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Spanish Needle

Chances are you’ve seen this amazing plant, hiding in plain sight along roadsides, in parks, at the beach, or in your own yard. Those small, cheerful, daisy-like flowers that give way to annoying barbed seeds that stick stronger than Velcro to socks, paws, and anything that may brush by. What we refer to around here as Spanish Needles, bidens pilosa (or alba) spring up in dense clumps practically overnight, happily thriving no matter how poor the soil or conditions. In fact, bidens has a notorious reputation as an invasive and troublesome weed in more than 40 countries.1 But take heed: this botanical problem child has many redeeming qualities, not the least of which is that it just may save your life.

Also known as beggar’s ticks, farmer’s friend, pitchfork weed, or tickseed sunflowers, bidens reportedly originated in South America and has spread around the globe, even thriving in the desert. Today there are some 230 known bidens species (in the aster family of plants), many of which are well documented as an important source of both food and medicine among indigenous peoples.2  Frankly, I’m fascinated with bidens and the emerging research which supports its use for everything from killing MRSA to controlling toxic algae blooms.

Yep. I said MRSA, a drug resistant staph bacteria that has — and continues to– claim thousands of American lives. But MRSA appears to have met its match. A study published in the US National Library of Medicine found that bidens kicks the pants off MRSA.4 I’ll say it again: a little weed that people hate more than love kills a bacteria that has decimated families and frustrated medical science for decades. Bidens offers potent, pharmacologically active antibacterial properties, clinically studied and often quite remarkable in practical use.  But that’s just the beginning.3

Not only is it proving a powerful antibacterial/antimicrobial, studies show bidens effectively treats viruses, microbes, protozoans, wounds, gout, gastrointestinal diseases, fever, fungal infection, liver disorders, diabetes, edema, abscess, inflammation, malaria, snake bite, hypertension, and cardiovascular diseases.4  One study even points to its value as an anti-cancer treatment.5 And that’s the short list. In my research I was pleasantly surprised to learn that bidens extract was found to control toxic algae blooms.6    

If you’d like to use bidens for home health, a few words of advice.  The available science points to a fresh plant, alcohol-based tincture as the most effective for antibacterial purposes. However, I’ve successfully used a simple infusion for mouth ulcer’s, wounds, and a few minor infections. I purposefully grow bidens and harvest it from my yard. Avoid picking itfrom along roadways or where pesticides or chemicals are used because of the risk of contamination. Identifying bidens when it’s not in bloom or gone to seed could be tricky, so make certain you’re harvesting the right plant. Always, always, do your own research, and work with a professional if you have a serious or chronic medical condition. 

Personally, I find bidens an enormously promising plant. It’s a prolific producer, doesn’t need controlled conditions for growing and is –pretty much everywhere anyway.  In fact, I think it’s so abundant because Nature wants to make certain we notice her marvelous medicines for the common man.

This information is provided for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any illness or disease. It should not be considered medical advice, nor is it intended to replace the expert care of a qualified medical practitioner.

If you want to know more about infusions, decoctions, or how to make your own tincture visit: 

1   Journal of Basic and Environmental Sciences, 6 (2019) 33-44

2 , 4   Bartolome AP, Villaseñor IM, Yang WC. Bidens pilosa L. (Asteraceae): Botanical Properties, Traditional Uses, Phytochemistry, and Pharmacology. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013;2013:340215. doi:10.1155/2013/340215 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3712223/

3  Kourtis AP, Hatfield K, Baggs J, et al. Vital Signs: Epidemiology and Recent Trends in Methicillin-Resistant and in Methicillin-Susceptible Staphylococcus aureus Bloodstream Infections — United States. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2019;68:214–219. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6809e1External.

5   Department of Pharmacy, Annamalai University, Annamalainagar – 608002, India. Studies of anticancer and antipyretic activity of Bidens pilosa whole plant. imalakrishnan Sundararajan, Akalanka Dey, Anton Smith, Arul Gana Doss, Manavalan Rajappan, and Sridhar Natarajan Afr Health Sci. 2006 Mar; 6(1): 27–30.

6  Inhibitory Effects of Bidens pilosa Plant Extracts on the Growth of the Bloom-Forming Alga Microcystis aeruginosa  Van Nguyen, Q., Tran, T.H., Pham, T.N. et al. Water Air Soil Pollut (2019) 230: 24. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11270-019-4077-1

Safety Harbor Sun

Harbor Happenings: The week ahead

in events/news

Are you hosting a community event in Safety Harbor? Submit your event for our calendar! Events should be either free and open-to-the-public or proceeds used to support greater community good. Please send event suggestions to newsroom@safetyharborsun.com.

Events for week of July 8, 2019

This Week Navigation

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Mon 8th

Safety Harbor Walk

July 8 @ 6:30 PM - 7:45 PM
Wed 10th
Fri 12th

Fourth of July 2019 in Safety Harbor, Florida. (Photo/Jarine Dotson)

Glimpses of Fourth of July fun

in news/town square

Safety Harbor had a full day of festivities for the Fourth of July. The day started with American Legion Post 238’s annual Fourth of July Parade on Main Street. A ceremony in John Wilson Park followed the parade. In the early evening, people flocked to the Marina Park parking lot for music and food trucks. And, of course, a fireworks celebration capped of the day’s events. (Photos/Jarine Dotson and Kathryn Malaxos)

Used with artist's permission: Alice Anderson

History, People, and Places Series: Alice Anderson

in news/town square

Alice Anderson loves historic buildings.  Even more, she loves drawing them. I contacted her after seeing her print of a pen and ink etching of the Tucker mansion.

“I drew it because it’s such a beautiful building,” she says.

Alice Anderson holding her drawing of the Tucker mansion. Photo credit: Laura Kepner

Alice supported her two kids through the 1970s and ‘80s. She worked in advertising, apartment management, and senior housing management. She was called upon to incorporate her drawings into specific projects in Vermont and became known for her illustrations of the interiors and exteriors of homes, many before they were built.  

After a successful career, Alice was tired of the brittle winters. She moved to Florida to be near family and to focus on what she has always loved. She spends mornings in her home studio, with natural light filtering through big picture windows.  It’s easy for her to work for several hours straight, drawing, painting, or sitting in front of her computer, marketing her work.

“Annabelle” by Alice Anderson. Published with artist’s permission.

Some of her income is earned from her pet portraits but she doesn’t stick with one subject matter. There are many old homes and buildings in Safety Harbor and Alice says she would like to find a project that allows her to depict them through her pen and ink drawings. She uses a ruler for hard edges but the rest she does freehand. As with her pet portraits, her drawings of homes and structures begin with a photograph.

A little over a year ago, Alice started painting landscapes with pastels. It was her first since moving to Florida.  “It’s been very fortunate for me to have found landscapes,” she says.  She entered a plein air painting contest and won, even though it was her first attempt. “I had to use my background knowledge. When you are an artist, you have a different view of the world.”

Depicted through her vibrant pastels, Alice’s artful views of Florida are gaining popularity throughout the Bay Area. They and can be seen at the Dunedin Fine Art Center, Stirling Studios & Gallery, and Tampa Bay Interiors. Six of her paintings are in the Clearwater Main Library through July 31.

She is a member of TESA and was awarded Best of Show on June 18. She also teaches classes and teaches private students individually.

Alice’s drawings and paintings range from $125 on up to $300 for her landscapes. Look for her work on July 19 during Third Friday at the Safety Harbor Museum & Cultural Center’s Love of Safety Harbor event. Her work will stay at the museum through August.

“After all these years, I’m final able to be Alice Artist,” she says.

Look for more about Alice Artist on Facebook, or send her an email.

Pride celebration in Safety Harbor

in news/town square

In what may be the first Pride celebration in Safety Harbor’s history, participants gathered at the Gazebo on Sunday morning to make art, paint faces and participate in a Rainbow Stroll hosted by the Safety Harbor Art and Music Center.

LGBTQ Pride Month began as a way to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in New York City (Library of Congress) and over decades has grown into an event celebrated in many communities across the country, most notably locally, St. Pete Pride, which has been touted as having the largest Pride Parade in Florida.

Safety Harbor is proud to have residents organize and participate in a walk to help celebrate Pride Month. We support our LGBTQ community and and the diversity it represents in our town.

Joe Ayoub, Safety Harbor Mayor

Safety Harbor Rainbow Stroll participants were enthusiastic and Rainbow Stroll organizer Heather Richardson said she expects future Safety Harbor Rainbow Strolls will be “bigger and better!”

Safety Harbor loves its trees

in news

UPDATE JUNE 27, 2019: Governor DeSantis signed CS/HB 1159: Private Property Rights, which will impact local governments’ tree ordinances, on June 26. Per City Manager Matt Spoor, city staff will review and update the City Commission later this summer.

At the June 17 Safety Harbor City Commission meeting, resident Tanja Vidovic, former contributor to the Safety Harbor Sun, presented a proposal to strengthen the existing tree ordinance. Residents, including artist and Safety Harbor Art and Music Center co-founder Heather Richardson, spoke in support of Vidovic’s proposal. Richardson said it was “appropriate to re-do the ordinance and make it more proactive, not just a pretty picture.”

The following morning as she drove down Main Street, Vidovic encountered workers removing trees at Main Street and Second Avenue North. She parked her car and began filming. In a Facebook Live video, Vidovic suggested the city was removing healthy trees. Vidovic advocated saving the trees by moving sidewalks or leaving some trees in place while new trees grew in the park.

People stopping by the park site that day expressed dismay. A teary-eyed B.J. Lehman, owner of B.J.’s Flower Shop and a descendent of the McMullen family, recalled that she, her father and grandfather played in and under the oaks on Main Street as children. Others, such as Safety Harbor Senior Living center employee Denise Vining, supported the city’s action. Watching the work, Vining stated that the trees were diseased and “one was hollowed in the middle.”

On Friday, Mayor Joe Ayoub shared information about the park project and responded to concerns in a Facebook post.

Ensuing social media commentary reflects support for the tree removal and for alternative methods that may have saved some of the Main Street trees.

Over the weekend, Vidovic reflected on the disappointment and frustration she felt as she drove down Main Street on Tuesday morning and saw workers felling the trees:

“I feel like there was a sense of urgency. Just the night before, I had so much hope that we, even being a little town, were coming together and working towards leading the community towards a sustainable future. I had plans to bring the plans for the park up to commission to ask them to review it. When I saw the trees being cut, I felt hopeless, like there was nothing I could do to stop it. I saw the nests falling, the animals jumping and residents tearing up as they watched… in less than four hours the trees that they watched grow be leveled. The shade that we all enjoyed, no more. All of this rushed through me. The big picture is that we have a climate crisis; the small picture of prevention is protecting the earth and caring for its trees.”

Baranoff Park

The City Commission approved plans for Baranoff Park, developed by the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, at the May 20 City Commission meeting. (Vidovic began researching the park project to write a story for the Safety Harbor Sun following the May 20 Commission meeting. The proposed article was pulled when Vidovic decided to work on a new tree ordinance.)

On Friday at the park site, Safety Harbor Arborist Art Finn and Community Development Director Marcie Stenmark confirmed the trees were not healthy and some were potentially dangerous. Stenmark said the City could not risk having a tree fall on someone.

Seven Water Oaks, two Live Oaks, one Bluejack Oak and a Sabal Palm were removed.

Water Oaks generally have a shorter life span than Live Oaks. According to the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) website, “young [Water Oaks] should be trained to develop a central trunk and then will require only occasional pruning once established. Naturalized trees often develop with several upright multiple trunks which are poorly attached to the tree. Horizontal branches droop toward the ground as additional growth adds to their weight. They can split from the tree in wind storms, deforming the plant and beginning the process of decay and decline. They appear to be poor compartmentalizers of decay since many are hollow at 40 years old.”

Two Live Oaks were removed in part due to proximity to existing side walk. The Sabal Palm (tree 12), which had not been recommended for removal according to the City’s Baranoff Park Tree Inventory (see also, diagram), was located near the proposed Main Street park entrance. The final park plan approved by the Commission included moving the park entrance from Second Avenue North to Main Street, per City Manager Matt Spoor. Relocating the entrance led to removal of the Sabal Palm. This will allow the entrance to have a wide view of the park’s central feature: the Baranoff Oak.

Three Live Oak and two Magnolia trees are planned for the new park. Finn said the new trees will be planted fifteen feet inside the park perimeter to avoid future encroachment on sidewalks.

Baranoff Park Plans (City of Safety Harbor)

Per Stenmark, six concrete loungers pictured in the plan will not be purchased. (The City Commission discussed the expense and practicality of the loungers at the May 20 meeting.)

Tree protection

Safety Harbor residents view the Baranoff Oak (and trees in general) as a symbol of their city – and the city has taken steps to ensure its health. Stenmark pointed out large steel beams supporting the Baranoff’s great branches; earlier in the year they replaced deteriorating wood beams. Looking up, visitors may spot wires along some of the branches. Finn explained: The Baranoff and some of the city’s other large oaks have lightning protection systems. The wires direct lightning strikes away from the trees and into the ground. The Baranoff Oak has a micro-jet irrigation system for dry periods. Finn said this irrigation system has been “crucially important” to the oak.

In addition to lightning protection and irrigation systems, the Baranoff Oak has Finn, who checks on the tree and its soil regularly. Finn is not just concerned with Safety Harbor’s signature oak. He shared emphatically that he “loves all trees,” including those cleared for the new park. “Before they were removed,” he said, “I hugged every one of them.”

According to City Manager Matt Spoor, final completion is slated for October. The City, Spoor shared via email, “uses ANSI A300 standards in all of our tree work.”

The Tree Care Industry’s ANSI 300 standards provide guidelines including soil management, root management, and protection practices prior to and during demolition, construction, and landscaping.

Caring for the giant Baranoff Oak is an ongoing process, during park installation and afterwards. The huge tree has suffered – and been rehabilitated – in the past. Disruption to the tree’s root system or the soil it lives in can have serious impact; The process of installing something as wonderful as a new park can alter the tree’s environment when in-ground concrete and pavers are removed and soil is impacted. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources clarifies the concern:

“Any wound to the roots, stem or main branches of a tree, caused during construction, is considered construction damage. These wounds can occur during any building activities around trees that cover the soil, disturb the soil, or simply driving near the tree with heavy equipment. Construction damage can occur on projects as small as paving a patio.”

Baranoff park
West side of Baranoff Park (Photo/Kathryn Malaxos)

Asked about removal of trees for the new park, Stan DeFreitas – “Mr. Greenthumb,” an author, horticulturist and International Society of Arboriculture-certified arborist – said he had not seen the trees to be able to assess them. DeFreitas said he generally works to keep trees in place whenever possible.

According to DeFreitas, Live Oaks are thicker-wooded than Water Oaks because they are slower growing. He estimated that, depending on the size of the tree, it could take twenty-five to thirty years for replacement trees to provide the same amount of shade as those removed. DeFreitas said although “people don’t usually fertilize in parks, nutrients, organic fertilizer at the base” would benefit the new trees’ growth.

Regarding an update to the tree ordinance, DeFreitas said Safety Harbor should have a committee of citizens to review decisions and provide an alternate voice. “When trees are on your logo,” he asked, “shouldn’t citizens have input?”

Tree ordinance

Safety Harbor loves its trees. The City has been a member of the Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree City USA program for thirty years. Trees are not a new topic of conversation.

Tree City USA Standards
  • Standard 1: A Tree Board or Department
  • Standard 2: A Tree Care Ordinance
  • Standard 3: A Community Forestry Program With an Annual Budget of at Least $2 Per Capita
  • Standard 4: An Arbor Day Observance and Proclamation

In 2007 Safety Harbor leaders engaged in discussion hosted by St. Petersburg College to determine the City’s vision and set goals for a five-year period. They identified “adopting a tree ordinance” as a strategic action for that year. It took a bit longer for Safety Harbor to adopt one of its own.

In 2014, residents’ protested the removal of trees on the Safety Harbor Spa property. The city enacted a temporary moratorium on tree removal and got to work on a new ordinance. Residents gave input and the tree ordinance – Ord. No. 2015-03, § 1, 3-16-2015 – was adopted in 2015.

At the June 17, 2019 City Commission meeting, Commissioner Andy Zodrow, an attorney with the Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County, said Safety Harbor relied on Pinellas County’s tree ordinance when writing the 2015 ordinance. The Pinellas County ordinance, he said, “actually allowed you to replace oak trees with crepe myrtles.” Zodrow said the 2015 ordinance was a compromise, adopted with expectation that it would be reviewed. City Manager Matt Spoor confirmed some modifications, including fines, were made to strengthen the ordinance in subsequent years.

Commenting on the current ordinance Zodrow said, “I don’t think it is working well… I want to make sure that remains on a front burner, there is obviously a lot of citizen support for that.”  Zodrow encouraged the Commission to continue discussion of a revised tree ordinance. Echoing resident Heather Richardson’s comments in support of Vidovic’s proposal, Zodrow noted “The trees are more important than ever.”

The International Society for Arboriculture has Guidelines for Developing and Evaluating Tree Ordinances.

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