Have you ever visited a public garden or a park and wondered what type of plant you were looking at? Or found the name on a sign but wondered – can I grow that at my house? How big will it get? Does it have flowers, berries, keep its leaves in the winter? We feel your pain, fellow plant lovers!
Gardens are ever evolving and providing up to date printed information on all the plants can become difficult to manage and involve a lot of wasted resources. In Bay County, we have several gardens at the Extension Office, and we try to keep everything labeled, but space on signs is limited to plant name and we want to teach gardeners how to grow not just identify plants. To expand outreach of Florida-Friendly plants, we have created a website with all the plants in our demonstration gardens.
The site is organized by garden area, common name, and botanical name to ease navigation. Each plant profile has photos at different stages, basic cultural information, and links to additional research-based information.
Whether you are visiting our gardens in person or just want information on plants that perform well in the Florida Panhandle, we hope you will check out our new site and let us know if you found it useful and how we can improve.
October is an important month for butterflies. The monarchs are making their epic migration towards Mexico, gracing us with their presence as they stop to feed on saltbush or lantana plants along the coast. But our homegrown orange-and-black butterfly is showing up everywhere right now, too. The Gulf fritillary (Agrautis vanillae) is a smaller species, but also features bright orange wings with black stripes and spots. Their caterpillars come dressed for Halloween, too—they are a deep orange color with black legs and spikes. While the caterpillar is not venomous to any potential predators, the spikes are quite intimidating and serve a protective function.
Fritillary (name from the Latin “chessboard”) eggs are bright yellow and laid primarily on varieties of passionflower vines, which the caterpillars feed voraciously upon. Passion vine is an important host plant for the zebra longwing as well, which is Florida’s state butterfly.
Gulf fritillaries are found in all 67 Florida counties, and may live throughout the southeastern United States, Mexico, and central and south America. They are found in varied habitats but prefer open, sunny spots in fields, forests, and gardens. The butterfly’s wing shape puts them into the “longwing” category, as their elongated wings spread wider than other species.
In the fall, fritillaries migrate to the warmest ends of their range. By spring, they move slightly north into North Carolina or interior Alabama.
Tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica, has become a commonly grown monarch host plant in many gardens. It grows very well in our climate and survives into Fall and Winter during many years. This long life of Tropical milkweed is not necessarily a good trait for the monarch butterfly. In the Fall, monarchs are in migration mode and need to move out of our area to overwinter in warmer climates. Live host plants that are found during migration may interrupt the process. An additional problem is that Tropical milkweed may be host to a disease caused by a parasite that can impact the health of Monarch butterflies. The best tip to help our migrating Monarch butterflies, is to cut back your Tropical milkweed to the ground each Fall or better yet, grow native milkweeds that usually die back on their own.
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.
As you garden this fall, check out the North Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide, compiled by UF/IFAS Leon County Extension.
Getting into vegetable gardening, but don’t know where to start?
Even experienced gardeners know there’s always more to learn. To help both beginners and advanced gardeners find answers to their questions, the UF/IFAS Leon County Extension Office put together the North Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide. It incorporates multiple resources, including articles, planting calendars, photos, and UF/IFAS EDIS publications.
The North Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide covers the many aspects of vegetable gardening, including how to get started, site selection, insects and biodiversity in the garden, soil testing, composting, cover crops in the garden, irrigation, and more.
You can click here to view the digital version of the guidebook. We also have physical copies of the guide available at the UF/IFAS Leon County Extension Office (615 Paul Russell Rd., Tallahassee, FL 32301).
The showy chaste tree makes an attractive specimen as the centerpiece of your landscape bed or in a large container on the deck. Much more of them are being seen since the Florida Department of Transportation has recognized the tree as a desirable median planting. Easy-to-grow, drought resistant, and attractive to butterflies and bees, Vitex agnus-castus is a multi-stemmed small tree with fragrant, upwardly-pointing lavender blooms and gray-green foliage. The chaste tree’s palmately divided leaves resemble those of the marijuana (Cannabis sativa) plant; its flowers can be mistaken for butterfly bush (Buddleia sp.); and the dry, darkened drupes can be used for seasoning, similar to black pepper, making it a conversation piece for those unfamiliar with the tree.
Vitex , with its sage-scented leaves that were once believed to have a sedative effect, has the common name “Chastetree” since Athenian women used the leaves in their beds to keep themselves chaste during the feasts of Ceres, a Roman festival held on April 12. In modern times, the tree is more often planted where beekeepers visit in order to promote excellent honey production or simply included in the landscape for the enjoyment of its showy, summer display of violet panicles.
Chaste tree is native to woodlands and dry areas of southern Europe and western Asia. It will thrive in almost any soil that has good drainage, prefers full sun or light shade, and can even tolerate moderate salt air. Vitex is a sprawling plant that grows 10-20 feet high and wide, that looks best unpruned. If pruning is desired to control the size, it should be done in the winter, since it is a deciduous tree and the blooms form on new wood. The chaste tree can take care of itself, but can be pushed to faster growth with light applications of fertilizer in spring and early summer and by mulching around the plant. There are no pests of major concern associated with this species, but, root rot can cause decline in soils that are kept too moist.