EDITOR’S NOTE: Environmental Horticulture Agent III, Rebecca Jordi, addresses questions about landscaping and gardening in northeast Florida. She is the Extension Director in Nassau County, Florida and also a University of Florida faculty member.
_____ GARDEN TALK _______
QUESTION: What do gopher turtles eat? JB
JORDI: The Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) is found from South Carolina throughout most of Florida. They prefer an open area to dig their burrow which is why we see so many of their burrows along the coastline sand dunes here in Nassau County. Their burrow has a “D” shape opening matching the shape of the tortoise’s shell.
They grow slowly, sometimes taking up to ten years or more to reach a mature age for mating but they can live up to fifty years. Males are usually smaller than the females. These animals are called “keystone” animals, which means their presence indicate a healthy, balanced environment. If they are totally removed from an environment, the delicate balance between predator and prey can be disrupted to the detriment of the whole habitat.
The gopher tortoise deposits five to six eggs at a time, usually in late April to July. They are very active during the warmest parts of the day. Gopher tortoises are a Federally endangered species, generally caused by loss of habitat. In Florida, they are classified as a Threatened species which means they may become endangered. Not only are the tortoises protected but their eggs are also. Gopher tortoises eat low growing grasses, flowers, berries and legumes.
Just one other note, there are subtle differences between turtles and tortoises. Turtle generally spend most of their lives closely associated in or near water and they have webbed feet. Tortoises are strictly land dwellers with no webbing between the toes. http://myfwc.com/
QUESTION: What are the vines with bright yellow flowers I see blooming now? AK
JORDI: Most likely the evergreen vine you are describing is Carolina Jessamine, Gelsemium sempervirens, which is a Florida native. Typically this vine is found in open woodlands and along the edges of forests. The bright, yellow tubular flowers are some of the first to show in late winter or early spring. The flowers provide a sweet fragrance, which attracts pollinators like hummingbirds or butterflies. It will climb up trees and can grow to twenty feet. Carolina Jessamine has a similar growing environment as smilax, wild grape, honeysuckle in addition to pesky vines such as cat’s claw and poison ivy. All parts of the plant are poisonous and the sap can cause rashes so be careful when working around this plant. Carolina Jessamine is drought tolerant, is not picky about the soil, and can grow in shade or full sun.
QUESTION: I need to clean my plant pots, how do I make sure no diseases will be spread to the new plants? HR
JORDI: It is extremely important to clean plant pots before putting in new transplants. The best way to do it is to remove the old soil and soak the pots in a solution of one part chlorine bleach and 9 parts water. Exactly how long they need to soak appears to vary but ten minutes should be fine. After removing the pot from the sanitizing solution, be sure to completely rinse it with clean water to remove any chlorine. Be careful not to do this directly over plant material as this can cause problems. A deep sink where the water can go to a sewage drain would work best. Wear gloves and clothes you don’t mind getting bleach splatter on. I only share this with you because I have several pairs of slacks with bleach splatter spots, aprons alone do not work well enough!
Rebecca L. Jordi
County Extension Director
UF/IFAS Environmental Horticulture
Nassau County Extension
543350 U.S. Highway #1
Callahan, FL 32011
904-491-7340 or 904-879-1019