So What’s Good with Local Seafood?

Actually, if you like seafood – it’s all good! However, not everyone does and sometimes when this question is asked they are interested in not how it taste but where the seafood came from.


In recent years, there has been a move across the country to learn more about where their food comes from. Whether that is because they are concerned what the livestock and chickens have been fed, their living conditions, or whether they came outside the United States – more people are asking and it is affecting how they purchase their food.  Is it the same for seafood?


In some cases, yes. Several years ago, I ran the marine science program at Washington High School.  We were discussing whether, with a growing human population, the ocean could sustain the demand for seafood.  Would we need to focus our production on aquaculture?  We decided to survey locals to see whether (a) they liked seafood, and (b) if so, would it matter whether the product came from the ocean or a farm.  Over a 10-year period, we found that (a) the percentage of locals who did not like seafood increased. (b) Those who did like seafood did not have strong feelings whether it was from a farm or from the sea.   Curious as to why those who did not like seafood felt that way, we followed up with those questions and found it was not as much a concern with seafood safety in that they just did not like the taste of it.  Of course, this was a high school science project and not a formal science investigation, but they did a good job with it and the results were interesting.


That was almost 20 years ago, do people feel the same?  According to Dr. George Baker (Florida Sea Grant), yes… things are about the same.  If they can get access to wild harvested seafood at a good price, they will buy.  If it is not available, or to expensive, they will, purchase farm raised. Moreover, more people do not like seafood.


What about the local issue? In California, there is a program that allows you to find out which boat captain caught your fish.  In Florida, there are studies going on to determine what type of filet you are actually buying.  As with produce and livestock, people seem to be interested in where their seafood comes from – and for many, if effects where and how they buy seafood.


So what is local?


Well, we call any seafood product harvested or cultured within 250 miles local. For Pensacola, that would include Alabama, Mississippi, and eastern Louisiana.  We know that between 80-90% of the seafood you currently purchase is imported from both commercial fishing and aquaculture overseas.  That said, local seafood is still here and available.


The commercial fishing in Pensacola goes WAY back. It was one of the first industries to get off the ground shortly after Florida became a U.S. territory.  According to Dr. Jack E. Davis, in his book The Gulf; The Making of an American Sea, Cuban fishermen harvested seafood from the Gulf coast of peninsula Florida prior to our becoming a territory.  Shortly after becoming a U.S. territory, New England fishermen came to harvest the Gulf, including one by the name of Leonard Destin.  Soon a fishing industry was operating in Pensacola.  They sold a variety of species but in 1840 they found red snapper – and the boom was on.  Shrimp followed but water quality, habitat loss, and overharvesting have plagued the industry over the years.  Fishermen did well for a time, then the landings decreased, the fishermen believed the fish had moved, and so the fleet would move.  This continued until they have literally moved all over the Gulf of Mexico seeking fish.  At this point quotas had to be initiated and regulation has been the norm ever since.  Add to this an increase interest in recreational fishing, increasing the number of fishermen, and increased regulation with this sector.  Today we can include the introduction of invasive species as another stressor.


All that said, local seafood is still available. Some species have become quite pricey, but they are still available.  The Gulf & South Atlantic Fisheries Foundation created a Gulf Coast Seafood Species Chart.  This chart indicates when selected species are in peak season for commercial harvest.  This chart suggests they are in season year round but there are peak months.  It varies from one state to another, but the list below includes Florida and Alabama.


Species Months in Peak Season Comments
Blue crab No peak season  
Blue crab

Soft shell

Mar – Jun  
Black drum No peak season  
Red drum No peak season Subject to quotas and closures
Clams All year – FL only Clams are now cultured in FL and are available year round
Crawfish Apr – Jun – LA only LA only, but close to us
Flounder Jul – Aug; Oct-Nov Subject to quotas and closures
Grouper No peak season Subject to quotas and closures
King mackerel Jan – Feb; Jul-Sep; Dec Subject to quotas and closures
Mahi-Mahi May – Jun  
Mullet Jan; Sep – Dec  
Oysters Jan – Apr; Sep – Dec  
Pompano Jan – Apr;  
Sheepshead No peak season  
Brown shrimp May – Sep  
Pink shrimp Jan – Jul  
Rock shrimp Jun – Sep  
White shrimp May – Nov  
Snapper Peak season year round Subject to quotas and closures
Yellowtail snapper Mar – Jun  
Spanish mackerel Jan – May; Aug – Sep; Dec Subject to quotas and closures
Spiny lobster Aug – Sep; Oct – Nov  
Spotted seatrout No peak season Subject to quotas and closures
Stone crab Oct – Dec  
Swordfish Sep – Nov  
Yellowfin tuna Jun – Oct  


The health benefits from consuming seafood are understood. We certainly think it should be part of your of weekly dinner menu.  There are concerns for safety in some seafood products, as in mercury and king mackerel, and we will address that in another article – but the lack of consuming seafood can create health issues as well.  We hope you enjoy local Gulf seafood.





Baker, G. 2017. personal communication.


Davis, J.E. 2017. The Gulf; Making of an American Sea.  Liveright Publishing. New York NY. Pp. 530.


Gulf & South Atlantic Fisheries Foundation. 2013. Gulf Coast Seafood.


Author: Rick O’Connor –

Sea Grant Extension Agent in Escambia County

Panhandle Outdoors

Permanent link to this article:

Plants Don’t Live Forever

A New Yorker cartoon shows a lady shopping a garden center bench for plants. She has three choices at three price points: annuals, $ 6; perennials, $ 10; eternals, $ 749.95.

No matter what the cost, plants don’t live forever. And if they did, what would they cost? They’d probably cost more than $ 749.95. Even though we know plants don’t live forever, we still don’t want a plant that we purchased, planted and cared for to die an early death.

All too often, I find myself in the position of reminding a person of this fact of life – plants don’t live forever.

Palm in decline.
Credit: Edward F. Gilman, UF/IFAS.

There are extremes, though. The bristlecone pine can live thousands of years. There is one that was named Methuselah, which, at one time, was believed to be the oldest living tree on record approaching more than 4,800 years of age in central California. But in the 1970’s, offspring of Methuselah all died because they were sent to low-altitude locations. The parent tree’s location in the White Mountains is two miles above sea level.

Even though the bristlecone pine can live thousands of years, misplacing it (planted at too low an altitude) results in the tree living a fraction of its potential life. The point is to plant the right plant in the right place. Make sure the plant is well suited for Florida and to the site conditions: that wet site, that dry site, that salty site, that high pH site, that shady site, that sunny site, etc.

The second point is to have realistic expectations based on the plant species. Some plants genetically will live longer than others. One of our longest-lived tree species in Florida is the live oak. There are live oak trees in Florida that are hundreds of years old. But don’t expect a silver maple to make it that long. It’s a shorter-lived tree species. In Florida, a thirty-year-old silver maple is probably in a state of decline due to old age.

The third point is to learn how to correctly plant and maintain the plants you have. For example, most woody plants (trees and shrubs), will live a much shorter life simply from being planted too deep. And an over fertilized centipedegrass lawn will go into a state of decline resulting in the lawn living a shorter life.

Plant the right plant in the right place, learn what it likes and provide it. And when the plant reaches the end of its life, replace it.

Many homeowners spend more than $ 749.95 attempting to turn a short-lived plant into an eternal plant.


Author: Larry Williams –

Larry Williams is the County Extension Director and Residential Horticulture Agent for the UF/IFAS Extension Office in Okaloosa County.

Gardening in the Panhandle

Permanent link to this article:

Jean Bodiford McMillian: Florida 4-H Hall of Fame

Ms. Jean Bodiford McMillan was inducted into the Florida 4-H Hall of Fame August 2nd. She has helped 5 generations of youth in Gulf County learn leadership and life skills through the 4-H Horse Project.  In 1970, she became the club leader for the Big River Riders 4-H Club.  Mr. Roy Carter, a former Gulf County Extension Director, says “The Big River Riders 4-H Club holds the county record for the longest running 4-H club [in Gulf County] and Jean is one of the strongest leaders we have ever had the pleasure to work with.  She has been the backbone of our horse program and is always willing to help in any capacity.”

In addition to serving at the county level, Mrs. McMillian also serves on the Area A 4-H Horse Advisory Committee.  This committee of volunteers provides direction and leadership for 4-H Horse programs across the Florida Panhandle (Northwest District).  The purpose of the committee is to make sure that 4-H horse events are educational in nature and adhere to the philosophies and goals of 4-H positive youth development.  This committee has the authority and responsibility to manage the direction and resources of the Area A 4-H Horse Program.  Examples of programs include schooling shows, showmanship and judging clinics, camps, and competitive shows.

Ms. Jean Bodiford McMillan being inducted into the Florida 4-H Hall of Fame during the 4-H University Awards Banquet in August.

Jean has served on the Area A Horse Committee for over 30 years and has held a variety of positions on the committee.  Through her involvement in the committee, she has watched her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren participate in the Florida 4-H Horse Program.  She is always willing to help with anything that needs to be done from checking bits and helmets to calculating points.  She has chaired the Western and Speed Divisions for a number of years at the district level and also pitches in to help with whatever is needed at the State 4-H Horse Show every July.

Her work in customer service has helped her as a volunteer to resolve conflict and solve problems.  She began her professional career with FairPoint Communications, Inc. (Port St. Joe office) in 1960 in the customer service department and held various jobs over the years.  She is also an active member of the Honeyville United Methodist Church in Honeyville located right outside of Wewahitchka. She retired from the integration and reports department of FairPoint in 2009.

When asked why she has stayed involved with 4-H for so many years, she said:

We have a very good group of Extension directors, agents, volunteers and members within our Area A Horse Program and I am so thankful to be a part of the group in any capacity. I was a 4-H’er growing up, worked as a volunteer for 5 generations over 45 years and there are so many rewarding pleasures when you see the young people do their best and strive to improve in all areas. When all your heart is given and they continue to give more is the greatest reward of all. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this astronomical foundation.” 

Despite retiring from the professional world, she has never retired from her 4-H volunteer work. Her dependability and compassion for youth has earned her the respect and admiration of fellow volunteers as well as Extension faculty.   If you are interested in sharing your knowledge and skills to inspire the next generation, contact your local UF IFAS County Extension Office to find out more about becoming a volunteer.  We offer a wide variety of roles to fit your interests and schedule.


Author: Heather Kent –

Heather Kent is the Regional Specialized 4-H Agent in the Northwest Extension District.

4-H in the Panhandle

Permanent link to this article:

Plant Cupheas for Summer Flowers, Hummingbirds, and More


Cuphea ignea
Photo courtesy: Gary Knox

Cupheas are perennials that produce bright orange, red, yellow or purple flowers all summer and fall.  Some species are called cigar plants due to their tubular, cigar shaped flowers tipped in red or yellow (like a lit cigar). Others are sometimes called firecracker plants because their cylindrical flowers are bright red or orange (looking like a firecracker). By any name, their nectar-filled, tubular flowers are widely known for attracting large numbers of hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. In addition, young stems of some species are reddish, further adding color and contrast to the usually narrow, lance-shaped green foliage.


As a group, cupheas grow best in full to part sun (the brighter, the better) and well-drained, moderately fertile soil. Cupheas are drought tolerant once established, but grow faster and larger with regular moisture and occasional fertilization. Their origins in warm climates allow them to thrive in heat, but likewise make some species sensitive to cold winters. Those that are frost tender along the Gulf Coast are best placed in a sheltered location in the garden. Cupheas are pest and disease resistant and are not invasive in Florida. They are not truly deer resistant, yet reports suggest cupheas are not favored by deer.

Cupheas are great summer performers in bright, hot and dry locations. Flowering begins in summer and continues through fall until short days and cool weather reduce flowering or frosts cause dieback. Along the Gulf Coast, cool winter weather slows them down, so re-growth doesn’t occur until mid to late spring, and flowering usually doesn’t begin until days and nights are warm. Growth and appearance of many cupheas are improved if plants are pruned or cut to the ground in late winter.

Over 200 species of Cuphea are native to Mexico and the warm-temperate and tropical Americas. Of these and their hybrids, the cupheas listed below are great summer-flowering perennials for the northern Gulf Coast.


Cuphea micropetala
Photo courtesty: Gary Knox


Cigar Plant (Cuphea ignea)

This fine-textured plant produces red to orange tubular flowers about an inch long. This cigar plant is hardy to about 20°F. It grows about 2 feet tall and 3 feet wide along the Gulf Coast, though it would be a larger, evergreen shrub in warmer climates. This cuphea tends to have lanky growth, so occasional summer pruning will stimulate branching which results in more dense growth.


Cigar Plant or Candy Corn Plant (Cuphea micropetala)

Flowers are 1.5 inches long, emerge pale yellow and gradually turn orange from the base upwards, offering a colorful, two-tone effect. Foliage is hardy to 25-30°F and this cigar plant is root hardy to at least 15°F. Stems should be cut back to ground level in late winter to keep the plant tidy. Clumps spread slowly outward by rhizomes, and the plant will reach 3 feet tall and wide along the Gulf Coast.


Cuphea schumannii
Photo courtesy: Gary Knox


Orange Cigar Plant or Schumann’s Cuphea (Cuphea schumannii)

This sprawling, floriferous cigar plant prefers moist, well-drained soil to thrive. Barrel-shaped, 1- to 1½-inch blooms are orange and yellow and sometimes have small purple petals at the tips. Flowers cover the branch terminals in the heat of summer and into fall. This plant is hardy in Zones 8 to 9 (at least down to the mid 20s°F). Unlike many other cupheas, leaves of orange cigar plant are oval- to heart-shaped. Stems grow 2 to 3 feet tall and readily flop or fall over. Plan to give orange cigar plant lots of room to sprawl through the garden!


Cuphea ‘David Verity’
Photo courtesy: Gary Knox


‘David Verity’ Large Firecracker Plant (Cuphea ignea × micropetala ‘David Verity’)

This floriferous hybrid produces flowers that are dark orange with a short yellow-orange flared tip and purple filamentts. Well-adapted to the Gulf Coast, this plant is foliage hardy down to 25-30°F and root hardy to at least 15°F. In Zone 9 this plant will grow as an evergreen shrub up to 4 to 5 feet tall and wide, but it will be smaller in areas where frost or freezes occur. This selection is believed to be a hybrid between Cuphea ignea and C. micropetala that was given in the mid 1970s to David Verity, then the manager of the UCLA Mildred Mathias Botanic Garden. It was subsequently named for him when later brought into commercial production.


‘Vermillionaire®’ Large Firecracker Plant (Cuphea ‘Vermillionaire®’)

This new hybrid appears to be a superior cuphea because it grows as a naturally compact plant that produces more flowers than other selections. ‘Vermillionaire®’ grows about 24 inches or more tall and wide with a compact, mounding habit. Orange tubular flowers are produced continuously until late fall. This cuphea is too new to know the full extent of its hardiness, but it is expected to be a perennial in Zones 8 and higher.


Mexican Heather (Cuphea hyssopifolia)

Unlike the previous cupheas, this plant has small purple flowers, and some selections sport white flowers. Another difference is Mexican heather’s finely textured, bright green leaves. Gulf Coast Zone 8 plants are usually killed to the ground in winter, often recovering by summer but resulting in a compact plant growing less than 24 inches tall and wide. In Zones 9 and higher, Mexican heather is a larger-growing semi-evergreen tropical shrub. Reported pests are leaf-chewing beetles (Altica and Colaspis spp.) and the twig-dwelling lesser snow scale (Pinnaspis strachani). Mexican heather works well for edging beds or sidewalks, helping to define and soften pathways. Cultivars include Allyson, Lavender Lace, Purple Nurple™ and the white-flowered Monga (Itsy Bitsy° White) and ‘White Whispers’.

Bat-Faced Cuphea
Photo courtesy: Gary Knox

Bat Face Cuphea (Cuphea llavea)

Each 1-inch flower consists of a purple tube lipped with two red, upright lobes. By viewing the flower with its tip facing you, it takes only a little imagination to see the two red lobes resemble large “ears” above the purple “face” of a bat, hence the name. Along the Gulf Coast, bat face cuphea grows mound-shaped 8 to 24 inches tall and wide, depending upon the selection. It is very heat and drought tolerant but requires better drainage than the other cupheas. Bat face cuphea is evergreen down to the upper 20s°F and root hardy into the lower 20s°F. Improved forms of bat face cuphea include the cultivars, Flamenco Samba, Georgia Scarlet, Mellow Yellow, Miss Priss, Tiny Mice®, Sriracha™ Pink, Sriracha™ Violet, Torpedo, Vienco° Lavender and Vienco° Red.


Author: Daniel J. Leonard –

Horticulture Agent, Walton County

Gardening in the Panhandle

Permanent link to this article:

Grass Worms

If you are one of the many that have taken advantage of the frequent rain in order to establish a new lawn, keep an eye open for “grass worms”. Though truly caterpillars, not worms, these destructive, chewing insects can wreak havoc on new sod.

Sod Webworm Photo by: Lyle Buss UF

Tropical sod webworm larvae are destructive pests of warm season turfgrasses in the southeastern U.S. especially on newly established sod. Larval feeding damage reduces turfgrass aesthetics, vigor, photosynthesis and density, which is very evident on finer-bladed grasses such as bermudagrass and zoysiagrass.  Adults, a dull brown colored moth about ¾ inch long, rest in sheltered and shrubby areas during the day and are active at dusk.  Females deposit clusters of 10-35 eggs on the upper surface of grass blades.  The eggs hatch in 3-4 days and develop from a 1 mm long caterpillar to one over 11 mm long through six instars within 21 to 47 days, depending on temperature.  Larval feeding occurs at night, leaving the grass looking ragged, shortened and missing.

Control should be against damaging larvae, not the flying moths. However, insecticidal soap applications to moth harboring areas can reduce re-population frequency if such areas are located.  Soil-drenching soap flushes can be used to find the caterpillars, especially in dry and hot grass areas.  Bacterial-based insecticides will control sod webworm caterpillars without impacting beneficial species as long as they are applied with each flush of grass growth.

Excessive fertilizing will lead to caterpillar outbreaks in lawns. Newly installed sod is usually rich in nutrients and rapid growing, which makes it very attractive to sod webworms.  Grass installation over the summer months should be immediately followed by sod webworm treatment.

Fall Armyworm Photo by: Lyle Buss UF

Fall armyworms are also attracted to newly installed sod. They feed any time of the day or night, but are most active early in the morning or late in the evening.  The 1 ½ inch long gray and white moth lays about 1,000 eggs in multiple masses on any vegetation.  Two to 10 days later, the small caterpillar hatches and begins to grow to nearly 2 inches long over a two week period.  The fall armyworm is easily recognized by its dark head marked with a distinct pale-colored inverted Y and the long black stripe running along each side of its body.  These aggressive feeders “march” rapidly across grassed areas consuming every above-ground plant part.  While bacterial-based insecticides will reduce the numbers, control of armyworms usually requires synthetic insecticides.  Diligent inspection and early pesticide application is critical to establishment of new sod installed during the summer months.


Author: Sheila Dunning –

Gardening in the Panhandle

Permanent link to this article:

Friday Feature: Preventing Needlestick Injuries to Ranch Hands

Friday Feature:  Preventing Needlestick Injuries to Ranch Hands

More than 80% of workers on livestock farms have accidentally stuck themselves with needles used for vaccine and drug administration.  Accidental needlestick injuries are usually minor, but can be serious with skin infections, allergic reactions, and deep tissue wounds that require surgery.   This week’s featured video was developed by the Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center (UMASH) to be used to provide employee training for dairy farm workers.  These same principles apply to workers on any type of livestock operation who are using disposable hypodermic needles for vaccine and drug administration.

Key Points to Emphasize with employees or family members regarding needle safety:

Don’t Get Stuck (Prevention)

  • Slow down and don’t rush injections

  • Restrain animals properly

  • Get help from coworkers to properly restrain animals before injection

  • Use good techniques and the correct equipment with every animal

  • Don’t remove needle caps with your mouth

  • Don’t recap used needles (Never try to reinsert used needles into the cap held in your mouth or hand)

  • Dispose of used needles in a rigid sharps disposal container

  • Discard bent, dull, or dirty needles that contact mud and manure

  • Don’t carry around syringes with needles in shirt or pants pockets while working with animals

  • Don’t dispose used needles into normal trash containers

Been Stuck (Care after accidental injection)

  • Stop working to provide care for the wound

  • Immediately wash skin thoroughly with soap and water

  • Apply topical disinfectant

  • Bandage puncture wound to prevent further contamination

  • Report injury to supervisor

  • Contact your health care provider to ensure tetnus vaccinations are current and to seek advice for wound care

To share this information with employees, print out the needlestick safety poster to display near chutes, handling facilities, and drug storage areas:

Don’t Get Stuck Needlestick Prevention Safety Poster


If you enjoyed this video, you might want to check out the featured videos from previous weeks:  Friday Features

If you come across a humorous video or interesting story related to agriculture, please send in a link, so we can share it with our readers. Send video links to:  Doug Mayo




Author: Doug Mayo –

Lead Editor for Panhandle Ag e-news – Jackson County Extension Director – Livestock & Forages Agent. My true expertise is with beef cattle and pasture management, but I can assist with information on other livestock species, as well as recreational fish ponds.

Panhandle Agriculture

Permanent link to this article:

2017 Agritourism Conference – September 26-27

2017 Agritourism Conference – September 26-27

If you are a new or existing agritourism operation looking for ideas, please consider joining us on September 26-27 at the UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Office, 1702 Hwy 17 South, Bartow, Florida.   The program will include some excellent presenters (both state and nationally recognized) as well as tours of some popular agritourism destinations in and near Polk county.

For more information, agenda, and registration, use the following link:

Central Florida Agritourism Conference




Author: Libbie Johnson –

Agriculture agent at UF IFAS Escambia County Extension.

Panhandle Agriculture

Permanent link to this article:

Summer Temperatures Shorten Gestation Length of Early Fall-calving Cows

Summer Temperatures Shorten Gestation Length of Early Fall-calving Cows

Start checking early bred cows and heifers early this fall.  Research at Oklahoma State documents that hot summer temperatures shorten gestation by six days in early bred fall calving cows.  Photo: Matt Hersom

Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension Animal Scientist

Each year in August, it is time for an important reminder.  Fall-calving season is here.  In fact, the start of the fall calving season often begins before some producers expect it.  The target date for the beginning of fall calving very often is September 1.  Most printed gestation tables predict that calving will take place 283 days (some 285 days) after artificial insemination or natural breeding.  Cows and heifers that gestate in hot weather will often calve a few days earlier than expected.

Oklahoma State University physiologists studied early fall (August) and late fall (October) calving cows. Data from two successive years were combined for 60 Angus X Hereford crossbred cows. The “early” and “late” fall calving cows had been artificially inseminated in early November or early January, respectively. Semen from the same sire was used for all cows. All cows were exposed to a single cleanup bull for 35 days at 4 days after the AI season. The weather prior to calving was significantly different for late pregnancy in the two groups. The average maximum temperature the week before calving was 93 degrees F. for the “early” fall group. The average maximum temperature the week before parturition in the “late” calving group was 66 degrees F. There was a 100% survival rate for calves in both groups and both groups of cows had very high re-breeding rates (90% and 92%, respectively).

The average gestation length for the “early” cows was 6 days shorter (279 days) as compared to the “late” cows (285 days) in year 1. The average gestation length for the “early” cows was 4 days shorter (278 days) as compared to the “late” cows (282 days) in year 2.  Keep in mind that the gestation lengths listed are AVERAGE.  This means that about half of the cows calved earlier than that.  Records from millions of Holstein dairy cows across the entire United States report a similar pattern (Norman, et al.2009 J. Dairy Sci; 92:5).  Holsteins bred in January and February (calving in October and November) averaged 2 days longer gestation than did Holstein cows bred in October (calving in July and August).  Many of these would be in Northern climates with less heat stress and more moderate temperatures in the summer months.  Here in the Southern Plains, late summer heat is more intense and persistent.  Therefore, producers with early fall-calving cows should expect calves to start coming several days ahead of the “textbook gestation table” dates. They should begin their routine heifer and cow checks at least a week to 10 days ahead of the expected first calving date. Source: Kastner, Wettemann, and co-workers. 2004 OSU Animal Science Research Report


Permanent link to this article:

Weed of the Week: Southern Sandbur

Weed of the Week: Southern Sandbur

Left: Southern sandbur seedhead. Right: Close-up picture of individual burs. Credit: Hunter Smith

Across the Southern United States, Southern Sandbur (aka sandspur) can be found. It is an annual grass that grows in cropland and pastures, thriving in dry sandy soils. Southern Sandbur has a shallow fibrous root system and can easily invade poorly managed fields or pastures. It is known to impact the quality of hay fields, as well as grazed pastures. Seeds will start to germinate in late spring, with germination continuing through the summer and fall.

For help to identify weeds or for developing a control plan for your operation, please contact your county extension agent. 

For more information on this topic please see the following UF/IFAS Publication:

Identification and Control of Southern Sandbur in Hayfields



Author: Kalyn Waters –

Holmes County Extension Director working in the areas of Agricultural Management in row crop, natural resources, livestock and forage production. Specialized in Beef Cattle Production in the area of reproductive, nutritional and finical management.

Panhandle Agriculture

Permanent link to this article:

Ethnobotany: Where History and Medicine Meet the Forest

Ethnobotany: Where History and Medicine Meet the Forest

The passionflower vine is beautiful and attracts butterflies, but can also be used for food and sedation drugs. Photo credit: Dorothy Birch

Ethnobotany lies at the intersection of culture, medicine, and mythology. The “witch doctors” and voodoo practitioners, the followers of the Afro-Cuban religion of Santeria, and the wise elders of ancient Chinese civilizations are all ethnobotanists. So, too, are the modern day field biologists who discover and develop medicinal plants into an estimated half of our pharmaceutical drugs. Simply put, ethnobotany is the study of how people and cultures (ethno) interact with plants (botany).

For tens of thousands of years, humans have been learning about plants’ chemical, nutritious, and even poisonous properties. Plants evolve these properties to defend themselves against pathogens, fungi, animals and other plants. Other properties, like color, scent, or sugar content may attract beneficial species. Humans most likely started paying attention to plant characteristics to decide whether to eat them. From there, one can imagine people started using plants to build structures or use fiber for ropes, baskets, and clothing.

My first experience with the idea of ethnobotany was as a college student on a study tour of Belize. A professional ethnobotanist took us on a tour of the Maya Rainforest Medicine Trail, pointing out dozens of native trees, shrubs, and grasses used for medicinal and cultural purposes by local tribes. From birth control and pain relief to chewing gum and pesticides, the forest provided nearly everything Central American civilizations needed to survive for thousands of years and into the present. The tour captured my imagination as I considered the possibilities yet undiscovered in the deep rainforests worldwide.

Of course, there is no need to travel out of the country, or even the state, to learn about useful native plants. One of my favorite publications put out by UF IFAS Extension specialists is “50 Common Native Plants Important in Florida’s Ethnobotanical History.” Another fascinating source of information about historic, cultural, and even murderous uses of plants is Amy Stewart’s Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities. Plants with interesting historical uses make for great stories along a trail, and help create a connection between the casual observer and the natural world around them.

A handful of interesting native plants with significant medicinal properties include the cancer-fighting plants saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) and mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum). Saw palmetto berries are used for prostate cancer treatment, while the $ 350+ million annual Florida mayapple harvest helps produce chemotherapy drugs for several types of cancer. The carnivorous bog plant, pink sundew (Drosera capaillaris) uses enzymes to break down insect protein, and Native American tribes used the plant for bacterial and fungal skin disorders.

Sundews, tiny carnivorous plants found in pitcher plant bogs, use an enzyme to dissolve insect proteins. Native Americans recognized this property and used the plant for skin maladies. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

Many plants had (and still have) multiple uses. Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) leaves brewed as a highly caffeinated tea were used ceremonially and before warfare by many southeastern American Indian tribes, and then later by early American settlers when tea was difficult to import. Holly branches were used for arrows, and the bark for warding off nightmares. The purple passionflower, or maypop (Passiflora incarnata) vine attracts butterflies and produces a pulp used for syrups, jams, and drinks. Passionflower extract has also been developed into dozens of drugs and supplements for sedation.

Early civilizations living closer to the land knew many secrets that modern medicine has yet to unlock. Thanks to the ethnobotanists, the field and forest will continue to heal and provide for us for many generations yet to come.

CAUTION: Many of the plants listed or referenced can have hazardous or poisonous properties without appropriate preparation or dosage. Allergic reactions and prescribed drug interactions may occur, and many unproven rumors exist about medicinal uses of plants. Always consult a physician or health professional before trying supplements.


Author: Carrie Stevenson –

Coastal Sustainability Agent, Escambia County Extension

Gardening in the Panhandle

Permanent link to this article:

Older posts «

» Newer posts