Overcup on the edge of a wet weather pond in Calhoun County. Photo courtesy of Daniel Leonard.
Haunting alluvial river bottoms and creek beds across the Deep South, is a highly unusual oak species, Overcup Oak (Quercus lyrata). Unlike nearly any other oak, and most sane people, Overcups occur deep in alluvial swamps and spend most of their lives with their feet wet. Though the species hides out along water’s edge in secluded swamps, it has nevertheless been discovered by the horticultural industry and is becoming one of the favorite species of landscape designers and nurserymen around the South. The reasons for Overcup’s rise are numerous, let’s dive into them.
The same Overcup Oak thriving under inundation conditions 2 weeks after a heavy rain. Photo courtesy Daniel Leonard.
First, much of the deep South, especially in the Coastal Plain, is dominated by poorly drained flatwoods soils cut through by river systems and dotted with cypress and blackgum ponds. These conditions call for landscape plants that can handle hot, humid air, excess rainfall, and even periodic inundation (standing water). It stands to reason our best tree options for these areas, Sycamore, Bald Cypress, Red Maple, and others, occur naturally in swamps that mimic these conditions. Overcup Oak is one of these hardy species. It goes above and beyond being able to handle a squishy lawn, and is often found inundated for weeks at a time by more than 20’ of water during the spring floods our river systems experience. The species has even developed an interested adaptation to allow populations to thrive in flooded seasons. Their acorns, preferred food of many waterfowl, are almost totally covered by a buoyant acorn cap, allowing seeds to float downstream until they hit dry land, thus ensuring the species survives and spreads. While it will not survive perpetual inundation like Cypress and Blackgum, if you have a periodically damp area in your lawn where other species struggle, Overcup will shine.
Overcup Oak leaves in August. Note the characteristic “lyre” shape. Photo courtesy Daniel Leonard.
Overcup Oak is also an exceedingly attractive tree. In youth, the species is extremely uniform, with a straight, stout trunk and rounded “lollipop” canopy. This regular habit is maintained into adulthood, where it becomes a stately tree with a distinctly upturned branching habit, lending itself well to mowers and other traffic underneath without having to worry about hitting low-hanging branches. The large, lustrous green leaves are lyre-shaped if you use your imagination (hence the name, Quercus lyrata) and turn a not-unattractive yellowish brown in fall. Overcups especially shine in the winter when the whitish gray shaggy bark takes center stage. The bark is very reminiscent of White Oak or Shagbark Hickory and is exceedingly pretty relative to other landscape trees that can be successfully grown here.
Finally, Overcup Oak is among the easiest to grow landscape trees. We have already discussed its ability to tolerate wet soils and our blazing heat and humidity, but Overcups can also tolerate periodic drought, partial shade, and nearly any soil pH. They are long-lived trees and have no known serious pest or disease problems. They transplant easily from standard nursery containers or dug from a field (if it’s a larger specimen), making establishment in the landscape an easy task. In the establishment phase, defined as the first year or two after transplanting, young transplanted Overcups require only a weekly rain or irrigation event of around 1” (wetter areas may not require any supplemental irrigation) and bi-annual applications of a general purpose fertilizer, 10-10-10 or similar. After that, they are generally on their own without any help!
Typical shaggy bark on 7 year old Overcup Oak. Photo courtesy Daniel Leonard.
If you’ve been looking for an attractive, low-maintenance tree for a pond bank or just generally wet area in your lawn or property, Overcup Oak might be your answer. For more information on Overcup Oak, other landscape trees and native plants, give your local UF/IFAS County Extension office a call!
Dandelions form “blow balls” to disperse seeds by wind. Photo by Joseph OBrien, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org.
A Second Look at Dandelions
Many of us have memories of spotting a dandelion as a child and immediately gravitating toward it, eager to hold it up by the stem and blow with all our might. If all the puffs of white disappeared, we were sure the dandelion would grant us our wish.
Dandelion flowers, leaves, and roots are all edible and contain many vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Photo by Bruce Ackley, The Ohio State University, Bugwood.org.
As an adult, spotting a dandelion may still remind you of the good ole days, but when they begin to encroach upon your lawn or garden, they are likely to be seen less as a friend and more as a foe.
Perhaps the reason they give landscapers headaches is because dandelions thrive in many conditions. They have the ability to grow in the sun and in the shade, and they do well in both disturbed and undisturbed soils. Once more, they thrive in moist environments, and because they are perennials capable of developing long taproots, they also do well in dry environments. A dandelion taproot can grow as deep as three feet in search of water.
Dandelions are an important early season nectar and pollen source for bees, such as for this carpenter bee. Photo by Ansel Oommen, Bugwood.org.
Although the common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is native to Eurasia, it is naturalized to North America and is believed to have arrived with European settlers in the 1600s. At first glance, you may wonder why colonists bothered to transport such a small yellow flower so far. As it turns out, dandelion flowers, leaves, and taproots are all edible, serving as great sources of fiber and vitamins A, C, and K. Additionally, they are a source of antioxidants, such as beta-carotene, and minerals such as iron, calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Coupled with their ability to thrive in many conditions, you can see why dandelions made a great edition to colonial herb gardens.
Since their arrival in North America, dandelions have become an important early season nectar and pollen source for bees, and they help support both the larval and mature stages of some species of butterflies and moths. Additionally, dandelions can be a food source for wildlife, such as white-tailed deer, quail, wild turkeys, and rabbits.
A single dandelion “flower” can have more than 100 florets that each develop into a seed-like fruit that has a parachute-like pappus that can carry the seed up to five miles away. Photo by Joseph Berger, Bugwood.org.
A member of the Aster family, dandelions are related to lettuce, artichokes, and sunflowers. When you look at a dandelion flower, you are actually seeing many, many tiny flowers, called florets. A single dandelion “flower” can have more than 100 florets that open in the morning and typically close at night. After a few days, the florets remain closed and each develops a seed-like fruit atop a hollow flower stalk. As the seeds mature, the flower stalk elongates up to two feet high and a tall standing “blow ball” forms. Each ball is comprised of many seeds, each attached to a tuft of bristles, or pappus, that can use the wind to parachute the seed up to five miles away.
So next time you notice a patch of dandelions standing tall on the landscape, put down your herbicide and take a closer look. Observe the visits from hungry bees and butterflies, perhaps pluck some fresh flower petals to add to your morning pancakes, and then pick out your favorite puff of white and make a wish.
There aren’t a lot of quality landscape plant options that fit the description nearly every homeowner desires: native, low-maintenance, slow-growing, pest free, drought tolerant while tolerating wet soils, loving both sun or shade, and green year-round. Needle Palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix) is the rare plant that checks all those boxes and deserves consideration when adding plants to your landscape!
Mature Need Palm at Eden Gardens State Park in Walton County. Photo courtesy the author.
Needle Palm is an endangered native, growing in a narrow range in the coastal Southeastern US, Calhoun and Liberty counties included. It is primarily found in the understories of wet wooded areas along slopes, ravines, and bottoms; if you’ve ever hiked the Apalachicola Ravines or Torreya State Park trails, you’ve likely encountered Needle Palm in the wild! Being native is nice, but what makes Needle Palm an outstanding landscape option?
Needle Palm is the prettier, more refined cousin of Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens), which it is sometimes confused with. Unlike the rambling, aggressive, stiff-leaved palmetto, Needle palm possesses “softer”, finely cut, lustrous evergreen leaves, allowing it to add amazing texture to any landscape. Also, unlike palmetto, it doesn’t need a yearly “cleaning” to prune out brown, dead leaves, rather its leaves persist green and clean for many years! You might not want to reach into the interior of a Needle Palm plant anyway, as generally unseen 6-8” namesake “needles” surround the base of its trunk. Needle Palm grows very slowly, eventually reaching 8’ tall or so, but is more often seen in the 4-6’ range in landscapes. This is absolutely a shrub that will never outgrow its welcome. It is a nearly trunkless palm, almost always appearing as a shrub, though with extreme old age it can begin to look a bit like a small tree with a muted trunk. With outstanding aesthetics and a low-maintenance growth habit, Needle Palm has a place in nearly any landscape.
6 year old needle palm grouping growing in author’s landscape.
In the landscape, Needle Palm does best when sited with some shade in the afternoon but also thrives in full sun. They appreciate regular water during establishment but survive on their own without any extra irrigation after! Needle Palm also doesn’t need much in the way of supplemental fertilization. They do look their best with a light spring application of a general purpose, slow-release fertilizer, but this is not required. Needle Palms are not afflicted with the pest and pathogen problems the much more commonly used non-native Sago Palms (Cycas revlolutas) attracts. I’ve grown Needle Palm for 6 years in the landscape and have never noticed any pest or disease issues. With Needle Palms becoming more common in the nursery trade, I don’t see a place in most landscapes for the inferior, high-maintenance, insect infested Sagos. If you want the tropical, textured look of Sagos, plant Needle Palm instead.
Needle Palm is an extremely attractive, low-maintenance Northwest Florida native plant that you should absolutely seek out and add to your landscape! If you want more information or have any questions about Needle Palm or any other landscape/garden topic, please give us a call at the UF/IFAS Calhoun County Extension Office. Happy Gardening!
Over 1.8 million Monarch butterflies have been tagged and tracked over the past 27 years. This October these iconic beauties will flutter through the Florida Panhandle on their way to the Oyamel fir forests on 12 mountaintops in central Mexico. Monarch Watch volunteers and citizen scientists will be waiting to record, tag and release the butterflies in hopes of learning more about their migration and what the 2019 population count will be.
This spring, scientists from World Wildlife Fund Mexico estimated the population size of the overwintering Monarchs to be 6.05 hectacres of trees covered in orange. As the weather warmed, the butterflies headed north towards Canada (about three weeks early). It’s an impressive 2,000 mile adventure for an animal weighing less than 1 gram. Those butterflies west of the Rocky Mountains headed up California; while the eastern insects traveled over the “corn belt” and into New England. When August brought cooler days, all the Monarchs headed back south.
What the 2018 Monarch Watch data revealed was alarming. The returning eastern Monarch butterfly population had increased by 144 percent, the highest count since 2006. But, the count still represented a decline of 90% from historic levels of the 1990’s. Additionally, the western population plummeted to a record low of 30,000, down from 1.2 million two decades ago. With estimated populations around 42 million, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began the process of deciding whether to list the Monarch butterfly as endangered or threatened in 2014. With the additional information, FWS set a deadline of June 2019 to decide whether to pursue the listing.
Scientists estimate that 6 hectacres is the threshold to be out of the immediate danger of migratory collapse. To put things in scale: A single winter storm in January 2002 killed an estimated 500 million Monarchs in their Mexico home. However, with recent changes on the status of the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has delayed its decision until December 2020. One more year of data may be helpful to monarch conservation efforts.
Individuals can help with the monitoring and restoring the Monarch butterflies habitat. There are two scheduled tagging events in Panhandle, possibly more. St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge is holding their Butterfly Festival on Saturday, October 26 from 10a.m. to 4 p.m. Henderson Beach State Park in Destin will have 200 butterflies to tag and release on Saturday, November from 9 – 11 a.m. Ask around in the local area. There may be more opportunities.
There is something more you can do to increase the success of the butterflies along their migratory path – plant more Milkweed (Asclepias spp.). It’s the only plant the Monarch caterpillar will eat. When they leave their hibernation in Mexico around February or March, the adults must find Milkweed all along the path to Canada in order to lay their eggs. Butterflies only live two to six weeks. They must mate and lay eggs along the way in order for the population to continue its flight. Each generation must have Milkweed about every 700 miles. Check with the local nurseries for plants. Though orange is the most common native species, Milkweed comes in many colors and leaf shapes.
Common Salvinia Covering Farm pond in Gadsden County
Photo Credit – Shep Eubanks UF/IFAS Gadsden County Extension
Close up of common Salvinia
Photo Credit – Shep Eubanks UF/IFAS Gadsden County Extension
Aquatic weed problems are common in the panhandle of Florida. Common Salvinia (Salvinia minima) is a persistent invasive weed problem found in many ponds in Gadsden County. There are ten species of salvinia in the tropical Americas but none are native to Florida. They are actually floating ferns that measure about 3/4 inch in length. Typically it is found in still waters that contain high organic matter. It can be found free-floating or in the mud. The leaves are round to somewhat broadly elliptic, (0.4–1 in long), with the upper surface having 4-pronged hairs and the lower surface is hairy. It commonly occurs in freshwater ponds and swamps from the peninsula to the central panhandle of Florida.
Reproduction is by spores, or fragmentation of plants, and it can proliferate rapidly allowing it to be an aggressive invasive species. When these colonies cover the surface of a pond as pictured above they need to be controlled as the risk of oxygen depletion and fish kill is a possibility. If the pond is heavily infested with weeds, it may be possible (depending on the herbicide chosen) to treat the pond in sections and let each section decompose for about two weeks before treating another section. Aeration, particularly at night, for several days after treatment may help control the oxygen depletion.
Control measures include raking or seining, but remember that fragmentation propagates the plant. Grass carp will consume salvinia but are usually not effective for total control. Chemical control measures include :carfentrazone, diquat, fluridone, flumioxazin, glyphosate, imazamox, and penoxsulam.
For more information reference these IFAS publications:
Efficacy of Herbicide Active ingredients Against Aquatic Weeds
For help with controlling Common salvinia consult with your local Extension Agent for weed control recommendations, as needed.
Yellow asters such as sneezeweed bloom profusely during summertime in the flatwoods.
Our coastal habitats are some of the most beautiful on the planet. Where else can you have the breathtaking, wide open vistas of our salt marshes, the incredible productivity of our nearshore bays, and the expansive pinelands in the adjacent uplands. Year-round opportunities abound to be outside and enjoy the natural resources we are blessed with. Just go prepared for the inevitable encounter with some of our bloodsucking flies and midges that are part of the package deal. A pair of binoculars, snacks, water and proper clothing provide the makings of a great day out, but I would also recommend a picture-taking device of some sort. I’ve basically given up on the heavier camera gear and the notion of getting long-distance close-ups. I now rely on my cell phone or a small digital camera; mainly for taking photos of flowers, bugs, and anything else that doesn’t require stealth and patience to shoot.
One of the best habitats to explore during this time of year for capturing memorable images is the upland pine flatwoods that is so abundant in the Florida Panhandle. There is no shortage of public lands that display some of the most well-managed pineland landscapes in the nation. Pineland ecosystems in the Southeast have been intimately linked with a natural fire regime, long before Europeans came on the scene. Successional cycles of increasing shrubby growth over time and the ability of the landscape to carry a fire after a lightning strike, have allowed these areas to develop with the “park-like” vista of a pine tree savanna in many cases. When fire is excluded by people, these ecosystems gradually convert to more hardwood species that tend to shade-out herbaceous growth on the ground and reduce the opportunity for new pine seedlings to become established. Professional land managers who work hard to mimic natural fire cycles on the lands they manage produce some astounding results. I can attest, as many of the areas where I hunt turkeys each spring are chosen more for the beauty of the landscape than the abundance of gobblers. Although fewer gobblers is not typically the ideal hunting scenario, the silver lining comes in the form of less competition with other hunters.
This spring I hunted in part of the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge and had a nice mix of fairly recently burned pinelands to explore. Some were burned this spring, and was just starting to green-up with newly emerging grasses and forbs. Other areas were burned a year or two ago and you would never know it except for the charred bark on tree trunks. These areas recover to full greenery in a very short time. The foot-high wild blueberry bushes were loaded with green berries for summer wildlife feasts to come, and the photo opportunities for wildflowers abounded. Fire is so important in retaining a high species diversity in these habitats. Opening up the canopy allows sunlight to filter through to the forest floor and the recycling of nutrients in the ash supports many unique plants. There are several terrestrial orchids that bloom in the wetter soils (grass pink, colic root, lady’s tresses, etc.), and yellow flowers are prolific right now (St. John’s wort, sneeze weed, candy root and many more). I even saw some parrot pitcher plants in one wet spot, noticeable mainly by their tall maroon flowers. Fetterbush and staggerbush are also blooming with small flowers that look similar to blueberry blooms. The difference in scent of these two Lyonia shrubs is an easy way to tell them apart with fetterbush having a strong musky (not totally unpleasant) smell, while staggerbush (rusty Lyonia) has one of the sweetest, most pleasant smells of spring in the flatwoods.
So, while I did have the opportunity to chase around a gobbler this spring (who easily out-maneuvered me), I truly enjoyed my week of annual leave spent reconnecting with something that we too often take for granted. Take time to locate the state parks, national wildlife refuges, state forests and other public lands in your region. Then go outside. I mean it; none of us should miss the chance of a lifetime to see what we really have here.
Crow poison, also know as Osceola’s plume shows up in wet flatwoods, most noticeably after a fire.