The days are getting shorter, the sun setting earlier each day, and the temperatures are beginning to dip. All the signs are there, we’ve reached autumn which means it’s time for many roadside wildflowers to begin their bloom cycle. Surely, you’ve seen them as you drive down the road, small colorful patches in the ditch or as almost blinding yellows across vast fields. The vibrant yellow in this latter example is that of goldenrod (Solidago spp.). A name attributed to many plants in Asteraceae better known as the Daisy family, they serve to feed pollinators when other plants begin to fade. Two of the most common in the panhandle are seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens) and Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis).
Seaside goldenrod will be most prevalent in the coastal counties along the panhandle. It thrives on beach dunes in tidal marshes and disturbed coastal areas. Tolerance to saline soils and sea spray allow growth in these environments. A clumping perennial, it grows to 6.6 feet clumping with a 1.6 foot spread. The flowers of this plant bloom in autumn on a spiked inflorescence as tubular disk florets. They are pollinated by several types of insects and birds. This plant was used as far back as the Roman times to treat several medical conditions.
Canada goldenrod is found in Florida almost exclusively in the panhandle with a few pockets as holdouts in the peninsula. Not as common along the coast, this plant prefers to take hold in ditches and open meadows. At 1-7 feet tall with it spreads via underground stems known as rhizomes. Rhizomatous plants such as these are traditionally difficult to control and may become weedy in some situations. Yellow ray style flowers present in clusters at the end of stems on drooping panicles. Pollen form this plant is often blamed for fall allergies, but does not tend to travel far on the wind making this an unlikely source. As with the seaside goldenrod, this plant was used traditionally as a medicine in ancient times.
Summing it up
Goldenrod along with many autumn blooming wild flowers may be something you’ve put very little thought into. They are proven winners in terms of late season pollinator support. Often overlooked in the home landscape, plants like goldenrod may bring a new twist to your home gardens. They require little water and fertilizer and grow well in our area. For more information on Florida wildflowers, see these Ask IFAS documents, or contact your local extension agent for additional information on this and any topic regarding your gardens and more.
The Q&A on Native Pollinators and their Favorite Flowers offered valuable information on many types of flowers that feed our many species of pollinators in Northwest FL. Below are the reference materials related to specific questions that were asked along with notes from the panel discussions.
Stephen Greer was asked which garden perennials are best for pollinators, he mentioned that Blanketflower, Cardinal Flower, Black Eyed Susan were his top three.
Julie McConnell was asked, what are some shrubs to benefit birds and pollinators? She stated that insects forage off lawn grasses, but good shrubs are Wax Myrtle, Saw Palmetto, American Beautyberry, Vibernum and Holly Species. Sandy Soil Pollinators: Firebush, Holly, Saw Palmetto, all drought tolerant and good for pollinators.
Julie says she also recommends Firespike, Goldenrod, Cardinal Flower, Saltbush,
What about Winter Pollinator Plants?
Winter: Mahonia, Fatsia, both good plants for pollinators in shady areas, also Beth added that winter vegetables help pollinators in the winter, such as carrot, wild radish, provide forage for bees, bumblebees and plasterer bees, carpenter bees. Matt Lollar said daikon radish is another good pollinator plant for fall and winter.
Question from Facebook: Are Loquat trees good for pollinators. How large do they get and when do they bloom? Do they need shade or full sun?
When people think of livestock, honeybees may not be the first thing that comes to mind. Bees are, however, a very significant part of agriculture. It is estimated that 30% of the crops we use for food are pollinated by honeybees. That’s around $15 billion of crops! On top of that, these hardworking insects also produce honey, wax, and other products that we can use.
For those who want to get into the world of beekeeping, it can be a challenge to absorb all the information that’s out there. Thankfully, there are resources out there to assist. If you or someone you know are interested in apiculture, you might try:
The American Beekeeping Federation maintains a website with tons of information on beekeeping at https://www.abfnet.org/. From there you can join the federation, find local groups, and find nationwide educational opportunities and resources for beekeepers.
Local Resources. While digital sources of information can help, nothing can take the place of simply having other beekeepers to go to for answers. Local beekeeping organizations are a great place to start. Listed by county, here are some from across the panhandle:
The Annual Tupelo Honey Festival will be held Saturday, May 21st from 9 am – 4 pm central time at Lake Alice Park in Wewahitchka. This is an exciting event, with your chance to take part in a local treat. Area honey producers will be on hand, selling their honey in a variety of sizes. There will also be food, art & crafts, and live music.
For decades, tupelo honey has been synonymous with Gulf County. The nectar from the tupelo gum tree (Nyssa ogeche), produces some of the finest honey in the world. The common name “tupelo” is derived from language of the Muscogee Nation, also known as the Creek Indian Nation. The meaning of the word is “swamp tree”, as this tree flourishes in areas of wet soils and seasonal flooding. Gulf County is home to one of the largest tupelo forests on earth.
Honeybee visiting tupelo blossoms. Photo Credit: Gulf County Tourist Development Council
The tupelo bloom season lasts from approximately mid-April to the end of May. This is an anxious time for beekeepers. Tupelo blooms are very temperamental and delicate in nature. For this short period, beekeepers hope for little wind or rain and no cold temperatures, as any of these factors can make or break tupelo honey production. Regardless of seasonal impacts, the demand for Gulf County’s tupelo honey never subsides.
Coastal plain honeycombhead blooms through the summer and early fall on local beaches. Photo credit, Bob Pitts, National Park Service
Over my years of leading people on interpretive trail hikes, I have learned it is particularly important to know the names of the plants that are in bloom. These flowers are eye-catching, and inevitably someone will ask what they are. In fact, one of my favorite wildflower identification books is categorized not by taxonomy, but by bloom color—with a rainbow of tabs down the edge of the book for easy identification.
Wildflower identification can be tough, but color-coded guidebooks are really helpful! Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension
In our coastal dunes right now, several plants are showing off vibrant yellow blooms. Seaside goldenrod, coreopsis, and other asters are common. Rarer, and the subject of today’s post, is the Coastal Plain Honeycombhead (Balduina angustifolia). It has bright yellow flowers, but often gets more notice due to its unusual appearance when not in bloom. The basal leaves are bright green and similar in shape and arrangement to a pine cone or bottlebrush (albeit a tiny one), sticking straight up in the sand. The plants are typically found on the more protected back side of primary dunes or further into secondary dunes, a little more inland from the Gulf.
When not in bloom, the plant resembles a green pinecone planted in the sand. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension
The plant plays a special role in beach ecology, as a host plant for Gulf fritillary butterflies and the Gulf Coast solitary bee (Hesperapis oraria). The bee is a ground-dwelling pollinator insect that forages only in the barrier islands of Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. The species is currently the subject of a University of Florida study, as the endemic bee’s sole source of nectar and pollen is the honeycombhead flower. As of publication date, no bee nests have been discovered. Researchers are interested in learning more about the insect’s life cycle and nesting behaviors to better understand and protect its use of local habitats. Based on closely related species, it is believed the Gulf Coast solitary bee builds a multi-chambered nest under the soft sands of the dunes.
Adult female Hesperapis oraria foraging on coastal plain honeycombhead (Balduina angustifolia). Photograph by John Bente, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Park Service.
While the honeycombhead plant is found in peninsular Florida and coastal Georgia, the bee has been identified only in a 100 km² area between Horn Island, MS, and St. Andrews Bay, FL. Luckily for the bee, large swaths of this land are preserved as part of Gulf Islands National Seashore and several state parks. Nonetheless, these coastal dune habitats are threatened by hurricanes, sea level rise, and development (outside the park boundaries). Due to its rarity and limited habitat, a petition has been submitted to the Fish and Wildlife Service for protection under the Endangered Species Act.
While most people are familiar with the European honey bee, the domesticated insect that pollinates our crops and provides us with honey, there are plenty of other species of bees and their relatives out there. Most of them are harmless, spending their time quietly pollinating plants, including our crops. Their presence in the landscape, however, may cause some alarm, as it can be difficult for the untrained eye to distinguish between aggressive species and those that are innocuous.
The entrance to a miner bee burrow.
Homeowners may occasionally note small mounds of soil in sandy areas of their lawns. Sometimes sporting a small hole in the center, these are the nesting sites of solitary, ground-nesting bees or hornets. Miner bees or digger bees build underground chambers, usually in well-drained, otherwise bare areas of sandy soil. Multiple bees may choose to dig their nests in the same location, though each bee makes its own tunnel and they do not live communally. Each bee lays her eggs in the nest she has excavated. She gathers pollen to feed the young when they hatch, stocks the larder, and leaves. When the young emerge from the nest, they fly away and do not remain; they will dig their own nests when they are ready to reproduce. While there is no need to control these insects (they serve as fantastic pollinators), the mounds of soil they make may be aesthetically displeasing to some people. Keeping a healthy lawn with no bare patches can deter miner bees from nesting in an area. Irrigation sprinklers can also help to keep the ground moist; these bees prefer dry soil, so it may keep them away. Care must be taken not to over-water a lawn, however!
A cicada killer wasp. Photo credit: Division of Plant Industry
Another species of note is the cicada killer hornet. Also known as the giant ground hornet, these insects grow to a size of about an inch and a half in length. Instead of pollen, they capture cicadas to feed their young. Like the miner bee, though, they are not harmful. Females do possess a stinger which they use to hunt their prey. Males may try to warn people or animals away from their burrows by acting aggressive, but they have no stingers. Some may see the large size of the cicada killer and wonder if the so-called “murder hornet” has made its way from Washington state to Florida, but as of this writing it has not. Unless you are a cicada, you have nothing to fear.
One ground-dwelling hornet that does warrant some concern is the yellowjacket. These are communal hornets, living in hives that are often build underground. Yellowjackets are known for their bad attitudes, attacking anyone who disturbs the entrance to their nest. They can be beneficial, being predators of many other insects including plant pests. A colony located too close to human dwellings or areas of activity is most often a nuisance, however. Any attempts to control yellowjacket nests should be done at night when they are less active. Protective clothing is recommended even then. Large or difficult to reach nests may require the attention of a certified pest control company.
For more information on these topics, see our EDIS publications: