When beautyberries start producing their eye-catching, bright purple fruit in late summer, we start to get lots of questions. People want to know what it is, where can they find it, and can they eat it? While the berries look good enough to eat, it’s best to leave them to the birds and deer. They are not toxic and were used by Native Americans for a root tea to treat fevers, stomach aches, malaria, and more, but the taste has been described as bitter and mealy. Thanks to a generous volunteer, I am lucky enough to have tried beautyberry jelly. A little (or a lot) of sugar can make most anything taste good—and the finished product is a beautiful, translucent shade of fuchsia.
Even more interesting to me was the revelation that researchers have been able to extract compounds from beautyberry that successfully repel pest insects such as ticks and mosquitoes. The study began about 15 years ago, after a Mississippi botanist with the USDA Agricultural Research Service mentioned to a colleague that his grandfather taught him to rub the crushed leaves of beautyberry on his skin. The technique had been used as a home remedy to prevent mosquito bites for people (and horses) for generations. As a follow up experiment, another group of researchers found these same compounds—callicarpenal and intermedeol—successfully repelled black-legged ticks (which transmit Lyme disease) as effectively as DEET. In the last few years, researchers out of Mississippi have worked towards creating natural insect repellents from the compound that are less harsh on human skin that many commercially available brands.
Aside from its many practical uses, Callicarpa americana is a beautiful native shrub. It has wide green leaves and the brilliant purple berries grow in clusters along its stem. They stay on through late fall and winter in some places, making a beautiful contrast to fall foliage. Beautyberry shrubs can be found in a wide variety of habitats, including sandy and wet soils, full sun, and part shade. Their adaptability makes them a great plant for tight conditions like roadsides or yard edges, but also for nearly any home landscape. The plants can grow to a height of 4-8 feet and spread 3-6 feet wide. The long-lasting berries make them a great wildlife food source later in the cool season than many berry-producing species.
If there is anything that is more refreshing than the cool shade of a tree on a hot August afternoon, I cannot quite think of it. Here on the Gulf Coast, the thought of the heat in the “Dog Days of Summer” conjures up images of the dogs lying by their owners’ rocking chairs on the veranda – shaded of course by the majestic live oaks out front. If you ever observe older homes in our region, they usually have large established shade trees to shade the house most of the day. In the days before air conditioning, I imagine a world without shade would be intolerable, nigh unlivable. If you have ever had to work on an asphalt parking lot or roof on a 100+ degree August day with no shade, you fully understand the term “heat island”. The steam rising off the same parking lot later after a passing shower or thunderstorm reinforces how hot that surface is.
These past few weeks the oppressive heat has made anything outside unbearable, especially in the heat of the afternoon. You can quickly understand why old farmers in our area worked from sunup to about 10 a.m. or so, then did lighter work in shaded areas or inside. They would go back out and work hard in the cool of the evening too, but you seldom saw anyone out in the open fields during the mid-day heat if it were avoidable. A shade tree in the pasture or up at the house was a welcomed oasis and favorite lunch spot. Going back in the air conditioning just caused you to have more trouble acclimating to the heat and could even cause medical problems if you we very hot and suddenly went into very cool air conditioning. I remember these summer patterns well growing up on the Gulf Coast, and still follow them when doing forestry field work. Being under a closed forest canopy was like being in air conditioning compared to the open sun of a logging deck or pasture. The shade of a tree or a forest canopy offered an amazing relief from the blazing August heat and humidity.
It is impossible to stress enough the importance of individual shade trees and tree cover to our urban areas. Imagine our towns and cities devoid of trees! Imagine Tallahassee without its canopy roads, themselves sort of an early cooling effort for travelers. Without these trees it would make these heat waves, as oppressive as they are already, downright scorching and close to unlivable. If you are doing any gardening or other outdoor activity during these hot days, it is highly likely you seek out a shady area to be in. As that shade moves with the sun through the day it is equally likely that you relocate and follow it as it moves. If you have a neighbor that has no tree cover and shade on their house, and you are on good and friendly terms, ask to compare power bills with them. Odds are their power bill is noticeably higher because they do not have the shade of trees. With all the important features our urban forest provides, we must realize that our trees and the urban forest they form are critical to our urban ecosystem we live in. Yes, I said urban ecosystem; we must remember that we are part of nature too and even though we have altered it to our needs, our urban environment is part of our ecosystem. Trees are the backbone of that here on the Gulf Coast and our cities show it. Gulf Coast cities generally have extensive tree cover, despite our disturbances from Hurricanes.
