Les Harrison is the UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Director
While there are still hot humid days left in the year, the dwindling hours of sunlight indicate the approach of the autumn equinox.
The folks at the Old Farmer’s Almanac have released their predictions for the winter of 2015/16, and it is not good news. They are predicting a colder and wetter than normal winter, and even residents of Wakulla County will be paying higher heating bills.
The human residents have the option of putting a little extra money aside each month to pay for those higher heating bills, but plants, birds and bugs of Wakulla County are preparing, even though the knowledge should be instinctive for all citizens.
The late summer bloom of wildflower is in full swing. Partridge Pea, Cassia fasciculata, is blooming prolifically across north Florida. Traditionally considered a weed, recent years have seen a growing appreciation of these plants.
Partridge Peas typically grow in thick clusters with full sun and are about three feet toll. They are covered by yellow blooms in the waning days of summer serving as a seasonal multi-purpose niche for local wildlife.
Partridge Peas are an excellent native nectar source for honeybees and other insects dependent upon this energy source for their existence. In years gone by, beekeepers would move hives into close proximity to these plants.
The industrious honeybees compete for the nectar and use it to build honey reserves for over-wintering the hives. The heavy pollinator traffic assures the return of this annual the next year.
Quail and turkey populations take advantage of the thick foliage and blooms, also. The height and density provide excellent camouflage, especially for young, inexperienced birds unaware of the many predators lurking nearby.
Through the action of honeybees and other pollinators, Partridge Peas are high-volume seed producers. The seed which does not find lodging under the thick mat of leaves and other organic matter becomes a food source the quail, turkey and other birds.
Partridge Peas are also a plentiful food source for caterpillars. The tender, tantalizing leaves are easy picking for the late season insects who will return the courtesy and serve as pollinators in the future.
Human use of the Partridge Pea has varied over the years. It has had multiple uses in folk medicine preparations, primarily the leaves being used as a naturally occurring laxative. Given the toxic qualities of the plant, the cure was sometimes worse than the disease.
Livestock producers, as a group, work to minimize partridge peas in grazing areas because of its toxic potential to cattle. Because any bird passing by can drop a seed, the effort is an ongoing project for herdsmen.
Partridge pea plants have been uses for erosion control. The quick growing plants with a thick root mat and the ability to flourish on marginal soils make them a natural choice this important application.
Nature preserves and hunting clubs now purchase partridge pea seeds in an effort to establish an attractive habitat for game bird populations.
While it is true hurricane and tropical storms can spread Partridge Pea seed, it much better for the human residents to let the wildlife do it.
To learn more about partridge peas, contact the UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Office at 850-926-3931 or http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/wakullaco/