Pineapple Guava (Acca sellowiana) hedge. Photo courtesy of the author.
One of the most common questions I’ve gotten across the Panhandle over the last several years is “What can I plant to screen my house and property?” I surmise this has a lot to do with Hurricane Michael wiping properties clean and an explosion of new construction, but whatever the reason, people want privacy, they want it quickly, and they often want something a little more natural looking and aesthetically pleasing than a fence. Like everything else, the answer to the question is nuanced depending on the site situation. However, if the situation is right, I almost always recommend that clientele at least consider a woefully underutilized plant in the Panhandle, Pineapple Guava (Acca sellowiana).
Named a Florida Garden Select Plant by the Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape Association (FNGLA) in 2009, Pineapple Guava is a standout screening and specimen plant, passing all the usual tests homeowners demand from shrubs. Growing 15’x15’ or so if never pruned or sheared, these quick-growing evergreen shrubs sport pretty, leathery green leaves with gray to white undersides. This leaf underside coloring causes the plants to emit a striking silvery blue hue from a distance, a very unusual feature in the screening shrub world.
Pineapple Guava (Acca sellowiana) silvery blue leaf undersides. Photo courtesy of the author.
Look past the leaves and you’ll notice that Pineapple Guava also possesses attractive brownish, orange bark when young that fades to a pretty, peely gray with age. To complete the aesthetic trifecta, in late spring/early summer (generally May in the Panhandle), the plants, if not heavily sheared, develop gorgeous edible, pollinator-friendly flowers. These flowers, comprised of white petals with bright red to burgundy stamens in the center, then develop over the summer into tasty fruit that may be harvested in the fall.
In addition to being a superbly attractive species, Pineapple Guava is extremely easy to grow. They like full, all-day, blazing sunshine but will tolerate some shading if they receive at least six hours of direct sun. Well-drained soil is also a must. Pineapple Guava, like many of us, is not a fan of wet feet! Site them where excessive water from rain will drain relatively quickly. Adding to its merits, the species is not plagued by any serious pests or diseases and is also drought-tolerant, needing no supplemental irrigation once plants are established. A once a year application of a general-purpose fertilizer, if indicated by a soil test, may be useful in getting plants going in their first couple of years following planting, but is rarely necessary in subsequent years. To maintain Pineapple Guava as a formal hedge or screen, a simple shear or two each growing season is normally enough. The species also makes an outstanding small specimen tree when allowed to grow to its mature height and “limbed-up” to expose the interesting bark and limb structure.
Edible, pollinator-friendly Pineapple Guava flowers in bloom. Photo credit: Larry Williams
If you’ve been looking for a quick-growing, low-maintenance screen or a specimen plant for a large landscape bed, you could do a lot worse than the Florida-Friendly Pineapple Guava! As always, if you have any questions about Pineapple Guava or any other horticulture, agriculture or natural resource related issue, contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension Office!
Symptoms of oak leaf blister on swamp chestnut oak. Credit: Gordon Magill.
Even during global pandemics, it’s a joy to be outside during the great north Florida spring we’ve been experiencing lately. As cold fronts come through with their rain bands, some packing a punch, they leave behind the most pleasant mornings, clear blue daytime skies, and crisp evenings. Unfortunately, we’re not the only organism that also enjoys those cool days. Many species of fungi are quite active this type of year as the rains, followed by warmer, yet not too hot temperatures, create the perfect conditions for fungal growth. Some of these fungi grow right on or in the plants we’d like to be enjoying for ourselves, stealing nutrients and causing plant decline or merely causing aesthetic damage. As this is an active time for certain species of fungi, local extension offices are getting more calls and questions regarding lawn and landscape damage due to fungal pathogens. A recent call was a new one for me and an example of a native fungi-plant interaction that looks bad but requires no intervention from us. It also highlights how correctly identifying a disease leads to the best action and can often save time and money and prevent unnecessary pesticides (in this case a fungicide) from entering the environment.
Close up of oak leaf blister on swamp chestnut oak. Credit: Gordon Magill.
The fungi and plant involved here was the oak leaf blister (Taphrina caerulescens) on a swamp chestnut oak (Quercus michauxii). It forms, you guessed it, blisters on the leaves of any of the oaks, though live oak (Quercus virginiana), laurel oak (Quercus laurifolia), and water oak (Quercus nigra) seem to be preferred hosts. The spores of the fungi, dormant since the previous summer/fall and which happen to get lodged in bud scales through wind and rain, germinate in cool, wet weather. The fungus then infects young leaves as they flush and its growth causes a disruption in the leaves’ development. This leads to the blistered look of the leaf tissue and, during extended periods of cool, wet weather, the entire leaf sort of shrivels, browns, and eventually falls off. Spores are eventually released from the fallen leaves to start the process over the next spring.
