Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Learning the Local Native Plants

Ashamedly, I have to admit that it took me living here for over 10 months to get off my duff and go back out to the nearby wild area for a walk-about to look for native plants.  Even then, my friend Anna had to initiate the outing.  I can't believe I waited this long - and I'm kicking myself about all the interesting sights I have been missing.

On Monday morning, Anna and I sallied forth to the same road/trail that my family and I visited 18 months ago.  I blogged about our finds in "We're Not in Kansas Any More!" as well as two subsequent posts about specific plants.  Walking on Monday, I actually recognized the American holly tree that I talked about in that original post, but otherwise my attention was generally drawn to very different plants this time.

We were scouting for lupine, which Anna had seen along this sand road just a week or two earlier.  Unfortunately, in the intervening time, some "maintenance" had been done on the trail by a bulldozer, carelessly and messily widening it, and we found no trace of the lupine.  We did, however, discover some other treasures.

One of the first plants we noticed was Pinewoods Milkweed, Asclepias humistrata.

This plant is also known by the common names of sandhill milkweed, for its preferred habitat, and pink-veined milkweed or purple milkweed for rather obvious reasons.  This is a plant that I would love to grow in my yard, as I find the leaves gorgeous just by themselves. 

Add in the attractive pinkish flowers and its function as food for monarch caterpillars and this plant becomes almost irresistible.

Another attractive plant that we noticed was this little white-flowered beauty with its beautifully shaped, dark green leaves.

As I researched to figure out what we were seeing, I was very glad that we didn't try to pick any of the flowers we saw, just to save us from picking this one.  This plant is called Tread-Softly, Cnidoscolus stimulosus, and all of the green, above-ground parts of the plant are covered with stinging hairs.  While this isn't not a true nettle, it is sometimes called bull nettle or spurge nettle.  Another name for it is finger rot, which makes my imagination run wild in all sorts of nasty ways.  Needless to say, this is NOT a plant that I plan on trying to import into our yard!   Ironically, at least one source said that the tuberous roots are edible...but getting to those roots might take some serious caution.

Silphium is a genus that I became somewhat familiar with on the prairie, where one of its most famous members is Compass Plant, Silphium laciniatum.  As soon as I saw the leaves of this basal rosette, my mind yelled, "Silphium!", and I think that instinctive reaction is probably correct.

While I won't know for sure until later in the year when I see it bloom, I think this beautiful little clump of big, bright green leaves belongs to Kidneyleaf Rosinweed, Silphium compositum.   I'm not sure you could dream up a much uglier name for a plant.  Despite its ugly name, I hope to find a source for this species, since I think the leaves would look really nice in a native flower bed, adding some dramatic size and visual texture to the overall mix.

There were two flowers that we found that I haven't been able to identify yet.  First was this pinky-purple little beauty.

That's reindeer moss nestled beside it, to give you a sense of scale.  We saw several of these plants blooming and they were all less than 12" tall.

Second was this yellow-green, almost abstract bloomer that I suspect is in the Euphorbiaceae family. We saw several;  they seemed to run about 15-18" tall.

If anyone knows the identity of either of these plants, I would love to know what they are.

Another plant we noticed was this silvery, quiet-looking plant.

A little research gave me the identity, Healing Croton, Croton argyranthemus

What I haven't been able to determine is why it's been given the common name of Healing Croton.  It is the larval food for a pretty little butterfly known as a goatweed leafwing.   I haven't seen a goatweed leafwing since moving here to Florida, although they do occur here, but here are photos of one in Kansas, taken in September 2013.

Speaking of butterflies, at one point we found this large chrysalis hanging from a bare branch.  I don't know enough about such things to begin to guess what species made this chrysalis, but I think it's cool.

Another insect sighting was this black and white wasp, working busily to deal with a caterpillar, presumably extracted from this stitched together clump of leaves.

At the time, I was concerned that it might be a bald-faced hornet, so I didn't get too close. 

When I got home and downloaded the photos, I realized that this little beauty is actually a potter or mason wasp, a solitary wasp, presumably collecting caterpillars to paralyze and store for its young to eat as it grows.

