Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Mysterious ferns are native


On occasion, people have shown me an odd plant specimen that was later identified as a whisk fern.  This unusual native fern is also called the skeleton fork fern noting its boney, leafless stems. Often found in the nooks and crannies of garden beds, the whisk fern may be overlooked in your own landscape, or mistaken for a random weed. What is the whisk fern and what does it look like?

At a glance, the whisk fern looks almost like a type of seaweed, lime-green to yellowish-green in color, with small yellow, spore-producing structures on the end of starkly naked stems. The whisk fern has no roots and no leaves and is about one-foot tall in size. The green, Y-shaped stems contain chlorophyll and do photosynthesize. Instead of roots, the whisk fern has rhizomes which hold onto the soil or whatever substrate is available. Although leafless, you will see tiny leaf-like projections along the stem called enations. Just above these projections, the green to yellow round spore-bearing structures can be found. The spores are released and eventually develop into independent plants.
 
Native in the southern United States and the Caribbean, the whisk ferns are found in natural areas as well as in landscapes. They tend to like bright, indirect light as might be found in the dappled shade at the base of shrubs. I have commonly seen them in parking lot planting beds tucked in, and almost out of sight, amongst various shrubs. Although they appear weedy, there is no need to remove them if they are in close proximity to landscape plants. You may also find whisk ferns on trees or palms where they thrive as harmless epiphytic plants. 

Whisk ferns do like moisture, so if they pop up in your landscape, you may be over-watering your other plants. 

Interestingly enough, the Japanese have cultivated the whisk fern for some time and now have established over one-hundred ornamental cultivars. If you like the whisk fern, you can propagate your own by simply dividing clumps, or attempt the more difficult effort of germinating the spores.  It can take up to a year to germinate these spores!

Consider whisk ferns a botanical oddity that may turn up in your landscape. Don’t treat them like a weed, but instead pause and ponder the wonder of a leafless, rootless plant! For more information on all types of natural and ornamental plant oddities, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer. Don't forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area. Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times - http://charlotte.ifas.ufl.edu/horticulture/Plant%20Clinics%20Schedule.pdf.

Resources:
Lemke, C. (2012) Plant-of-the –Week – Psilotum nudum – Whisk Fern University of Oklahoma Department of Microbiology & Plant Biology.  University of Oklahoma. 
Introduction to the Psilotales – the Whisk Ferns (2016). University of California, Berkley.
Bailey, C. C. (2016) Whisk ferns are harmless, leafless plants.  Tcpam.com.
Snyder, S. L. (2016) Psilophytes (Whisk Fern) in the Christopher B. Smith Preserve.  Conservancy of Southwest Florida – Gopher Tortoise Preserve. 

Garner, L. (2008) Unusual and Bizarre Plants – The Whisk Ferns.  Dave’s Garden .com

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The butterfly pea - not a butterfly attractor, but it is truly blue!


If you appreciate the color of a deep blue flower, look no further than that of the butterfly pea. This easy-to-grow vine can make a great trellis or post covering with the deepest blue flowers you may have ever seen. 

A native to Asia, the butterfly pea now grows across the world as a popular ornamental vine with the ability, like other legumes, to fix nitrogen in the soil with the help of certain bacteria. With delicate pea-like flowers of deep blue with a yellow throat, (there is also a white cultivar), the butterfly pea even comes in varieties featuring both single and double-flowers. Considered a short-lived perennial which can freeze back in the winter, the abundant seeds produced will often sprout and reseed.  Fine for sun or part-shade, this twining vine will seek out and wrap itself around a variety of supports. Also consider growing this flowering pea in hanging baskets where the vines will cascade over the side providing a fine plant for the summer. 

Although it may freeze-back in the winter and/or just simply conk out, the butterfly pea is easy to grow from seed or even from cuttings. A butterfly pea can go from seed to flower in as little as six weeks. Soaking the seeds in water for a few hours prior to planting will help germination. I have one growing up an established bougainvillea trained up a small trellis. The butterfly pea provides color now while the bougainvillea has just green leaves.

Unless a friend provides a few seeds for you to start, the butterfly pea is readily available in seed catalogs or, easily found via an Internet search. I especially like the double-flowering varieties which have extravagant petals and supersized flowers. While the butterfly pea does not really attract butterflies, (it just looks like a butterfly to some), I have found it a welcome source of unique color on a manageable vine. For more information on all types of vining plants suitable for our area, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer. Don't forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area. Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times - http://charlotte.ifas.ufl.edu/horticulture/Plant%20Clinics%20Schedule.pdf.

Resources:
Lemke, C. (2012) Cal's Plant of the Week Clitoria ternatea - Butterfly Pea.  University of Oklahoma Department of Microbiology & Plant Biology.
Park Brown S. & Knox, G. W. (2016) Flowering Vines for Florida.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Is something old new again?


There are still a few sago palms around Charlotte County landscapes. The sago was once a low-maintenance plant. They used to be more common before the insect plague known as the Asian Cycad scale came to town. This insect pest covered sago palms with white scales and wiped out most of this standard landscape planting material. A few remedies were developed, but many people just gave up planting them.  The Asian cycad scale is still around to lesser degree as its food source was all but depleted. The few surviving sago palms were either isolated or their owners kept up on the effort to keep them pest-free. Sago palms are still for sale in the garden centers where they are clean and ready to go. Should you venture in to plant a sago in your yard? Is it safe to back to the sago palm?

The sago palm is not a palm at all, but more closely related to conifers with leaves that look just like palm fronds. Originally from southern Japan, they do well in our climate in full sun or partial shade. A bit slow-growing, sago palms can get up to fifteen feet tall in a half-century or so. The dark-green, leathery leaves are up to five-feet long and radiate around the top of the brown trunk. Each leaflet has a sharp tip, so watch out where you place these plants. New fronds unfurl each spring and refresh the sago with a light green color.  Individual plants are either male or female. The male develops an eighteen-inch tall yellow cone, while the female reproductive part is round and nest-like, eventually becoming filled with two-inch wide orange seeds.  It is important to note that all sago parts including the seeds, are highly toxic. 

Sago palms are easy to grow and very hardy taking temperatures down into the twenties. Plant as a single specimen or in groups planted at least four to six feet apart. Mix sago palms with ornamental grasses or other groundcovers for a nice effect. Sago palms will often suffer from a manganese deficiency called “frizzle top” just like real palms. We recommend feeding sago palms a granular 8-2-12-4 in November, February and May, and a 0-0-16-6 in August which will provide the nutrients needed to prevent all deficiencies. 

Keep an eye out for the Asian cycad scale. If sago palms come from the nursery pest-free and are generally isolated from other specimens, you should be in good shape. However, young scale insects called crawlers, are minute and can be accidently introduced. The use of horticultural oil, as per label directions and not in the heat of the day as the leaves can be burned, can help suppress an infestation. The Asian cycad scale is noted for infesting roots which may hide this insect pest and allow for re-infestation. 

The sago palm is a beautiful and unique plant that has taken a beating in the past. Is it time to revisit this plant and make it a part of your landscape? Perhaps, but keep a cautious eye out while you nurture this palm-like plant in your yard. For more information on all types of plants suitable for your yard, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer. Don't forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area.  Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times - http://charlotte.ifas.ufl.edu/horticulture/Plant%20Clinics%20Schedule.pdf.

Resources:
Weissling, T. J., Howard, F. W. & Hamon, A. B. (2013) Cycad Aulacaspis Scale, Aulacaspis yasumatsui Takagi.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS. 
King Sago Palm, Cycas revoluta. (2007) The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – Baker County.
Williams, L. (2005) Growing Sago Palms.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS. 
Northrop, R. J., Andreu, M. G., Friedman, M. H., McKenzie, M. & Quintana, H. V. (2016) Cycas revoluta, Sago Palm. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS. 

Christman, S. (2009) Cycas revoluta. Floridata.com, Tallahassee, FL. 

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Big bird


Many people are very familiar with the Bird-of-Paradise with orange flowers.  The iconic flowers of this plant have a fostered a loyal following.  However, another relative in this plant family is the White Bird-of-Paradise. To me, the White Bird-of-Paradise has equal value, not only with its unique, exotic white flowers, but also its classic five foot long, banana-like leaves and palm-like trunks.Fitting in from small specimens in containers on patios to larger landscape beds, the White Bird-of-Paradise is a premium plant for our area.

The first White Bird-of-Paradise you may have ever seen was likely a small specimen used as an indoor foliage houseplant or floor plant.I have seen some small enough to even be used in larger terrariums. As a landscape subject, consider this plant as a large shrub growing over twenty feet tall and ten feet wide. It is a multi-stemmed plant with a number of canes often growing at different heights. Smaller specimens are mostly leaves, but as they grow, the palm-like trunks are very showy. A mature plant will look like a tight grove of palm trees with banana-like leaves. The leaves will tend to rip along the veins when blown about by high winds, but this damage does not take away this plant’s attractiveness.

The White Bird-of-Paradise flowers are not to be overlooked. Mostly white with a blue, central petal, individual flowers can be up to twelve inches long. The showy flower bracts are a bit hidden, but can be seen emerging from the base of leaf stalks. Be patient as the White Bird-of-Paradise plant will have to be several years old to begin to flower.

While small White Bird-of-Paradise specimens can be enjoyed in large containers, they do best in full sun to partial shade in well-drained soil. Very adaptable to a wide variety of soils, White Bird-of-Paradise is moderately drought tolerant once established, but has low salt tolerance. You may notice some freeze damage if temperatures go to twenty-eight degrees Fahrenheit, but they will quickly recover. Large stems can be reduced which will cause more sprouting and a bushier look. 

While abundantly available at local garden centers, the White Bird-of-Paradise can be propagated by dividing suckers from the mother plant if you need additional plants. They can also be started from seed, but it may take months to germinate. 

This relatively fast-growing plant is a joy to behold and is easy enough for even a beginner gardener to handle.For more information on all types of landscape plants suitable for growing in our area, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer. Don't forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area.Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times - http://charlotte.ifas.ufl.edu/horticulture/Plant%20Clinics%20Schedule.pdf.

Resources:
The Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Guide to Plant Selection & Landscape Design, 1st ed. (2010).  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS
Gilman, G. F. & Watson, D. G. (2015) Strelitzia nicolai: White Bird of Paradise. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS
Culbert, D. F. (2001) Traveler Trees & White Birds for Tropical Tastes. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – Okeechobee County.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

What’s blooming now?


Spotted here and there in our urban landscape is a large tree that is blooming right now. This is a huge tree often covered with a blanket of yellow flowers from May through September and accompanied by red, eye-catching seed pods. What is this large flowering tree that you have probably already seen? It is the Yellow Poinciana!

The yellow Poinciana (aka copper-pod) is not a true Poinciana and has also been called the yellow flame tree. This ornamental tree, with a vase-shape to an almost rounded, spreading canopy, provides both flowers and shade. Growing up to fifty-feet tall with a similar spread, the yellow Poinciana produces feathery leaves that provide a soothing, dappled shade. You really must have the room for this tree to benefit from its full potential.  A large lawn or an open city park will best accommodate this woody plant. Plant the yellow Poinciana in a full-sun site and train the branches with proper pruning to develop a central trunk with four to five good scaffold branches spiraling up the trunk to help make the tree more wind resistant. Keep in mind that the yellow Poinciana has very shallow roots making it more apt to blow over in a hurricane. Also, this tree has large surface roots that could interfere with pavement – plant at least ten feet away to avoid future issues. The yellow Poinciana is fairly fast growing and does best with a warmer climate closer to the coast. It can get damaged by frosts and freezes in cooler areas, but will normally recover very quickly with new leaves. While not salt-tolerant, it is very drought tolerant once established.  

Beyond the shade provided by this semi-evergreen tree, the flowers are the real show-stopper of this tropical Southeast Asia native. The inch-wide yellow flowers develop on clustered stalks leaving behind the equally attractive coppery seed pods. The flowers give a fragrance reminiscent of grapes that is also noteworthy.  

While this large flowering tree may be a bit big for the typical landscape, perhaps you can enjoy one from afar. You might even spot one in your neighborhood today! For more information on all types of flowering trees, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer.   Don't forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area.  Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times - http://charlotte.ifas.ufl.edu/horticulture/Plant%20Clinics%20Schedule.pdf.

Resources:
Gilman, E. F. & Watson, D. G. (2014) Peltophorum pterocarpun: Yellow Poinciana.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Christman, S. (2000) Peltophorum pterocarpun. Floridata.com. Tallahassee, FL.


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Hurricane-cuts bad! Proper palm pruning good!


There is really no mystery involved in properly pruning palms. I still see these majestic plants being over-pruned (“hurricane-cut”) and predisposed to decline due to removing excessive good, functioning fronds.  While homeowners may be looking for a certain look, palms are living things that are not so easily molded for added convenience or abstract neatness. Palms are key points of interest in our landscapes, are valuable, and take effort and money to replace. Proper pruning will ensure a healthy palm in place for a good long time.

As time marches on, palms are always replacing old fronds with new ones. In fact, a regular turnover of fronds is very normal and healthy. Palms actually maintain a regular number of functioning fronds at any given time. An excess number of yellow or discolored fronds may indicate a nutrient deficiency and should not trigger a reason to prune. Interestingly enough, palms will actually move nutrients from older leaves to newer leaves as those leaves age out. All of this information leads to the fact that palms need to retain as many of their good, functional leaves as possible. These leaves are the "solar panels" of the palm - food making/food storage devises needed to keep the plant alive. Premature and excessive removal of good fronds weakens these plants which may predispose them to secondary problems.  

Over-pruning can be detrimental to a palm. A palm subjected to repeated "hurricane-cuts" develops a narrow trunk just below the fronds. Observations have also been documented that “hurricane-cut" palms were more likely to snap in a hurricane than those unpruned. If by chance you must remove some green fronds, it is permissible to remove those that are growing below the horizontal plane (think 9:00 and 3:00 on a clock).  Stop at the horizontal line – nothing more above this demarcation. New fronds take time to emerge and thus should be protected and preserved. Annually, the Canary Island date palm will produce around fifty new leaves - the Sabal palm will produce only about fourteen.

What are some acceptable reasons for pruning a palm?  Removing dead (or dying) fronds makes the palm look better and improves the overall appearance of the landscape. Dead fronds which are loosely attached to the palm may fall and injure people or damage property. Removing flower/fruit clusters is also fine. This debris can be messy and also potentially hazardous. This removal also reduces the number of weedy palm seedlings (Queen palms for example) that could sprout up around the base.

Keep in mind that some diseases can be introduced by dirty pruning tools. Please make sure that all pruning equipment is soaked in a disinfectant solution for at least five minutes between palms. Make a clean, close cut with a pruning saw, but do not wound the trunk. Do not pull leaves off and never use climbing spikes – holes in a palm trunk never heal.

This may be new information for some people, but it is essential knowledge. The bottom line is that the "hurricane cut" is not good and should be avoided. Palms are sensitive plants that often cannot tolerate excessive removal of their food-making/food storage organs - their fronds. Extreme cuts to reduce future pruning needs are harmful. The resulting damage of over-pruning is unattractive and can open up palms to future damage that may overwhelm the plant and cause it to die. Your goal - remove only dead, brown fronds and/or green fronds below the horizontal plane if necessary.For more information on all types of palm culture information, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer.Don't forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area.Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times - http://charlotte.ifas.ufl.edu/horticulture/Plant%20Clinics%20Schedule.pdf.

Resource:
Broschat, T. K. (2014) Pruning Palms.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The “summer snapdragon”


The "summer snapdragon", better known as Angelonia, is a great summer flower that grows from one to three feet tall and produces almost one-inch wide white, blue and white, and pink flowers arranged on narrow, eight inch
spikes. While true snapdragons grow best in our cooler winter weather, Angelonia is a real warm-weather, drought-tolerant plant that does well in the landscape, in containers, and can even be used as a cut flower. Angelonia are especially nice when used on the edge of a border. Available in many garden centers, Angelonia is a good bedding plant to try this year.

Native to Mexico and the West Indies, Angelonia is a member of the figwort family. The foliage of the Angelonia is glossy green to a grey-green color covered in minute hairs. While grown as an annual, this plant can sometimes winter over as a perennial in our hardiness zone. Plant Angelonia in a full sun, well-drained, moderate to dry location. Place plants from 12-16 inches apart in beds and fertilize with a balanced slow-release fertilizer suitable for flowering annuals. Expect at least six weeks of bloom in a typical season. One method to extend the bloom and rejuvenate plant vigor is to actually shear plants back 50% at mid-season which will initiate a rebloom in about two to three weeks.

There are a number of non-patented Angelonia cultivars including 'Alba' with white flowers, 'Blue Pacifica' with white and blue toned flowers, and 'Pandiana' which is pink with silver leaves. There are also a number of patented, yes, patented Angelonia available often offering larger plants, different colors and more vigorous growth. For instance, the patented Ball 'AngelMist' series comes in six colors from deep plum to lavender. Keep in mind that patented plants cannot be propagated commercially without a license from the patent holder. One interesting final note on Angelonia is their smell. When crushed, the leaves smell to some people just like grape soda or apples!

For more information on all types of flowering plants for your garden suitable for our area, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer.  Don't forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area.  Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times - http://charlotte.ifas.ufl.edu/horticulture/Plant%20Clinics%20Schedule.pdf.

Resources:
Schoelhorn, R. & Alvarez, E. (2010) Warm Climate Production Guidelines for Angelonia.
UF/IFAS Extension.
Christman, S. (2011) Angelonia angustifolia. Floridata. wwwfloridata.com.