Sweet Alyssum: The Unsung Hero of Pollinator Crops

Sweet Alyssum: The Unsung Hero of Pollinator Crops

In the realm of pollinator-friendly plants, Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima) often flies under the radar despite its remarkable qualities. This delicate flowering plant, with its clusters of tiny blooms, not only adds beauty to gardens but also serves as a vital resource for pollinators.

An exemplary instance is the hybrid series, Easy Breezy™, known for its compact size and remarkable heat tolerance, allowing it to thrive well beyond the spring season. Available in white, pink, and purple variations, this cultivar stands out. Another hybrid, known for its exceptional heat tolerance, is the white-flowering Lobularia ‘Inlbusnopr’, frequently marketed under the trademarked name Snow Princess®.

Let’s explore the many benefits of sweet alyssum as a pollinator crop and why it deserves a place in every garden.

Attractiveness to Pollinators

Sweet alyssum’s petite blossoms, exude a sweet fragrance that acts as a magnet for bees, butterflies, and other pollinating insects. Its nectar-rich flowers provide a vital food source for these creatures throughout the growing season.

Extended Blooming Period

One of the standout features of sweet alyssum is its prolonged blooming period, which often lasts from spring through fall in favorable climates. This extended flowering season ensures a consistent supply of nectar for pollinators, especially during times when other floral resources may be scarce.

Low Maintenance and Versatility

Sweet alyssum is renowned for its adaptability and ease of cultivation. It thrives in a variety of soil types and is tolerant of both drought and heat, making it an excellent choice for gardeners seeking low-maintenance pollinator-friendly plants. Whether grown in garden beds, containers, or hanging baskets, sweet alyssum adds charm and functionality to any landscape.

Companion Planting Benefits

Beyond its role as a pollinator crop, sweet alyssum offers additional benefits to gardeners through companion planting. Its compact growth habit and dense foliage act as a natural ground cover, suppressing weeds and conserving soil moisture. Furthermore, sweet alyssum is known to attract beneficial insects such as hoverflies and predatory wasps, which help control garden pests.

Encouraging Urban Pollination

In urban environments where green spaces may be limited, incorporating sweet alyssum into landscaping projects can play a significant role in supporting local pollinator populations. Whether in public parks, rooftop gardens, or community plots, the addition of sweet alyssum provides essential forage for pollinators and contributes to urban biodiversity conservation efforts.

Sweet alyssum’s unassuming beauty and pollinator-friendly characteristics make it an excellent educational tool for teaching about the importance of pollination and ecosystem dynamics. They may be small in stature, but its impact as a pollinator crop is undeniable. By incorporating this humble yet vital plant into our landscapes, we can create havens for pollinators and contribute to the preservation of biodiversity for generations to come. Let us embrace sweet alyssum as the unsung hero of pollinator crops.

For more information on sweet alyssum, contact your county Extension office.

Useful links:

Sweet Alyssum – University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (ufl.edu)

Flowering Annuals for Georgia Gardens.PDF (uga.edu)

The Gulf Frittilary Butterfly

The Gulf Frittilary Butterfly

Migratory animals are no stranger to our neck of the woods. Every year, Florida is host to countless creatures as they make their way from one place to another in search of food, nesting sites, or just a change of scene. From hummingbirds to manatees, it can be interesting to watch the annual cycle of nomadic animals.

A gulf frittilary butterfly.

One of the smaller wayfarers we see year-round, but especially when they migrate south in the fall, is the gulf frittilary butterfly, Agraulis vanillae Linnaeus. They spend the warmer months of the year in the southeastern United States, following frost-free weather as temperatures drop. During the winter, they enjoy the sunshine of peninsular Florida.

The gulf frittilary is a medium-sized butterfly, with a wingspan of 2½–3½ inches. Females are larger than males. It is bright orange in color, with black markings on the top of its wings and silvery-white spots on the bottoms. In its larval form, it is also bright orange in color, with dangerous-looking spines along the length of the caterpillar. Despite their appearance, these do not sting.

The gulf frittilary caterpillar looks dangerous, but won’t sting. Please do not eat it, however.

If given a choice its larvae will feed primarily on passionflower (Passiflora incarnata and related species), but have also been seen snacking on buttonsage. Toxins from passionflower concentrate in the larvae and butterflies, making them poisonous to predators – much like the monarch butterfly and its host plant, milkweed. The insect’s bright coloration serves as a warning that it is not to be eaten.

