Twinspur- A Winter Flower

Twinspur- A Winter Flower

Since 2005, multiple varieties of Diascia have added to the U.S. fall market of winter flowering plants. Its delicate flowers are far from being ordinary though. In the early part of the last century most British gardening encyclopedias listed just one diascia – Diascia barberae – derived from seed collected by Col. J. H. Bowker and sent by Mrs. Barber to Kew Gardens, England, in 1870. Annual and perennial diascias had, of course, already been discovered and classified by several botanists visiting South Africa much earlier. The dainty, little annual, Diascia barberae, is not a very showy flower, but one which will appeal to the true flower lover. The flowers are rosy pink with yellow-green spots in the throat. The flowers are lipped, being related to the Snapdragons, but have two spurs on the lower lips, and are sometimes called twinspur.

It was not until John Kelly was given a plant called Diascia cordata by Edrom Nurseries in 1971 that anything notable happened to diascias again. He took pollen from his Diascia cordata and applied it to one flower of Diascia barberae. Of the nine seeds he obtained, just one was worthy of attention. He named it Diascia ‘Ruby Field’ (not for the color of the flowers, but for a lady who devoted her live to the long-term care of deprived children). Despite the popularity of this new, hardy hybrid, little more happened with diascias for yet another decade.

The boom in the diascia trade began only recently. Today’s diascia offers larger flowers, larger plants with a more open growth habit and colors ranging from scarlet through salmon and coral into pink. They bloom throughout the cooler weather and may behave as a perennial in warmer sites. But, the uniqueness of their flower structure and ecological role are as fascinating as the flower is beautiful. The common name of twinspur refers to the two downwardly pointing spurs found on the back of the flower. The spurs contain an oil which is collected in the South Africa wild by Rediviva bees. The female bees have unusually long, hairy forelegs that are used to collect the oil to feed her larvae. However, the Greek origin of the Diascia name doesn’t refer to the spurs, but rather the two sacs found in the upper part of the corolla. The flower petals help the bees to orientate themselves to the oil glands of the spurs. While North Florida isn’t home to the Rediviva bee, we can grow Diascia and it is a wonderful opportunity to show the unique connection insects and plants can have. Look for other specialized flower structures and you will find other animals that fit them perfectly, even within the species found in the Panhandle.

Plant of the Week:  Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum)

Plant of the Week:  Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum)

October is the premier wildflower month in the Panhandle.  Nighttime temperatures drop, days shorten, pollinators emerge, and many native plants explode into flower.  Of all the native fall-flowering Panhandle wildflowers, maybe the most striking is currently in full bloom, the Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum)! 

Photo credit Bill Boothe / Natural Encounters

Mistflower is a low growing, spreading native perennial (1-2’ in height) found in sunny, moist areas of meadows and near rivers, ponds, and creeks throughout much of the United States from New York to Florida and even west as far as Texas and Nebraska.  This common native wildflower is conspicuously one of the few native plants in our area that has blue flowers, making Mistflower easy to spot in a sea of yellow, orange, purple, pink, and white wildflowers.  The flowers appear as little puffs of purply-blue due to the lack of ray florets (think the outer yellow “petals” of sunflowers), possessing only disk florets (think the inner part of sunflower heads) with long blue, fuzzy-appearing stamens.   Mistflower is attractive to more than just wildflower watchers as well, it’s a magnet for nectar-seeking butterflies as well; Eastern Swallowtails, Great Purple and Juniper Hairstreaks, and others are often found feeding on the flowers. 

Great Purple Hairstreak butterfly on Mistflower. Photo credit Bill Boothe / Natural Encounters.

As lovely as Mistflower is in the wild, it’s probably best left for folks enjoy there, especially those who prefer an orderly yard.  Mistflower will indeed grow great in moist areas of pollinator gardens and landscapes, requiring only ample sunlight and rainfall, but it is very aggressive.  Its spreading nature via its rhizomatous root system and prolific seed production often lead to it becoming a weedy nuisance in more manicured landscapes.  But, if chaos and fall bursts of blue erupting at random throughout your garden don’t bother you, by all means, seek out Mistflower for purchase through seed catalogs and local native nurseries.  For more information on Mistflower and other fall-blooming native wildflowers, contact us at the UF/IFAS Calhoun County Extension office!  Happy Gardening.

North Florida Goldenrod

North Florida Goldenrod

Autumn Blooms

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).

Coastal Goldenrod

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.

Photo: Joshua Criss

Inland Goldenrod

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. 

Photo: Joshua Criss

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.

Yellow Jacket Wasp – Aggression and Understanding

Yellow Jacket Wasp – Aggression and Understanding

It is late summer and many of us enjoy being outdoors in the landscape and taking early morning walks before the temperature rises for the day.  There are precautions to take while being outdoors and the activities as many insects are very active, including the yellow jacket.  Late summer and many of us being outdoor brings us increases the change of being stung by this insect.  The Yellow Jacket sting can be painful and potential dangerous to certain individuals with strong reactions to stings.

Yellowjackets are pollinators and eat caterpillar pests! Credit: Whitney Crenshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org

In the State of Florida there are two species of this Yellow Jacket Wasp, the Eastern Yellow Jacket and the Southern Yellow Jacket.  It is difficult to distinguish between them and for this article I will refer to them as Yellow Jackets.  Yellow Jackets most often colonize in the ground and are often found in lawns that tend to stay dry, landscape beds and edge of woodlands.  Colonies of this flying insect can grow into hundreds or even larger numbers.  Often by observation in morning or evening light the entry and exit point of the nest can be see with some luck.  It looks like an extremely busy airport with lots of landings and departures.  The unfortunate way to find the nest can occur by mowing the lawn disturbing the nest with many yellow jackets emerging from the nest to protect it.  The colony quickly goes into defense mode with vibrations occurring nearby.  This has occurred with me on more than one occasion.  All modesty can be lost while run away from the nesting area with several yellow jackets stinging you move quickly move away.  Clothing has been known to be shed to hopefully remove the yellow jackets busily stinging either under or on the outside of clothing.    

yellowjacket nest
Southern yellowjacket, Vespula squamosa (Drury), nest dug from ground. Credit: Gerald J. Lenhard; http://www.insectimages.org/

During the early part of the spring and summer season yellow jackets are busy foraging for protein sources to feed to queen and young larvae.  During the consuming of the insects, with many of those harvested being harmful insects to plants.  The yellow jackets derive their sugar sources from the larvae secretions as they consume the proteins provided.  This is part of the reason we do not often see Yellow Jackets in late spring and early summer.  As the queen begins to reduce the amount of egg laying, hence the less numbers of larvae to feed and harvest the sugar for a wasp population at its peak creates a more aggressive need to find alternate sources of sugar.   This is part of the reason why yellow jackets show up in greater numbers at outdoor sporting events and other places to look for additional sugar sources.   Sugar water for hummingbirds is another backyard site for yellow jackets to work hard for the sugar.  Even the birds are careful about approaching the feeders. 

I do not advocate the destruction of yellow jacket nesting sites unless they are in proximity to human activity as this can set the situation of stings and potential health challenges for people.  If you identify a nest location do not approach and call a company that specializes in addressing these types of stinging insects.  Keep in mind that this insect provides a benefit in harvest of many harmful pests to plants yet do pose a potential threat.  Be observant as you garden situations that seemed fine last month may have changed quickly.

Stinging Hymenopterans – Medical importance.

Stinging Hymenopterans – Medical importance.

Introduction

Summertime is known for cookouts, barbeque, a stroll through the park or even in your backyard; Be aware of stinging insects. These pests are especially active during the second half of summer and early fall when the colonies forage for food to sustain their queens during the winter. Although many are beneficial pollinators they often pose a danger because of their sting. While some of these stings causes minor reactions, others can pose a serious heath threat, which makes them medically important. These stinging hymenopterans includes wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, velvet ants, Africanized and European honey bee and fire ants.

 

Unique /Important Traits of this group of insects.

Photograph by Lyle Buss, University of Florida

Yellow jackets, paper wasps, and bald-faced hornets can sting multiple times causing allergic reactions. The female velvet ants have a very potent sting that has earned them the nickname “cow-killer.” Unlike Wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets, honey bees only sting once and lose their barbed stinger killing the bee within minutes talk about a sacrifice. Africanized honey bees are dangerous stinging insects that have been known to chase people for over quarter of a mile once they get excited and aggressive, earning the name “killer bee”. Imported fire ants both bite and sting repeatedly, and envenomation (injecting venom) only occurs through the sting.

Solitary vs. Eusocial
Most wasps and bees are solitary – being alone or in solitude, and do not defend their nests, but will sting in defense if caught. On the contrary, the eusocial group, especially ants, bees, and wasps, will display territorial behavior and it is mostly these groups that cause medically significant stings.

 

Photograph by James L. Castner, University of Florida

What makes Hymenopterans important medically?
Unlike the male, the female Hymenoptera possess specialized stinging apparatus used to inject their venom into prey’s or intruder’s body. Entomologist Justin O. Schmidt’s knows about this all too well, he records his own experience of venomous stings and rate it on a pain scale index ranging from 1- 4, with four being the most painful. It could be life-threatening for people sensitive to the venom. While most stings cause only minor problems, stings cause a significant number of deaths.

What are some possible reactions after the stings?
Local reactions (pain, small edema, redness at the site of the sting); regional reactions, (extensive local swelling, exceeding 10 cm, persisting longer than 24 hours). Systemic anaphylactic responses – most dangerous of the reactions. Symptoms may include itching, rashes or hives, tightness or swelling in the throat, stomach pain, nausea and vomiting and dizziness. More severe cases the individual may experience severe shortness of breath, a drop-in blood pressure, loss of consciousness. Even though some of these reactions are mild about 3% of people ends up the emergency room each year from symptoms related to stings. Some may result in death of the individual.

Treatment/ Preventative Measures
What to do?
Capture the organism, if possible, for identification; allergy desensitization shots; sting removal; hive removal (certified handler); antihistamine (oral or parenteral) and epinephrine by inhalation or epinephrine by injection.

For more information, please contact your local county extension office.
Supporting information for this article can be found in the UF/IFAS EDIS publications/websites below:
Differences Between European and African Honey Bees: IN784-9221465.pdf (ufl.edu); Stinging or Venomous Insects and Related Pests: IG099-D1czi7xu65.pdf (ufl.edu) ;
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17265905
https://extension.entm.purdue.edu/publichealth/insects/stinging.htm

Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE Program Summary: Native Pollinators and their Favorite Flowers

Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE Program Summary: Native Pollinators and their Favorite Flowers

 

 

 

 

The Q&A on Native Pollinators and their Favorite Flowers offered valuable information on many types of flowers that feed our many species of pollinators in Northwest FL.  Below are the reference materials related to specific questions that were asked along with notes from the panel discussions.

 

  • Stephen Greer was asked which garden perennials are best for pollinators, he mentioned that Blanketflower, Cardinal Flower, Black Eyed Susan were his top three.

 

  • Julie McConnell was asked, what are some shrubs to benefit birds and pollinators? She stated that insects forage off lawn grasses, but good shrubs are Wax Myrtle, Saw Palmetto, American Beautyberry, Vibernum and Holly Species. Sandy Soil Pollinators: Firebush, Holly, Saw Palmetto, all drought tolerant and good for pollinators.

 

 

 

  • What about Winter Pollinator Plants?
    • Winter: Mahonia, Fatsia, both good plants for pollinators in shady areas, also Beth added that winter vegetables help pollinators in the winter, such as carrot, wild radish, provide forage for bees, bumblebees and plasterer bees, carpenter bees. Matt Lollar said daikon radish is another good pollinator plant for fall and winter.

 

  • Question from Facebook: Are Loquat trees good for pollinators. How large do they get and when do they bloom? Do they need shade or full sun?

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Better access to native plants: Florida Native Plant Society
    • https://www.fnps.org/
    • There are Native Plant Nurseries in Bay and Leon County, you can find them on google.
    • Some Master Gardner Volunteer programs sell native plants at their sales!

 

  • Stephen: What methods have been successful to approach HOA’s to approve of Native plants in homeowner’s properties?
    • Build consensus about native plants before the meeting.
    • Covenants or Bylaws. Covenants are less enforceable, Bylaws have enforcement ability.

 

  • Beth: Do we need to supply water for pollinators? YES!

 

 

 

 

 

This episode of Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! is available to watch at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGl4kGYEEs4.