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Native Plants Support Wildlife

native plants

Native member of the Ilex genus, like this Palatka Holly, are currently growing berries for use by birds and wildlife during the winter to come.

By Les Harrison
Wakulla County Extension Director

The dog days of summer have once again returned to Wakulla County. As such the dogs, and their human companions, are highly motivated to remain in any synthetic environment with temperature control.

In reality the history of dog days has nothing to do with discomfort caused by canines. It all started when early Mediterranean cultures noticed a star commonly identified as Sirius was visible during the hottest part of the year.

This celestial body took on a variety of identities in the soap opera pantheon of early mythology, including a dog. Even as late as the Roman Empire dogs were being sacrificed to this lesser deity to gain its favor.

The unlucky pooches were offered up in the hope of easing the seasonally associated weather conditions, including heat and heavy rains. Here in north Florida the weather conditions are put to good use by the native plants to develop seeds which will propagate the species next spring.

A majority of the seasonally produced seeds end up as wildlife food which will be consumed during the leaner, but cooler, months of the year. Native plants offer the best prospects as food sources for several reasons.

The first reason is these plants have been in the environment since long before recorded history began and are accustomed to the surroundings. They handle the excesses and the deficiencies of necessary elements required to survive and flourish.

The second reason is the native wildlife which has also been here or passes through on an annual migration since time immemorial.  Collectively these individual species knows what to expect and where to seek this sustenance.

The summer of 2016 is turning out to be a very favorable year for native seed production. Anyone considering the development of a wildlife friendly environment should consider the many good examples of seed production currently underway.

The Ilex genus, which includes Hollies and Yaupons, are now full of developing fruit.  They are easily identified by the groups of green berries which will change in autumn to bright red.

These evergreen perennials remain in the background most of the year, but are attractive landscape options as they putt on a brilliant fall display. Many birds and wildlife are attracted to and dependent upon the substantial supply of berries, each containing an individual small seed.

Beautyberries are another perennial with the vivid late season berry color of candy apple purple.  This native shrub produces bunches of BB sized berries as its leaves fall away.

Callicarpa americana, the American beauty berries’ scientific name, will nourish birds and wildlife even after its fruit has shriveled and dried.  The light brown dehydrated berry is consumed when more palatable choices have been depleted.

Sparkleberries have many berries presently hanging from their branches.  The pale green immature fruit hangs individually and contains tiny seed, but will soon mature to a blue-black.

Vaccinium arboreum, sparkleberries, are in the same plant family with blueberries.  This native perennial bush is one more menu option for the birds and animals handling the cold season with its associated privations.

There are many more seed and berry producing native plants which deliver nutritional support to insects, birds and animals which have their origins during the dog days of summer.

Contemporary canines, or their star, no longer get the credit for the necessary weather conditions to grow these feral staples. At least the local dogs are treated better than their late Roman counterparts.

 

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