March 16, 2018
By: Andy Firk

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PHOTO ABOVE: Early morning attendees at a wild edible and medicinal plant walk that I led at the Florida Herbal Conference in Lake Wales. 

HELLO FROM BAMBOO GROVE: Well, here it is, a few days from the first day of Spring, 2018. Winter is drawing to a close and the frosts and freezes have most likely come to an end. Green leaves, new shoots, and nectar-filled flowers are appearing from the Keys to the panhandle.  As I write this, the sun is going down, and with the temperature change, the dried culms within the bamboo clumps here at Bamboo Grove [my two acre homestead in Arcadia] are letting out loud cracks every now and then. What an action-packed winter it has been for me. So much so, in fact, that I will recap just some of my botanically-based adventures. I will say that in just one 75-day period, I was involved with 35 events. You may have noticed that I am not hosting any large events here at Bamboo Grove this year, and that is by design. I wanted to reach out in many directions to connect with like-minded souls... so into my truck and off I headed... northward to Orlando and Gainesville, northeast to Sebastian and Lake Wales, northwest to Tampa and St. Pete, west to Sarasota and Englewood, southwest to Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel, and so on. Next up is Miami to West Palm, which is on my radar this spring, as well as the Florida Keys and Naples, so look for events in that area on this website in our "Events" section. Here at Bamboo Grove, I took some time to fix broken lighting, paint the house, repair the roof, and do other fixer-upper type of things this winter with the help of friends. There is still much to do here structurally, but at least I feel that I took a half-way decent bite out of things. More importantly to me, we weeded, planted, and mulched, adding over 40 new plant species to the garden beds and hundreds of potted plants to the propagation nursery. Many people popped by for short visits and garden tours and cozy dinners, and many plants were either given away or sold. I am happy to report that my foot and back aches that often had me sit out gardening days last year have subsided to a pleasant degree. I have learned to take it a bit easy now that I am 53 years young. Lastly, I am extremely happy to let you know that I have been working away at my plant books. I have changed the format and will be selling mini-books for ten dollars each. Look for Florida-based volumes on wild edible plants, edible gingers, wild tea plants, coastal plants, Asian edible plants, clumping bamboo, and more soon.

OUR NEW WEBSITE: Thanks is large part to my friend Bobaba Beebe, we all have this new website that showcases my love of plants, floridaforaging [dot] com. More than that, it is also a website with a broader scope than just my own plant obsession. It also includes profiles on experts across the state, a calendar of events for more than just my own happenings, articles, maps, harvest calendars, and very well crafted search capability. It’s use has been steadily growing and thousands of people have checked it out with good responses, suggesting that the simple design coupled with detailed information is much appreciated. Thanks Bobaba. I plan on adding much more content as the steamy-buggy weather comes to our area. In other words, I will often be sitting in some internet cafes during the hottest part of the day during the summer as I take respites from gardening and hiking.

MARCH WILDCRAFTING: I have been out in the fields and forests quite often this winter. Within the past few weeks some of the things that friends and I have gathered include: Yaupon Holly, American Holly, Heartleaf Sorrel, Peppergrass, Dead Man's Fingers seaweed [Codium], Dragon's Tongue seaweed [Halymedia], Gallberry, Grass-Leaved Lettuce, Mexican Pepperleaf, Florida Pennyroyal, Wild Radish, Elder flowers, Epazote, Ohio Spiderwort, Sea Blite, and Sea Rocket. There is no better way to learn your wild edible plants than by joining me on a day of actual wildcrafting, where we end up making lunch or dinner together. This trumps even my slideshows and plant identification walks. For some not-so-strange reason, when people gather and eat a wild plant, they remember it quite easily. I set aside many sweet days to wander and wildcraft this winter, and my many filled mason jars in the kitchen here at Bamboo Grove are testament to this fact. I am especially appreciative to Michelle O'Connor, for joining me on a good number of botanical adventures this season. Thanks also to Eric Lewis and Katie Sullivan for tromping about some wild places during daylight hours in search of wild plants and making nice dinners after sunset.

