IFAS News

University of Florida

UF/IFAS researchers work to solve mystery of rare Florida tree

Topic(s): Conservation, Environment, IFAS, RECs, Research

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — An endangered species of magnolia that only grows in the Florida Panhandle has been named the 2017 plant of the year by the Garden Club of America.

The timing couldn’t be better, says Gary Knox, professor of environmental horticulture with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

For the last three years, Knox and a team of researchers at the UF/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center in Quincy, Florida, have been studying the Ashe magnolia to try to figure out why it’s so rare and how it may be conserved.

Ashe magnolias are grown commercially as landscaping plants, and their large flowers and leaves make them popular among gardeners. The white and purple blossoms are the size of dinner plates, and the leaves grow up to two feet long. “This is what we call a ‘charismatic’ plant,” Knox said.

Knox hopes the Garden Club of America’s declaration will help spread awareness about the plight of Ashe magnolias in the wild. According to the Garden Club of America’s web site, “the award is given to an outstanding native plant which is underutilized but possesses superior ornamental and ecological attributes. The goal is to encourage the propagation and planting of these plants in our gardens and the landscape.”

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Repellant could keep dangerous beetles away from avocado trees

Topic(s): Agriculture, Crops, Economics, Entomology and Nematology, Environment, Extension, IFAS, Pests, RECs, Research

Redbay ambrosia beetles.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Using some pleasant-smelling chemicals, avocado growers may soon be able to repel beetles that inject a potentially deadly fungus into their trees, saving fruit and money, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researchers say.

When they’re infected with the laurel wilt fungus, redbay trees – a close cousin to the avocado — emit methyl salicylate to repel redbay ambrosia beetles, the very beetles that gave the trees the fungus in the first place, scientists say in a newly published study.

Florida avocados bring a $100 million-a-year impact to Florida’s economy, UF/IFAS economists say. They grow almost entirely in southern Miami-Dade County, but growers have battled the laurel wilt fungus, which can kill redbay and avocado trees, since it arrived in Georgia in 2003.

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UF/IFAS West Florida REC offers grits, cornmeal from grain produced on its farm

Topic(s): Agriculture, Crops, Environment, Families and Consumers, Green Living, IFAS, Nutrition, RECs

JAY, Fla. — Do you know where your grits come from? Now, you can buy locally grown grits and cornmeal, and even visit the farm where the corn is grown.

The University of Florida IFAS West Florida Research and Education Center near Jay, Florida, is selling grits and cornmeal from corn grown and ground on its farm. The Gator Grind products are processed at the UF/IFAS West Florida REC and packaged for consumers there.

“We grow the corn, harvest it, put in the grain bin, clean it and grind it in a stone grist mill,” said Wes Wood, center director. “Visitors can come out to the UF/IFAS West Florida REC for one of our field days and see how grits and cornmeal are produced.”

Faculty at the UF/IFAS West Florida REC have been researching corn for decades, Wood said. These scientists conduct trials to determine the best corn varieties for the region, along with optimization of management variables such as soil fertility and pest control, he said.

“We conduct research that helps farmers grow the best crop possible under Florida Panhandle conditions,” Wood said.

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UF/IFAS researchers find potential bugs to eat invasive cogongrass

Topic(s): Biocontrols, Entomology and Nematology, Environment, Forestry, Invasive Species, Pests, Research

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A few bugs may be able to chew up some cogongrass, a noxious weed that elbows out pasture grass, golf course greens and valuable ecosystems, a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researcher says.

A worldwide research team led by UF/IFAS entomology professor James Cuda and retired entomology professor Bill Overholt found species in Japan, East Africa and Indonesia that might help in the battle against cogongrass.

Among the arthropods they found, Cuda and his team discovered a midge from Indonesia that attacks cogongrass. Cuda and his team are focusing on the Orseolia javanica midge that causes cogongrass to produce linear galls at the expense of leaves. However, when scientists brought the arthropods back to the quarantine facility at the UF/IFAS Indian River Research and Education Center in Fort Pierce, Florida, they did not mate and increase in population.

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Crape murder? UF/IFAS researcher says trim back on pruning crapemyrtle

Topic(s): Agriculture, IFAS, Lawn & Garden, Plants

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — With spring around the corner, many homeowners are eyeing their crapemyrtle for a good pruning or topping. But pruning may not be necessary, and take too much off and you could harm the tree, said Gary Knox, a professor of environmental horticulture with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Traditionally, crapemyrtles were routinely topped, leaving large branch and stem stubs, Knox said. This practice has been called “crape murder” because most people dislike the winter appearance, but many professionals believe the practice impacts crapemyrtle health and structural integrity, he said.

According to Knox, homeowners and land managers should only prune a crapemyrtle for general safety, health of the tree, or if the tree is growing into a house. “Sometimes the tree will grow into a sidewalk, into the side of a building, or obscure the vision of drivers,” Knox said. “So, there is a time to prune the crapemyrtle, but you must do it carefully. Crapemyrtle may need little or no pruning if planted in full sun away from walkways and roads, and in areas with room for plant growth.”

