Rainfall in the Florida Panhandle can be described as feast or famine, alternating between daily rain and weeks without a drop. Plants can struggle in these circumstances and if not well adapted to the area may need a little help from gardeners. One plant that is perfectly happy without intervention in these extreme climatic conditions is the resurrection fern (Pleopeltis polypodiodes).
Resurrection fern is a semi-evergreen epiphytic fern that grows along the branches and trunks of shade trees, rocks, stumps, and other suitable spots. An epiphyte obtains water and nutrients from the air and organic matter on the surface where it is attached; it is not parasitic. This native plant thrives in part to full shade and is cold hardy into Zone 6A. Resurrection fern has fibrous roots and creeping rhizomes that allow this clumping fern to spread and attach itself to trees or objects. Like other ferns it reproduces by spores that are born on the underside of fronds.
When rainfall is scarce, the normally lush fern turns brown, and fronds curl up and it looks dead. Once moisture returns, the fern hydrates and returns to its normal lush look earning the name resurrection fern.
For most of the year, yaupon (pronounced “yo-pon”) holly is the nondescript evergreen backdrop to forested areas throughout the Panhandle. But in the fall, these plants are bursting with brilliant red berries. There are 9 holly species native to our area, all with evergreen, mostly oval shaped leaves. Of these, yaupon is among those with the smallest leaves. Members of this species can be distinguished from the similarly sized myrtle-leaved holly by their leaf margins. While myrtle has smooth edges, yaupon has scalloped/serrated edges. Both species sport bright red berries, tasty only to birds and other wildlife.
The bright red berries of yaupon holly are particularly eye-catching during the fall. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension
The leaves, however, have historically been ingested by humans. I’ve tried homemade black yaupon tea, and it is quite tasty. Native Americans throughout the southeast brewed a “black drink” from yaupon holly as a natural stimulant and for use in ceremonies. It is one of just a handful of naturally caffeinated plants that grow in the wilds of North America, and Spanish explorers quickly took up the habit as well. Lore says that overconsumption can lead to stomach ailments, hence the Latin name Ilex vomitoria. By most accounts, however, you’d have to drink gallons of the stuff to actually get sick. Rumors still circulate that this unappetizing misnomer was deliberate, because by the late 1700’s the homegrown American tea was starting to rival popularity of British teas. In addition to tea, Native Americans would use the plant medicinally and also convert the shrub’s typically straight branches into arrow shafts.
Freshly picked yaupon holly leaves can be dried/roasted and brewed into an excellent tea. Photo credit Matt Stirn, BBC
Early American settlers drank yaupon tea frequently when tea was hard to obtain from overseas during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. During the rationing periods of World War II, the American government encouraged the substitution of yaupon tea for coffee and other teas. While it never really took off in the 1940’s, Texas currently has a rapidly growing industry in harvesting the plant. Growers are selling it as tea and as flavoring for a wide variety of food and drink products. To maintain a steady supply of leaves, tea makers often clear landowners’ property of overgrown yaupon shrubs, free of charge. This win-win solution provides an inexpensive harvest, reduces wildfire fuel, and allows native grasses and other open-canopy species to thrive.
Yaupon holly can be differentiated from other holly species by its small, scallop-edged leaves. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension
For the most part, the plant is considered a nuisance in forested areas. It is one of those woody species that grows up quickly in areas that haven’t been maintained by fire on a regular basis. As a home landscape plant, it works well as an evergreen screen. While it can grow up to 20’ tall, yaupon responds well to routine pruning. Most native hollies thrive in both wet and dry soils, so they are truly versatile. They are also salt-tolerant, drought-tolerant, wind resistant, and provide winter color and food for wildlife in their bright red berries.
Florida’s natural areas—a great source of pride and enjoyment to its citizens—provide recreation, protect biodiversity and fresh water supplies, buffer the harmful effects of storms, and significantly contribute to the economic well-being of the state. Unfortunately, many of these natural areas can be adversely affected by invasive plant species. An estimated 25,000 plant species have been brought into Florida for use as agricultural crops or landscape plants. While only a small number of these have become invasive, Chinese tallow (Triadica sebifera) is one of them.
As the trees begin to turn various shades of red, many people begin to inquire about the trees. While their autumn coloration is one of the reasons they were introduced to the United States, it took years to realize what a menace the trees become. Triadica sebifera, the Chinese tallow is locally referred to as popcorn tree due to the appearance of the developing seed heads, white three-chambers seeds covered in a fatty wax. It was introduced to Charleston, South Carolina in the late 1700s for oil production and use in making candles. However, the seeds are also tasty snacks for birds and can float long distances in the water, enabling it to spread to every coastal state from North Carolina to Texas, and inland to Arkansas. In Florida it occurs as far south as Tampa, displacing other native plant species in those habitats. Therefore, Chinese tallow was listed as a noxious weed by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Noxious Weed List (5b-57.007 FAC) in 1998, which means that possession with the intent to sell, transport, or plant is illegal in the state of Florida.
Fall color of Chinese tallow
Individuals can help mitigate the problem of Chinese tallow trees in Florida’s natural areas by removing them from their property. Mature trees should be felled with a chain saw by the property owner or a professional tree service. The final cut should be made as close to the ground as possible and as level as possible to facilitate application of an herbicide to prevent sprouting. Stumps that are not treated with an herbicide will sprout to form multiple-trunked trees. If it is not objectionable for dead trees to be left standing, certain herbicides can be applied directly to the bark at the base of the tree (basal bark application).
Herbicides that contain the active ingredient triclopyr amine (e.g., Brush-B-Gon, Garlon 3A) can be applied to cut stumps to prevent re-sprouting. The herbicide should be applied as soon as possible after felling the tree and concentrated on the thin layer of living tissue (cambium) that is just inside the bark. Herbicides with the active ingredient triclopyr ester can be used for basal bark applications. Only certain triclopyr amine products may be applied to trees that are growing in standing water. If trees are cut at a time when seeds are attached, make sure that the material is disposed of in such a way the seeds will not be dispersed to new areas where they can germinate and produce new trees.
Space in a landscape left after removal of Chinese tallow can be used to plant a new native or noninvasive tree for shade, or some other landscape purpose. Although Florida is not known for the brilliant fall color enjoyed by other northern and western states, there are a number of trees that provide some fall color for our North Florida landscapes. Red maple, Acer rubrum, provides brilliant red, orange and sometimes yellow leaves. The native Florida maple, Acer floridum, displays a combination of bright yellow and orange color during fall. And there are many Trident and Japanese maples that provide striking fall color. Another excellent native tree is Blackgum, Nyssa sylvatica. This tree is a little slow in its growth rate but can eventually grow to seventy-five feet in height. It provides the earliest show of red to deep purple fall foliage. Others include Persimmon, Diospyros virginiana, Sumac, Rhus spp. and Sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua. In cultivated trees that pose no threat to native ecosystems, Crape myrtle, Lagerstroemia spp. offers varying degrees of orange, red and yellow in its leaves before they fall. There are many cultivars – some that grow several feet to others that reach nearly thirty feet in height. Also, Chinese pistache, Pistacia chinensis, can deliver a brilliant orange display.
There are a number of dependable oaks for fall color, too. Shumard, Southern Red, and Turkey are a few to consider. These oaks have dark green deeply lobed leaves during summer turning vivid red to orange in fall. Turkey oak holds onto its leaves all winter as they turn to brown and are pushed off by new spring growth. Our native Yellow poplar, Liriodendron tulipifera, and hickories, Carya spp., provide bright yellow fall foliage. And it’s difficult to find a more crisp yellow than fallen Ginkgo, Ginkgo biloba, leaves. These trees represent just a few choices for fall color. Including one or several of these trees in your landscape, rather than allowing the popcorn trees to grow, will enhance the season while protecting the ecosystem from invasive plant pests.
The Common Persimmon, Diospyros virginiana, is a southern native small to medium fruit tree that is becoming more popular for homegrown fruit. The bark is grey or black and forms chunks or blocks that give it a checkerboard look. Fall color can be a spectacular red in USDA hardiness zones 4 through 8b. It is well adapted to cities but requires fallen fruit maintenance and wildlife control. Its mature height can be 40 to 60 feet, with branches spreading from 20 to 35 feet and a trunk two feet thick, but it is commonly much shorter in landscapes. The trunk can be a single form or multiple trunks and the species tends to form colonies. The leaves are alternate, simple, and a rich green color. The leaf margins can be entire or somewhat serrated. The funnel-shaped flower has four petals and ranges in color from white to cream to gray.
Full Persimmon Tree, UFTree Bark, UF
The Common Persimmon fruit is smaller than a ping-pong ball. This round fruit possesses an orange to reddish-purple color, with a size of 1 ¼ inches across. The flavor is more fermented and sugary-sweet. In Florida, the harvest season is from late August to early November. Fruit do not ripen at the same time. When ripe, the fruit turns from green to burnt orange. They also fall from the tree. The fruit is soft, sticky, and very delicious, but it needs to be separated from its skin and seeds before being used in recipes. They can be eaten when fully ripe and can also be pureed, dried, and used in preserves, chutneys, quick breads, puddings, pies, and sweet and savory dishes. The fruit is very favored by wildlife. Persimmon fruit is an essential food source for songbirds, turkeys, and small and large mammals.
Common Persimmon Fruit, UFCommon Persimmon Fruit, UF
Common persimmon prefers moist, well-drained, bottomland or sandy soils but is known to be very drought- and urban-tolerant. It is a fantastic tree in its adaptability to site conditions, including alkaline soil. It is commonly seen as a volunteer tree in old fields but grows slowly on dry sites. Its fruit is an edible berry that usually ripens after frost. Some cultivars do not require the frost treatment to ripen. Persimmon fruit is hard and astringent when unripe. Most American cultivars require both male and female trees for proper fruiting.
Besides fallen fruit maintenance, persimmon maintenance is easy and is suggested that it persimmon should be planted more often. Due to a coarsely branched root system, transplanting is difficult. The trees should be balled and burlapped when young or grown from containers. The wood from the tree is used for golf club heads because it is tough and almost black.
Common persimmon is troubled by a leaf-spot disease in the South. This disease causes black spots on the leaves and premature defoliation in August in the North and September in the South. The tree will not die from the disease. It is also susceptible to a vascular wilt, which can devastate established trees. There are no severe insect pests fort his native fruit tree, except occasional caterpillars.
For more information, please contact your local county extension Office.
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!
As you drive along the highway look out the window at the blooming roadside wildflowers. Fall is the season of yellow and purple, with splashes of red.
St. John’s Wort (Hypericum spp.), many different “daisies” (Aster spp.), tall and short Goldenrod (Solidago spp.), and “sunflowers” (Helianthus spp.) brighten up the landscape with the many shades of yellow. Spikes of Blazing Star (Liatris spp.), clumps of False Rosemary (Conradina canescens), and carpets of Moss Verbena (Verbena tenuisecta) add the purple hues. Here and there clusters of Red Basil (Calamintha coccinea) grab your attention with their fiery color.
Scarlet calamint, also called Red Basil, with its brilliant red flowers, offer a dramatic contract against the backdrop of scrub, sandhill and coastal dunes where the plant naturally occurs in Florida. They bloom sporadically throughout the year, peaking in the fall with as many as 100 flowers on a single plant. It is the only Florida native Calamintha species with red flowers, and its flowers are the largest.
Red Basil (Calamintha coccinea)
When the Spanish Explorer Juan Ponce de Leon landed on the eastern shores in 1513 he immediately noticed the vast wealth of wildflowers and promptly name his new discovery the “Land of Flowers”, which is the translation for Florida. Habitats throughout the state vary greatly. Changes in elevation by only a few inches can change the soil and impact the types of plants growing there. Associated birds, butterflies, and other pollinators change as the wildflower species vary. Florida has one of the highest biodiversity in the United States.
Learning to identify the roadside wildflowers is the topic of the next Okaloosa County Master Gardener Lecture Series. Join Dave Gordon on Monday, October 23 at the Okaloosa County Extension 3098 Airport Rd. Crestview, FL 32539 from 10 -11 am CDT to learn about what is blooming along the road right of way and how they may be utilized in the landscape. For more information go to: