A Native Groundcover with a Springtime Surprise

A Native Groundcover with a Springtime Surprise

Powderpuff mimosa (Mimosa strigillosa), also called Sunshine Mimosa or Sensitive Plant, is an increasingly popular native plant for home and commercial landscape applications that offers a very show display of puffy pink flowers this time of year!

Powderpuff Mimosa, (Mimosa strigillosa). Photo courtesy of Ray Bodrey.

This Florida native, low-growing groundcover grows no more than eight inches in height, and that would be classified as an extremely vigorous stand. Powderpuff Mimosa is technically a perennial legume, meaning it doesn’t need any nitrogen fertilizer from gardeners.

The groundcover is appealing to the eye with its dark green fern-like leaves.  Not an evergreen, the plants fall into a semi-dormant to dormant state during the fall and winter seasons. Powderpuff Mimosa is a very resilient groundcover as well, needing little irrigation, spreading quickly, and co-existing well with turfgrass. Just a few pots of this species transplanted should cover up to 300 square feet in a season. Although it spreads quickly, it can easily be pruned or mowed if it moves into unwanted areas.

Powderpuff mimosa is a great plant for erosion control due to its deep roots. These deep roots also allow for good levels of drought tolerance. There are very few insect or disease problems with this plant, other than the occasional caterpillar. It is a very wildlife and pollinator friendly plant, with honeybees, butterflies, deer, and more all finding it appealing. It’s even considered a livestock forage, as cattle find it palatable.

Looking to plant powderpuff mimosa in your landscape? Any area that gets mostly full sun is just fine. This plant is adapted to a wide range of soils, but particularly flourishes in well-drained, sandy loam soils.  Be sure to water regularly, especially to ensure successful establishment in your landscape. Find this wonderful little plant at Florida native plant nurseries!

For more information contact the Gulf County Extension Office at 639-3200 or email at rbodrey@ufl.edu.

Supporting information for this article can be found in the UF/IFAS Extension website: https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/ornamentals/powderpuff-mimosa.html & USDA website: https://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/pg_mist2.pdf

UF/IFAS Extension is an Equal Opportunity Institution.

Build a Mini Butterfly House

Build a Mini Butterfly House

Eastern black swallowtail caterpillar on fennel

Eastern black swallowtail caterpillar on fennel. Photo: J_McConnell, UFIFAS

Working from home has given me the opportunity to take more notice of my landscape and allow more time for insect scouting. While looking for turfgrass pests a few weeks ago, I noticed a caterpillar I didn’t recognize feeding on a broadleaf weed in my lawn. Since it didn’t appear to be a typical turfgrass pest, I decided to collect a few and try to figure out what they were. I’m glad I did because it turned out they were Buckeye Butterfly larvae! This random find has led me to some experimentation with raising butterflies and I thought I’d share some tips in case others might like to try it.

**Before collecting be sure to consult the U.S. Fish and Wildlife list of endangered and threatened species in Florida and never collect from Florida State Parks or other dedicated conservation areas. Never release species not native to our ecosystem. **

Floor of butterfly enclosure showing caterpillar frass.

Lining the bottom of your enclosure with paper makes cleanup easier. Photo: J_McConnell, UFIFAS

You will need an adequate enclosure to keep caterpillars, chrysalises, and newly emerged butterflies/moths. I am fortunate to have a beautiful handmade cage constructed by a Master Gardener Volunteer at my disposal. It has a wooden frame and floor, screened walls, and the door latches. There are many options available for online purchase, but I would recommend getting one listed as “tall” or having a minimum height of 24 inches. Also, be sure you will be able to clean it easily – growing caterpillars create a lot of frass (excrement) that needs to be cleaned daily. I line the bottom of my enclosure with paper for quick cleanup.

Be sure you can offer fresh food for caterpillars and butterflies. Caterpillars usually have a limited menu of what they can eat depending on species. If you find them actively feeding on a plant, that is a pretty good sign that it is a good larval food source. Once you identify the caterpillar you can look up alternate larval host plants that the species eats.

Common Buckeye Butterfly in cage with fresh flowers

Provide a variety of fresh flowers when butterfly emerge

Collecting foliage and keeping it hydrated can be a challenge. I use small floral water tubes. They have rubber lids that pop on and off with slits where I can insert small stems, but the insects do not get in and drown. I usually set these in another container to keep them upright. I can easily add fresh flowers when I expect a butterfly to emerge so that nectar is available. If your enclosure is large enough you may be able to keep small potted plants inside, just remember to keep them watered.

Where do the caterpillars come from? I intentionally plant several plants that are larval butterfly (caterpillar) hosts such as parsley, fennel, and passionflower vine. I check these plants for caterpillars that I can collect along with foliage. After the butterflies emerge, I release them into my yard so they can find a mate and keep the cycle going.

For more information on attracting butterflies to your landscape see Butterfly Gardening in Florida.

 

Odd Looking Caterpillar Becomes Beautiful Swallowtail Butterfly

Odd Looking Caterpillar Becomes Beautiful Swallowtail Butterfly

One of the things to do while stuck at home due to COVID-19 restrictions, is to look for caterpillars and butterflies in your landscape. I’ve noticed giant swallowtail butterflies (Papilio cresphontes) a little early this year. The giant swallowtail is one of the largest and most beautiful butterflies in our area. Its larval stage is known as the orangedog caterpillar. This unusual name comes from the fact that it feeds on young foliage of citrus trees.

Orangedog caterpillar. Photo credit: Donald Hall, University of Florida

The orangedog caterpillar is mostly brown with some white blotches, resembling bird droppings more than a caterpillar. When disturbed, it may try to scare you off by extruding two orange horns that produce a pungent odor hard to wash off.

I’ve had some minor feeding on citrus trees in my landscape from orangedog caterpillars. But I tolerate them. I’m not growing the citrus to sell. Sure the caterpillars eat a few leaves but my citrus trees have thousands of leaves. New leaves eventually replace the eaten ones. I leave the caterpillars alone. They eat a few leaves, develop into chrysalises and then emerge as beautiful giant swallowtail butterflies. The whole experience is a great life lesson for my two teenagers. And, we get to enjoy beautiful giant swallowtail butterflies flying around in our landscape and still get plenty of fruit from the citrus trees. It is a win, win, win.

In some cases, the caterpillars can cause widespread defoliation of citrus. A few orangedog caterpillars can defoliate small, potted citrus trees. Where you cannot tolerate their feeding habits, remove them from the plant. But consider relocating the caterpillars to another area. In addition to citrus, the orangedog caterpillars will use the herb fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) and rue (Ruta graveolens) as a food source. Some butterfly gardens plant citrus trees to provide food for orangedog caterpillars so that they will have giant swallowtail butterflies. So you could plan ahead and grow some fennel, rue or find a butterfly garden in your area for the purpose of relocating the larvae.

Yellow giant swallowtail butterfly on pink flowers of garden phlox

Yellow giant swallowtail butterfly on pink garden phlox flowers. Photo credit: Larry Williams

The adult butterflies feed on nectar from many flowers, including azalea, bougainvillea, Japanese honeysuckle, goldenrod, dame’s rocket, bouncing Bet and swamp milkweed. Some plants in this list might be invasive.

Keep in mind that mature citrus trees can easily withstand the loss of a few leaves. If you find and allow a few orangedog caterpillars to feed on a few leaves of a mature citrus tree in your landscape, you and your neighbors might get to enjoy the spectacular giant swallowtail butterfly.

More information on the giant swallowtail butterfly is available online at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in134.

Not Your Typical Coneflower – Cutleaf Coneflower Rudbeckia lacineata

Not Your Typical Coneflower – Cutleaf Coneflower Rudbeckia lacineata

Until plans were underway for our UF/IFAS Demonstration Butterfly Garden, I had never heard of Cutleaf Coneflower, Rudbeckia lacineata. Master Gardener Volunteer Jody Wood-Putnam included this gem in her garden design and introduced me and many of our visitors to a new garden favorite.
Although in the same genus as your common Black-eyed Susan’s (Rudbeckia fulgida or R. hirta) this perennial has very distinct differences. Rather than the low growing, hairy, oblong leaves of Black-eyed Susan, Cutleaf Coneflower has smooth pinnately lobed leaves with serrated edges. The leaves are still clump forming but form an almost bush-like shape. By mid to late summer, tall flower spikes emerge and are covered in bright yellow flowers bringing the overall height of the plant over 5 feet tall!
Cutleaf Coneflower is native to North America with several variations adapted to different regions including the Southeast and Florida. This perennial performs well in full sun to part shade and needs a lot of space. Mature plants can reach 3’ wide by 10’ tall and may require staking. The plant can spread through underground runners, so be sure to give it lots of space. In North Florida leaves may be evergreen if winter is mild. Cutleaf Coneflower is a good wildlife attractant providing nectar and pollen for many insects and if you leave the flowers on to mature the seed the is eaten by songbirds, including goldfinch.
To see this plant in person, stop by the UF/IFAS Demonstration Garden at 2728 E. 14th Street, Panama City, FL. If during normal business hours, check in for available seeds from our Pollinator Garden. 850-784-6105
More information about Cutleaf Coneflower see https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/rudbeckia-laciniata-var-humilis/
Planting a Butterfly Garden – Video

Planting a Butterfly Garden – Video

Each week, the editors scour the world wide web to find unique and informative content. This week’s selection is a video by Tennessee State University Extension Agent Joellen Dimond, in which she explains how to create a backyard butterfly garden!

Now is the time, get to it !

 

Attracting Wildlife to the Garden

Attracting Wildlife to the Garden

One of the incredible benefits of living in Florida is exposure to the biodiversity of our wildlife population. From ordinary squirrels and mockingbirds to the more exotic panthers and migratory tropical birds, it is rare one can step outside the house without seeing or hearing wildlife of some variety. One of the practices we “preach” here at Extension is to provide habitat for wildlife in our yards and gardens. While cities and neighborhoods are human-centric, we share these spaces with thousands of wild animals, birds, fish, and insects and should always consider them in our actions.

Attracting birds and butterflies are popular pastimes, and Extension faculty can provide a tremendous amount of information on their preferences and food sources. However, a few unsung critters deserve homes and space as well. Just yesterday, I took a call from a gentleman who was excited to discover a small colony of bats roosting in a tree on his property. He was looking for ways to encourage them to stay, because he realized the countless benefits they provide in free insect control. Many people are nervous around bats of because of their unpredictable, irregular night flight pattern and association with scary stories. However, an average Florida bat can eat 1,000 insects a night, keeping pest populations down, reducing mosquito-borne disease, and saving millions of dollars in crop damage.

In our demonstration garden today, I was delighted to walk up on a black racer sunning itself in the grass. These common garden snakes provide valuable pest control of rats and mice, and are not aggressive or venomous. The fear of snakes often comes from the surprise of finding one unexpectedly, so always be alert and observant when outdoors. Respect for these creatures and a basic working knowledge of common venomous and nonvenomous species can go a long way towards calming one’s nerves. An excellent resource for snake identification in north Florida is this online guide. Like many snakes, this particular snake had been in tall grass, so it is always wise to be cautious in those areas.

This black racer sunning in the grass must have gotten the message about utilizing habitat provided for wildlife! Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

To attract wildlife, learn about their life cycle and food sources, and provide shelter, water, and food for the species you are interested in attracting. Keep in mind that inviting wildlife may also draw their predators, but know that this is part of the larger cycle. Always keep safety in mind, and if necessary keep tall vegetation and deep water to a minimum in play areas frequented by young children. The benefits of providing food and shelter for wildlife are countless for human observers and wildlife alike.