By Les Harrison, Wakulla County Extension Director
A stroll thought the woods, a field or any other landscape may seem a bit drab in early February’s cool days. With few exceptions, the dormant season is quickly obvious in the lack of plant life.
However, the often bypassed indicators are already in place for March’s green revival. Time, literally, will tell the story.
Winter in Wakulla County results in many annual and perennial plants distributing the seed produced. Better knowledge of how plants function throughout their lifecycle has led to understanding the ingenious ways they continue their species next spring.
Many plants identified as weeds and wildflowers along with perennials have gone to seed. Silently, they are preparing for next spring’s colorful show, but the dying foliage still has a valuable part to play in both the curing and distribution of the seed.
Many seeds are distributed by wind, birds and animals. The seed heads or pods are easily shattered when the seed is mature and ready to disperse. There are, however, some species which use other methods.
Beggarticks employ two barbed prongs that attach the seed to unsuspecting passersby. After a period of travel the seed are brushed or scratched off and colonize a new plot.
Bidens alba, the scientific name for Beggarticks, literally means two teeth in Latin. The plant which has prolific white and yellow blooms is important to sustaining Monarch butterflies and European honeybees.
Autumn mowing on rights-of-ways and pastures is critically important to the continuation of wildflowers. Timing mowing cycles to flowering and seed set is the optimal method to ensure establishment of a planting is sustainable over the long term.
Avoid mowing when plants are flowering and seeds are still maturing. Seeds need about three to four weeks to mature after an individual flower has bloomed.
The general recommendation for north Florida is to avoid mowing from April through September. Realize weather can alter flowering and seed set by at least two to four weeks.
Wakulla County’s perennial plants and native trees use many of the same techniques as wildflowers for spreading seed. Wind, animals and birds do the bulk of the scattering.
An observer may notice what appear to be pearl sized and colored sphere on the forest floor. The clusters are one native perennial plant’s way of colonizing new territory.
These are poison ivy berries which mature and then fall to the ground. Most of this plant’s berry production is eaten by birds for distribution by air, but these are easily moved by heavy rains.
The plants and trees aid the birds and animals with discovery by having brightly colored immature seed. Migratory birds, bears and other omnivores are all seeking to increase their calorie count in the face of the retreating winter.
The seed which are not digested pass through and are deposited in a new location, sometime many miles from the parent plant. The tree or perennial plant will establish itself in a new area if all the necessary components for plant growth are present.
Seems like everyone, and every creature, benefits from a casual stroll outside in late winter.