First Coast Flora

"Adventures" of a Master Gardener and Naturalist

Monarch Butterfly on Milkweed

Watch a video of butterflies and other pollinators!


"We can complain because rose bushes have thorns or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses." --Abraham Lincoln

I've been a Master Gardener for over ten years, and now I'm a Master Naturalist. This website is a collection of my publications, presentations, and general experiences in these fields. I am NOT a spokesperson for the University of Florida/IFAS - just a curious individual who believes in science and the amazing power of nature. Contact me at if you find something here of interest to you, or have something you'd like to share!

What's the difference between soil and dirt?

Soil is the top layer of earth containing chemicals, inert matter, and nutrients used by plants to grow. Dirt is soil in the wrong place: under your fingernails, on your best slacks, etc. It's sort of like the difference between a plant and a weed; the weed is a plant that's just in the "wrong" place (by human standards).

What is it about soil that plants love and need? Find out in the article, "The Hills Are Alive."

First Coast Flora (also known as is a website designed for the public and contains materials contributed by University of Florida Master Gardeners. It is not an official University of Florida IFAS Extension Service website (whew!) That being said, please feel free to browse the offerings and if you find anything useful, thank a Master Gardener - this is a shared offering from them to you. If you question the contents, email whose brainchild this is, and I'll try to sort things out with you! :)


Our Florida Monarchs

Florida monarchs have some important behaviors that distinguish them from butterflies in other states (click the link above).

Climate change and warmer winters have allowed black mangroves to advance northward into the estuaries along the Intercoastal Waterway in St. Johns, Duval, and Nassau Counties. This climate-change driven phenomenon has implications on many levels. Click the presentation link above. See the News Articles page for the publications on this topic.

Environmental Advocate, Dianne Battle, shares the journey she has taken to become an activist for tree protections since moving to St. Johns County. Click the link above to view the presentation. See the News Articles page for the publications on this topic.

The iconic monarch is in serious trouble. In December 2020 the US Fish and Wildlife Service decided that the population drop it has experienced has put the species in sufficient danger of extinction to grant it listing under the Endangered Species Act. However the USFWS declined to list it citing lack of sufficient funding to provide the legal protection it deserves.

The decision was announced BEFORE the finding that the western population has diminished by 99% and the eastern population experienced a decline in its overwintering numbers.

To best understand it, we need to understand its lifecycle. It's complicated... but fascinating. See my monarch presentations by clicking the above link. See the News Articles page for the publications on this topic.

WHERE WOULD YOU BE WITHOUT A BEE? First of all, you'd be hungry for all those fruits and vegetables produced though bee and other pollinators' efforts. You could eat meat, but further down the food chain what would the herbivores eat? When all the edible plant life has been consumed, all the animals up and down the food chain would die of starvation. Not a pretty picture.

Science might come to the rescue in time, but common sense should have prevented the need for such drama. Here are some ways to practice random acts of kindness in your own back yard, and to discourage short-term-anything-for-a-buck big business horticultural "solutions." Center for Food Safety's BEE Protective Campaign and be a friend to your local pollinators. Selecting flowers your local bees (and other pollinators) love, and not using bee-toxic pesticides are two easy ways to BEE Protective. Learn more, do more, and tell your Mother Earth you love her.

IT'S OFFICIAL! MANDARIN, FL HAS EARNED THE DUBIOUS DISTINCTION AS A 2013 CRAPE MURDER CAPITOL BY THE GRUMPY GARDENER IN SOUTHERN LIVING MAGAZINE'S "2013 CREPE MURDER CONTEST". The competition for Best of the Worst crape murders was tough. But my photo of the myrtles in Mandarin stood out (albeit not terribly far) as a "pointed" example of homicidal horticulture in the service of crass capitalism. Then see what other notable deeds of horticide in Mandarin are there for the lookin' at my expose, "The Killing Fields in Mandarin: The Secret of Winn-Dixie Plaza".

But wait, bad taste in pruning isn't just for the professionals. My own neighborhood enjoys celebrating Christmas by adorning its amputeed myrtles (what's left of them) with festive bling. The St. Johns Sun helped me share this quaint homeowner custom with the local reading public in, "Wreck the Boughs with Hacking Folly." And a Happy New Year...


Need to know about a plant? Contact or visit the St. Johns County Extension Office weekdays 8:30-5PM, 3125 Agricultural Center Drive, St. Augustine, FL 32092-0572 Phone: (904) 209-0430. You can call the Master Gardener Hotline between 9AM and noon for free advice. Or see the website, a service of the University of Florida.

Join the Florida-Friendly Landscapes in HOA's

Even if you live in a deed-restricted community with rules about landscaping, you can still go Florida-Friendly and bring your homeowner's association officials along! See the St. Augustine Record article, Homeowners Citing Little Known Law, Win Battle to Plant Florida FriendlyYard, 11/9/11.

Gardeners in the News

Two Master Gardeners were featured in the Times-Union. See Master Gardeners Share Tips at St. Johns County Clinic.

Official University of Florida Resources

The public is encouraged to use the University of Florida's science-based website for landscaping and gardening, as well as other topics such as marine ecology, 4-H youth, agriculture, and nutritional science:

The Advanced Search Feature for UF's landscaping and gardening pages is below:

UF Publications Advanced Search

The Florida plant encyclopedia and forum:


The Florida Friendly Plant Finder Database:

Florida Friendly Landscaping

If you prefer that "personal touch" of a live Master Gardener, contact the St. Johns County Extension Center. If offers plant clinics, classes, and events to help you with your gardening and landscaping needs. All for free or at very low cost:

3125 Agricultural Center Drive

St. Augustine, FL 32092-0572

Phone: (904) 209-0430

And if you really, really like gardening or would like to learn more about it, consider becoming a Master Gardener yourself! The modest number of volunteer hours you will be asked to perform annually will be more than compensated by the fun you will have.


See all my articles at the News Articles link here, and in the menu at left.

Earth Day 2019 Observance: UUCJ Green Sanctuary

April 28,2019: UUCJ's Earth Day Celebration included a choral music and poetry centered on the theme of continuity. After the program, the Green Sanctuary held an Earth Day Fair with informational displays of healthy eating, recycling, community gardening, pollinator/wildlife gardens, water conservation and drought tolerant plants, an Earth Day Resolution Tree and a raffle. CLICK HERE TO SEE THE PHOTOS.

Conserve, Preserve, and Protect Water Resources

WaterWise or Water Woes?

A fact sheet on ways to Conserve water usage, Preserve the quality of water all life needs in our rivers, lakes, estuaries, springs, and ocean, Protect water and a healthy environment for future life.

WaterWise or Water Woes? factsheet

Note: Help is a phone call away at the Duval County Extension Office: (904) 255-7450 or the St. Johns County Extension Office: (904) 209-0430.

Good News in 2018

Julington-Durbin Preserve will continue to retain its conservation status, thanks to St. Johns Riverkeeper and the efforts of thousands of citizens. A celebration will be held on July 14. See more details by clicking here.

At the very same preserve I was able to enjoy and photograph around thirty different species of native plants in bloom in May, including Bartram's Ixia. Click here to download the photo album with interactive links to plant information.