Beautiful Native Plants


Blog HOME ***Our team of bloggers writes about various aspects of ecosystem gardening from native plants to pollinators and wildlife.***

Monday, December 26, 2016

Why I love the Florida Native Plant Society


Florida Native Plant Society

Previously, I talked about our native plant resources in Florida including the Florida Native Plant Society (FNPS), this time I’ll provide more details on how much I like FNPS.

My local chapter (Ixia in Jacksonville) holds informative meetings with expert speakers on a wide range of topics relating to native plants or habitats, offers plants for sale or raffle at most meetings, runs field trips, and participates in outreach programs. Our chapter has developed an “Alter-Natives” brochure for northeastern Florida that lists native plants to replace those frequently sold (and sometimes invasive) plants. Here’s a link to a pdf file of the brochure. We’ve adopted a small park in Jacksonville called Native Park, but ironically it was filled with non-native plants–we have made this into a showcase for native plants in an urban setting. In short, our chapter is filled with smart, active and caring folks doing important work as a group and as individuals.  Here’s a link to find an FNPS chapter near you.

The Annual FNPS Conferences

While the chapter is great fun, the annual state-wide FNPS conference is my chapter on steroids!  I’ve been to two conferences now and I find that them to be even more stimulating and inspiring.  There are 37 chapters around the state: so there we are all together each of us talking about our projects and learning from speakers and local field trips.  I took some photos and will provide a short tour of the 2012 conference which took place on May 19th to 22nd near Orlando.

Native plant vendors display their plants for sale under the live oak tress.

Monday, November 14, 2016

It is Cold Outside. Where did all the Butterflies Go?

Great spangled fritillary (Speyeria cybele)
Its tiny caterpillars will survive the winter
© Beatriz Moisset
Winter has arrived. What happened to all the six legged creatures we saw in summer? Where did the crawling, scuttling, flitting, buzzing multitudes go? Those of us who live in temperate and colder climates notice the disappearance of practically all insects when the weather gets cold. We are talking about the ones that live outdoors, not about those aggravating creatures that have found their ways into our houses and turned them into their homes.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Toward the Plastic-free Garden

Leaf recycling the natural way, an eternal cycle
© Beatriz Moisset
Plastics are a curse and a blessing. They are changing our world for better and for worse. That is why Susan Freinkel titled her book on this subject Plastic: "A Toxic Love Story." I recommend her ForaTV lecture.

The most serious trouble with plastics is that they are not truly recyclable. It is true that we place them by the curbside and they are taken by trucks to recycling facilities. If all goes as it should, that plastic is turned into something else and given a new life. But that doesn’t complete the circle back to the original components. Perhaps it should be called something else, down-cycling, half-cycling?
Recycled or not, this is where plastics end up
© Kevin Krejci. Flickr

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Deer Running through the Pepperdine Lawn

Deer Running Through Wildlife Corridor in Topanga State Park,
Photo by VenturaCountyTrails.org

It is so dry that deer have appeared on the Pepperdine lawn.  Anyone who has spent any time in Malibu or has just driven up the Pacific Coast Highway has seen that huge expanse of green-covered hillside that is the front lawn of Pepperdine University.  I try not to think about how much water it takes to keep it green throughout the summer!  Now, it seems that the Santa Monica Mountains are so dry that deer are bringing their families down to the Pepperdine lawn to drink the freshly watered lawn, even in January!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Pollinator-Friendly Lawns

Lawn and more lawn. © Catherine Zimmerman
Ordinarily a lawn is a desert, unwelcoming to wildlife from tiny insects to birds. The total surface of lawns in the United States has been estimated with the help of satellite technology as somewhere between 40,000 and 75,000 square miles, somewhere between the size of New York State and that of Texas. Some gardeners have started replacing large sections of grass ground cover with garden plants or meadow grasses in an effort to create beneficial habitat for wildlife. Many articles in “Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens” discuss the advantages of reducing the size of lawns and provide abundant suggestions on how to do it (see references below).

