Trees have a pretty bad reputation in north Florida these days. They’re on our homes, cars, streets, power lines, and all over the yard causing a lot of grief. While my heart goes out to all of those dealing with trees in places they shouldn’t be, now’s a good time to remember all the reasons we should want trees around. It’s also a good time to review how to minimize tree impacts from future storms.
An older, poorly branched loblolly pine in Tallahassee. Credit: Mark Tancig
Benefits of Trees
Beyond being a huge source of oxygen, necessary for many organisms to live, trees provide other benefits such as well. According to a recent analysis of Tallahassee’s urban trees, approximately three million pounds of pollutants, such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter, are reportedly removed each year. The same report calculated that half a billion gallons of precipitation was intercepted by these trees rather than becoming stormwater runoff, reducing impacts of erosion and non-point source pollution. These trees also saved citizens an estimated one million dollars. Total annual benefits to the citizens was over $15 million per year! Researchers have found that trees increase residential or commercial property values an average of 7%!
Ways to Minimize Tree Failure
Select Replacement Trees Wisely
While very few trees could make it through sustained winds of 155 mph, replanting trees sooner will help communities see the benefits mentioned above and help them return to their former beauty. Even the most wind-resistant trees are likely to fail in a storm like Hurricane Michael. UF/IFAS researchers have studied wind-thrown trees following hurricanes and have found these trees to be some of the most wind-resistant – hollies (Ilex spp.), southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora), live oak (Quercus virginiana), cypress (Taxodium spp.), cabbage palm (Sabal palmetto), and, interestingly, sparkleberry (Vaccinium arboreum).
The least wind-resistant trees include pecan (Carya illinoiensis), tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), laurelcherry (Prunus caroliniana), laurel oak (Quercus laurifolia), water oak (Quercus nigra), southern red oak (Quercus falcata), red cedar (Juniperus virginiana), pines (Pinus spp.), and Chinese elm (Ulmus parvifolia).
When replanting, consider planting at least three trees in a group rather than an individual tree, as researchers found that trees in groups fared better.
An older water or laurel oak. Credit: UF/IFAS.
With existing trees and newly planted trees, taking good care of the tree can help it withstand high winds. In addition to proper pruning techniques and providing adequate root zone space, paying close attention to minimize soil compaction and root zone disturbances will help create a stronger root system. Older trees should be regularly monitored for potential signs of decay.
An older oak with decay in trunk. Credit: UF/IFAS.
UF/IFAS has many great resources related to tree health and recovery after hurricanes. A search for Urban Forest Hurricane Recovery Program at our EDIS website (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu) has several publications to help decide how to move forward and create a healthy urban forest. Let’s not allow our frustration with the tree on the roof to prevent us from recognizing that trees are good.
A grape vineyard. Credit: Peter Andersen, UF/IFAS.
The classic muscadine (Vitis rotundifolia). Credit: Carl Hunter. USDA-PLANTS Database.
This is the time of year to be on the watch for purple-stained sidewalks and driveways – a sign that ripe muscadine grapes are falling from above. The muscadine grape (Vitis rotundifolia) is a native Florida vine that has been enjoyed by Native Americans, colonists, and contemporary Floridians alike. In addition to the classic muscadine and scuppernong, a light-colored variety of muscadine, there are five other native species of grape (Vitis spp.) to be found growing in natural areas or along woodland edges. All are edible, however, the muscadine has the largest, tastiest fruit.
Many north Florida gardeners have some species of grape growing in their landscapes and consider it a weed due to its aggressive growth. Unfortunately, since the vines are functionally dioecious (separate male and female plants) and most wild plants are male, it is unlikely that those annoying grapevines at the garden’s edge will ever bear fruit. But every now and again, luck strikes! That’s why finding a purple-stained sidewalk or parking area is such an exciting event. I have some of these locations saved in my memory to visit this time of year, especially since all the grapevines in my own property have yet to bear one fruit! If necessary, control methods for grapevine in a landscape include repeated pruning back or the use of herbicides. Muscadines and other grapes are intolerant of shade so will eventually perish if cut back and located under a canopy of trees or shrubs.
The bronze-colored scuppernong. Credit: Peter Andersen. UF/IFAS.
Good News! There are plenty of varieties bred for the backyard and commercial fruit grower. Since muscadines are native, they require little, if any, pesticides, making them a great choice for a sustainable landscape or orchard. The vines can be grown up an arbor or a complete vineyard trellis system can be built for maximum harvest. A UF/IFAS fact sheet called “The Muscadine Grape” (publication #HS763) contains all the information needed to choose the right variety, design a vineyard, and implement the best pruning, irrigation, and fertilization schedule.
Whether fresh off the vine or in jams or wine, muscadines are a sweet, summery treat for Floridians.
Guest Post by Leon County Family & Consumer Sciences Agent Heidi Copeland (pictured)
With all the rain of late, there seems to be an interest in mycology. You know, the fruiting body of fungi called mushrooms! Edible mushrooms in particular.
It is not unusual; our subtropical summer weather tends to make some fungi flourish! Moreover, apparently, there is a bumper crop of fungi this year. Phone calls to the University of Florida/IFAS Extension office about eating mushrooms has increased. Individuals have even brought mushrooms to the office inquiring if they are of the edible variety.
Our reputation as Extension Agents would certainly be damaged if we did not adhere to a few rules… always read a label, use research-based information, and NEVER tell anyone that a mushroom is edible. It is not that there are not delicious wild mushrooms out there; a recent July 2017, publication of Microbiology Spectrum estimates millions of species. However, even the scientists do not agree as only about 120,000 of them have been described, so far. Not all are edible. Some fungi are poisonous to the point of being deadly.
Matt Smith, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Plant Pathology and the curator of the UF Fungal Herbarium (FLAS) knows a lot about mycology. In fact, he is also the curator of the fungal herbarium managed by the UF Department of Plant Pathology at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville. The fungal herbarium is a valuable resource and its collections have many important aspects including information about fungi that are deadly poisonous to humans and pets when consumed.
Lion’s Mane mushroom. Credit: Robert Smith; Cabin Bluff Land Management; Bugwood.org
In addition, the UF fungal herbarium is participating in a National Science Foundation-funded project to digitize and database as many US macrofungi collections as possible. This project, the Macrofungi Collection Consortium, includes 34 institutions in 24 states. The project began in July 2012 and will aim to capture data for roughly 1.3 million fungal specimens.
With that said, there is enough scientific research out there to conclude mushroom identification is indeed difficult. Many mushrooms look similar, but are oh so different!
If you are truly interested in eating what you forage MAKE time to study, with experts! Mushrooms, particularly those you plan to eat that are not identified correctly could send you to the emergency room … or worse. The toxicity of a mushroom varies by how much has been consumed. Poisoning symptoms range from stomachaches, drowsiness and confusion, to heart, liver and kidney damage. The symptoms may occur soon after eating a mushroom or can be delayed for six to 24 hours.
Chanterelle mushroom. Credit: Chris Evans; University of Illinois; Bugwood.org
Delayed symptoms are common. Seek help immediately if you think you may have eaten a poisonous mushroom, even if there are no obvious signs of toxicity. Call the Poison Center’s 24-hour emergency hotline at 1-800-222-1222. You will receive immediate, free and confidential treatment advice from the poison experts.
And if you are determined to make foraging for food a recreational hobby or even want to learn more about what is in your Florida yard, the book Common Florida Mushrooms by University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Emeritus Faculty Dr. James Kimbrough, identifies and describes 268 species of mushrooms found in the sunshine state.
Most importantly, teach your children to NEVER eat any mushroom picked from the ground. It is indeed better to be SAFE than sorry.
People who are interested visiting the fungal herbarium should contact:
Dr. Matthew Smith
In north Florida, the arrival of warm weather and plenty of rain means it’s time to battle the mosquitoes again. Those pesky little blood-suckers are out and about, often keeping us from enjoying our outdoor pursuits. With some preventative steps, you can reduce the potential for mosquitoes to occur in your yard.
Mosquito larvae. Credit: Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory.
As we should all be aware of by now, mosquitoes require water to complete their lifecycle. Eggs are laid near the water and will dry out if they do not remain near a water source. The larvae, or “wrigglers”, that hatch from the eggs, are aquatic and will not survive out of water. The pupae, often called “tumblers”, are also aquatic and must be in water to survive. From the pupae hatch the adults, the growth stage we want to avoid.
Mosquito pupae. Credit: Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory.
The best method to reduce mosquitoes in your yard is to remove or empty water-holding containers. This prevents the conditions needed for the egg through pupae stages to survive. These water-holding containers can include birdbaths, old buckets, gutters, tarps, rain barrels, and a variety of other items. Even a small bottlecap is enough to breed mosquitoes. Regularly emptying these water-holding containers every 3 to 5 days will stop that most annoying final life stage – the biting adults.
Another way to prevent the aquatic stages of mosquitoes from thriving is to use a larvaecide, specifically Bti. Bti is a bacterium that is sold as either small dunks or doughnuts and can also be found as small granules. Placing a dunk or a few granules in a birdbath will prevent larvae from developing and won’t harm the birds or other organisms that may visit, including frogs, bees, butterflies, and mammals. Bti is a selective pesticide, only effective for control of mosquito, midge, and fungus gnat larvae.
Various mosquito breeding habitats. Credit: Mark Tancig, UF/IFAS
Even if you’ve cleaned up or drained all water-holding containers on your property, there will likely still be some adult mosquitoes looking for a bloodmeal. Wearing long pants and sleeves, using mosquito repellents, and keeping window screens in good order are effective methods to prevent being bitten.
Local mosquito control agencies will often provide services to fog for adults. However, this will want to be your last resort, as the pesticides used to control adults are not as selective as the Bti used for the larvae. This results in non-target damage, meaning that insects besides mosquitoes, including beneficial insects, may also be harmed. Therefore, controlling mosquitoes during their aquatic lifestages helps reduce the need for pesticides that can harm beneficial insect populations.
The UF/IFAS Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory Research and Education Center has a great website – https://fmel.ifas.ufl.edu/ – of mosquito-related information, including the various species of mosquitoes in Florida and which repellents work the best. For additional information on controlling mosquitoes and other pests, please contact your local Extension Office.
Irises by Vincent Van Gogh, 1889.
Have you noticed all of the blooming irises? Their striking shapes and colors grab my attention each time. Irises are named for the Greek word for rainbow and are often called flags. Irises, both true Iris and those with iris in the common name, are not only easy on the eyes, but also easy to grow in the Florida garden. North Florida gardeners have many varieties of iris to choose from, including those that prefer wet sites, drought-tolerant species, intricate hybrids, and native species.
All irises are in the plant family Iridaceae and have six flower petals; a lower set, called the sepals, or falls, and an upper set, known as standards, that are often upright. The base of the sepals, known as the signal, can have a variety of colors and patterns. Irises are clump forming plants with long, strap-shaped leaves. They need occasional dividing and propagate easy by rhizomes. Few pests bother them.
Here are a few common iris plants that grow well in our area.
African Iris blooming on January 2nd, 2018 in the Leon County Extension Office Demonstration Garden. Credit: Mark Tancig, UF/IFAS Extension Leon County.
African Iris (Dietes vegeta)
This non-native plant is not actually a true Iris but is a tough and versatile plant. Its sepals are bright white with a yellow signal. The standards are purple. This plant can be grown in full sun or part shade, from standing water to droughty conditions. It works nicely as a border or foundation planting. Flowers only last a few days but are produced throughout the year. We had one blooming in our Demonstration Garden through a cold snap this past January. Cold weather can cause leaves to turn brown or gray, requiring some maintenance to improve appearance.
Bearded Iris. Credit: Mark Tancig, UF/IFAS Extension Leon County.
Bearded Iris (Iris x germanica)
A non-native, true Iris, bearded irises are the fancy hybrids that can come in many different colors. The “bearded” refers to the many hairs along the signal. Bearded irises prefer sunny locations and bloom in spring.
Iris versicolor. Credit: Mark Tancig, UF/IFAS Extension Leon County.
Blue Flag Iris (Iris versicolor and Iris virginica)
Two species of Iris go by the same common name, blue flag iris. These two are often misidentified in the nursery trade as well. Both have purple flowers that bloom in the spring, are native, and occur naturally in wetland areas. Gardener can have easy success with these in irrigated and/or rain gardens with some light shade. To tell the two apart requires a careful look at the lower sepals, or falls. Iris versicolor’s sepal has a greenish-yellow signal (base), surrounded by a white background with dark purple veins. The sepal of I. virginica has a bright yellow signal with little prominent veining. They also both have a 3-angled fruit.
A Louisiana iris hybrid. Credit: Mark Tancig, UF/IFAS Extension Leon County.
Louisiana Iris (Iris spp.)
The name Louisiana iris refers to five true Iris species – I. brevicaulis, I. fulva, I. giganticaerulea, I. hexagona, and I. nelsonii – that are native in and around Louisiana. They easily hybridize with each other and these hybrids have become popular garden cultivars. Louisiana iris prefer moist soils and full sun.
Walking Iris (Neomarica gracilis). Credit: Mark Tancig, UF/IFAS Extension Leon County.
Walking Iris (Neomarica spp.)
Another unofficial iris, most plants in the Neomarica genus share the same “walking” attribute. Small plantlets can develop at the top of the flower stalk and then fall over to start a new clump of plants. These do best in part shade to shade and have a long flowering period. They are somewhat cold tender so may die back but will return in the spring.
Yellow Flag Iris (Iris pseudoacorus)
The invasive, exotic yellow iris. Credit: Ann Murray, UF/IFAS.
This non-native Iris is one that you want to keep out of the garden. Yellow flag iris is known to invade natural wetlands and has been designated invasive by the UF/IFAS Assessment of Non-Native Plants. It’s easily distinguished from the other irises listed above by its bright yellow flowers. If you have this iris, remove fruit and carefully dig out the rhizomes, place in a trash bag, and dispose of it in your solid waste bin.
For questions regarding iris identification or care, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office.