Category Archives: Plants

plants

Sea Oats

Sea Oats cover many of the sand dunes and beach areas in SW Florida and coastal communities on the East coast from Maine to Florida. Sea Oats grow up to 6 ft tall and perform an important role in protecting coasts from erosion.

Sand Dunes form on a beach when sediment of sand is blown upwards on a  beach where it accumulates and is suspended around obstacles likes plants, fences, and driftwood. Plants are the best solution to keeping sand dunes in place because their roots hold them in place when flooding from winter storms occurs or severe events like hurricanes happen.  

The pictures above are of Sea Oats on beaches on Sanibel Island, Florida and Southampton New York. Both of these areas see their beaches diminished and reduced because of winter storms, tidal currents and other forces. The Sea Oat plant is a favorite anti erosion plant because they are hardy plants that are tolerant of salt water, winds and their ability to send their strong root structures called rhizomes underground.

There is a good fact sheet describing Sea Oats on the United States Dept of Agriculture web site. There are also other good images of Sea Oats on the Bing Website.

 

https://www.bing.com/images/search?q=sea+oats&qpvt=sea+oats&qpvt=sea+oats&qpvt=sea+oats&FORM=IGRE

 

https://plants.usda.gov/factsheet/pdf/fs_unpa.pdf

 

 

Cactus

Cactus is usually thought of as a plant that grows in dry desert like climates but many people have grown various species of cacti in their yards as ornamental plants and they have done. very well in our wet and humid climate. There are several species of cacti that are native to Florida cactus including the Opuntia or Prickly Pear cactus. The Prickly Pear cactus can grow to over 3 ft. tall and is a sprawling green cactus with flat stems and branches and has flowers that blossom in the Spring.

My neighbor across the street collected bits and pieces of cactus that were being thrown away by other homes in the neighborhood and created a very colorful garden of a variety of cacti. Cacti have an advantage over other plants because they require little maintenance and can often survive in extreme weather conditions of heat and cold. The Gardening Solutions website from the Unlv of Fla Institute of Food and and Science provides some helpful information on growing cactus.

The species of cactus in the picture include a Yucca Cactus, Prickly Pear, Echeveria, Desert Rose, Blue Agave and another one that I haven’t identified yet. Cactus requires a dry soil that drains well and usually lots of sun. Florida’s weather suits many types of cactus because of our plentiful sunshine and well draining soil which is very sandy. The Christmas Cactus is a popular plant to give around the Christmas season because of its reddish flowers it produces.

Cactus grows well indoors in sunny locations in the home. I look for plants in a couple of popular garden stores and nurseries in the Ft. Myers area including Driftwood Nursery in South Ft. Myers on U.S. 41 and the Riverland Nursery on Rt. 80 in N. Ft. Myers.

 

 

 

 

 

Ghost Orchid

Ghost Orchid

Ghost Orchid

 

 

 

 

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The Ghost Orchid is very rare and has been spotted in the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary by a visitor who was probably looking for birds in the swamp. She told others about her sighting and the staff of the sanctuary has been recording and observing it’s growth and flowering blooms over the past few years. The Ghost Orchid use to be found in other wetlands in South Florida including the Fakahatchee Strand, and Big Cypress National Preserve but they have largely disappeared. Their disappearance has made the remaining ones more valuable and sought after by collectors and poachers. The Ghost Orchid needs a special moth called the giant Sphinx Moth to pollinate it’s flowers before they bloom. The destruction of the swamps in South Florida by urbanization, development of farms and canal construction to dry out the land has probably reduced the number of these moths.

Orchids are epiphytes or types of plants that do not have a normal root structure but instead grow and attach themselves to trees and other plants and derive their water and moisture by water running off these plants. The picture of the orchid above is an artificial replica that is located in the visitor center at the Calusa Nature Center in Ft. Myers. You can learn more about the Ghost Orchid by visiting the website of the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary or the ghostorchid.info website.

 

 

 

 

Sea Grape Plant

Sea Grape Plant

Sea Grape Plant

Sea Grapes ( Coccolaba uvifera) are large flowering plants or shrubs that are often seen in coastal areas in sand dunes and near beaches. They are hardy plants, very salt tolerant and make excellent plants to halt erosion on beaches and also act as wind breakers for nearby homes. The plant grows large grape like clusters that are reddish looking fruits. The tree or shrub often grows to large sizes and can be several feet wide and 50 ft high although the ones I have seen as usually 5-8 ft tall. The shrub in this picture was photographed in a sand dune on Sanibel Island. The barrier islands that line the coasts around Florida have some of the worst erosion problems due to tides, wind, currents and occasional storms and hurricanes. Communities plant grasses, plants and trees in and around beaches to prevent erosion and to protect homes. Some other commonly seen plants and grasses include Sea Oats, Saw Palmetto, Spanish Bayonet, Century plant and Beach sunflower. The Floridata Plant Encyclopedia has some good additional information about the Sea Grape plant. To learn more about other beach and sand dune plants check out the Florida Plants.com website.

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Palmetto Berries

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The Palmetto Berry (Sereboa repens) which grows on the Saw Palmetto plant is a much sought after berry in Florida’s State Forests and preserves because it is supposed to have medicinal and herbal supplement benefits that help men with prostate problems and baldness.  The berry is an important food source for bears, deer and over 200 species of wildlife living in Florida’s forests, and preserves. The Florida Forest Service prevents the over harvesting of this small berry growing on Saw palmetto plants by issuing permits to people each year for $10 per day and allows each person to take as many as they can gather. The state decided to stop issuing the permits this year because of over harvesting and the detrimental effect it may have on the wildlife trying to find food.  The Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed website reports that they have had a lot of illegal poaching of Palmetto Berries since CREW’s land contains many Saw Palmetto plants. The powdered form of the berry can sell for $20-70 lb. on eBay as reported by the Ft. Myers News Press.  Many migrant farm workers collect the berries for supplemental income.

The Ft. Myers News Press issued a story “Palmetto Berry. A Bear Market” on July 9, 2015 which speaks about the problem of overharvesting of the berry. The article mentions that people ignore the rules of gathering these berries and sneak into forests to pick the berries anyway.   I took some pictures of Saw palmetto Bushes while I was walking through  Hickeys Creek Mitigation Park. There were some berries on the plants I observed but not all of them. The Saw Palmetto plant  flowers  between February and April and the berries ripen in September and October. You can see the berries I took in these photo’s haven’t ripened yet and are still dark green. The Lee County website for Hickeys Creek Mitigation Park gives some useful information about the type of wildlife and plants that live and exist there.

 

 

Caloosa Rare Fruit Exchange

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The Caloosa Rare Fruit Exchange held its annual “Taste of Lee” conference in downtown Ft. Myers on Saturday. It was well attended with hundreds of people interested in seeing, tasting and learning more about rare tropical fruits grown in SW Florida.  I have been trying to develop my green thumb and learn more about  growing peach and lemon trees in my backyard and horticulture in general.

There were many small growers, and farm owners who were displaying their rare fruits and selling their fruit trees, plants and other items. Some of the fruits on display have been imported from various countries around the world. I tasted a few fruits which were cut up and put out on platters like the familiar mango and papaya fruits and some not so familiar fruits. I also picked up some information from local growers like Miss Potters Place,  Southern Fresh Farms and Pine Island Botanicals where I hope to buy some of my fruits and vegetables in the future.

The Univ. of Florida Lee County Extension Service was there which offers classes and guidance in gardening, fertilizer and pest management. I included this page about rare fruits on my website/blog because farms take up 25% of the land area in Florida and have an impact on the wetlands and environment in Florida. Farms that grow crops and raise animals which use responsible land use practices can improve the water quality in surface wetlands and underground acquifers. Homeowners who grow gardens and fertilize their lawns using nitrogen, phosphorous and other chemicals also impact our water quality and wetlands. County Extension departments like the Univ. of Florida Institute Food and Agriculture Sciences, Lawn and Garden programs offer a lot of useful information on the proper application and use of fertilizers so they will not wash into our streams and rivers during heavy rains.

 

 

 

 

Plants of Florida – Flowering Bromeliad Air Plant

Air Plant & Bromeliad at Corkscrew Swamp

Air Plant & Bromeliad

 

 

 

 

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The flowering air plant in this picture is one of over 540 species of a genus of evergreen perennial flowering plants. I took this picture while I was walking on the boardwalk of Audubons Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Naples, Fla. The plants scientific name is Tillandsia. It is also known as an Epiphyte (air plant) and are not harmful to the trees they grow on. Epiphytes are common in Florida and can be seen on many kinds of trees. They do not need soil to grow and only require sunlight, water and nutrients which they absorb from the moisture in the air and water running over their host tree. The red Bromeliad growing from this air plant is attractive to look at when you are walking through a swamp, slough or other plant habitat. They don’t look like they belong there but are native to Florida’s moist and humid environment.