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Florida Saves Week starts Monday — how much do you have put away?

Topic(s): Extension, Families and Consumers, Finances, IFAS

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida may be the sunshine state, but more Floridians should start saving for a rainy day, says a researcher with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

“Without an emergency fund, unexpected financial shocks might lead to a financial storm and a vicious cycle,” said Jorge Ruiz-Menjivar, assistant professor of consumer economics in the department of family, youth and community sciences.

Research shows that families without an emergency fund are more likely to have bank overdrafts, fall behind on their bills, have a hard time managing credit and may turn to subprime alternatives that have higher costs than conventional options, Ruiz-Menjivar explained.

To help more Floridians build wealth, not debt, UF/IFAS is urging residents to pledge to start saving during Florida Saves Week, Feb. 27 to March 4 at floridasaves.org. Part of the national America Saves program, this state-wide initiative has been officially endorsed by Jeff Atwater, chief financial officer for the state of Florida.

This year, Floridians who pledge can enter to win $50 to be put toward reaching their financial goals by completing a short survey after signing the Florida Saves pledge.

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New UF/IFAS scientist brings latest technology to battle against invasive species

Topic(s): Agriculture, Announcements, Crops, Departments, IFAS, Invasive Species, Pests

FORT PIERCE, Fla.— Carey Minteer, a research professor with expertise in the use of biological controls to manage invasive plants, has joined the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Florida has the most invasive species in the country, with 28 ports of entry, including seaports, airports and train stations.

Minteer, who is also an expert in geographic information systems, is based at the UF/IFAS Indian River Research and Education Center in Fort Pierce, Florida. She is collaborating with professor James Cuda, UF/IFAS Extension agent Ken Gioeli and other scientists to fight the state’s most noxious weeds, including the Brazilian peppertree, one of Florida’s most widespread invasive plants.

“Dr. Minteer has demonstrated effectiveness in investigating the biological control of invasive weeds in the central U.S.A. and Florida,” said Ronald Cave, UF/IFAS Indian River REC interim director. “Her expertise in biological control is strengthened with her knowledge of sophisticated mapping technology for spatial analysis of large infestations, thereby bringing a new dimension of research capability to the laboratory.”

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Looking for a summer camp? Key questions to ask

Topic(s): Uncategorized

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — It’s only February, but many parents are already thinking about their child’s summer vacation plans. Summer camp is often high on the list.

But before picking a camp, parents should consider a few important questions, said Neva Baltzell, Florida 4-H state camping program coordinator with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension.

1. What opportunities will my child have?

Find out how a camp can have a positive impact on your child, Baltzell said. “Florida 4-H camps are unique in that they offer not only the traditional recreational camp activities, but also educational classes that are based on research,” she explained. “4-H has four essential elements: belonging, mastery, independence and generosity. Our camp team works to incorporate these elements into every aspect of camp programming.”

For teenagers, camp can be a chance to take on leadership roles, Baltzell said. “Each county 4-H program offers camp counselor training. These teens act as cabin leaders, help teach classes and design programs,” she said.

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Get in touch with science, history at Seahorse Key open house

Topic(s): Environment, IFAS

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CEDAR KEY, Fla. — Visitors of all ages will get up close and personal with local history and wildlife at the next Seahorse Key open house, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m on Feb. 25.

A pop-up aquarium of ‘touch tanks’ will let families interact with living marine animals and reptiles collected from the Cedar Key area. Past aquariums have included seahorses, puffer fish and terrapin turtles.

During free guided tours of the island’s pre-Civil War lighthouse, guests will learn about the island’s place in U.S. history, visit the cemetery and climb up to the top of the lighthouse.

“I will talk about the history of the lighthouse from the time it was built in 1854, as well as the effect of the Civil War on the island and the Cedar Key area. You’ll also hear a story or two about local blockade runners,” said Toni Collins, president of the Levy County Historical Society and one of three volunteers leading the tours.

Decommissioned in 1915, the light station now regularly hosts school groups, scientists and artists through programs supported by the Nature Coast Biological Station, part of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. The island is only open to the general public during open house events.

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UF CALS honors 11 alumni recognized as Gator100 recipients

Topic(s): CALS, IFAS

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. –  Nine companies owned or led by University of Florida College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) alumni were named to UF’s 2017 Gator100. Of these companies, three were ranked in the top 25. All but two of the nine companies have been named to the Gator100 previously.

Sponsored by the UF Alumni Association, in partnership with the UF Entrepreneurship & Innovation Center, the Gator100 identifies and celebrates the 100 fastest-growing, Gator-owned or Gator-led businesses in the world each year since 2015. Ernst & Young calculated each company’s compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) over the past three years to generate the ranking.

“The Gator100 is a campus-wide initiative that recognizes the entrepreneurial spirit entrenched in the university,” said Timothy Walsh, the executive director of the UF Alumni Association and assistant vice president of Alumni Affairs. “UF alumni have created and guided some of the most innovative and profitable businesses in the nation and world. The Gator100 celebrates the very best of our Gator entrepreneurs.”

The following companies owned or led by CALS alumni were recognized as Gator100 honorees:

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