Consider a Native Evergreen This Christmas

Consider a Native Evergreen This Christmas

eastern-redcedarThroughout history the evergreen tree has been a symbol of life. “Not only green when summer’s here, but also when cedar%20waxwing%20b57-13-103_vit’s cold and dreary” as the Christmas carol “O Tannenbaum” says.  While supporting the cut Christmas tree industry does create jobs and puts money into local economics, every few years consider adding to the urban forest by purchasing a living tree.  Native evergreen trees such as Redcedar make a nice Christmas tree that can be planted following the holidays.  The dense growth and attractive foliage make Redcedar a favorite for windbreaks, screens and wildlife cover.  The heavy berry production provides a favorite food source for migrating Cedar Waxwing birds.  Its highsouthern-redcedar salt-tolerance makes it ideal for coastal locations.  Their natural pyramidal-shape creates the traditional Christmas tree form, but can be easily pruned as a street tree.  Two species, Juniperus virginiana and Juniperus silicicola are native to Northwest Florida.  Many botanists do not separate the two, but as they mature, Juniperus silicicola takes on a softer, more informal look.  When planning for using a live Christmas tree there are a few things to consider.  The tree needs sunlight, so restrict its inside time to less than a week.  Make sure there is a catch basin for water under the tree, but never allow water to remain in the tray and don’t add fertilizer.  Locate your tree in the coolest part of the room and away from heating ducts and fireplaces. After Christmas, install the Redcedar in an open, sunny part of the yard.  After a few years you will be able to admire the living fence with all the wonderful memories of many years of holiday celebrations. Don’t forget to watch for the Cedar Waxwings.

Gardening for Pollinator Conservation Workshop – October 13th, Quincy FL

Gardening for Pollinator Conservation Workshop – October 13th, Quincy FL

Bee Balm CompressedA “Gardening for Pollinator Conservation” Workshop will take place Thursday, October 13, at the UF/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center (NFREC) in Quincy. Pollinators are important in conserving native plants, ensuring a plentiful food supply, encouraging biodiversity and helping maintain a healthier ecological environment – – – the so-called “balance of nature.” Come learn how you can conserve and promote pollinators in your own garden, all while beautifying your own little piece of Nature.

As in previous years, nursery vendors will be selling pollinator plants at the Oct. 13 workshop, making it convenient for you to put into practice what you learn at the workshop!  Registration is just $15 per person and includes lunch, refreshments, and handouts.

Check out the workshop details and register at:

What: Gardening for Pollinator Conservation

When: Thursday, October 13, 8:30 am to 5:00 pm EDT

Where: University of Florida/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center, 155 Research Road, Quincy, FL. Located just north of I-10 Exit 181, 3 miles south of Quincy, off Pat Thomas Highway, SR 267.

Cost: $15 per person (includes lunch, refreshments and handouts)


For more information, contact: Gary Knox,; 850.875.7105

For a printable Flyer click here: Gardening for Pollinators Workshop

Our workshop builds on previous successful pollinator workshops held at Leon Co. Extension last year and in Marianna in 2012. This workshop was developed as a collaboration of county faculty from several extension offices with folks from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission as well as UF/IFAS NFREC. Sponsors helping defray costs include Florida Native Plant Society – Magnolia Chapter, Gardening Friends of the Big Bend, Inc., Mail-Order Natives, and University of Florida/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center.

We look forward to seeing you at the workshop! 


Florida’s Aquatic Carnivorous Plants – Yes, Aquatic!

Florida’s Aquatic Carnivorous Plants – Yes, Aquatic!


DId you know that Florida is home to 14 species of aquatic carnivorous plants called “bladderworts?” This one is Utricularia inflata. Photo by Lyn Gettys

I don’t know about you, but living in “La Florida” – “the land of flowers” (the Spanish translation of Florida – named in 1513 by Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León) makes it difficult to have a short list of favorite plants.  While I do have a number of plants in my “favorites” list, carnivorous plants are always at the top in the “wow, is that real?” category!  Many people have read about, or have seen the carnivorous pitcher plant communities in Florida panhandle bogs, meadows, and seepage slopes, but did you also know that Florida is home to 14 species of aquatic carnivorous plants called “bladderworts?”


Utricularia’s many small bladders (only a few millimeters in size, and seen in this photo as small dark spots) actually trap and digest tiny aquatic invertebrates! Photo by Lyn Gettys

These bladderworts are in the genus Utricularia whose Latin meaning, “little bag,” is descriptive of the many small bladders (only a few millimeters in size) on the plant which actually trap and digest tiny aquatic invertebrates!  Bladderworts are found in lakes, ponds, wetlands, and quiet coves of rivers and streams.  They are commonly found in waters with low pH and low nutrients.  One interesting fact is that bladderworts do not have roots. They have main stems from which lacy, intricate leaves grow.  Like other plants, bladderworts produce food by photosynthesis; but the trapped invertebrates supplement the nutritional requirements of this plant.  The Botanical Society of America reports that currently 220 species of Utricularia are found in temperate and tropical habitats throughout the world representing the most diverse and widespread genus of carnivorous plants.

