Saturday, July 31, 2010

Eastern lubber grasshopper

Adult Eastern Lubbers
In South Florida, you can find these critters all year round, with a peak in early summer. In most of its range (the rest of the Southeastern US) they are seasonal.

I was surprised to learn that despite their size (3" or 8 cm -ish), lubbers (Romalea microptera) cause less damage to crops and plants than smaller grasshoppers. In the home landscape, they're particularly fond of plants in the Amaryllidaceae family. I've seen them decimate crinum lilies used in public parks, for instance, as the smaller photo illustrates.

Lubber damage on a crinum lily
The best way to deal with them is to look for the young black-with-yellow nymphs, which like to cluster together, and dispose of them, because once they're large adults, they are much harder to find and kill, by then being resistant to most backyard insecticides.

If you need more info, check out the University of Florida's Featured Creature page.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

County's Adopt-a-Tree program is a blooming success

Crowds come and go at the tree give-away
This tree give-away program rocks! And kudos to Miami-Dade's Department of Environmental Resource Management for setting it up some 10-plus years ago. It's given away hundreds of thousands of shade trees -- flowering, fruit, natives -- to home owners who are entitled to up to two trees per year.

It started after a survey indicated that Dade's tree canopy was a horribly low 10 percent. And then the citrus canker fiasco began and some half million backyard citrus trees were cut down by the state in order to protect the commercial citrus industry. Fail.

So DERM applied for canopy restoration grants, and the rest is history.

After we complete the paperwork, we stand in line in the hot, hot sun, waiting our turn. (I've done this enough times to be prepared with hat and long sleeves.)

We watch the trees being unloaded from one of the huge tractor trailers, which collect the trees from local nurseries contracted to grow them for the county. (The program is a boon to nurseries, too.)

Finally! It's my turn. But I arrived late for today's event (one of four, this year). By the time I got to the head of the line, only pigeon plum (Coccoloba diversifolia) was left, which is way too big for my yard. I sneaked back around to the education center where, hooray, there were three native Dahoon holllies (Ilex cassine)  -- the trees I had wanted -- on display. Dahoon holly is dioecious and I managed to get the only female, showing small green berries. So, I came away a happy camper. I will claim another tree at the next event.

And here's my holly, home and waiting to go in the ground.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


Eat your hearts out, northerners! It's mango season!

I skipped Fairchild Tropical Garden's mango festival last weekend because I knew I'd spend money I don't have. If you're planning on coming to South Florida sometime, think about timing it with the annual festival.

It's also proving to be another abundant year, and, as you see from the first pic, there are enough around so that  damaged or too small ones are simply discarded. Since my own mango tree is still too small to be allowed to develop fruit, I rootle around in these piles for ones that are still fine to eat. (Can you say mango smoothie?) I also go out on the bike and collect them from the public-rights-of-way where the trees overhang. (This whole neighborhood was once mango groves and many homes still have trees from the original groves.)

I took the other photos in the garden of fellow blogger TOG. He says his trees produce masses every year and the trick is to cut the trees back hard after the fruiting season. It also keeps the trees a very manageable size and enables several varieties in a small space. Trees that are allowed to get big eventually stop producing fruit and concentrate of getting even bigger.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Old Miami

This is what much of South Florida, east of the Everglades, looked like until the post WWII building boom began the destruction. The "pine rocklands"
are unique to Miami-Dade County, parts of the Keys and a few Bahamian islands. Of the 225 species of native plants that grow on them in Dade, 20 percent can be found nowhere else, and their survival is far from guaranteed.

The understory palm, growing beneath the pines, is the low growing saw palmetto (Serenoa repens), used in several natural remedies, especially for prostate health.  It has nasty little spines along the petiole, hence the "saw" in the common name.

I bicycled over to this area with Sparky recently, but it's fenced off, which, while keeping people (and dogs) out, doesn't prevent invasive, non-native plants from taking root. Still, it didn't look too bad, so I guess the county is taking care of it. This particular site is only a few acres and, you guessed it, a new development is going up next door, although it seems to be stalled for the moment. (One of the few benefits of the recession?)

Many years ago, I was listening to Car Talk on National Public Radio, and someone from Pembroke Pines, a municipality in Broward County, just north of Miami-Dade, called in with a question. The Car Guys decided that pine trees couldn't possibly grow in a climate like this. Ha! Actually, these are a subspecies of  the southern slash pine, generally known as Dade County pine (Pinus elliottii var. densa).

They are very slow growing, which results in a dense, resin-filled wood that's resistant to termites. No wonder so much was cut down; every house built through the 50s had floors made of it. Fortunately, when old houses are being torn down, much of that precious wood is now being recycled.

The last photo is of a similar habitat, but this was taken in the National Key Deer Refuge on Big Pine Key. It gives the impression of being hot and dry, but this was a September afternoon, and it was hot and humid and the skeeters were out in full force.

Monday, July 5, 2010

A butterfly mystery

A few nights ago, around 10, I was surprised to find some half dozen zebra longwing butterflies (Heliconius charithonia) fluttering around an outside light. Butterflies to the flame! Does anyone know why they would do that?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Rain lilies

We must have had about 4 inches of rain last night, which thrilled the rain lilies, also known as zephyr lilies, (Habranthus robustus), because they rewarded us with one of the best displays in ages. The photos tell the story.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

June: Hottest month on record for S. Fla

In case anyone in South Florida didn't get the memo, it's been the hottest June on record. I can attest to that; I got prickly heat and the beginnings of heat exhaustion working in the yard this month. The latter is a first. Yikes!

The South Florida office of the National Weather Service also notes that Junes' record breaking heat -- averaging 85.5 degrees -- actually resulted in the hottest month ever! (Last August was the previous record at 85.4 degrees.)

No wonder my winter annuals gave up the ghost so much earlier than usual, as the photo of a miserable, sun-bleached trailing geranium indicates.

For those who want the gory details, you can read the NWS update here.


I love this fruit with its flavor of damask roses or rose water. Native to tropical China, I once read that a Chinese empress sent her servants 1,500 miles to bring her some. 

After picking, the hard skin turns from rosy red to brown and peels like an eggshell. The white, translucent flesh (technically, the aril) surrounds an inedible, dark brown to black seed.

I'm assured that some varieties are better than others, but I don't know which they are. And I don't know which one I have; it'll be some years before it's big enough to fruit.

The trees in the photos are in the neighborhood and the fruit in the last pic was given to us by a friend.