Reindeer moss, sparkleberry, blooming yaupon, black cherry, beach rosemary.....  We saw a lot of other things that entranced us.  I'll leave you with a photo of the sky through the pine trees - a slice of heaven.



Sunday, April 17, 2016

Pausing to Rest for the Summer

Last spring, on Earth Day, this was our front yard.

Of course, it wasn't our front yard yet, but this was the front yard of the house that we would buy two months later.  A couple big trees, lots of generic, box store shrubs, and a typical Florida sandy "lawn".

Between our grandson being born, a major move, selling our old house, unpacking, celebrating the holidays, and caring for Connor, we did basically nothing to the yard for months except to mow it.

"I thought you were a gardener," quipped one of our neighbors, after we'd been here for about 6 months but still had done nothing in the way of planting or landscaping.

At last, around the end of January, my gardening juices began to flow.  I had some plants that I'd purchased at the Mobile Botanical Garden during a visit the previous fall...few had been planted yet.  There were no defined planting beds except for the first few feet next to the foundation.  The yard was so open and almost barren that I felt almost paralyzed.

Here was the view from our front porch to the driveway, on January 23rd.....

...and here was the overall front yard on that day, little changed from the prior April except for the passing of seasons.

I took stock of the plants in the yard, to see what we had that I wanted to keep.  There were the big trees, although several laurel oaks in the back yard were obviously unhealthy and not long for this world.   Seven camellias - large, with lovely blooms, but planted about 15" from the foundation and heavily pruned with little knowledge or finesse.  Two healthy yellow anise (Illicium parviflorum), unfortunately planted 15" from the foundation directly beneath the big kitchen window, which they were trying desperately to shield from sight. Quite a few healthy, evergreen azaleas, almost all neatly pruned into boxes and planted right up next to the foundation.  Several Knockout roses, all leggy and overgrown, desperately in need of pruning.  Some very nice big clumps of African iris.  A single clump of narrowleaf goldenaster (Chrysopsis linearifolia) that I had found as a "weed" in the lawn.  Some seedling beautyberries (Callicarpa americana) - one about 18" tall coming up through an unhealthy Indian hawthorn and several 6" tall individuals in a clump.  A few, very small St. John's Wort shrubs (Hypericum sp.) that seemed to have come in on their own.  And some partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) growing at the base of one of the laurel oaks.

All in all, not a big start in a 0.4 acre yard. And none of it in a logical sweep that suggested a planting bed or the start to a landscaping plan.

So, I simply got out the hose and started making a big curve in the front yard.  Under the big southern magnolia along the driveway, I used the demarcation of lousy grass caused by heavy shade to get started, then I moved on from there.  The following photo shows the beginning of the middle bed, with some of the plants we had recently planted, after the bed had been outlined, but before I had finished weeding and mulching.

Here along the Gulf Coast, one of the main times of leaf fall is in the spring when the evergreen oaks shed their leaves just before getting their new foliage.  As Greg picked up the fallen leaves, he put them in the newly marked bed under the magnolia.  I found a source of shredded wood mulch from a local tree service and had them dump a load, then used that heavier mulch as a thin layer to hold the leaves in place.  With a slope from the street towards the front walkway and porch, I was concerned that, with the first big rain, all the mulch would float down to cover up the path, but thankfully that hasn't happened.

With shrubs already under the magnolia tree, defining that bed was pretty quick and easy.  Defining the remaining 2 beds in the front yard took a little more time, but we used the same general process - define the outline with the hose, then put down leaves topped with shredded hardwood. Of course, we were also visiting both 7 Pines Native Plant Nursery and Mobile Botanical Gardens to get more plants, placing those where appropriate, as you can see above.

The more open areas that we turned into beds took much more time and effort to outline, plant and mulch than the first bed - but we finally finished today!   I really wanted to get the front yard beds to a state that looked moderately finished, so that we didn't look like the half-built house slumming in the neighborhood.  The beds are still very empty, but we've been able to find and put in several shrubs that should be getting a nice start this year, plus a few perennials that we found we couldn't live without.

