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cabbageMilk and cookies, Valentine’s Day and flowers, peanut butter and jelly some things are just meant to be together. For St. Patrick’s Day it’s corned beef and cabbage, which has been an American tradition since the 1800s. But did you know that cabbage became popular as a result of a damaging agricultural fungus?

More than 150 years ago, Ireland was a large agricultural nation, many Irish people were tenant farmers and the potato, imported from South America, was a staple crop. In the mid 1800s potato plants started to show signs of a strange disease that caused potatoes to rot. This disease spread across Ireland, drastically reducing their potato production, causing mass starvation economic devastation, and what is known today as the Irish Potato Famine.

The culprit behind the famine was late blight or potato blight (Phytophthora infestans), a fungus-like airborne microbe not native to Ireland. The Irish Potato Famine is just one example of how invasive species can devastate the environment and agricultural systems in an area, consequently affecting the lives and livelihoods of people in that region.

With the devastation the potato famine had brought to Ireland, the Irish turned to cabbage as a primary source of sustenance. Many affected by the agricultural ruin fled the country for America, bringing with them an assortment of cabbage dishes. One popular dish is bacon and cabbage. Yes, I said bacon, and no I do not mean corned beef. Originally bacon was a primary source of protein for the Irish because of the high cost of beef. It was cheap, and readily available. Once in America the situation changed. Corn beef was the cheaper alternative and quickly became an Americanized version of cabbage and bacon.

In Florida, cabbage remains a wonderful affordable vegetable that is widely grown; ranking 3rd in the nation accounting for approximately 13% of U.S. cabbage production.  Cabbage can be readily found in season from November to June.

So while donning your greenest attire and feasting on your annual corned beef and Florida cabbage, you can education your family and friends about the wonderful history of cabbage and its abundant heritage in Florida.

Check out these great cabbage-inspired recipes:

Hearty Florida Cabbage Soup

Hearty Florida Cabbage Soup

Baked Cabbage Egg Rolls 

Bake Cabbage Egg Rolls

Shrimp Tacos with Cabbage

Shrimp Tacos with Cabbage

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Ponsettias

December 12, 2016

poinsettiaThe poinsettia is the most popular holiday plant this time of year. They come in an array of different colors from pink, blue, purple, white, orange, even multi-colored but are traditionally red. You’ve seen these beautiful plants in every supermarket from November to December but they mysteriously disappear after New Year’s Day.

Many people toss them, knowing they will buy new ones next year. Others will attempt but fail to keep up with the 12 hours of dark that is required to alter the color on the bracts (bracts are the leaf-like structures that change colors). However, may fortunate and/or skilled gardeners will nurture their plants keeping them alive all year allowing them to grow to 10-feet tall, enjoying their colorful autumnal bloom.

History:

Native to southern Mexico, poinsettias were originally used by the Aztecs for dye and medicinal purposes. The plant was introduced to the United States by Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Ambassador to Mexico, who brought the plant back to South Carolina in 1828. He began propagating and dispersing the plant amongst his friends. By 1836, the plant gained the common name poinsettia. In honor of Joel Poinsett, December 12th has been titled National Poinsettia Day, marking his passing and honoring his botanical achievements.

Myth:

Poinsettias are not poisonous, however, those with latex allergies or sensitivities might want to avoid the sap, which contains latex (check it out, latex is a natural product). What you should be concerned about are pets and children. It is not edible, and those with cats, dogs, horses, cows and birds should proceed with caution when this plant is around their animals.

Care:

Don’t throw your poinsettia away. This seasonal plant can bloom until March, and then be saved until next November when it will bloom all over again.  Check out UF/IFAS for tips on how to care for your poinsettia through the holiday season and beyond.

Happy National Poinsettia Day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Little Apple of Death

October 24, 2016

Manchineel Tree Hippomane mancinella, or as the Spanish called it, “Manzanita de la muerte” (little apple of death) is a deceiving fruit-bearing tree that can even inflict harm to anyone standing beneath its branches.

This tree is quite irritating all the way around not a single piece of this tree is safe. Burning the wood could cause noxious smoke, touching the tree could cause allergic dermatitis, the milky sap could cause blindness if it comes in contact with the eye, and ingesting the fruit may cause death.  The toxins Hipponmain A and Hippomanin B were discovered to have varying levels of toxicity depending on its maturity.

Despite the maturity level of the tree, it can still cause serious damage. A survivor noted that the fruit tasted sweet before it started to make their throat swell shut. Luckily, they were treated quickly and survived the incident.

Historically, parts of the tree have been used for various defense mechanisms. Native Americans are reported to have placed leaves of the tree into springs to poison those who drank from it, as well as covering the tips of their arrows with the milky sap to make wounds even more deadly. This is what was reported to have killed Juan Ponce de Leon, the Spanish explorer who discovered Florida. When he tried to settle in the Charlotte Harbor, the Calusa attacked him and his men with the poison-covered arrows. The wounds he incurred in battle led to his death in 1521.

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Photo by Mica

This deadly tree can be found in the Caribbean, the Bahamas, Mexico, Central, northern South America and most importantly Florida.

Don’t worry too much, while this was once an abundant tree in Florida it is currently only found in the Cape Sable region of the Everglades National Park.

While this tree’s impact is dangerous, it’s important to note that it can be fatal. If you come across this tree please proceed with caution. Avoid the area at all costs and do not consume the fruit.

If you are interested in knowing more about the Manchineel tree and other deadly plants in a safe environment, visit the Florida Museum of Natural History and explore “Wicked Plants” (a touring exhibit here until January 2017).

 

Corpse Flower

September 27, 2016

titan-arum1webIt’s a foul smelling odor that emits from a towering flower that looks like it might have come out of Jurassic Park. This mighty flower stands up to 10ft tall and smells like…well… a decomposing corpse! But, oddly enough the size of this giant botanical beast is not the only oddity.

I guess that’s why they say, “wake up and smell the roses” because a rose is a far more pleasant scent by comparison.

This aptly named Corpse flower or Amorphophallus titanum is native to Indonesia’s Sumatran rainforest and considered the “largest unbranched inflorescence in the plant kingdom” according to the United States Botanic Garden.  “Calling it a flower is actually a misnomer: it comprises  several flowers that cluster around the base of the stalk (the spadix), hidden by the plant’s maroon skirt (the spathe) (National Geographic).”

Why the rotting smell? Scientist theorizes it is to attract insects such as flies, and carrion beetles who think it’s a decomposing body. These insects along with birds who eat berry-like fruits from the spadix, help to disperse the plant parts necessary to pollinate new plants.

corpse-flower-info-graphic

Illustration by Chicago Botanic Garden

The corpse flower was discovered by Italian botanist Odoaro Beccari in 1878 who sent its seed back to Italy who in turn shared it with England’s Royal Botanical Garden who just 12 years later cultivated its first bloom in 1889.

Between 1889 and 2008 the corpse flower has only bloomed 157 times, which leaves botanist scratching their head at the fact that during 2016 alone there were 13 publicized blooms. Within a 3 month period, 6 to7 blooms occurred across the United States. A previously unheard of event.

The corpse flower only blooms when it’s ready. Years and seasons mean nothing to this mammoth plant. This is largely due to the size of the flower. The “corm” is an underground stem that stores energy from the plant. This will eventually produce a spike which over time will bloom.

Scientists suggest these plants may be related, but there is no significant evidence to verify their hypothesis.

Be on the lookout for upcoming Florida blooms including Seymour and Audrey (two corpse flowers) at Sarasota’s Selby Gardens and one at Winter Haven’s Rollins College.

This large flower is surely a sight to behold and a smell to endure

 

Mandrake Root Man

While you may be familiar with the screaming anthropomorphized potato characters from the very popular Harry Potter franchise, you should probably know the idea for the character is based on a very real plant.

Mandrake Roots aren’t just Fictional Harry Potter plants. Their roots stem back (pun intended) to the 17th century when these plants were used for medicinal purposes. Thought to cure fertility issues, these plants became a hot commodity, although, they came at a price.

Mandrake roots have carried with them myth and legend throughout the ages. In the movie Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, students wore ear muffs to block the screams of the young mandrakes, which were thought to kill whoever heard its shrieks. However, according to lore, earmuffs won’t save you from its high pitch wails. In order to collect the mandrake without seeking an unfortunate end, farmers would tie a mandrake to a dog and then lure it with food; thus, killing the dog but leaving you with a freshly pulled mandrake (it’s important to note this is only a myth).

Mandrake roots originated in the Mediterranean and are part of the nightshade family. The same family that gives us tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, peppers, tobacco and goji berries. The nightshade family is notorious for its poisonous offspring. Historically mandrake roots have been used in conjunction with other plants as a natural anesthetic. With the proper dosages, the plants put a patient in a deep sleep so doctors could perform surgery.

While mandrakes aren’t popular in Florida, you can find them and other deadly plants at the Florida Natural History Museum for a limited time between now and January 2017 at the Wicked Plants exhibit.

No dogs were harmed in the creation of this blog.

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Skunk cabbage (photo courtesy of Sue Sweeney)

At the Division of Plant Industry, an important part of our mission is to protect Florida’s natural landscape.  And while we recognize not all plants are nice, we can share information about those that are considered “wicked,” due sometimes to the mere fact that they stink!

For example, have you ever heard of a skunk cabbage (Synplocarpus foetidus)? It’s a cabbage that smells like the name says, like a skunk. Located in the wetland areas in eastern parts of North America, the skunk cabbage is best known as a thermogenic plant meaning it produces its own heat. This process takes place over a 12 to 14 day period where the flower is blooming and its bloom breaks down substances. During this cycle, the flower uses a combination of oxygen and starches from its root system to produce the energy required for heat.

It should be noted that this is not a plant you play with. When trampled or bruised, the plant emits a foul smell as a natural deterrent from predators. Ingesting this plant can cause, swelling, choking sensations, and a burning sensation in the mouth. Excessive consumption may result in death.

If you want to learn more about the skunk cabbage and other wicked plants, visit The Florida Museum of Natural History: Wicked Plants: The Exhibit will be on display between now and January 15, 2017. The exhibit is based off the entertaining book “Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities” by Amy Stewart.

An interactive interface is available for students of all ages to learn about dangerous plants. “The challenge for the museum is to use Wicked Plants to grab visitor’s attention, then turn it into curiosity about all plants, the toxic and the terrific,” says, Patti J. Anderson, Ph.D., chief botanist with the Division of Plant Industry.

For more information on this event and others held by the museum please visit the museum’s exhibits page.

TriologyBannerTri-ology is a publication issued six times per year by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Division of Plant Industry (DPI). Each issue summarizes detections resulting from nursery plant inspections, routine and emergency program surveys, requests for identification of plants and pests from the public and samples that are occasionally received from other states or countries for identification or diagnosis.

The most recent bulletin, covering September–October 2015, can be viewed and downloaded here. Examples from the current circular include:

Bactrocera dorsalis, Oriental fruit fly. Based on the large number of flies detected in a concentrated area of the Redland Agricultural District in late August, a quarantine area regulating the movement of oriental fruit fly host plants was established on September 4, 2015. All entities within the quarantine production, sale or distribution of oriental fruit fly host material have been placed under a compliance agreement program requirements.

Pseudocercospora artanthes (leaf spot) was found infecting Piper auritum (Vera Cruz pepper) at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens in Duval County. This fungal pathogen flourishes when temperatures are moderate (~76 F) and humidity is high.

Bischofia javanica Blume (Javanese bishopwood) is an evergreen tree that can reach 18 meters in height in Florida, but up to 40 meters in natural areas of its native range. This species has escaped from cultivation in Central and South Florida to invade old fields and disturbed wet sites and is listed as a Category I invasive by Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council (FLEPPC). Bishopwood was introduced to Florida in the early 1900s. Almost four decades ago, it was included in a list of “pestiferous” ornamentals in South Florida and has continued to be a problem species, but one that is rarely sold now

Aphelenchoides besseyi Christie, 1942, the rice white-tip nematode, was detected in foliar tissues of the hybrid, annual ornamental, Zinnia elegans.

Tri-ology is produced by DPI’s Bureau of Entomology, Nematology and Plant Pathology, hence the name “Tri-ology.” The Botany Section is included in this bureau. Tri-ology has been published for 54 years. and recent volumes are available on-line, here.

For earlier volumes, contact the FDACS-DPI Library, located at the Doyle Conner Building, 1911 SW 34th Street, Gainesville, FL, 32608, email dpi-library@FreshFromFlorida.com or call the Helpline, 1-888-397-1517.

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