Thursday, March 31, 2011

Licorice Kiss

A recent addition to My Florida Backyard is blooming wonderfully this week. Agastache rupestris, sometimes called licorice mint, has delicately colored blooms in shades of pink, lavender, and apricot.

A. rupestris is native to hot dry regions like Arizona, so it's best suited to sunny, well-drained locations here in Florida. It may struggle in the wettest parts of summer if the soil remains too moist. It's incredibly drought-tolerant once established, so it's especially suited for Florida's spring and fall months where the temperatures are warm and the rains infrequent.

The foliage of this plant, as you might have guessed from the common name, has a licorice scent when crushed. You may notice a resemblance to some types of salvia; in fact, both of these plants are part of the mint family (Lamiaceae). The blooms of A. rupestris are attractive to both butterflies and hummingbirds - in fact, I came around the corner earlier this week to find a monarch nectaring at the blossoms.

Any plant that draws butterflies is A-OK with us, and the added bonus of these beautiful pastel blooms makes Agastache a welcome addition to My Florida Backyard.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Fuzzy Fuzzy Cute Cute

It's baby duck season again! There are proud and protective mama ducks everywhere, with little lines of babies following behind.

It's a sure sign of spring in My Florida Backyard!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Wish You Well

On a recent drive back from the other side of the state, we stopped at a nursery in Orlando known for its wide selection of butterfly-friendly flowers. There, we discovered a new salvia hybrid known as "Wendy's Wish", and fell in love immediately.

Wendy's Wish is an "accidental" hybrid. According to Sharon Cohoon, "'Wendy's Wish' was discovered in the garden of Wendy Smith, a Salvia hobbyist, in Victoria, Australia in 2005.  Its exact parentage is unknown but Salvia buchananii, Salvia chiapensis, and Salvia `Purple Majesty' were all in the neighborhood so are likely suspects."

We have a bit of a salvia passion in My Florida Backyard. With very few exceptions, they are wonderful for attracting both butterflies and hummingbirds. They are easy to care for, and many of them reseed readily. It seems there are always new varieties to discover, and while they don't all do well in Central Florida, Wendy's Wish should be well suited to thrive here. It's cold hardy to about 25 degrees, and has a long flowering season. Growing experts note that those in hot climates may want to give it a little shade in the hottest part of the day, so we planted ours where it can get some afternoon shade in the summer.

We look forward to seeing how this newly-available species does in our yard. We'll watch it to be sure it doesn't become invasive, and if it can stand the summer heat and humidity. For now, it's obvious that Wendy's Wish loves spring in Central Florida just as much as we do!

Thursday, March 24, 2011


The Confederate Jasmine on the north side of our house is entirely covered in buds right now, and we know in a few days the whole neighborhood will be full of their scent. In fact, My Florida Backyard is full of buds right now, little packages of promise of the colors and fragrance to come.

Confederate Jasmine:


Gaura lindheimeri:

Salvia farinacea:

Tropical Milkweed:



While the buds may not be as flashy as the blooms, they give such a delicious sense of anticipation that we enjoy them nearly as much as the flowers that will follow.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Sweet Painted Lady

Having spent most of yesterday getting the gardens in shape for spring, including sprucing up the butterfly garden, it was satisfying to catch a glimpse of this American Painted Lady (Vanessa virginiensis) butterfly stopping by to sip from the lantana today.

"I love spring anywhere, but if I could choose I would always greet it in a garden."  ~Ruth Stout

Well said, Ms. Stout. Well said indeed.

Friday, March 18, 2011


A foggy morning left everything covered in a layer of dewdrops, including these spiderwebs that are for some reason all over our young cypress tree.

Once again, it's difficult for man to top the beauty nature creates so effortlessly.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

One, Two, Three

Just in time for St. Patrick's Day, the latest crop of monarch caterpillars in My Florida Backyard have wriggled their way into shimmering green chrysalises, after eating every single leaf of milkweed available. (Seriously, the plants are completely stripped!) They've chosen all kinds of odd places, including three of them on this fennel plant. Can you spot them all?

Nature creates the most ridiculously beautiful things, don't you think?

Happy St. Patrick's Day - don't forget to follow the monarchs' example of the Wearing of the Green!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Orange Crush

We here at My Florida Backyard have been out of town for the past few days, and we arrived home to find the most wonderful welcome in the front yard - the hippeastrum is blooming!

Hippeastrum is more commonly, but incorrectly, known as amaryllis. Hippeastrum is in fact a genus in the family Amaryllidaceae, but it's a different genus from the actual amaryllis, which is native to South Africa and commonly known as belladonna lily. All of the "amaryllis" bulbs and plants sold for indoor and outdoor use are actually Hippeastrum. An easy way to tell the difference is that true amaryllis has no leaves - the stalk grows straight up from the ground (see this picture for an example).

Given the unbelievably striking flowers, the actual scientific name probably doesn't matter much to most of us. One of the great things about living in Florida is that we can plant our amaryllis/hippeastrum bulbs outdoors and allow them to multiply. And multiply they will - all of our bulbs came from the garden of a friend, where a dozen plants have turned into hundreds over the years.

The multi-bloomed stalks started to push up a couple of weeks ago. The blooms themselves will last only a week or so, after which we'll let them die back naturally to feed the bulbs below. The rest of the year, the thick green leaves at the base form a nice foliage background for other blooms under the tree. We planted these hippeastrum only last fall, so in a few years, we expect the greenery to fill in nicely.

For a few weeks each spring, though, it will be the brilliant orange blooms that make the front yard of My Florida Backyard the showiest place on the block. We hope to add some other colors of hippeastrum in years to come, but right now, we're pretty happy with blooms we've got.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Flax in Bloom

If you keep seeing waves of purple amongst the grass at the side of the road, you're seeing one of our favorite Florida spring wildflowers, Blue Toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis syn. Linaria canadensis).

It's native to much of the eastern U.S., including Florida, and has been introduced to the western states. It's a great harbinger of spring in Florida, as it blooms when the weather has finally become consistently warm and sunny, generally starting in late February. Though the common name is "Blue Toadflax", it's our opinion that it really looks more purple, although maybe not in these pictures.

There's nothing showy about blue toadflax, although in large amounts it's very eye-catching. This native wildflower (also sometimes called Canada Toadflax) is in the same genus as the Linaria Enchantment we started from seed this year, and they have the same narrow delicate stems supporting little groupings of flowers.

Blue Toadflax is a host plant for the Buckeye butterfly's caterpillar, which is starting to pop up all over the place. Buckeyes are mainly a spring butterfly in Florida; they'll start to make their way north when the temperatures start to heat up and their host plants die back. Toadflax will last for only a few weeks this spring, so we're glad to be able to enjoy it in My Florida Backyard while it's here!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Flea Hop

Spring wildflowers are starting to pop up all over the place, and one that keeps catching my eye along roadsides and here in My Florida Backyard is this cheerful little bloom that looks like a cross between a daisy and an aster:

I turned to my Wildflowers of Florida Field Guide and found this wildflower on pages 196-197. It's Oakleaf Fleabane (Erigeron quercifolius), also sometimes called Southern Fleabane. It's in the aster family (Asteraceae), and is one of eight species of fleabane native to Florida. It flowers from March through September in Central Florida, so the appearance of these blooms is right on time.

There are hundreds of kinds of fleabane around the world. Its name comes from the supposed ability of this plant to repel fleas, and the plant was used in herbal medicine in the past to treat dysentery, among other things. While we don't plan to use it for illness, we're glad to have this happy little flower helping us welcome spring in My Florida Backyard.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Open Invitation

I'd like to invite our My Florida Backyard readers to visit the new Birds & Blooms Blog, where yours truly is serving as the Southeast Regional Reporter.

This blog is a new venture of Birds & Blooms magazine. I've been writing the regional report for the Southeast for this magazine since last summer, and I'm pleased to be writing posts now for the newly-launched blog. The goal is to provide detailed tips on birding and gardening in specific regions around the U.S. The Southeast region is fairly large, ranging from West Virgina to Florida and west to Louisiana, so it provides a new and interesting challenge for me as a writer, meeting the needs of such a wide group of people.

Regular weekly features will include Focus on Natives (weekends), which will take a look at the flora and fauna that make the Southeast so special; Places to Go, Things to Do (Tuesdays), a look at upcoming events or sites worth a visit; and Working for the Weekend (Thursdays), which will provide project ideas and help with chores for the weekend ahead. I'll also be answering reader questions and posting items of general interest.

Won't you come and join me, and tell your friends as well? This blog has something for gardeners and birders across the country, so spread the word to those who might be interested.

P.S. Don't worry... My Florida Backyard will continue just as it always has, focusing on the wildlife activities in our own little suburban Central Florida lot, with pictures, information, and tips along the way.