Keep an eye out for these beautiful butterflies and consider planting a passion vine in your landscape to help them out. The caterpillars may eat the leaves, but in giving them a feast you’ll help them grow into adult butterflies. Once they do mature, they are fantastic at pollinating many of our native wildflowers, further beautifying the world around them.

For more information see the University of Florida’s article here.

Blue Blooming Beauties of the Florida Panhandle

Blue Blooming Beauties of the Florida Panhandle

It’s no secret that fall, October specifically, is the best month for wildflower watching in the Panhandle.  From the abundant vibrant yellow-gold display of various Sunflowers, Asters, and Goldenrods to the cosmopolitan bright pinks and purples of Mistflower, Blazing Star, and False Foxglove, local native landscapes light up each year around this time.  However, if you’re lucky and know where to look, you can also spot two species, Azure Blue Sage (Salvia azurea) and Forked Bluecurls (Trichostema dichotomum) that sport that rarest of wildflower hues – vivid blue. 

Forked Bluecurls begins its flower show in late summer, picking up steam in fall, and reaching its peak now as nights get cool and the days grow short.   The species’ flowers are easily among the most unique around.  Each flower has two distinct “lips” – the lower lip is white and dotted with blue specks, while the top is distinctly pure blue – with characteristically curled blue stamens rising to preside over the rest of the flower below.  Though individual flowers are very small and only bloom in the morning, they appear by the hundreds and are very striking taken together.  Various pollinators, especially bees, also find Forked Bluecurls flowers to their liking and frequent them on cool fall mornings. Though the flowers are obviously the highlight, the rest of the plant is attractive as well, growing to 3’ in height and possessing small, light-green fuzzy leaves.   Forked Bluecurls, while not exceedingly common, can be found in sunny, sandy natural areas throughout the Panhandle, including well-drained flatwoods, sandhills, and open, disturbed areas.

Forked Bluecurls blooming in an open natural area in Calhoun County, FL. Photo courtesy of Daniel Leonard.

The second blue bloomer, Azure Blue Sage, is possibly even more striking in flower than Forked Bluecurls.  Aptly named and blooming around the same time as Forked Blue Curls, Azure Blue Sage is a much larger plant (often 4-6’ in height) and holds its abundant sky-blue flowers high above the surrounding landscape.  Because of their height and their propensity to occur in bunches, Azure Blue Sage’s brilliant tubular flowers are immediately noticeable to passersby and the myriad bee and butterfly pollinators that visit.  Beyond its flowers, Azure Blue Sage is a very unusual looking perennial plant, tall and spindly with dark green, narrow leaves held tightly to square stems, a giveaway of its lineage in the Mint family.  The species can be found in similar areas to Forked Bluecurls – natural areas in the Panhandle that possess abundant sunshine and sandy, well-drained soil. 

Azure Blue Sage blooming in a recently replanted pine forest in Calhoun County, FL. Photo courtesy of Daniel Leonard.

Both species would make excellent additions to mixed perennial landscapes where the soil and sun conditions were right, as they are exceedingly low-maintenance and have the propensity to reseed themselves from year to year.  Unfortunately, they are rarer in the nursery trade than they are in the wild and can only be found occasionally at nurseries specializing in Florida native plants.  (Visit PlantRealFlorida.org to find native nurseries in your area!)  However, even if you are unable to source a plant for your home, both these somewhat rare, blue-blooming fall beauties, Forked Bluecurls and Azure Blue Sage, are worth searching out in the many State Parks and public natural areas across the Panhandle!  For more information about Forked Bluecurls and Azure Blue sage or any other natural resource, horticultural, or agricultural topic, contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension Office. Happy fall wildflower watching!

Are there Scorpions in the Panhandle?

Are there Scorpions in the Panhandle?

There are many species of insects and Arachnida (Arachnid) found in the Florida Panhandle. A specific arachnid that often brings fear and dread is the scorpion.  There are 3 species of scorpion found the Panhandle. The Florida Bark Scorpion is commonly found in and around the home. The others, the Hentz Stripped Scorpion and Guiana Striped Scorpion, typically live in the woods.  One point to remember is that all three species prefer to avoid contact with humans and save venom for their preferred dinner meal, which includes many pests like include roaches, millipedes, silver fish, other spiders, and maybe a few termites. 

bark scorpion
Florida bark scorpion. Photo Credit: Stephen Greer, University of Florida/IFAS – Santa Rosa County

Scorpions are most often found outdoors under bark mulch around plants and under logs and other items on the ground.  When moving wood from woodpiles, remember to wear gloves and fully inspect them if pieces of wood are coming indoors for fireplace use.  Be sure to keep outdoor firewood stacked away from the home. 

