus) prefer sunny open land with sandy soil that is also conducive to the growth of many of our Florida wildflowers. So it is no surprise that wildflowers make up a significant portion of their diet.

bee-tower

Bringing the buzz back to your garden

In the last decade or so, honey bee populations worldwide have significantly diminished due to unknown causes. Less known is the fact that native bee populations in North America are also in decline. As more rural and wild landscape becomes suburban and urban, there is less space and materials needed by native bees for laying eggs and feeding their young. But there is a way for you to help. Create a space in your garden that is attractive to native bees and encourage them to stay.

Use clear plastic when solarizing soil. Photo by Jeff Norcini

Let the Sun Shine In

Have a small area where you want to plant wildflowers? Concerned about weeds? You should be, even in planting sites where weeds don’t seem like they will interfere with establishing and managing your wildflower garden. An abundance of weed seeds can lurk in the top few inches of soil just waiting for some sort of disturbance. And from the weeds point of view, disturbance can range from tilling the soil to eradicating existing vegetation with an herbicide.

Wildflower Photography

Vince Lamb is a Florida native and a true activist who champions our Florida environment through his participation in numerous groups and committees. But his talent truly shines as a nature photographer documenting Florida plants, places and wildlife. He enjoys finding rare and endangered species that most people are unlikely to see, and his artistic images help heighten public awareness for conservation. His photography workshops have helped others to hone their skills. We asked Claudia Larsen to talk with Vince to get pointers on how to take that perfect wildflower photo.

Try spiderwort blossoms for an interesting cake decoration. Photo by Claudia Larsen

Ethnobotany of Wildflowers

Imagine yourself as a native Indian or early explorer 500 hundred years ago trying to survive in Florida. The better part of your day was probably spent hunting or gathering for daily sustenance, making tools and building shelters. Although artifacts are recovered by archeologists, the list of plants used for food, medicine and spiritual purposes was generally passed down by word of mouth through generations of early Floridians. There is quite a compendium of knowledge about early uses of native trees and shrubs, but what about wildflowers?

gaillardia-variations

Surprise colors from your favorite plants

Don’t let the title scare you off! I’ve been wondering why plants of the same species sometimes occur in different colors, so I did a little research. As you can see from my photos, some common flowers that have appeared in my garden are red and yellow forms of milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) and blanketflower (Gaillardia puchella). I also have red, pink and white tropical sage (Salvia coccinea), which I’m sure many of you have also grown. Do you ever have white flower forms of your typically blue spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis) or Stokes’ aster (Stokesia laevis)? Wonder what’s going on?

mowing

Rare Plant Conservation in Rights-of-Way

There are more than 600 different rare plant species in Florida that are either regulated or tracked by state and federal agencies. Over a third are sun-loving, shade-intolerant plants (e.g., terrestrial orchids, lilies, pitcher plants, etc.) that can be found in the open habitat of roadsides and powerline/gasline rights-of-way (ROWs). Statewide, ROWs are one of the best places to find rare plants.

frost-flower

Frost flowers – beauty and the brrrrr

Flowers of ice in Florida??? Yes, seeing is believing. I first saw icy flowers — often called frost flowers, ice flowers, ice ribbons, or the exotic-sounding crystallofolia — on a cold December morning in 2010. From a distance they looked like pieces of cotton attached to the stems of tropical sage (Salvia coccinea) growing in my front yard. But up close, these icy formations were just as William Gibson described in the 1800s when he saw them on longbranch frostweed (Helianthemum canadense).

paronychia-rugelii

Sandquares — Trick or Treat? Both!

Sandsquares, or Rugel’s nailwort (Paronychia rugelii), is one of the most unusual wildflowers you will ever see. This short plant is easily overlooked as it blends into the sandy background where it grows low to the ground. I first came across this plant during a hike in the Ordway Preserve in Melrose, where it was growing in a tall pine xeric flatwoods restoration area. Although it is found only occasionally, populations may occur in dry sites and sandhills throughout the Florida peninsula, extending into Alabama and Georgia.

bee-partridge-pea

Bring native bees to your landscape

Do you enjoy juicy watermelons, local blueberries and strawberries and fresh Florida orange juice? How about carrots, broccoli, almonds and apples? If you do, please thank an insect! More than 100 crops are dependent on insect pollination, resulting in an economic value of $18 to $27 billion in the United States. Major Florida crops that benefit from bee pollination include cucumber, watermelon, specialty citrus, squash, strawberries, avocados, blueberries and eggplant.

Florida Master Naturalist Program

Are you passionate about Florida’s natural environment? Would you like to know more about Florida’s native plants and animals and the ecosystems they inhabit? Consider becoming a Florida Master Naturalist, an adult education program designed to “promote awareness, understanding, and respect of Florida’s natural world.” The program is offered through the University of Florida/IFAS Extension offices and other organizations throughout the state, and is open to anyone age 18 or over who is interested in increasing their knowledge of Florida’s natural systems.