Bladderwort bugwood

A close-up of the tiny Utricularia bladders. Photo by Sturgis McKeever, Georgia Southern University,

Similar to a Venus fly trap, hairs on the opening of the bladder act as triggers.  When tiny prey swim by and contact these hairs, it causes the bladder to spring open and inflate, drawing in water and prey like a vacuum.  Research has found that bacteria living in the traps act together in a mutualistic role to digest the food trapped in the bladders.  An article in the Journal of Experimental Botany entitled The carnivorous bladderwort (Utricularia, Lentibulariaceae): a system inflates,” details another fascinating aspect of these plants: the bladders often look like the tiny prey (microcrustaceans/cladocerans) they are catching.

“Darwin (1875), noted yet another insight: aquatic Utricularia bladders bear a striking resemblance to microcrustaceans. The bladder shape, surface reticulations, stalk, and especially the antennae and bristles resemble microcrustacean anatomy. Interestingly, the bladders most closely resemble the littoral zone cladocerans (bosminids and chydorids) that are frequently found or overrepresented in bladders (Guiral and Rougier, 2007;  Alkhalaf et al., 2009)….Moreover, experiments reveal that the cladoceran-like structures of bladders significantly improve the capture rates of cladocerans (Meyers and Strickler, 1979; Harms, 1999;  Jobson and Morris, 2001).”

bladderwort flower

Bladderwort flowers are small but beautiful, and are designed to maximize pollination. This is purple bladderwort (Utricularia purpurea). Photo by Rebekah D. Wallace, University of Georgia,

Bladderwort flowers are another beautiful feature of this plant.  In Florida most species have yellow flowers, some are lavender to purple.  The flowers bloom several inches above the water, and their shape is designed to efficiently attract and remove pollen from pollinating insects like bees.  Part of the flower is shaped like a spur which contains a nectar reward for pollinating insects.  This link, The Utricularia, to a Botanical Society of America publication details the botany and pollination ecology of bladderworts.   

We hope this article piques your curiosity about some of Florida’s obscure native, aquatic, carnivorous plants!  Maybe you, too, will include them in your list of favorite La Florida plants!

Below are the publications used for this article:


Discover the Beauty and Role of Native Aquatic Plants – in Your Own Pond

Discover the Beauty and Role of Native Aquatic Plants – in Your Own Pond

A stand of purple wetland plants called "False Dragon Heads (Physostegia spp.)

A stand of purple flowers called “False Dragon-Heads (Physostegia spp.) growing along the St. Marks River. They are behind a stand of pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata) that has not yet bloomed. Photo: Judy Biss

This is the time of year when gardens burst forth with lush green growth and colorful flowers.  With a little planning and management, your backyard pond can also put on the same show each year and fight unwanted pond weeds at the same time!

Fish and farm ponds are abundant in the Florida panhandle.  Most are two acres or less and are used for producing catfish, bass, and bream; for recreation and wildlife viewing; for fishing and swimming; and for irrigation and livestock watering.  Ponds play an important role in various aspects of agricultural production and rural life, and for that reason, maintaining their ecological health is critical to their many uses.

Managing aquatic plants is one important component of pond ownership.  If you are a pond owner, you have probably seen and read many articles related to controlling and removing aquatic weeds.  Just as in terrestrial gardens, there are a number of non-native (and sometimes native) plants that can become quite weedy and problematic in and around your pond.  Hydrilla, water hyacinth, torpedograss, Chinese tallow, alligator weed, and the tiny water spangles (common Salvinia) are just a few examples that plague our waterways and shorelines.  But, controlling and removing weeds is only part of the bigger picture of pond management.  Planting native wetland plants is another ecologically important and aesthetically enriching management tool as well.

By establishing beds of healthy native plants, you are also fighting against weedy non-native invasive plants through competition for space.  Some other benefits of native aquatic plants are they act as a barrier, filtering fertilizers such as nitrogen and phosphorus from runoff, and they help control erosion.  Also, because native plants are adapted to our local environments, they are generally easy to grow, and most require little or no extra water or fertilizer.

Below are a few guidelines to follow if you are considering the use of native aquatic plants in your pond.

Know Your Plants:

Depending on the type, aquatic plants generally grow in three forms.  Emerged, like maidencane or bulrush, submerged like coontail and southern naiad, and floating, like the tiny free floating duckweed, and spatterdock and fragrant water lily which are rooted with floating leaves and flowers at the water’s surface. There are many good UF/IFAS publications and online resources for aquatic plant identification.  Some are listed at the end of this article.

Plan Ahead:

Some questions to ask are, what is the primary use of your pond?  Is it wildlife viewing, swimming, fishing, irrigation, etc.?  The answers to these questions will help you determine how much of your pond and shoreline will be planted, and what types of plants to use.  For example, if you use your pond for fishing and irrigation, you should leave some areas of the shore unplanted and mowed to allow for access, and you should not plant submerged plants that may clog irrigation intakes.  On the other hand, if your pond is primarily for attracting wildlife, you can plant most of the shoreline including some types of submerged aquatic plants.

