Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Silver Buttonwood

We are used to seeing the exact same plant when Silver Buttonwood is used in the landscape.  Fortunately, there are differing amounts of silver in wild Buttonwood populations.

If you travel to the Florida Keys and explore the backcountry, you will occasionally come across silvery forms of the Green Buttonwood. These vary from having silver on just the new growth to having the silver persist on older plants.

I have never seen the amount of silver on wild plants that is found in the commercial silvery form. Since Buttonwood is found throughout the Caribbean and West Africa, I wonder if our "native" Silver Buttonwood is truly native.

I personally prefer  variety  and love to mix various amounts of silver into my landscaping.
I might use several silvery forms of Buttonwood with Sea Lavender, Silver Palm, Key Thatch, Buccaneer Palm, Gaillardia, Silver Saw Palmetto and the bluish foliage of Cinnamon Bark.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Cold weather up North is pushing birds into South Florida.

With all of the cold weather that the Northeast is experiencing (January, 2016) many bird species are passing through the area.  Hummingbirds are here anyway from September to April, but lately goldfinches, various warblers, robins, cedar waxwings, redtail hawks, and several bald eagles have passed overhead.

The eagles are hard to tell from vultures at first, but watch and you will see them in pairs.  They stay together, rarely flap their wings, often fly in a straight line, although they may circle too, and occasionally call a distinct, high pitched chek, chek... che eh hik.

Donna noticed that the gold finches land in our oaks and pick off and eat the lobate lac scale and other insects.  This is why it is so important to provide habitat for migrating birds.  You can see the results of the 50 percent loss of these birds over the last 50 years. The plants around us are often covered with introduced insect pests. These suck the sap and poop the extra sugar water onto the leaves below. This sugar water gets moldy and turns black.

If you have a cat outside, it is killing one bird or more a week.  Over four billion birds are killed each year in the U.S. by 80 million outdoors cats. One way to at least help control cat predation is to limb up you trees and shrubs to keep cats from hiding in them.

One customer had a neighbor's cat hide in a firespike bush and catch a hummingbird. This is why I feel that a native Firebush, or a Pavonia kept tall is better than some trendy exotic that lures our wildlife to ground level.

This picture has a hummer feeding from the tight flower of a pavonia.  There is a lot of nectar in each flower and they don't stop flowering like the firebush does after a cold snap.  By the way, firebush likes full sun and will continue to flower in winter rather than  lose many leaves and look horrible until spring when growing in shade.

So look up often during these cold spells and you may see an eagle, flock of robins or cedar waxwings and maybe some goldfinches.  The warblers, vireos, catbirds and other migrants will be in the trees, shrubs and ground around you.  And keep your cat indoors; it isn't too old, small, nice or uninterested to kill an unaware bird.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Chiggery Grapes

The name, Chiggery Grapes, is just too itchy for us to use.  So, we have renamed it Florida Gooseberry, Tournefortia hirsutissima .  This is a fast growing vine with four to six inch hairy oval leaves that occurs in the Everglades region.  I have found it in the Fakahatchee Strand growing high into the hammock trees. 

When in flower, this borage relative attracts many kinds of butterflies, bees and other pollinators.  These are followed by white fruit that many birds and squirrels feast on.  Like most borage relatives, the fruit, dead leaves and flowers exude chemicals that male butterflies lap up and then use as perfume to attract their mates.  The rotting fruit on Pineland Strongbark and the dead leaves on Sea Lavender are other examples.

If you have a tall tree, try planting this vine at the base and stand back.  It will grow to the top in a couple of years and put on a magnificent crop of flowers and fruit each spring.  Add some corky and multiflora passion vine and the butterflies will multiply there by the dozens. 

Monday, July 6, 2015

Coyotes are welcome here

With all the scary talk about coyotes taking over South Florida, there is now a very good reason to keep your cat indoors.  Keeping your cat indoors is good for the cat and local wildlife.

