Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Mushrooms: The Turkey Tail

This week's blog was written by guest blogger Dusty Purcell.  Dusty is a Mycologist/Plant Pathologist who studied at the University of Florida.

This Thanksgiving-themed fungus is not a true mushroom but really a polypore. Whereas your typical mushroom emerges from the soil as a stalk topped with a cap sporting gills on its underside, the typical polypore has no stalk, is attached to wood and has pores instead of gills. Polypores also have tough persistent flesh and live for weeks or months instead of hours or days as soft-fleshed mushrooms do.

The one pictured here is not the “true” Turkey Tail fungus (but it was one I could find). True Turkey Tail fungus goes by the name Trametes versicolor. This one is Trametes pubescens, one of many fungi that look kind of like the tail of a turkey. As the scientific names suggest, this turkey tail is a little more fuzzy but a little less colorful than Trametes versicolor.

There are at least 5 species of Trametes reported from Florida. It’s not always easy to tell which one you’ve found, even with a good field guide, because all of these turkey tails are similar in appearance and share a number of features. They can be found any time of the year on dead or dying hardwood trees, like oaks. They have a fan-like shape that extends 1 or 2 inches from the wood and is a few inches wide, but multiple turkey tails may fuse together into large confluent masses. The flesh is thin (maybe ¼ inch) with a pliable, leathery texture. The top of the cap may be smooth or fuzzy and often has rainbow-like zones of contrasting earth-tone colors. What differs, and allows the species of Trametes to be differentiated from each other, is mainly the texture and coloration of the cap surface and the characteristics of the pores on the underside of the cap.

These and other polypores are important decomposers of wood and vital to the cycling of nutrients through forest (and backyard) ecosystems.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Flower Pot Mushrooms

This week's blog was written by guest blogger Dusty Purcell. Dusty is a Mycologist/Plant Pathologist who studied at the University of Florida.

There are a few delicate little mushrooms that commonly sprout from the soil of nursery grown plants. The yellow species pictured below appears to be the most common of them.

Leucocoprinus birnbaumii growing with crape myrtle trees in a nursery. The pale specimen on the left is mature and has a fully expanded cap. The picture on the right depicts several young mushrooms whose caps haven’t yet opened up into little parasols.
Despite its frequency, it has no universally accepted common name, though flower pot mushroom would be appropriate. It goes by the scientific name Leucocoprinus birnbaumii, but some field guides may list it as Leucocoprinus luteus. These mushrooms don’t harm the plants they share potting soil with; they just decompose the organic matter in the soil. You may see them any time of the year in Florida, but in the cooler months you’re more likely to see them in a greenhouse or at the base of a houseplant. While they are most conspicuous when growing with potted plants, they can also be found in compost piles, old mulch, and among the twigs and leaf-litter of the forest floor.

Mature mushrooms range from pale to bright yellow and stand about 4 inches tall. I’ll forego the detailed description here… If you see little yellow mushrooms growing from your potted plants it’s pretty safe to assume that this is your guy. They are tissue-paper delicate and don’t normally last more than a day or two before shriveling away. So try to enjoy the short lived novelty of this harmless mushroom if you ever see them among your houseplants.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Bee Balm

Fall is a great time to enjoy wildflowers in Florida. One of the wildflowers blooming in the Florida Botanical Gardens right now is Bee Balm, Monarda punctata. This is an herbaceous perennial that typically grows to about 18” tall and spreads. Like other herbaceous members of the mint family (Labiatae), Bee Balm has leaves that are in an opposite arrangement on a square stem. You can feel the angular shape of the stem by rolling it between your thumb and forefinger. The pinkish-purple showy parts that are most noticeable are not the flowers, but bracts. If you look closely above you can see the flowers above the bracts; the flower tubes are pale with purple spots.
Bee Balm is attractive to bees, butterflies, and birds, which makes it an excellent plant for attracting wildlife. The Bee Balm in the Gardens is just buzzing with life right now!  Click here for more information on this plant.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Green Gills and Fairy Rings

This week's blog was written by guest blogger Dusty Purcell.  Dusty is a Mycologist/Plant Pathologist who studied at the University of Florida.

