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.
Young Longleaf Pine
All of Florida’s ecosystems contain pine trees. There are seven native species in the state; Sand, Slash, Spruce, Shortleaf, Loblolly, Longleaf, and Pond. Each species grows best in its particular environment. Pines are highly important to wildlife habitats as food and shelter. Several species are equally valuable to Florida’s economy. Slash, Loblolly, and Longleaf are cultivated and managed to provide useful products such as paper, industrial chemicals, and lumber. All pines are evergreens, meaning they keep foliage year-round. The leaves emerge from the axil of each scale leaf into long slender needles clustered together in bundles. Needles are produced at the growing tips of each branch and remain on the tree for several years before turning reddish-brown and falling off. The bundles are referred to as “fascicles”. The length and number of needles in each fascicle is one way to help identify the different pine species.
A handy rule of thumb is that pines starting with “S” have needles in twos, while pines starting with “L” have needles in threes. And slash pine, which starts with “SL” has needles in twos and threes. The pond pine is also a three-needled fascicle. Pay attention to their length and the number that are held in a fascicle. Because the numbers per fascicle may vary, be sure to check several fascicles to get an overall sense for the plant! Longleaf has the longest needle, measuring over 10 inches. While sand pine has the shortest needles at around 2 inches in length. Pine cones are also a means for identification. Typically the longer the needle, the bigger the cone. But, they also vary in attachment and “spinyness’.
Cone of Loblolly Pine, attached directly to the stem
The outer (dorsal) surface of each seed cone scale has a diamond-shaped bulge, or “umbo,” formed by the first year’s growth. The umbo may or may not be armored with a “prickle,” a sharp point but not quite a spine or thorn, at the tip. As the seed cone continues to grow and expand, the exposed area at the end of each scale grows as well. The larger diamond-shaped area around the umbo, formed in the second year of growth, is called the “apophysis.” The shapes of the prickle, umbo, and apophysis can be helpful in identification. The male and female cones are separate structures, but both are present on the same plant. Pollen is produced by male cones and is carried by the wind to female cones where it fertilizes the ovules. Seeds develop and mature inside the female cones (also called the seed cones) for two years, protected by a series of tightly overlapping woody scales. Some pines open their seed cones after two years to release the seeds, while other pines continue to keep their cones tightly closed past maturity and release seeds in response to the heat of a forest fire.
To learn more about Florida’s pines and helpful hint on identification go to:
Throughout history the evergreen tree has been a symbol of life. “Not only green when summer’s here, but also when it’s cold and dreary” as the Christmas carol “O Tannenbaum” says. After such devastating tree losses in the Panhandle this year, this winter is a prime time for installing more native evergreens.
While supporting the cut Christmas tree industry does create jobs and puts money into local economics, every few years considering adding to the urban forest by purchasing a living tree. Native evergreen trees such as Redcedar make a nice Christmas tree that can be planted following the holidays. The dense growth and attractive foliage make Redcedar a favorite for windbreaks, screens and wildlife cover. The heavy berry production provides a favorite food source for migrating Cedar Waxwing birds. Its high salt-tolerance makes it ideal for coastal locations. Their natural pyramidal-shape creates the traditional Christmas tree form, but can be easily pruned as a street tree.
Two species, Juniperus virginiana and Juniperus silicicola are native to Northwest Florida. Many botanists do not separate the two, but as they mature, Juniperus silicicola takes on a softer, more informal look. For those interested in creating a different look, maybe a Holly (Ilex,sp.) or Magnolia with full-to-the-ground branches could be your Christmas tree.
When planning for using a live Christmas tree there are a few things to consider. The tree needs sunlight, so restrict its inside time to less than a week. Make sure there is a catch basin for water under the tree, but never allow water to remain in the tray and don’t add fertilizer. Locate your tree in the coolest part of the room and away from heating ducts and fireplaces. After Christmas, install the new tree in an open, sunny part of the yard. After a few years you will be able to admire the living fence with all the wonderful memories of many years of holiday celebrations. Don’t forget to watch for the Cedar Waxwings in the Redcedar.
By L. Scott Jackson and Julie B. McConnell, UF/IFAS Extension Bay County
Northwest Florida’s pristine natural world is being threaten by a group of non-native plants and animals known collectively as invasive species. Exotic invasive species originate from other continents and have adverse impacts on our native habitats and species. Many of these problem non-natives have nothing to keep them in check since there’s nothing that eats or preys on them in their “new world”. One of the most problematic and widespread invasive plants we have in our local area is air potato vine.
