Category Archives: Plants of Central Florida

Carol Postley and her Florida Cracker Sheep

by Jennifer Odom

“We’re shearing sheep at the farm. You and your daughter come on out,”  Carol Postley told me. We’d struck up quite a chat while sitting back to back working our demonstration tables at the KidZone, part of a Master Gardener event in Ocala. I’d asked about her display of wool and sheep interests. It turned out she’s the founder of Meat Sheep Alliance of Florida.

Sheep in Florida?

Sheep in Florida? Wasn’t our state too hot? Aside from zoos, I thought sheep lived up north. So yes, we wanted  to visit. I couldn’t resist.

A week or so later Gabbie and I set out in search of her farm. We followed the old Knoblock Road, a shady lane of beautiful ancient oaks and green pastures to her turn-off at the sign that said Florida Cracker Native Sheep.

Farm workers directed us past the barn to a pavilion where we found Carol, natural-born teacher and sponsor of the event, busy about her business of educating and inspiring newbies and fellow farmers about sheep. Her program began with professional sheep shearers demonstrating sheep-holding techniques and proper use of the electric clippers.

Ready for this? Professional sheep shearers Jonathan Hearne and Charlotte Crittenden joke around before the shearing.

A shearing begins by turning a sheep upside down. I’d never seen the underbelly of a sheep before. It surprised me to learn the that the udder, unlike a cow’s, only has two teats, suitable for the twins a sheep usually bears. From there the shearing process moves up and around the legs and back, leaving the sheep very bare, and probably feeling a little chilly. It is customarily done at springtime.

The professionals begin. They start the sheep upside down.
Carefully maneuver around the tender areas. Pull the skin tight with the left hand.

Move around this way.
Take a little off here. The leg under the sheep’s haunches keeps her from slipping away.
Don’t do this in the winter, the sheep will be cold!
Amazing. It is all off in one large piece.

The fleece, or wool, comes off in one large piece, and can be rolled and laid out on tables to allow workers to pick out any undesirable elements or burrs, leaving the choicest part intact. 

This looks good.

Though it looks like something else, the very noticeable yucky stuff on the sheep’s wool is lanolin, a thick oil that helps him resist parasites. Don’t worry too much about that, it can be cleaned up. Weeds, seeds, and prickles would be a worse problem. It’s very difficult to clean that out of the wool.

Pick out the undesirable tidbits.

Did you know that hair among the sheep’s wool is an undesirable trait and breeders attempt to breed it out? Those sheep are sent out to be used for meat.

There’s a major difference between hair and wool. Hair, stiff and straight, has a distinct look from wool and after some practice is easy to spot. Its presence in a fleece makes it unsellable, and in a hat or wooly garment will render it itchy and un-wearable. Hair in rugs, though, is quite acceptable.

Who knew?

Decorating the pavilion were woven, knitted, crocheted, and other artistically produced garments and hats. Experts at demonstration tables showed us how to use fiber-straightening machines, carding machines, and how to do peg-weaving.

Skeins of yarn made from sheep’s wool.
You don’t want your fingers caught in the teeth inside this straightening machine.
It comes out the other end, not a matt anymore, but wooly fluff. Next it is carded.
Weaving with pegs.
Neolithic wool-cleaning in a jar. This can be done in a barrel. It gets stinky.

And if the mention of that yucky stuff still lingers in your sensitivities and bothers your mind,  rest easy. A primitive “neolithic wool-cleaning” method using fermentation to get rid of those undesirable impurities was explained by another expert. So rest easy, one doesn’t have to handle dirty wool.

Gabbie reminded me that King David of the Bible herded sheep and was probably familiar with simpler methods of all the skills mentioned above, and most especially this neolithic method of cleaning.

Carol circulated among the guests, and from our common interest in the Master Gardener event, our conversation turned naturally to plants. She was full of information.

No stranger to the use and benefits of scientific testing, Carol informed me of two special and very nutritious forage weeds on the farm. “See that Spanish needle over there?” She pointed toward the lamb pen.“Tests show it contains 25% protein.”

The Spanish needle weed, common all over our central Florida fields and roadways is 25% protein. Great fodder for sheep.

Evidently that’s a very good number.

“People hate that stuff,” I said, recalling how its needle-like burrs stick to everything. “They mow it down and plant pasture grass.”

“And why would they want to do that when it’s got all that protein?” she said. “There’s another nutritious plant like that, the day-flower. It looks a little bit like a wandering Jew.”

“Really?”  I couldn’t quite picture this one.

 “I’ll see if I can find you one.” Off she scampered to find a sample. In a few minutes she returned with a long stringy weed in her hand.

The common day-flower, a low crawling weed is also 25% protein.

“Oh, I’ve seen that,” I said. “I pull it out of my flower beds all the time and throw it in the burning pile.”

She grinned. “Again, twenty-five percent protein.”

To think, I’d been burning up good forage. Of course, I don’t have sheep, either.

Carol is not just busy collecting trivia about nutritious forage. She is actively trying to help other farmers in the pursuit of naturally healthy pastures.

Carol is currently busy lining up an experiment on pasture-improvement through the Marion County Extension office in Ocala. It’s especially targeted for farms with sugar-sand, and it’s not too late to volunteer. (To participate, see contact info at the end of this article).

And Ahem…Who in Florida doesn’t have sand and need pasture improvement?

Carol’s simple experiment requires no more than a plot of land about 50 x 50 feet. Carol will provide the already purchased crab-grass seeds, and Agent Mark Bailey (see below) will supply the details.

Nutritious crabgrass, hated by some, but loved by Carol.

The experiment will involve discing the land and planting crabgrass seeds. The owner will have little or no work to do. For those interested in participating and improving your pasture, see the contact information at the end of this article.

Carols’s Florida Cracker Sheep and Their Long History in Florida….

Fairmeadow Farm is all about heritage Florida Cracker Sheep

At Carol’s farm, Fairmeadow, she raises a specific breed of sheep I’d never even heard of before. They are called Florida Cracker Sheep.

“The Spanish brought them over,” she informed me, and rattled off a handful of  interesting facts about them. She made me want to know more.

After some research, I discovered an article by Ralph Wright, historian of Florida Cracker Sheep Association. It seems that on four or five different occasions Spanish explorers brought sheep over to this continent, and for a variety of reasons released them. These heritage sheep likely descended from the churra sheep of Spain’s estuarine marshes and date back to the 1200’s. The Cracker Sheep Association homepage states: “Florida Cracker Sheep are a heritage breed that developed naturally over the last 400 years and are uniquely adapted to the harsh Florida environment. With their parasite resistance and ability to handle the heat and humidity, they are great for organic farming.” (

What didn’t kill the sheep in pioneer Florida, then, must have made them stronger. To me it’s amazing, with all the wild animals on the Florida frontier, how anything as mild and gentle as a sheep, who don’t even run fast, could survive at all.

To read Mr. Wright’s complete paper see

So sheep, it seems, are not an unusual phenomenon in Florida. And these cracker sheep are particularly suitable for Florida’s environment.

Carol Postley recognized this fact a long time ago. She is an amazing woman full of hard-earned knowledge,  and part of a smart group of farmers who steer away from artificial contrivance and diligently work at finding ways to use our God-given nature to best advantage.

I’m privileged to have visited Fairmeadow farm. Great job, Carol, and thank you for the delightful invitation!

If you think you might like to participate in Carol’s pasture grass improvement experiment contact Ag agent Mark Bailey at the Marion County Extension office in Ocala. His contact information is and phone: 352-617-8400. This experiment will cost approximately $55 to conduct the necessary soil tests before and after the summer forages have been planted.

To contact Carol’s professional sheep shearers, see below:

Jonathan Hearne-

Charlotte Crittenden-

For participation in the crab grass experiment: 352-617-8400

Golf Course Wildflowers in Out of Play Areas a Benefit

by Jennifer Odom

Coreopsis in out-of-play golf areas.                                                     Photo courtesy of Matthew Borden

Really? By planting certain flowers on our golf course’s out-of-play areas, the golf course can actually reduce the presence of harmful insects? Yes! The very ones that gobble up the golf course grass, and the ones we’ve been dumping all the pesticides on.

That is exactly what a study by Dr. Adam Dale (Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist, Turf and Ornamental Entomology at the University of Florida), and students Rebecca Perry and Grace Cope, set out to determine.

Grace and Rebecca at work. Photo courtesy of Dr. Adam Dale

Dr. Adam Dale inspects coreopsis on golf course. Photo courtesy of Dr. Adam Dale

The study’s three goals were to see how these plantings would affect the conservation of vital pollinators (bees, butterflies, and other needed species), how they would affect the pests’ natural enemies (predators ), and if that translated into reduced pests (like turf worms).

It absolutely did. Pollinators and pollinator diversity increased.


Bees are one of the essential pollinators attracted to these areas.                                                    Photo courtesy of Matthew Borden

Biological control of pests increased. ( In other words, pests decreased).

Pest on golf course turf grass. Photo courtesy of Dr. Adam Dale

Think of it. Reduced pesticides!