These photos don't really show the new beds as well as I'd like them to, but I'm still excited enough about getting the project to this state that I want to share!  First, the overview....

...then the opposite angle, ...

...and the front door gardens.

I'm excited about continuing to fill the beds.  Hopefully, the next time I share photos of the front yard, it will be because these new beds are brimming with gorgeous plants and bright, blooming flowers!




Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Spring Blooms Anew

It doesn't seem fair to go through spring without posting a few "pretty" pictures, so I'm going to give into the urge while I have time and energy tonight.

Since this is a new location and a new garden, I'm still in early days yet, learning what will thrive here, what will just survive, and what just doesn't like this yard.  Hopefully these flowering beauties will all be thrivers.

One of the plants that I just put in this spring is downy phlox (Phlox pilosa) that I bought from Dara at 7 Pines Native Plant Nursery in DeFuniak Springs.  We purchased 3 of these at the end of January and planted them the next day.  At the time we bought them, one plant was just beginning to bloom.  The photo above was taken on March 23rd; 3 weeks later, all three plants are blooming as much or more today as they were in this photo.  So, as of right now, these downy phlox started blooming at the end of January and are still blooming strongly 2 1/2 months later!  Not bad for perennials, especially perennials that I haven't dead-headed.

Next on my spring showcase tour are these golden ragwort (Packera aurea), another great purchase from 7 Pines.  These plants were also purchased at the end of January and planted shortly thereafter into very dry shade under a large southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora).  So far, they are doing better than I even hoped for. 

The beautiful little golden flowers started blooming a couple weeks before this photo was taken on March 23rd, the same day the photo of the downy phlox was taken, and they are just now beginning to go to seed.  While I'm tickled about 6 weeks of bloom, I'm most excited about how well the basal rosettes of leaves are doing, as one of my favorite things about these plants is their low, pretty foliage throughout the year. 

Hopefully, in a couple years, this entire area will be carpeted with golden ragwort plants.  To facilitate that, I'm going to leave the spent flowers on the plants until the seeds have dispersed.  Then I will cut the stems off and just let the plants function as an attractive groundcover for the rest of the year.

Moving to the back yard, we planted a trio of Florida flame azaleas (Rhododendron austrinum) next to the sea wall about a month ago.  Two of these plants are just moving into full bloom now and I am loving their vivid orange blooms and bright new foliage against the backdrop of the shifting lake waters.

Of course, I love their blooms up close even more!

I do plan to solve the "plants plopped into the middle of grass" issue...but that will have to wait for quieter times, I'm afraid.

Last but not least, in this little spring tour, are the beautiful little white violets (Viola sp.) that came along with one of the Florida flame azaleas, nestled at its base.  So far I have no species identification for this plant, but I am enjoying its dainty beauty anyway.

As I've written this post, I've realized that I haven't gotten photos of several other blooming plants in the yard, but I'll have to save those for another day.  I hope your spring is bringing you lots of fresh beauty all around!

The Surprising Lure of Open Ground

Why on Earth would I share a photo of such a nondescript area of our "new" backyard, here in Ft. Walton Beach, Florida?

To put it bluntly, I am sharing this photo because it is one of the most "happening" places in our yard.

Yeah, I wouldn't believe it either, if I didn't look out my kitchen window and see it for myself every day, regularly, throughout the entire daylight period.

I am still not sure what, exactly, attracts the birds to this particular area.  They don't dust bathe in the open sand.  There are no thriving ant colonies in the area or obvious signs of other insect life.  There is no pea gravel or other, slightly larger, gravel that could help in their crops.  Yet every day, over and over again, I see blue jays, red-bellied woodpeckers, mourning doves, mockingbirds, and cardinals come into this area, stay for a while, then fly off again.  Obviously something is attracting them.

By watching closely, though, I've figured out a bit of the mystery....