So, what do these shade trees and urban forests really do for us in terms of actual measurable data? We know from just walking under a tree on a 100+ degree day we can feel the difference but what does it equate to. A study published in the Journal of Forestry in 2018 found that an estimated 5.5 billion urban trees provided an estimated $5.4 billion in energy reduction alone (Nowak and Greenfield 2018). This same study found that Florida was the state with the highest annual urban forestry value with an estimated annual value of $1.9 billion. Those are some impressive numbers and help put the value of urban forests into some monetary terms, but this is just one study. Professionals studying urban forests and their benefits are constantly finding out more on just how valuable our urban tree cover is. A UF-IFAS EDIS publication in 2020 helped to further characterize our urban forests across the state. Urban areas in the Northern part of the state had the highest percentage of canopy cover, with our local Okaloosa-Fort Walton-Destin area being the highest at 74.4% (McLean et al. 2020). Our local Panhandle metropolitan areas all had high canopy cover in the 50% or higher range. That is good news for Panhandle urban areas as this tree cover helps improve quality of life in these areas.
The benefits provided by urban forest cover are not just confined to shade, cooling, and reduced energy use. We get other major benefits from our urban forest and tree cover. The same 2020 UF-IFAS study found that in Florida’s urban areas, trees remove 600,000 tons of air pollutants through their canopies, which results in $605 million in health care savings related to air pollution. Urban tree cover also prevents stormwater runoff into our waterbodies. The study found that Florida’s urban forest cover prevents 50 billion gallons of stormwater runoff, which results in a $451 million saving from avoided stormwater treatment. Those benefits would not be possible without our urban trees. Once you see the numbers, it is clear how our urban forest provides us with so many benefits we rarely see or consider.
When you walk under the shade of a tree or under a forest canopy on these scorching summer days you get an instant reminder of the benefit of that tree cover. The cool relief from the sun and heat is just one of the many benefits our trees and urban forests provide. Trees are one of our favorite parts of the landscape for many reasons and studies that quantify these benefits put in real term just how critical our urban forests are to us. Our tree cover helps clean our air and capture stormwater in our summer downpours. As our communities grow and expand, we need to be sure to preserve the trees we have and plant new ones as the need arises. By keeping our urban forest cover intact, we can enjoy the cool shade and all the other benefits our urban trees provide.
References and further reading:
Nowak, David J; Greenfield, Eric J. 2018. US Urban Forest Statistics, Values, and Projections. Journal of Forestry. 116(2): 164-177.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s been hot outside. Like really, scorching, hellacious, dog days hot. In this weather pattern we’ve been in, it’s hard to make yourself do non-essential stuff outside that doesn’t involve swimming and so our gardens go by the wayside. In my opinion, that’s totally okay! Give yourself a rest from the garden and landscape chores for the next couple of weeks and get your fall gameplan ready. The following are some things to think about over the next few weeks to prepare yourself for the coming cooler weather!
Get your soil tested. If you’re an in-ground vegetable gardener or just like to have an attractive lawn/landscape, performing a simple soil test can offer either peace of mind that your soil’s pH and fertility is good or give you a nudge to schedule some needed amendments. Though I don’t recommend fertilizing lawn grass this late and there’s no need to fertilize the garden before it gets planted in mid-late September, you can certainly begin to source and price fertilizer for the appropriate time based on your test results. However, now IS the perfect time to get lime out in a vegetable garden if your pH has sunk beneath the recommended 6.5. Lime takes weeks to months to begin to alter soil chemistry so the sooner the better if it is needed!
Order seeds. While I love to support local farm stores and plant nurseries, you are limited with the vegetable and flower varieties you can plant by what they have in stock. I enjoy trying new/improved and heirloom plant varieties each year and, most of the time, these can only be found by ordering online. For the latest in vegetable and cut flower varieties with a nice mix of heirloom cultivars thrown in also, I can recommend Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange, and other similar purveyors – all of these are great places to look. Continue to purchase your more common standbys through local outlets but, this year get different and try new things by ordering online!
Develop a garden/landscape plan. I doubt there’s a gardener amongst us who wouldn’t like to rearrange things a bit outside. Maybe you planted your lettuce a little too closely together last year, you’ve been dreaming of installing a new flower bed, or you really want to do a full garden/landscape renovation. The best way to be successful at any of these things is to get outside (or at least look out from behind a window in the A/C), take stock of what is already there, the space that is or might be available, research what plants or varieties might do well in your yard/garden (your local UF/IFAS Extension office is a great resource for this), and begin to sketch your ideas out. This planning step WILL save you time and money by ensuring you don’t purchase too many plants, by picking plants that will do well, and ensuring you install everything at the correct time.
So, take advantage of the heat, stay inside, and work up your garden gameplan together this August – fall is just around the corner. For help with soil testing, recommendations on plant varieties to purchase, or working up a garden/landscape plan tailored to you, contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension Office. Stay cool and happy gardening!
Bright color is sometimes hard to come by in landscapes, especially in those areas where not much likes to grow. In particularly sandy areas along our coastlines, it can be a challenge to find plants that can both tolerate extremely dry conditions with heavy salt spray and provide an aesthetic boost. Luckily, there is at least one flower out there that goes above and beyond when it comes to beauty.
Gaillardia pulchella, or blanket flower, Indian blanket flower, firewheel, or sundance is a relatively low growing (up to 1.5 feet tall) plant that favors conditions that would make most plants wither. It grows as an annual or short-lived perennial and though it goes dormant in the winter, during warm weather, it’s bright and colorful! It is native to the United States, but probably never spread farther east than Texas until assisted by humans. It grows well throughout Florida, and can often be seen along roadsides.
Spreading to around two feet wide, each individual plant may not blanket the ground, but it readily produces seed which is easy to germinate. Flowers are produced throughout the growing season. Varieties are available with different appearances, though all tend to be some combination of bright yellow and dusky red. The blossoms can be used as cut flowers, or left in the landscape to attract pollinators.
Blanket flower prefers well-drained soil, even growing out into beach dunes. As stated previously, it may be propagated easily by seed; either let dried seed heads remain on the plant long enough to drop seeds or harvest them to plant elsewhere. Sow seeds in the spring and enjoy low-maintenance color for months after!
It is mid-summer with temperatures outside in the 90’s plus, so you may wonder why article on landscape installation considerations during this time of year. It simply is an excellent time for planning and preparing for fall and winter site prep and planting well before it arrives, reducing a time crunch when it is time to plant.
Think healthy plants for our Northwest Florida settings, proper preparation of the site before planting, and many other points to be successful with establishing a landscape that will be enjoyed by all. This article will address the use of woody ornamental plants, but many things discussed can be applied to perennials and annuals as well.
Before starting, make sure to do your homework not only on the plants and placement in the landscape, but any county, city, or homeowner association requirements to work within. Many neighborhoods have review committees for these approvals. This commitment by you when purchasing property and a home can be a part of the closing papers during the purchase. If you are required to submit for an approval before work can begin you might want to consider consulting with a professional landscape company to assist in this process. Always ask for references and sites you can visit before securing services.
Site preparation can be a afterthought, with limited funding focused on this critical area, but properly addressing it leads to healthy, vigorous plant establishment and future growth. Understanding the site from soil type and drainage, size of area, sunlight, water availability, plus needs of prospective plants goes a long way to being successful. If there are plants already established on site that may be worth keeping, be sure to include them in the consideration. Determining soil drainage, moisture retention that would be available to plants, soil pH and structure will also go a long way to determining the type of plants that work best for the site. If, for example, your site does not drain well and holds higher levels of water in the root zone area (top 12″ of soil), consider plants that grow well in wet settings. The next steps are determining soil pH and nutrient needs for general landscape plant growth performance. Many plants thrive in slightly acidic soil (pH 6.0 to 7.0 range) while others grow best in moderately acidic settings (pH 5.0 to 6.0 range). Contact your local UF IFAS Extension office in your county for additional information.
The landscape site brings other considerations for plants to flourish, involving space and light. Space should be considered both above and below ground. With the above ground area, is there room for the limbs to expand in width and height? If pruning is required to manage the size, considering another plant may be a viable option. Next is the root growth and expansion opportunity for the plant. If the root area is limited in space, other options may need to be considered to mitigate compacted soils or pavement areas. Adding raised beds for better soil drainage and increased root growth room may be an option. Be sure to know your soil type and use a similar soil with characteristic that match the existing soil. If you do not, there can be incompatibility that leads to a hard pan layer between the soils reducing potential root zone establishment.
The desire to develop and establish an enjoyable landscape for all to appreciate can be a challenge, but a positive one. As a reminder, call and go visit with your local UF IFAS Extension office, there is great research information available for the asking. Enjoy your gardening experience.
Since Ponce de Leon first set foot in Florida around Easter in 1513 and gave the state its name – he called it La Florida, which loosely translates to flowery in English – Florida has been known for its amazing native wildflower displays. Florida’s primary native flower shows do indeed occur in the spring (the one observed by Ponce de Leon) and fall, but my favorite Florida “wild” flower is neither a native nor does it bloom in April or October. Rather, the Philippine Lily (Lilium formosanum) does its thing each year in the heat of the summer, when not much else wildflower-wise is blooming.
Hailing from Taiwan and the Philippines but naturalized throughout the Panhandle, the Philippine Lily is easy to spot. Often confused with Easter Lily (Lilium longiflorum), which blooms much earlier in the year, Philippine Lily blooms mid-July to August and sports classic lily-type flowers held high on study stems that may reach 7’ or higher. Emerging from the drab green of the surrounding summer landscape, Philippine Lily’s very large (10” or more), very fragrant, trumpet-shaped, creamy-white flowers are showstoppers. The propensity of the flowers to appear in elegant, “nodding” clusters of a dozen or more also adds to the effect. Admired by gardeners and other passersby during the day, at night these wonderfully scented flowers become a whirring site for evening pollinators, particularly the enormous Hummingbird, or Sphinx Moth.
In addition to being a beautiful surprise in natural areas, Philippine Lily is among the easiest and most versatile of landscape plants to grow. The species prefers partial shade, but the thousands growing along roadsides in full sun speak to its adaptability. It is also right at home in our often dry, sandy Panhandle soils, and no special soil amendments are needed for the species to thrive. To get plants started, one may use either seeds or transplants from existing stands. If using seeds, simply sow them in your desired garden location into loosened garden soil, cover lightly, and water – the same seed sowing method can be used in pots for transplanting or sharing with friends later. Alternatively, you can dig or pull bulbs from natural areas where Philippine Lily already exists – assuming you have permission from the property owner. These newly dug and planted Lilies will need babying with regular water for several weeks to reduce transplant shock and improve survival.
Philippine Lily is probably best sited in the back of landscape beds to take advantage of the plant’s height and display its flowers over lower growing perennials. Siting in the back also allows pre and post bloom Philippine Lily stalks to hide amongst other plants as they don’t add much aesthetically when not in flower. Philippine Lily pairs very well with other low-maintenance summer-blooming perennials like Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata), Milkweed (Asclepias spp.), and others.
While not a native wildflower, Philippine Lily certainly adds to North Florida’s reputation as La Florida! They are among the easiest to grow, highest impact “wild” flowers Panhandle gardeners have at their disposal. Enjoy them this summer in natural areas and consider adding a few to your landscape! For more information on Philippine Lily or any other horticultural topic, contact us at the UF/IFAS Calhoun County Extension Office. Happy gardening.