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 bird: Downy Woodpecker, or why native plants love birds (and vice versa)

Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescent with scale. Boca Raton, FL, May 1, 2014.

From time to time the native plants in my yard, which I do my best to foster, suffer from an overabundance of a certain tiny insect: scale. These insects aren’t scary to most people—they don’t bite, they don’t fly up and startle you, they don’t even move after they hunker down in their chosen spot to feed. But they are rather scary to the plants they parasitize. They latch onto a growing stem, use their piercing sucking mouthparts to penetrate the thin exterior walls, and suck up the vital juices that are supposed to be circulating through the […]

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.


Florida Native Plant: Alligator Flag (Thalia geniculata Linnaeus)

Thalia geniculata, Alligator Flag. Fern Forest, September 15, 2008

Alligator flag is a very common sight to birders in Palm Beach County, because it appears in abundance at two of our favorite wetland areas: the boardwalks at Wakodahatchee and Green Cay (where I’ll be leading a birdwalk this Saturday).

Thalia geniculata, as it’s known to botanists, is a a tall (up to 10 ft or more at the nutrient-rich waters of these two created wetlands) plant with a long flower stem growing up from a cluster of basal leaves. Its roots are quite strong—it’s in the Marantaceae, or arrowroot family, which is known for the big starchy rhizomes in […]

New backyard plant: Helianthus debilis


Last winter I ordered some seed from a Florida native wildflower nursery to spread in the bare patches in the front (I got rid of a bunch of turf grass with the idea of having a nice wildflower bed instead). I ordered sunshine mimosa (Mimosa strigillosa), Indian Blanketflower (Gaillardia pulchella), and four other species that I hoped would add some color and texture to the yard.

I followed the instructions and was a bit disappointed that only one of the plants came up, and only in one little area, but I’m pretty sure I know why this wildflower crop failed. […]

New backyard plant: Mimosa strigillosa


The Saturday before Mother’s Day, I took Grammy and the boys up to Meadow Beauty Nursery in Lake Worth. Mom (Grammy) has a little sandyard that she wants to fill in with something pretty, so we went a-lookin’, and I decided that I needed some ground cover to fill in under my Bahama Strongbark. It would make a nice surprise for Mommy when she got home (just in time for Mother’s Day).

The minute we got back from the nursery, I planted the flowers and grasses that we got, because I didn’t want to let the it-looks-like-rain weather pass. And […]

New Backyard Plant: Tradescantia ohiensis, Common Spiderwort


Whenever you go shopping (at least, whenever I go shopping; maybe you’re different) you seem to come home with more than you set to out to get. For instance, last month I went to my favorite native plant nursery (Mesozoic Landscapes in Lake Worth) to pick up a new tree (a Bahama Strongbark to replace the White Lead Tree that volunteered in my front yard). While I was at the nursery, though, I wandered through the bitterbush (Picramnia pentandra) section and realized that I’d been wishing for that for quite some time. So I brought home a couple of those […]

New plantings: Vallesia antillana


I “won” a couple of the silent auctions at last month’s FNPS plant auction. One of the plants I brought home is pearl berry, Vallesia antillana. It’s a very pretty little plant, and apparently quite rare in the wild. (My Chafin tells me that it’s known only from 7 sites, 4 of which are state or national parks.) It’s also rather rare in cultivation; the only other native plant person I know with this plant tells me that hers is much smaller than this one. And mine is only about two feet tall, and probably about two feet around. I […]

New plantings: Zanthoxylum fagara


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


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 […]