There are numerous insects and insect relatives that can produce webbing, and webbing can be a sign that something unwanted is near. Arachnophobes might grow uneasy at the sight of a spiderweb, and gardeners might frown to see the tiny filaments that spider mites spin. Tree lovers might assume that webs on a tree are a sign that caterpillars such as the eastern tent caterpillar have taken up residence. But what about webs on a tree trunk?
If you come across a tree trunk coated in silk, chances are you’re looking at the work of a bark louse. Also known as psocids or tree cattle, these little insects eat all the stuff that sticks to a tree’s bark. Lichen, moss, algae, and dead bark can all end up as meals for a hungry bark louse. The good news is that while lichens don’t hurt trees, neither do bark lice!
Bark lice spin their webbing as protection from predators. They often produce large quantities of webbing, because there are often large quantities of bark lice present. The name ‘tree cattle’ comes from the fact that they form these large colonies, and move in a manner similar to cattle in groups. While swirling swarms of creepy-crawlies rarely make people feel at ease, don’t worry about these. Acting as a sort of clean-up crew, they will do their work, grow and mature, and move elsewhere by themselves.
There are often several generations of bark lice each year in Florida, so they may reoccur. No control is needed for these insects, though if leftover webbing is considered aesthetically unpleasing it can be removed by spraying with a sharp jet of water. For more information about bark lice, see our EDIS publication at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/IN553.
There are many considerations to make when landscaping with small trees (under 20 feet) in the landscape that are not suitable for large trees. Some of the trees discussed can at times be considered large shrubs depending on definitions and opinions. For the purpose of this article, if it reaches 15 to 20 feet consider it a tree.
Choosing small trees for the right setting involves a number of reasons that could include the need for more privacy from other homes, use as a sound barrier from busy roads, hiding your utility area of the landscape or something unattractive nearby and making sure power lines are not obstructed. Other considerations might include soil types, drainage and holding capacity of the soils, irrigation needs, rate of plant growth and maturity height at 20 feet. Below are a few to consider for the Panhandle of Florida.
Little Gem Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’) and Teddy Bear Magnolia (M. grandiflora ‘Teddy Bear’) are strong hardy plants once established (within the first 6 months to a year). Both are evergreen with dark green foliage. The ‘Little Gem’ will grow to 20 feet tall by 15 to 18 feet wide. As it matures it tends to become more open and less dense which adds a nice character to show parts of the lower limbs. The ‘Teddy Bear’ will grow to 18 to 20 feet tall but at an even slower rate of maturity to 12 to 15 feet wide while maintaining its density of foliage from bottom to top. It may take a little work to locate the ‘Teddy Bear’ Magnolia.
Photo courtesy: Stephen Greer Teddy Bear Magnolia (Small compact grower)
Several hollies to consider would include the Cassine Holly ‘Tensaw’ (Ilex cassine ‘Tensaw’) and American Holly (Ilex opaca). Both are evergreen and produce red berries during the fall that are bird favorites. They have similar heights of 15 to 20 feet and widths of 10 to 12 feet. Pruning can assist in shaping and slowing these measurements, but keep in mind this will change the look of the tree and create a more formal plant presentation.
Photo courtesy: Stephen Greer Cassine Holly ‘Tensaw’
The Fringe Tree (Chionanthus virginica) has been a popular tree southeast U.S. for many years. It brings a bright spot to the landscape with white flower panicles that cover the tree in mid to late spring depending on location. For a full color effect, plant it with an evergreen hedge behind it. This oval deciduous tree will grow to 12 to 20 by 10 to 15 wide. The dark blue fruit appears in the fall and serves as good bird food source. This fruit is usually hidden behind the foliage. There might even be a nice yellow leaf change in the fall if temperatures and weather allow.
The Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett, once said “Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree long ago.” While that’s all fine and good and I’m happy that the next generation gets to enjoy the things we grew, most of us would like to enjoy shade in our lifetimes too! If you too want to plant your own shade, one of the best rapidly growing shade tree choices for the Panhandle is the majestic Florida native Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica).
Green ash trees have a vase shape form. Photo Credit: University of Florida/IFAS
Green Ash is a large (50-100’ tall), oval-shaped, deciduous shade tree native to the entire eastern half of North America, but best of all for those of us craving shade, it grows to its mature height in a relative hurry. While most trees that grow extremely fast tend to be inherently weak and short-lived, this is not the case with Green Ash. Capable of growing 6-10’ in a single year if irrigated and fertilized appropriately and often living well over 100 years, there aren’t many plants in the Panhandle that grow quicker or live longer.
There’s much more to Green Ash than growth rate and life span, however. The tree is also one of the prettiest around. Come on, you didn’t think I’d recommend an ugly plant, did you? A look up into the canopy at different times of the year and one can see the tree’s deep, dark green foliage, good-for-Florida yellowish fall color, and slightly showy light green seed pods. Below, the straight trunk is laced with distinctive diamond-shaped bark that hints at the extremely high-quality wood underneath. Fun fact, Ash is historically the most popular wood used to make baseball bats due to its hardness at a relatively light weight – more MLB home runs have been hit with Ash than any other species!
The compound leaf of a green ash tree. Photo Credit: University of Florida/IFAS
As a Florida-Friendly plant, Green Ash is fairly low-maintenance and provides many environmental services. The species, like any other plant, requires supplemental water and fertilizer during the establishment period, generally the first year or so after planting, but doesn’t demand much else from gardeners after that. Green Ash specimens in Florida also don’t have much in the way of pest problems (the invasive Emerald Ash Borer has devastated ash populations in northern states but thankfully has not yet been found in Florida). However, as a host plant for several native pollinators, including the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Mourning Cloak, Orange Sulphur, and Viceroy Butterflies, you may occasionally find caterpillars munching away on the tree’s foliage. If you can handle a little leaf damage, try to leave any caterpillars alone and enjoy the stunning butterflies they later morph into!
Green Ash is a beautiful, ultra-adaptable shade tree. Though the species prefers moist areas, there aren’t many sites the tree can’t thrive in. Do you have a low-lying area near a swamp or stream that stands in water from time to time? Great! Green Ash will thrive. Do you need a street tree to survive in a harsh environment with a cramped root zone surrounded by concrete? Green Ash will be right at home there as well. Green Ash is simply a classic shade tree with many interesting attributes that improves the look of any landscape it occupies. Plant one today!
A hummingbird gathering nectar from a firespike (Odontonema strictum) flower. Photo Credit: Knolllandscapindesign.com
Do you enjoy watching a variety of birds and butterflies in your landscape? Have you ever watched squirrels get into the birdfeeder? Children may learn about wildlife by watching through a window. Food, water, cover, and space are four essential elements that will create the best habitat for wildlife. Food could be as simple as adding feeders to attract birds to your yard but having a habitat that sustains them is important. Florida wildlife and Florida native plants evolved together and are often interdependent. It is a must to understand what sustains the species you are wanting to attract to your area. Different species prefer different food/plants. Insects also provide birds a food source for their young.
Water can be bird baths, man-made ponds, and natural bodies of water such as streams, lakes, ponds on your property. When relying on a bird bath for your water supply make sure the water is fresh and clean. Shallow water (1-1.5 inches) is better than deep (over 3 inches). Birds like sloping sides and a textured surface; they prefer to walk into water rather than dive in headfirst. Place the bath 5 to 10 feet from a protective cover like shrubs or trees. This needs to be close enough for the birds to be able to reach safety if there is danger from predators. A small outpost for birds to land on near the bath can help them check for predators before heading to the bath.
Cover will provide a place to raise young and should have vertical layers for animals to use for safety, shelter, and nests. Examples of cover that could be added to the landscape are snags that give food for woodpeckers and nesting perches. Or build your own nesting boxes that are species specific for owls, bees, and bats. All bats eat insects and substantially reduce the number of nocturnal insects in a neighborhood.
The permanently wet detention pond lined with cypress trees and sawgrass also provides habitat for fish, birds, and reptiles. Photo Credit: Carrie Stevenson, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Escambia County
Lastly it is important to think of your space. Create large patches of good habitat that span several landscapes or consider working with your neighbors to link the backyard habitats and create a larger area. It is all about the “Right Plant, Right Place” concept and understanding the area you are working with and the possibilities. When you go into the last step of planting and attracting wildlife have a plan and know what you would like to attract. Do your research on what you will need for that wildlife and use your resources, ask your local extension agent for ideas and suggestions!
Many plants in our native landscape provide much of what attracts wildlife and provides them with at least one of the four essential elements. The article “Planting for Wildlife Habitat!” will give you some ideas of plants and trees that do well in the North Florida area and will help to attract the wildlife you desire!
Humans and wildlife find Chickasaw plums delicious. Photo credit: University of Florida/IFAS
There are many trees that can be a great addition to your space that will provide one of the four essential elements food, water, cover, and space. Persimmon thrives in a wide variety of conditions from wet or sandy soil to lowlands or uplands. Deer actively seek out persimmon trees, eating every fruit that is within reach as well as leaves and twigs in the fall and winter. Other wildlife that enjoys the persimmon trees are squirrel, fox, bear, coyote, raccoon, opossum, and various birds including wild turkey. The nectar from flowers provides a significant food resource for pollinator species like bees. These trees are either male or female and at least 3 should be planted together to ensure pollination. Live Oak is a solid tree that many people in this area said survived Hurricane Michael. It provides acorns for food and deep shade. Black Cherry is a host plant for Red-Spotted purple and Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. Bitter fruit matures during the summer to fall and is used for jams, jellies, or liqueurs. Fruits are highly prized by birds and other wildlife. Wild cherry cough syrup is made from the reddish-brown, fragrant and bitter inner bark. Yaupon Holly is another tree that birds and wildlife feed on the berries throughout the winter when food is scarce. Leaves have the highest caffeine content of any other plant native to North America. Some other trees to consider are Basswood, Red Cedar, Florida Hop tree, Elderberry, Slippery Elm, Sassafras, Chickasaw Plums, and the Toothache Tree.
While yard work is important to maintain an attractive lawn, if done successfully, the resident can spend quality time in other pursuits like watching the wildlife from the front porch.
There are many plants that for the longest time I thought were only a nuisance to the everyday gardener, but I truly learned the phrase “Right Plant, Right Place” with these next few plants that I am going to mention. Smilax is a vine with thorns that is nearly impossible to get rid of and gets into our shrubs and landscape. But in the right place smilax provides shelter and food for wildlife. It has a blue-black berry in the spring and provides medicine, food, and dyes for humans. There are 2 species of smilax that are only found in the panhandle. Dog Fennel is native to fields, woodland edges, and roadsides and can be used as an insecticide and antifungal. It has feather like leaves that are very aromatic. Blackberry can grow wild and it is an all-around amazing plant for vitamins. It’s fruit can help fight cancer and decrease cardiovascular disease. Leaves and bark are useful medicinally and leaves can be used as a tea. The last plant I must mention is the Beauty Berry. It is known for its late fall bright purple fruits called drupes, not berries. This plant attracts birds for food in the fall time in North Florida. The drupes can also be used for jams and jellies. Other plants that are great for attracting wildlife are Spiderwort, Dewberry, and Spanish Needle.