Air potato vine originated in Asia and Africa. It was brought to Florida in the early 1900s. People moved this plant with them using it for food and traditional medicine. However, raw forms of air potato are toxic and consumption is not recommended. This quick growing vine reproduces from tubers or “potatoes”. The potato drops from the vine and grows into the soil to start new vines. Air potato is especially a problem in disturbed areas like utility easements, which can provide easy entry into forests. Significant tree damage can occur in areas with heavy air potato infestation because vines can entirely cover large trees. Some sources report vine growth rates up to eight inches per day!
Air Potato vines covering native shrubs and trees in Bay County, Florida. (Photo by L. Scott Jackson)
Mechanical removal of vines and potatoes from the soil is one control method. Additionally, herbicides are often used to remediate areas dominated by air potato vine but this runs the risk of affecting non-target plants underneath the vine. A new tool for control was introduced to Florida in 2011, the air potato leaf beetle. Air potato beetle releases have been monitored and evaluated by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) researchers and scientists for several years.
Air Potato Beetle crawling on leaf stem. Beetles eat leaves curtailing the growth and impact of air potato. (Photo by Julie B. McConnell)
Air potato beetles target only air potato leaves making them a perfect candidate for biological control. Biological controls aid in the management of target invasive species. Complete eradication is not expected, however suppression and reduced spread of air potato vine is realistic.
UF/IFAS Extension Bay County will host the Air Potato Challenge on June 6, 2018. Citizen scientist will receive air potato beetles and training regarding introduction of beetles into their private property infested with air potato vine. Pre-registration is recommended to receive the air potato beetles. Please visit http://bit.ly/bayairpotato
In conjunction with the Air Potato Challenge, UF/IFAS Extension Bay County will be hosting an invasive species awareness workshop. Dr. Steve Johnson, UF/IFAS Associate Professor of Wildlife Ecology, will be presenting “Exotic Invaders: Reptiles and Amphibians of Concern in Northwest Florida”. Additionally, experts from UF/IFAS Extension, Florida Fish and Wildlife, and the Science and Discovery center will have live exhibits featuring invasive reptiles, lionfish, and plants. For more information visit http://bay.ifas.ufl.edu or call the UF/IFAS Extension Bay County Office at 850-784-6105.
Flyer for Air Potato Challenge and Invasive Species Workshop June 6 2018
Adult grass carp, Ctenopharyngodon idella Val. Credit: Jeffrey E. Hill, University of Florida
Spring is only days away. Everywhere you look, plants of all kinds are awakening to recent rains, longer days, and fertile soils; and this includes aquatic plants as well! Florida has hundreds of aquatic plant species, and they are an often-overlooked feature of Florida’s landscape. Overlooked that is, until the growth of non-native (or even some native) species interferes with use of our waters. Some aquatic plant species can become problematic in Florida waters as their growth interferes with fishing, flood control, navigation, recreation, livestock watering, or irrigation. For these reasons, being knowledgeable about properly managing aquatic plants is important to the many uses of Florida’s waters, whether it be a state managed public waterbody, or your own backyard farm pond.
Any pest, whether plant, animal, or insect, is best managed using “IPM” or Integrated Pest Management. IPM involves using a variety of available management “tools” to control pests in an economically and environmentally sound manner. As in any IPM effort, the first thing to do is identify what is causing the problem. Next, define what your management goals are. Then, research what tools are available for you to manage the problem. And finally, devise and implement your management plan.
In this article, we will look at one of the IPM “tools” used to manage aquatic plants – the grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella Val.). The use of grass carp to manage problematic levels of aquatic plants falls under the general management term of “biological control.” Biological control essentially uses one living organism to control another living organism. Grass carp have become one of the most widely recognized examples of biological control.
The Grass Carp
As the name implies, the grass carp is an herbivorous fish that eats plants. It is native to eastern Russia and China living in large muddy rivers and associated lakes, and is actually one of the largest members of the minnow family. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission the largest triploid grass carp taken in Florida was 15 years old, 56″ long and weighed 75 pounds! The grass carp has been introduced into more than 50 countries and is used as a food item in many places around the world. They are used in nearly all states of the USA to manage aquatic plants.
Introduction into the United States:
“The grass carp was considered for introduction into the U.S. primarily because of its plant-eating diet, which was thought to have great potential for the control of aquatic weeds. In 1963 the U.S. Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife Fish Farming Experiment Station, Stuttgart, Arkansas, in cooperation with Auburn University, imported grass carp for experimental purposes; in 1970, this fish was introduced into Florida primarily for researchers to study its ability to control hydrilla.” (Grass Carp: A Fish for Biological Management of Hydrilla and Other Aquatic Weeds in Florida). “Early release of diploid fish led to reproductive populations in several US drainage systems, including the Mississippi River and major tributaries” (Grass Carp, the White Amur: Ctenopharyngodon idella Cuvier and Valenciennes (Actinopterygii: Cyprinidae: Squaliobarbinae))
Development of the Sterile Triploid
According to the UF/IFAS publication, Grass Carp, the White Amur: Ctenopharyngodon idella Cuvier and Valenciennes (Actinopterygii: Cyprinidae: Squaliobarbinae), “Use of the fish was limited from 1970 until 1984 due to tight regulations surrounding concerns of escape and reproduction, and the potential impacts that colonization of the fish could have on native flora and fauna. These concerns led to research that developed a non-reproductive fish, which was equally effective in controlling hydrilla.” This non-reproductive fish is known as the triploid grass carp. Through a process of subjecting fertilized grass carp eggs to heat, cold, or pressure, the resulting fish have an extra set of chromosomes rendering the fish sterile. Triploid carp have the same herbivorous characteristics as the normal diploid carp, but they are unable to spawn and reproduce. Their inability to reproduce is what makes them a viable tool to manage aquatic plants, and that is because their numbers and feeding pressure can be controlled, they cannot overpopulate a waterbody, nor if they escape, will they overpopulate un-managed areas.
The growth of invasive non-native (or even some native) aquatic plant species can interfere with the many uses of Florida’s waters. This is invasive hydrilla mixed with water lilies in a Florida lake. Photo by Judy Biss
What kinds of aquatic plants do they eat?
The grass carp grazes on many types of aquatic plants, but it does have its preferences. Its most preferred aquatics plants are hydrilla, chara (musk grass), pondweed, southern naiad, and Brazilian elodea. Its least favorite aquatic plants are species such as water lily, sedges, cattails, and filamentous algae. It will, however, graze on many types of plants even shoreline or overhanging vegetation in the absence of its preferred foods. Another reason the grass carp is an effective plant management tool is because it eats many times its body weight in plant material. As stated in Grass Carp, the White Amur: Ctenopharyngodon idella Cuvier and Valenciennes (Actinopterygii: Cyprinidae: Squaliobarbinae), “every 1 lb. increase in fish weight requires 5–6 lbs. of dry hydrilla (Sutton et al. 2012), which—considering hydrilla is 95% water—is a great deal of live plant material.”
Use of Grass Carp as a Biological Control:
Integrating the use of grass carp in aquatic plant management plans is usually cost effective. In many cases involving the use of grass carp, overabundant aquatic weed infestations are first treated with an aquatic herbicide to reduce biomass. The carp are then stocked to control regrowth and to extend the time between herbicide treatments. This can be up to 5 or more years, depending on the situation. One factor in long term control is the survival of the stocked grass carp. They are not without predators as largemouth bass, otters, birds, etc. readily prey on small grass carp. Stocked fish should be at least 12 inches long to help avoid predation and provide plant control. Other considerations to factor into your management plans are the long term, yet non-specific, control that grass carp can provide. If not stocked in the correct manner, they may end up eating aquatic plants that you wish to maintain. Also, if they eat all the aquatic plants, your once clear water may become dominated by algae instead.
How can I get grass carp for my lake or pond?
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) administers the Grass Carp program for Florida. A permit is required before you can purchase carp, and only the sterile triploid carp are permitted for use in Florida. The FWC can answer many questions about the use of grass carp and if this aquatic plant management “tool” is the right one for you to use in your particular situation. In north Florida, the regional FWC office is located at 3911 Highway 2321 Panama City, FL 32409, Phone: 850-767-3638.
What do I need to know about triploid grass carp?
Cost: Triploid grass carp cost between $5 and $15 each and are usually stocked at three to ten fish per acre, resulting in costs as low as $15 per acre. In comparison, herbicides cost between $100 and $500 per acre and mechanical control may cost more than twice that.
Time: Grass carp usually take six months to a year to be effective in reducing problem vegetation, although they provide much longer term control than other methods, often up to five years before restocking is necessary. When used in conjunction with an initial herbicide treatment, control of problem vegetation can be achieved quickly, and fewer carp are required to maintain the desired level of vegetation.
Overstocking: Once stocked in a lake or pond, carp are very difficult to remove. If overstocking occurs, it may be ten years or more before the vegetation community recovers. Even after carp are removed, other herbivores such as turtles may prevent the regrowth of vegetation.
Water Clarity: Aquatic plants remove nutrients in the water. When plants are removed, nutrients may then be utilized by phytoplankton, turning the water green. Clarity may be improved by reducing or eliminating sources of nutrients into the lake such as road runoff and lawn fertilizer.
Inflows/Outflows: It is in the best interest of people stocking carp to keep them in the desired lake or pond. It is also a required condition of the permit. Any inflows or outflows through which carp could escape into other waters require barriers to prevent fish from escaping into waters not permitted.
For more information on this topic, please see the following resources used for this article:
Aquatic and Wetland Plants in Florida
Plant Management in Florida Waters
Grass Carp, the White Amur: Ctenopharyngodon idella Cuvier and Valenciennes (Actinopterygii: Cyprinidae: Squaliobarbinae),
Grass Carp: A Fish for Biological Management of Hydrilla and Other Aquatic Weeds in Florida).
Chinese Grass Carp
FWC Triploid Grass Carp Permit
UF/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants – Aquatic Plant Control Methods
We plant trees with the intention of them being there long after we are gone. However, many trees and shrubs fail before ever reaching maturity. Often this is due to improper installation and establishment. Research has shown that there are techniques to improve survivability. Before digging the hole:
- Look up. If there is a wire, security light, or building nearby that could interfere with proper development as it grows, plant elsewhere.
- Dig a shallow planting hole as wide as possible. Shallow is better than deep! Many people plant trees too deep. A hole about one-and-one-half the diameter of the width of the root ball is recommended. Wider holes should be used for compacted soil and wet sites. In most instances, the depth of the hole should be LESS than the height of the root ball, especially in compacted or wet soil. If the hole was inadvertently dug too deep, add soil and compact it firmly with your foot. .
- Find the point where the top-most root emerges from the trunk. If this is buried in the root ball then remove enough soil from the top so the point where the top-most root emerges from the trunk is at the surface. Burlap on top of the ball may have to be removed to locate the top root.
- Slide the plant carefully into the planting hole. To avoid damage when setting a large tree in the hole, lift the tree with straps or rope around the root ball, not by the trunk. Special strapping mechanisms need to be constructed to carefully lift trees out of large containers.
- Position the plant where the top-most root emerges from the trunk slightly above the landscape soil surface. It is better to plant a little high than to plant it too deep. Remove most of the soil and roots from on top of the root flare and any growing around the trunk or circling the root ball. Once the root flare is at the appropriate depth, pack soil around the root ball to stabilize it. Soil amendments are usually of no benefit. The soil removed from the hole and from on top of the root ball makes the best backfill unless the soil is terrible or contaminated. Insert a square-tipped balling shovel into the root ball tangent to the trunk to remove the entire outside periphery. This removes all circling and descending roots on the outside edge of the root ball.
- Straighten the plant in the hole. Before you begin backfilling have someone view the plant from two directions perpendicular to each other to confirm that it is straight. Break up compacted soil in a large area around the plant provides the newly emerging roots room to expand into loose soil. This will hasten root growth translating into quicker establishment Fill in with some more backfill soil to secure the plant in the upright position.
- Remove synthetic materials from around trunk and root ball. Synthetic burlap needs to be completely removed from the root ball; treated burlap can be left in place. String, strapping, plastic, and other materials that will not decompose and must be removed from the trunk at planting. Remove the wire above the soil surface from wire baskets before backfilling.
- Apply a 3-inch-layer of mulch. To retain moisture and suppress weeds cover the outer half of the root ball with an organic mulch. Do not cover the stem of the plant or the connecting root flare.
- Water consistently until established. For nursery stock less than 2-inches in caliper, this will require every other day for 2 months, followed by weekly 3-4 months. At each irrigation, apply 2 to 3 gallons of water per inch trunk caliper directly over the root ball. Never add irrigation if the ground is saturated.