Thursday, August 11, 2016

In Praise of Wasps

Southern Yellowjacket (Vespula squamosa)
© 2007 Beatriz Moisset
Most people I talk to express an inordinate hatred for wasps. They agree that bees are important because they are pollinators, but think that wasps play no role in nature other than mistreat us with their stings. It is time that somebody comes to their defense. I will do more than that; I will sing their virtues.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Bountiful Buttonbush

Buttonbush, (Cephalanthus occidentalis), is a native shrub that gets high marks for its usefulness to wildlife. It’s also a personal favorite because, well, it’s just plain so amusing! And what could be better than a plant that’s useful and entertaining at the same time?

Buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis
Just look at that crazy flower! How many different connections does it bring to your mind? Here are some of its other common names: Honeyballs, Spanish Pincushion, Globeflowers, Little Snowball – and that’s before we even get into sputnik space and beyond.

Surrounding the spherical flower heads is a delicate fringe of pistils protruding past white corollas. You will occasionally see variations in the flower color from pale yellow to a very light pink. They are not only showy and long-lasting but also quite pleasingly fragrant.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Pollinators and Native vs. Non-native Plants

A daffodil’s visitor
This bee is not likely to find any nourishment
© Beatriz Moisset
Are native plants important to the plant-pollinator communities? Sometimes I hear somebody say: “When it comes to pollinators, all flowers are the same; after all, nectars are all alike” or “my English ivy must be good for pollinators because it is teeming with insect visitors”. Such comments show a lack of information and understanding, as I mentioned in “Wildlife Food and Non-native Plants”.

I have been photographing and studying pollinators for years, and I learned long ago not to waste time looking for them in the typical suburban gardens that are the pride of many of my neighbors. Nature centers and wildflower preserves are the source of most of my photos. Flying insects rarely visit a daffodil, forsythia or a tulip. Those that do so look rather puzzled, and leave promptly without visiting similar blossoms. Roses, the fancier ones, get no visitors either. The same applies to many of the “naturalized” plants, such as lesser celandine and garlic mustard. Recently, I spent time looking for pollinators on a few non-native flowers (lesser celandines, daffodils and forsythia), knowing what the results would be. I reported some of my observations in “Of Spring Beauties and Lesser Celandines”.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The never-ending story of a native landscape


Plants are alive. They grow, they multiply, and they die. So those perfect-looking landscape plans or meticulously groomed gardens in magazines and online are mere snapshots in time. The reality is that *things* are always changing and that’s a good thing. To see how much my front landscape has changed over the years, read  From lawn to woods: a retrospective. So this is the next phase in the never-ending story…

Time to remove some lawn: those yuccas have grown and
had leaned over the lawn edge.
The fall leaves will make a great mulch.

The trip along the lawn edge

The edging trip around the edge of the lawn is a good opportunity to remove more lawn and to edit the plants that have become too rambunctious, i.e. weeds.

When I started this go-round in late October, it had been very dry for us–1/2″ instead of our average 3.86″– October is the last of our 5 wet months. The dryness made it easy to remove the grass and other plants.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Pollinator Gardens do Double Duty

Syrphid flies. Pollinators and biological controls. Their larvae feed on aphids
© Beatriz Moisset

More gardeners are learning about pollinators and creating habitat for them. It warms my heart when I see them selecting plants beneficial to pollinators, converting portions of the lawn into flower plots, cutting down on pesticides, and creating the right conditions for pollinators’ nests. Many gardeners are learning to be grateful to pollinators for their services. Some are familiarizing themselves with the most common ones. This is a healthy trend.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Is Lawn a Carbon Sink?


Many people and organizations these days are looking for ways to reduce excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, in the hope that this might slow the warming of the planet. Even the turf industry claims that “well-managed” lawn absorbs carbon and thus should be considered a good thing.

“Lawn is a valued resource for sequestering carbon, with a net positive carbon storage for all lawn management practices.” That’s what they say at Scotts Miracle Gro, which calls itself the world’s largest marketer of branded consumer lawn and garden products.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Bring Back the Native Pollinators! Honey bees are not enough

A long-horned bee on sunflower
© Beatriz Moisset
I keep pondering the questions I posed in my previous post (Will We all Die if Honey Bees Disappear?): how did we manage to become so dependent on a single species of pollinators, the domestic honey bee? What happened to the native ones that populated the entire continent and performed the pollination of the native plants? In my search for answers I stumbled upon an old publication of the Department ofAgriculture and finally began to find some answers.
Here is an excerpt from the USDA document prepared by the Division of Bee Culture in 1942: “The Dependence of Agriculture on the Beekeeping Industry—a Review.”

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Native Gardeners Never Give Up!

I wasn’t going to. I really wasn’t going to. We’d left five acres full of native plants and a treasure trove of garden tools for a “lock and roll” townhouse with a postage stamp of an outside. I was getting my gardening highs by volunteering at public parks and schools.  And I held out valiantly for about 18 months. But at the beginning of that merry, merry month of May, the water broke over the dam of pent-up desire, and I did it. I just had to have my own garden. I blame two inciting causes: dull grey blocks, and pollinators.


In the townhouse development, where were all the bees and butterflies supposed to go?


Sunday, July 3, 2016

Will We all Die if Honey Bees Disappear?

Bumble bees have been pollinating sunflowers, an important crop for Native Americans,
long before the arrival of the honey bee
© Beatriz Moisset
One third of our food needs to be pollinated by insects. Honey bees are responsible for most of it. With 4,000 species of bees in North America plus numerous other pollinators of different stripes, how did we manage to become so dependent on just a single species? We know how important it is to diversify our portfolio, our diet, and our crops and gardens. So, what were we thinking?

Friday, July 1, 2016

From lawn to woods: a retrospective

Spring 2014: a pinxter azalea in the front meadow.

Then and now…


I posted the above photo of my pinxter azalea (Rhododendron canescens) a while back with the comment that with the exception of the trees next to the pond (behind the top sprout on the right), this area used to be lawn. People were really surprised and asked for more details and more information about how it was transformed, so I thought I’d share the history here. (Update: I also used this photo on the cover of my book, The Art of Maintaining a Florida Native Landscape.)

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Mother Nature’s Mysteries

No matter how much we study ecosystems and think we know the answers for which plants will grow where and under which circumstances, there are many instances when there is no obvious answer—they are Mother Nature's mysteries.

Most of The Ravines Conservation Area looks like this: dry soil with longleaf pines, oaks, and low ground cover. It’s managed with regular, prescribed burns.

The magic of the mistletoes

Globes of mistletoe become more evident in the
winter when the host tree loses its leaves.
This is one in my yard that is using
 a black gum (
Nyssa sylvatica) as its host.
Mistletoe played an important role during ancient times in the Old World when people brought evergreens inside so the gods of spring would have safe haven for the winter; and they celebrated the beginning of the return of the sun with various festivals. The European mistletoe (Viscum album) played and important role in these pagan rituals.

You can understand how the ancients must have been mystified by mistletoe. It stays green while the host tree apparently dies over the winter. It never touches the ground, so it must be purer somehow. Some thought that it must be a plant graft from the gods.  See my article, Myths of Mistletoe to learn about some of these legends.

It is the synthesis of various legends that led to the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe for good luck, fertility, and/or long marriage. While mistletoe has been used for medicinal purposes over the centuries, both the leaves and berries are toxic to both humans and pets.  Unlike poinsettia, that New World Christmas plant, which despite its reputation, is not poisonous. See my article, Poinsettias are NOT poisonous.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

When native plants die…

As readers and writers of this blog, we know that we should plant as many natives as possible for many reasons. Some important reasons are: to reduce the need for extra irrigation, to better support native wildlife, and to create landscapes that are authentic for our regions. But this is not the end of the story…

Native plant nurseries do their best to present beautiful natives to attract buyers. Thanks to Renee Stambaugh for her attractive garden fest display.

Within one year, many of these lovely native plants will be dead!

Ferns in the landscape

Ferns create a soft edge between a wooded area and a lawn. Here you see a mixture of netted chain ferns and cinnamon ferns along with magnolia, St. Johnswort, sweet gum, and more.

Ferns are Living Fossils

Ferns belong to the Pteridophyta Division of the plant kingdom in that they have leaves, roots and stems, but since they spread by spores, ferns do not have flowers, pollen, fruits, or seeds. Today's ferns descended from ancient plants that covered the earth long before the seed plants (the gymnosperms and angiosperms) made their appearance.

Plan ahead!

Plants don’t a have a choice–they
must do the best they can where they are.

Sometimes Mother Nature doesn’t leave enough growing space for her trees and shrubs.  Once the plants start growing out in the wild they have to do the best they can with the space they have.
The trio of trees in this top photo, a cherry (Prunus serotina) and two longleaf pines (Pinus palustris) have a problem.  The cherry’s major surface roots have a stranglehold around both of the pines and eventually the pines will become weakened at their bases as they try to expand and the cherry tree’s roots expand as well.  Right now the cherry tree trunk is about a foot in diameter, but it and the pines will continue to grow.  The pines will become a hazard in this suburban yard and are likely to blow over in a tropical storm. It’s possible that all three of them will come down together during a wind event.

Plants have hormones, too

A topped magnolia (M. grandiflora) has produced
several side branches after the terminal bud was cut.
Don't buy this tree!

Auxins

The terminal buds of plant stems contain hormones (auxins) that suppress the side shoots from sprouting and also encourage root growth. You’ve probably noticed the result of this hormone when you cut off a shoot: one or two new shoots will grow from the next nodes that were just buds before.

The auxins also help with rooting, so much so, that commercial rooting hormone is a mixture of auxins. We all want our plants to survive and prosper, so here’s what you need to know about these plant hormones.

Don’t buy this tree! 

The magnolia is bushy, but an untopped tree with one true leader (and all its auxins) will be much stronger and will not need corrective pruning to choose a new leader. Also the presence of the terminal bud will encourage faster root formation after planting.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Florida’s roadside meadow program

A Florida roadside meadow on 5/1/14 really “pops” and the adjacent farm is planted with wildflowers, too.
I took the long way home from a meeting with my editor at University Press of Florida in Gainesville and Marjorie Shropshire, my illustrator, last year. Marjorie and I stopped to photograph this amazing meadow in Putnam County. (Located in the south central section of district 2 as shown in the map below.)

Chicago’s Lurie Garden: a very public native space

I was in Chicago last month. This self-portrait
was looking into the heavily
 finger-printed reflective bean sculpture.

My husband and I visited Chicago’s Millennium Park a while back and were in full tourist mode taking photos of the reflective bean sculpture, the interesting fountain that spits water at you, the big heads and other famous attractions there. What a pleasant surprise to find Lurie Garden in the center of this very popular space. Designed by Gustafson Guthrie Nichol Ltd, Piet Oudolf, and Robert Israel, this 5-acre garden provides a sustainable and mostly native plant collection.

Helping to redefine what a beautiful garden should look like

Lurie Garden is in a very public area. How wonderful that it’s planted mostly with natives.
We were there early on a Sunday morning to avoid the crowds. We spent a lot of time walking around the garden. What a wonderful example to help redefine what a real garden is supposed to look like. In a way this is a follow-up to my last post on New York’s High Line Park. (Piet Oudolf was also the planting designer for the High Line Park, so there are many similarities.)

