This week I have been noticing some of the beautiful perennials blooming at the Jackson County Extension office, and one struck me as especially beautiful. Indian Pink or Woodland Pinkroot (Spigelia marilandica), it turns out, is native to several counties in the Florida Panhandle.
Woodland Pinkroot is a long-lived perennial that has a very showy but short blooming cycle each spring. It thrives in part shade as a small shrublike forb between 2-3 feet tall. Zones 8a and 8b are its native range in Florida and it is often found in moist, sandy, and well-drained acidic soils. This is not a plant that will tolerate salty soils or salt spray, so planting on the coast is not recommended. Additionally, it dies to the ground in the winter, so care must be taken when weeding the garden to preserve this perennial from inadvertent destruction.
This showy native is easy to propagate from seed or root division but not from cuttings. What’s more, it attracts hummingbirds with its tubular-shaped yellow and red flowers. Old flowers may be removed before seed set to extend the blooming season. One advantage for the urban garden is that it is not an aggressive grower but will need some help if competing with other aggressive native plants such as blue mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum).
This is one plant that I was not aware of until recently as it seems to be not well known even to long-term Florida gardeners. I think that it is a worthy addition to the native or Florida Friendly landscape if one has the right climatic conditions for it to thrive, namely partial shade and well-drained, moist, and acidic soil.
For more information check out these popular native plant websites:
Landscaping in the Panhandle of Florida comes with many opportunities and challenges in this diverse plant environment of coastal, flatwoods (aka pine woodland), sandhills, and clay soil areas running adjacent to the Alabama/Georgia lines. Sandy soil is the predominate soil of the panhandle area from coastal saltwater marshes and brackish bay waters to wetlands and drier well drained quartz sandy soils of the sandhills. Unique ecosystems can be found in all these areas. One of the areas with the largest plant diversity is the Longleaf Pine savannahs found in the sandhills. Now comes the question of landscaping decisions for your residential living.
Understanding your soils and how to improve them where you live is critically important before putting the first plant in the ground. We live in an area of abundant rainfall and this will impact the chemistry of your soils. Make an appointment with your local horticulture agent at the University of Florida IFAS Extension office in your county to discuss your soil and landscape ideas. Taking soil samples will likely be needed. With instruction you can easily collect the samples needed to be sent and received to determine the best options.
With abundant rainfall, leaching of key nutrients will occur removing base cations that can include potassium (K), magnesium (Mg), calcium (Ca) and others. This all leads to soils being more acidic in nature. Nutrient resources may need to be added and checked every 2-3 years, just be sure to follow the soil sample recommendations. Soils near wetland areas can leach differently than the deep quartz sandy soils of the sandhills. Adding organic amendments is a recommended practice. Just how much will depend on your soil setting; talk with your horticulture Extension agent. Often new homesites and commercial construction areas have soil brought in to raise or level construction locations. Understanding the movement of water through these newly added layers to the existing soil below will determine drainage and nutrient movement within this site. It can be confusing making decisions about adding soil nutrients, lime, and organic amendments.
Once all this is settled you can start thinking about how to enjoy this wonderful Panhandle outdoor living opportunity. Creating living spaces comes in many ways from building patios, porches, decks, outdoor kitchens, and strategically places chairs and benches. Talk with your family and others who may enjoy these places with you. Gazebos or barbeque grill areas may be in the plans. Placing these into the landscape takes planning. Draft designs and think of creative solutions for the site. Look at the site elevation changes from high areas to low wetland areas. Will you need “No See Um” screen for the porch to keep out the small insects or install ceiling fans to keep the breeze moving?
There are many questions to be asked. Create a list to be addressed before beginning a project and then determine the cost. Enjoy the adventure!
Most of us are familiar with the Appalachian Trail, the popular hiking route that follows the mountains from Maine for nearly 2,200 miles to north Georgia. But did you know you could set off from Fort Pickens at Pensacola Beach and follow the Florida Trail for over 1,100 miles, all the way to Big Cypress in the Everglades?
Inspired by the Appalachian Trail in the 1960’s, Florida Trail Association founder James Kern started gathering support and planning a route for a Florida trail that would take a trekker through nearly the entire length of the state. By 1983, the Association’s efforts resulted in recognition as a National Scenic Trail, with the path currently winding through the property of over a hundred land management partners. Some stretches of the trail are designated for biking or horseback riding, but the vast majority are intended for foot traffic only. A through-hike of the Florida Trail can be challenging, as the weather, water, and insects can be more intense in our climate than cooler areas. Dozens of people complete the journey every year, and the trail is gaining in popularity. In 2020 and 2021, fewer than 20 individuals were certified as through-hikers. However, last year 47 individuals signed the end-to-end hiker roster online, complete with their “trail name” and hometown. Many hikers are Floridians, but more than half the roster included people from other regions of the United States, and even a couple from Germany.
At the northern terminus of the trail adjacent to Ft. Pickens, hikers will experience a relatively flat, sandy path along the dunes. A bridge crosses a small freshwater pond, then the trail leads to shadier secondary dunes. On a hike this past October, I saw plenty of blooming fall wildflowers, a turtle, a frog, and numerous birds. The Blackwater Side Trail along Blackwater River State Park and Forest consists of a totally different ecosystem, with 48 miles of shady and hillier terrain. This particular stretch connects with the Alabama Trail, which is still being linked together but aims to run the entire north-south length of the state. According to those who have hiked the whole Florida Trail, the most challenging sections include mucky soil through Big Cypress and rocky, uneven limestone and grasses in south Florida. There are plenty of interesting sights and potential hazards, from alligators and black bears to flooded trail routes and pop-up thunderstorms. But the rewards are vast, too, like having the whole trail to yourself most of the time, with opportunities to see rare panthers and a 2,000-year-old cypress tree. Interested hikers can reach out to the Florida Trail Association’s Western Gate, Choctawhatchee, or Panhandle Chapters if you have questions, (including local member Helen Wigersma). These groups help maintain sections of the trail and are a wealth of information. If you’re up for a new adventure this year, you can start a real one right here in our backyard.
Humans love to measure and rank things. Whether it’s the tallest, the widest, or the most of something, we want to know about it, rank it, and, of course, brag about it if it’s ours. The biggest pumpkin, cheeseburger, truck tires, and so on. Gardeners and plant people are no exception. Actually, when you combine the pride of something you’ve grown with some type of measurement or rank of grandeur, it drives even more competition. Hence, fairs! So, it’s no surprise that there is an official rank of largest tree for each state. These large specimens are known as “Champion Trees” and every landowner I know of would love to have one on their property.
The idea of recognizing Champion Trees goes back nearly a century when the American Forestry Association, now known simply as American Forests, launched a campaign to engage the public in forestry activities. To tap into our desire to rank things and compete, the campaign encouraged a competition to find the largest specimens of selected trees. American Forests still maintains a registry of the national Champion Trees and their current goal of the program is to help people identify tree biodiversity and foster a desire to preserve and protect trees.
In Florida, the Division of Forestry (DOF), part of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), maintains a statewide registry of these Champion Trees. According to FDACS’s Florida Champion Trees website, the largest native tree in the state is a bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) with a trunk measuring 537 inches in circumference (nearly 15 feet wide), stands 101 feet tall, and has a crown spread of 49 feet. That’s a big ol’ cypress tree! Just in case you were wondering, the smallest Champion Tree is a corkwood (Leitneria floridana) with a trunk measuring nine inches in circumference (almost three feet in diameter), 17 feet tall, and a crown spread of eight feet. That is a big ol’ corkwood!
Now comes the exciting part. The Florida Champion Trees website (https://www.fdacs.gov/Forest-Wildfire/Our-Forests/Florida-Champion-Trees) has the entire list of trees for you to peruse and includes a list of trees that are yet to have a champion specimen designated. There is a nomination form that, when submitted, will prompt a visit by a County Forester with DOF who will confirm the tree’s measurements. If all checks out, your tree could be a champion!
Throughout history the evergreen tree has been a symbol of life. “Not only green when summer’s here, but also when it’s cold and dreary” as the Christmas carol “O Tannenbaum” says.
While supporting the cut Christmas tree industry does create jobs and puts money into the local economy, every few years considering adding to the urban forest by purchasing a living tree. Native evergreen trees such as redcedar make a nice Christmas tree that can be planted following the holidays. The dense growth and attractive foliage make redcedar a favorite for windbreaks, screens and wildlife cover.
The heavy berry production provides a favorite food source for migrating Cedar Waxwing birds. Its high salt-tolerance makes it ideal for coastal locations. Their natural pyramidal-shape creates the traditional Christmas tree form, but can be easily pruned as a street tree.
Two species, Juniperus virginiana and Juniperus silicicola are native to Northwest Florida. Many botanists do not separate the two, but as they mature, Juniperus silicicola takes on a softer, more informal look.
When planning for using a live Christmas tree there are a few things to consider. The tree needs sunlight, so restrict its inside time to less than a week. Make sure there is a catch basin for water under the tree, but never allow water to remain in the tray and don’t add fertilizer. Locate your tree in the coolest part of the room and away from heating ducts and fireplaces.
After Christmas, install the redcedar in an open, sunny part of the yard. After a few years you will be able to admire the living fence with all the wonderful memories of many years of holiday celebrations. Don’t forget to watch for the Cedar Waxwings.
The shorter days and cooler temperatures of autumn bring on changes in our shrubs and trees.
Most people expect to see changes in leaf color in deciduous trees and shrubs during fall. But some people become concerned when the leaves on certain evergreen plants begin to turn yellow with the change in the seasons. For many plants this is normal.
Azaleas may lose a few leaves now. These are the older leaves on the branches near the center of the plant. There is no need for alarm by the loss of a few older azalea leaves from now until spring. However, if the younger leaves, those nearest the tip of the shoot, turn yellow or brown there is cause for concern. Poor drainage, lack of water or alkaline soils may cause this condition. Be sure to keep azaleas and other ornamental plants well-watered during dry weather that may occur from now through spring.
Other plants such as gardenias, hollies and camellias may have yellowing leaves now. But as with azaleas, these are the older leaves on the stem near the center of the plant. The mature leaves will drop from the plant from now until spring. This is only the normal aging of older leaves. However, be careful to not confuse this normal process with spider mites, scale, lace bugs, nutrient deficiencies, poor growing conditions or salt injury. Just keep in mind that this normal change in leaf color and leaf drop occurs on the older leaves generally during cooler weather – it’s a seasonal change.
The leaves of sycamore trees have changed from green to brown by now. Although the sycamore is a deciduous tree, this phenomenon may not be caused by a change in day length or temperature alone. This change in leaf color in sycamores can begin in late summer. Many times, it is the result of sycamore lace bugs feeding on the leaves. By the time the damage is visible, there is little that can be done to correct the problem. However, this problem will take care of itself since sycamore trees will soon be dropping their leaves.
We do have some trees that exhibit beautiful fall foliage this time of year. A few to consider include hickory and gingko for their bright yellow fall foliage, black gum for its early display of brilliant red, purple or orange leaves and Chinese pistache for its late reddish-orange fall show. There are plenty of other good trees to consider for fall color here in North Florida such as dogwood, crape myrtle, Florida maple, sourwood, shumard oak and the list could continue.