October is Coastal Dune Lake Appreciation Month

October is Coastal Dune Lake Appreciation Month

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 (Hydrocotyle umbellata), cattails (Typha spp.), sawgrass (Cladium jamaicense), waterlilies (Nymphaea spp.), watershield (Brasenia schreberi), royal fern (Osmunda regalis var. spectabilis), rosy camphorweed (Pluchea spp.), marshelder (Iva frutescens), groundsel tree (Baccharis halimifolia), and black willow (Salix nigra).

Some of the animal species that can be found include: western mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis), sailfin molly (Poecilia latipinna), American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), eastern mud turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum), saltmarsh snake (Nerodia clarkii ssp.), little blue heron (Egretta caerulea), American coot (Fulica americana), and North American river otter (Lutra canadensis). 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.

Register here on Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/panhandle-outdoor-live-coastal-dune-lake-lecture-and-nature-trail-tour-tickets-419061633627

Mangroves in the Western Panhandle

Mangroves in the Western Panhandle

Mangroves in the northern Gulf of Mexico are a relatively new thing for most coastal counties.  Some residents are aware they are arriving and are not concerned.  Some are aware and are actually excited about it.  Some are aware and are concerned.  Some are not aware.  And others have no idea what a mangrove is.  Let’s start with that group.

Black mangroves growing near St. George Island in Franklin County.
Photo: Joshua Hodson.

Mangroves are salt tolerant trees that are found all around the globe within the tropics.  They grow along the shorelines in areas where they are protected from ocean wind and waves – they like estuaries.  There are several species and their location along the shore depends on how long they can be submerged in water.  There is a definite zonation of these trees.

 

The red mangrove with their distinct prop roots.
Photo: University of Florida

The red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) is found closest to the waters edge.  They can be identified by their prop roots which are designed to keep it standing when the water is moving and shifting the sediment below it.  These prop roots also useful during tropical storms when the wave energy increases.  The have distinct looking propagules, which are elongated floating seeds which allows the plant to disperse their offspring using the currents and tides.  The propagules often wash ashore on northern Gulf beaches but usually in locations not conducive to growth, or they do not survive the winters.  These plants can tolerate temperatures in the 30sF for a night or two, but when it drops into the 20sF, and certainly into the 10sF, they will not survive.  Despite not being cold tolerant, they have been found growing in the northern Gulf of Mexico.  All the mangroves found in the Pensacola area have been of this species.

 

Black mangroves with their pneumatophores.
Photo: University of Florida

The black mangrove (Avicennia germinans) is found higher in the intertidal zone.  It lacks the prop roots of the red but rather has what are called pneumatophores, which resemble the knees of the cypress trees.  These pneumatophores have structures that help increase the oxygen uptake for the plant, being that the sediments they live in are quite hypoxic.  The seeds of the black mangrove are not elongated but rather resemble a bean.  These trees are more tolerant of cold weather than the red mangrove and it is they that have led the march north.  There are large stands of these trees in the Apalachicola area as well as barrier islands in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas.  We have not found a black mangrove growing in Pensacola as of yet.

 

The larger white mangrove.
Photo: University of Florida

White mangroves (Laguncularia racemosa) grow more inland than the other two.  This species can grow into a large tree (up to 40 feet).  Their leaves can excrete salt allowing them to live in saltier conditions.  There are no records of this tree in the northern Gulf of Mexico to my knowledge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why would anyone be concerned about mangroves dispersing into the northern Gulf?

 

Those who are concerned are aware that is a shoreline tree that will grow and possibly block their view of the water.  They also are aware that this tree is protected by the state, and they are not allowed to remove or trim the tree without a permit.  In south Florida trimming mangroves is allowed in some counties during certain times of the year and only by certified arborist.  Those concerned are not excited about potentially loosing their water view.

A red mangrove growing near the pass of Pensacola Bay.
Photo: Whitney Scheffel.

 

Why would anyone be excited about mangroves dispersing into the northern Gulf?

 

Folks who are excited about the possible coming of the mangroves are so because they have spent time snorkeling and fishing in and around them in more southern locations.  The prop roots of the red mangrove create an underwater wonderland of marine life.  Small fish, crabs, anemones, starfish, mollusk and more find the large openings formed by the roots as great habitat.  These in turn attract larger fish like snook, tarpon, rays, and flounder.  Many species of larger fish are popular targets for anglers.  Manatees are often found in mangrove swamps grazing on the algae and seagrasses growing nearby and enjoying the relatively calm water.  Those who have experienced this in south Florida are excited they may have it here in the north.

 

How many mangroves, and which species, have dispersed into the northern Gulf is still being studied.  Florida Sea Grant has partnered with Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant and three of the National Estuarine Research Preserves to survey for mangroves in our panhandle counties and along coastal Mississippi and Alabama.  Ten transects have identified in each that are surveyed once a year by volunteers using paddle craft.  The presence of a mangrove is documented, measured, photographed and shared with the team, which is overseen by Whitney Scheffel of the Pensacola-Perdido Bay Estuary Program.  If you are interested in participating in a survey, contact your county Sea Grant Extension Agent.

Panhandle Outdoors Live! at St. Joseph Bay Rescheduled for September 28th

Panhandle Outdoors Live! at St. Joseph Bay Rescheduled for September 28th

The University of Florida/IFAS Extension faculty are reintroducing their acclaimed “Panhandle Outdoors LIVE!” series. Conservation lands and aquatic systems have vulnerabilities and face future threats to their ecological integrity.  Come learn about the important role of these ecosystems.

The St. Joseph Bay and Buffer Preserve Ecosystems are home to some of the one richest concentrations of flora and fauna along the Northern Gulf Coast. This area supports an amazing diversity of fish, aquatic invertebrates, turtles, salt marshes and pine flatwoods uplands.

This one-day educational adventure is based at the St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve near the coastal town of Port. St. Joe, Florida. It includes field tours of the unique coastal uplands and shoreline as well as presentations by area Extension Agents.

Details:

Registration fee is $45.

Meals: breakfast, lunch, drinks & snacks provided (you may bring your own)

Attire: outdoor wear, water shoes, bug spray and sun screen

*if afternoon rain is in forecast, outdoor activities may be switched to the morning schedule

Space is limited! Register now! See below.

Tentative schedule:

All Times Eastern

8:00 – 8:30 am  Welcome! Breakfast & Overview with Ray Bodrey, Gulf County Extension

8:30 – 9:35 am Diamondback Terrapin Ecology, with Rick O’Connor, Escambia County Extension

9:35 – 9:45 am  Q&A

9:45- 10:20 am The Bay Scallop & Habitat, with Ray Bodrey, Gulf County Extension

10:20 – 10:30 am Q&A

10:30 – 10:45 am Break

10:45 – 11:20 am The Hard Structures: Artificial Reefs & Marine Debris, with Scott Jackson, Bay County Extension

11:20 – 11:30 am Q&A

11:30 – 12:05 am The Apalachicola Oyster, Then, Now and What’s Next, with Erik Lovestrand, Franklin County Extension

12:05 – 12:15 pm Q&A

12:15 – 1:00 pm Lunch

1:00 – 2:30 pm Tram Tour of the Buffer Preserve (St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve Staff)

2:30 – 2:40 pm Break

2:40 – 3:20 pm A Walk Among the Black Mangroves (All Extension Agents)

3:20 – 3:30 pm Wrap Up

To attend, you must register for the event at this site: 

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/panhandle-outdoors-live-at-st-joseph-bay-tickets-404236802157

For more information please contact Ray Bodrey at 850-639-3200 or rbodrey@ufl.edu

Buttonbush:  A Pollinator’s Favorite

Buttonbush: A Pollinator’s Favorite

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 (Cephalanthus occidentalis).  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.

Register Now! 9th Annual Beekeeping in the Panhandle Conference on Friday May 6th & Saturday May 7th 2022

Register Now! 9th Annual Beekeeping in the Panhandle Conference on Friday May 6th & Saturday May 7th 2022

The University of Florida IFAS Extension and the Beekeeping in the Panhandle Working Group has once again teamed up to offer the 9th Annual Beekeeping in the Panhandle Conference on Friday May 6th and Saturday May 7th 2022 at the Washington County Ag Center Auditorium.

This year’s event will feature: Hands-on open hive experiences, presentations on the latest in research-based beekeeping management practices, interaction with expert beekeepers, vendors with beekeeping equipment, and hive products. Door prizes will be available as well!

The registration fee for the event will be $35 for one day or $55 for both days per person over 12, and $15 per day for kids 12 and under.

The activities will take place from 8:00 am – 5:00 pm Central each day and will include catered lunch.

Location: 1424 Jackson Avenue, Chipley, FL

Ways to register:

Registration link: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/9th-annual-beekeeping-in-the-panhandle-conference-trade-show-tickets-269199873067

Or, drop by the Washington County Extension Office in Chipley.

For more information contact Washington County Extension Office at (850) 638-6180

Fall and Winter—Florida’s Tree Planting Seasons

Fall and Winter—Florida’s Tree Planting Seasons

This giant heritage live oak tree has been providing oxygen, habitat, and shelter for 900 years! Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

While many people think of planting trees in the spring, autumn and winter are ideal for these activities in Florida.  The cooler weather means most trees are no longer actively growing and producing new leaves and fruit, so there are fewer demands on a newly planted tree to start “working” right away.  The dormant winter season allows the trees to acclimate to their new environment and begin developing sturdy root systems.

However, a newly planted tree is only as valuable as the care it’s given when planted.  To ensure a successful tree, important steps to follow include proper placement, planting depth, mulching, and watering.

Proper tree planting practices can ensure a long-lived, healthy tree in the environment. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

Before digging, look up and around to make sure there are no overhead or underground obstacles within the reaches of the tree’s mature height or root system.  When digging the planting hole, make sure the hole is 2-3 times as wide as the root ball.  When planted, the topmost root flare (where the roots join the trunk) should be just above the surface of the adjacent landscape.  It is not necessary to fertilize a newly planted tree.  Use mulch to retain moisture in the soil, but do not place it against the tree’s trunk. Finally, water the tree daily, saturating the root ball, for 1-2 weeks then weekly for a year.

For more information on planting trees and good varieties of trees for Florida, visit this excellent resource from UF. As always, one should strive to plant the right tree in the right place.  For those who live in suburban or urban areas, considerations like tree size, leaf shed, and water requirements are big concerns.  For more information on size evaluation and plant selection, please visit this link from the UF Horticulture department.