Did you know that 40-70% of golf course acreage is out-of-play? What a huge opportunity!

And there are other benefits.

According to Matthew Borden, MS Entomology and Doctor of Plant Medicine Student at the University of Florida, “…careful selection of plant choices, including native species, can translate to significant savings for the golf course.”


Besides the reduction in the need for pesticides, other likely economic benefits would include reduced mowing and irrigation areas. In Borden’s article Golf Courses as a Source of Habitat Conservation in the Urban Landscape, he cites several golf courses in arid regions of our country who have saved a million gallons a year each by optimizing their natural landscape.

Golf course and other wild flowers.                                                     Photo courtesy of Matthew Borden


Not only that, golfers would enjoy a beautiful flowerscape all year, thanks to the wise selection of flowers.

As Floridians, many of us are stunned, even frightened at the rapid building and urbanization of the Florida landscape.

Directly related to that, imagine the impact all this building has on our native wildlife. The natural Florida we once knew is disappearing into roads, concrete, and the cutting off the wildlife corridors (paths for native animals). This creates a desperate predicament by shoving the wildlife into a corner and endangering animal lives.

Imagine our 1,100 Florida golf courses and 525 golf communities. The proposed natural areas across this great span could alleviate part of this problem by allowing a  series of natural corridors to connect over a great many acres.

The simple measures above are an easy way to return a portion of what’s been taken away from all of us.

What can we do?

Fortunately, golf superintendents who collaborated with the UF/IFAS Dale Lab, demonstrated an eagerness in finding ways to reduce environmental impacts and to provide environmental benefits. Yours could, too.

First, learn more (see the links below).

Second, talk up the ideas with other golfers and golf superintendents. Remember, the educated public knows it  is NOT cool to waste natural resources like water, over-use pesticides, or obliterate animal habitats and corridors. Golf courses have long been scorned for doing just that,  and for hurting the environment. They can redeem themselves through cooperation.

Third, show your superintendent how to be part of the solution. Encourage him to become pro-active, to become a leader in conservation, and to keep track of changes and resulting savings. Encourage him to publicize his efforts and successes and to stand tall as a leader.

Dr. Adam Dale, a voice of reason and common sense.                    Photo courtesy of Dr. Adam Dale

Where will Dr. Dale’s research go from here? “We are currently working on publishing this research in a multitude of formats,” he says. His purpose is to “reach as many people and as diverse an audience as possible.”

He added that his team has started new projects…investigating monarch butterfly conservation habitat strategies and plant species that do well in wetland habitats that will also provide conservation and ecological benefits.”

How is Dr. Dale reaching the greater public with these creative ideas? “We are traveling around the state giving presentations about the research results and methods to golf course superintendents. We are also publishing this information…and working with IFAS Communications to publicize and market these practices.”

It’s a great idea and I hope it spreads like wildfire.

If you’d like to get on board to spread this information, contact him:

Dr. Adam Dale, Or view his website, Landscape Entomology at UF,

Golf Course Ecology

Photo courtesy of Matthew Borden


Nana’s Wisteria Cologne


by Jennifer Odom


Beautiful lavender wisteria vines. March bloomers

Nana handed me the bottle with its scant  leftovers of eau de cologne from her younger, fancier life. I took a sniff.  Wisteria! I caressed the chipped label with its lavender grape-like flowers. I was only ten, but this container was an antique, and inside it was my first blessed encounter with the sweet fragrance of  wisteria. In fact, it smelled so delicious, I feared it would run out, so I treasured the bottle, unused, for years until its few precious drops  grew dark and gummy from evaporation.

I’ll never forget the real wisteria vine, either, that grew up the trunk of Nana’s pine tree. Its flowers were so high I could hardly see them at the top, and of course couldn’t smell them. I wanted a vine like that, too, with lavender petals falling on my yard.

So I asked my daddy.

“Oh, no,” he said. “Not a wisteria vine. That thing can choke a tree.”

He wasn’t exaggerating. The vine can run wild if left unchecked, and is hard to destroy if that happens.

Disheartened, I continued to harbor the thought that one day I’d own one.

My husband, an inveterate vine-hater, has also discouraged the idea. I admit,  the vine does need  just the place to flourish, and it isn’t my yard. So I hold off from actually gathering seeds or purchasing a vine.

Though the vine is unruly, some people do have a knack for keeping it under control. Wisteria will only climb to the height of its trellis or tree. It can be trimmed and cultivated…away from trees.

I especially appreciate the people who do make the effort.

And this year, 2018, has been an especially good year for wisteria, maybe because of all the cold weather.