NYC’s High Line Park: a community restoration

NYC’s High Line Park is maintained by a non-profit,
Friends of the High Line,” which hires the gardeners
and organizes the many activities. 

After a long wait…

I’d been wanting to visit the High Line Park in Manhattan (a public park built on an abandoned elevated train platform) since I first heard about it back in 2009 when the first section opened. I finally made it on a recent Monday morning when my daughter and I walked the whole length—1.45 miles. What a wonderful community project!

I’m writing about this project here because I think it shows that when you build habitat areas, even in densely crowded urban areas, that it’s good for the birds, the humans in the neighborhood, and for the economic health of the area. In other words, if you build it, the birds will come and so will the humans. See below for my conversations with 2 of the staff gardeners for the care that is required to keep up the planted areas.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Can you spot the rayless sunflowers in this bed? There are about 20 flower heads blooming.
As I discussed in Adventures in Creating a Native Garden back in June 2013, I’d planted some rayless sunflowers (Helianthus radula) as part of the native garden.  Now that they are blooming, I have to say that I’m a bit underwhelmed.  Their beauty is too subtle to enjoy from afar and they do not stand out in this bed.

6 easy steps to support wildlife

If you’d like bluebirds in your yard,
stop poisoning the bugs.


Tis the season to make resolutions for the upcoming year.  Some are easy to keep, especially when you have firm and attainable goals in mind where the results are so rewarding.

1) Turn your yard into a working ecosystem

If you want your landscape to support more birds, then you’ll need to invite the bugs, reduce the lawn, and plant more natives.  Okay, so maybe this isn’t the easiest item on this list, but it’s important and you can accomplish it in small steps over several years.

a) The first step will save you money: Stop using ALL landscape-wide pesticides. For a detailed explanation of the poison cycle, see my post: A poison is a poison is a poison.


6 easy ways to save time & money in your landscape

As we approach each new year, many people will make resolutions that will probably not be kept for long, but changing to a more sustainable landscape regimen is one resolution that is easy to keep. While you are saving time and money, you’ll also be supporting a variety of wildlife.

Having more birds and butterflies in your yard is priceless!

Here’s a short list of money-saving landscaping resolutions: 

Let the predators in your landscape do the heavy lifting.
A potter wasp found a caterpillar to take back to its nest.
In ecosystem gardening, you cheer for the predators
and would never poison them.

1) Stop the landscape-wide poisons

You can save a lot of money and time when you stop trying to poison pests in your yard. After an adjustment period, the natural predators will get to work on those pests. As a bonus when you stop all landscape-wide pesticides, you’ll be creating a wildlife-friendly landscape that will be filled with butterflies and birds. (See #2 for poison-free lawns.)

See my post, A poison is a poison is a poison, for more details on the poison cycle and how to jump off.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Adventures in Creating a Native Garden

Stage one: Lawn removal & three bunching grasses

Three Elliot’s love grass bunches glow in the early morning sun.
Last September I began this set of garden adventures with the purchase of some Elliot’s love grass (Eragrostis elliottii) at a native plant sale. I knew I was going to reduce the tongue of lawn out into the front meadow and wanted to have the grasses to set the area off.

A well-managed edge hides or distracts from a weedy interior.

Natives Plants for Your Yard: the Next Step


Grassleaf Barbara’s Buttons  (Marshallia graminifolia)
are beautiful Florida natives suitable for a fairy tale garden…

Is native gardening a fairy tale? 

Once upon a time, a gardener decided that she wanted more butterflies and more birds in her yard. She read books and oodles of online material and then she attended classes, conferences, workshops, and garden fests.

After all this education, she found that she really could make a big difference by installing native plants that attract butterflies and birds with their berries and delicious leaves that caterpillars would eat. As a bonus her landscape would be easy to care for since native plants have lived in the wild for eons with no care at all.

After a great quest* far and wide across her realm, she found a local native plant nursery that had the native plants she wanted. She paid the small bounty for the plants and brought them home and everyone (and every bird and butterfly) lived happily ever after.