HARVESTING EDIBLE SEAWEEDS: It seems that each year I choose a new branch of Florida gardening and/or botany to delve into. 2016 was the year for me to study gingers in depth and 2017 was all about rare native plants for me. 2018 is turning out to be my year to study edible seaweeds, and I am on fire wanting to find out much about them. Hmm, I did say “a branch of botany,” so allow me to clarify something. While two of the three main types of seaweeds are true plants [the red and green seaweeds], the brown seaweeds are not plants, but rather, are in a kingdom [Protista], which are separate from true plants [Plantae]. Feel free to ask me to present either an edible seaweeds slideshow in your area or contact me if you would like to join our new seaweed hunting group which gathers from beaches of barrier islands between St. Pete south along the coast to Sanibel Island, usually collecting near Sarasota. Eric Lewis, Katie, and I scored pounds of edible seaweeds after a strong east-blowing wind at Blind Pass Beach in Englewood. We found a decent amount of what is my favorite edible seaweed to harvest, DEAD MAN’S FINGERS, one of six Codium species here in Florida, that we cooked into a deeeelicious soup. Don’t believe what a number of websites tell you, Codiums cook up very well and do in fact hold their texture very well. They also freeze quite well for future use, and dried at 110F overnight, they are a not-at-all-too-salty snack that I munch on like chewing tobacco. During this beachcombing foray I also got more familiar with our edible STRAP BROWN SEAWEEDS, some of our 11 Dictyota species here in Florida, and edible DRAGON’S TONGUE, some of our 8 Halymenia species in the state. Each wind event brings differing edible seaweeds onshore [they are known as castweeds when they are gathered from the beach]. East-blowing winds toss seaweeds onto our west coast shores, and on the east coast, vice versa. If you live inland a bit, try checking live surfer or beach cams before heading out, as I do. If a storm has raged overnight, try to gather your seaweeds as quickly as possible, preferably before noon at the latest. That way the tender ones have not started to sun-bleach [as with Dictyota], or the tips have not begun to turn a lighter color and begin to get a slight fishy scent [as with Gracilaria], or the sun has not turned them dark green [as with Sargassum], or a sliminess has not started to go too far [as with Haymenia]. I teach classes and present slideshows on our edible seaweeds, should you wish to learn their identification, edibility, toxicity of certain species, preparation, and cautions. I scored a used copy, in good condition, of the classic reference book "The Seaweeds of Florida," by Dawes and Mathieson. Being a cheapskate, I waited quite a while before I found this slightly used copy for 30 bucks, rather than the usual 100-150 dollars that a new copy will set you back. Of the almost 700 species of seaweed so far described here in Florida waters, well over one hundred are easily identifiable and may be eaten. When you start to gather seaweed, even before you know your edible species well, bring along some tubs and a pitch fork, as there is nothing better than bringing home some seaweed to compost in the open for a few months and later add as a high-quality soil amendment packed with micronutrients. According to Florida law, you may collect up to 100 pounds of most seaweeds that have washed up on most beaches as long as you have a current saltwater fishing license on you. That said, I know of a few beaches that have allowed me to gather seaweed simply by asking park officials that I spoke to just before harvesting. I would suggest that you focus on the many beaches that "scrap" seaweed from the beaches in order to clear these "weeds." You would be wise to leave seaweeds on beaches that never scrap them, such as Blind Pass Beach in Englewood, as nutrients are deposited not only on the sand dunes that they sometimes reach, but also the seemingly barren sand of the beach. Everything has its place in nature.

UPCOMING EVENTS: I did a good number of other events this winter, not mentioned here, and I am deeply grateful to many friends who helped facilitate our get-togethers, both big and small. Soon, I will create dozens of events that will be posted to our website floridaforaging [dot] com. On the home page, click on “more,” then click on “events.” These include tropical fruit safaris in the warmer parts of the state, hikes to indigenous mound sites, kayaking through mangroves, camping trips to barrier islands, community dinners and potlucks, plant swaps and sales, and needless to say many more of my usual guided wild plant walks and gardening slideshows statewide. Some of the towns that I will be leading wild plants walks at in 2018 include St. Pete, Dunedin, St. Augustine, Miami, Key Largo, Fort Myers, Sanibel, Cayo Costa, Davie, Sebastian, Palm Bay, Gainesville, Brooksville, Lake Wales, Sarasota, Tampa, Bradenton, Englewood, Venice, Naples, and West Palm Beach. A special shout-out to my Dad, who helped me buy a new set of truck tires recently. Thanks Dad. I am switching my workshop locations from mostly public parks to more private farms and homesteads. If you can let me camp in my truck or have a bed to offer for a night, when I travel the state, please let me know. Also, please help me find locations where I may present my slideshows. My completed Florida-focused slideshows include presentations on edible gingers, wild edible plants, wild medicinal plants, edible seaweeds, useful coastal plants, understanding a beach, clumping bamboos, shiitake mushroom cultivation, indigenous plant foods, perennial vegetables, Asian edible plants, turmeric and 29 other edible Curcuma species, 100 frugal homesteading ideas for under ten bucks, and butterfly gardening. I will most often have some plants from my nursery int the back of my truck, for me to trade or sell after each event. Just ask to take a look-see. 



REPORT FROM THE ROAD - ORLANDO - WILDFLOWER FARM: I decided a year ago that I would spend more time up in the Orlando area, leading plant walks, presenting slideshows, attending workshops, and reconnecting with friends, old and new. Luckily, I was able to crash at the new home of my friends Ralph and Michelle who live at a homestead stewarded by their lovely friend Linda. There is no better way to energize activities in an area than rooting with the sweetest of people. I don't do hotels.

REPORT FROM THE ROAD - VENICE - CARLTON RESERVE - DEC. 24: In an attempt to avoid some of the ultra-materialism that seems to accompany the Christmas season, the day before this holiday, Mycol Stevens and I led a "Tell Christmas To Take A Hike" hike into the Carlton Reserve.

REPORT FROM THE ROAD - ORLANDO - JOHNSON MANOR: I also led a WILD PLANT WALK at JOHNSON MANOR, where hosts Kelli and Bruce were as lovely as always. The winding woodland trails that we meandered unveiled beautiful plants along the way. I especially enjoyed our circle discussion that let each person speak about their connection to plants.

REPORT FROM THE ROAD - ENGLEWOOD - BLIND PASS BEACH - JAN. 7: I led a very well attended native plant walk at one of my favorite west coast beach parks, Blind Pass Beach. I was quite stoked to see master ethnobotanist Marc Williams attend. After the walk, my friend Bobaba Beebe and I got to spend some time chillaxin' by the beach with Marc and friends. To see my set of 60 photos from this coastal park CLICK HERE.

REPORT FROM THE ROAD - ORLANDO - MAYA PAPAYA ORGANIC FARM - JAN. 20: I presented an EDIBLE GINGER SLIDESHOW at MAYA PAPAYA ORGANIC FARM, where I was super-happy to connect with Maya and Lawrence. I look forward to collaborating on events there over the years.

REPORT FROM THE ROAD - ORLANDO - PEANUT BUTTER PALACE - JAN. 21: The ultra-sweet folks at the PEANUT BUTTER PALACE did an incredible job of hosting me on January 21st for an EDIBLE GINGERS EVENT, which included a slideshow, a ginger-focused meal, and a backyard ginger table workshop. My friends Ralph and Chip and little ‘ole me were honored to be able to get a tour of MARABOU THOMAS' edible garden in Orlando. Marabou is a renaissance man for the garden world. His new book is out, “Homegarden Cuisine Toolbox.” Look for it on Amazon [CLICK HERE TO ORDER]. At ten bucks, you would be loosing money if you didn’t buy it. Marabou promotes high calorie garden foods, including root crops well suited for our climate. He knows a whole heck of a lot about chaya varieties, sweet potatoes, and more, as well as in-kitchen food preparation that rivals any five-star chef. Well, that’s incorrect, as most five-star chefs have little access to such unique and fresh ingredients, or as nimble a creative mind. I would give Marabou my “gardener of the year award,” if I had one. Well done Orlando, thanks for hosting me. 

REPORT FROM THE ROAD - CHRISTMAS - TOSOHATCHEE WMA - JAN. 22: I led an all day plant safari on January 22nd into the massive TOSOHATCHEE WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT AREA, snapping many photos that I uploaded into my flickr account [almost 9k miscellaneous plant and wildlife photos to date,].  CLICK HERE to see who was watching me from within the thick grass. You can see my album of 162 photos from Tosohatchee by CLICKING HERE.

REPORT FROM THE ROAD - SEBASTIAN - KASHI ASHRAM - JAN. 27-28: Terry Meer and friends hosted me at my ANNUAL WILD EDIBLE PLANTS WORKSHOP at KASHI ASHRAM during the last weekend of January. I had to, unfortunately, reschedule the first slated date due to me getting a case of the flu beginning January 8th. It was rescheduled to the weekend of January 27. Due to the overwhelming response, we added a repeat event the day after. There is a power in joining networks with other networks in this world of modern day back-to-the-land living, as Kashi Ashram must have quite a number of interested friends. Almost one thousand people clicked “interested” as well on Facebook on their event page. Much fun was had, as both days brought some of the nicest people together to wander the lush acreage to get to know wild edible plants better. The meal served by the kitchen staff was one of the healthiest in the state. Kashi was also the host for this year's FLORIDA PERMACULTURE GATHERING, which was attended by over 100 lovely people. The workshops, the food, the smiles, were all flowing well at this gathering. I presented a slideshow on Coastal Plants, focusing on a number of eco-activists who are working to preserve and restore our invaluable coastal habitats. Thanks Kashi.