Even after wisteria’s short blooming period has expired, its old blooms will shed a beautiful purple carpet beneath the vine.

At this time of year, whenever I spot a nice wisteria growing along the roadways I’m sure to point it out.

The wisteria bloom is beautiful on the vine but does not work in a vase.

Sometimes I’ll stop the car along an undeveloped woodland and pick a bloom to lay across my console. Of course, it falls right to pieces and makes a mess. Even in a vase the bloom slumps and falls apart. Yet it’s worth my trouble just to inhale a few minutes worth of that heavenly scent in the car.

Thank you, Nana, for that little antique bottle with its precious drops of wisteria cologne. I have no idea where it disappeared to, and I’ve never found a good wisteria cologne since, but I’ll never forget it.

I can truly say, I am thankful that God created the beautiful wisteria vine, and if you see me picking a flower out by the road or sniffing around at your wisteria trellis, well, sorry. I just couldn’t help myself.

Learn more about wisteria and types that might not be so fragrant, but are Florida natives and aren’t so invasive:


Sheep Sorrel-also called Sour Grass


by Jennifer Odom

When I was eight I thought of a plan to become rich.

It was the sour grass. Daddy taught us how to identify its tall red stems with their red grainy seed-tops.

Sheep-sorrel, some people call it, and it grew in the back field, the same field where we explored for arrow heads, and two sisters later pastured their horses.

Daddy showed us we could pluck and chew the stems to get the tart lemony juice, a fun thing to do while we played in the yard.

So I decided that I could get rich by manufacturing sour grass juice.

Well, it was a short-lived idea.

But that doesn’t mean someone isn’t capitalizing on sour grass. No sir, some people claim sheep sorrel can fight cancer. (

To be sure, my blog is not medical advice, and there are experts such as those at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center who refute those cancer-cure claims.

But whether its medicinal value is true or not, sour grass a terrific weed in other ways, handy for salads, soups, for curdling cheese, and in making wine. I once pondered whether the stems would make a good substitute in rhubarb pie.  But nah, probably too woody. In a pinch, though, it would keep you from starving. Herbalists claim all its plant parts are useful, the leaves, stems, flowers, and roots.

It’s March right now in central Florida, and fields are covered with this red-topped plant. Found in acidic sandy soil, the same kind blueberries like, it’s a real pest to blueberry growers. Maybe the blueberry growers should join up with the herb-collectors for free weeding help.

A member of the buckwheat family, this native of Eurasia and the British Isles is also known as Rumex acetocella, and spreads vigorously via underground rhizomes.

Let caution prevail if consuming it. Sheep sorrel contain an abundance of oxalates, and according to Wikipedia, should be avoided by people with kidney stones and anyone taking diuretics where it can lead to diarrhea and a dangerous loss of potassium from the body. Memorial Sloan Kettering claims it may cause an upset stomach and abdominal cramps, and the oxalates can damage your liver.

Regardless, sheep sorrel’s a beautiful plant, and will always remind me of my dear old dad and my plant to get rich off of sour grass juice.

Orchids, No Longer Afraid


by Jennifer Odom

After the confident way Suzanne Farnsworth of Sazanna’s Orchids demonstrated repotting orchids and snipping of the keikis (pronounced kay-kees) which is the Hawaiian word for child, maybe I could do it too. It didn’t seem such a scary operation.

This little keiki (or shoot) has roots and is about big enough to clip from the parent and transplant.

I’ve always heard, “Just forget growing orchids, they’re too complicated and finicky. Orchids are tricky to grow, and you’ll just lose out.”

But, like with other plants, it’s less about the green thumb and more about understanding the plants. And Suzanne gave the visiting Master Gardener group plenty of tips.

For example, keep the plant out of direct sunlight, but give it nice bright light, (enough light to read by). For the phalaenopsis planted in sphaghum moss, don’t give them too much water, just  1/2 to 1/3 cup. Orchids do not like wet feet. And do not use soft water. How often? If you stick a finger in the medium and find it too dry, then water it.

 It’s perfectly fine for the roots to grow out of the pot. That’s how they act. In fact, many varieties are grown on a metal hanger for support, with their roots completely exposed, just like in the jungle! They also need air movement, the more the better. It cuts down on disease. Make sure to feed them  orchid food according to package directions. 

Is the orchid plant loose in its planting medium?

It’s about time to repot it, which comes around about every two years. Use the proper bark medium made of sequoia, sponge rock, and charcoal.

Do not use pine or oak. Oak and pine bark are going

Don’t plant the orchid too deep.

to rot too soon. Peat moss will retain too much moisture. Just buy the mix, which is available at Sazanna’s in Weirsdale, Florida or wherever orchids are sold.