 

 

 

 

 

Trees of Florida – Strangler Fig Tree

Strangler Fig

Strangler Fig

Fig roots growing on an Old Growth Cypress tree

Fig roots growing on an Old Growth Cypress tree

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Florida Strangler Fig   (Ficus aurea)

Strangler fig trees start out as seeds that are dropped by birds or dispersed by wind into the canopy or tops of trees where they start to grow and benefit from the moisture in the air and water running over the host tree. They are epiphytes or air plants in the beginning of their development until they grow roots that extend down into the ground. They can envelop their host tree like the palm tree shown in first picture and kill it by starving it of water and sunlight. Other types of strangler figs of which there are over 150 species like the “Weeping fig”,  grow vines or roots downward from the tops of trees through the air until they reach the ground. The second picture shows one of these Weeping figs growing on an Old Growth Bald Cypress at the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Naples. The Strangler fig tree is native to Florida meaning they existed here by the time the Spanish explorers came to Florida. Strangler figs grow mostly in moist tropical ecosystems. Florida’s sub- tropical environment is well suited for their growth. They are important plant species in some tropical forests and are actually thought to be “Keystone Species” or essential to the survival to some ecosystems because of the fruit of their hidden flowers that provides food and it’s ability to provide shelter for many species of animals, birds and insects. I didn’t know until I started reading about Fig trees that a Banyan tree is a type of Fig Tree. One of the largest Banyan trees I have seen is at the Edison-Ford Winter Estates in Ft. Myers. You can learn more about Strangler fig trees by visiting the Encyclopedia Britannica website or going to the Blue Planet Biomes website.

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Florida Plants – Spanish Moss

Spanish Moss

Spanish Moss

 

 

 

 

 

Spanish Moss  (Tillandsia usneoides)

Looking at Spanish Moss before I moved to Florida from New York always reminded me of the Old South with big plantation houses and immense trees with Spanish Moss hanging from them.  Spanish Moss still has that creepy Halloween look that seems to evoke thoughts of ghosts and mystery. Well I did some research on this plant and found out it is not actually a moss but a Bromeliad or Epiphyte( type of air plant). Spanish Moss does not have any roots but instead hangs from the branches of trees such as Cypress or Oak and wraps their stems around the branches forming a commensalism relationship with that tree in which one organism benefits and the other is not harmed. The Spanish Moss absorbs moisture and nutrients from water that washes over the tree and from the air.

Spanish Moss used to be used for stuffing material in automobile seats, furniture and mattresses however this was stopped because the moss contained chiggers or a type of bug. Spanish Moss is mostly seen in the southeastern portion of the U.S. in states such as Florida, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolina’s.  The tree in this photo was photographed near Lake Okeechobee in central Florida. Good information about Spanish Moss can be found at Univ. of Florida, Solutions For Your Life,   website. Type in Spanish Moss in the Search Box.

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Florida’s Trees – Invasive Trees

Malaleuca Trees

Malaleuca Trees

Austalian Pine

Austalian Pine

Florida has been under attack by the introduction of non-native invasive trees and plants for over 100 year which are displacing our native plant communities and destroying our wetlands.  Floridians were responsible for the introduction of many of the harmful plants and trees during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s when people thought swamps and wetlands were useless and didn’t serve any useful purpose for meeting the needs of settlers who wanted to establish farms, ranches and urbanize communities. One tree in particular, the Malaleuca was brought into Florida to soak up the wetlands and make the land dry. The Malaleuca did it’s job well and we now have an uncontrollable spread of these trees which continue to dry out the wetlands and displace native trees. There are many other tree and plant species that are now listed on the Florida Category I list of prohibited and noxious plants. The Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council lists these trees and plants as category I or II depending on the harm they inflict on our wetlands and uplands. The FEPPC also categorizes the invasive plants by the letters (P) Prohibited by the Fla. Dept. of Environmental protection, (N) Noxious Weed by Fla. Dept. of Agriculture & Consumer Services and (U) Noxious weed  by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. Some of the most common names of invasive and harmful trees and plants that you might recognize include the Malaleuca tree, the Australian Pine tree, Brazilian Pepper, Chinese Tallow, Air Potato and Old World Climbing fern. There are many more plants that have been introduced to our state which we should recognize and help to stop their spread and infestation of our environment. The University of South Florida  has a good website which lists and shows pictures of invasive and harmful plants to our state.

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