Severe oak leaf blister on swamp chestnut oak. Credit: Gordon Magill.
Though the leaves look pretty terrible, this fungal disease rarely causes plant health issues and the tree recovers just fine. Specimen trees that experience it year to year may be treated with a fungicide, but most homeowners can just let it go. Raking up and disposing of the leaves may help prevent further infections by reducing the number of spores released in the area.
As you enjoy another cool morning after an evening rainstorm, remember that the fungi all around you are also having a great day. You may want to look at your landscape plants and see if there’s anything abnormal going on. If so, take a photo and send it to your local extension office for help with identification and best methods of control, or, like in this case, just leaving it alone.
p.s. As I said this was a new one for me and I want to thank Stan Rosenthal, Extension Agent emeritus, for assisting with identification.
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 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.
I was recently sent some pictures of some unusual growths on pecan tree leaves. At first glance, the growths reminded me of the galls caused by small wasps that lay their eggs on oak leaves. However, after a little searching it became apparent this wasn’t the case. These galls were caused by the feeding of an aphid-like insect known as phylloxera.
Leaf galls caused by pecan phylloxera. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County
The feeding from the phylloxera causes the young leaf tissue to become distorted and form a gall that encloses this female insect called a “stem mother”. These insects are rarely seen, but the hatch from over-wintering eggs in March/April just after budbreak. Once hatched, these “stem mothers” crawl to the new leaves and begin feeding. Once the gall forms, they start to lay eggs inside the gall. The eggs hatch inside the gall and the young phylloxera begin to feed inside the gall and the gall enlarges. The matured insects break out of the gall in May and some will crawl to new spots on the leaves to feed and produce more galls.
Pecan stem damage from phylloxera. Photo Credit: University of Georgia
There are two common species of phylloxera that infect the leaves. The Pecan Leaf Phylloxera seems to prefer young trees and the Southern Pecan Leaf Phylloxera prefers older trees. The damage from each of these insects is nearly indistinguishable. Damage from these insects is usually not severe and merely an aesthetic issue.
Once the damage is discovered on a tree, it is too late to control the current year’s infestation. There are currently no effective methods for control of phylloxera in home gardens. Soil drench applications witha product containing imidacloprid have been limited in their effectiveness.
Article by Dr. Gary Knox, Professor of Environmental Horticulture at the UF/IFAS NFREC Quincy
Rhizomatous begonias are a large group of Begonia species, hybrids and selections characterized by large, sometimes-colorful leaves arising from thick rhizomes that grow along the soil surface. White or pink flower clusters that appear in late winter and spring are an extra bonus with these plants. Some types can be used in north Florida as herbaceous perennials that add bold leaf texture and color as well as flowers to shady gardens.
Begonia mass planting
Common rhizomatous begonias such as Begonia nelumbiifolia, ‘Erythrophylla’ (“Beefsteak”), and ‘Ricinifolia’ have long been grown outdoors in south and central Florida gardens as herbaceous perennials. North of these areas, rhizomatous begonias were considered cold sensitive and thus used strictly as pot-grown plants grown indoors or protected over winter. Nonetheless, north Florida trials testing the performance of outdoor, in-ground plantings started in Tallahassee and Gainesville as long ago as the late 1980s and early 1990s. With the proven success of some rhizomatous begonias in north Florida, interest in these plants increased rapidly in the early 2000s. Since then, savvy north Florida gardeners have been delighted by the possibility of using rhizomatous begonias as interesting herbaceous perennials for the shade garden. While temperatures below freezing can damage or kill leaves, these plants will usually produce new leaves from the rhizomes once warmer temperatures return in spring.
Plant Description Under North Florida Conditions
Leaves of rhizomatous begonias are this plant’s most distinctive feature and are why this group is so appealing to gardeners. Leaves often are large, from a few inches wide to almost 3 ft. in diameter (as reported for the cultivar ‘Freddie’ under the right conditions). Leaf shape may be rounded, star-shaped or irregularly edged, and leaf colors include burgundy, red, bronze, chartreuse, silver, and various shades of green including one so dark as to be almost black. Many types have leaves displaying patterns of one or more colors and some have silver or red markings. Undersides of leaves are often burgundy-colored, and leaf stems (petioles) also may exhibit colors other than or in addition to green. Leaves may be smooth, textured, or fuzzy-appearing due to large numbers of sometimes conspicuous hairs. Some types have leaves with an interesting three-dimensional spiral located on top of the leaf where the leaf blade attaches to the stem.