This is the ‘Green Gill Mushroom’, Chlorophyllum molybdites.  If you live in Pinellas County during the summer months, I am almost 100% certain that you have seen this mushroom.

For several reasons, it is an excellent first mushroom to learn:

1.  It has a cool name. Chlorophyllum molybdites.  Sound it out phonetically.  No one will dare correct your pronunciation. Trust me.

2.  It is extremely conspicuous.  These large pale mushrooms, often in large groups, poke up through the grass on sunny lawns and golf courses.  You can spot them while driving down the road.

3.  It is very common.  They pop up en mass around town every year during the warm and wet months.

4.  It is highly distinctive.  As far as I know, this is the only gilled mushroom with green spores.  Mature mushrooms have green gills (hence the common name).

5.  It is poisonous, being responsible for the majority of reported mushroom poisonings in Florida. Eating them can cause severe intestinal distress including cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea severe enough to require hospitalization.

You’ll find green gills following rains during summer and fall.  They may be alone but are more often found in groups.  They often sprout from the ground arranged in a line, arc or circle.  These circular arrangements of mushrooms are called fairy rings, and they are not uncommon sights in large open grassy areas like those found in parks and golf courses.  ‘Why do they grow in a ring?’ you may ask.  Well, have you ever seen mold growing on a Petri dish or a slice of bread?  The mold colony grows out from its center as a round expanding colony.  The fungus that produces this mushroom grows through the soil of a lawn in the same way.  As it gets larger the old central part of the colony dies, leaving a ring of living fungal colony to produce mushrooms when the weather is right.  They won’t hurt your grass… in fact they help decay grass clippings and other organic material in the soil.  This frees up nutrients for your lawn to use.  If, however, you are concerned about little ones (e.g. children and dogs) who put things found on the ground in their mouths, you may want to remove them from your yard.  You can pick them, put them in a bag, and throw them away with the trash.  This won’t eliminate the fungus from your yard, more mushrooms will likely sprout from the fungus growing in the soil, but it will make the yard safe for grazing family members.

On the left is an immature Green Gill mushroom.  The cap has not yet expanded to expose the gills. On the right is a slightly older specimen. The cap has begun to open, revealing the gills.  Notice the ring of tissue that was left behind on the stem where the margin of the cap had been attached.
You can find a thorough technical description in a good field guide to mushrooms.  Here you will find a simple but workable description and some decent pictures.  A good specimen may be 6-10 inches tall with a cap about as big around when fully expanded.  A ring of tissue encircles the stalk somewhere in its upper third, and the cap has tan to brown patches or scales clinging to its upper surface.  The gills are densely arranged on the underside of the cap and are not attached to the stalk.  The gills are white at first, but turn gray-green as the spores are produced.  The cap, stalk and ring may be white in fresh young specimens but are usually pale tan and darken to a light brown as the mushroom ages.  The gills, too, may turn brown as the mushroom ages.

The caps of these mushrooms have been folded back so you can get a good look at the color of the gills.  The one on the left is younger and still has white gills.  The specimen on the right is mature; the gills have turned green as they are now covered with mature spores.  Notice also how the stem has darkened with age.
Young specimens, with their white gills, can easily be mistaken for mushrooms of the genera Lepiota and Macrolepiota.  Old mushrooms, with their brownish gills, may be confused with members of the genus Agaricus.  So, even this highly unique mushroom has look-alikes. However, mature fresh specimens, with their distinctive green gills, cannot be mistaken for any mushroom that I know of.  A spore print, as seen in the photo below, is also a reliable way to determine spore color and confidently identify this neat toadstool.

