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County Extension Office identifies and advises on native and invasive plants

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image Primrose willow.

Careful thought must go into any planting to be sure you aren’t creating a problem.

By PENNY FLETCHER

SOUTH COUNTY ­— Many Floridians have lost flowers and shrubs because of the unusually cold winters these past few years and have been seeking plants that will come back year after year despite dropping temperatures.

The colder winters, plus the state and county’s emphasis on using native plants to save water and help the environment, have many seeking to put in what grows wild.
With wildflowers flourishing this fall from an unusually wet summer, it is a good time to decide just what’s native and what’s not and put plants in the ground that will come back up in early spring even if they appear to die for a few months.

“Remember that it is against the law to remove plants from the roadside, in parks or wetland and conservation areas,” said Lynn Barber, an extension agent with Florida Friendly Landscaping at the Hillsborough County Extension Office.

But it is not illegal to transplant wildflowers from wooded areas in your yard or other private areas if permitted by the landowners. Usually only a small portion of a native plant will root quickly and grow to a desirable size.

Careful thought must go into any planting to be sure you aren’t creating a problem, Barber said.

“If you are planting a plant given to you by someone else or have a plant in your landscape you don’t know, the first thing to do is identify the plant. It could be invasive or poisonous. If you need help in identifying the plant, you can email a digital photo to the Extension Office staff or bring in a photo or the plant. Use gloves when handling plants you can’t identify,” Barber said.

Some of the things many call weeds actually make a nice addition to yards and gardens and because they’re natural to the environment, grow well and come up every year.

Some of the most prevalent are shown in photographs accompanying this news story and explanations of what they are and which ones are dangerous and why they were supplied readily by Barber Oct. 5.

Walking through a wooded area of Riverview there were many wild flowering plants in vibrant colors that were apparently growing wild along with saw grass, palmetto brush and vines.

One that is invasive that community-minded volunteers spend countless hours a year trying to eradicate is the Brazilian pepper. Shown here with tiny greenish-yellow seeds, these seeds will soon become bright red berries. The Brazilian pepper is dangerous because it is not native to the area and soaks up soil nutrients and water from everything around it.

Caesar weed is also invasive and very aggressive, especially if found in saturated soil near streams and retention ponds. It invades pastures and crops but is not actively sought for elimination like the Brazilian pepper because it is native to the area.

Creeping hemp vines have pretty white-lacey flowers on the tops and are used to make clothing but shouldn’t be cultivated or transplanted because they are very aggressive and will take over large areas, especially if they’re near water or in soggy ground.

Some wildflowers, however, are seen as weeds even though they can be quite appealing and useful for decoration.   

Yellow-flowering peanut grass was spotted around the wooded area but is also sold as groundcover in some garden centers.

Barber said peanut grass makes a good alternative to many types of grasses that require watering and spreads easily across an area when planted. Birds and wind also spread its seeds and they usually root where they fall, she added.

Lantana’s short orange flowers are attractive to look at but dangerous to wildlife because their seeds are poisonous. 

“I don’t think pets would eat it, but still, you have to be careful around Lantana,” Barber said.

Another very attractive wildflower is the yellow primrose willow, which looks like a tiny rose growing on some branches of a bush that grows to be five or six feet tall. There are 30 different species of this plant and although they are good for attracting butterflies, they are not recommendedHairy beggar tick for yards because they are invasive.

Some kinds of wild flowers – which may also be classified as weeds – were photographed and identified as both native and useable.

Hairy beggar tick looks like miniature daisies and sprouts up everywhere, especially in areas that have been disturbed by development or digging. It is extremely easy to remove by the roots and will flourish in areas where nothing else seems to grow.

Match heads are small and purple and form a mat of groundcover that can easily be used in a yard.

Tassel flowers (also called Cupid’s shaving brush) are tiny purple flowers with long clean stems growing on short bushes. These grow well, especially in moist areas, like along a pond or drainage ditch.

Peanut grass, hairy beggar ticks, match heads and tassel flowers can all be mowed down and will come right back up again like grass.

If unsure of any plant, the county’s extension office said its staff is always glad to help.

Home gardeners may bring in a sample or a photograph to 5339 County Road 579 in Seffner or call the Master Gardner line at (813) 744-5519 Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

For more information about the Florida-Friendly Landscaping program and how it helps reduce environmental impacts from landscaping by properly applying water, fertilizer and pesticides, creating wildlife habitats, preventing erosion, recycling yard waste and employing other practices based on the University of Florida research, visit http://hillsborough.extension.ufl.edu/LawnAndGarden.html.

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