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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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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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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Kakkar joins UF/IFAS Extension as invasive insect specialist

Topic(s): Agriculture, Announcements, Biocontrols, Crops, Environment, Extension, IFAS, Invasive Species, Pests

FORT PIERCE, Fla. – Garima Kakkar is joining the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences to help the state fight invasive pests. Kakkar, an expert in invasive insects, is a UF/IFAS Extension St. Lucie County Multicounty Agent.

Kakkar has a diverse range of experience in managing pest insects, and will now serve growers in the world’s premier citrus production region with the latest research findings. Her most recent assignment was working as a postdoctoral research associate for UF/IFAS, along with both UF and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in studies of an invasive whitefly, thrips vectors and a pepper whitefly.

“Dr. Kakkar has been synergistically blending research and practical information to create effective tools for the citrus and fruit crops industry,” said Ed Skvarch, director of UF/IFAS Extension St. Lucie County. “She believes that a channelized production system requires an Extension agent who is more than a liaison between different groups, researchers, growers or industry. Her goal is to develop programs that take research to the fields and industry, for the betterment of our agricultural production systems.”

Since taking her new position, Kakkar has focused on worker protection standards training, and she is organizing soil nutrition programs, developed in conjunction with the UF/IFAS Southwest Florida Research and Education Center in Immokalee, Florida, Skvarch said.

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UF/IFAS entomologist gets $200,000 to help develop rapid Zika detection

Topic(s): Announcements, Entomology and Nematology, Environment, Extension, Families and Consumers, IFAS, New Technology, Pests, RECs, Research

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences entomologist will use a $200,000 grant from the Florida Department of Health to improve tests for the detection of Zika virus.

In 2016, Florida saw 1,272 cases of Zika, which is usually associated with mild symptoms, although severe symptoms may also occur, including Guillain-Barré syndrome and birth defects in babies, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those, 256 were locally acquired. So far this year, four more cases have been reported, all travel-related.

Barry Alto, a UF/IFAS assistant professor of medical entomology, said scientists need better diagnostic tools to detect Zika virus to meet challenges to public health. He is working with collaborator Steven Benner at Firebird Biomolecular Sciences LLC to develop methods they hope should take about an hour – far less time than current testing methods. Existing methods require specialized equipment and highly trained personnel, so samples must be transported to specialized laboratory facilities to perform the tests.

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UF/IFAS offers tips on how to care for Valentine’s Day flowers

Topic(s): Agriculture, Cultivars, Environment, Extension, Families and Consumers, Green Living, IFAS

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — So you have received a bouquet of flowers for Valentine’s Day and want to keep them alive as long as possible. An expert with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is here to help.

“The trick is to keep the water clean of fungus and bacteria so the flowers can stay fresh longer,” said Wendy Wilber, UF/IFAS State Master Gardener Coordinator. Also, Wilber recommends:

  • Once you’ve brought your flowers inside, remove any leaves or blossoms that will end up underwater. Then, cut one-half to one inch off the stems with a sharp, clean knife.
  • Place the flowers in a clean vase filled with fresh water and, if you have it, flower preservatives. Do not add sugar, as it will bring bacteria and clog the stems.
  • If the water turns yellow and cloudy, wash the vase with soapy water and add fresh water with flower preservatives.
  • Re-cut and rinse the stems before placing them back into the container.
  • Keep the flowers away from heating and air-conditioning vents, and from direct sunlight.

“Fresh flowers bring beauty and vitality into your home or office,” Wilber said. “Make the most out of the gift by keeping them fresh and beautiful for as long as possible.”

For more information on how to care for cut flowers, watch this video or visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NM1jBVFlDVo.

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By: Beverly James, 352-273-3566, beverlymjames@ufl.edu

 

UF/IFAS Researchers: Many turning to oysters for Valentine’s Day energy

Topic(s): Aquaculture, Conservation, Departments, Extension, Families and Consumers, IFAS, Nutrition

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — With Valentine’s Day around the corner, you might be thinking about revving things up by eating a few oysters. We’ve all heard that oysters are aphrodisiacs, but researchers with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences say there’s more to the story.

“Oysters might be perceived as an aphrodisiac because they have a high proportion of glycogen, a form of stored carbohydrate that can give you energy,” said Peter Frederick, a research professor with the UF/IFAS department of wildlife ecology and conservation.

Leslie Sturmer, a regional UF/IFAS Extension agent specializing in molluscan shellfish aquaculture, says the high nutritional content of oysters helps people feel good, hence the reputation for being an aphrodisiac. “Oysters have a high zinc content, have very little fat and are full of essential vitamins and minerals,” she said. “So, consumers who eat oysters regularly may attribute extra energy to the oysters.”

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