A weed to give homeowners the blues
Creeping indigo (Indigofera spicata) is a weed with many adverse traits and should be removed. This usually overlooked exotic invader does not get the attention of the long list of infamous invasive plants in Florida.
This species’ root system may have a good nitrogen fixing capacity, but the negative features of this plant cannot be overlooked.
As early as 1933, agricultural researchers were concerned about the plant’s toxic effects on domestic animals and wildlife.
Creeping indigo is a low growing plant, potentially reaching six feet in length, easily hiding in flowerbeds and within vines.
Leaves contain seven to nine hairy leaflets and a hairy stem. Summer brings numerous pink blooms of flowers appearing at the base of the leaves.
Most of the Indigofera species is used for production of indigo dye with its deep blue shades despite creeping indigo containing less dye than other species in its genus.
The straight inch-long seed pods are densely packed in groups of one hundred pods per stalk. These downward-pointing clusters are bright green when immature but dry to a matte black. The pods easily shatter when bumped and scatter the tiny seeds.
A Hole in the Wall
Xylocopa micans Lepeletier, as the large carpenter bee is known scientifically, builds their nest by burrowing into dead wood.
This usually means deadfall timber of almost any sort. Nesting sites include wooden timbers and siding in areas with human structures.
Nests are home to a single female which lays eggs in a segmented tube. The nest’s openings are a nearly perfect 5/8-inch (16 millimeter) hole.
Carpenter bees are labeled as solitary bees. There may, however, be several nests in close proximity.
Each nest has only a single opening with multiple tunnels branching off the main passage.
While you will often find small quantities of sawdust under a carpenter bee nest, the bees do not eat the wood, but merely remove it to create nest channels.
Carpenter bees are very close in behavior, coloration and size to bumblebees. The easiest way to differentiate these insects is by their abdomen, the body segment furthest from the head.
Bumblebees have an abdomen thickly covered in fine hairs. Carpenter bees have a shiny abdomen and lack the fine hairs.
While the damage caused by carpenter bees can be quite expensive, they may attract an even more destructive predator. Woodpeckers, especially the native pileated woodpecker, dine on carpenter bee larvae at every opportunity.
When discovery of the larvae is confirmed, the woodpeckers attack with a ferocity seldom seen in nature.
Much to Like About Lichen
Lichens can be found in a variety of North Florida locations, some appearing on the surface of shrubs and trees. They are composed of algae and fungi living together in a symbiotic fashion, beneficial to both organisms but not necessarily the host plant. The fungi play an important role in nutrient recycling and organic residue decomposition. They are responsible for the accelerated decay of organic materials, converting them into a useable form for other organisms. The algae process atmospheric carbon dioxide into organic carbon sugars to supply nutrients for both organisms. By working together, albeit unconsciously, both are able to prosper in environments where they would fail individually. Lichens are blamed for the decline of a host plant or tree, but the reality is the opportunistic nature of lichens completing a natural cycle. In most cases, if a shrub has a growing population of lichens, it will soon die. Some plants in home landscapes, like crepe myrtles, have lichens growing on their bark which peels away. This activity does not damage the plant and consumes the dead bark. If the lichens were not on the job of consuming dead organic matter, something else would be aiding the decay of the material.
Les Harrison is a retired University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Wakulla County extension director.