NOT!!
“Things” are more complex than than a fairy tale.

Supporting wildlife beyond your garden gate

Go beyond your garden gate

On this blog most of us focus on our own properties with ideas and success stories of how our mostly native landscapes have attracted wildlife. But anyone who is concerned about the environment can also become an advocate for Mother Nature. It's a pleasant experience to write for people like myself who also believe that creating more wildlife-friendly habitat is a good idea, but isn't one of our goals reaching out to wider audiences who might not have thought that their landscaping decisions are important?

A poison is a poison is a poison

A working ecosystem means that 
you encourage Mother Nature's predators. 
Here, a garden spider captures
 a polka-dotted wasp moth.

The Poison Cycle

In a balanced ecosystem, predators will be in the minority. In other words, in a natural environment, there are many more prey organisms to ensure a continuous food supply for the predators. In such an ecosystem, there are huge numbers of prey including, aphids, white flies, cabbage worms, leaf miners, mole crickets, spider mites, and others that may be eating your crops, lawns, and landscape plants, but relatively few predator bugs such as praying mantids, assassin bugs and relatively few bug predators such as lizards, toads, birds, and bats.

Let's consider what happens when you attempt to poison pests. A general insecticide (organic or not) will kill the majority of bugs in an area, but more than 90 percent of them were beneficial or benign. Predators such as bats, frogs, lizards, and birds will go elsewhere to feed and even the microbes in your soil may die.

A look back for lessons for the future

A while back, I started scanning the family slides, when I finished my own slides of our kids growing up and various pre-digital life adventures, I started in on my parents' slides. They died in 1995 & 1996, so it was high time to get these images into a digital format. What struck me as I went through my long-ago childhood was how hard they had worked to provide outdoor adventures for us.

I’m looking for birds on a Connecticut beach in the 1950s. Note my leggings and our brand new 51 Ford–we called her the blue flyer.
When we lived in Stamford, I fished in the Rippowam River next to our apartment complex. I’d dig night crawlers from the riverbank for bait and store them in my pockets. While the worms must have been a mess, I was still allowed the freedom to play. Sometimes I even caught something–not sure whether we ate this eel or not. This was 3rd grade–my braids are gone.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Science Behind our Commitment to Native Plants

Luna moth (© B. Moisset)
Don’t you get tired when you hear words like: “nativistic mania”, “simplistic assumptions”, “nostalgic”, and “sentimental notions”? Not to mention the stronger ones: “native-plant fundamentalist”, “xenophobia”, “native plant Nazi”?

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A Healthy Garden is a Buggy Garden

Collage with several species of lady beetles
© 2006 Beatriz Moisset
We are all familiar with bad insects, the ones that cause damage in our gardens. However, most insects are beneficial or harmless. We are so concerned with the bad ones that tend to ignore the beneficial ones. Worse yet, sometimes we paint all insects with the same brush and want to kill them all. I had the opportunity to learn about good bugs when reading an old book published in 1941. It is rather surprising that somebody already knew so much about beneficial insects that long ago.

Frank E. Lutz, an entomologist and gardener, wrote “A Lot of Insects” in which he tells us about all the six-legged fauna of his large suburban yard. He noticed that native plants were good at attracting what he called guests and residents of this realm. His property was located near the center of a small town not far from New York City. In the course of a few years, Dr. Lutz collected and identified every kind of insect that he found in his property, a grand total of 1,402 different species. Before you shrink in horror at that staggering number of buggy creatures, let me tell you that Dr. Lutz was a fine gardener and, while he was sorting out and studying the little creatures in his garden, he was winning numerous gardening awards. And he had the insects to thank for such a healthy garden.

The fact is that many, probably most, insects are invaluable components of the ecosystem. It is wise to learn to recognize and appreciate these gardener friends. A good dose of curiosity may allow you to enjoy their intriguing, sometimes perplexing, comings and goings if you manage to overcome your bias against insects.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

What is native? What is not? When does it matter?