The red-bellied woodpeckers fly directly from the trunk of the laurel oak (on the left) or the pignut hickory (on the right) down to the ground, stay for 30 seconds or so, then fly back up.  Watching through the binoculars, I think they are generally picking up the laurel oak acorns that were thick on the ground last fall and through the winter. 

The acorns aren't nearly as common now as they were then, which is hardly surprising, but still the red-bellieds come.

The blue jays fly down from the branches of the surrounding trees.  They, too, seem to be going after the acorns, based on what I see through the binoculars.

On the other hand, the mockingbird perches on the hammock first, then flies to the ground.  He seems to scavenge a little longer than the jays or the woodpeckers and it's hard for me to see what he is finding.  I suspect insects or some other small invertebrates, but it could be seeds.  (I am speaking of this as a singular bird, since I tend to see one mockingbird at a time, but I strongly suspect that more than one visits the area.)

I haven't been able to see anything in the beaks of the cardinals or mourning dove that come in to feed either.  For these birds, I suspect the attraction is seed from the "weeds" that are easily as major a component of the area as any grass that remains from the last sodding.

So why share this area at all?  I guess because I want to point out that even seemingly barren, "waste" ground can be valuable to some wildlife.

When we first moved in, I saw this part of the backyard as an area that needed to be fixed, preferably sooner than later.  I just wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do with it.  Now I'm not so sure.  This patch attracts many more birds than nearby areas that have much healthier grass.  I do worry about erosion, though, since we get frequent rain and the land in the backyard slopes slightly.

For now I'm content to just wait and observe.  Funny how natural systems see worth in different ways than we humans do.

P.S.  That ugly, plastic, green flag?  I mark plants I don't recognize or that I may want to move when they have come up in the lawn.   That way, I remember to keep an eye on them and the plants don't get mowed before I decide what to do with them.  That particular flag is marking a dainty little sedge that I want to move somewhere more picturesque.

Monday, February 29, 2016

The Milkweed Community Beyond Monarchs

My attempt to rescue 4 monarch caterpillars that were about to eat out their food source seemed to fail, despite my provisioning them with 6 white milkweed and 2 swamp milkweed plants from 7 Pines Native Plant Nursery.  The last - and largest - of the caterpillars curled up in a question mark on the soil surface one day and then disappeared overnight.  Eaten?  Probably.  Pupated somewhere?  Possibly.  At any rate, I have no more monarch caterpillars to watch right now.

However, I do have my 8 milkweed plants.  Making me quite sure that these plants weren't being treated with neonics, my milkweeds came pre-supplied with bright yellow aphids.  A little research on BugGuide.net informed me that these aphids are oleander aphids, Aphis neriiOleander aphids are actually native to the Mediterranean area, but they have become common around the globe, having traveled everywhere on oleander plants.  Oleander aphids are especially common on oleander and on milkweed plants, although they are known to feed on several other types of plants as well.

As I was looking for the monarch caterpillars, I noticed a fly hovering about 6" from the milkweed plants. Watching more closely, I noticed there were actually about 6 flies, and that occasionally one would dart in, look like it was depositing something, and return to hovering.

So I got my camera and tried to take a photo.  After a long time - and many attempts - I hadn't managed to get a nicely clear photo, but I had managed to get a couple shots where I was able to at least get a feel for the flies I was seeing.

Between the blurry photos, the gestalt I had, and the research I did, I think that this little fly is a species of syrphid fly, Ocyptamus fuscipennis, known both for its dark colored wings and its diet of aphids in the larval stage.  That's just my best guess, however.  It's not a verified identification.

As I was trying, again and again, to get a clear photo of one of the syrphid flies, I suddenly noticed a couple tiny, tiny wasps walking among the aphids.  As I looked through the camera lens, I watched one of the wasps curl its abdomen and seem to poke the aphids individually.  This was a little odd, because the wasp curled its abdomen relatively far away from the aphids, but I was sure that it was laying eggs on them.  Again I took photos, but again I didn't get any good shots - to get clear photos of such minuscule insects, I needed a tripod for stability and a windless day with no sway in the plant stems.

Despite my lack of good photos, I saw enough to have a good idea of what was going on.  After more research, I suspect that the small wasps were braconid wasps, which parasitize aphids by inserting an egg in an individual aphid.  The egg hatches and the larval wasp eats the aphid from the inside, killing the aphid and leaving an "aphid mummy", which is essentially the shell of the aphid with the larva, then pupa, of the wasp inside.  When the wasp emerges from its pupal stage, it cuts a hole in the aphid mummy and emerges, to repeat the cycle.  If you click on the link I've highlighted, you'll see a great photo posted on BugGuide.net of one of these wasps in egg-laying stance, ready to lay an egg on an oleander aphid.

Note:  Looking at several of my photos from this series, there are many little dots on them.  The dots were only visible when I enlarged the images and they only occurred in the middle of the milkweed plants.  I don't think it was a dirty lens (although I will certainly be cleaning it to verify).  There is also a small, beetle-like insect on the vein of the milkweed leaf in the very bottom right of the photo above, which I haven't identified.  I think it might be some sort of weevil, but that is simply another guess.

So right now, with no milkweed blooms to be had, I've already got 4 species that are relying on my milkweeds for the basis of their life cycle:  monarchs, oleander aphids, a syrphid fly, and a braconid wasp.  I've also seen examples of herbivory (monarch caterpillars and oleander aphids), predator-prey relationships (syrphid flies and aphids), and parasitism (braconid wasps and aphids).  Pretty cool for February!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

A Good Book And Some Humble (Oak) Pie

It's such a rookie mistake!  I knew there were several species of evergreen oaks down here.

But let me start again.... 

A while back, I discovered a promising book on Amazon.com, Finding Home in the Sandy Lands of the South: A Naturalist's Journey in Florida, by Francis E. "Jack" Putz.  Despite having absolutely no extra room for books in the house, I convinced myself that I truly needed this addition to my library. After all, we were talking about an author from the north (who was a naturalist!), living in the same general ecosystem we've just moved to, writing about what he's discovered about the plants and animals of the area since he moved here.  Of course I bought it.

Then, equally "logically", Sandy Lands stayed on my bedside bookshelf "maturing" for a while until the time seemed right to read it.  That time came a few days ago, as the weather and my schedule started to coalesce, making gardening seem more possible after our move.

As I delved into the book, I enjoyed Dr. Putz's tales of botanical and other adventures immensely, reading some of them aloud to Greg so that he could share them too.  Both of us decided that we would love to live in an environmentally focused, land trust based, community neighborhood like Flamingo Hammock, the spot near Gainesville that Dr. Putz has called home for many years now.  I know many of the species that were mentioned in his vignettes, so I could accurately picture them as I read, but I learned all sorts of additional, interesting bits and pieces, creating a much fuller understanding of our new habitat.

If you live in the southeastern coastal plain region, this is an enjoyable and informative read - I highly recommend it.  Actually, it's an enjoyable and informative read even if you don't live in this region!

Getting back on topic, I highly recommend this book, in fact, despite the fact that it has made me feel like a total dunce about my basic plant identification skills.  

The problem started when I read the chapter on "Liberating Live Oaks".  Our neighborhood is lucky in having many, many live oak (Quercus virginiana) and sand live oak (Q. geminata) trees, draped with Spanish moss, defining the landscape.  The original developer's daughter apparently loved the trees and convinced her father to save as many as he possibly could when he was building the homes.  Truthfully, the live oak trees were what drew our daughter to the neighborhood, when she moved to Ft. Walton Beach almost 5 years ago.  (She and our grandson were what drew us to the neighborhood...but the live oaks certainly helped clinch the deal.)

Putz, however, was talking about the decline of these beautiful old live oaks due to the encroachment of other hardwood trees, and he listed several species of particular concern that tend to grow fast and tall, overtopping established live oaks and causing their decline.  The problematic trees he mentioned specifically were laurel oak (Q. hemisphaerica), water oak (Q. nigra), and sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua).

Suddenly I remembered an earlier essay where he had mentioned that laurel oaks and live oaks could be difficult to tell apart, with similarly sized and shaped leaves.  And he was constantly, constantly talking about having to cut out laurel oaks that freely seeded and grew - fast - to crowd out all sorts of other plants.

Oh, no!  I had thought that the reason the live oaks in our back yard - left, center and right - were dying was because of the construction of the seawall back there, 8 years ago...but what if they weren't actually live oaks at all? With fear and trembling in my heart - but really knowing the answer already - I went outside and looked specifically at the back sides of the leaves of my trees:  shiny and bright green, not dull and whitish from tiny hairs.  Horrors!  Not only were all the "live oak" trees in the back yard actually laurel oaks, but even the big "live oak" in the front yard was a laurel oak!  No wonder they were all beginning to decline.

To add insult to injury, I've been flagging seedling oak trees in the yard, thinking to save a few of the best placed ones but, when I looked, all of the seedlings - every single one - was a laurel oak as well.

I guess the best lesson to take away from this humbling experience is to keep learning and to keep questioning my own assumptions.  I am truly glad that I realized my mistake now, and not 5 years from now, when the young laurel oak seedlings were well established and hard to pull out.  Now I need to decide whether to find tiny live oak seedlings to transplant from neighbors' yards, keeping the local ecotype going, or whether to buy commercially grown young trees for planting.  I want to use live oaks for their longevity and wind resistance, even though we'll be long gone before they mature.

One thing's for sure:  I'm glad I read Jack Putz's book and I'm glad I questioned my original identification.  I'd much rather know the truth than believe in a comfortable lie.  In the long run, as my son says, "It's all good."

Monday, February 15, 2016

Milkweeds - A Different Kind of Valentine's Day Bouquet

This isn't the sort of dilemma I would have faced on February 12th in Kansas.

Last Friday, Greg and I were in the back yard with the dogs when Greg looked down and said, "You've got to be kidding me!" There, on the 90% dead tropical milkweed plant, were 2 monarch caterpillars, alive and kicking.  There were 2 problems here - the weather was due to get down to freezing in the next several days and, even if it didn't, there were only about a dozen leaves left on the plant. In no way was there enough foliage to feed 2 monarch caterpillars.

Then I remembered our recent visit to 7 Pines Native Plant Nursery.  Didn't Dara say that she'd moved a block of white milkweed into her greenhouse to overwinter?  A block of white milkweed that had turned out to be well salted with monarch eggs, which had turned into monarch caterpillars, which had munched their way through her plants and successfully pupated? If those white milkweeds were still in her greenhouse, would there be enough foliage for these guys?

So I called Dara to ask. Yes, she had white milkweed in her greenhouse. It was Asclepias perennis, which likes a wet spot in the garden.  That wasn't ideal, given my sandy hill yard, but Dara reported that the plants were leafing back out and that she'd be glad to sell us some.

Greg and I discussed our options.  He said that he'd been planning on ordering me a bouquet of roses for Valentine's Day. Then he asked if I would prefer some milkweed plants instead?

Of course I jumped at that idea! Even if the caterpillars didn't make it, or if the milkweed plants didn't like our yard conditions, we were still attempting to make our yard more wildlife friendly.  The roses - while they would be very much enjoyed and appreciated - would be dead in less than 10 days.  The milkweeds seemed like a great Valentine's Day flower arrangement to me.

So Greg and I jumped into the car and headed up to DeFuniak Springs, where we found a nice block of white milkweed beginning to leaf back out, just as Dara had promised, along with a couple swamp milkweed (A. incarnata) and a couple butterfly milkweed (A. tuberosa), also leafing out. After my normal lengthy period of cogitation, I decided to get 6 white milkweeds, 2 swamp milkweeds, and 2 butterfly milkweeds.  We then had a relaxing and enjoyable time wandering the nursery and finding a few other gems that HAD to go home with us, as well as talking with Dara and Lloyd about such weighty topics as sausage, beer, and Ft. Walton Beach restaurants.  Finally Greg and I said good-bye, got back into our car, and headed home, intent on caterpillar rescue.

Since the weather was predicted to get down into the 30's for the next 2 nights (and since the milkweeds had been in the greenhouse all winter), I decided to transfer the caterpillars to the new milkweed plants and put the grouping in our laundry room, by a floor length window. 

When we went to get the caterpillars, we found FOUR, not two.  The transfer was quick and easy.  I stayed in the laundry room watching until I saw 3 of the caterpillars beginning to eat, then left them undisturbed for the night.

Sadly, I wish I could report that all 4 caterpillars are doing wonderfully, but I can't.  We keep our house in the low 60's;  perhaps that's too cold.  Perhaps monarch caterpillars don't like to change from one species of milkweed to another as they're growing.  The next morning I could only find 3 of the 4 caterpillars.  For whatever reason, the caterpillars I could find seemed sluggish and uninterested in eating.  Yesterday morning, I could only find 2 caterpillars.

This morning I found one caterpillar obviously still alive and one, seemingly dead, down on the soil in one of the pots.  The weather was warmer today and the sun was shining this morning, so I carried the monarch rescue flat out to the back deck, putting it beside the remnants of the tropical milkweed that all of the caterpillars had started on.

When I checked on the caterpillar this afternoon, it had moved back to the tropical milkweed plant, although it was resting on one of the old, dead stems.  I still did not see either of the "missing" 2 caterpillars.

At this point I plan on leaving the monarch caterpillar back on the tropical milkweed where it hatched out.  We are not due to get below freezing in the foreseeable future, so it should be fine.  I will manage the Valentine's Day milkweeds as appropriate to try to keep them healthy until I feel like it's safe to plant them out in the landscape.  Hopefully, while they may not have ended up rescuing these particular monarch caterpillars, they will still become nursery plants for many more monarchs in the upcoming months and years.

Sometimes our best efforts just aren't enough.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

7 Pines Native Plant Nursery

One of the tough parts of moving is forging a new supporting network.  I expected to have to find a new plumber, new doctor, new electrician, new grocery store, new stylist, etc. etc., but I was flummoxed after the move to realize that I needed to find a new source of native plant material and that, even worse, I had no clue where to begin.

In Kansas, I had found a fairly robust group of alternatives for acquiring native plants, including roadside collection of seeds, a few excellent individual plantspeople, Dyck Arboretum, and the occasional nursery.  Here in Ft. Walton Beach, Florida, I was finding nothing but...box stores.  Worse, when I looked at the plants in said box stores, they literally ALL bore the disheartening label, "We have been treated with neonicotinoid insecticides to provide a death trap for any and all insects in your garden."  Okay, maybe that wasn't exactly how the label read, but that's essentially what it meant.

Searching online, I finally found mention of a native plant nursery near DeFuniak Springs, about an hour away - 7 Pines Native Plant Nursery.  Last fall we made the trek up there and I was incredibly pleased by what I found.  Last weekend we went back, and I am happy to report that my initial positive impression was spot on.

7 Pines is a real treat to visit.  Located out in the country, north of DeFuniak Springs, I find that even the drive to get there is relaxing and enjoyable.  Of course, any decline in your blood pressure due to relaxation on the drive out will be immediately counteracted by the excitement you'll feel once you turn in at the gate!

For there, gleaming in front of you, are several long, well ordered beds of native plants, carefully labeled and just calling out to go home with you.  Best of all, as soon as you pull in, you will be greeted by Dara and Lloyd, the owners, who are both extremely knowledgeable and very friendly.

From common to unusual, 7 Pines has a wonderful variety of plants, reasonably priced.  I won't bore you with the entire list of what I've purchased, but it was enough to make Greg groan!  Best of all, the plants are healthy, well rooted, and NEONIC FREE!

Over the course of the last week, Greg and I have managed to get most of the plants we purchased into the ground, so I'm beginning to get the itch to return to 7 Pines and pick up more plants.  I have a sneaking suspicion this is a trip I will be making many times in the future!