REPORT FROM THE ROAD - HOBE SOUND NATURE CENTER AND JONATHAN DICKINSON STATE PARK - JAN. 29: I led native plant walks at both of these locations to a handful of folks. Finding a number of flowering BEARDED GRASS PINKS, Calopogon barbatus, was a highlight for us at Jonathan Dickinson. To see photos from the Kitching Trail hike at Jonathan Dickinson CLICK HERE.

REPORT FROM THE ROAD - HAWTHORNE - FLORIDA EARTHSKILLS GATHERING - FEB. 7-11: At long last, I got my lazy butt op to the greater Gainesville area for one of the annual Florida Earthskills Gatherings. I attended a walk led by plant wizard Marc Williams, which is always a not-to-miss event. I especially enjoyed attending Alex Howe’s “advanced Salve making” workshop. This young fellow did a great job, detailing the science and properties of oils, natural additives, heating tips, etc., all while we made some salve to take home. Meeting one of my favorite wildcrafting authors, Doug Elliott, and getting to spend some intimate time with him was an absolute delight. He is sharp as a tack, witty, and all importantly, extremely kind-hearted. Luke Learning Deer, who I had heard great things about for a few years, turned out to be pure heart-centered wisdom personified, an in-tune naturalist who, through his gentle ways during his guided walk, taught me much. Spending time with my good friend Mycol Stevens is always a treat, and at this gathering, which he actually founded, he reunited with the pack and gave a warm talk in the circle. To see a photo of the wildcrafting master Doug Elliott and I CLICK HERE.

REPORT FROM THE ROAD - MICANOPY - CHACALA TRAIL - PAYNES PARIRIE PRESERVE - FEB. 12: I organized a hike into the ChacalaTrails of Paynes Prairie Preserve the day after the Earthskills Gatherings. On hand were some experienced wildcrafters indeed, including Luke Learning Deer, Doug Elliott, Tara Rawson, Kelsey Siekkinen, and Marc Williams. I don’t remember a walk were so many deeply experienced wildcrafters showed up. I was so happy to see my old friend Nate Chetlat, who was visiting Florida, attend. He and I went exploring a bit after this event [the Mosswood Store, camping at Hila’s, etc.].

REPORT FROM THE ROAD - HAWTHORNE - HILA AND MARTIN’S NEW PROPERTY - FEB. 13: Just a hop, skip, and a jump east of Gainesville [approximately ten miles from downtown] is the recently acquired acreage of two of my dear friends, Hila [of the former Everglades Treats] and Martin. They have realized their dream of moving from congested southeastern Florida to a wilder place, a place with trees and room to host wildcrafting and related events. Friends, including Joe Pierce, Nate Chetelat, Jungle Jay, Galen Meyers, and Doug Elliot, and I wandered, ate, laughed, and camped there. I am amazed at how much Hila and Martin have done already, in such a short span of time. Thanks you two, we all look forward to seeing how you and the greater community will come together to create a place for learning. I know that it will be a powerful hub for connecting.

REPORT FROM THE ROAD - HAWTHORNE - CHIAPPINI NATIVE NURSERY - FEB. 13: A few friends showed up on a chilly, rainy day for a tour of this 30-acre native plant nursery in Hawthorne. I  purchased some potted native plants including STRAWBERRY BUSH [Euonymus americanus], RED BUCKEYE, FLORIDA RED ANISE, DWARF SIMPSON’S STOPPER [var. "compacta"], a LONG-LEAF WILD FORM OF DAHOON HOLLY, and WHITE FRINGE TREE to plant back at Bamboo Grove.

REPORT FROM THE ROAD - PINELLAS PARK - ASIAN MARKET TOUR - DEC. 30 and FEB. 17: Yet again, I led a few more tours of the Mustang Market in Pinellas Park. Oh, how I enjoy this place and leading the tours. I am becoming more and more friendly with the vendors. These backyard garden vendors hail from Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar. Try to make it to one of my tours at this, my favorite Asian outdoor market in the state. Some of our winter finds included MALUD plants, aka SOH SHANG, Elaeagnus latifolia, which yield 2-inch red fruits that some of us relish. They are sour and a tiny bit gummy, delicious in my opinion, unpleasant to others. You can see some of the edible roots that I scored at this market, laid out at home, prior to planting by CLICKING HERE. Three of my favorite fresh herbs were on hand... First off, TIA TO, aka VIETNAMESE PERILLA, Perilla frutescens, was available as usual. Secondly, there was CANH GIOI, aka VIETNAMESE BALM, Elsholtzia ciliata, which has the scent of Lemon Balm, but manages out warm summers far better. Thirdly, there was NGO OM, aka RICE PADDY HERB, Limnophila aromatic, a delicate water-grown herb which, judging by its delightful scent, must be the child of mother Lemon and father Cumin, I swear. Tour attendees asked me why there were no bamboo shoots to be had. Well, they are out of season and will reappear by summertime. CAUTION: Vendors at this market sell what they call Black Turmeric. Well, true BLACK TURMERIC, aka KALI HALDI, is Curcuma caesia, and I grow it. They are not selling true Black Turmeric as far as I know. They are most likely selling TEMU HITAM, Curcuma aeriginosa, which is quite different. To see a 36-photo album from past tours at this market CLICK HERE.

REPORT FROM THE ROAD - ST. PETE - ROOTS OF THE SUN - FEB. 17: Friends and I had a lovely visit on February 17th to my friend’s herb shop in St. Pete, Roots of the Sun. This beautifully laid out, very natural, and oh-so quaint shop has some high-quality products and very reasonable prices. I purchased some goodies including some resins... Frankincense, Myrrh, and Copal. Be sure to pop by for a visit when you are on Central Avenue sometime and support this very sweet couple. I hope to present some slideshows at this location later this year. To see a cute photo of my friends at this beautiful herb shop CLICK HERE.

REPORT FROM THE ROAD - FORT MYERS BEACH - MATANZAS PASS PRESERVE - FEB. 18: The walk around the park’s loop trail was very enjoyable, and although I arrived late due to the heavy beach traffic, I consider this to have been a most blissful day. Sorry for arriving late friends. Friends from the Peanut Butter Palace in Orlando were in the area, so they attended, much to my delight. This relatively short loop trail within this small, 60-acre preserve is home to some rather rare plants. There are many SWEET MANGROVES, aka FLORIDA MAYTEN, Maytenus phyllanthoides, to be found here as well as hundreds of SIX-ANGLE FOLDWINGS, Dicliptera sexangularis. We saw what is the largest CATCLAW BLACKBEAD tree, Pithecelobium unguis-cati, that I have ever stumbled upon. Attendee, and great friend of mine, Eric Joseph Lewis, seemed delighted to meet our only shrubby Pluchea species, CURE-FOR-ALL, Pluchea carolinensis.

REPORT FROM THE ROAD - LAKE WALES - FLORIDA HERBAL CONFERENCE - FEB. 23-25: The Florida Herbal Conference was well attended, with approximately 600 people on hand. The featured keynote speakers were Linda and Luke Black Elk from Standing Rock. Linda sang some absolutely beautiful native songs which gave me tingles up my spine. I enjoyed connecting with their son James, who was jovial and fun, as a 16-year old should be. For my part, I led a wild plant walk, as well as presented two slideshows. The first slideshow was on Southeast Asian Edible and Medicinal Plants [focusing on those that are sold at the Mustang Market near St. Pete, with vendors from Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Cambodia]. The second slideshow covered useful Coastal Plants of Florida. I very much enjoyed joining in on Green Deane's wild edibles walk. Andi Houston came to my rescue, and helped greatly by helping run a native plants display with my color laminations in the merchant’s circle. She and I both were able to sigh up over 150. new people to my events contact list. Thanks Andi, I owe you one.

REPORT FROM THE ROAD - LAKE WALES - TIGER CREEK - FEB. 26: The day after the herbal conference, February 26th, I arranged a native plant walk into the recently opened Tiger Creek Bluff Loop Trail at Tiger Creek Preserve in Lake Wales. I had asked Steve Morrison to lend a hand and help out with plant identification and facts about the park. Steve, recently retired, was the park’s manager for thirty years, so his experience at this beautiful preserve was deeply rooted and quite unique. It turned out that he was a lovely fellow, kind and wise, the way that all humans should be. Those who showed up for the walk included some heavy hitters in the plant world including Marc Williams, the executive director of Plants and Healers International, Susan Leopold, executive director of United Plant Savers, and John Stock, outreach coordinator for United Plant Savers. The walk took longer than planned, due to many stops along the way, so this became the only walk of the day, rather than the planned multiple park tour. I think that this was the right change in plans, as Steve added so much to the walk. One walker spotted a very rare plant, LEWTON’S MILKWORT, Polygala lewtonii. To see an outstanding example of what this rare and precious wildflower looks like CLICK HERE. I have seen this species before, but never such a healthy, fully-blooming plant. Some folks, who know their plants and animals, reported seeing a panther near the tail end of the group, but I missed it. The last leg of the hike took us along the shaded, winding trail that follows the bluffs that line the Tiger Creek, hence the new trail’s name. I very much look forward to co-leading some walks in this area, the Ancient Islands, aka Lake Wales Ridge, again. To see my album of 43 photos from this preserve CLICK HERE.

