Keeping up with Florida’s trees

A wonderful piece by Malcolm Campbell.

Malcolm's Round Table

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” – John Muir

If you live in Florida, you probably already know that–other than Hawai’i–the state has more species of native trees than any other. My easy-to-use tree guide was published in 1956, so I can only consider it as a starting point since some of the nomenclature has changed since then.

Chinkapin Oak – Wikipedia photo

For example, the Chinkapin Oak (Quercus muehlenbergii) used to be mixed up with the Pin Oak and the Chestnut Oak. Confusing matters more is the fact that one of the popular names for a Chinkapin still is “Chestnut Oak” even though the Chestnut Oak (Quercus montana) is another species. Both are in the white oak group. There are so many popular names for Florida’s trees, shrubs and flowers that it’s often difficult to be sure what another author is…

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Tree of life

From a recent National Geographic message:

Sequoia, redwood, eucalyptus, cherry, and more; this week at National Geographic, we’re shouting from the treetops! See stunning and unprecedented 360 views from 250 feet up, revealed by California scientists. Or check them out for yourself on a visit to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. India broke a world record by planting 50 million trees in one day, but one teenager is on track to plant a trillion! Read about it here. Scroll through this breathtaking gallery of the world’s oldest trees and read about their tall tropical relatives. Find out what we can learn from trees (as seen in the March 2017 issue of National Geographic magazine), then meet some ancient trees with stories to tell. Every organism, large and small, depends on trees—just like this tiny wasp that turned a fig tree into a 150-foot-high eden.

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Introduced Plants in the Hawaiian Islands

Many thanks to Charles “Chuck” Chimera for allowing us to reprint the following article, originally published in the January/February 2017 issue of Hawaii Landscape. Chimera is a Weed Risk Assessment Specialist at University of Hawai‘i Manoa, Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit and Botany.

Introduced Plants in the Hawaiian Islands – Some Pros and Cons of Dynamic Diversity

by Charles Chimera

How many plant species are in the Hawaiian Islands? That’s a question I’ve been regularly asked during my tenure as a weed risk assessment specialist for the state. I spend a lot of time reading about and evaluating non-native plants for their potential to become invasive in Hawaii, and am often buried in books, scientific journal articles, databases, and websites to find the best and most current information about plants. Despite all that time surrounded by reference materials, however, I still don’t have a precise number. My answer is usually “That’s a good question.” (Then I say, “What’s that?” and as the person looks to where I’m pointing, I run off). Seriously though, if it’s a question about how many plants are present in the islands, without regard to whether they are native, non-native, naturalized, invasive, or just cultivated, my somewhat offhand answer is usually that there are more than 10,000. This number is roughly based on the Bishop Museum’s Annotated Checklist of the Hawaiian Islands, which lists the 10,226 plants (a total compiled between 1984 and 1999) deliberately grown by home gardeners for ornamental and landscape purpose. This total does not include weeds, forestry tree plantings, pasture and forage grasses, or native and naturalized species that exist outside of cultivation. For that number, I use the “Hawaiian Native and Naturalized Vascular Plants Checklist,” another Bishop Museum resource edited by botanist Clyde Imada in 2012. At that time, the total number of native and naturalized non-native plants was reported to be 2,983. Another good reference for a list of native and naturalized plant species is the Smithsonian Institution’s online Flora of the Hawaiian Islands. Possibly excluded from these references are the 1,026 taxa of plants that have been planted in forest reserves or on certain offshore islands, as reported by Roger Skolmen in the 1980 publication “Plantings on the Forest Reserves of Hawaii: 1910–1960.” For those keeping score, and without accounting for some overlap between lists, there are approximately 14,000 plant species in the Hawaiian Islands, or about 3.5% of the Earth’s estimated total. With between 1,355 and 1,386 native plant species (depending on sources), this means that recorded plant diversity of the Hawaiian Islands has increased by over 900% since humans first set foot on the islands. (These totals are also an underestimate, and somewhat outdated, as new plants have continued to be introduced every year since publication of the original lists.)

The term biodiversity is almost always associated positively with nature, and with a healthy, thriving environment, most people familiar with the natural history of the Hawaiian Islands know that many of our native plants have become quite rare or endangered, and several have gone extinct, due to loss of habitat, damage from invasive pests and pathogens, and competition with invasive plants, among other factors. So even though the Hawaiian Islands are more diverse in terms of total numbers of plant species than they have ever been, native biodiversity has declined as overall species diversity has increased.

Of course, this does not mean that all non-native plants are bad, or are equally responsible for the rarity and extinction crisis of Hawaii’s native flora. Of the roughly 12,000 to 13,000 non-native plants present, only about 12% have become naturalized, or have formed self-sustaining populations in the wild, and fewer still have become invasive weeds of agriculture or the natural environment. In other words, the overwhelming majority of non-native plants introduced to the islands are generally benign, and in many cases, have provided us with valuable food, medicine, building resources, ornamental beauty, and other uses that enrich our lives and landscapes.

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Endangered Blackburn’s Sphinx Moth caterpillar (Manduca blackburni) getting its nicotine fix on invasive tree tobacco (Nicotiana glauca). Photo: Forest & Kim Starr

Despite the negative impacts they have on the environment, many of Hawaii’s invasive plants were also originally introduced with good intentions, and may still provide certain benefits. Some may even be providing valuable habitat or food resources for native Hawaiian species. In one such example, the Blackburn’s Sphinx Moth (Manduca blackburni), Hawaii’s largest native insect, was the first in the state to be listed as an endangered species. This was due to many factors, including the rarity of ‘aiea, its native host tree (species in the genus Nothrocestrum). Fortunately for the moth (if not for the habitat invaded by the weed), its caterpillars can survive by feeding on the leaves of the invasive tree tobacco (Nicotiana glauca). So even though this plant can become quite invasive in dry and disturbed habitats, it may be helping to prevent the extinction of the Blackburn’s Sphinx Moth while ‘aiea and its habitat are restored. There are other examples of native species utilizing introduced plants, including Hawaiian honeycreepers sipping nectar from the flowers or eating the fruit of non-native trees, or our state bird, the Nene, feeding on invasive grasses and herbs in Haleakala crater.

For the most part, however, it would be preferable to preserve and protect Hawaii’s remaining native habitats for the species that need them to survive, rather than relying on introductions of non-native, and potentially invasive, species to hopefully save the day. When possible, use appropriate native plants, or non-invasive introduced species, in the landscape, and avoid importing or planting highly invasive weeds, especially those targeted for eradication or control by conservation land managers, the agricultural industry, and invasive species committees. By making responsible and informed planting choices, we can both preserve our native plant diversity, and continue to enhance our introduced biodiversity and enjoy all the associated benefits it brings. To learn more about both invasive and non-invasive plants in the Hawaiian Islands, or to have your plants screened for risk of invasiveness, please visit the Plant Pono website.

References

Flora of the Hawaiian Islands. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. http://botany.si.edu/pacificislandbiodiversity/hawaiianflora/

Imada, C.T., Staples, G.W. & Herbst, D.R. 2005. Annotated Checklist of Cultivated Plants of Hawai‘i. http://www2.bishopmuseum.org/HBS/botany/cultivatedplants/

Imada, C. 2012. Hawaiian Native and Naturalized Vascular Plants Checklist (December 2012 update). Bishop Museum Technical Report 60. Bishop Museum, Honolulu

Skolmen, R.G. 1980. Plantings on the forest reserves of Hawaii: 1910–1960. Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry, Pacific Southwest Forest & Range Experiment Station, US Forest Service, Honolulu.

Avalon cuts down dune pines that activists wanted to save

Our thanks to George Beetham Jr. for bringing this article by David O’Reilly to our attention. Following are the beginning paragraphs.

Elaine Scattergood paused on the narrow path that wound through wooded sand dunes to Avalon borough’s sweeping beachfront.

“That,” she said, pointing over a fence at a tree stump, “was my favorite. It was all by itself and could spread its branches.”

Stumps are all that remained Friday of about 220 Japanese black pines that this upscale Cape May County borough cut down last week.

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Photograph of Elaine Scattergood by David O’Reilly.

Borough officials and their consultants say the trees – which the municipality planted in abundance in the 1980s – were vulnerable to damage or death from the southern pine bark beetle, a small boring insect.

But Scattergood and other residents who have battled the borough over the tree cutting say there is no evidence of the beetle in the borough.

They assert that the borough is removing the tall growing trees to improve the ocean views of some beachfront property owners.