Beautiful Native Plants

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

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. 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.

Maypop, a native butterfly and bee magnet

Passionvine has a wonderfully complex flower.

Passionvine, purple passion flower, maypop (Passiflora incarnata) is a beautiful perennial native vine with a wonderfully complex flower with crimped petal-like tepals. It dies back to the ground in the winter, but pops up in more places the next spring–in May usually.

It’s widely distributed from Florida to Texas and northward to Pennsylvania. It can be propagated by cuttings, seed, or by digging up its sprouts when they’ve come up in an inconvenient place.

An Inch-by-inch decoration feat

Dotted horsemint (Monarda punctata) and pollinators.
Note that the top carpenter bee is being stroked on the back by the anthers of the flower.

Let’s talk about a decoration feat I discovered one fall a few years ago.  I have some exuberant stands of the native dotted horsemint (Monarda punctata) in my yard. It’s a tall mint with a wonderfully complex tower of flower heads. The flowers themselves are pale yellow dotted with dark pink spots and are surrounded by pale to dark pink bracts. The bees and other pollinators go crazy when they open.

A Requiem for a Hickory Tree

Tree trimmers were hired to remove a healthy hickory tree.
I've gone through more than 20 loads of chips on our property over the years. A couple of years ago, my old wood chip pile had been in place for more than a year and what was left of it was mostly compost. So I was in need of some new chips.

I followed a caravan of tree trimmer trucks including a chipper down my road. I asked the tree guys what they would be cutting down, thinking it would be some dead or dying trees, but no. They were going to remove a perfectly healthy hickory tree, because according to them, my neighbors thought it was dropping too many nuts on the lawn. Maybe there was another reason like its being too close to the bulkhead next to the lake, but whatever the reason, the tree guys would deliver the load of chips around lunchtime.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Doug Tallamy!

Doug Tallamy, Native Plant Hero!
The hero of native plant enthusiasts everywhere, Doug Tallamy has made the case for using native plants in every landscape, no matter how small, in his iconic 2007 book Bringing Nature Home. He says that planting natives in small landscapes will not recreate ancient ecosystems, but it does create biodiversity to support what’s left of our wildlife.

Doug Tallamy was a keynote speaker at the 2012 Florida Native Plant Society’s annual conference in May. He packed the hall and received a standing ovation at the end of his presentation. I think the ovation was well deserved, not only because of his great presentation, but also because of his commitment to the cause. He has provided us (native plant enthusiasts) with easy-to-understand talking points on why using natives in the landscapes is important.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

An Exception to the Rules

The exceptional and beautiful polka-dotted wasp moth (Syntomeida epilais) breaks a number of Mother Nature’s rules:

Palkadotted wasp moth  (Syntomeida epilais
on Spanish needles (Bidens alba).

#1. Adult moths fly at night. Fortunately for photographers, this beautiful moth flies in the daylight hours.

#2. Adult moths have pale or pastel colorations. With their iridescent gunmetal blue coloring punctuated by white dots and a bright red tip on their abdomens, these insects mimic wasps and display the warning coloration that tells birds that they are dangerous. As larvae (caterpillars) they consume poisonous foliage, so this is not an entirely false warning.

Of Timberdoodles and Ecotones

The timberdoodles are back!

American Woodcock aka the timberdoodle.
Photo by guizmo_68 on Wikipedia

We’ve probably had them wintering on our property for years, but first noticed them only last year. Their plumage, a mix of different shades of browns, grays, and black, blends in with the winter vegetation and they stay hidden during the day unless you flush them out of hiding. Last year, we saw a group of squirrels flush one out of hiding.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Getting Started with Native Plants in Florida

People who’ve decided to add more native plants to their landscape often have a difficult time getting started.  Local nurseries and home improvement stores usually don’t offer native plants and even if they have some, they are not well marked and the staff may not be helpful when it comes to recommending native plants.

Let's get started

Here in Florida, we have many resources with reliable information about native plants and we have resources where you can purchase native plants and native plant seed.

Lizard’s tail (Saururus cernus)
If you see my photo of the beautiful lizard’s tail (Saururus cernuus) and you like its heart-shaped leaves and cute off-white flowers, what do you do next?

A few people CAN make a significant difference

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has. --Margaret Mead

The entry to Wolf Creek Trout Lily Preserve

I first heard about Wolf Creek Trout Lily Preserve at the 2010 Florida Native Plant Society (FNPS) Conference in Tallahassee when Dan Miller made a lunchtime presentation. He told about how he a few others had saved a unique acres-wide population of trout lilies in south Georgia just north of Tallahassee from development. His photos and his story took my breath away. This year I knew when they were going to bloom because of photos posted on Facebook, so my husband and I made the three-hour trek out to the preserve on Valentine's Day. (Yes, no flowers were harmed in my Valentine's Day treat.)