Begonia ‘Big Mac’ foliage
Rhizomatous begonia rhizomes are thickened, fleshy stems 1 to 2 in. or more in diameter that grow, branch and spread horizontally at or just below the soil surface, often in the mulch or leaf duff. Adventitious roots develop along the rhizome, and dormant buds embedded in the horizontal stem can be stimulated to grow new leaves after damage, stress or when divided. With age, as rhizomes grow outward, the oldest part of the rhizome will stop producing leaves and eventually die.
The rhizomes contain water and food reserves that allow this type of begonia to survive environmental stresses like drought as well as leaf loss or damage from cold temperatures. Shoots and roots can grow from the rhizome even if leaves and roots are killed or damaged.
Flowers occur in late winter to spring, depending on the species, cultivar and weather, and are quite showy on some selections. Flowers typically are white to various shades of pink and occur in a cluster (technically called a cyme) held above the foliage, in some cases dramatically high above the foliage. Individual flowers may range in size from 3/8-inch to over 2 inches at their widest point and a flower cluster may contain a few to over 120 individual flowers, depending on selection and growing conditions. A mature rhizomatous begonia may have an extended period of flowering, providing weeks of color. This long floral display results from large numbers of flowers developing sequentially on an individual flower cluster such that new flowers are still forming long after the first flowers have opened. Furthermore, multiple flower clusters appear over an extended time period. Flowers occasionally are pollinated and form winged seed capsules, though seed production and viability are variable. After flowering, the leaves remain a point of interest in the garden due to their size, lush appearance, interesting shapes and colorful patterns.
Cultural Requirements, Use and Maintenance
Rhizomatous begonias grow best in light shade or indirect light but can tolerate morning sun. Plants thrive in rich, organic, well-drained soil that is moist but not wet. A layer of organic mulch or leaf litter often is enough to provide basic conditions for growth in most soils if they are well-drained. Accordingly, organic mulches or leaf litter should be applied regularly around plants. Fertilizer stimulates growth but decomposing organic mulches can provide adequate nutrients, except perhaps with poor or sandy soils.
Newly planted begonias should be watered regularly. After establishment, most rhizomatous begonias benefit from regular watering but only require irrigation during periods of drought or extended dry weather.
An individual plant makes an attractive specimen plant in a container or in the garden. With time, a rhizomatous begonia can spread and, in the garden, develop into a patch. Alternatively, planting large numbers of the same rhizomatous begonia can create a very dramatic garden border, mass planting, or groundcover, especially in spring when all plants are flowering. To achieve this effect more rapidly and with smaller numbers of plants, tips of rhizomes can be pruned to stimulate rhizome branching and result in a denser plant or patch. Rhizome tip pruning should be done after plants finish flowering. Plants can be divided and moved easily since only the rhizome is needed to establish a new plant, but this should occur after flowering and early in the growing season so plants have long enough to establish before cold weather.
For aesthetic purposes, dead or damaged leaves may be removed as needed but especially after frosts and hard freezes. Similarly, leaves that overwinter often become “ratty” in appearance with time and may be removed without affecting plant growth.
Rhizomatous begonias have few pests or other problems. Mealy bugs can occasionally infest plants. As with other large-leaved plants, wind or physical contact can tear and damage leaves. In north Florida, winter frosts and freezes can damage and disfigure leaves or kill leaves entirely, causing them to lose structural integrity and collapse, appearing mushy. Foliage may be protected during cold weather by frost cloth, sheets or other typical cold protection strategies, though heavy coverings could themselves damage leaves.
Rhizomes themselves usually survive cold weather because they are insulated from low temperatures by being half-buried in the ground and/or being covered by mulch. Adding mulch regularly to rhizomatous begonia plants will provide increased freeze-protection. Also, their typical planting location under tree canopies protects plants from a radiation freeze. Soil drainage is a more important factor for rhizomes since wet soil conditions could lead to rot, particularly in winter.
Common Types and their Descriptions Under North Florida Conditions
With hundreds of species and thousands of cultivars and hybrids, rhizomatous begonias can be overwhelming. Many rhizomatous begonias look alike and even experts have difficulty distinguishing species and cultivars. Many grown in north Florida have their origins in Mexico, Central and South America, though the Begonia Family is huge and species are found nearly world-wide.
Technically rhizomatous begonias include Rex begonias, a group derived from Asian native, Begonia rex, and known for their especially colorful leaves. However, most Rex begonias do not grow well in Florida’s heat, high rainfall and high humidity, and so these begonias are excluded here.
Begonias listed below represent types that have proven resilient and usually cold hardy in north Florida USDA Cold Hardiness Zone 8b.
Begonia heracleifolia: The species boasts star-shaped leaves up to 6 in. across on stiff, hairy, thick leaf stems (petioles) up to 5 in. long. Each of the pointed leaf lobes is edged in dark green and has a chartreuse stripe along the central midrib, adding contrast. Spectacular sprays of pale pink flowers appear in late winter in clusters measuring 3 ½ in. by 4 ½ in. on 6-in. flower stalks (pedicels). Each cluster contains about 30 or more flowers, each about 1 in. across. As the season goes on, foliage gets showier and showier. It often dies down after winter freezes but re-emerges in late spring.
- nelumbiifolia: This cold hardy begonia is known for its exceptionally large, water lotus-shaped leaves, creating a stunning specimen. Individual leaves can grow as large as 18 in. by 14 in. on leaf stems as long as 36 in. but 12 in. by 9 in. leaves are more typical. As temperatures warm, new developing foliage continues to get bigger, growing into very large leaves by fall. There also is a form in which the medium green leaves have red veining. White flowers are displayed above the foliage in mid to late spring in airy clusters measuring 7 ½ in. to more than 12 in. across on stems up to 48 in. tall. Clusters may contain as many as an astounding 120 flowers, each about ¾ in. across at its widest point.
2. popenoei: Huge rounded leaves with red veins and undersides make this a specimen plant which can grow to 3 ½ ft. tall and wide. Hardy with protection, it throws up tall stalks with clusters of white flowers in late winter.
“Beefsteak”: This catch-all name refers to the original beefsteak begonia, ‘Erythrophylla’, as well as many derivatives that look similar. Beefsteak begonias characteristically have rounded leaves with a glossy green to bronze top surface and reddish undersides. Leaves range in size from 4 to 7 in. in diameter, and flower clusters are on stems up to 18 in. tall. ‘Erythrophylla’ was developed in 1847 and is considered a tough, vigorous plant, hence the common name, “beefsteak”. Given the long history and vigor, ‘Erythrophylla’ and derivative beefsteak begonias have long been shared as pass-along plants, world-wide as potted plants and later as an in-ground Florida garden plant. One type has ruddy, evergreen leaves and long-lasting, bold pink flower clusters. The scalloped 4-in leaves are on short 5 ½ in. reddish leaf stems but are most notable for remaining undamaged by temperatures down to the mid 20s °F, long after all other begonias’ leaves have turned to mush. Mid spring finds this plant topped by numerous clusters of dark pink flowers, with the display lasting 6 weeks or more. Individual clusters are about 8 in. by 5 in. on flower stems about 12 in. tall. Each cluster contains about 20 flowers each about ¾ in. wide at its widest point.
Begonia ‘Big Mac’ in flower
‘Big Mac’: This is a large, vigorous plant with enormous star-shaped leaves having reddish undertones and red leaf stems. The plant grows about 3 ft. tall and 2 ft. wide. Individual leaves may grow up to 18 in. wide on 16-in. leaf stems but typical leaves on younger plants are 10 in. to 12 in. wide. Individual white flowers are an amazing 2 in. wide at their widest point in clusters measuring 7 in. by 12 in. and containing about 75 flowers. Cold winters will knock it to the ground, but this begonia re-emerges again in late spring. This plant was hybridized in 1982 by Paul P. Lowe in Lake Park, Florida.
‘Joe Hayden’: This begonia features dramatic, dark, lobed leaves with burgundy undersides. Leaves are up to 8 in. long supported by leaf stems up to 9 in. long. In spring, the plant is topped by light pink flowers held high above the foliage. Each cluster measures about 5 in. by 7 in. on flower stems up to 26 in. tall. Each cluster contains more than 100 individual flowers, each about ¾ in. across at its widest point. This selection was hybridized in California in 1953 by Rudolf Ziesenhenne, but many similar selections have been made and are often confused with ‘Joe Hayden’.
