In the fall of the year, North American monarch butterflies travel from their summer breeding grounds to overwintering location. Those from east of the Rocky Mountains, travel up to an astonishing 3,000 miles to central Mexico. Unlike summer generations that only live for two to six weeks as adults, Eastern monarch adults emerging after about mid-August can live up to nine months. They enter reproductive diapause and begin migrating south in response to decreasing day length and temperatures. This generation has never seen the overwintering grounds before.
As the Monarch butterflies migrate through the Panhandle, saltbush (Baccharis halimifolia), is a must visit. Their tiny, white to greenish blooms and “fuzzy-looking” fruit come into flower and are attractive at a time when few other small trees and shrubs are flowering, bring this rarely-noticed native plant into view in the fall landscape.
Saltbush is an oval to rounded, freely branched, multi-stemmed, hardy, semi-evergreen to deciduous, cold-tolerant shrub usually not exceeding about 12 feet in height. Its leaves are 1-3 inches long and about 1 1/2 inches wide, often deeply toothed, and shiny to grayish green. No serious pests are normally seen on the plant. Also referred to as Groundsel, it is native to coastal and interior wetlands throughout Florida, often seen in its native habitat with Wax Myrtle, Buttonbush and Marsh Elder.
The average pace of the migration is around 20-30 miles per day. But tag recoveries have shown that monarchs can fly 150 miles or more in a single day if conditions are favorable. Monarchs migrate during the day, coming down at night to gather together in clusters in a protected area. In the south, they might choose oak or pecan trees, especially if the trees are overhanging a stream channel.
Monarchs migrate alone—they do not travel in flocks like birds do. So they often descend from the sky in the afternoon to feed, and then search for an appropriate roosting site. Most roosts last only 1 or 2 nights, but some may last a few weeks.
By early November, the monarchs gather in oyamel fir (Abies religiosa) trees on south-southwest facing mountains in central Mexico. Orientation of insects is not well understood by entomologists. It can’t be learned from their parents since it’s the fourth or fifth generation that migrates south. Celestial cues (the sun, moon, or stars) and the earth’s magnetic field are the most accepted driving forces influencing the monarch butterflies’ instincts. Unique genetics in North American monarchs have been discovered by researchers. Low metabolic rates and changes in muscle function make migrating butterflies endurance athletes.
The earliest records of overwintering clusters of monarchs are from the 1860s. The chosen grounds provide all the elements needed for overwintering. Because monarchs need water for moisture, the fog and clouds in the two-mile-high mountainous region provide a perfect resting area. Clustered together, covering the trunks and branches of the sacred fir trees, the monarchs are protected form the occasional frost, snow, rain, or hail by the thick canopy of the tall trees, surrounding shrubs, and nectar providing flowers. Milkweed is not the essential plant for the overwintering generation. Come spring, the monarch will begin their search for the milkweed.
What do ice cream, make-up, paint, plastic, air freshener, laundry detergent, cellophane, and rayon fabric have in common? They all have pine tree in them. There are hundreds of products that contain the cellulose or sap from the pine tree species native to Florida’s panhandle, particularly Longleaf and Slash pines.
Early foresters of the 1800’s discovered these pine species that grew tall and strong. In fact, Longleaf pines were so overharvested that there is only about 3% of the original forests remaining today. These trees not only provided a huge resource for lumber, they also supplied the fluids necessary to support the timber industry – turpentine. By “cat-facing” (cutting downward angled slashes) the trunk of pine trees, the sap would flow into collection cups placed on the trunks. It was collected and heated.
Turpentine is a fluid obtained by the distillation of resin harvested from pine trees. As a solvent, it is used for thinning oil-based paint, for producing varnishes, and as a raw material for the chemical industry. Add some beeswax and it becomes furniture wax. In the early years, turpentine mixed with coal oil and kerosene was used as a topical wound dressing and lice treatment. Add some animal fats to make primitive vapor rub.
Terpene is the scientific term coined in 1866 to denote all hydrocarbons with the formula C10H16. The word was a shortened form of “terpentine”, the obsolete spelling of “turpentine”. Terpenes are major biosynthetic building blocks for the oils in plants. For the plants, these oils play a critical role in defense against herbivory, build disease resistance, and aid in attracting pollinators. When the resin of pine trees (turpentine) is distilled, each of the terpenes can be separated. Based on there formulation, the terpenes are the base for fragrances and flavoring in numerous consumer products. With various heating treatments, many “fresh scented” cleaning products and antiseptics can be produced. Others terpenes will add “taste” to ice cream, chewing gum, and even beer. The cellulose separated from the turpentine is used to provide “structure” to cosmetics, fabrics, impact-resistant plastics, and modern digital display screens.
Who knew that you could get so many uses from pine trees. They are not just for making 2 x 4s anymore. In fact, the 1939 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to the scientist that sorted out the 55,000 terpene compounds from turpentine. You may never look at a pine tree (or your beer) the same way again.
The colder part of the year is the best time to install hardy trees and shrubs. All their energy is in the root zone. They will establish much faster than if you wait until they are actively growing leaves.
However, planting them correctly is critical to their survival. The top three mistakes that people make are: (1) installing too deeply, (2) leaving the rootball undisturbed, and (3) not applying enough water all the way through establishment of the root system. Unfortunately, it may be years before the mistakes are noticed.
Here are the ten steps for successful planting:
1. Call 811 and have all underground utilities marked before digging the hole.
Hitting a line can be costly and life threatening.
2. Loosen all surrounding compacted soil within the potential root zone of the tree.
Tree roots are close to the surface and need to be able to push through the soil.
3. If the soil is extremely dry and sandy, amend with the entire area with organic material.
This is only needed in coastal regions.
4. Remove the container from the tree and find the top-most root.
All media covering the root flare must be removed.
5. Prepare the rootball by removing encircling roots and shaving the edges of the rootball.
The rootball should no longer be shaped like the container when complete.
6. Dig the hole slightly less shallow than the rootball.
Make sure the bottom of the hole is firm soil, so sinking will not occur.
7. Place the rootball in the ground with the main root showing just above the soil grade.
Oxygen must reach the roots for new roots to develop.
8. Back fill around the rootball with the surrounding loose soil.
Take care to not cover the root flare.
9. Mulch around the outside of the rootball without covering the rootball.
Apply at least 2-3 inches of organic mulch. No more than 4″.
10. Water immediately to settle soil and then on a regular schedule until established.
Minimum of 1 gal per 3 gal plant, every 2-4 days, for 20-28 weeks. Larger plants will require more water at each event.
October has been designated as Coastal Dune Lake Appreciation month by Walton County government. Walton County is home to 15 named coastal dune lakes along 26 miles of coastline. These lakes are a unique geographical feature and are only found in a few places in the world including Madagascar, Australia, New Zealand, Oregon, and here in Walton County.
A coastal dune lake is defined as a shallow, irregularly shaped or elliptic depressions occurring in coastal communities that share an intermittent connection with the Gulf of Mexico through which freshwater and saltwater is exchanged. They are generally permanent water bodies, although water levels may fluctuate substantially. Typically identified as lentic water bodies without significant surface inflows or outflows, the water in a dune lake is largely derived from lateral ground water seepage through the surrounding well-drained coastal sands. Storms occasionally provide large inputs of salt water and salinities vary dramatically over the long term.
Our coastal dune lakes are even more unique because they share an intermittent connection with the Gulf of Mexico, referred to as an “outfall”, which aides in natural flood control allowing the lake water to pour into the Gulf as needed. The lake water is fed by streams, groundwater seepage, rain, and storm surge. Each individual lake’s outfall and chemistry is different. Water conditions between lakes can vary greatly, from completely fresh to significantly saline.
A variety of different plant and animal species can be found among the lakes. Both freshwater and saltwater species can exist in this unique habitat. Some of the plant species include: rushes (Juncus spp.), sedges (Cyperus spp.), marshpennywort (Hydrocotyleumbellata), cattails (Typha spp.), sawgrass (Cladiumjamaicense), waterlilies (Nymphaea spp.), watershield (Braseniaschreberi), royal fern (Osmundaregalis var. spectabilis), rosy camphorweed (Pluchea spp.), marshelder (Ivafrutescens), groundsel tree (Baccharishalimifolia), and black willow (Salixnigra).
Some of the animal species that can be found include: western mosquitofish (Gambusiaaffinis), sailfin molly (Poecilialatipinna), American alligator (Alligatormississippiensis), eastern mud turtle (Kinosternonsubrubrum), saltmarsh snake (Nerodiaclarkii ssp.), little blue heron (Egrettacaerulea), American coot (Fulicaamericana), and North American river otter (Lutracanadensis). Many marine species co-exist with freshwater species due to the change in salinity within the column of water.
The University of Florida/IFAS Extension faculty are reintroducing their acclaimed “Panhandle Outdoors LIVE!” series. Come celebrate Coastal Dune Lake Appreciation month as our team provides a guided walking tour of the nature trail surrounding Western Lake in Grayton Beach State Park. Join local County Extension Agents to learn more about our globally rare coastal dune lakes, their history, surrounding ecosystems, and local protections. Walk the nature trail through coastal habitats including maritime hammocks, coastal scrub, salt marsh wetlands, and coastal forest. A tour is available October 19th.
The tour is $10.00 (plus tax) and you can register on Eventbrite (see link below). Admission into the park is an additional $5.00 per vehicle, so carpooling is encouraged. We will meet at the beach pavilion (restroom facilities available) at 8:45 am with a lecture and tour start time of 9:00 am sharp. The nature trail is approximately one mile long, through some sandy dunes (can be challenging to walk in), on hard-packed trails, and sometimes soggy forests. Wear appropriate footwear and bring water. Hat, sunscreen, camera, binoculars are optional. Tour is approximately 2 hours. Tour may be cancelled in the event of bad weather.
Beginning in 2007 the US Senate, in support of the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign, declared the last week of June as “National Pollinator Week.” As humans, we depend on pollen-moving animals for one out of every three bites of food. Without birds, bees, bats, beetles, butterflies, and various other animals, many flowers would fail to reproduce. In Florida there are numerous native plants that serve as hosts for these pollinators.
One of the favorites, due to its heavy flowering over the summer, is Buttonbush (Cephalanthusoccidentalis).It is a semi-aquatic woody shrub to small tree that develops white golf-ball-sized clusters of fragrant flowers, attracting various pollinating animals. Bees of various species, several different wasps, assorted moths and butterflies, flies and even hummingbirds scramble for the flowers’ sweet treat within each of the trumpet shaped flowers. The pincushion-like flower balls stand on two inch stalks in clusters arising from stem tips and leaf axils. They are produced over a long period in late spring and summer. The flowers give way to little reddish-brown nutlets which persist on the through the winter. Buttonbush seeds are important wildlife food, especially for ducks; and the dense, impenetrable tickets provide nesting and escape cover for many wetland birds and herptiles. Buttonbush is a fast-growing wetland plant that can be grown in a naturalized landscape if given supplemental water during dry spells. It is at its best, through, in an area where the soil is frequently wet and can tolerate soggy soils. Buttonbush is not drought or salt tolerant. The deciduous shrub grows well in full sun to partial shade on soils that are acidic to slightly alkaline. The leaves of Buttonbush turn yellow in the fall before dropping off. While short-lived, requiring rejuvenation pruning to improve its longevity, Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) serves a critical role to wildlife in the wetland habitat. Deer browse the foliage and twigs. Ducks, especially the mallard, eat the seeds. And, the summer flowers attract bees, butterflies and moths; our wonderful pollinators.