We are starting something new on this web site. I've been asked to write a blog. The blog will be an opportunity to pass along information about plants in the garden, special areas of the garden, some inside information about the projects staff members of the Living Collections and Garden Landscapes and other departments are working on and a chance for you to make comments and ask questions. I will also talk about our staff and what they do to create and maintain Fairchild.
I have worked at Fairchild since 1973, first as plant recorder, then horticulturist in charge of our three annual plant sales, the intern program, and various other duties. I am now still propagating plants year round, working on the plant sales, supervising our nursery staff and am the content manager of the horticulture portion of our web site. I hope you will find the blog an opportunity to learn more about our plants and the beautiful Eden we call Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.
- Mary Collins, Senior Horticulturist
Text and photos by Mary Collins
Have you ever thought about what happens when a native wooded area is cleared for a building site? It is obvious that the trees and undergrowth has been removed, but what about all the creatures that were living in or would visit this area? The insects that were feeding on plants growing in the woods are gone; the birds no longer have a reason to visit this location to look for food such as caterpillars and other insects because their food plants are gone. When a local habitat is removed local extinction takes place. All the creatures, large and small, are gone from this area. This kind of destruction takes place every day. The plants and the animals who were visiting the habitat have disappeared.
Through a process called photosynthesis, plants create oxygen. Plants moderate weather patterns and plants deliver almost all the ecosystems services that keep us around. Without plants, animals that depend on them disappear. Plants make food and provide shelter for animals. The once pristine world has been converted into cities, suburbs and agriculture for human needs. Breeding birds have suffered great losses of populations.
Natural preserves set aside do not provide enough habitats for healthy ecosystems. We need corridors of native plants to keep sustaining all the animals that depend on them. Often, our yards support very little biodiversity. Our challenge is to raise the carrying capacity of our yards and neighborhoods so that they can be healthy, functioning ecosystems. The carrying capacity depends on plants, the basis of the food web.
All plants do not support wildlife equally. Exotic plants, such as those from China, Asia, etc. do not support local diversity. Non native plants support fewer insects and thus support fewer birds which feed on the insects. Nearly all birds depend on insects, especially caterpillars, to feed to their young and must nest in an area where such insects are found.
Plants produce distasteful chemicals in their leaves for defense against insects. Some insects have adapted and specialize in order to eat specific plants. This adaptation takes a long evolutionary exposure to develop this ability to ingest poisonous or distasteful leaves without suffering consequences. Most insects can develop and reproduce only on the plant species with which they share an evolutionary history. The downside of this specialization is that they must have specific plants in order to survive and reproduce. An example of this specialization is Monarch butterflies and milkweed.
So, why should we be concerned about insects? Many mammals depend on insects as a source of food. Nearly all nesting birds feed insects to their babies. Some take as many as 300 caterpillars a day when feeding their young. Predator birds, such as hawks, feed on the smaller birds. Other mammals such as squirrels, possums, frogs also feed on insects. Plants are at the base of the food web….insects feed on them, mammals feed on the insects. Other mammals feed on the insect feeders. We cannot remove insects in the local food web without the food web collapsing.
We need to think about our properties in a different way. We need to consider, when designing and planting our landscapes, how we can add to the ecosystem services to insure the survival of the food web. Plants should not be viewed as just ‘decorations’. Is the solution to just plant native species? Not necessarily because not all native plants support equal amounts of wildlife. Oaks (Quercus) and Prunus species are two of the top plant genera that support butterflies and moths. For further information about plants and the numbers of Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) they support please see:
To share our neighborhoods with wildlife we need to:
Create corridors of appropriate plants connecting natural areas
Reduce the area now in lawn – an essentially worthless ecosystem
Begin the transition from non-native, exotic ornamental plants to native ornamentals.
It is a design challenge of our time, especially in south Florida. Canopy trees, sub-canopy, a shrub layer and ground covers using native plant material will help to have a healthy food web in our yards and neighborhoods. Planting natives is a ‘grass roots’ approach to conservation in our own yards. This is something we can all do. The way we garden, the way we landscape, is going to determine what life looks like in the future. Garden as if life depends on it…..
This article was written based upon a lecture by University of Delaware professor Dr. Doug Tallamy, author of ‘Bringing Nature Home’.
|Monarch caterpillar feeding on milkweed leaves|
Cyphophoenix nucele is fruiting for the first time in Fairchild. This palm is native to Lifou Island, one of the Loyalty Islands about 60 miles from New Caledonia. Lifou Island is about 50 miles long and 10 to 15 miles wide. The island is flat with no hills or rivers. It has abundant vegetation, dense interior jungles, fertile soils and beautiful reefs and coral. Water on the island comes from rain that seeps through the calcareous soil and forms freshwater ponds.
Our plant, in plot 112, is fruiting for the first time. My propagating volunteers, Lise, Ginny, Mary and Camilo have assisted me in collecting, cleaning and planting 100 seeds. My plan is to have some plants for distribution to FTBG members and to plant additional ones in the palmetum.
On December 8th (1:30 pm) & 9th (1:00 pm) Doug Tallamy, author of "Bringing Nature Home: Using Native Plants to Sustain Wildlife in our Gardens" will be speaking at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden's Butterfly Days. His talks will be in the Garden House. I know many people are interested in attracting birds, butterflies and other wildlife into their gardens. I read his book a couple years ago, and am delighted he will be here. Jennifer Davit, former FTBG Conservatory Manager, has heard Doug speak in Chicago and highly recommends him as a dynamic speaker on a very important topic.
Because our gardens and managed landscapes are large parts of the ecosystems that sustain bird populations, we must keep them in working order. To do that we can no longer view plants only as ornaments but must consider all of their roles when selecting them for our gardens. Tallamy will discuss the important roles native plants play in maintaining food webs vital to birds in our landscapes, emphasize the benefits of designing gardens with these roles in mind, and explore the consequences of failing to do so. Landscaping in this crowded world carries both moral and ecological responsibilities that we can no longer ignore.
Successful butterfly gardens provide both nectar sources for adult butterflies and host plants for the larval stages of butterflies. It often comes as a surprise that many butterfly host plants are native woody plant species not typically used in butterfly gardens. Tallamy will discuss these principles as well as the fascinating butterfly behavior you will enjoy if you provide the proper host plants in your garden
|Just a sampling of the amazing Chapungu stone sculptures in the lowlands|
I must admit that this is my favorite time of year, both here at Fairchild and South Florida in general. Days are cooler, the garden is gorgeous and the days of heat and humidity are in the past. This summer has been a whirlwind of activity in the horticulture department. All the planting inside and outside of the Clinton Family Conservatory (Wings of the Tropics) has been finished and now butterflies from Costa Rica and Asia are being released into the conservatory.
I've been a lover of insects all my life and the Wings of the Tropics exhibit is becoming so incredibly wonderful with exotic butterflies fluttering among the beautiful flowering nectar plants. The blue Morpho butterflies are one of my favorites.
As a member of the hort staff, I've been fortunate to be able to watch the release into the Wings of the Tropics Conservatory of some of the amazing butterflies from Costa Rica and Asia. Butterflies of many different colors, shapes and sizes are now calling 'Wings of the Tropics' their home.
Last week I witnessed the release of three pairs of hummingbirds into 'Wings'. So amazing! The birds immediately flew to flowers and began sipping nectar. They were raised in captivity in Arizona, so they are quite tame and hovered quite close to people. We hope that the hummingbirds will begin nesting in 'Wings' this January to produce a new generation of birds for the conservatory.
The grand opening of the Science Village complex will be on December 1. See www.fairchildgarden.org for further details.
What to do with newly purchased plants
After careful reading and perhaps some research, you have selected plants for your home garden. Most of the plants that Fairchild offers for sale have been grown in light shade to full sun. When you bring home plants do not stop on the way home and park your car in the sun. This will cook any plants that are left in the car. Go home, unload plants, make sure their soil feels moist and water thoroughly those that are dry. Place the plants in a lightly shaded location and monitor their watering until a suitable planting location is found for each plant.
When determining where to place each plant there are several things to consider:
1. How large will the plant become? Leave enough space between plants to allow for proper growth and avoid overcrowding. Learn the ultimate size and shape of each plant prior to planting. Keep this in mind when deciding the location.
2. How much sun and water is available in various locations on your property? Be aware of the shady, lightly shaded and full sun areas of your planting locations. How much sun or shade does your plant require? Find the location that fulfills the plants requirements.
3. Planting – Once you are sure of what plants are being planted and their location, move the plant into its final planting spot. Dig the hole about the same depth as the pot size of the plant and wider than the pot’s diameter. Carefully remove the plant from its container and remove the top layer of soil until you find the first root which is emerging from the base of the trunk. This is called the root flare. It is very important that the root flare be at the top of the soil level or within 2” of the surface. Examine the root ball and cut all roots that are circling at the point before it begins to circle. This will prevent new roots from circling the trunk again. Carefully place the rootball into the planting hole and backfill with the soil that was dug out of the planting hole and firm the soil to remove air pockets. Water thoroughly and let the water drain. Do this at least three times. You may add a thin layer of mulch (up to 3”) around the edge of the planting site at this time but leave the area of the top of the rootball exposed so that rain or irrigation can easily reach the roots.
4. Establishment. Newly planted trees and shrubs will require irrigation until the roots grow into the surrounding soil and new growth occurs. During the first 14 days after planting, make sure that the root ball does not dry out. This may require watering every day if rainfall does not occur. Water thoroughly so the entire rootball is moist. Gradually decrease the irrigation to every other day for two months. During final establishment plants should be irrigated 2 to 3 days per week if rainfall does not occur.
Proper planting and successful gardening requires commitment and knowledge. Know your plant, its sun requirements and what it will ultimately become. Plant at the correct depth and commit to monitor the water needs until each plant becomes established.
If you have any questions regarding the plants purchased from Fairchild’s nursery at the Spring Plant Sale, please contact Mary Collins, Senior Horticulturist: email@example.com
In just a few days, the 33rd Annual Spring Plant Sale will take place at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden on April 14 & 15 during the Food & Garden Festival. I will be posting some information about the plants that FTBG will be offering.
How would you like to have fresh black mulberries in your breakfast cereal or mulberry cobbler for an evening dessert? Have you ever cooked steamed lemon grass crab legs or chicken satay with lemon grass? Would you like to make creamy lemon grass ice cream?
We will be selling black mulberry, Morus nigra, and lemon grass plants, Cymbopogon citratus, at the 33rd Annual Spring Plant Sale on April 14 & 15.
|fruit of Morus nigra, black mulberry|
|lemon grass Cymbopogon citratus|
For more information about the plant sale see our website
In just a few days, the 33rd Annual Spring Plant Sale will take place at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. I will be posting some information about the plants that FTBG will be offering.
Fairchild’s 33rd Annual Spring Plant Sale will take place April 14 & 15 at FTBG during the Food & Garden Festival. We will have a huge variety available including 62 kinds of native plants, many which are wonderful butterfly or bird attracting species. Our native Senna’s attract the beautiful sulphur butterflies. Passiflora pallens and corky-stemmed passionflower, Passiflora suberosa, attract Zebra Longwings, Gulf Fritillary and Julia butterflies. Our beautiful lignum vitae, Guaiacum sanctum, and fiddlewood, Citharexylum spinosum both produce fruit which attracts birds.
|Citharexylum spinosum - fiddlewood|
Earlier this month I attended a Miami-Dade County Cooperative Extension Service advisory board meeting. After the meeting, we went outside to see the raised bed gardens that Master Gardeners had planted. In some cases, unusual containers were used.
Seeing this gave me a great idea! I have an old recycling bin. So the following weekend I went to my local gardening center and purchased some young buttercrunch lettuce and red lettuce plants along with some potting soil. I picked up a few collard plants as well. I went home, placed potting soil in the old bin and planted the lettuce and collards. I placed the bin in an area with full sun. I water my plants every two or three days.
Three weeks later, I have been picking fresh, tender lettuce every day! It tastes so good! This kind of mini-garden could be placed on a sunny balcony or patio. I know that I will save money as I had been purchasing lettuce mixes at the grocery for $3.99 per bag. This simple gardening project could be done by homeowners or apartment dwellers. Just be sure to place the containers in full sun. Before long, you will be enjoying your own, home-grown lettuce!
Bougainvillea, in all the vivid colors of the tropics, is very easy to encourage blooming. The keys to promoting flowering in bougainvillea are:
2. Fertilize lightly
3. Less water.
Remember this: bougainvillea blooms on new growth. Prune back your plant and lightly fertilize. This will promote new growth and flowering. On November 1, I pruned the bougainvillea next to my house. The next day I applied some 8-3-9 granular fertilizer and watered lightly.
My bougainvillea on November 1, prior to pruning.
|Bougainvillea on November 19, coming into bloom|
I've been busily preparing for them for a few weeks now. I was filling my two feeders with white millet seeds, the favorite food of our most colorful bird native to North America. They come down beginning in late September and stay until mid April. Much to my delight, early evening yesterday, I looked through binoculars to my bird feeders in my back yard and saw three Painted Buntings! Two were the incredibly colorful males and the third was a 'greenie' either an immature male or a female.
Some keys to successfully attracting Painted Buntings to your yard are:
Lots of shrubs and small trees. I have planted a mini-hammock which includes Simpson stopper (Myrcianthes fragrans), wild sage (Lantana involucrata), Mexican alvaradoa (Alvaradoa amorphoides), fiddlewood (Citharexylum spinosum) and wild tamarind (Lysiloma latisiliquum). Buntings are very shy birds and love to dart in and out of dense plantings. I placed my feeders on the outside edge of the woods.
A feeder which excludes big birds. I have a Metal Safe Haven bird feeder made by Duncraft. It is expensive but is very durable and has the capacity for about 6 pounds of seed. I have had this feeder for about 10 years. It is worth the investment! I purchased mine online. Sorry to say this, but many larger birds such as Blue Jays and Grackles are pigs and just push the buntings aside.
Fill the feeder with white millet seeds. This can be purchased in local feed stores such as Robbies Feed store or OK Feed store, both located in the Redland. Pet stores may also supply millet. Be sure to use white millet.
|Painted Buntings in the Metal Safe Haven Bird Feeder|