Salamander or anole?
Q: Could you tell me if salamanders eat monarch caterpillars, and is there any way that I can control them? Dominic Grillo, Dunedin
A: Are you sure it is salamanders and not the Cuban anole? They are various shades of color and are voracious eaters indeed, consuming small insects. The male, when courting, extends his throat pouch. Salamanders are rarely seen. They live in moist environments, near lake beds, streams and springs, and also in leaves on the forest floor, where they feed on earthworms and grubs. There are no controls for the anoles, which help in pest control.
Help with hibiscus
Q: We lost two hibiscus plants last winter. We covered them during the frost period, but they got damaged anyway. What should we do if that happens again this winter? Neighbors cut them back in March, and theirs are beautiful this year. Was that the right thing to do? Pat Snyder
A: There are many species of hibiscus, and the tropical types, Hibiscus rosa-sinensis or Chinese hibiscus, will be subject to freezes in our location every year, so let's look at some hardy types. First would be rose-of-sharon, Hibiscus syriacus, which is partly deciduous and has some beautiful blue colors, as well as resembling Chinese hibiscus with an upright growth habit. Scarlet hibiscus, Hibiscus coccineus, our gorgeous native contribution, has large 5- to 6-inch blood-red single flowers, with heavily cut leaves. A bit gangly in growth habit, it needs pruning and dies to the ground each winter. The biggest bloom of all is the swamp mallow, Hibiscus moscheutos. The flowers of this hibiscus are the size of a dinner plate — yes, you read that right. They are a little slower than scarlet hibiscus to get going in the spring, but absolutely striking. All of your neighbors will stop by to admire the huge, gorgeous flowers in reds, whites and pinks.
Dig into dragon fruit
Q: Thought you might like to see this picture. We've been growing night-blooming cereus forever, but this is the first time we've gotten fruit after a bloom. Everything I read says it's edible, so we'll have to give it a try. Paul Carroll
A: What you actually have is dragon fruit, which is the newest rage in tropical fruit, even though it's a cactus. Called a pitaya, it is sweet and crunchy and has either white, red or magenta flesh, with small, black seeds scattered throughout the fruit like a kiwi, and yours is ready to pick. To eat, cut the top off, and by hand, peel the skin off. Be sure to introduce the "fruit" of your labor to close friends and/or a special neighbor. There are three species — Hylocereus undatus, Hylocereus guatemalensis and Hylocereus polyrhizus — and now, because of its popularity, plenty of hybrids and new species. Your long wait for your first fruit is because it needs a pollinator. Go to a tropical fruit nursery, such as Jene's Tropicals in St. Petersburg, and purchase one or two other varieties, and then you'll have plenty to share!