Orchids grown on a mount such as cork, cypress boards, or redwood cedar are more natural than in pots. After all, they hang on trees in the jungle. (If you must use a pot, some of Susanna’s customers prefer clear pots for phalaenopsis orchids so they can enjoy the beauty of the roots. And too, says Susanna, the roots have a relationship with light).

Another trick Suzanne revealed is that when she must make a cut, such as separating keikis, or trimming up some roots while repotting, she uses a brand new sterile razor blade. Any tools must be cleaned so disease is kept at a minimum.

On all cuts Suzanne uses a light dusting of cinnamon powder which acts as a natural fungicide. Yes, regular old spice-cabinet cinnamon.

When dealing with young plants, an inverted u-shaped wire can be inserted into the medium to prop up bent leaves until they develop the proper memory for shape. But all orchid plants are delicate and can snap like young asparagus if handled roughly.

Because of that, when staking a flower stalk that is hanging low, you will have to do this in stages over a period of days or weeks. A quick change in direction can break them. Use a brown or green twist-tie to blend in, but do not twist. Wrap the stem smoothly and gently, remembering that the stem will grow in girth and you don’t want it to strangle.

Wrap the twist tie smoothly. Avoid garish red or yellow that take away from the plant’s beauty.

Maybe now you’ll feel more confident too, and venture out to find an orchid or two to play with. Until you try it, you’ll never learn to understand their beautiful ways.

And stop by Sazanna’s. She’d love for you to see her beautiful greenhouse and the gorgeous varieties for sale.

Sazanna’s Orchids & Supplies

15730 S Hwy. 35

Weirsdale, Florida 32195



Suzanne shows visitors that the real orchid root lies inside a surrounding spongy layer.

And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose see is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good. And the evening and the morning were the third day. KJV Gen. 1: 11-13



Oxalis, Grandma’s Little Plant (Weed)

by Jennifer Odom

The tiny pink flowers grabbed my attention as far back as age six. I’d tramp up Grandma’s back steps, and admire them over the handrail in their battered tin pot. The plant and pot together were no bigger than one of Grandma’s hens.

Their blooms clustered like dainty goblets among the triple-heart-shaped leaves.

But why keep them in a pot? I guessed she didn’t want the small half-inch blooms and delicate leaves swallowed up among her ornamentals.

When she passed away I inherited the little pot. But many years passed before I realized the true purpose of the container.

Oxalis debilis, known as pink woodsorrel, or oxalis, has leaves that resemble a four-leaf clover. The leaves, flowers, and stems are edible and have a tart, lemony flavor. The roots taste nutty. But their oxalic acid content (also present in spinach, broccoli, grapefruit, and rhubarb) could be harmful in large amounts, especially for those inclined toward kidney stones and calcium deficiencies (2).

Why contain them in a pot?

According to Mark Bailey, Marion County UF/IFAS Extension Agent, despite being called a lucky clover, oxalis is a persistent weed and is “more likely to bring on a headache rather than luck.”

“Once established,” he said, “pink oxalis can easily spread without aggressive control and preventive measures.” Though similar to yellow oxalis, which grows from rhizomes, he said,  “pink oxalis grows from a small bulb. From this bulb additional tiny bulbils emerge and easily break off when the plant is pulled up. And these, even when deeply buried, can form a new plant.”

Along the way, the pretty weed showed up in my own garden and quickly lost its charm for me. The more oxalis I pulled, the more it multiplied…seemingly overnight. My small problem quickly escalated and little heart-shaped leaves erupted everywhere, even between the roots of my ornamental plants.

Rototilling exacerbated the problem.

The solution?

Well, I heard that pigs like oxalis bulbs, but soon gave up on the “rent-a-pig” idea.

And now the weed was too widespread to utilize a sifting device.

Looking back I should have applied weed killer at the beginning, or simply dug deep and sifted out the bulbils when they first appeared.

According to University of Florida’s IFAS publication 1253, shallow mulching can suppress germination. The publication adds, “There are many different postemergence herbicides…but most have to be applied as a directed application,” and mentions the use of glyphosate, glufosinate, diquat, or pelargonic acid. A warning: read manufacturers’ labels and follow precautions. I tried a few with good success.

But what about oxalis that sprouts at the base of ornamentals? Pull those by hand and keep after them.

Amazingly, this same persistent weed is sold in stores, usually around St. Patrick’s day.

So, if you must buy oxalis, at least be wise like Grandma.

Keep your friends close, and your enemies even closer.

And this enemy belongs in a pot.