Arriving on the Wind
Opportunistic flora finds a home
Dandelions are a cool-season, hardy vegetable capable of handling North Florida’s winters with little negative effect. This time of year, after its blooming has finished, the dandelion’s flower head dries out for a few days. The bloom petals and stamens sluff off, and the parachute ball opens into a full sphere.
The big negative is dandelions’ ability to turn up in lawns and landscapes uninvited. Lawns’ uniform turf is often “marred” by such random invasions. The seeds are scattered on the slightest breeze or when a child plays with the cotton ball-sized collection of seeds. The tiny seeds lazily float away, suspended under the intricate silky fluff.
They commonly lie unnoticed until growing conditions are ideal. Then they germinate and grow aggressively. The following autumn, the deeply notched leaves form a rosette pattern as they emerge from a weak central taproot.
The hollow flower stalks form a single compound flower of many bright golden-colored florets. Individual species have different leaf shapes, ranging from very curly to broad leaved.
Mowing the blooms will control seed production, and warmer days will end this annual’s life. But keep in mind that European honeybees and many native pollinators use dandelions as a source of pollen and nectar.
A Weed for a Wet Landscape – Dollarweed
Plentiful precipitation usually lowers the water bill that results from lawn irrigation. This silver cloud of nature’s largess has a dark green lining in the form of dollarweed.
Hydrocotyle umbellata, the scientific name for dollarweed, is a species commonly found locally, both in the wild and on lawns, where it plagues turfgrass.
The species is a native perennial found in damp to very wet sites. This low-growing plant produces erect, bright green, shiny leaves with scalloped margins.
The petiole, or leaf stem, is located in the center of the leaf. It forms an umbrella shape. Leaves range in size from that of a dime to a silver dollar.
In the wild, dollarweed can be found growing on pond or stream edges, where it delivers several beneficial features. In thick clusters, its sinewy root system stabilizes shorelines by producing a thick mat that minimizes erosion.
It also produces copious quantities of seed for wildlife. Fish benefit from the thick water-seeking roots, which serve as a protective maze next to the water’s edge.
Restricting moisture levels is the first step toward controlling dollarweed. There are herbicides that will control, but not eliminate, this plant.
Antlions inhabit the sandy soils of North Florida and patiently await clueless victims. The minuscule, cone-shaped death traps, which are commonly found in home landscape bare spots, have fascinated countless generations of children. What is known as the antlion is the larva stage of a suborder of lacewings, an insect considered beneficial.
Its simple life cycle has four stages. First, eggs are laid in the sand and incubated by the warmth of the sun. Soon, the fearsome-appearing antlion emerges and begins its search for a proper trap site. This wandering will take the insect through a variety of microenvironments.
As it travels on its quest, the antlion leaves tracks in the soil that appear to be doodling or scribbling. In this pre-pit trap phase, therefore, the insect is sometimes referred to as a doodlebug. Once ensconced in the sand trap, the antlion dines on any hapless insect or spider that exhausts itself on the slippery walls of the inverted cone. As the victim slows and gravitates to the bottom of the pit, the antlion grasps then dismembers and consumes its meal.
Once its nutritional requirements are fulfilled, the antlion constructs a cocoon from sand and silk. It retires for a month-long reprieve as it develops into a mature lacewing. When it emerges, the ages-old cycle begins again.
Les Harrison is a retired University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Wakulla County extension director.