This spore print was made from a fresh mushroom that still had white gills.  They are easy to make.  Just cut the stalk off of the mushroom and place the cap on a sheet of paper with the gills facing down.  It may take a while…  The heavy spore deposit here was made by placing a damp paper towel on top of the cap, setting an inverted bowl on top of it, and putting it in the refrigerator overnight.  The bowl and moist paper towel keep the mushroom cap from drying out.  Mushroom hunters make spore prints to determine the spore color for proper identification using field guides.
References and further reading:

Fairy Ring fact sheet from the University of Florida

Common Florida Mushrooms by James Kimbrough

Friday, September 16, 2011

Fall Vegetable Garden Varieties

Are you planting a fall vegetable garden? Well don’t delay- planting most veggies should happen right away in case of early cold weather! When you are shopping for plants or seeds, remember that there are certain varieties of herbs and vegetables that are better suited to our climate and growing conditions. Suggested varieties for Florida are better adapted to our challenging weather patterns and more resistant to Florida pests and diseases.

Here are a few popular cool-season vegetables with suggested varieties and planting times for Central Florida:

Beets: Early Wonder, Detroit Dark Red, Cylindra, Red Ade, Little Ball (Oct.-Mar.)

Broccoli: Early Green, Early Dividend, Green Sprouting/Calabrese, Waltham, Packman, De Cicco (Aug.-Jan.)

Carrots: Imperator, Nantes, Danvers, Chantenay (Oct.- Mar.)

Celery: Utah Strains, Florida Strains, Summer Pascal (Aug.- Feb.)

Lettuce: Great Lakes (Crisphead); Parris Island Cos, Outredgeous (Romaine) (Sept.- Mar.)

Onions (Bulbing): Excel, Texas Grano, Granex, White Granex, Tropicana Red (Sept.- Dec.)

Peas (English or Snow): Wando, Green Arrow, Sugar Snap, Oregon Sugarpod II (Sept.- Mar.)

For more information about vegetable gardening in Florida, including a complete list of suggested varieties and so much more, please click here to download a fact sheet provided by the University of Florida Extension.

Friday, July 22, 2011

At Pinellas County Extension – registration made easy

Rain barrels, cooking classes, financial plans, 4-H … Pinellas County Extension has always addressed a variety of issues to help residents improve their quality of life. As an outreach of the University of Florida, the educational programs are geared toward making the most of resources, from money management skills to programs that teach energy efficient practices.

To make it easier for residents to participate in the variety of classes and program, Extension agents are introducing a citizen-friendly process to facilitate advance registration for programs. The new format will make it easy to sign up for any of the special events.

Visitors to will notice a process that is simple to follow, with readily available information and a fun new look.

“We are very excited about this new registration because it is so easy and fun for people to use,” said Mary Campbell, director of Pinellas County Extension. “We hope it will translate into more of our citizens taking advantage of our services.”

The new registration site will come online on Monday, Aug. 1, for all of the Extension classes that require registration, including those held at the Extension office in Largo, Brooker Creek Preserve in Tarpon Springs and Weedon Island Preserve in St. Petersburg. Online visitors will be easily directed to the registration page. Payment for classes with fees can be made using a credit or debit card (no cash or checks).

Pinellas County Extension is a partnership between Pinellas County government and the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) as part of a nationwide network of land grant universities. The University of Florida is an equal access/equal opportunity institution.

The mission of Pinellas County Extension is to provide research-based knowledge and education programs enabling people to make practical decisions to improve their quality of life and the world around them. Education focuses on sustainable living, lawn and garden, families and consumers, and 4-H youth development.

Pinellas County Extension offers programming at the Extension office, 12520 Ulmerton Road, Largo, (727) 582-2100,; Brooker Creek Preserve Environmental Education Center, 3940 Keystone Road, Tarpon Springs, (727) 453-6800, and Weedon Island Preserve Cultural and Natural History Center, 1800 Weedon Drive N.E., St. Petersburg, (727) 453-6500,

Pinellas County complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act. If you are a person with a disability who needs any accommodation in order to participate, you are entitled, at no cost to you, to the provision of certain assistance. At least seven days prior to the event, contact the Office of Human Rights, 400 S. Fort Harrison Ave., Suite 500, Clearwater, FL 33756, (727) 464-4062 (V/TDD).

