Gardening with Georgia

Archive - April 2010

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Chasing caterpillars

Thu, Apr 22, 2010 at 05:02:10 PM

Gulf fritillary drink from a butterfly bush

Butterflies are coming back and as part of my research on butterfly gardening, I’ve been closely watching butterfly life cycles.  

The phenomenon of metamorphosis still fascinates me, and I’ve been trying to witness the changes.


Fritillary caterpillars on Maypop,
Passiflora incarnata

I’ve never seen old skin on a caterpillar split and be shed, nor have I seen a caterpillar change into a pupa. I haven’t seen a butterfly emerge from its chrysalis, either, although I remain hopeful.This week, I came close to seeing a Gulf fritillary caterpillar pupate (missed the actual moment), and will keep trying. It takes a few hours once the larva connects itself to a suitable spot and forms a J for the conversion to occur. 

The bad news: after the chrysalis was complete, someone ate it overnight.

The last stage of being a caterpillar
before pupating starts with forming
a J.

The chrysalis is forming from the base (see
the wing shapes); the old head and spines
were pushed off and will drop to the ground.


Help catalog biodiversity in Biscayne National Park

Thu, Apr 15, 2010 at 12:19:09 PM

Help count everything from manatees to mangroves, snappers to snails, butterflies to birds when you participate as a citizen scientist in National Geographic's BioBlitz April 30 and May 1.

You can join 125 scientists and help inventory all the living organisms in Biscayne National Park, 9700 SW 328 St. in Homestead. Superstar oceanographer Sylvia Earle, National Geographic's Explorer-in-Residence, will be there, as will Kenny Broad, director of the University of Miami's Leonard and Jayne Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy.

 Ferries and boats begin leaving the dock at 8 a.m. Saturday April 30 to carry students, teachers, scientists and volunteers to Elliott Key and dive sites to inventory the critters and plants. On shore, you can help inventory flora and fauna of the mangroves and hammocks. The goal is to gain a better understanding of what exists in the natural environment and how to protect it in the future.

Throughout the two days, activities will be ongoing at the main “base camp” located at Biscayne National Park’s Dante Fascell Visitor Center. On Sunday, May 1, from 1 to 4 p.m., there will be a Celebrate Biodiversity Festival following the species count.

Other BioBlitz events have taken place at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C. This year, South Florida takes the spotlight.

Advanced registration is required to reserve a spot on the snorkling boat or ferry, although most of those now are taken. However, there still will be plenty to do on land.

No registration is needed to participate in the base camp activities or for the festival, both of which  will be held at Biscayne’s Visitor Center complex. All parking for the event will be off-site, with shuttle transportation provided. To learn more about the Biscayne BioBlitz or to register, log on to or call (800) 638-6400 ext. 6186.

P.S. Biscayne National Park's Visitor Center will be closed from Tuesday, April 27, through midnight Monday, May 3, for setup and tear-down of the BioBlitz staging equipment.









The path to health

Tue, Apr 13, 2010 at 02:12:34 PM

 At the opening of the re-done medicinal healing garden last weekend at Nova Southeastern University in Broward County, people started taking off their shoes. Talk about a relaxed university event.

Elizabeth Marazita demonstrated
how to use the reflexology path.

The reason: the reflexology path in the heart of the garden. You walk over stones of various sizes and shapes (there's a handrail for safety) and it's best done without shoes. The path is the first one in Florida and the first on the U.S. East Coast. It's an outgrowth of an Asian practice that enhances well being and reduces pain.  George Hanbury, Nova’s President, took the first walk, which incorporated five different kinds of stones meant to represent five Chinese elements: water, wood, fire, earth and metal.

The soles of the feet have 7,000 nerve roots, explained designer Elizabeth Marazita of Geneva, Switzerland, and five kinds of stones affect various areas of the body by the way you step on them. Directions are given in the pavement for each section, such as: “Step from heel to toe over the stones to acupressure internal organs” and “Rock the ball of the foot over the white stones to target the lungs and thyroid energies.’’

 Assistant  dean of the College of Pharmacy, Carsten Evans, liked the idea of a medicinal garden to broaden his students’ understanding of how many people of the world use plants in healing. He began researching the reflexology path after a suggestion from a colleague. He found a research paper on the benefits of reflexology in The Journal of American Geriatrics Society, and then he found Elizabeth Marazita via the Web and she came to the U.S. in January to construct the walk.

The scientific paper concluded that walking a reflexology past three times a week for 16 weeks

A gentle, colorful patch of the healing garden.

reduces blood pressure and reduces pain.

Davie nurseryman Jesse Durko worked with Evans in planning the plants, which include absinthe or wormwood, tithonia, rudbeckia, lion’s tail, echinacea, lemon grass, allspice, osmanthus or sweet tea, sweet acacia, seven species of bamboo, horse radish tree, a dwarf ylang-ylang, sorrowless tree and many others, making it a colorful, butterfly attracting area as well as a healing area.

Durko wanted low maintenance plants that don't require much tending. Wildflowers were in abundance. "I painted the ground with colors,'' is how he described his approach to the design.

Healing can come from many sources.


Spring forward!

Tue, Apr 06, 2010 at 07:07:04 AM



Cardinal beneath the vines.

Look no farther than the vine pergola to know that spring has arrived in South Florida. The shower-of-orchids and queen’s wreath are happily announcing the season, as the cardinals are busy looking for nesting sites within them.  Shower-of-orchids is Congea tomentosa and it is tumbling over the


pergola like cotton candy. Light pink bracts surround the small white flowers of this Southeast Asian vine. If you look closely, the little flowers hold out delicate red stamens, but it’s from a distance that this woody vine creates a beautiful show.

Queen's wreath.

Petrea volubilis, or queen’s wreath, has an equally lovely appeal, but in lavender-blue. The corolla is purple, while the calyx is blue to lavender. Early on, the corolla floats to earth, leaving the calyx behind, so the display fades but remains a sweet vision. This vine is from the West Indies and Mexico through Central America, and is not fussy about its care.

Both vines may be pruned back after flowering. The Petrea will flower several times throughout the summer, but the spring show is best.  Insects do not seem to bother these vines, which take full sun and can be propagated by cuttings. 

Another vine caught my eye, although its clusters of flowers are rather

Oxera pulchella has delicate flowers.

shy and delicate. This is the Oxera pulchella from New Caledonia. Flowers on the ground actually caused me to look up and find these pretty flowers, which look as if they could be made of delicate porcelain. It’s a vine new to me, though it clearly has been well established on the pergola. (Mary Collins tells me the vine will be sold at the spring plant sale April 24 & 25, so look for it.) White thunbergia also is producing pretty white flowers with yellow throats. From Africa, Thunbergia erecta ‘Alba’ is the less often seen cousin to clock vine, which is a luscious purple.

Vines can be useful in creating dramatic entryways, by growing them over arches or trellises. They require moderate amounts of water and fertilizer, as well as pruning, but they can be as lovely as anything in the garden.