REPORT FROM THE ROAD - LAKE WALES - HEART: I gave a quick tour of the edible gardens at HEART at Warner University to a handful of friends. It is so nice to see those who are new to edible landscaping light up with excitement at such tours. There is nothing more real than showcasing a location that has so much in the ground. Thanks to Josh Jamison, the garden manager at HEART, Emily Jamison, Leah, Phil, and all of the others who have made this preeminent public edible landscape a reality. If you have not visited this wondrous place, please check it out sometime. Their lovely annual open house garden events may be found via a Google search.

REPORT FROM THE ROAD - PLANT CITY - SUSTAINABLE LIVING CONFERENCE - MAR. 8-11 : During the second weekend in March, I arrived on Thursday, and departed on Sunday, to take part in this lovely annual event, which is held at All World Acres in Plant City. I led two wild edible and medicinal plant walks, and then presented a slideshow on edible seaweeds. I was slated to present on wild edible plants, and took the liberty of detailing seaweeds, which to me are so exciting. Some of the classes that I attended include Terry Meer’s workshop on mushroom-log inoculation, Jillian Ross’ class on brining foods in jars, Andy Karpinski’s workshops on solar power, and Bob Linde’s plant walk. I was busy, and not able to attend some of the classes that I wanted to, including Ruth Glass’ canning workshop. Oh well, next time with luck. A special shout out to Ethan Coy and his team of volunteers who worked so hard to make this event come to fruition. 


COLD DAMAGE TO NEW PLANTS: Our two newly planted GUM ARABIC trees, Acacia senegal, that I purchased from Willow LaMonte, took a beating during the 20F temperatures. One looks dead and the other is leafing out from the base. Our PAPAYAS were all toasted. The native FIREBUSH shrubs in exposed, unshaded places got killed back to the roots and are sprouting up. The ones under the large Live Oaks were better protected and are leafing out from the branch tips. Our LA GIANG, aka RIVER LEAF, Aganonerion polymorphum, vines died back in the cold, and I hope that the roots survived.  This hard-to-locate Asian leaf adds a slightly sour flavor to well-known sours and dip pots in Asia. Our little two acre garden is home to well over 500 species of mostly edible plants, and I am very happy to have focused on planting especially cold-hardy species these past few years... it is paying off. I always like to keep in mind the record low here in Arcadia, set back in the mid 1980s... 14F.

WHAT’S POPPIN’ AT BAMBOO GROVE: This winter brought Bamboo Grove many cold fronts, with a low of near 20F for multiple nights, not to mention a strong hurricane last autumn. That said, nothing stops a diverse food forest. Three days after our hurricane last year, my neighbor across the street was so proud to have already tidied up his entire lawn. I am happy to tell you that it will take months to clean up the edible gardens here, because we have so much more that surrounds us... a garden full of life, and birds, and flowers, and fruits, and snakes, and butterflies, and such... not a boring, inhospitable lawn. Today is March 15th and I will walk around my little two acre homestead and give an end-of-winter report... here I go, back in a few. Well, I’m back... and am happy to report the following.

NEW BAMBOOS: We planted a BALUKA, aka HAROT, Bambusa balcooa, which is said to be a valued edible shoot species in both Vietnam and India. The construction quality is extremely high, and houses are made from this species in Nepal. I have given it room to grow, as it grows between 50 and 70 feet tall, and becomes quite wide as a mature clump. A great gift of the SOLID CULM FORM OF MEMBRANACEUS came from Josh Jamison at HEART, something that I have wanted for a very long time. Our SILK BAMBOO, Bambusa textilis var. glabra, has been in the ground for a few years, and at long last, a tall shoot is reaching for the sky.

WHAT’S FRUITING AT BAMBOO GROVE: Wintertime is surely not the highpoint of fruit harvesting in Florida, however, there have been some nice ripe ORANGES here, along with early fruiting types of LOQUATS. The 14-year old OLIVER LOQUAT tree is producing a few hundred fruits this year, and those not ending up in some crow’s belly, will end up in mine. I had fun yesterday morning, handing some of these fruits to my friend Carlton, who tasted them for the very first time. He instantly committed to buying and planting some on his new acreage nearby. I have over fifteen other named cultivars of Loquat, including CHAMPAGNE, YEHUDA, ED’S DELIGHT, SES 2, and BRADENTON. Some are fruiting lightly for the first time this year. Our 15’ tall GOLDEN NUGGET LOQUAT has clusters of ripe light yellow fruits on it this week. The scent of loquat blossoms earlier this winter was heavenly. The annual Loquat Festival, which is a great place to obtain some named varieties, will be happening soon in New Port Richey. A number of our PEACH trees have set fruit and are currently little one inch fuzzy green balls filled with hope. The HIMALAYAN MULBERRY from Crowley Nursery in Sarasota and one of our EVERBEARING MULBERRIES that came from Wes Winters is loaded with flowers and young green fruits. I am hearing many reports of mulberries dying off due to a possible fungal disease. We would be wise to look for those cultivars which prove to be disease resistant over the next few years.  Our PAKISTAN MULBERRY also appears to be unaffected, while our GIANT MULBERRY and some of our EVERBEARING MULBERRIES have completely died. The native FLATWOOD PLUM bloomed profusely last month. Some of the PLUMS here also have small green developing fruits on them. Yummy times ahead.

HAINAN CARDAMON: Our patch of HAINAN CARDAMON, aka CAO DOU KOU, Alpinia hainanensis, formerly Alpinia katsumadae, is the superstar of our gingers this past year. It looks so vibrant, even after taking a deep freeze, drought, and a hurricane, and it is even popping up in the well-trodden pathway, which is good news for us Floridians. You see, although there are a good number of “Cardamons,” many are difficult to grow and fruit well here. This species is extremely hardy and the seeds are delicious, being spicy and aromatic with a slight camphorous aroma. It is also a reliable bearer, which can’t be said for most other Alpinia species grown in Florida, many of which require two warm winters to yield seeds. Besides this white-and-yellow flowered form, I was able to obtain the pink-flowered variety [might be the “Shengzhen” variety] of this species as well this year, which is growing very well so far. Let’s all look forward to seeing the gorgeous pink, upright inflorescences come into bloom as the year progresses. I have the white/yellow flowered form for sale currently. The pink, you will have to wait at least a few years for.

JAHE MERAH: As some of you may know, my most wanted plant at the start of the year was RED GINGER, aka JAHE MERAH, Zingiber officinale var. rubrum. Well, Andre D’Anjou managed to send me some thanks to his wild travels about Asia. Two of the rhizomes have popped up, and the others appear to be hard and have not rotted. Thanks Andre. 

TEMU LAWAK: Last year, my most wanted plant was TEMU LAWAK, aka JAVA GINGER, Curcuma xanthorrhiza. I obtained some which turned out to be the wrong species, however, two sources from Thailand grew out to prove themselves as this incredible ginger relative. Temu Lawak drinks can be found at some Malaysian restaurants, the dried rhizome powder being the main ingredient in very tasty drinks. YouTube videos abound, showing the use of fresh rhizomes in Java and beyond. 

OTHER EDIBLE GINGERS: My passion for collecting, propagation, and distributing rare tasty gingers really took off this past year. So much so, that I am putting together a booklet on their cultivation and preparation. Some gingers of note growing here at Bamboo Grove include WHITE MANGO GINGER, INDIRA YELLOW TURMERIC, BLACK TURMERIC [Curcuma caesia], AQUATIC GINGER [Alpinia aquatica – medicinal], BIG KAHUNA GINGER, LAO LEMON RAINBOW GINGER, and GREEN ZEDOARY [Curcuma zedoaria]. Most of the SPIRAL GINGERS, Costus species, are sprouting up. 

ORNAMENTAL GINGERS: Many of the ornamental gingers here are still sleeping. Some that have shot up healthy shoots include SATRBURST BUTTERFLY GINGER, TARISIMA BUTTERFLY GINGER, YELLOW BUTTERFLY GINGER [Hedychium flavum], and FIREFLIES BUTTERFLY GINGER. Our gorgeous SALMON GINGER LILY, Hedychium griffianum, is once again rising from the Earth. 

KAVA: Our true kava, Piper methysticum, is leafing out after having taken a hit during those cold nights a while back. I will pot it up and protect it from next year’s cold. A few vendors in Florida are selling ROOT BEER PLANT, aka MEXICAN PEPPERLEAF, Piper auritum, as Kava. Do not be fooled, if your so-called Kava has the scent of anise when its leaves are crushed, then you most likely have Mexican Pepperleaf. Our Kava has much, much larger, velvety leaves, and no root beer-like scent when crushed.

The medicinal GULSHAM, aka BLUE SGAE, Eranthemum pulchellum, that we received as a gift from John Starnes, is flowering this week, showing off its gorgeous bright blue flowers. 

Our FUJIAN TEAS, Ehretia microphylla, are holding strong as evergreen shrubs. 

The cold-hardy BAMBOO PALM, Chamaedorea species, that Joe Pierce of the Mosswood Store in Micanopy gifted me, is doing well. 

The 8’ tall Edible-fruited THAI OLIVE, aka JAPANESE BLUEBERRY TREE, Elaeocarpus sylvestris, is evergreen and looks great. 

Our medicinal, evergreen SNOWROSE shrubs, aka TREE OF 1,000 STARS, Serissa japonica, are looking great.  

Our MALUD, aka SOH SHANG, Elaeagnus latifolia, shrub that I obtained from a Thai vendor at the Mustang Market, is doing much better after Eric Lewis transplanted it to a shady spot. As we learned the hard way, this species tends not to like sunny locations. Let’s hope that this Russian Olive relative grows big and strong and yields many delicious, sour fruits.

OTHER PLANTS TO TAKE NOTICE OF: Some of the KRACHAI plants, Bosenbergia rotunda, are popping in their typical spiral fashion. Our hard-to-obtain PAU D’ARCO, aka TAHEEBO TEA, Handroanthus impetiginosus, is leafing out nicely. The TEXAS PERSIMMON, aka CHAPOTE, Diospyros texana, seedlings are leafing out very well in the garden and withstood the winds and cold temperatures of this winter extremely well. I am very happy to see a pot of TOPI TAMBO, aka TIPI TAMBO, SWEET CORN ROOT or LEREN, Calathea allouia, sprouting up. Josh Jamison gifted me this plant. I have received perhaps two hundred e-mails over the years from people in search of this Caribbean / South American edible rootcrop, so I am at long last glad to be living with it.  Some of our new, named PASSIONFRUIT cultivars are already rising high up into the Live Oaks. Our three new native CHINQUAPIN trees, Castanea pumila, just began to leaf out nicely. The two YELLOW JASMINES, aka NEPAL JASMINE, Jasminum humile, that I purchased last year from the Ford-Edison Estate’s nursery, are proving themselves to be tough plants indeed. They held their foliage well and are lightly flowering this week, the bright yellow flowers emitting a light jasmine scent into the air. 


BIRDS AT BAMBOO GROVE: We have had the usual migratory bird visitors this year including AMERICAN GOLDFINCHES and INDIGO and
PAINTED BUNTINGS. The male goldfinches' brighten up as the winter progresses, and some time around February their bellies start to turn a dull lemony yellow. At the end of winter, they turn a bright yellow as they plan their springtime migration back northward to breed. This bright yellow color attracts females, well, one female... they are monogamous for life. I am happy to report that found out who was dropping off abandoned cats without my permission at my home for the past few years, and after I told them to stop a while back, and after having found homes for all of the cats, the ground-feeding Indigo Buntings have stopped showing up as dead cat-gifts at my back door. Almost every day that I’m out in the garden lately I see the majestic AUDUBON’S CRESTED CARACARAS fly on by, witness the nimble flight of the SWALLOW-TAILED KITES [who arrived here in January],  and hear the loud call of our common SANDHILL CRANES. Having turned what was an expansive lawn at the start of my "food forest" project fifteen years ago  into what is now a half-way lush and diverse jungle, not only have a multitude of birds moved in, but snakes, anoles, and much more has joined them.

ERIC LEWIS AND KATIE SULLIVAN: I have hosted thousands of guests over the past fifteen years here at my two acre homestead, Bamboo Grove in Arcadia. None have been kinder, or more enthusiastic, or more eloquent than Eric Lewis and Katie Sullivan, who helped me plant trees, weed and mulch garden beds, cook lovely meals, and spread their cheery vibes all about. Some of the rare gingers that Eric and Katie planted are doing very well in their new garden bed. Thanks you two. Off-homestead we were able to gather and prepare edible seaweeds, hike and identify wild plants, and much more. Like our migratory birds, the Yellow-Bellied Saspsuckers, these two plan on visiting the sunshine state again next winter, hopefully for a longer period of time.

GARDEN TOURS OF BAMBOO GROVE: I will be posting multiple guided tour dates to my two acre garden under the "Events" section of this website. All individual visits to Bamboo Grove, my private residence, must be prearranged at least two days prior to you stopping by. I love visitors, and absolutely love giving garden tours, but I reserve the right to plan ahead as to know exactly when you will be arriving. Thank you for understanding. 

CONTACT ME: If you wish to contact me, it is best to call me directly, Monday through Friday, 9 to 9, at 863-263-2331. My old flip phone does not receive texts well, especially those with photos attached. To send me any plant photos to identify, it is best to send them to my email - go to the "Contact" button on this website. Please forgive me for not responding to many of your messages as I am well over 1,000 messages behind. I will do my best, all the while, allowing myself time to wander the wild places at least three days each week.