Since entering the U.S. from Eastern Asia in the 1920s and especially since its promotion as the ultimate wildlife tree in the last few decades, I doubt there has been a more widely planted tree by outdoor enthusiasts than Sawtooth Oak (Quercus acutissima). It is easy to see the tree’s appeal. Sawtooth Oak grows quickly relative to other oaks, rates of 3-4’ per year in youth are not uncommon. It bears fruit at a very young age, as soon as five-seven years from seed, and produces a heavy crop almost every year, unlike many native oak species. Mature specimens are also mostly pest/disease free and very attractive, reaching 40-60’ in height with sweeping, wide-spreading branches, and deep, furrowed bark.
While it seems that I just described the ideal wildlife tree, and Sawtooth Oak can indeed be a worthy inclusion to your property, it is not perfect. All too often I see landowners and hunting lease holders plant solely Sawtooths as a part of their mast-producing tree strategy. As in other areas of life, avoiding monocultures and adding a little diversity to your wildlife tree portfolio is beneficial. Keep that, and the following lessons I’ve learned the hard way, in mind when you consider adding these wildlife attracting trees to your property.
Acorns Drop Early – Sawtooth Oaks produce all their acorns very early in the season, beginning in September. Conversely, most of our native oaks drop their mast (a fancy word for tree fruit) during the winter months that comprise our main hunting season, November-January. So, while Sawtooth Oak is an excellent wildlife attractor and most any creature will readily gobble up their acorns, if you plant them to hunt around or provide a critical winter food source, you’ll likely be disappointed.
Invasive Potential – As Sawtooth Oak is non-native, very adapted to the Southeastern U.S. climate, and produces literal tons of acorns each year, the species has the potential to become a nuisance invasive. I’ve visited several sites over the last few years that had a couple of large Sawtooth Oaks planted in areas mostly excluded from wildlife pressure. I was surprised to see small Sawtooth saplings popping up everywhere. It was eerily reminiscent of other nuisance trees like Chinaberry and Camphor. Though I don’t think Sawtooth Oak will ever be a problem on the level of Chinese Tallow or Cogon Grass, it’s wise to use caution with plants that have invasive potential.
Less Nutritious Acorns – Sawtooth Oak acorns are heavily browsed, but it’s not necessarily because they’re extremely nutritious. A study from the 1960s compared the nutritional quality of Sawtooth Oak acorns to 8 common native oak species and found Sawtooth lagged the natives by a significant margin in all macronutrients measured: protein, fat, and carbohydrates. This finding suggests that, while Sawtooth Oak is an excellent wildlife attractor, if your goal is growing higher quality game animals and providing valuable nutrients to get them through the winter when wildlife forages are scarce, Sawtooth Oak should be a minor component of your strategy, not the endgame.
Longevity – The jury is still out on longevity. However, anecdotal evidence from around the Southeast suggests that Sawtooth may not be as long-lived as some of our native oaks. This could be due to several factors. First, as a rule, extremely fast-growing trees tend to be shorter lived due to weaker branching structure, less dense wood, and other factors. Think of the tortoise and the hare analogy. The quickest do not always win the race. Second, Sawtooth Oak did not hold up particularly well during Hurricane Michael and other strong storms. Their growth habit (heavy, wide spreading branches low to the ground) is not conducive to major wind resistance. This is to be expected as Sawtooth Oak is native to areas that do not experience tropical wind events and likely evolved accordingly.
I am by no means suggesting that you shouldn’t add Sawtooth Oak to your property in the hopes of encouraging wildlife. There are few trees available that do a better job of that. I am suggesting that Sawtooth Oak should be a small part of your larger overall planting strategy and you should keep in mind the potential drawbacks to the species. Plant mostly native oaks, allow Sawtooth Oak to be merely a supplement to them, and I think you’ll be pleased with the results! Putting all your acorns in one basket is rarely a good strategy.
For more information on Sawtooth Oak, other wildlife forage and attractant strategies, or any other natural resource, agronomic or horticultural topic, please reach out to your local UF/IFAS Extension Office!
