Fiddlewood caterpillar (Epicorsia oedipodalis) update


The fiddlewood caterpillars (not their real common name, but since they don’t seem to have a common name I’m calling them that) I discovered the other day haven’t done very well in captivity. I’ve had them in a plastic jar for a couple of days but they haven’t grown at all—still the same 10 mm long as two days ago. Their brothers and sisters that I missed, though, and found two days later on the original shrub, are a bit more robust—already 15 mm long and quite active. I’ve removed those caterpillars and the leaves they were on, and we’ll […]

Ants bite; they can also tend your garden for you

Epicorsia oedipodalis detail. Note the stemmata rather high on the head

Last weekend I went out to Yamato Scrub for another volunteer clean-up event coordinated by Palm Beach County ERM. We were removing the last of the temporary irrigation installed years and years ago to jump-start the native plants that they imported to the site to replace the acres and acres of Brazilian Pepper and Australian Pine that had grown up over the years since the site was drained by the canals that run all over the place down here.

The irrigation was the typical black poly tubing with smaller tubes for the emitters. But the contractors who installed the tubing […]

New backyard butterfly: Great Southern White

Great Southern White (Ascia monusta) nectaring on Indian Blanketflower (Gaillardia pulchella). Merritt Island, FL, January 12, 2008.

I’ve been noticing some large, white butterflies in the front yard throughout the month of May; they’ve been a bit hard to photograph with the constant wind and their habit of flying off at top speed when I approach with a camera, so I’m digging into my photo files and showing this version from a January, 2008 trip to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Great Southern White (Ascia monusta) nectaring on Indian Blanketflower (Gaillardia pulchella). Merritt Island, FL, January 12, 2008.

Now back to Boca: this June, for the first time ever, I noticed some butterfly eggs on my […]

Backyard plant: Jamaica caper. Or, flowers attract bees

A honeybee (Apis mellifera resting in a Jamaica caper (Capparis cynophallophora) flower. Boca Raton, FL, May 31, 2014.

Back in April I called my native landscape guru, Melissa McGaughey, because I wanted her advice on some of the things going on around the yard. One of my main concerns was the Jamaica caper in the front yard. It was growing fairly bushy, with lots of what looked like competing leaders, etc. I’m used to it having a more pyramidal shape. When she came by, practically the first words out of her mouth were “that’s the best specimen you have in your yard; I wouldn’t touch it!”

She pointed out that it was just about to enter the budding/flowering […]

New backyard plant: Wild Cinnamon

Canella winterana foliage.

The rainy season is right around the corner, so last month I worked on the landscape a little bit. I’d been disappointed in the performance of the gumbo limbo tree out front; it was in the shade of the towering coconut tree that dominates that front yard, and I wanted to see whether it would do better in full sun. It was bothered by scale, the spiraling whitefly infestation that’s hit south Florida, and the sooty mold that both those pests leave in their wake.

After about a month t’s obvious that full sun is not keeping the scale in […]

Plants and transplants

Swietenia mahogani, Boca Raton, November 23, 2013.

The week before Thanksgiving 2013 was a busy one at the homestead. First, I found out that the “shrub” I transplanted from the old house and put right up next to the new house, counting on a nice upright slender shrub was in fact a West Indies mahogany tree that would have a crown width of 30-40 feet when mature. Whoops! So I had to move that baby away from the house. And of course it had just settled into the spot I’d originally transplanted it to; it had only been in the last two to three weeks that I’d […]

New backyard planting: Black Ironwood, Krugiodendron ferreum

Black ironwood (Krugiodendron ferreum). Boca Raton, FL, October 28, 2013.

It was my dad’s 70th birthday last week, and to celebrate the occasion I sent him a pair of the most comfortable work gloves I’ve ever owned. Turns out my timing was good: the next day he planned to start a major lawn-reduction project involving the removal of hundreds of square feet of sod, the installation of dozens of railroad ties, etc. Serendipity!

Not to be outdone, I had to put my own pair to good use, which I did over the weekend with an overhaul of a neglected corner of our yard, right outside one of the kids’ bedroom […]

New backyard plant: Limber caper (Capparis flexuosa)

Limber caper flower. Boca Raton, FL, June 13, 2013.

So I planted this twig in the front yard a couple of years ago. I “won” it at the Native Plant Society annual auction, and I’ve been waiting all this time to figure out what it is and what it does. Of course, I knew when I picked it up that it’s called limber caper (Capparis flexuosa), and that it’s a more sprawling, “recumbent” relative of the upright, pyramidal shrub Jamaica caper (Capparis cynophallophora). But other than that, I’ve not really known too much about it.

It doesn’t seem to have made much of an effort to grow larger or […]

Dune sunflowers, spiders, and moths, oh my!

Dune Sunflower (Helianthus debilis). Boca Raton, FL, July 9, 2012.

Dune sunflower, Helianthus debilis, is a commonly recommended plant for Florida native gardeners. It’s in the daisy family (Asteraceae), and it’s very pretty:

Dune Sunflower (Helianthus debilis). Boca Raton, FL, July 9, 2012.

Yellow rays, purple disc flowers, loads of pollen—very attractive to bees and butterflies.

Halictid bee on Dune Sunflower. Boca Raton, FL, May 26, 2013.

It self-sows and reseeds annually, so once you’ve got it established, you don’t have to do much except remove it from places you don’t want it! It grows best in “dune” environments: sandy areas in full sun, hence the common name.


Grasses really are flowering plants

Grasses really are flowering plants.

Grasses don’t get a lot of love. People walk on them, dogs do their business on them. If they get noticed at all it’s only for the time it takes the gardener to sigh or curse, depending on temperament, at how tall the grass has gotten before heading off to fire up the lawnmower. Even native gardeners like me often don’t bother to know the various species they might have in their yards, except for the showy ornamentals like muhly grass or purple lovegrass.

They’re so overlooked that people forget that they truly are angiosperms, flowering plants. I was reminded […]