Fall Color Without Popcorn Trees

Fall Color Without Popcorn Trees

As the trees begin to turn various shades of red, many people begin to inquire about the Popcorn trees. While their autumn coloration is one of the reasons they were introduced to the Florida environment, it took years for us to realize what a menace Popcorn trees have become. Triadica sebifera, the Chinese tallowtree or Popcorn tree, was introduced to Charleston, South Carolina in the late 1700s for oil production and use in making candles, earning it another common name, the Candleberry tree. Since then, it has spread to every coastal state from North Carolina to Texas, and inland to Arkansas. In Florida it occurs as far south as Tampa. It is most likely to spread to wildlands adjacent to or downstream from areas landscaped with Triadica sebifera, displacing other native plant species in those habitats. Therefore, Chinese tallowtree was listed as a noxious weed by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Noxious Weed List (5b-57.007 FAC) in 1998, which means that possession with the intent to sell, transport, or plant is illegal in the state of Florida. The common name of Florida Aspen is sometimes used to market Popcorn tree in mail-order ads. Remember it’s still the same plant.

Although Florida is not known for the brilliant fall color enjoyed by other northern and western states, we do have a number of trees that provide some fall color for our North Florida landscapes. Red maple, Acer rubrum, provides brilliant red, orange and sometimes yellow leaves. The native Florida maple, Acer floridum, displays a combination of bright yellow and orange color during fall.  And there are many Trident and Japanese maples that provide striking fall color.  Another excellent native tree is Blackgum, Nyssa sylvatica. This tree is a little slow in its growth rate but can eventually grow to seventy-five feet in height. It provides the earliest show of red to deep purple fall foliage. Others include Persimmon, Diospyros virginiana, Sumac, Rhus spp. and Sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua. In cultivated trees that pose no threat to native ecosystems, Crape myrtle, Lagerstroemia spp. offers varying degrees of orange, red and yellow in its leaves before they fall. There are many cultivars – some that grow several feet to others that reach nearly thirty feet in height. Also, Chinese pistache, Pistacia chinensis, can deliver a brilliant orange display.

                                                                  Young Trident maple with fall foliage. Photo credit: Larry Williams

There are a number of dependable oaks for fall color, too. Shumardi, Southern Red and Turkey are a few to consider. These oaks have dark green deeply lobed leaves during summer turning vivid red to orange in fall. Turkey oak holds onto its leaves all winter as they turn to brown and are pushed off by new spring growth. Our native Yellow poplar, Liriodendron tulipifera, and hickories, Carya spp., provide bright yellow fall foliage. And it’s difficult to find a more crisp yellow than fallen Ginkgo, Ginkgo biloba, leaves. These trees represent just a few choices for fall color. Including one or several of these trees in your landscape, rather than allowing the Popcorn trees to grow, will enhance the season while protecting the ecosystem from invasive plant pests.

For more information on Chinese tallowtree, removal techniques and native alternative trees go to: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ag148.

 

A Pretty Problem: Invasives Which Bloom in Autumn

A Pretty Problem: Invasives Which Bloom in Autumn

Lantana and Mexican Petunia blooms

Lantana, on the left, and Mexican Petunia, on the right, are both exotic invasive plants which can displace many native species and disrupt the natural balance.

Autumn is usually considered the season of colors in the natural parts of north Florida, and other locations in North America. This tonal attribute is commonly credited to the foliage changes as the growing season ends.

Maples, sweet gums, hickory and many others make their contributions to the natural palette of shades and hues which have existed since long before human habitation in the area. Even some of the native plants add to the display.

Goldenrod and dogfennel add highlights to the brilliant display as winter, believe it or not, approaches. Unfortunately there are some attractive shades in the exhibition which are an indication of exotic invasive plants which have pushed out native.

Both lantana and Mexican petunias are currently blooming, but an indication of problem species. Both were introduces as ornamental plants, but quickly escaped into the wild where they could colonize unchecked.

Lantana (Lantana camara) is a woody shrub native to tropical zones of North and South America. It flowers profusely throughout much of the growing season.

Because of the plant’s ornamental nature, many different flower colors exist, but the most frequent color combinations are red and yellow along with purple and white. Lantana is now commonly found in naturalized populations throughout the southeastern United States from Florida to Texas.

It is currently ranked as one of the top ten most troublesome weeds in Florida and has documented occurrences in 58 of 67 counties. Curiously, despite the bad reputation it is still found in home and commercial landscapes.

As part of its arsenal of conquest, Lantana produces allelochemicals, or plant toxins, in its roots and stems. These allelochemicals have been shown to either slow the growth of other plants or totally remove them.

Some of these same chemicals give lantana an acrid taste and deter insects or other animals from consuming the leaves. Of importance to pet and livestock owners, these leaf toxins are damaging to animals.

If animals consume the leaves, they often begin to show symptoms of skin peeling or cracking. Once animals show these symptoms, there is little or no treatment that can reverse the process.

Although lantana’s leaves are poisonous, its berries are not. Birds readily consume the fruit and are responsible for much of the seed’s distribution over wide areas.

Mexican petunia (Ruellia simplex) is a native of Mexico, but also the Antilles and parts of South America. Its tolerance of varying landscape conditions makes it a common choice for difficult to plant areas and has contributed to it popularity and wide use.

Mexican petunia tolerates shade, sun, wet, dry, and poor soil conditions. It is a prolific bloomer with flowers in shades of purple and pink peaking in the summer, but with the potential to also bloom in spring and fall in some parts of Florida.

Environmental tolerance, abundant seed production, and an ability to easily grow from plant cuttings have all promoted the spread into natural areas bordering developments. The Mexican petunia has been credited with “altering native plant communities by displacing native species, changing community structures or ecological functions, or hybridizing with natives” according to the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council in 2011.

Given the continued popularity of both species, plant breeders have developed sterile, non-reproducing cultivars which do not have the negative characteristics of these problem plants. It is recommended using only the sterile type so autumn’s colors continue to be natural.

To learn more about north Florida’s colorful invasive plants, contact the local UF/IFAS County Extension Office. Click here for contact information.

Now is the Time to Start Preparing for Cool-Season Food Plots

Now is the Time to Start Preparing for Cool-Season Food Plots

A buck chases a doe through plots of wildlife forages being evaluated at the University of Florida’s North Florida Research and Education Center. Photo Courtesy of Holly Ober

I know it feels too hot outside to talk about hunting season or cool-season food plots, but planting time will be here before you know it and now’s the time to start preparing. The recommended planting date for practically all cool-season forage crops in Northwest Florida is October 1 – November 15. Assuming adequate soil moisture, planting during the first half of the range is preferred. Between now and planting time there are several factors that need to be considered and addressed.

Invasive and/or Perennial Weed Control – Deer and other wildlife species utilize many soft/annual “weeds” as forage so controlling them is usually not a major concern. But from time to time unwanted perennials (grasses and woody shrubs) need to be controlled. An unfortunate and all too common example of and unwanted perennial is cogongrass – a highly invasive grass that should always be controlled if found. Effective control of perennial weeds, like cogongrass generally involves the use of herbicides. Late summer/early fall is a very effective time to treat unwanted perennials. Fortunately, this coincides well with the transition between warm-season and cool-season forages. If you have unwanted, perennial weeds in your food plots get them identified now and controlled before you plant your cool-season forages.

Cogongrass shown here with seedheads – more typically seen in the spring. If you suspect you have cogongrass in or around your food plots please consult your UF/IFAS Extension Agent how control options.
Photo credit: Mark Mauldin

Soil Fertility Management – In my experience, the most common cause for poor plant performance in food plots is inadequate soil fertility. Before planting time collect and submit soil samples from each of your food plots. Laboratory analysis of the samples will let you know the fertilizer and lime requirements of the upcoming cool-season crop. It is very important to have the analysis performed prior to planting so performance hindering issues can be prevented. Otherwise, during the growing season, by the time you realize something is wrong, it will likely be too late to effectively address the problem. This is particularly true if the issue is related to soil pH. To affect soil pH in a timely manner lime needs to be incorporated into the soil. Incorporation is impossible after the new crop has been planted. Soil analysis performed at the University of Florida’s Extension Soil Testing Lab cost $7 per sample. Your county’s UF/IFAS Extension Agent can assist you with the collection and submission process as well as help you interpret the results.

Variety Selection & Seed Sourcing – Sometimes it takes some time to find the best products/varieties. Just because forage seeds are sold locally doesn’t mean that the crop or specific variety is well suited to this area. The high temperatures and disease pressure associated with Florida, even in the “cool-season” mean that many products that do very well in other parts of the country may struggle here. Below are some specific forages that are favored by wildlife (specifically white-tailed deer) and generally well adapted to Florida. You may discover that these varieties are not sitting on the shelf at the local feed & seed. Often local suppliers can get specific varieties, but they must be special ordered, which adds time to the process. Hence the need to start planning and sourcing seed early.

If you are debating trying food plots on your property for the first time, please carefully consider the following. Food plots are not easy – Making productive food plots that provide a measurable, positive impact to the wildlife on your property takes considerable time, effort, and money. Considering this, food plots really only make sense when viewed as habitat improvements that provide long term benefits to multiple wildlife species. If you are looking for nothing more than a deer attractant during hunting season food plots are not a very practical option. For more information on getting started with food plots contact your county’s UF/IFAS Extension Office and check out the reference below.

Researchers Test Traps for Controlling Deepwater Invasive Lionfish

Researchers Test Traps for Controlling Deepwater Invasive Lionfish

Written By: Laura Tiu, Holden Harris, and Alexander Fogg

Non-containment lionfish traps being tested by the University of Florida offshore Destin, FL. Invasive lionfish are attracted to the lattice structure, then captured by netting when the trap is pulled from the sea floor. The trap may have the potential to control lionfish densities at depths not accessible by SCUBA divers. [ALEX FOGG/CONTRIBUTED PHOTO]

It’s early morning as Dreadknot Charters speeds out of Destin Harbor towards the offshore reefs in the Gulf of Mexico. Researchers Holden Harris (Graduate Research Fellow, University of Florida), Alex Fogg, (Marine Resource Coordinator, Okaloosa County), and the Dreadknot crew, Josh and Joe Livingston, ready their equipment on board. They’re working on a new method of capturing invasive lionfish: deepwater traps.

Red lionfish (Pterois volitas / P. miles) are a popular aquarium fish with striking red and white strips and graceful, butterfly-like fins. Native to the Indo-Pacific region, lionfish were introduced into the wild in the mid-1980s, likely from the release of pet lionfish into the coastal waters of SE Florida. In the early 2000s lionfish spread throughout the US eastern seaboard and into the Caribbean, before reaching the northern Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Today, lionfish densities in the northern Gulf are higher than anywhere else in their invaded range.

Invasive lionfish negatively affect native reef communities. They consume and compete with native reef fish, including economically important snappers and groupers. Their presence has shown to drive declines in native species and diversity. Lionfish possess 18 venomous spines that appear to deter native predators. The interaction of invasive lionfish with other reef stressors – including ocean acidification, overfishing, and pollution – is of concern to scientists.

Lionfish harvest by recreational and commercial divers is currently the best means of controlling their densities and minimizing their ecological impacts. Lionfish specific spearfishing tournaments have proven successful in removing large amounts in a relatively short amount of time. This year’s Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day removed almost 15,000 lionfish from the Northwest Florida waters in just two days. Lionfish is considered to be an excellent quality seafood, and they are now being targeted by a handful of commercial divers. Several Florida restaurants, seafood markets, and grocery stores chains are now regularly serving lionfish.

While diver removals can control localized lionfish densities, the problem is that lionfish also inhabit reefs much deeper than those that can be accessed by SCUBA divers. Surveys of deepwater reefs show lionfish have higher densities and larger body sizes than lionfish on shallower reefs. In the Gulf of Mexico, the highest densities of lionfish surveyed were between 150 – 300 feet. While SCUBA diving is typically limited to less than 130 feet, lionfish have been observed deeper than 1000 feet.

For the past several years, researchers have been working to develop a trap that may be able to harvest lionfish from deep water. Dr. Steve Gittings, Chief Scientist for the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has spearheaded the design for a “non-containment” lionfish trap. The design works to “bait” lionfish by offering a structure that attracts them. The trap remains open while deployed on the sea floor, allowing fish to move in and out of the trap footprint. When the trap is retrieved, a netting is pulled up around

Deep water lionfish traps being tested by the University of Florida offshore Destin, FL. [ALEX FOGG/CONTRIBUTED PHOTO]

the fish inside and they are brought to the surface.

The researchers are headed offshore to retrieve, redeploy, and collect data on the lionfish traps. Twelve non-containment traps are currently being tested offshore NW Florida. The research is supported by a grant from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The study will try to answer important questions for a new method of catching lionfish: where and how can the traps be most effective? How long should they be deployed? And, is there any bycatch (accidental catch of other species)?

Recent trials have proved successful in attracting lionfish to the trap with minimal bycatch. Continued research will hone the trap design and assess how deployment and retrieval methods may increase their effectiveness. If successful in testing, lionfish traps may become permitted for use by commercial and recreational fisherman. The traps could become a key tool in our quest to control this invasive species and may even generate income while protecting the deepwater environment.

Outreach and extension support for the UF’s lionfish trap research is provided by Florida Sea Grant. For more information contact Dr. Laura Tiu, Okaloosa and Walton Counties Sea Grant Extension Agent, at lgtiu@ufl.edu / 850-689-5850 (Okaloosa) / 850-892-8172 (Walton).

An Unwanted Invasive Plant; Beach Vitex

An Unwanted Invasive Plant; Beach Vitex

This week’s article is a bit different… it is about nature we hope you DO NOT see – but hope you let us know if you do. Most of you know that Florida, along with many other states, continually battle invasive species.  From Burmese pythons, to lionfish, to monitor lizards, we have problems with them all.  Many of our invasive species are plants, which grow aggressively and take over habitats.  They have few, if any, predators to control their populations and can cause environmental or economic problems for us.

The pretty, but invasive, beach vitex. Photo: Rick O’Connor

The best way to tackle an invasive species is to detect it when it first arrives and remove it as quickly as possible – this provides you the best chance of actually eradicating it from an area at the lowest cost. One such invasive plant that has recently invaded Escambia and Santa Rosa county beaches is Beach Vitex (Vitex rotundifolia).

 

Beach vitex is a vine that grows along the surface of sandy areas, like dunes. It has a main taproot from which the runners (stolons) extend in a radiating pattern, like a skinny-legged starfish.  The stolons will develop secondary roots, which can form smaller deep root systems, and the entire maze of vines grows very quickly in the summer.  The leaves are ovate, more round than elongated, and have a grayish-blue-green color to them – they tend to stand out from other plants.  The plant can grow vertically to about three feet, giving it a bush appearance.

 

Another key characteristic for identification are the lavender flowers it produces, few other plants in our dunes do – so this is a good thing to look for. The flowers appear in late spring and summer.  They are actually quite pretty.  In the fall, the flowers are replaced by numerous large seeds, which form in clusters where the flowers were.  These seeds are problematic in that they can remain viable for up to six months if they fall into the water – increasing their chance for dispersal.

 

So what is the problem?

In the Carolina’s this species was planted intentionally. They quickly learned of its aggressive nature and have had a state task force to battle it.  The plant is allopathic – it can release toxins that kill neighboring plants allowing them to move into that space – this includes sea oats.  Beach vitex has a taproot system, unlike the fibrous one of the sea oat, and cannot stabilize a dune as well – which is a problem during storms.  In the Carolina’s there are numerous beach fronts where this is the only plant growing, a problem waiting to happen.  Though there are no reports of it happening, it also has the potential to affect sea turtle nesting.

Beach Vitex Blossom. Photo credit: Rick O’Connor

So what do I do if I see it?

Contact us… You can contact me at roc1@ufl.edu, or call (850) 475-5230.  Try to give us the best description of where the location is as you can.  Many phones now come with an app that has a compass.  This app also gives you your latitude and longitude.  If your phone does not have this, again, give us the best description of the location you can.  If you can include a photograph, that would be great.  There are numerous other invasive species roaming our area, and you are welcome to report any you find to us.  We hope to stay on top of these early arrivals and keep them under control.

Invasive Species Awareness Day a Success

Invasive Species Awareness Day a Success

Steve Johnson UF/IFAS Extension shares Exotic Invaders: Reptiles and Amphibians of Concern in Northwest Florida. (Updated June 7 2018 – 10AM CDT) http://www.eddmaps.org and http://ufwildlife.ifas.ufl.edu/steve_johnson.shtml

 

Rick tells us about the ball python, a potential invasive species. Rick also provides an overview of keeping pythons and other snakes as pets. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/UW/UW34100.pdf

Holli tells us about the Wildlife Assistance program for homeowners and property owners. Holli helps out find solutions for negative encounters with Wildlife. Most problems are easily solved and she provides a few tips. Holli also tells us about the FWC Pet Amnesty Program for Exotic Pets. Watch to learn more. http://myfwc.com/conse…/you-conserve/assistnuisance-wildlife

Kira shows off the tokay gecko we found at the Extension office on the front porch earlier in May. The Gecko moved in with Kira and her other reptiles at the Science and Discovery Center.
http://myfwc.com/wildlifeha…/nonnatives/reptiles/tokay-gecko

Kira introduces us to Jewel the iguana and Eva, a boa contrictor. She also tells us more about the Science and Discovery Center in Northwest Florida. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/IN/IN52800.pdf and http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/UW/UW34200.pdf

 

Mike Kennison shares resources and efforts to manage lionfish in Florida waters. Learn more about this Summer’s Lionfish Challenge at http://myfwc.com/…/saltwater/recreational/lionfish/challenge

 

Derek Fussell with FWC Invasive Aquatic Plant Management talks about Giant Salvinia, a species of concern for Deer Point Lake in Bay County, Florida. Here’s a link to a story about the discovery of giant salvinia in Bay County from 2016 http://nwdistrict.ifas.ufl.edu/…/nisaw-2016-working…

 

Derek Fussell shares a behind the scene’s view of their new boat for controling aquatic plants in Bay County and Northwest Florida. We will visit with Derek and Jamie later and show some of the aquatic invasives they work to control everyday!

 

 

Scott Jackson and Julie McConnell show Air Potato Beetles and discuss vine look-alikes. Schedule for the June 6, 2018 is briefly discussed. https://t.co/8c9KdV9Ezm More at https://t.co/gVh28N714E#airpotatochallenge #invasivespecies