Upcoming events

Santa Rosa County

Panhandle Butterfly House: Looking for somewhere to take the kids this summer? The Panhandle Butterfly House, located in Navarre Park, is open to the public Thursday through Saturday from 10am to 3pm. For more information, visit the website at www.panhandlebutterflyhouse.org.

Plant Clinic: Theresa Friday and the Santa Rosa County Master Gardeners can help you identify plant, weeds or insects and talk to you about your landscape problems. The clinic is open every Tuesday from 9am to 1pm at the South Santa Rosa Service Center. Go to http://santarosa.ifas.ufl.edu/lawn_garden_diagnostic.shtml for more information.

Photo Contest: As part of the 2011 Monarch Madness Butterfly Festival, a photo contest is being conducted. Awards will be given in each of two categories: Adult (age 18 and up) and Junior (age 17 and below). Original photos of butterflies can be submitted August 12 through September 5, 2011. For information on how to submit your entry, go to the website at www.panhandlebutterflyhouse.org.

Buttonbush: A Pollinator’s Favorite

Sheila Dunning
Horticulture Agent
Okaloosa County Extension

Beginning in 2007, the US Senate, in support of the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign, declared the last week of June as “National Pollinator Week.”  As humans, we depend on pollen-moving animals for one out of every three bites of food.  Without birds, bees, bats, beetles, butterflies and various other animals, many flowers would fail to reproduce.  In Florida, there are numerous native plants that serve as hosts for these pollinators.  One of the favorites, due to its heavy flowering over the summer, is Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis).  It is a semi-aquatic woody shrub to small tree form.  It develops white golf-ball-sized clusters of fragrant flowers that attract various pollinating animals.  Bees of various species, several different wasps, assorted moths and butterflies, flies and even hummingbirds scramble for the flowers’ sweet treat within each of the trumpet shaped flowers.

Red Admiral butterfly on a buttonbush flower cluster. Photo Credits: Sheila Dunning

The pincushion like flower balls of the Buttonbush stand on two inch stalks in clusters arising from stem tips and leaf axils.  They are produced over a long period in late spring and summer. The flowers give way to little reddish-brown nutlets which persist on the through the winter.  Buttonbush seeds are important wildlife food, especially for ducks; and the dense, impenetrable tickets provide nesting and escape cover for many wetland birds and herptiles (reptiles and amphibians).  Buttonbush is a fast-growing wetland plant that can be grown in a naturalized landscape if given supplemental water during dry spells.  It is at its best, through, in an area where the soil is frequently wet and can tolerate soggy soils.  Buttonbush is not drought or salt tolerant.  The deciduous shrub grows well in full sun to partial shade on soils that are acidic to slightly alkaline.  The leaves of Buttonbush turn yellow in the fall before dropping off.  While short-lived, requiring rejuvenation pruning to improve its longevity, Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) serves a critical role to wildlife in the wetland habitat.  Deer browse the foliage and twigs.  Ducks, especially the mallard, eat the seeds.  And, the summer flowers attract bees, butterflies and moths that are wonderful pollinators.

Ganoderma Butt Rot

Ken Rudisill
Horticulture Agent
Bay County Extension

Last month, as I was driving to work, I noticed a Pindo Palm that was definitely dying, or should I say, it was dead. I wondered what killed the tree. As I drove by I stopped and I quickly figured it out. The tree had succumbed to Ganoderma butt rot.

Diseased palm on the left, healthy palm on the right. Photo Credits: Dr. M.Elliott,UF/IFAS

Ganoderma butt rot is caused by a fungus (Ganoderma zonatum) that eventually rots the lower portion of the palm. This fungus is not a primary fungus to other plants, just palms.

Stages of conks. Photo Credits: Dr. M. Elliott, UF/IFAS

Even though other palms may show wilt or general decline, the disease can be confirmed by the presents of conks on the trunk. Conks are firm, shelf-like structures that are attached to the lower part 4-5 feet of the palm. They start out as a whitish looking button on the palm then develop a half-moon shape with the straight side attached to the palm.

Confirmation of Ganoderma butt rot can only be made once the conks appear on the trunk, or when the palm is cut down and internal rotting of the trunk is noticed.

The conk produces and releases the fungal spores. The spores become mixed in the soil. The fungus germinates and grows over the roots of the palm. The fungus then enters the woody trunk tissue.  If an infected palm is transplanted, the soil in the transplant site may be contaminated with the fungal spores. It is recommended to remove the conk(s) of an infected palm before you remove the palm. This is to prevent the spreading of the spores. Place a plastic baggie over the conk then break it off the palm. Put the baggie in the trash for disposal in the landfill or incinerator.

There are no cultural or chemical controls for infected palms or preventing the disease.

As soon as the conk(s) are noticed, you should remove the palm. Remove as much of the stump and soil as possible to help prevent the spores from attacking other palms that might be nearby. I had seen a grouping of 20 palms planted in a group where several of the palms were infected. The chances were that all 20 could eventually be infected.

It is not recommended to plant another palm in the same place since the spores can survive in the soil. Other trees such as oaks, pines, maples, can be planted in that area.

Cicada Killers

Beth Bolles
Horticulture Agent
Escambia County Extension

During the summer months, landscapes are alive with insect activity.  The majority of insects found in home landscapes are not harmful, although the sight of a few may cause some concern.  One insect appears to be threatening but is not is the cicada killer, the largest wasp in Florida.

Burrow made by the female Cicada killer. Photo Credits: Beth Bolles, Horticulture Agent

During the warmer months, female cicada killers make ground burrows that consist of several cells for raising a few young.  There is an entrance hole, which often remains open, surrounded by a small mound of soil on one side of the entrance.   The female makes this ground burrow after mating and then captures cicadas to add to the individual cells.  The cicadas will serve as food for the developing wasp larvae that emerge from laid eggs. 

A cicada killer wasp trying to carry home a cicada that has been paralyzed. Photo Credits: Zachary Huang, MSU, Department of Entomology

Although the females are able to sting, they are not overly aggressive wasps.  The males do make more aggressive flights around people but are unable to sting.   When enjoying your landscape, just be aware of ground burrows and the flight of the female wasps into the burrows.  If you are lucky, you may even see a wasp with a cicada in tow. 

Cicada killers should not be treated in most landscapes.  If you are unable to tolerate the wasps, you may reduce their habitat by covering open sandy areas with mulch or a groundcover.  This does not completely prevent their ability to nest but will certainly reduce suitable nesting spots.  For more information on cicada killers visit:  http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in573.