Florida Garden Talk: Wildflowers, Red Cedar Trees, Turtles

The wildflower, Violet wood sorrel, can be seen blooming at the entrance to Egans Greenway. Rebecca Jordi, Director of the Nassau County Extension, answers Florida gardening and landscape questions.

Wood Sorrel, Amelia Island (photo Wendy Lawson)
Wood Sorrel, Amelia Island

EDITOR’S NOTE: University of Florida/IFAS Extension Director for Nassau County and Environmental Horticulture Agent III, Rebecca Jordi, addresses questions about landscaping and gardening in northeast Florida. She is also a University of Florida faculty member.


QUESTION:  I have seen small, clover-like plants with purple flowers along the roadsides and in some of the natural areas. I know it is not a violet but it is equally pretty. Can you tell me what it is? TW

JORDI: From your description, I am fairly confident you have spotted the wildflower called Violet wood sorrel, Oxalis violacea L., which is showing up in several of our local wooded areas. The leaf shape is unique and therefore made this wildflower easier to identify than most flowers. This plant is the cousin of the Yellow wood sorrel which is a problem in many of our lawns. Violet wood sorrel is found in most every state of the Union so you would think it would be prolific but in actuality, in some states it is on the endangered or threatened list. According to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in Massachusetts and Rhode Island Violet wood sorrel is listed as endangered; Michigan and New York have it listed as threatened; and in Connecticut is it listed as a plant of special concern.

The word oxalis comes from the Greek oxus which means “sour,” referring to the pleasantly sour taste of the leaves and stem. They can be eaten but it is suggested to limit the amount as it may cause nausea. A true perennial, this plant flowers in the early spring.

QUESTION: My neighbor has a juniper tree which has blue berries on it. Why I don’t see these berries on other similar trees? Is it a special variety? JC

Eastern Red Cedar
Eastern Red Cedar

JORDI: I am impressed with your power of observation. I believe you are looking at the female tree of the Eastern red cedar tree, Juniperus virginiana. The reason you are not seeing the fruit on the other trees as these trees have male and female trees. The females bear the fruit while the male trees produce pollen.

Red cedar trees are evergreen reaching heights upward to 50 feet which spread 8 to 15 feet when grown in a sunny location. The fruit is a blue berry on female trees and they are very showy when the production is heavy. The fruit is strikingly beautiful against the dark green leaves. The fruit provide food for wild birds when winter food is limited.

The tree is highly drought and salt tolerant; it is not finicky about soil types. The shape of the tree develops best when grown in full sun but it will survive partial shade as I have a volunteer tree in my back yard growing in partial shade. Eastern red cedars are difficult to transplant due to a coarse root system, except when quite small. There are a handful of cultivars to choose from and most reputable plant nurseries would be able obtain them upon request. For more complete information check out the website from the University of Florida publication on the tree: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/st327

QUESTION: I know you usually work with plants but I was hoping you might help me identify the turtles I see on logs within the Egans Creek wildlife preserve behind my subdivision. GB

Yellow-bellied pond slider (Egans Creek), Amelia Island, Florida
Yellow-bellied pond slider (Egans Creek)

JORDI: As luck would have it, I was searching for invasive plants at Egans Creek Greenway a few days ago and noticed dozens of turtles sliding of the logs once I got nearby. This phenomenon of sliding off logs is precisely where the turtle gets its name – Yellow-belled sliders, Trachemys scripta scripta. I was able to snag a photo from a distance of a young turtle basking on a log.

The turtle is indigenous to northern Florida. Pond sliders are aquatic and rarely leave the water unless they are basking on logs but they quickly dive into the water when startled. Pond sliders are omnivorous generalists, which means they feed on plants and animals. Adult turtles prefer plants more than young turtles, but both will eat aquatic insects, fish, frog eggs, and tadpoles when the opportunity presents itself. Although they prefer quiet waters, these turtles can tolerate brackish waters, manmade canals, and even city park ponds.

Rebecca Jordi

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