Todays post will cover a few of the species that grow here in Florida. While most are beneficial we will cover a couple species that are not and should be avoided.
1) Spanish Needle (Bidens Alba and Bidens Pilosa, also known as Beggarticks)
Spanish Needle is a phenomenal plant to have on hand. It has a wide variety of nutritional and medicinal uses. It is safe for rabbits and most herbivores. Both the leaves and flowers are edible. You can eat the leaves raw, but in limited amounts because of the Saponins which can cause in upset stomach in large doses. The Saponins have a wide variety of antimicrobial properties, but in excess can cause problems. It can be made into a tea. It's domestic nutritional counterpart is spinach although Spanish needle has a larger amount and wider variety of trace minerals than spinach. It can be used as an anti-inflammatory and can help lower cholesterol to a limited extent. Jamaicans even used it to treat tooth aches. It is in the daisy family, but can be a substitute for chamomile.
2) Creeping Indigo
Creeping Indigo is a toxic invasive plant that was introduced to subsidize forage for herbivores. It turned out to be toxic and is now a nuisance in the Ocala area as it poisons horses, cows, sheep and rabbits. It can be identified pretty easily. The stems sprawl out from a central root system and have a clover like leaf. the flowers are a reddish orange and the leaves have an alternating pattern along the stem. The alternating pattern is important! The Hairy Indigo looks nearly identical except it has a paired or opposite leaf pattern giving it a symmetrical look. Hairy Indigo is safe for herbivores and not an issue. That is the best distinction between the species. Creeping indigo grows in areas with poor drainage and has tap roots. Since it has a central root system it is pretty easy to remove if you catch it early enough. If consumed in amounts of approximately 1% of your body weight over a protracted period it can cause death. Symptoms include weight loss, inappetence, high heart and respiratory rates, labored breathing, Ptyalism (profuse salivation), dehydration, feed retention in the cheeks (primarily horses), watery discharge from the eyes, halitosis, foaming from the mouth and pale mucous membranes. Neurological symptoms can also be observed including lethargy, loss of consciousness, changes in personality, narcolepsy, unusual rhythm nystagmus or gait, and in serious cases convulsions and eventually death. This plant has been known to kill a wide variety of mammals and even birds. if you see it you should pull it up and throw it in the compost pile. The composting process if maintained should decompose the toxins and repurpose the nutrients adding nitrogen and biological matter to your compost and ridding yourself of a potential hazard at the same time. I am currently in the process of removing this from my yard as a couple of plants have taken route in my ignorance. I have also seen a large presence by concrete surfaces which dump water rather than absorbing it.
Cogon Grass is a soil binder and is used to prevent soil erosion. It is extremely useful as an animal feed for most herbivores including rabbits. It is a tall grass with seemingly no stem and a deep root. The root is fibrous but pleasant to chew containing starch and sugar. It can also be used as a bedding material for livestock or thatch. Its medicinal uses include treating nephritis, fever, hypertension, dyspnea, epitaxy and as a hepatoprotector agent it can lower cholesterol and blood glucose. It is very high in fiber making it useful for regulating a rabbits digestive tract. It possesses more carbohydrates than hay and it has an appetizing taste which rabbits love. It is often seen as a weed or invasive grass, but left untempered it can be quite useful. I would recommend harvesting it rather than mowing it.
All the beneficial species I have listed are heat tolerant, naturally occurring in Florida and have benefits for not only rabbits but human consumption as well. I haven't mowed my lawn in months and its easily one of the best decisions I've made since adding solar to the house. I plan on harvesting these plants rather than simply mowing and having a green lawn. I am benefiting the soil, the environment, local wildlife and myself by engaging in this practice. I also recommend getting the SEEK app in the App Store which has helped with my identification of local flora and fauna. The app has difficulty with insects and grasses without distinct features, but is otherwise amazing and educational. This will be a living post and I hope to add more to it when I have time. I know not everyone can take liberties with their lawn, but if you can you should. I hope this helps.