A beautiful plant with a confusing parentage

A beautiful plant with a confusing parentage

Plant names in today’s industry are not as simple as the established binomial (genus and specific) and a common name. Many of the plants that you get for your landscape are varieties, cultivars, and hybrids. To make matters more complicated, there are trade names that are given to plants to aid in marketing.  We see the Endless Summer® hydrangea or Purple Pixie® Loropetalum.  Throw into the mix the work of plant taxonomists who are always reclassifying plants and we can all be truly confused about a plant’s name. 

Even as names change, it is still fun to learn plant names.  Just recently, I sent plant pictures to the UF Herbarium to help get a clarification on the plant I was calling Georgia savory, Clinopodium sp.  This is one of my favorite plants because it makes a spreading groundcover that grows about 1.5 feet tall and has tubular flowers in spring and fall. Many pollinators visit the flowers.  It also grows well in sandy, well drained soil and thrives on occasional water.  I have a single plant in my backyard that only gets water from rain and has grown to five feet wide over several years.  It is definitely a low maintenance beauty.

‘Desi Arnaz’ hybrid Georgia savory. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.

My results back from the UF Herbarium did not completely clear up this plant’s name. There are reports that it is a hybrid of Clinopodium georgianum ×  Clinopodium ashei ‘Desi Arnaz’. Other information suggests that it is an intergeneric hybrid between Clinopodium and Conradina named x Clinadina ‘Desi Arnaz’.

The lesson from all this confusion is to just do your best. Realize that all of us can be mistaken on a plant’s name and even those that study plants in depth don’t always agree on a name.  In the world of plant names, change can happen.   

Blue Blooming Beauties of the Florida Panhandle

Blue Blooming Beauties of the Florida Panhandle

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!

Native Pollinators: Furrow Bees

Native Pollinators: Furrow Bees

When you hear the word “pollinator”, what is the first insect that comes to mind? If I had to guess, you would probably say honey bee. European honey bees play an important role in agriculture as pollinators and honey producers, but there are hundreds of native pollinators often overshadowed by the beloved honey bee you should know about, too!

One such group of pollinators native to Florida are sweat bees. Sweat bees get their unfortunate name from their nutritional requirements of salt that are sometimes sourced from sweaty humans. They rarely sting but are capable, and they can certainly be annoying to people when they lick salt off their skin. This behavior tends to get more attention than their important role as pollinators.

A subgroup of sweat bees are furrow bees. Furrow bees nest in the ground or rotting wood and may be solitary or eusocial. In-ground nests are composed of branching tunnels in sandy soil at a depth between 8 inches and 3 feet with a small entry roughly the size of a pencil. Within the tunnels, the mother creates individual cells stocked with nectar and pollen and lays an egg. The larva feeds on these provisions and pupates underground eventually emerging as an adult. The life cycle can vary from a few weeks to a year or more depending on species and environmental conditions.  

Furrow bees are generalist feeders which means they will visit many different flowers, so diverse landscapes are attractive to them. In my northwest Florida garden, I see them often on sunflowers, Black-eyed Susan, coneflower, cosmos, tithonia, zinnia, and tickseed.  

To learn more about this topic visit:

Sweat Bees, Halictid Bees, Halictidae
Attracting Native Bees to your Florida Landscape

Celebrate National Pollinator Week for the Bumblebees

Celebrate National Pollinator Week for the Bumblebees

National Pollinator Week (June 19-25, 2023) is an annual celebration in support of pollinator health that was initiated and is managed by Pollinator Partnership. It is a time to raise awareness for pollinators and spread the word about what we can do to protect them. It marks a necessary step toward addressing the urgent issue of declining pollinator populations. Bees, birds, butterflies, bats, beetles, moths, wasps, and flies provide valuable ecosystem services.

One of these important insects is the bumblebee. The American bumblebee has declined by 89% in relative abundance and continues to decline. This is due to many factors, including habitat loss, pesticides, climate change, and disease. In the past 20 years, it has completely disappeared from eight states and has become very rare in many others. Over 250 species of bumble bees occur throughout the world, but only five occur in Florida: common eastern (Bombus impatiens), the most common in the panhandle, two-spotted (B. bimaculatus), brown-belted (B. griseocollis), American (B. pennsylvanicus) and southern plains (B. fraternus). The yellow-banded bumble bee (B. terricola) has not been seen in Florida since 1962. Bumble bees are less common in South Florida and are never seen in the Keys. These are beneficial insects that pollinate many native and ornamental plants. 

Bumble bees are robust and hairy, and females have hairy pollen baskets on their hind legs. They are usually distinguishable by the color of bands on their bodies. Because they are medium to large in size (around ½” long), bumble bees are easy to identify. There are few other bees as large as bumble bees. Bumblebees have stingers, but they do not typically sting unless they are provoked or defending their colony. Unlike honey bees, the bumblebee’s stinger is not barbed, so it is capable of stinging repeatedly. A good key for bumble bee identification can be found at www.edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in207.

Bumble bees are more tolerant of cooler weather than other bees due to their large body size, thick hair and their ability to generate internal heat by vibrating their flight muscles. This allows them to emerge early in spring and remain in our gardens throughout fall. Bumble bees are generalists and visit a wide variety of plants for nectar and pollen. For nectar, they choose flowers that accommodate their species’ tongue length.

Preferred wildflowers include thistle (Circium spp.), tickseed (Coreopsis spp.), blanketflower (Gaillardia pulchella), Penstemon spp., dotted horsemint (Monarda punctata)Spanish needle (Bidens alba), goldenrod (Solidago spp.), sunflower (Helianthus spp.), ironweed (Vernonia spp.) and many others. 

Most bumble bees are ground-nesters and often use existing cavities such as abandoned rodent burrows. They may also use leaf litter, wood piles or tree cavities as nest sites. They nest in colonies of 25 to 400. Most will die at the end of the summer, leaving only a few mated queens, which hibernate through winter and emerge in spring to form a new colony. In the span of a year, there may be several generations of workers and males serving a single queen.

Bumble bee populations have been in decline for several decades because of habitat loss, pesticides and diseases. Pollinators are dying because their food and homes are disappearing, diseases have increased, and rising temperatures and natural disasters are affecting their ability to survive – all of which are related to climate change. At the same time, the conservation of pollinators and their habitats can help combat climate change by supporting healthy ecosystems, air, soil, water, and plants. Combined, these results make planet earth a safer place for us to live. These are big problems and the efforts that are made around North America and globally during Pollinator Week can help provide real solutions for the pollinators we all love.

The great thing about Pollinator Week is that you can celebrate and get involved any way you like! Popular events include planting for pollinators, hosting garden tours, participating in online bee and butterfly ID workshops, and so much more. Additional information can be found at www.pollinator.org/pollinator-week or by contacting Pollinator Partnership at info@pollinator.org. Utilize these resources to help you celebrate and promote your involvement.

Spring Into Action – Pollinators

Spring Into Action – Pollinators

How often do we stop to think of the importance of pollinators to food security?

Pollination is often described as the transfer of pollen grains from the anther to the stigma of a flowering plant. These transfers are made possible due to pollinator visits in exchange of pollen and nectar from the plants.

Who are our pollinators?

Main Global Pollinators

Social                                                                           Solitary

Honeybees                                                                  Alfalfa leafcutter bee

Bumble bees                                                               Mason bees

Stingless bees                                                             Other leafcutter bees

How can we care for pollinators?

We can care for our pollinators by growing plants that have abundant and accessible pollen and nectar.

Choose plants with flat flowers or short to medium-length flowers tubes (corollas), and limit plants with long flower tubes such as honey suckle.

Avoid plant varieties that do not provide floral rewards (pollen), which is the essential food source for bees. (e.g., some sunflower, and lilies).

While we think of most flies as pests, garden flies, such as Allograpta obliqua species found in Florida, are excellent pollinators and insect predators. Photo by Jessica Louque, Smithers Viscient, Bugwood.org.

While we think of most flies as pests, garden flies, such as Allograpta obliqua species found in Florida, are excellent pollinators and insect predators. Photo by Jessica Louque, Smithers Viscient, Bugwood.org.

Many native wild bees have relatively short proboscises, or tongues, and may not be able to access nectar from flowers with long tubes; however, flowers with long floral tubes can attract other pollinators with long tongues or beaks such as butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds.

Are we creating an ecosystem aesthetically pleasing while attracting pollinators?

UF/IFAS Photo: Tyler Jones

The planting of native wildflowers in Florida can benefit agricultural producers likewise, native pollinators and other beneficial such as parasitoids and predators.

Some of the main benefits of growing native wildflower are:

  • Increasing wild bee presence in the surroundings
  • Providing nesting and foraging sites for pollinators, butterflies, bees etc.
  • Increasing natural enemies of pest insects.