Friday, May 27, 2011

Anyone have a good cocktail sauce recipe?

A dead lawn shrimp.

Just when you thought you had seen it all, along comes the lawn shrimp. Most amphipods (shrimp-like crustaceans) require water to live, but there are about 90 terrestrial species found here in the United States and Canada. These terrestrial amphipods do require moist living conditions like the underside of rocks or decaying vegetation.  They are very small in size, ranging from 3/16 to 3/4 inch long, but generally just a bit smaller than a grain of rice.  Lawn shrimp are often confused with springtails (see photo below), which are not crustacea at all, but insect-like arthropods who also live in moist environments in the landscape.

A springtail.

Frequently, after heavy rains large numbers of lawn shrimp will migrate into structures, where they soon die from water loss. You see, they don’t have a waxy layer to their exoskeleton (hard crunchy outer shell) so they rely on their environment for moisture. Too wet or too dry are both deadly situations, hence the migration from rain soaked soil and the resulting desiccation (drying out) once they reach higher ground. While their normal color ranges from pale brown to greenish to brownish black, they turn a red color when they die. This is how most people find them.

These harmless invaders are commonly found by homeowners under or near the doors of houses, or in garages and porches. Once they make it inside they will die and can be vacuumed or swept up and thrown away. Weather stripping under the door can help prevent them from reaching the inside in the first place. Click here to learn even more about this fascinating creature!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Those Mysterious Molds, Part 2: "Dog Turd Fungus”

This week's blog was written by guest blogger Dustin H. Purcell, MS. Dustin is a Mycologist/Plant Pathologist who studied at the University of Florida.

This is a true fungus (just like other mushrooms, toadstools and puffballs) named Pisolithus tinctorius, and apparently a nice purple to coppery golden brown fabric dye can be made from them, though I confess to have never tye-dyed with this shroom. Like the “dog vomit fungus” discussed in an earlier blog post, it looks like something that might have been left behind by a dog. In more polite company, you might say it looks like a stalked puffball sculpted from chocolate. They range in height from 2 to 6 inches and terminate in a bulbous knob from 1 to 3 inches in diameter. Initially they are covered by a smooth firm skin, but this weathers away to expose and liberate the cocoa-powder-looking spores inside.

Both of these pictures are of the same Pisolithus mushroom. The one on the left is only slightly weathered and the cinnamon colored spores can be seen. In the photo on the right, taken 2 weeks later, all of the spores have been washed away by a heavy rain.
This fungus is mycorrhizal, meaning that the portion below the ground (which happens to be significantly more than the portion you see above the ground) forms mutually beneficial relationships with trees… The faux-latin word mycorrhizae is formed from the latin words for fungus and root. The below ground portion grows through the soil as microscopic strands which decay organic matter (like rotting leaves), absorb nutrients and water, and wrap around the roots of trees (especially pines and oaks). Though these odd mushrooms may be many yards from the trees with which they form mycorrhizae, rest assured that they are in partnership with at least one of the trees nearby. The fungus exchanges nutrients and water with the trees, allowing the plants to grow well under harsh conditions. They are credited with helping trees survive drought conditions and for this reason are important to forestry. They can be seen sporadically throughout the year in Florida anywhere trees grow, especially on dry sandy soil. They are not uncommon to see around oak trees planted in parking lots and median strips where they undoubtedly aid the trees in these stressful environments.

They are not known to be harmful to people or animals and are helpful to trees in the landscape. For these reasons, try to appreciate their ecological importance rather than being put off by their gross appearance.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Watch Out for Assassin Bugs!

By Jane Morse, UF/IFAS Extension Agent, Pinellas County Extension

These bugs are meat-eating hunters! They are very beneficial in the landscape/garden as they prey (feed) on a wide variety of pest insects such as caterpillars, stinkbugs, aphids, and beetles. However, they are general predators and may also feed on each other and other beneficial insects. Since assassin bugs (also known as wheel bugs) are also preyed upon they have developed a unique defense system, they use their beak to squirt venom at their attacker as far as a foot away!

