Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Pollinator Friendly Gardening

Nearly everyone is familiar with butterfly and pollinator-friendly gardening nowadays with all the news about declines in honeybee and monarch butterfly populations. In my “Spring Planting in the Gardens” blog from June 2015, I mentioned one of our garden beds had been converted into a pollinator-friendly bed. Recently, I found evidence of pollinators and insect visitors making it their temporary home.

Inside the folded over brown leaf is the pupa of
an unknown insect undergoing metamorphosis
The pupa inside this nest has elaborately
wrapped the leaves around each other
Note the silk floss holding the
leaves together

I’m not sure exactly which adult insect is going to emerge from the cocoon-like nests featured in the photos above, but it is exciting that they have shown up in our pollinator-friendly bed to complete part of their life cycle. The plant in the first photo is a Jamaican endemic, Portlandia proctori and the Florida native Bahama coffee, Psychotria ligustrifolia, is featured in the second and third photos. Hopefully, we will have more flowers open up to provide nectar for the adults once they emerge.

Meanwhile, in another part of the garden...
While inspecting our key lime tree for presence of Asian citrus psyllid, the vector for citrus greening disease, I noticed three large bird droppings that were moving around! These were not bird droppings at all but the larval stage (caterpillars) of the Giant swallowtail butterfly. As I watched them happily munching away at the key lime leaves an adult swallowtail butterfly flew overhead and began laying more eggs on various other leaves.
During my first observation there were three 2nd instar caterpillars but today, two weeks later, there is only one remaining after several exhaustive searches. Apparently, Giant swallowtail caterpillars are cannibalistic and will eat each other during encounters! I'm not sure if that happened or if a bird found itself a meal but the remaining caterpillar looks to be about a 4th instar and must be close to pupating. Our key lime is fine as the caterpillars did not eat very many leaves but citrus farmers find them a pest and call them "Orange dogs".

Giant swallowtail caterpillar - 2nd or 3rd instar
Adult Giant swallowtail butterfly checking out the key lime tree

4th instar of the Giant swallowtail larva
It is amazing how much is going on around us in the natural world that we tune out and miss by being engrossed in our human routines. Here in the Keys, it is pretty hard to avoid nature as it surrounds us in the hardwood hammock, mangrove forest and marine environments. After a week of late-season rain this month, the increase in fresh water caused a chain reaction: plants flushed out new leaves while insect eggs hatched so the young larvae could eat the fresh leaves and those larvae then turned into butterflies and began laying eggs again until the next cycle.

By gardening for pollinators with nectar plants for adults and host plants for caterpillars, you can bring the natural world right into your yard or patio. Butterfly watching is delightful for people of all ages but especially children. It is also beneficial to your local butterfly species as you will provide them with food. If you plant it, they will come!

Emily B. Magnaghi
Associate Director

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Effects on Plant Collections due to High Tides and Flooding

During the month of September we experienced one our annual highest tides, sometimes called the King Tide. These are normally occurring tides throughout the months of September, October, and November during the full moon phase. This year, it was coupled with low-pressure systems bringing strong northeast winds that impacted the flow of the Gulf Stream, causing it to back-up water in the Keys and Florida Straits. There have been numerous flood warnings this fall and there has been plenty of footage in the news of the flooding in Ft. Lauderdale and Miami Beach.

Due to the unique, porous geology of the limestone in south Florida, and especially in the Keys, which have formed on an ancient coral reef, we cannot shore up our waterfronts with sea walls and levees; the water will eventually come up from below. We also have very flat topography so once the sea rises, it will not matter how far inland you are. What do botanic gardens do in this situation? How do we effectively preserve our collections in the face of sea level rise?

Currently, we have many native and exotic salt-tolerant plants on our Florida Bay waterfront. Aside from sea level rise and extreme high tides, this environment is tough for plants in general with salt spray during winter storms that blow in from the north and full, hot sun throughout the summer. Salt-tolerant plants, however, are just that, ‘tolerant’, and some of our plants may soon reach their thresholds. One potential casualty from last month’s high water is our Argusia gnaphalodes, sea-lavender or beach heliotrope.

Our sea-lavender after this summer's high tides
This evergreen shrub is highly salt-tolerant and extremely drought-tolerant once established. Our specimen is over 13 years old and has a 5-foot, gnarled trunk with branches sweeping down to the ground. Apparently, beach heliotrope is difficult to establish so I feel lucky to have such a mature specimen in our collection. Unfortunately, all the leaves fell off after the high water and we are waiting to see if it will regenerate. A similar situation occurred in 2011 and our BG-Base records indicate that it “came back well after storm damage” so my fingers are crossed.

Sea-lavender regrowth after 2011 storm damage
 Other salt-tolerant species we have along our shoreline are Coccoloba uvifera, sea-grape; Hyophorbe verschaffeltii, spindle palm; Jacquinia keyensis, joewood; Pandanus utilis, screw-pine; Serenoa repens, saw palmetto; Sesuvium portulacastrum, sea purslane; Uniola paniculata, sea oats; and all four native mangrove species: Avicennia germinans, black mangrove; Conocarpus erectus, buttonwood; Rhizophora mangle, red mangrove; Laguncularia racemosa, white mangrove.

