By Michael E. Abrams
Editor of Florida
Madison - A package of purple coneflower seeds, true-blooded and hardy
for North Florida, can be part of the change that needs to come, and
Joanna Booth is ringing the bell. It's tolling for everyone.
"I think we're losing diversity faster than we are paying attention"
says Booth, who knows the difference between hothouse plants and those
that really thrive in Florida's climate and soil. She calls herself a
small seed packet dealer, but the story is much bigger than that.
She leads her group of visitors over the three acres of
propogation colonies, part of the 400 acres she inherited from her
father Chuck Salter, who bought it for his father, near this small
North Florida town. She and her youngest daughter and her children
maintain the family tradition with the property.
Everyone who grew native plants in the North Florida area knows of
Chuck Salter's energetic efforts to promote native plants. It's not
unusual to to see a native plant in a park and hear from residents
"Chuck Salter planted that."
Columbines, red buckeye, tangerine beauty vine, fennel. Coral
honeysuckle, woodland phlox - they're bedded down and growing and ready
to thrive. Blackberries, the evening primrose -"Now the next
friendly plant I want to show you - does everybody know the evening
primrose? It's compatible with other plants and it grows head high."
She then points to sweet minty Conradina glabra, a little purple
flowering plant or wild scrub mint some call 'rosemary.' "You're
welcome to break off a tip and smell it."
'We're having a
slide in biodiversity and no one is paying attention to it. It's
the emperor's new clothes.'
It's a deep, minty scent that speaks of hot tea, of wooden pantries, of
kitchen tables set for the holidays.
The seeds fall off and stay in the dust until the mother plant dies.
"They won't come up and compete with the mother until she's gone. Then
they compete with each other."
"You can get 50 cuttings per plant maybe twice a year and make them
available for the marked or conservation or native garden collections,
she says. "It's extremely limited, it's endangered, and we're in danger
of losing this one."
"My philosophy is if conservation isn't working we should try something
And it's not, in her view. Efforts by state and federal
agencies are falling short, and "we're still losing diversity rapidly.
We're having a slide in biodiversity and and no one is paying attention
to it. It's the emperor's new clothes."
Nearly always, she says, efforts to control invasive species, some of
it with poisons, get more attention and more money from policymakers
than stewardship of natural species.
"I cannot believe it's safe to poison one species in a plant community
without harming others. Herbicidal treatments are plant poisons. I want
us to back off and allow more diversity instead of trying to control
She makes no apologies for selling these seeds in the
marketplace. She says she doesn't want to simply protect, like agencies
do – she wants to expand the native plant community. She reaches
down to a St. John's wort, with the small yellow flower that is known
to have anti-depressive properties. "This is one of our natives. It's
not commercially available in seed. I don't know if it's commercially
available, period. It would be a very hardy landscape plant, and inner
She is familiar with the medicinal properties of plants. She makes a
medicinal ointment out of yarrow, which she uses in her practice as
a massage therapist where she specializes in pain management.
Muley grass, excellent
for xeriscaping, comes in both white and purple
Insects, plants depend on each other, Joanna Booth
pointed out to visitors. Lose one, you lose the other.
PHOTOS BY MICHAEL ABRAMS
STORY AND PHOTOS COPYRIGHT
Seeds are key to restoring natural diversity and beauty
Packaging seeds from blue
curl mint is next project
She tugs out a clump of purple love grass, a native grass, "showy as
any ornamental." She separates it into twelve small
plants and says "It isn't harmed, and it will come back. I'm
going to put them in water so someone can take it home
with them after the tour."
The visitors listen raptly. She says, "Clara Jane, how many
times did you come out here and get plants from my dad?
If you want to go walk around, please do."
"I'd love to," responds the visitor, who has memories that
go back many years.
Savor the "liatris elegans" known as "blazing star." "There's
something about blazing star that just makes my heart
go pitter patter," says Booth.
Mike Herrin, part of the group and Director of Horticulture for the
historic Goodwood plantation in Tallahassee, says what Booth is
saying is "wonderful and important and she makes good points.
There is a place for this in some degree in all of our gardens - a
natural area or a wildflower area."
The Salter Tree and Herb Farm has a website and Joanna
Booth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
and at 850 973-3575. Their address is Salter Tree and Herb
Farm, PO Box 20066, Tallahassee, FL. 32316-0066. They
sell more than 50 kinds of plant seeds and plants as well as
wildflower reclamation mixes.
'Love grass' can make a
beautiful addition to a yard
Liatris elegans is a
magnificent fall wildflower