By DIANE STRAUSER ALVAREZ, Master Naturalist and Camp Bayou Supporter
Here are some common, native plants you can see at Camp Bayou and any natural yard or preserve in Central Florida. See if you can match the name to the plant. Each has a common name, but is identified precisely by the scientific name. Use the descriptions and photos as clues.
A. Wild coffee (Psychotria nervosa)
B. Pokeberry (Phytolacca Americana)
C. Firebush (Hamalia patens)
_____ 1. This is a fascinating natural plant that grows throughout the eastern United States. It will grow a bright red stem about 2 or 3 feet tall from a perennial root. After a year of bearing leaves, clusters of tiny white flowers and reddish-black berries, the plant falls over and dies. The birds continue to eat even the dried fruit. In early spring leaves grow back from the base; when they are 6 to 8 inches high, the leaves have been used for “Poke Salad.” The Indians and early Europeans used the leaves as a vegetable. The rest of the plant, including the roots, stem and berries are poisonous. Let’s leave it for the birds!
_____ 2. This is a hardwood hammock shrub that has tiny white flowers and red berries in the summer and fall. The two varieties are the shiny leaf and the dull leaf. It grows well in shade and is found in the native plant nurseries. It provides both cover and food for wildlife but is not a beverage for us!
_____ 3. This is one plant that everyone should have. It is beautiful all year and is a favorite of the hummingbirds because of its tubular, red flowers. It also produces purplish berries for the birds. This bush will die back in a hard freeze but will grow back in the spring; therefore, it’s best suited for south Florida.
This column is sponsored by Camp Bayou Outdoor Learning Center located in Ruskin at 4140 24th Street SE, 3 miles south of S.R. 674 off exit 240 W. on I-75. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call (813) 641-8545 for more information.