Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Cinnamon Fern

Cinnamon Fern
by: Lara Miller, Natural Resource Agent
Jonathan Houser, Brooker Creek Preserve Intern 

While the name refers to a spice many have come to love during this time of year, Cinnamon Ferns don’t actually produce cinnamon. They get their name from their cinnamon-colored fronds.  Cinnamon ferns are fairly large and capable of growing six feet high by one foot wide. They can be found in large clusters of damp woods, marshes, wet ditches, and stream banks. There are two types of fronds in cinnamon ferns: large green sterile fronds and smaller bright green fronds which turn a brown cinnamon-color as they become fertile. The cinnamon-colored fronds are fertile because they are covered with sporangia (a cell structure where spores (reproductive bodies) are produced) to propel new fern growth. In the spring, the fronds in the center of the plant become fertile as they develop their sporangia. These fertile fronds will die back in the late summer once they have lost their spores.

Cinnamon fern is a long lived perennial that does best in moist shaded areas with rich acidic soil, but can also survive full sun if there is an abundance of water. It was historically used by American Indians to treat headaches, muscles pain, chills, colds and snakebites. Frond tips were eaten both raw and cooked. The fiddleheads are edible, and said to taste like a blend of broccoli, asparagus and artichoke. The Florida Department of Agriculture lists cinnamon fern as a "Commercially Exploited Species". A permit is needed to remove it from the wild for commercial purposes. It is legally available from many native plant nurseries.

Monday, October 29, 2012

From Cypress Trees to Cypress Knees

From Cypress Trees to Cypress Knees
by: Lara Miller, Natural Resource Agent
Jennifer Jones, Brooker Creek Preserve Intern

           Cypress trees can be found across the southeast United States, and they are known to dominate the forested wetlands of Florida.  There are two distinct types found within Florida: the bald cypress (Taxodium distichum var. distichum) and the pond cypress (Taxodium distichum var. nutans). They share a few characteristics in common, such as roots that protrude above soil, which are sometimes called the ‘’knees,” and they both lose their leaves in the fall. Bald cypress trees are typically larger than the pond cypress; they can grow to heights of 150 feet and reach six feet in diameter. The leaves on each of the cypress trees differ as well: bald cypress leaves are generally flat, and pond cypress leaves grow scale-like, close to the branchlets (Figure 1). These trees can live for hundreds of years, and some known Cypress trees are over 500 years old. They are extremely flood tolerant, and this allows them to dominate swamps and other wetlands which are known to endure long periods of flooding.

Figure 1. Side-by-side comparison of bald cypress and pond cypress leaves.

Cypress swamps create homes for many rare and endangered species. Everything from large mammals to birds and insects make their homes in cypress trees and swamps. Cypress ponds are capable of holding more water than soil, absorbing runoff from storms and preventing floods. Cypress trees have also been known to improve water quality in their environments. The soil and plants that are typically found within cypress ponds can remove phosphorus and nitrogen from stormwater.

Cypress trees have been growing in Florida for about 6,500 years. They were once logged and almost completely removed because cypress wood is extremely durable and can be used for shingles, siding, fence posts, and other products. Currently, cypress trees are mainly used for saw timber and landscape mulch, although UF/IFAS Extension does not recommend purchasing cypress mulch for your landscape. Cypress trees exist in almost every area of Florida, from the Wakulla Springs in the panhandle all the way to the Everglades in South Florida. These trees are a very beneficial and beautiful species which serve important ecological functions, and are needed in swamps in order to maintain a balanced and healthy ecosystem. 

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Sword Fern - Native or Not?

Florida’s Native and Non-Native Sword Ferns
by: Lara Miller, Natural Resource Agent
Jennifer Jones, Brooker Creek Preserve Intern

Florida is home to many native fern species, including the Boston fern (Nephrolepis exalta) and giant sword fern (Nephrolepis biserrata), which can be difficult to distinguish from non-native ferns that grow in the same environments, such as Tuberous sword fern (Nephrolepis cordifolia) and the Asian sword fern (Nephrolepis multiflora). Each of these are often still sold in the nursery and landscape trade, and often confused or misidentified as the native species of fern.

The Natives
The native Boston fern (Figure 1) has erect fronds that can reach up to 3 feet long and 6 inches wide. The round sori (clusters of spore-bearing organs) are in two rows near the underside of the pinnae (leaflet). It is commonly found in humid forests and swamps of Florida, although is native to other regions such as South and Central America. It is grown outdoors as well as indoors for ornamental value; their high humidity tolerance makes them a good candidate for both indoor and outdoor use.

Figure 1. Native Boston Fern

The native giant sword fern (Figure 2) has fronds that extend several feet and can be found in moist to wet soil. The species name comes from tiny teeth that alternate with larger teeth along the edge of each lance-like pinna. Underneath each pinna, round sori occur evenly around the entire edge. The petioles (stalk) are sparse to moderate with reddish to light brown hair-like scales. Tubers are never present in this species.

Figure 2. Native Giant Sword Fern
The Non-Natives
Since the non-native ferns can be invasive and disruptive to native plant communities, it is very beneficial to be able to recognize the differences between them. The Asian sword fern and Tuberous sword fern are sold under various names, often ones of native origin.
Tuberous sword fern (Figure 3) sometimes produces tubers, and it is the only one of the four ferns mentioned that is capable of doing so. The presence of these tubers alone is a distinct way to identify the species. The presence of scales on the upper side of the rachis (stem) that is distinctively darker at the point of attachment is another way to distinguish the tuberous sword fern from the other three species. Native sword fern has scales on the upper side and are homogenously colored.

Figure 3. Non-Native Tuberous Sword Fern

Tuberous sword fern can be distinguished from Asian sword fern (Figure 4) by its glabrous central vein of the pinnae contrasted by the presence of short stiff hairs that occur on the central vein of the pinnae of Asian and giant sword fern. The most distinguishing characteristic for Asian sword fern is a dense covering of dark brown, pressed scales with pale margins on mature petioles. Petiole scales of tuberous sword fern are dense, spreading, and pale brown, while those of native sword fern are sparse to moderate, reddish-brown, of a single color or slightly darkened at the point of attachment and have expanded bases with small hairs.

Figure 4. Non-Native Asian Sword Fern


Monday, October 22, 2012

Fall Wildflower Festival

Fall Wildflower Festival

by: Lara Miller, Natural Resource Agent
Jennifer Jones, Brooker Creek Preserve Intern

Wildflowers, field. UF/IFAS: Photos Thomas Wright

 The Florida Wildflower Foundation defines a “Florida native wildflower” as any flowering herbaceous species, or woody species with ornamental flowers, which grew wild within the state’s natural ecosystems in the 1560s when Florida’s first botanical records were created. Wildflowers are beautiful and can be the perfect addition to your garden, but they can become weeds if they are growing in the wrong place. Having wildflowers in your yard can increase plant and animal diversity in your neighborhood and can help support diverse wildlife, such as bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Since plants and animals have evolved together, one often relies on the other for survival. Herbivores often feast on the flowers, while their nectar provides a food source to insects. The wildflowers also serve as shelter for insect eggs.  Because these flowers have adapted to Florida’s climate and pests, they usually require less water, fertilizer, and pesticides than other flowers.

If you are interested in learning more about wildflowers please check out the Fall Wildflower Festival at Brooker Creek Preserve this Saturday, October 27th, 2012 from 9:00am-4:00pm. This is a free event, held rain or shine! You will have the opportunity to enjoy a walk-through tent with 500 plants and over 250 live butterflies! Come get up close and personal with hundreds of butterflies and learn about their life cycle! There will also be wildflowers for sale as well as a fun wildflower scavenger hunt!

The Friends of Brooker Creek look forward to seeing you there!

Stay up to date on news and information affecting our environment by following your Pinellas County Natural Resource Extension Agent on Twitter

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Plumeria Rust

Featured Guest Blogger: Jane Morse, UF/IFAS Commercial Horticulture Extension Agent, Pinellas County

Have you ever wondered “what is wrong with this plant?” or “what is this insect, where did it come from and now what do I do?” or “oh my, what are these black, shiny, wormy looking things on the floor?” We hear questions like these every day at the Lawn and Garden Help Desk, supported by the University of Florida and Pinellas County, and we can usually answer your questions - free of charge.

Plumeria spp.: Photo, Okeechobee County Extension

Recently, we have seen a rash of frangipani or plumeria rust fungus. This disease produces a mass of tiny pockets of rust colored spores on the undersides of the leaves. Infected leaves become yellow-spotted on top and fall off the tree. This disease is most commonly seen during the mid to late part of summer. Although it may look rather menacing it normally does not cause any serious problem for the plant. Since the leaves are getting ready to drop off for the fall anyway, spraying with a fungicide is usually not warranted. It is best to pick up or rake away any infected fallen leaves and dispose of them in the trash. This will help to reduce the amount of spores available to re-infest the tree at a later date.

Early signs of plumeria rust on the underside of a leaf.

Later the underside of the leaf may be completely covered.

Plumeria rust spores under magnification.

For more information about plumeria rust (and other rusts) visit:

You can visit us in person at Pinellas County Extension, 12520 Ulmerton Road, Largo any Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. You can call the Help Desk from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays or Thursdays.  Or you can visit our frequently asked questions website at