It is important to select mix varieties of native wildflowers when restoring habitats for our pollinators. Mix varieties will flower all year round and make available a continuous supply of nectar and pollen. If possible, use wildflower seeds that are produced in the state that you want to carry out pollinator restoration. It is highly likely that one will experience better growth from locally produced seeds because they will adapt better to regional growing conditions and the climate.  For optimum flowering and high production of floral rewards such as pollen and nectar, place wildflowers in areas free of pesticides and soil disturbance.

Most bee species are solitary, and 70% of these solitary bees’ nest in the ground.  A wildflower area of refuge can fulfill the shelter resource needs of these bees since that area will not undergo regular tilling, thus minimizing nest disturbance.

For some common native wildflowers of north Florida, you can see: Common Native Wildflowers of North Florida by Jeffrey G. Norcini : https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdf/EP/EP061/EP061-15448828.pdf and Attracting Native Bees to Your Florida Landscape 1 Rachel E. Mallinger, Wayne Hobbs, Anne Yasalonis, and Gary Knox: IN125500.pdf (ufl.edu)

Pollinator Gardening – Tips for Apartment Living

Article written by Khadejah Scott, Horticulture/Agriculture/Natural Resources Agent – UF/IFAS Extension at Wakulla County.

Gardening for pollinators is not only beneficial for the environment, but it can also be a rewarding and fulfilling hobby. However, living in an apartment can pose a challenge for those who want to create a pollinator-friendly garden. But fear not! With a little bit of creativity and effort, you can still create a welcoming space for pollinators to thrive. Check out these tips to encourage pollinators at your apartment.

Choose Your Location

The balcony is the obvious first choice for your apartment pollinator garden. Alternatively, if your building has a roof, porch, terrace, or courtyard, check to see if you can use those spaces for a few plants.

Assess Your Size And Space

The majority of apartment dwellers value their available space strongly. Finding space for just you and your possessions, much less a garden can be difficult. But even the smallest areas have the potential to turn into green havens with a little imagination. Make sure your space gets adequate sunlight and is close to a source for watering.

Select Your Plant Types

One way to start your garden is by choosing the right plants. Diversity is the key to a good pollinator garden. Because each pollinator has its techniques for sourcing nectar and pollen, flowers should be as varied as the pollinators that visit them. Native plants such as Gaillardia (Gaillardia pulchella) are an excellent option as they provide food and shelter for local pollinators. Together with native plants, you may also grow annual ornamental flowers in smaller gardens that will thrive and provide an excellent source of nectar and pollen, like zinnias (Zinnia elegans),  or sunflowers (Helianthus annuus). Another best option is also to use culinary herbs. For instance, basil (Ocimum basilicum) and oregano (Origanum vulgareare) are fantastic nectar sources if you allow them to flower. One creative way to create a pollinator-friendly garden is by incorporating a variety of textures and colors. This can include adding different heights, shapes, and textures to your garden, as well as incorporating a variety of flower colors. You can also choose plants that bloom at different times of the year to ensure a consistent food source. This will attract a wide range of pollinators, including bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

Sunflowers can be grown from seed and provide food for birds. Photo: J_McConnell, UF/IFAS

Plant in Containers

Another important aspect to consider is the type of containers you will use for your plants. You can use anything from traditional pots to repurposed containers like old tires or wooden boxes. Just make sure that your containers have proper drainage and are large enough to accommodate your plants. Plants such as swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), Blazing Star (Liatris spp.), and Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) do well in containers.

Think Vertically

In a small area, vines can significantly expand the habitat that is available by climbing up a trellis or lattice against a wall or fence. Numerous native vines such as the Maypop (Passiflora incarnata) can go in large containers and are excellent sources of nectar and pollen for pollinators.

Include Bird Feeders And Bird Houses

An enjoyable way to observe birds up close and get in touch with nature is using bird feeders. Additionally, they enhance the natural food sources that birds can find near your garden. Bird houses also provide shelter to cavity-nesting species and increase the species of birds at your apartment. 

A hummingbird gathering nectar from a firespike (Odontonemastrictum) flower. Photo Credit: Knolllandscapindesign.com

Finally, make sure to supply a source of water for your pollinators. This can be as simple as a shallow dish or bowl filled with water or a small fountain. Just be sure to change the water regularly to prevent mosquito breeding.

Creating a pollinator-friendly garden in an apartment is not only possible but can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. By following the tips above, you can create a welcoming environment for local pollinators to thrive. For questions about pollinators for apartment living, contact your county UF/IFAS Extension Office.