Are the three Florida Scorpions found in the Panhandle capable of giving a fatal sting?  The quick answer is no, but it is painful – as this author can attest to twice over the last twenty plus year.  The last sting was in my laundry room and occurred about two months ago.  Individuals with elevated allergies that react to other insect stings, such as bee, wasp or yellow jacket stings, should take precautions and seek medical assistance if necessary. 

Keep in mind scorpions are considered beneficial as they hunt and consume many insect pests we commonly have in and around homes.  They are most often found in landscapes under things we may move that have been in contact with the ground.  Scorpions prefer to stay in moist dark areas.  They are nocturnal hunters, so remember to turn on lights when walking around the house at night, especially in kitchen, laundry, or closet areas.  They will quickly hide once the light is on.  If shoes are left outside on porches or other open areas be sure shake them out.     

Control methods involve several options that amount to making the setting less hospitable for scorpions to frequent.  Look for possible hiding areas in and around the home.  Seal around plumbing fixtures under the sinks, around exterior vents, and cracks/spaces around windows and doors.  Do not store wood or other stackable products in attic or basement areas.  It is recommended that if pesticides are used to consult with a commercial licensed pest management company.  Use of pesticides can have mixed results as scorpions can go two plus months without eating after consuming an insect.  Placing a yellow sticky board under sinks or tucked away in laundry areas can help catch a scorpion.  Place these cards out of reach of pets or children as they are very sticky. 

Video: Pollinators Visiting Centipedegrass

Video: Pollinators Visiting Centipedegrass

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.

Friendly Fungus: More than Meets the Eye!

Friendly Fungus: More than Meets the Eye!

Figure 1. Aschersonia aleyrodis, entomopathogenic fungi feeding on immature whiteflies on a satsuma tree. Photo Credit: Doug Mayo, UF/IFAS Jackson County.

Proper plant disease and insect identification is essential, not just in agriculture production, but in the garden and landscape setting too! The presence of “friendly fungi” on a citrus tree is a prime example of the phrase, “there is more here than meets the eye”. Friendly fungi is an entomopathogenic fungi that attacks citrus whitefly and cloudywinged whitefly nymphs. At first glance though, it can be a scary sight and may look like your citrus tree is being plagued with a new citrus disease or a new species of scale, when in fact, the whitefly nymphs are being controlled by a beneficial and naturally occurring biological control agent!

Figure 2. Adult citrus whitefly feeding on the underside of leaf. Photo Credit: Lyle Buss, UF/IFAS Entomology.

The citrus whitefly (Dialeurodes citri) and the cloudywinged whitefly (Singhiella citrifolii) are two insect pest species of whiteflies that occasionally cause injury to citrus. The adults are small, white and resemble tiny moths (Figure 2). Adults lay eggs on the underside of leaves and eggs hatch into nymphs (Figure 3). The nymphs cause injury to the plant by feeding and consuming large quantities of sap. As a result of the large amount of sap consumed, nymphs excrete honeydew which causes growth of sooty mold fungi. Severe sooty mold infestations give plants an unhealthy appearance and can reduce plant photosynthesis.

Figure 3. Citrus whitefly nymph feeding on the underside of leaf. Photo credit: Lyle Buss, UF/IFAS Entomology.

Citrus whiteflies have historically been controlled by a suite of predators including two strains of the entomopathogenic fungi, Aschersonia aleyrodis, the red strain and Aschersonia goldiana, the yellow strain. The red strain infects the citrus whitefly and the yellow strain infects the cloudywinged whitefly. These fungi are commonly referred to as “friendly fungi”. Both strains are present in North Florida and are normally observed now, through mid-September, following the rainy season.

Figure 4. Friendly fungus attacking whitefly nymphs that are feeding on the underside of a satsuma leaf. The black growth is sooty mold, caused by the whitefly nymphs. While this leaf looks bad, the friendly fungus is helping to reduce the whitefly population. Photo Credit: Danielle Williams, UF/IFAS Gadsden County.

The friendly fungi can be clearly seen from a distance with their bright red and/or yellow spots. While it may be a scary sight to see, the entomopathogenic fungi does not harm the tree and is beneficial in helping control whitefly populations! For more information, please contact your local Extension Office.