Saturday, August 22, 2015

Attract butterflies to your Florida garden

Everyone loves seeing beautiful butterflies fluttering around their Floridian yards and gardens but do you know what flowers attract the most butterflies? Butterflies are attracted by sweet, pungent, and acrid, smelling flowers that are orange, yellow, pink, purple and red. Plants with deep throated, drooping or enclosed flowers are unsuitable for nectar-gathering. Some of these, especially white flowers that are fragrant at night, may attract moths. You can find a complete list of butterfly attracting plants at Floridian Nature but here are a few of my favorites.

Firebush...the name says it all! This tropical shrub is known for two attributes. First, the plant shows colors that would make any blaze proud. And second, it's the only plant that I know which actually performs better the closer it gets to spontaneous combustion! Firebush is a showy, fast-growing, semi-woody evergreen shrub that can get up to 15 feet tall under ideal conditions, but usually stays much smaller. It has whorled leaves, usually with three but occasionally as many as seven at each node. The firebush hails from South Florida, the West Indies, and Central and South America. In its native habitat, Firebush is known more for its herbal properties than for its ornamental value. Throughout the year, firebush produces showy terminal clusters (cymes) of bright reddish-orange or scarlet tubular flowers. Firebush is a valuable addition to butterfly and hummingbird gardens, and in south Florida is often planted in wildlife gardens with other native shrubs such as American beautyberry, coral bean and wild coffee. Firebush is salt tolerant and will grow in any kind of soil as long as it is well drained.
Common lantana is a rugged evergreen shrub from the tropics. The species will grow to 6 feet high and may spread to 8 feet  in width with some varieties able to clamber vine-like up supports to greater heights. The leaves are 2-5 inches  long by 1-2 inches wide with rounded tooth edges and a textured surface. Stems and leaves are covered with rough hairs and emit an unpleasant aroma when crushed. The small flowers are held in clusters, called umbels that are typically 1-2 inches across. In the tropics lantana is a non-stop bloomer. Where it is killed to the ground by frost the lantana blooms in summer and fall. Flower color ranges from white to yellow, orange to red, pink to rose in unlimited combinations, in addition the flowers usually change in color as they age. A lantana may look orange from a distance but the flowerhead is examined at close range it consists of individual white, yellow and red flowers that blend when viewed from afar. Lantana is a favorite species for butterflies and non-invasive lantanas should be a part of any butterfly garden. 
Spanish Needles seems to be a favorite nectar plant for lots of butterflies in South Florida. This native plant is a summer annual about 2-5 feet tall. The Spanish Needles plant is more or less erect and branches occasionally. The stems are green or reddish green, angular, strongly veined, and hairless. The leaves are mostly opposite; their blades are up to 8 inches long and 4 inches across, while their petioles are up to 2 inches long. The upper stems terminate in individual flowerheads on long peduncles. Each flowerhead is about ½ inch long and ¼ inch across. Spanish Needles have  numerous disk florets in their center. The disk florets have corollas that are golden yellow and tubular in shape. The yellow ray florets are petal-like and are about 1/8 inch long and oval to oblong in shape. Some flowerheads may lack petal-like extensions of the ray florets altogether. The base of the flowerhead is surrounded by green bracts. The blooming period occurs during the late summer or early fall.
Resembling the annual garden petunias, wild petunia, sometimes called Mexican petunias, produces a single five lobed, trumpet-shaped flower, that is1-2 inches long and wide, and emerging where each leaf joins the stem. Although it superficially resembles a garden petunia, which is in the potato family, wild petunia is a member of the Acanthus family, to which the cultivated “shrimp plant” and “Black-Eyed-Susan” also belong.  The flowers of wild petunia vary in color from pale lavender to medium bluish-purple.  On some plants the stems and the paired, egg-shaped leaves are hairy.  The plant grows 1-2 feet tall, although a little scraggly. Blooming June through September, the blossoms last only a day or two, but new flowers form in succession. The plant self-seeds, and new shoots can be seen throughout the garden from a single planting. Wild Petunias are easily transplanted.  Germination from seeds is low, but summer stem cuttings will root well.  This plant was named for an early French herbalist Jean Ruella.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Crocs vs. Gators: Do you know the difference?

Similar in looks to an alligator, the American crocodile is a large reptile found in salt and brackish waters in southern Florida  Unlike the alligator, which lives in freshwater, Florida's native crocodile is an inhabitant of salt water shorelines. There are far less crocodiles than alligators in Floridian nature and most of Florida's crocodile can be found along the mangrove bordered southern shores of Everglades National Park.  

When Spanish settlers first saw the Alligator they named it "el lagarto", meaning "the lizard". The Florida alligator is an ancient reptile that is only found in the Southeastern United States, from Texas to as far north as North Carolina. The only other species of alligator in the world is found in China, but that one is much smaller and very rare.

Many people believe that crocodiles are more ferocious and dangerous to man than the alligator. This may be true of the infamous Nile Crocodile and other South American crocodiles, but the native Florida crocodile is much shyer than the alligator and is quick to make a hasty retreat at the approach of humans. Once hunted intensively for their hides, today, loss of habitat to human development, illegal killing and roadkill are the greatest threats faced by American Crocodiles.

The Alligator has an armored  black, lizard-like body, with muscular tails and short stocky legs. They are fast predators on both land and water, able to run as fast as 20 mph for short distances. The massive jaws of the alligator's open mouth reveals 70-80 white pointed teeth, designed to grasp, hold and crush its prey! Adults generally take one of two forms: long and thin or short and stocky. Female alligators rarely exceed 9 feet in length, but males can grow much larger. The Florida state record for length is a 14 foot 5/8 inch male, while the  state record for weight is a 1,043 pound (13 feet 10 1/2 inches long) male.
Crocs can swim at as much as 20 miles per hour by moving their body and tail in a sinuous fashion, but they cannot sustain this speed. South Florida is the only place in which the crocodile and the alligator occur together. Although there are reports of crocodile growing to 23 feet in South America, the record for Florida is a 15 foot male. American Crocodiles average between 7-15 feet and have an average weight of  150-450 pounds. A croc has an average lifespan of 60-70 years.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Floridian Nature Spot of the Week: Grayton Beach

Grayton Beach, Florida is well known for the incomparable natural beauty of the Grayton Beach State Park, which spans the Gulf of Mexico and most of Western Lake. Grayton Beach State Park is a Florida State Park located between Panama City Beach and Destin, near the unincorporated area of Grayton Beach, on CR 30A, in northwestern Florida. Its sister park is Deer Lake State Park. Golden in the morning sun, silvered by moonlight, Grayton Beach has consistently been ranked among the most beautiful and pristine beaches in the United States. A suburb, mile-long beach of brilliant white sand awaits visitors to this interesting park. The beach provides an idyllic setting for swimming, sunbathing, and surf fishing. Behind the beach, high barrier dunes stabilized by sea oats and scrub overlook the clear green and azure waters where dolphins are often spotted. The appeal to swimmers is obvious!
If you like Floridian nature, you will love Grayton Beach! Grayton Beach provides an idyllic setting for swimming, sunbathing, and surf fishing. Behind the beach, high barrier dunes stabilized by sea oats and scrub overlook the clear green and azure waters where dolphins are often spotted. For those interested in wildlife there are two trails, the 15 minute Pine Loop, and the 40 minute Barrier Dune Nature trail.