Begonia ‘Joe Hayden’
Many other cultivars are common, but other cold hardy types suitable for north Florida include ‘Caribbean King’, ‘Caribbean Queen’, ‘Washington State’ and the catch-all ‘Ricinifolia’ types (with large, castor bean-shaped leaves). New breeding by scientists and enthusiasts promises to deliver many more types of rhizomatous begonias with increased foliage cold hardiness and an expanded range of foliage types and colors. A major Texas nursery introduced a series of rhizomatous begonia hybrids marketed as Crown Jewel Begonia™. The series currently features five patent-pending cultivars that are promoted as landscape plants for Zone 8. Additional breeding work is ongoing in north Florida.
Availability and Propagation
Rhizomatous begonias are available from Internet/mail order nurseries, some American Begonia Society members, other gardening groups, and plant societies. The introduction of trademarked rhizomatous begonias like Crown Jewel Begonia™ show promise for wider availability of rhizomatous begonias from nurseries.
Rhizomatous begonias are easily propagated by division, separation of rhizomes, or by rhizome pieces. When planting, place the rhizome or pieces (as small as 2 in. long) horizontally and half buried in a new in-ground location or in a container with potting soil. As with other begonia species, leaves may be used for propagation, though this method usually takes longer to achieve a size suitable for planting in the garden. Plants can be grown from seeds but production time is similarly long.
American Begonia Society. (2020) https://www.begonias.org/index.htm. Accessed 15 April 2020.
Ginori, Julian, Heqiang Huo, and Caroline R. Warwick. (2020) A Beginner’s Guide to Begonias: Classification and Diversity, ENH1317. Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Extension. January 2020. https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep581.
Lowe, Paul. (1991) Growing Rhizomatous Begonias in the Ground in Southern Florida. Begonian 58:89. May/June 1991. https://www.begonias.org/Articles/Vol58/GrowingRhizomatousBegoniasFlorida.htm.
Schoellhorn, R. (2020) Personal communication, Alachua, FL.
Sharp, Peter G. (2011) Down to Earth – with begonias. 111 pp. http://ibegonias.filemakerstudio.com.au/PeterSharp/DownToEarthWithBegonias.pdf.
The International Database of the BEGONIACEAE. (2020) http://ibegonias.filemakerstudio.com.au/index.php?-link=Home. Accessed 16 April 2020.
UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions. (2019) Begonias. http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/ornamentals/begonias.html.
Watkins, Sue. (2020) Personal communication, Tallahassee, FL.
Spring has arrived and so have the insects. Caterpillars are crawling around and one possesses a unique appetite.
Neodiprion spp. is the most common defoliating insect group affecting pine trees. In all, there are 35 species that are native to the U.S. and Canada. The redheaded pine sawfly, Neodiprion lecontei, is the primary species found in the Florida Panhandle.
Adult sawflies can be as large as 1/3 of an inch in length. The female can be two-thirds larger than the male and are mostly black with a reddish-brown head, with occasional white coloration on the sides of the abdomen.
Mature larvae of the redheaded pine sawfly. Credit: Patty Dunlap, Gulf County Master Gardener.
The ovipositor, the tube-like organ used for laying eggs, is saw-like, hence the common name. During the fall, females make slits in pine needles and deposit individual eggs, up to 120 eggs at a time. The eggs are shiny, translucent and white-hued. Mature larvae (caterpillars), as seen in the accompanying photo, are yellow-green, emerge in the spring and feast on pine needles. After weeks of feeding on needles, the mature larvae drop to the ground. The cocoon, a reddish-brown, thin walled cylinder, is spun in the upper layer of the soil horizon or in the leaf litter; this is called the pupae stage. The pupae overwinter, and adults emerge from the cocoon in the spring of the following year.
Mature larvae are attracted to young, open growing pine stands. Pine is the preferred host, but cedar and fir, where native, are secondary food sources. Neodiprion lecontei is an important defoliator of commercially grown pine, as the preferred feeding conditions for sawfly larvae are enhanced in monocultures of shortleaf, loblolly, and slash pine, all of which are commonly cultivated in the southern United States. Defoliation can kill or slow the growth of pine trees as well as predispose trees to other insects or disease.
Are there control methods? Yes, biological control is a major factor, as natural enemies are numerous. Disease, viruses and predators help regulate population control. For small scale control, physically removing eggs or larvae is key. Again, most infestations occur on younger tree plantings, so they’ll be in reach. Be sure to scout young pines for signs of infestation. Horticultural soaps and oils are effective chemical controls, if needed.
For more information, contact your local county extension office.
Supporting information for this article can be found in the UF/IFAS Extension EDIS publication, “Redheaded Pine Sawfly Neodiprion lecontei” by Sara DeBerry: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/IN/IN88200.pdf
UF/IFAS Extension is an Equal Opportunity Institution.