This Holiday season stay real and go local with a fresh locally grown tree. It may come as a surprise to many, but Florida has thriving local Christmas tree farms around the state. Just because Florida is a warm climate in the deep south does not mean Christmas trees are not grown here. Even though Florida is known for palms and citrus, Christmas trees are produced here. While the varieties of trees grown may not be the fir and spruce so often associated with a live tree; the Christmas tree varieties available are excellent trees for your Holiday decorating. Many of the varieties grown are native and have been used by locals going back to Florida’s early settlements. They also offer the experience of going to a farm directly to pick out and cut your perfect tree. It does not get any fresher than that, and the experience of going to a local farm is definitely a highlight of the season. It takes a large amount of care, trimming, and shaping over years to produce the 4 to 8 ft. trees that are popular in many homes. Farmers work year-round to bring a great product and Holiday experience to their local communities and beyond.
The Florida Christmas Tree Association, a statewide network of Christmas tree growers, maintains a farm list you can use to find local tree farms (Florida Christmas Tree Association (flchristmastrees.com). The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services also maintains an interactive map of local tree farms which you can access at the Christmas Tree Farms in Florida- Christmas Tree Farms in Florida – Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services (fdacs.gov). With several tree farms across the Panhandle, make a drive out to a farm convenient for you and hand pick your tree. Be sure to pack some gloves, a saw, and maybe a holiday picnic. It is a good idea to check the weather and call the farm before you go to determine what activities, hours, and other amenities they may have.
Once you get out to a Christmas tree farm, you will need to find that perfect tree. Here are some tips and info to make your search easier.
First and foremost, measure the space you are going to put the tree in to determine what size tree you will be looking for. Having more tree than you have space and height is sure to be a difficult struggle when you get the tree home. Next, determine what tree species you prefer. At Florida Christmas tree farms you are likely to find the following types of trees:
Eastern Red-Cedar- This is a handsome native tree that has long been used for traditional Christmas trees. It has a good form and excellent fragrance, with bright green foliage and lighter branches. These trees do well with lighter ornaments but will hold some larger ornaments.
Sand Pine- This is a native pine that grows well here and can be pruned to make a great Christmas tree. They have stiff branches and fairly short needles which work well for larger ornaments. They have an excellent pine scent as well.
Virginia Pine- This species is similar and related to sand pine, but its native range is further north. It is the mainstay of southern Christmas tree farms across the southeast. It has nice foliage, stout branches for large ornaments, and the outstanding pine scent many people love.
Leyland cypress- This tree is a hybrid between Monterey cypress and Alaska cedar and is very fast growing. It is popular as a Christmas tree and has handsome sprays of foliage that are deep green. The branches are light and soft, which makes it easy to decorate but can be a challenge for heavy ornaments. They have a nice light scent, which can be good for those that are more sensitive to strong evergreens.
Arizona Cypress- This is a heat and drought tolerant tree that has become more popular with growers in recent years. It is somewhat like both red-cedar and Leyland cypress, but it often has a unique blue green color. The branches are lighter and tend to do better with lighter ornaments.
Based on the information for the common trees grown in our area, pick a tree that suits you. There is certainly one for all needs, and the best part is you can look the trees over well at a farm.
Once you find your ideal tree it is time to cut and get it home. Once you have it home keeping it fresh and green all season long requires some care. It is important to make sure your tree always has water and does not go dry. Once a tree dries out it will stop taking up water and start to lose needles. Get the tree in water as soon as you can, then check and add water daily. Be sure that the water level is deep enough in the stand that the cut surface is submerged. A well-watered tree will stay fresh and supple throughout the Holidays. Be sure to keep your tree away from major heat sources for safety and to slow the drying process.
By selecting a real tree from a Florida tree farm, you will be reducing your environmental footprint as well. Real trees are a renewable resource and each year a tree farm plants several trees to replace each tree harvested. When you factor in getting a tree from a local Florida Christmas tree farm reduces fuel and emissions from transportation; your locally grown tree just got more environmentally friendly. Once the season is over you can recycle or reuse your Christmas tree in multiple ways. Use them in soil stabilization projects, erosion control, or in a pond as a fish aggregator. They can also be turned into mulch to be used in the landscape. Check in your local area to see what pickup and drop off options are available for your tree after the season is over.
Enjoy the Holidays this year and all the benefits that come from a fresh cut tree. Buying from a local tree farm supports local agriculture and your local community, and the experience builds memories and connections. The tree may only last the season, but the memories and experiences will last a lifetime. Whether you start a new tradition or continue an old one, the product and experience offered by a real Christmas tree from a Florida tree farm is a great addition to your Holiday Season.
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)!
Mistflower is a low growing, spreading native (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 of the outer yellow “petals” of sunflowers), possessing only disk florets (think of 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 such as the Eastern Swallowtails, Great Purple and Juniper Hairstreaks, and others.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: