Sunday, January 2, 2022

Wax myrtle: an under-used Florida native

The female wax myrtles carry a heavy
load of berries that feed the winter birds.

Wax myrtle (Morella cerifera formerly Myrica cerifera) is an easy-to-grow evergreen shrub or small tree that typically grows to 10-15’ tall and 8-10’ wide, but sometimes it grows to 20’ tall or more. It's native to all of Florida, even The Keys, and naturally occurs in a variety of habitats including edges of wetlands, river margins, sand dunes, pine barrens, hillsides, and upland forests. Species epithet "cerifera" means wax-bearing.

This species is dioecious (male and female flowers borne in catkins on separate plants). Female plants are preferred in the landscape because they produce the fruit to feed the birds, particularly migrating birds during the winter. Of course, at least one male plant is needed in the neighborhood to facilitate pollination of the female flowers.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Tropical sage: a Florida native wildflower

A tattered gulf fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)
feeding on a tropical sage.

Tropical sage (Salvia coccinea) is a beautiful, easy-to-grow Florida native wildflower in the mint family, Lamiaceae. It has a long blooming cycle and its flowers are usually scarlet red, but sometimes are pink, even in natural areas. In addition to attracting hummingbirds, butterflies and native bees, tropical sage is the larval host for several sphynx moths. 

It's considered to be an annual, but I've had many that have lasted for two seasons and it's a prolific reseeder. So this plant is a wonderful addition to your pollinator gardens and wildflower meadows.

Monday, November 1, 2021

Roselle: Florida's cranberry

Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa)

The calyces subtend and support the petals. The flower lasts for only one day and when the petals fall off, the sepals begin to swell to surround the developing fruit. 

The five overlapping petals of the roselle flower are pale yellow tinged with burgundy on the edges and becoming deep burgundy in the center of the flower where the pistil emerges.

The mallow family: Malvaceae

Friday, October 1, 2021

Removing invasive plants in Florida costs $54 million per year

Mimosa tree (Albizia julibrissin),
a Category I invasive in all of Florida.

Yet, many of these plants are still for sale

How did we get into this situation?

A few hundred years ago, once world travel was readily available, many plants and animals were transported from their native habitats where natural checks and balances evolved over millennia so that predator & food sources were in balance. (I will be talking about plants in this post, but invasive animal species are also a huge problem in Florida.) 

People moved thousands of plant species for a number of reasons:
- to bring food crops with them as they settled into new places.
- they collected beautiful plants from around the world to plant in gardens as a novelty or for prestige.
- Some plants were imported for their utility such as stopping erosion (such as kudzu (Pueraria montana)) or building fast-growing hedges (such as, Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthifolia)).
- Many non-native plants have been favored in the landscaping industry because most local insects and other critters do not feed on them, so they are easier to grow and sell, because they "look good."
- Sometimes the plants were introduced to new regions by accident as hitchhikers with other plants or with other products that were being transported.

What is "invasive" and how is that status determined?

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Wild sweet basil

Wild sweet basil has lavender flowers
unlike sweet basil and lime basil which
have white flowers.

Florida's native basil

Wild sweet basil (Ocimum campechianum) is warm-weather herb related to sweet basil (O. basilicum) and lime basil (O. americanum). (Lime basil can tolerate Florida's hot wet summers, which I wrote about in two previous posts.) Unlike those traditional basils so popular in the Mediterranean cooking, which are native to India, Africa and Southeast Asia, this wild basil is native to the southernmost Florida counties, the Caribbean islands, Mexico, Central America, and most of South America.

Since we live in northeast Florida, this plant is not a true native here, but South Florida is MUCH closer to home than Africa or India, so this species of basil would be a regional native that should be better adapted to our climate with our hot, wet summers. Sweet basil often suffers from fungal diseases during our wet summers. 

Monday, July 5, 2021

Leeks: Growing and using this garlic relative

Freshly harvested leeks have had most of
their leaves chopped off above their fat stems.

Leeks (Allium ampeloprasum) are native to the Mediterranean region and were developed as a crop in Europe and their mild taste makes them a favorite for soups. They form a thick stem at the base that continues fairly high into the plant. The flat, solid leaves are folded and grow on opposite sides of the stem, but no true bulb is formed. Because the leaves are flat, leeks are on the garlic side of this genus and indeed elephant garlic is a cultivar of this species (A. ampeloprasum var. ampeloprasum). The onion side of this genus has hollow leaves like chives.

Monday, June 7, 2021

Bountiful harvests of early summer

Bountiful harvest for a tabbouleh--made
possible because of the pandemic travel ban.
Yellow banana peppers, assorted tomatoes,
curly parsley, purple and white onions,
garlic chives, and bunching onion leaves.

Cooking to the harvests

Because of the pandemic, we haven't been traveling since March 2020, which has resulted in many more crops and harvests that would not have been possible otherwise. Normally, we would have been traveling at various times during this period--mostly to be a guest presenter on cruise ships--so we would not have been able to accomplish this.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Our freedom lawn

We let our lawn go wild!

When we first moved into our house, the lawn-care guys who had worked for the former owner stopped by to offer to continue their services. When I refused, they said that without their poisons (fungicides, insecticides, and herbicides) and their specially-formulated fertilizer and weed & feed applications that our lawn would die. Well, as it turns out, a few months later some brown spots did develop, but they were soon taken over by other plants, which those lawn guys would probably have condemned as "weeds."

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Science-based companion planting

Buy your own copy of Plant Partners
by Jessica Walliser
 at Amazon.

Much has been written about which plants work well together, and often the various human emotions, such as love and hate, accompany these descriptions. Extension agents, university professors, and other scientists had debunked most of the anecdotal benefits of traditional companion planting. 

But now there is new science on using various plants to:
- act as trap crops to lure pests away from crops,
- attract predatory insects that will reduce pest problems on crops,
- add diversity, which may confuse pest organisms.
- reduce weeds,
- increase pollinator populations,
- add nutrients, and more.

Jessica Walliser's new book, "Plant  Partners: Science-Based Companion Strategies for the Vegetable Garden" (published by Storey Publishing) is the winner of a 2021 The American Horticultural Society Book Award. Jessica is a rare two-time winner of this prestigious award and her book compiles this latest research on using plants to accomplish several benefits in vegetable gardens.