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 [...]

Late October

danaus_gillipus_20111026

It’s late October, and in South Florida that means it’s going to be either windy, or hot, or both. Today we’ve got a bit of both: a steady 7–8 mph east wind, with gusts up to 14 mph, and a temperature of 83°F. Mercifully, the humidity is relatively low (under 60%), so the heat index isn’t really an issue, but it sure feels hot after the traditional pre-Halloween cool spell we had last weekend. (And for some reason, the weather is never nice on Halloween day.)

When the weather’s this hot and the breeze is blowing, it gets harder and [...]

New backyard planting: Cordia globosa

cordia_single_bloom

I’ve mentioned this plant a few times, but I don’t think I’ve ever really written up this interesting little shrub, Cordia globosa; the common name is bloodberry. It has many virtues to recommend it: it’s easy to grow, easy to maintain, and attractive to a wide variety of nectaring insects and berry-hungry birds. The flowers aren’t particularly showy, but they are abundant, and when the plant fruits, the little red berries make a nice display. I have one growing in my front “courtyard”; here’s a picture of the tiny little flower:

The flowers aren’t normally borne singly; I [...]

Flowering trees

tabebuia_fullbloom

Flowering trees add visual interest to your home landscape, sure. Some of them, like this Tabebuia tree (Tabebuia chrysotricha), that’s about all they do:

And they only do it for about three weeks a year. The picture above, taken in my front yard in late March, shows a beautiful yellow trumpet-flower tabebuia; today that tree looks a bit scraggly, with green leaves that remind me of a cross between a willow and an olive. I mean, it’s OK, but it’s nothing like its glory season:

Other trees, like the Royal Poinciana (Delonix regia), may look scraggly [...]

New plantings: Zanthoxylum fagara

zanthoxylum-newgrowth

One of the cornerstone plantings in my new backyard is a Wild Lime tree, Zanthoxylum fagara. It didn’t come from the native plant auction, but from one of my friends in the Audubon Society who is also an FNPS member and who graciously allowed me to come take many many plants to get my back yard started. Wild lime is a great one, because it’s useful in many ways: as a larval host plant for Giant Swallowtail butterflies, as a cover plant for small birds (it has thorns to deter predators, although because it’s a tree, it’s not as good [...]

New plantings: Heliotropium polyphyllum

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Our old house in Boca was just starting to enjoy some great trees and shrubs after our native plant makeover of several years back, but it was a little light on wildflowers. Sure, we had tropical sage (Salvia coccinea), but that was really about it. We had planted lizard’s tail, scorpion tail, and a few other perennials, but they all sort of got tired of living there, I guess, because they all sort of disappeared. Even my pickerelweed and blue flag iris sort of petered out after a while, although they’re both still around over there, and I didn’t really [...]

New plantings: Jacquemontia pentanthos

newplanting-jacquemontia

There’s a tiny little street in Paris, in the 17th arrondissement, not too far from the Parc Monceau, called Rue Jacquemont. It’s named after the French botanical explorer Victor Jacquemont, who traveled briefly to the United States before moving on to India for the remainder of his too-short life (b. 1801, d. 1832). But he is immortalized in the taxonomic name of several lovely New World vines, two of which I know from Florida: Jacquemontia reclinata (Beach Jacquemontia) and J. pentanthos, Skyblue clustervine. The latter vine is one that I obtained at the recent auction benefitting the Palm Beach County [...]

New plantings: Passiflora suberosa

newplanting-passiflora

One of the plants I scored at the native plant auction earlier this week is a real workhorse in the garden: Passiflora suberosa, Corkystem passionvine. It’s one of our two native passionvines. Not as showy as its cousin, P. incarnata (the “maypop” vine), it is nonetheless also a larval food plant for three species of butterfly in Florida: Gulf fritillary, Julia heliconian, and Zebra heliconian. I’ve had several generations of Gulf fritillaries on the maypop at the old house; I’m hoping for many more to come on the corkystem here at the new digs…

Here’s what the maypop looked like [...]

New plantings: Forestiera

newplanting-forestiera

For anyone interested in creating a backyard habitat for wildlife, it makes sense to learn everything you can about your own backyard and what kind of plants will thrive there. So this year I joined the Florida Native Plant Society, Palm Beach County chapter. And this week they held their native plant auction, which I attended with the desire to acquire both knowledge and some appropriate plants for my yard. And I came away with both desires satisfied.

The auction had groups of plants arranged into themes: butterfly garden plants, grasses, “staples” (i.e. plants for beginners to grow), orchids, etc. [...]

Mockingbird snacks out back

According to Tom Lodge, “the flora and fauna present when Columbus arrived in what he called the New World (the Western Hemisphere) had arrived in the region by their own modes of dispersal, and had succeeded based on their tolerance of the climate, the habitats, competition, and numerous other factors” (183). And that’s why we encourage the use of native plants in your landscape—so the birds that depended on those plants for thousands of years before our houses and driveways and swimming pools and parking lots removed many of them can still have food and shelter as they go about [...]