Right Plant Right Place:

You may have heard this Florida Friendly Landscaping term before, as it holds true for any garden including aquatic gardens.  Choose plants that grow best in the water depth and planting “shelves” you have in and around your pond.  By “shelf” we are referring to the slope of your shoreline.  Is it a gradual, gentle slope into deeper water, or is it steep and abrupt?  Also, become familiar with seasonal changes in your pond’s water depth, as it may affect the plants you select.

Prepare For Maintenance:

Just like a vegetable garden, your newly planted aquatic plants (especially those that are emerged) will need attention in the first year or so of establishment.  Remove dead plants and weed out unwanted plants.

Where to Purchase the Plants:

For a list of Florida native plant suppliers, visit the Association of Florida Native Nurseries (AFNN) Please Note: collecting wild plants in Florida is subject to various regulations and may require permits!  Visit this website for details on wild collection – Florida Plant Collecting and Transport, Regulations and Permitting, University of Florida Herbarium

Here are some helpful resources used for this article with more detail on establishing aquatic plants around your pond.



NISAW 2016 – Air Potato Leaf Beetle, a Biological Control for Air Potato

NISAW 2016 – Air Potato Leaf Beetle, a Biological Control for Air Potato

Air potato vine. Photo by Scott Jackson

Air potato vine. Photo by Scott Jackson

Air potato (Dioscores bulbifera) is a perennial, herbaceous self-twining vine that can grow over 60 feet in length, enabling it to climb over and smother many native plants. The Florida Exotic Plant Pest Council (FLEPPC) lists air potato as a Category 1 invasive plant, which means that it has disrupted natural communities and ecological functions by displacing native plant species.


In 2012, a leaf feeding beetle (Lilioceris cheni) was introduced into South Florida from China for biological control of air potato. Although it is too early to determine any potential long-term impacts, the initial results have been promising. The larvae and adults of the air potato leaf beetle feed on the leaf tissue and occasionally the bulbils. The damage to the growing tips of the plant have dramatically reduced its ability to cover native vegetation. Extensive damage to air potato was evident within three months after the first release. Additionally, testing by scientists at the USDA/ARS Invasive Plant Research Laboratory in Fort Lauderdale concluded that the beetle will not complete development on any other plant found in Florida.

Air potato beetle up close. Photo by Julie McConnell

Air potato beetle up close. Photo by Julie McConnell


The female air potato leaf beetle lays an average of 1,200 eggs, which develop into larvae in about four days. The young beetles skeletonize the air potato leaves for the next eight days and then pupate into foam-like cocoons. Clumps of cocoons fall to the ground and the adult beetles emerge 13 to 16 days later. There can be a new generation of air potato leaf beetle every month while the weather is warm. For the winter, the adults hide in leaf litter and wait for spring.


The question now is: “How well will they survive through a longer, colder Northwest Florida winter?”. USDA scientists, UF Extension agents and citizen scientists in Bay and Okaloosa County hope to find out. Earlier this month, June 2015, air potato leaf beetles from the Hayslip Biological Control and Research and Containment Laboratory in Ft. Pierce were released into areas containing air potato. They will be monitored over the next year. Look for an update this coming summer.


NISAW 2016 – Climbing Ferns

NISAW 2016 – Climbing Ferns


Japanese Climbing Fern can quickly cover natural vegetation. Spores and small plants can be potentially transported in pine straw. Climbing ferns are a problem for managed timber and home landscapes. Photo by L. Scott Jackson

Japanese Climbing Fern can quickly cover natural vegetation. Spores and small plants can be potentially transported in pine straw. Climbing ferns are a problem for managed timber and home landscapes. Photo by L. Scott Jackson

Japanese Climbing Fern (Lygodium japonicum) and Old World Climbing Fern (Lygodium microphyllum) are presently the only non-native invasive ferns in Florida.

Both ferns reproduce and spread readily by wind-blown spores. Animals, equipment, and even people that move through an area with climbing ferns are very likely to pick up spores and move them to other locations on the property or even to other properties.

Japanese climbing fern is a delicate looking perennial climbing vine. It is capable of forming a dense mat-like thatch capable of covering trees and shrubs. Initially, it was introduced from Japan as an ornamental. It is scattered throughout the lower portions of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, and south into central Florida. Further planting or cultivation of this vine is prohibited by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.


Old World climbing fern has been a problem for many years in central and south Florida but it is currently moving north. The northern edge of its advance is now just south of Marion County.

Adequate control of both climbing ferns has been achieved with multiple applications of glyphosate. Other herbicides have also been used to control Japanese climbing fern.

As with most invasive plants, repeated and correctly timed treatments are likely to be necessary.

For more information about climbing ferns contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office and read the following publication: