Garden Talk

with Rebecca Jordi


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Q: I found this plant in a natural area near my house. What is it?

Lizard's Tail

Lizard’s Tail

A:   I believe the plant is a perennial called Lizard’s tail, Saururus cernuus. Lizard’s-tail is a common emersed plant. It can be found as far north as Canada and west to Texas and to south Florida. Lizard’s tail is often found growing in large clumps along the edges of ponds or in wetlands. The erect plant grows to one to two feet tall, in freshwater marshes and swamps nearly throughout Florida. It blooms in the summer but with our very mild winter, you are seeing it bloom now. Lizard’s-tail has a bottlebrush spike of white flowers. It is typically six to eight inches long but can be longer. The flower spike arches above the leaves of the plant. After maturity, the flowers become a string of nutlets resembling a lizard’s tail. It can grow in full sun to partial shade and spreads by underground rhizomes. 


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Q: What is this caterpillar eating my parsley?

Black Swallowtail caterpillar

Black Swallowtail caterpillar

A:   Thank you for sharing the photo. This is the larvae or caterpillar of the Black Swallowtail butterfly.  The black swallowtail larvae are often confused with the monarch butterfly caterpillar as the colors are quite similar. However, if you look closer you will notice distinctive differences in the yellow and black markings of the two caterpillars. On the black swallowtail caterpillar, the yellow coloring breaks up the black whereas on the monarch the yellow and black seem to form more straight bands. Once you see them side by side you will never make the mistake of confusing them.  It is interesting how different both of the caterpillars look from the adult butterfly.  You would think the adult butterfly would at least keep the same color as the caterpillar – yellow, black and green.  However, the monarch butterfly develops into an orange and black butterfly while the black swallowtail is almost completely black.  Nature never ceases to amaze me.

Monarch Caterpillar

A:   Thank you for sharing the photo. This is the larvae or caterpillar of the Black Swallowtail butterfly.  The black swallowtail larvae are often confused with the monarch butterfly caterpillar as the colors are quite similar. However, if you look closer you will notice distinctive differences in the yellow and black markings of the two caterpillars. On the black swallowtail caterpillar, the yellow coloring breaks up the black whereas on the monarch the yellow and black seem to form more straight bands. Once you see them side by side you will never make the mistake of confusing them.  It is interesting how different both of the caterpillars look from the adult butterfly.  You would think the adult butterfly would at least keep the same color as the caterpillar – yellow, black and green.  However, the monarch butterfly develops into an orange and black butterfly while the black swallowtail is almost completely black.  Nature never ceases to amaze me.   


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Q: I found these critters dead in my garage after I sprayed the lawn with a pesticide. What are they?

Lawn Shrimp

Lawn Shrimp

A:   These creatures are actually terrestrial amphipods which belong to an order of crustacea.  They look very similar to tiny shrimp therefore they were given the common name of lawn shrimp.  Most amphipods live in salt and fresh water but there are a few terrestrial forms. Even though these terrestrial forms live in our landscapes, they still require a moist habitat. The color of terrestrial species varies from pale brown to greenish to brownish black when alive, but they often turn pink to red when they die. Most amphipods are scavengers feeding off mold which can be found in the mulched areas of our flower beds and shrubbery. Terrestrial amphipods live on the surface (top 1/2 inch) of mulch and moist ground. After rains, large numbers of amphipods can migrate into garages or under the doors of houses. When this occurs, they quickly die as they do not have the protective covering (exoskeleton) of crustaceans or insects.  Because they lack an exoskeleton their bodies quickly lose too much moisture and they die.  However, they come into our homes and garages after heavy rains because their bodies will take on too much water and it can also kill them. Most species are active at night.  Since you found large numbers in the garage already dead, it would be best to sweep or vacuum them up. If you find them in the house, be sure to check the weather stripping around doorways. Since terrestrial lawn shrimp do not transmit diseases nor do they destroy any plant material it is best to leave them alone.  In addition, there are no labeled insecticidal recommendations for control. Think of them more as a nuisance rather than a real pest.  For more complete information, take time to look over the UF/IFAS publication titled, “Terrestrial Amphipods or Lawn Shrimp” at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in377