Not only are we concerned with protecting our botanical collections, but more importantly, we need to protect the rare plant populations in the wild that are being affected by sea level rise. The inhospitable conditions produced by salt-water make it impossible for many species to survive in their present locations. Even common plants are unable to deal with excess salt, their seeds unable to germinate, they will eventually be displaced by mangroves or other salt-tolerant species. In this case, botanic gardens and nurseries are their only hope for continued propagation.

In the Florida Keys, we have many rare species that have been propagated for years by local conservation institutions such as Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden and a handful of local nurseries. Regional watchdogs like the Institute for Regional Conservation have performed baseline inventories for monitoring rare plant populations so we know how they are doing over time. Without human intervention, these plants and their habitats will disappear and we do not fully understand the implications of this on a local level, and much less on a global scale.

After each storm and high tide, as I notice the multitude of mangrove propagules deposited along the shoreline, I wonder how long it would take for the trees to return our developed shoreline back into mangrove forest. I guess we’ll see over the next 30 years! Hopefully, we will be able to change the way we live and use our resources more sustainably so life in coastal areas may continue and we will not have to relocate our garden to the Lake Wales ridge – the previous shoreline of Florida.

Emily B. Magnaghi
Associate Director

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Public Gardens Across The Country and Beyond

The APGA, or American Public Gardens Association, is an organization whose vision is “a world where public gardens are indispensable.” The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai is a member of APGA since they are “committed to increasing the knowledge of public garden professionals throughout North America and internationally through information sharing, professional development, networking, public awareness, and research so they have the tools to effectively serve visitors and members.” In essence, they are here to help us better serve you!

After attending my first APGA conference in Minneapolis, MN, I was delighted by how friendly and welcoming everyone was. People who work with plants run the gamut of sociability and this group was very gregarious. I was also surprised to see speakers from many gardens I had already been to or recognized. Public gardens range in size from thousands of acres to barely two acres; from large, research institutions like the New York Botanic Garden to small gardens such as ours; from having conservation collections of rare plants from around the world to native plants particular to that region and everything in between. There are botanic gardens literally everywhere! I have been fortunate enough to have visited many gardens throughout my years of travel (see lists below) but have so many more to visit that it will take me years. I had better stay away from a BGCI (Botanic Garden Conservation International) meeting or I will be flying around the world for the rest of my life; there are 144 gardens in Australia alone!

Next year’s APGA conference will be in Miami and we are hoping to promote our idea of a "Transforming Your Understanding of Plants" (TYUP™) garden tour to other garden administrators. Every garden should have a tour focusing on the current and historic uses of plants and on modern plant science and technology as public gardens are charged with educating the public about Why Plants Matter™. Our lives on this planet are fundamentally linked to plants: the oxygen they produce, the ecosystems they have created which provide us food, shelter, and clean water, the medicines they provide, and the new perspectives on evolution and technology they provide. Points like this are not usually offered on a standard botanic garden tour as we take them for granted. At our garden, we combine these stories of the importance of plants with their beauty and histories for a more comprehensive understanding of their richness and our dependence on them.

Gardens are easy to visit, near many metro areas or tourist destinations, and usually require only about a 2-hour stroll for a quick survey or guided tour. For those who enjoy excitement and crowds, festival weekends at large gardens provide a glimpse into the local culture and are a fun way to see a garden come alive. And of course, booking a guided tour is a great way to learn about the plants and the history of a garden.

Below are lists of gardens I have visited with photos I've taken at a few of my favorite gardens, and a wish list of gardens to visit in the future. Of course, if my travels take me anywhere near an interesting botanic garden, I make sure to visit. Any additional suggestions are welcome!

Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Balboa Park Botanical Building in San Diego, Huntington Botanical Gardens, Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, University of California at Santa Cruz Arboretum, San Francisco Botanical Garden, Japanese Tea Garden & Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley, Tilden Regional Parks Botanic Garden, Ruth Bancroft Garden, Luther Burbank Home and Gardens, Portland Japanese Garden, Maui Nui Botanical Gardens, University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, Como Park Zoo & Conservatory, Chicago Botanic Garden, University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum (my old stomping grounds during college), Montreal Botanical Garden, New York Botanical Garden, The High Line, Atlanta Botanical Garden, Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, John C. Gifford Arboretum, The Kampong National Tropical Botanical Garden, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Montgomery Botanical Center, Pinecrest Gardens, Block Botanic Garden, Naples Botanical Garden, USF Botanical Gardens, Bok Tower Gardens, and Birmingham Botanical Gardens

Walnut Creek, California

Santa Cruz, California

Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve – Bahamas
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden – South Africa*
Harold Porter National Botanical Garden – South Africa*
Parc Botanique et Zoologique Tsimbazaza – Madagascar
Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens
* South Africa has an amazing commitment to botany with their network of nine unique National Botanical Gardens scattered throughout the country.

Betty's Bay, South Africa

Cape Town, South Africa

Missouri Botanical Garden
Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew & Edinburgh
Quarryhill Botanical Garden
Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farm
The Polly Hill Arboretum - recommended by my tour guests
Harry P. Leu Gardens - recommended by my tour guests

Emily B. Magnaghi
Associate Director