Assassin bug nymph
Assassin nymphs (young) are abundant this year. Several specimens have been brought into the Pinellas County Extension Service’s Lawn and Garden Help Desk for identification.

They come in many shapes and sizes as there are over 3,000 species. Their length can vary from less than ¼ inch to 1 ½ inches, and they have only one generation per year. ALL assassin bugs have a powerful, curved beak that they use to pierce and inject dissolving venom into their prey. Once the inside of the prey is turned to liquid, the assassin bug uses its beak to suck out the liquefied tissues, much like we use a straw to drink a milkshake!

This powerful beak packs a mean wallop, so be careful when working in the landscape/garden. When disturbed the wheel bug can inflict a bite described as worse than stings from bees, wasps, or hornets.
Remember they are doing free pest control in your landscape/garden, so it is very good to have them around. If you see them it is best to leave them alone, but you may want to watch them hunt for other bugs to eat. The landscape/garden can be a fascinating place to watch insects in action.

Avoid blanket spraying of insecticides and instead only spot-treat plants. Try using horticultural oils and insecticidal soaps rather than the more toxic insecticides. This will help to preserve these and other beneficial insects that are doing free pest control for you.

Click here to learn more about the assassin (wheel) bug.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

What will You be doing 10 years from Now?

A planning process that will shape Extension programs in Florida for the next decade has begun.

This is a joint effort between the University of Florida (UF) and the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) that will allow us to have a clear path of action as an educational organization. Our goal is to create a strategic plan that will support Florida's economy, environment, and people. We want it to be relevant today and flexible enough to meet the needs of Florida's communities as they change.
Listening is at the core of Extension's long range planning effort. One way we can hear your ideas is by having you take a survey.

So please spend your next 10 minutes completing this survey. When you are done, take a minute more and share this blog with others who may be interested in contributing ideas about the future of Extension.

Mary Campbell
County Extension Director
UF/IFAS Pinellas County Extension

Friday, April 22, 2011

Those Mysterious Molds, Part 1: "The Blob"

This week's blog was written by guest blogger Dustin H. Purcell, MS. Dustin is a Mycologist/Plant Pathologist who studied at the University of Florida. 

"The Dog Vomit Fungus” aka “The Blob”

Accurate identification of fungi normally requires a microscope, experience, and some obscure resources, but this one is fairly distinctive and has no real look-alikes. It is also pretty common in our area, so most people who spend some time in the yard have wondered what it is.

It isn’t truly a fungus, but it’s fungus-like enough that mycologists (scientists who study mushrooms and other fungi) study it. Technically it is a Myxomycete, or plasmodial slime mold, named Fuligo septica. It looks kind of like that expanding foam used to fill cracks and gaps in walls around the house and garage. It has no definite shape, just a small irregular mound less than an inch in height and anywhere from around an inch to over a foot in diameter (if an irregular shape is allowed to have a diameter). Unlike expanding foam, it has a crusty-flaky coating instead of a smooth firm “skin”. If you scrape the yellowish-tan coating away (you can use your finger, but a stick will work if the that sounds too gross), you’ll see the purplish-brown spore mass inside. Spores are like seeds… They are the way myxomycetes reproduce and spread from place to place. When mature, it is completely dry and will disintegrate into an airborne cloud of spores under foot or lawnmower. Before it matures, it looks like a slimy-gooey-frothy yellowish-brownish-greenish blob.  

The dog vomit “fungus” (Fuligo septica) in its natural habitat… your yard. The specimen at the upper left is not yet mature. It is still a gooey blob that will probably dry into a crusty-powdery mass by the end of the day. On the upper right is a collection of three mature myxomycetes that have migrated up plant stems in order to produce spores. This will not harm the plant! Wind, rain and sprinklers will wash it away. The photo below this shows an individual about 5 inches long sitting on the mulch of a garden bed.  On the lower left is a large specimen (over a foot long!) following a good rain that washed away the yellow crusty coating to expose its purple-black spores.