Common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca (© B. Moisset)

Definitions of native plants abound. None is entirely satisfactory in all circumstances but each may serve a specific function. Some strive for scientific accuracy; others serve practical purposes. Moreover, in some instances the nativity of a plant may not matter to the native-plant gardener. None of us is about to give up growing tomatoes regardless of their non-native status.
 
The FederalNative Plant Conservation Committee proposes the following definition: “A native plant species is one that occurs naturally in a particular habitat, ecosystem, or region of the United States and its Territories or Possessions, without direct or indirect human actions.” Such definition may be useful for policy making.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Praying Mantises. Which are the Good Ones?

Chinese mantis,  Tenodera sinensis, preying on a hummingbird
© JeanneScott-Zumwalt
Mantises, along with lady beetles or ladybugs are beloved insects, considered good pest controls worth having in the garden. Mantises, or mantids, are charismatic because of their remarkable looks and large size. Some value them as pets or use them in school projects. The females have the bad reputation of devouring their mate’s heads, although this is probably largely exaggerated and not as common in the wild as it is with caged ones. They invented Styrofoam to build their egg cases long before humans did, more on this below. Just as there are many species of lady beetles, there are also many different mantises. The good news is that while lady beetle species number in the hundreds, there are only twenty kinds of mantises. The bad news is that four or five of those species are not-native and may be causing problems for the native ones.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Introduced Plants Secret Weapon: Non-native Pests


Japanese beetles on milkweed
This nasty pest came to us courtesy of an innocent and beautiful Japanese iris
© Beatriz Moisset
Introduced plants have a dark side that we often ignore. I am not talking about plants that become invasive, but about some of the well behaved ones, the ones that never leave your garden or the park where they were first planted. Some plants bring a living cargo to this land and this cargo may turn out to be worse than we can imagine.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Teeming with zebras

The zebra longwing butterfly (Heliconius charithonia
drinks at the snow squarestem.

Zebra longwing butterflies that is...

This year we’ve had a huge jump in population, so our property is aflutter with all their striped glory. They don’t have deep wing beats like a lot of floppy butterflies–their wings hardly move as they fly. They are skittish compared to some other butterflies, but they are mesmerizing.

Ladybugs, Lady Beetles or Ladybird Beetles. How Good are They?

Polished lady beetle. © Beatriz Moisset. 2012
 What is in a name? Most call it a ladybug; others, ladybird or ladybird beetle or just lady beetle. Is one name more appropriate than others? Is there just one kind, or many kinds of this insect? Scientists prefer the term Coccinellidae to include all the members of this large family of beetles. The technical name has the advantage of leaving no room for confusion.
Seven-spotted Lady Beetle (Coccinella septempunctata). © Beatriz Moisset. 2013
 Ladybug is not entirely correct because “bugs” are insects with sucking mouth parts and simple development. “Ladybugs” are, in fact, beetles, with chewing mouth parts and with a full metamorphosis, with larva, pupa and adult, similar to that of butterflies. So the preferred common name is lady beetle.

Managing a natural pond

Water spangles (Salvinia minima), an invasive floating fern.

Trouble in paradise

Previously, I wrote about how much we have enjoyed our front pond in The joys of a Florida pond, but in 2011 the whole surface of the pond had become totally covered by a noxious invasive with a cute name—water spangles (Salvinia minima). It had probably come in as a hitchhiker on one of our beloved birds or traveling turtles, and from there, it went wild.

My husband and I scooped out cartloads of it by dragging a 8′ piece of plastic mesh between us as we walked across the pond and we scooped up more with hard plastic leaf rakes. I used it in the compost pile and as a mulch, but each time we cleared out a batch, new, bright-green plants filled in the spaces in a matter of days no matter how large a gap we created.

The joys of a Florida pond


Our pond in the summer of 2010. This photo is looking toward the little dock on
our neighbor’s end of the pond.
We share a natural pond with our next-door neighbors and have added a border of native plants at its edge to replace the turfgrass that used to dip right into the pond. I’ve planted ferns, black-eyed Susans, scarlet hibiscus and more. Plus other natives have also moved in.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Attracting Damsels and Dragons

Common green darners (Anax junius)
mating and laying eggs under the water’s surface.
Many people have long been interested in birding and butterfly gardening, but with the availability of new dragonfly & damselfly field guides, more folks are now identifying and pursuing these interesting insects. And with their beautiful coloration and fun names like variable dancer, common green darner, eastern pondhawk, little blue drogonlet, how can anyone resist?  Plus they eat mosquitoes!

Even the Audubon Society has been spending more time covering dragonflies and damselflies online and in its magazine.

This is from their July/August issue:
"Once you start watching dragonflies, you can’t help but notice how amazing they are. They fly at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour, zip forward and backward, pivot in a flash, and hover with ease."

Cheer for the Predators in Ecosystem Gardening


A female Florida cooter laid a clutch of eggs
next to the rain garden. Her head is tucked in
because I’ve invaded her privacy and she can’t leave.
So this happened the other day between the natural pond out in our front yard and the front porch:

A female cooter turtle (Florida cooter (Pseudemys floridana)) laid some eggs at the edge of a mulched path near a rain garden. After I took several photos, I went inside to download the photos. Not five minutes later I saw two fish crows, each carrying an egg, flying from the direction of her cache. I stealthily crept out the front door with my camera on to see if I could capture some of the mayhem.

Snow squarestem: A bee and butterfly magnet

A great purple hairstreak butterfly
sipping nectar from a snow squarestem.
Snow squarestem or salt and pepper (Melanthera nivea), a member of the daisy family (Asteraceae), attracts a high volume of butterflies, skippers, bees, wasps and even hummingbirds.

It has only white disk florets in its flower head–unlike a sunflower, it has no ray florets that look like petals. Its common name comes from the white flowers and its square stems with a mostly opposite leaf arrangement. Many members of the mint family (Lamiaceae) also have square stems and opposite leaves, so when I first heard the common name I assumed that this was in the mint family, but the plants are classified by their flowers’ characteristics, not by their stems or leaves.  (See A Plant by Any Common Name…)

Friday, February 19, 2016

Native Hibiscus? You Bet!

A showy native hibiscus with great wildlife benefit


Hibiscus moscheutos, swamp mallow,


People who say ‘natives aren’t showy’ have never seen our native hibiscus! Hibiscus moscheutos has a wide distribution in the continental U.S.; from New York down to Florida, and west as far as Utah. Like any plant that grows in so many places, it comes with a slew of common names: swamp mallow, rose mallow, rose-eyed and crimson-eyed swamp or rose mallow, hibiscus mallow, and even marshmallow hibiscus. More about that last one later! But by any name, this plant’s a winner!

One Native Plant = Three Habitat Benefits

Coral honeysuckle create a beautiful display
throughout the summer months.
While this (1 = 3 (or more)) equation is not rare in the native plant world, few accomplish this more beautifully than coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens).

This vine is native to the eastern US from Maine and Michigan south to central Florida and Texas. Here’s the USDA profile:  and since I‘m in Florida, here’s the profile & range for the state. Even though it’s not native in south Florida, many people successfully grow it there as well.

When I looked up the native range, I was surprised at the size. I’ve done a lot of hiking over the decades up and down the east coast, particularly in the mid-Atlantic and New England regions, including two years of intense field work during the mid-seventies on the Delmarva Peninsula in likely habitats when I was working on my masters degree in botany. Yet, I’d never seen this plant growing in the wild until last year in Texas--it was in a state park, and now that I think about it, it might have been planted there along the bulkhead near the boat ramp.