Sunday, January 8, 2017


The Wekiva (Weh-kee-vah or wah) Spring Run flows onto the Wekiva River which descends from the Florida central highlands into the middle sub-basin of Florida's longest river -the St. Johns. To the canoe or kayak paddler the riverside can appear strange with its palms, bromeliads, and trees bearded by epiphytic Spanish Moss as much as boats captained by duck dynasty types.

Among these, however, are familiar plants and animals of the north -water birds, trees and forbs like red maple Acer rubrum, pickerelweed Pontederia cordata, heron, egret, and white ibis (above).

The red maple, its trunk visible on the far left of this photo, is likely one of the most adaptable tree species in North American native silviculture. I am familiar with it from road travel throughout New England and the Mid-Atlantic where it can often be seen in lakeside swamps turning red before autumn gains a foothold. Cultivated forms are also common to streets and yards. Although I have not seen it among our wetland edges or woodland swamps, it certainly grows here and farther north in Minnesota. It is both water tolerant and drought tolerant, shade tolerant and sun tolerant and quite obviously, heat and cold tolerant. A red maple grown in the south may not do well in the north as well as the reverse, but the tree exhibits great genetic variability and adaptability.

Given that our once vernal swamp has become, for the last three years at least, a year-round swamp due to frequent heavy rainfall events, geomorphic characteristics and a rising water table, nearly all of the vegetation has died. The last of the very large trees, namely green ash Fraxinus pennsylvanica and basswood Tilia americana, that tolerate a few months of standing water every year, have finally succumbed to three years of permanent inundation.

The adaptability of a tree like red maple struck me as a good fit for such a situation -able to tolerate the standing water or, should things change, do fine in simply wet soil or even withstand a drought. Research shows that the native tree has increased its population since the time Europeans arrived to the continent, and in some cases may be viewed as an opportunistic, invasive species. This is something I will need to weigh against the other invasive, exotic species that have taken advantage of the sunlight provided by the sudden death of the slough's canopy.

A struggle I've had over the last two years since I have moved to our place in the Minnesota woods is how to preserve and restore the woodlands and wetlands around us. It is disheartening to see government maps describe parts of our woods and wetlands as of "moderate" quality or "altered non-native plant community: no native species present" which are both misleading descriptors. However, after two years' time I believe I understand the extent to which this place has been altered by human interaction and all the species that have followed it.

In acceptance of these changes, why not be proactive? Why not plant species that can take advantage of the new conditions? Why not plant pickerelweed and red maple in the flooded slew even if they are not currently growing on site? The wish to return such a drastically altered site to a pre-human condition is not only foolish, but nearly impossible. What I am likely to consider, now, is gardening the woods and swamp with native plants, without the restrictive edicts of restoration.

Lizard's tail Saururus cernuus was identified on one Florida boardwalk trail. Is it beyond its cold tolerance in our slough? We are likely on the edge of its range, but I'm game for a try.

Any time spent in Florida with plants leads you to think about "houseplants," those typically subtropical and tropical plants we attempt to grow indoors. Seemannia sylvatica, above, may be hard to find locally, but it promises to be a great winter friend in a west facing window.

In a surprise turn, our limited collection of easy care houseplants has increased dramatically despite the winter's desiccating indoor humidity level. Beyond the easy pothos, sprengeri fern, and oxalis we are now overwintering a substantially larger rosemary shrub (2nd year), lavender, two opuntia spp (2nd year), two agave spp (2nd year), a rather large pineapple sage Salvia elegans (which blooms so late here that this may be only way to get it to flower before frost), dusty miller Senecio cineraria (last year it overwintered outside), and the odd petunia.

Now, for the peculiar case of the petunia. At some time, maybe it was August, I noticed a petunia flower underneath our terribly diseased tomato plants (a terrible year for them). We had no petunias at the house this year or last and certainly had none in the vegetable garden. I gave a pass to the notion that it self-seeded from petunias that may have been located in the long window box along the garage in years before our arrival. After all, I find tomato plants sprouting all over the gardens despite occasional -15 or -20 F nights over winter. After a few weeks I decided to dig it up and move it to a more visible location in the raised herb bed, near the parsley, where it continued to flower until the first frost sometime in November. There it lay for another couple of weeks, its pink blooms preserved by the cold. When the first deep freeze was about to set upon us we cut back the herbs for use in the kitchen but left some of the parsley under cover to keep fresh for another few days. On that last day of natural viability, when all over-wintering plants were required to come in, I realized that the petunia was still green, pliable, quite alive. I dug it up, potted it, and it is now doing well on our window sill with a mass of new leaves.

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