Feral and outdoor cats kill at least four billion birds a year and 12 billion other creatures including rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, frogs, snakes, lizards etc.  These North African natives belong in a safe home away from our local wildlife.  This is what is best for the cat  since they live an average of two years outside and ten years indoors.

Is it cute to know that your cat is hunting in the woodlands nearby at night?  Dogs, other cats, cars and disease kill cats too, not just the new coyote arrivals.  Your cat will kill wildlife even when fed well.

If it is fat, old, small, friendly or has shown no interest in birds while you are watching, it will still kill a young bird that is just learning to fly.  It's what they do.  In fact at least 90 percent of young fledglings are killed in neighborhoods inhabited by outdoor cats.

So bring your cat indoors and provide it with a safe environment to thrive.  Make or buy a Catio so it can look out at the wildlife during the day and buy it toys.  Now you won't have to worry about the neighbors' dog, tom cat, car or a local coyote killing your kitty and can enjoy it's company for many more years.

I like cats and enjoy their unique personalities,  I just want our cats and wildlife to be safe.

Sunday, June 14, 2015


Torchwood is torture to propagate.  It took me 20 years to grow my first crop.  First I had to find the plants in the wild, collect a few seed, grow these to adulthood and collect seed from these to grow into plants for sale. 

This is the food source for the Schaus's swallowtail butterfly in the Keys which is all but extinct now.  It grows naturally from the Florida Keys to Merritt Island along the coast.  This is a small tree up to 15 feet tall in most cases and has fragrant white flowers followed by pea sized black berries that are very attractive to local birds. 

I like the dark green trifoliate leaves that set this apart from other plants in the landscape.  It is brittle so keep it in a protected spot.  White fly and white weevils may cause damage so keep an eye on it and spray with neem oil if need be.

For a rare tree that needs little care, the torchwood is great to have in the yard.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Green Island Ficus and Trinette

Green Island Ficus and Schefflera arboricola "Trinette" seem to be the only shrubs that most landscapers are aware of in South Florida.  They offer nothing to our birds and butterflies and can easily be replaced with Coontie, Bahama Wild Coffee, Beach Cocoplum, Locustberry, and many other kinds of natives.  It seems like every parking lot has these two plants, which don't last more than five years before becoming rangy on dying out.  We can do better.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Sea Lavender

The blue mounds in this picture are Sea Lavender in a landscape blended with Golden Creeper and other native plants.  In a natural situation, the groundwater is only a few feet down and salt spray from the ocean thickens the leaves. Thickening is their defense against drying, and salt air  keeps fungus off the leaves.

In a planting, it is necessary to have deep rich soil and in some cases irrigation once a week, or as needed to keep the plant full and growing.  If you place permeable ground cloth around the plant and a three inch layer of mulch over that, the retained moisture should be plenty.

There is nothing like a mound of sea lavender in the front yard to provide a soft, silvery welcoming feel to the property.  Compare these properties with century plants and cactus near the walkway.  Not very welcoming.

Light trimming may be necessary once a year or two, but don't leave leafless stubs or you will kill the plant.

The sea lavender is in the borage family whose members often contain alkaloids that butterflies use to attract their mates.  Male queen and soldier butterflies love the dead leaves in particular and several may be seen soaking up these chemicals from moist dead leaves on the plant or ground.  In fact, you can gather the leaves and place them on a window sill to view the butterflies up close, like during a child's birthday party.

At Meadow Beauty Nursery we have over 100 of these available, so come by and take a look.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Lignum Vitae as the most beautiful entryway plant in South Florida

April is the time of year that lignum vitae is in bloom, which makes up for its drab appearance in February and March.  All of the sudden, the old yellowed leaves drop and are replaced by dark green growth and deep blue flowers.  By fall, the yellow pods will have started to open and the whole tree is covered with seeds surrounded by a deep red aril.

Plant this tree in your front entranceway or somewhere that you can see it clearly.  It is slow growing and as tall as wide.  You will need to stake it for a couple of years to force it into an upright position or just let it spread out as it pleases.  A Lignum Vitae will live for thousands of years and makes a great memorial tree.  It is related to the Creosote Bush of the Southwestern U.S.  This bush lives for 11 thousand years or more.

The wood is very hard and was once used to make bearings for boat propeller shafts.  Of course most were cut down for this purpose so that the plant is now classified as endangered.  To see large specimens, go to Lignum Vitae Key in the Florida Keys.  Key West also has quite a few planted in the city.  It can take 26 degrees, but I wouldn't go farther north than Martin county with it.

I like to use Quailberry, Twinflower, Havana Scullcap or Pineland Snowberry as a low groundcover beneath it.

Friday, March 27, 2015

This is the season for marlberry

Marlberry is my favorite all purpose shrub for many reasons.  It grows in full sun, full shade, dry soil and wet soil.  It is just really hard to germinate the seed which is why you don't see it in most nurseries.

Even if you start with just a small plant, it will grow to 30 feet tall, but usually under 15, and sucker into a meandering screen that gives it a truly natural look.  This is a great way to block out views, as the suckers are just a few inches apart and can be kept at six feet or less  by occasional pruning.

I love the fruity smell of the flowers throughout the year and the large clusters of pea size black berries in March.  This is just when the migrating birds are fattening up before migration.  Catbirds will clean your shrub of almost all berries.

The marlberry in the photo is just three years after planting from a 7 gal. pot.  I picked one gallon of berries from each of the three plants that are now ten feet tall.  Too bad that the neighbors have exotics and cats and therefore only an occasional mockingbird, although I did benefit from having a seed source for this years crop of seedlings.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Why use native plants

  Good grief! this is my first blog and my hands are shakinggg.  That said, I have a lot to say about the current state of landscaping in...well, the world.  My wife, Donna, and I have run Meadow Beauty Nursery since 1988 where we specialize in Florida native plants.  We have been active members of the Florida Native Plant Society since 1982 and have landscaped our own 2.5 acre property with hundreds of species of natives.

The reason that we are very passionate about natives is that they provide food in the form of seeds, berries and most important, insects, that feed the young of our local birds.  Woodpeckers, owls, cardinals, great crested flycatchers, blue jays, mockingbirds, brown thrashers, wood ducks and many other birds and animals live and breed here.

Tons of butterflies are everywhere year round and frankly, we see more birds here than we do in a day of bird watching in a preserve.

If you don't care about all this environmental stuff, then I will just say that I trust native plants to do much better in a landscape than the exotics.  It is also easier to keep natives low with once or twice a year hand pruning and to create a natural looking yard by simply combining plants that occur together in nature.

Did I say that the noisy hedge trimmers, leaf blowers and even lawn mowers can be eliminated.  How often do you have to retreat to your house because of the deafening noise and stinky exhaust produced by the typical yard maintenance crew? 

Once your trees and shrubs have grown in, they shade out the weeds and provide leafy mulch from then on.  The first two years are a bit labor intensive, but are not so bad if you start with a thick mulch to keep the weeds out.  Prune just to keep the sizes down if you like or not at all.  I rarely need to pull weeds in the established portions of my yard, although flower beds can be a bit of work due to the sunlight encouraged weeds.  So just go light on the wildflower areas and seal the rest with trees and shrubs and winding paths among them.

We have several newly introduced insect pests in Florida like the white weevil, scale insects and whitefly that you find on the twigs of many shrubs.  Fortunately, organic insecticides will kill them. Your plants will then have a chance to loose the black sooty mold growing on the sugary  poop that scale insects and aphids drop on the leaves below.

 So please let me know how you are doing when planting your yard with natives.  And check out my web site, meadowbeautynursery.com, where I have compiled descriptions of many native plants and how to use them.  Oh! send photos or blueprints of your yard to clwillow@comcast.net and I'll be happy to make suggestions of what plants to use or just correct any mistakes that you might be about to make...for free!
I hope to hear from you,
Carl Terwilliger