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The dog days of summer

Les Harrison Extension Emeritus UF
IFAS Special to The Star
The Star

The dog days of summer have once again returned to north Florida, and this year with a fierce vengeance. As such the dogs (and cats) with their human companions are highly motivated to remain in any synthetic environment with temperature control capable of producing a comfortable thermometer reading.

In reality the history of the dog days has nothing to do with discomfort caused to or by canines. It all started when residents of early Mediterranean cultures noticed a star, then and now identified as Sirius, was visible during the hottest part of the year.

This celestial body took on a variety of identities in the soap opera pantheon of early mythology, including a dog. Even as late as the Roman Empire unlucky dogs were being sacrificed to this lesser deity to curry its favor.

The unfortunate pooches were offered up in the hope of easing the seasonally associated weather conditions, including heat and heavy rains. Here in the Port St. Joe area sweltering weather conditions are put to good use by the native plants to develop seeds which will propagate the species next spring.

An overwhelming majority of the seasonally produced seeds end up as wildlife food which will be consumed during the cooler, but leaner, months of the year. Native plants offer the best prospects as food sources for several reasons.

The first reason is these plants have been in the environment since long before recorded history began and are accustomed to the surroundings. They usually tolerate the excesses and the deficiencies of necessary elements required to survive and flourish.

The second reason is the native wildlife which has also been here or passes through on an annual migration since time immemorial. Collectively these individual species knows what to expect and where to seek this sustenance.

The summer of 2020 is turning out to be a very favorable year for native seed production. Anyone considering the development of a wildlife friendly environment should consider the many good examples of seed production currently underway.

The Ilex genus, which includes Hollies and Yaupons, are now full of developing fruit. They are easily identified by the groups of green berries which will change in autumn to bright red.

These evergreen perennials remain in the background most of the year, but are attractive landscape options as they put on a brilliant fall display. Many birds and wildlife are attracted to and dependent upon the substantial supply of berries, each containing an individual small seed.

Beautyberries are another perennial with the vivid late season berry color of candy apple purple. This native shrub displays bunches of BB sized berries as its leaves fall away.

Callicarpa americana, the American beautyberries’ scientific name, will nourish birds and wildlife even after its fruit has shriveled and dried. The light brown dehydrated berry is consumed when more palatable choices have been depleted.

Sparkleberries have many berries presently hanging from their branches. The pale green immature fruit hangs individually and contains tiny seed, but will soon mature to a blue-black.

Vaccinium arboreum, sparkleberries, are in the same plant family with blueberries. This native perennial bush is one more menu option for the birds and animals handling the cold season with its associated privations.

There are many more seed and berry producing native plants which deliver nutritional support to insects, birds and animals which are productive during the dog days of summer.

Contemporary canines in Gulf County, or their star, no longer get the credit (or blame) for the necessary weather conditions to grow these and many other feral staples. Without the associated responsibility the local mutts are treated far better than their late Roman counterparts.

To learn more about wildlife friendly seed sources in Port St. Joe and other north Florida locations, contact the nearest UF/IFAS County Extension Office or visit https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/find-your-local-office/. To read more stories by Les Harrison visit: Outdoorauthor.com.