They are common following rains or irrigation during the warmer months anywhere there is ample organic matter. This includes lawns, mulched areas, compost piles, bare soil, tree stumps and old logs. Sometimes they even “climb” a few inches up walls or the base of plants. They are not known to be harmful at all to plants or animals (including humans). Before coming to the soil surface to scare and gross out humans, they migrate through the soil as large amoebae (called plasmodia) ingesting tiny bits of decaying debris, bacteria and other microorganisms. They are not associated with any plant disease. Rather, they are an important component of the soil ecosystem and indicate that there is a decent amount of moisture and organic matter in the soil. This is a good thing, because landscape plants normally do well in soil with ample moisture and organic matter. Undisturbed, they can last for weeks in the yard until a good rain washes the spores back into the soil. Animals, including curious children armed with sticks and lawn men with lawnmowers, will also hasten the weathering process by scattering their spores to the wind.

So try not to be repulsed the next time you spot these unsightly creatures in your yard. They are probably helping your landscape, and at the very least they are doing no harm.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Oak Leaf Blister

It’s that time of year again, the leaves are green, the flowers are blooming, the birds are singing, the oak leaves are blistering. Ah spring! Wait a minute- oak leaves blistering? Yes, this is a common sight this time of year. Oak leaf blister is a common leaf disease on oaks in Florida. It can affect any oak but it seems more prevalent on laurel oak. This disease is more prominent after a cool wet weather, so we can expect to see a lot of oak leaf blister this spring. The spores of this fungus infect newer leaves and cause swollen blister-like tissue like you see in this photo (courtesy Okeechobee County Extension):

Oak leaf blister can also cause leaf distortion and leaf curl. In most cases this is just a cosmetic problem and rarely does any significant damage to an oak. This fungus only attacks the leaves and will not cause harm to the rest of the tree. In some extreme cases on a younger tree you may experience a large leaf loss. If that is the case you should rake up the fallen infected leaves and dispose of them to avoid spreading the fungal spores to your other trees. Otherwise, enjoy the shade of your oak and get some gardening done before it gets too hot!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

March into Class!

Pinellas County Extension offers residents a wide variety of classes to help them make sustainable decisions. Be sure to check out our classes at Brooker Creek Preserve, Weedon Island Preserve, and online.

Brooker Creek:
March 5, 2011 - Guided Hike
March 5, 2011 - Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project
March 10, 2011 - Book-Time at Brooker
March 12, 2011 - Guided Hike
March 12, 2011 - Rain Harvesting
March 12, 2011 - Discovering Nature with Your Child
March 19, 2011 - Guided Hike
March 24, 2011 - Book-Time at Brooker
March 26, 2011 - Extended Guided Hike- Winter Wonders
March 26, 2011 - Butterfly Gardening 101

Commercial (Pesticide/FNGLA/ISA) CEUs:
March 7, 2011, 9:00 am - Spanish Lawn/Landscape Maintenance BMPs
March 7, 2011, 2:00 pm - Spanish Lawn/Landscape Maintenance BMPs
March 14, 2011, 9:00 pm - Lawn/Landscape Maintenance BMPs
March 14, 2011, 2:00 pm - Lawn/Landscape Maintenance BMPs
March 17, 2011 - CEU Variety Pack. Take one or take them all!
March 23, 2011 - Roundup License Training – LCLM & LLO Review

Extension Programs:
March 2, 2011 - Restoring Nature”s Balance
March 6, 2011 - Bird & Wildlife Walk
March 10, 2011, 2:00 pm - Repotting Orchids
March 10, 2011, 6:15 pm - Repotting Orchids
March 15, 2011 - Your Carbon Footprint
March 15, 2011 - Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project
March 22, 2011 - Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project
March 22, 2011 - Landscaping for Upland Wildlife Walk
March 23, 2011 - Water Conservation

Solutions in 30:
March 2, 2011 - Low-Cost, No-Cost Ways to Lower Your Power Bill
March 9, 2011 - Green Office Practices
March 16, 2011 - Everyday Money Lessons to Teach Your Children
March 30, 2011 - Green Spaces

Weedon Island:
March 5, 2011 - Guided Hike
March 10, 2011 - Wee-Time at Weedon: Night Fliers
March 11, 2011 - Great Weedon Bird Quest
March 12, 2011 - Guided Hike
March 12, 2011 - People”s Use of Plants Through Time
March 12, 2011 - Celebrate Florida Archaeology 2001
March 12, 2011 - Life & Lunch in a 9th Century Indian Village
March 17, 2011 - Sustainable Floridians Open Orientation
March 17, 2011 - Plant Usage By Prehistoric Floridians
March 19, 2011 - Photography Hike
March 19, 2011 - Guided Hike
March 19, 2011 - Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project
March 24, 2011 - Wee-Time at Weedon: Ten Little Rabbits
March 26, 2011 - Guided Hike

You can register for classes online at

Friday, February 25, 2011

Heart-Leaf Nettle

Heart-Leaf Nettle (Urtica chamaedryoides) is a winter annual that we have been seeing here at the Lawn and Garden Help Desk recently. This Florida native plant is commonly found in disturbed areas and even in pastures, where it can be problematic for livestock. But more importantly here in Pinellas County, is that it is commonly found in yards and can be problematic for unprepared gardeners. These herbaceous plants grow in an erect form but are often weak and find support from other plants. The leaves of this plant are triangular in shape and closely resemble the leaves of a strawberry plant, although the overall shape of the plant is very different.  Leaves are between .5"-2.5" long and .5"-1.5" wide and are oppositely arranged on the stem.

The cause for concern comes from the fine little hairs found on the stem and leaves of the plant:

Each hair is a brittle tube filled with irritating compounds (histamines and acetocholines). When you brush up against one of these hairs it breaks open and injects these materials into your skin. Intense itching and reddening of the skin are the most common reactions, but some people may experience swelling and burning as well.

This is why it would be good to know this plant before you reach down and try to pull it out. According to the University of Florida fact sheet on Heart-Leaf Nettle, washing the affected area or applying a baking soda paste soothes the stinging sensation. My recommendation is watching out for this stinging nettle and wearing heavy-duty gloves to protect your skin! 

Friday, February 11, 2011

Spring is here!

The Tabebuia trees (Tabebuia chrysotricha) in the north parking lot at the Pinellas County Extension Office are in bloom. Look how beautiful they are:

These flowers only bloom for a short time, so keep your eyes open for them so you don't miss them!  Click here for more info on this great tree!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Happy Florida Arbor Day!

National Arbor Day is traditionally observed on the last Friday in April, but many states observe a different Arbor Day to coincide with the best tree planting weather. In Florida we observe our state Arbor Day on the third Friday in January. Happy Florida Arbor Day! In honor of the occasion, today’s blog will feature information on tree selection, planting, and proper tree care.

Before you plant a tree there are several things to consider: Is this tree the right tree for the growing conditions on the site? Sun, water, mature size, overhead and underground utilities, etc. should all be considered. You want to start with a healthy tree from a trusted nursery. Take care when transporting and be sure to install your tree properly. Planting the root ball too deeply is a common mistake that you want to avoid. Click here for details on proper tree planting.

Once your new tree is planted you are not really done. You must take extra care to ensure its healthy establishment. Click here to determine how to water your new tree during this establishment time.

As your tree grows you will also need to prune it from time to time to help it develop a healthy structure. This is important for the health of the tree and also can help make the tree stronger and more wind-resistant. Improper pruning can result in the decline and even failure of a tree, so be sure to use proper pruning practices. Click here for more info.  If you hire someone to do your tree work be sure to hire an ISA Certified Arborist.

For more information on tree care and Arbor Day: