Saturday, June 23, 2012

Florida Maple

Florida Maple is one of our more interesting plants here in the north central part of the state. Some botanists consider it a subspecies or variety of the sugar maple (Acer saccharum...variety floridanum), while others consider it a separate species (Acer barbatum or Acer floridanum, the two names only adding to the confusion).

Whether or not it is truly distinct from the sugar maple, the two appear to be very close relatives.

A reminder: sugar maple is the source of that stylized red leaf adorning the national flag of Canada. 

So what are trees so dominating much of Canada that they are considered the symbol of the nation doing in Florida? One thing they are doing differently here is generally growing in the understory, rather than as the dominant tree in the upper canopy, as in much of the north. We've seen fairly large specimens in San Felasco Hammock State Preserve, but never so tall that they over-top other species.

One possible answer may lie in their ecological specialization. The one thing these trees do better than almost any other is tolerate shade. For this they pay a price, because nearly all the adaptations for tolerating shade tend to make trees poorer at conserving water. In the north (in the Adirondacks and much of northeastern and north central U.S., as well as in Canada) where it is cool and moist they can use their shade tolerance, enabling them to shade out competitors and dominate the forest canopy. Here in the Florida peninsula, however, they require the shade, humidity, and soil moisture retention of rich woods where other tree species help them avoid excessive moisture loss.

Any other suggested answers will be welcome.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Showy Native Plants

Two plants in our backyard are natives that are showy and good for landscaping.

Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) is a vine with red flowers that are especially attractive to hummingbirds. It is difficult to imagine flowers better adapted to the long beaks and narrow tongues of nectar-seeking hummingbirds. New plants spring up frequently in other parts of the yard, and it seems likely that the hummers are responsible for dispersal of seeds.

Beautyberry (Calicarpa americana) also shows up frequently as a volunteer, as is the case of this one. The lavender flowers are small and relatively inconspicuous, but they are replaced later in the season by vivid purple-red berries. For this plant, it is probably berry-eating birds that are responsible for dispersal.