Centipedegrass is a low maintenance turfgrass for North Florida landscapes. Scientists from Georgia also found an added benefit when the grass is in flower. Learn about the specific insects found visiting the flowers of centipedegrass.
Bright color is sometimes hard to come by in landscapes, especially in those areas where not much likes to grow. In particularly sandy areas along our coastlines, it can be a challenge to find plants that can both tolerate extremely dry conditions with heavy salt spray and provide an aesthetic boost. Luckily, there is at least one flower out there that goes above and beyond when it comes to beauty.
Gaillardia pulchella, or blanket flower, Indian blanket flower, firewheel, or sundance is a relatively low growing (up to 1.5 feet tall) plant that favors conditions that would make most plants wither. It grows as an annual or short-lived perennial and though it goes dormant in the winter, during warm weather, it’s bright and colorful! It is native to the United States, but probably never spread farther east than Texas until assisted by humans. It grows well throughout Florida, and can often be seen along roadsides.
Spreading to around two feet wide, each individual plant may not blanket the ground, but it readily produces seed which is easy to germinate. Flowers are produced throughout the growing season. Varieties are available with different appearances, though all tend to be some combination of bright yellow and dusky red. The blossoms can be used as cut flowers, or left in the landscape to attract pollinators.
Blanket flower prefers well-drained soil, even growing out into beach dunes. As stated previously, it may be propagated easily by seed; either let dried seed heads remain on the plant long enough to drop seeds or harvest them to plant elsewhere. Sow seeds in the spring and enjoy low-maintenance color for months after!
For more information, try our EDIS publication on blanket flower: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/FP216 or the Florida Native Plant Society’s page here: https://www.fnps.org/plant/gaillardia-pulchella
It’s hot, but the birds are still singing, the bees, including annoying yellow jackets, are buzzing, and the plants continue blooming. While many north Florida gardeners are hesitant to do much gardening in this heat, there’s plenty in the landscape to keep us entertained. One of the many benefits of gardening is observing all of the wildlife that visits, whether for pure enjoyment of watching nature or for keeping life lists of every bird, beetle, snake, or wildflower you’ve ever seen. However, many of us may not know exactly which bird, etc. that we’re looking at, much less hearing in the distance. Fortunately, there’s an app for that!
You may already be familiar with the many online tools, but here are a couple that are easy to use, assuming you know how to download an app on your smartphone, and go beyond an id based on visual similarity to other online photos with no consideration of your location.
We’ll start with my favorite app for plants, insects, and other critters you can easily capture with a camera – iNaturalist. Once you set up your account, you can begin to upload “Observations” with saved photos or directly with your phone’s camera. iNaturalist does have the option for uploading sound “Observations” as well, which I’ve used to upload frog calls. It uses your location to provide you with a list of potential species, and which one it feels is the most likely. The great thing about iNaturalist is someone else, often someone with experience identifying that organism, follows up to confirm or suggest another option. When enough identifiers agree, your “Observation” is considered research-grade. Another great feature of iNaturalist is that once the “Observations” are considered research-grade, biologists around the world can use the app to learn more about plant and animal population dynamics. Turning you into a research assistant/gumshoe naturalist. iNaturalist should only be used for wild populations, nothing planted or domesticated. They have a slimmed down version called Seek that can be used for identifying landscape plants.
Another easy-to-use app from our land-grant friends, and bird lovers, at Cornell University is the Merlin Bird ID app. The great feature of this app is the ability to record bird chatter and let the app figure out the bird species present. Once the recording is over, you can save it and even dial in on the different species and the call it made. With the touch of a finger, you can then learn more about each species. The Merlin Bird ID app also utilizes your location data and allows for uploading pictures and/or using a step-by-step guide to help figure out what you may have seen.
The heat may be miserable, but the sounds and sights of the garden can be quite a treat this time of year. Once you learn more about the critters that share your landscape, hopefully you’ll be encouraged to provide them more of the things they need to thrive – water, shelter, and food, in the form of a diverse landscape. Maybe it will give you ideas for more plantings later, when it cools off a bit!
I should highlight that both apps are free with no obnoxious ads that pop up while you have them open. They both also allow you to make lists and keep track of your observations. When visiting a new part of the world, they also let you explore what species may be near and new to you.
For more information on attracting wildlife to your landscape, please visit the Gardening with Wildlife site and read Landscaping Backyards for Wildlife: Top Ten Tips for Success. Of course, you can always contact your local extension office for assistance.
When you hear the word “pollinator”, what is the first insect that comes to mind? If I had to guess, you would probably say honey bee. European honey bees play an important role in agriculture as pollinators and honey producers, but there are hundreds of native pollinators often overshadowed by the beloved honey bee you should know about, too!
One such group of pollinators native to Florida are sweat bees. Sweat bees get their unfortunate name from their nutritional requirements of salt that are sometimes sourced from sweaty humans. They rarely sting but are capable, and they can certainly be annoying to people when they lick salt off their skin. This behavior tends to get more attention than their important role as pollinators.
A subgroup of sweat bees are furrow bees. Furrow bees nest in the ground or rotting wood and may be solitary or eusocial. In-ground nests are composed of branching tunnels in sandy soil at a depth between 8 inches and 3 feet with a small entry roughly the size of a pencil. Within the tunnels, the mother creates individual cells stocked with nectar and pollen and lays an egg. The larva feeds on these provisions and pupates underground eventually emerging as an adult. The life cycle can vary from a few weeks to a year or more depending on species and environmental conditions.
Furrow bees are generalist feeders which means they will visit many different flowers, so diverse landscapes are attractive to them. In my northwest Florida garden, I see them often on sunflowers, Black-eyed Susan, coneflower, cosmos, tithonia, zinnia, and tickseed.
To learn more about this topic visit:
National Pollinator Week (June 19-25, 2023) is an annual celebration in support of pollinator health that was initiated and is managed by Pollinator Partnership. It is a time to raise awareness for pollinators and spread the word about what we can do to protect them. It marks a necessary step toward addressing the urgent issue of declining pollinator populations. Bees, birds, butterflies, bats, beetles, moths, wasps, and flies provide valuable ecosystem services.
One of these important insects is the bumblebee. The American bumblebee has declined by 89% in relative abundance and continues to decline. This is due to many factors, including habitat loss, pesticides, climate change, and disease. In the past 20 years, it has completely disappeared from eight states and has become very rare in many others. Over 250 species of bumble bees occur throughout the world, but only five occur in Florida: common eastern (Bombus impatiens), the most common in the panhandle, two-spotted (B. bimaculatus), brown-belted (B. griseocollis), American (B. pennsylvanicus) and southern plains (B. fraternus). The yellow-banded bumble bee (B. terricola) has not been seen in Florida since 1962. Bumble bees are less common in South Florida and are never seen in the Keys. These are beneficial insects that pollinate many native and ornamental plants.
Bumble bees are robust and hairy, and females have hairy pollen baskets on their hind legs. They are usually distinguishable by the color of bands on their bodies. Because they are medium to large in size (around ½” long), bumble bees are easy to identify. There are few other bees as large as bumble bees. Bumblebees have stingers, but they do not typically sting unless they are provoked or defending their colony. Unlike honey bees, the bumblebee’s stinger is not barbed, so it is capable of stinging repeatedly. A good key for bumble bee identification can be found at www.edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in207.
Bumble bees are more tolerant of cooler weather than other bees due to their large body size, thick hair and their ability to generate internal heat by vibrating their flight muscles. This allows them to emerge early in spring and remain in our gardens throughout fall. Bumble bees are generalists and visit a wide variety of plants for nectar and pollen. For nectar, they choose flowers that accommodate their species’ tongue length.
Preferred wildflowers include thistle (Circium spp.), tickseed (Coreopsis spp.), blanketflower (Gaillardia pulchella), Penstemon spp., dotted horsemint (Monarda punctata), Spanish needle (Bidens alba), goldenrod (Solidago spp.), sunflower (Helianthus spp.), ironweed (Vernonia spp.) and many others.
Most bumble bees are ground-nesters and often use existing cavities such as abandoned rodent burrows. They may also use leaf litter, wood piles or tree cavities as nest sites. They nest in colonies of 25 to 400. Most will die at the end of the summer, leaving only a few mated queens, which hibernate through winter and emerge in spring to form a new colony. In the span of a year, there may be several generations of workers and males serving a single queen.
Bumble bee populations have been in decline for several decades because of habitat loss, pesticides and diseases. Pollinators are dying because their food and homes are disappearing, diseases have increased, and rising temperatures and natural disasters are affecting their ability to survive – all of which are related to climate change. At the same time, the conservation of pollinators and their habitats can help combat climate change by supporting healthy ecosystems, air, soil, water, and plants. Combined, these results make planet earth a safer place for us to live. These are big problems and the efforts that are made around North America and globally during Pollinator Week can help provide real solutions for the pollinators we all love.
The great thing about Pollinator Week is that you can celebrate and get involved any way you like! Popular events include planting for pollinators, hosting garden tours, participating in online bee and butterfly ID workshops, and so much more. Additional information can be found at www.pollinator.org/pollinator-week or by contacting Pollinator Partnership at firstname.lastname@example.org. Utilize these resources to help you celebrate and promote your involvement.
It’s a bit early still for blueberries in north Florida, but they are definitely on the horizon. We have a handful of bushes at home and the office, and I’ve noticed the white blooms are gone and berries are forming as we speak. Many of us, myself included, look forward to the late-spring harvest of blueberries, taking our children out to u-pick operations and hunting down family recipes for blueberry-filled desserts.
Often, when people think of fruit growing in the wild, their minds naturally go to tropical rainforests, with visions of bananas, mangoes, and drooping fruit-laden trees. But blueberries are a home-grown local Panhandle fruit. A walk through any self-respecting northwest Florida wooded area is bound to have blueberry bushes growing wild. Vaccinium species thrive in more acidic soil, (between 4-6 on pH scale), which we have in abundance here. In northwest Florida, we have lots of pines and oaks dropping needles and leaves, seasoning our soil to a 6 or lower on the pH scale. Central and south Florida soils are alkaline due to all of the natural limestone, so while blueberries are grown on farms down south, they’re rarer in the wild.
Blueberries are pollinated by bees of many stripes, but most people are unaware of the specialized bee that literally lives for this season. During the last few weeks, this species has been furiously pollinating blueberry bushes during its short, single-purpose lifetime.
Southeastern blueberry bees (Habropoda labriosa) are active only in mid-March to April when blueberry plants are in flower. They are smaller than bumblebees, and yellow patches on their heads can differentiate males. Blueberry pollen is heavy and sticky, so it is not blown by the wind, and the flower anatomy is such that pollen from the male anther will not just fall onto the female stigma. Blueberry bees must instead attach themselves to the flower and rapidly vibrate their flight muscles, shaking the pollen out. Moving to the next flower, the bee’s vibrations will drop pollen from the first flower onto the next one. This phenomenon is called “sonicating” or ‘buzz pollination” and is the most effective method of creating a prolific blueberry crop.
This native bee lives most of its life underground, emerging in the spring when blueberries are in bloom and living long enough to pollinate the plants. Blueberry bees do not form hives, but create solitary nests in open, sunny, high ground. Females will dig a tunnel with a brood chamber large enough for one larva, filling it with nectar and pollen. After laying an egg, the female seals the chamber and the next generation is ready. The species produces only one generation of adults per year.
By the time we are picking fresh blueberries in May and June, you probably won’t see any blueberry bees around. However, we should all consider these insects’ short-lived but vitally important role in Florida’s $70 million/year blueberry industry!