Friday, January 29, 2016

Wild Cotton - Gossypium hirsutum

Wild cotton (Gossypium hirsutum) is a state-listed endangered species found naturally in south Florida, though it has been reported from Pinellas County on the central west coast and Gilchrist County in north Florida. It also ranges through much of the Caribbean and parts of Mexico.. It is a member of the Hibiscus/Mallow family (Malvaceae) and is the wild source of cultivated cotton that is still a staple of the fabric industry. Its current status in Florida is now largely a result of past attempts to eradicate it as a host to the boll weevil that once severely threatened the industry. It is still illegal to sell this plant, though it is propagated and traded by native plant enthusiasts.
Wild cotton is a woody shrub that can reach 12 feet tall. As the Latin species name implies, the stems are hairy. The evergreen leaves are 3-lobed and 2-6 inches long.. Overall, the plants are thin with short branches.
Flowering can occur throughout the year. Like all hibiscus, the solitary blooms remain open for only one day before folding up. the five petals are white and often have a dark maroon spot at the base of the flower. The white petals also often turn pinkish as the day progresses. The flowers pictured here are recently opened and are from plants in our Pinellas County landscape. Pollinated flowers quickly form a broad seed capsule that eventually turns brown and splits along the carpel seams. When this happens, the seeds are surrounded by cotton fibers. Pollination is mostly performed by bees in my landscape and it is a larval food of the gray hairstreak.
My wife, Alexa, planted our wild cotton more than 10 years ago and it has persisted despite complete neglect. Though none of our plants seem to live more than a few years, it reseeds. Plants that germinate in partly shady, well-drained locations persist longer than those in other conditions.
Wild cotton makes an interesting addition to the landscape, though it looks best when mixed with other species. It is unfortunate that we cannot share this plant as part of the plants we offer at Hawthorn Hill because of its current legal status. Perhaps it will someday be legal to propagate and sell this plant, especially in the southern part of Florida where cotton is not grown as a fiber crop.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Apalachicola Meadowbeauty - Rhexia parviflora

Apalachicola meadowbeauty (Rhexia parviflora) is an especially rare member of this common genus and listed as a state endangered species. Found in Florida only in the central and western Panhandle counties, it also has a very limited distribution in parts of adjacent Georgia and Alabama. Throughout its limited range, it is resident to moist soil habitats such as seepage slopes, depression marshes, and the upper edges of cypress domes. The plants photographed above were found growing in about 1 inch of water at the edge of an isolated cypress dome in the Apalachicola National Forest in mid-August.
Apalachicola meadowbeauty is a perennial herb that dies back to the ground in winter. It emerges in spring, but remains small and can go largely unnoticed in the understory vegetation until it blooms in summer. Few plants reach a mature height of 16 inches; most are less than 1 foot tall. The stems are square and somewhat "hairy", while the leaves are 1/2-1 inch long, oval in shape and attached to the main stem by a petiole. No other meadowbeauty in Florida combines this feature with white petals. The common pale meadow beauty (R. mariana)  is only sometimes white, does not have leaf stalks, and normally occurs in drier habitats.
The flowers are composed of four bright rounded white petals and are normally less than 1 inch across. The reproductive parts are bright yellow and the anthers curl slightly backward. The blooms mostly attract the attention of bees.
Apalachicola meadowbeauty is one of many examples of how unique the state's flora is. This is a difficult plant to locate and requires some sleuthing in wet habitats during the summer to locate it. If you do, simply admire it for its subtle beauty. Do not attempt to collect any portion of it for any purpose without permits. This is not a specimen for use in a home landscape. There are many, more common species better for that purpose.

Fringed meadowbeauty - Rhexia petiolata

Fringed meadow beauty (Rhexia petiolata) is a common component of wet open habitats throughout much of Florida (except the very lowest tiers of counties). It also occurs in much of the Southeast Coastal Plain from Texas to Maryland. It can be easily confused with the also-common Nuttall's meadow beauty (R. nuttallii), with which it overlaps significantly in geographic range, but fringed meadow beauty has no hairs on the outside of its rounded urn-shaped seed capsules while Nuttall's is conspicuously covered by glandular hairs.
This, like other members of the genus, are perennial herbs that die back in winter. Stems arise from the hardened base in spring and reach a mature height of 6 inches to 2 1/2 feet. The plants photographed above in a pitcher plant bog in Apalachicola National Forest in mid-August were on the taller end of the height spectrum for this species. The leaves are oval, clasp the stem and are less than 1 inch long. Noticeable hairs occur on the margins.
Flowering lasts from June until early fall. The 4-petal pink flowers are borne singly or in small clusters at the end of the stems. The blooms are about 1-inch across and nearly indistinguishable from Nuttall's meadow beauty. The petals tend to have wavy margins and curl upwards. Most other meadow beauties hold their flowers at 90-degree angles to the ground and have more-flattened petals,
Fringed meadow beauty is not currently grown commercially in Florida by any nursery affiliated with FANN- the Florida Association of Native Nurseries.  Its somewhat demure aesthetics make it unlikely to be added in the future.

Lance-leaf Rose-gentian - Sabatia difformis

Lance-leaf rose-gentian (Sabatia difformis) is a perennial member of this genus and resident to wet open habitats throughout much of central and north Florida. It also is resident throughout much of the Southeast Coastal Plain from Alabama to New Jersey.
This is a unique member of an interesting genus; its species name, difformis, is derived from its atypical form, and it is distinctive enough not to be confused with other rose-gentians. Lance-leaf rose-gentian dies back to the ground in winter, but reaches a mature height of about 3 feet by late spring. The leaves are only about 1 inch long, narrowly lanceolate, and tend to point upwards. They also lack a petiole (the leaf stem) and strongly clasp the main stem. The basal leaves are normally absent (or underwater) by blooming season.
A multi-branched flower stalk is produced atop the main stem and may be 6 inches across. Clusters of bright white, 5-petal flowers open from May through late summer. Each petal is nearly 1/2 inch long, making the mature inflorescence quite showy. They attract pollinators.
Lance-leaf rose-gentian is not grown commercially in Florida and would require specific conditions to prosper. Look for it in open marshes and bogs in summer and admire it for its simple beauty.

Doll's Daisy - Boltonia diffusa

Doll's daisy (Boltonia diffusa) is easily confused, at first glance, with the true daisies in the genus Symphyotrichum. In fact, the best way of telling the genera apart lies in looking at the seeds. Asters (and fleabanes (Erigerons) ) have coverings over the seeds that have numerous bristles while doll's daisy has very few. Doll's daisies (there are 3 species in Florida) are thinly branched perennial herbs that occur in seasonally wet habitats. They are never found far from shallow standing water. This species is the only one found statewide. It also occurs throughout much of the southern and lower Midwestern states.
Doll's daisy dies back to the ground in winter and emerges in early spring. As it suckers profusely underground, it normally occurs in colonies. It reaches a mature height of 3-5 feet tall by summer. The leaves are narrow, alternate along the stem, and are less than 1 inch long. The leaf margins are often smooth, but may have several small teeth.
Flowering occurs from summer through fall. Each bloom is 1/2 inch across, on average, and composed of numerous white to light lavender ray petals surrounding a bright yellow disk. Each is held on long stems on top of the main branches. Like all members of the daisy family, they attract pollinators.
Doll's daisy requires seasonably wet to shallowly inundated soils. As such, it is not a wildflower likely to be offered for home landscape purposes. Its small flowers and spindly stems also reduce its aesthetic qualities, but it has value in a wetland pollinator garden. To my knowledge, it is not available commercially, but could be grown from seed collected in fall.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Scrub Buckwheat - Eriogonum longifolium var. gnaphalifolium

Scrub buckwheat (Eriogonum longifolium var. gnaphalifolium) is a very rare endemic species, found only within the scrub and sandhill habitats of Florida's central ridges - from Ocala National Forest south to the end of the Lake Wales Ridge. It listed as threatened by both the state and federal government.
Scrub buckwheat is a perennial forb that generally maintains its linear basal leaves through the winter. These leaves are 6-8 inches long, deep green in color and slightly "hairy" on the upper surface. Like its close (and much more common) cousin wild buckwheat (E. tomentosum), the undersides of these leaves are densely silvery hairy. The third photo from the top shows this.
A central flower stalk is produced in the center of this basal rosette of leaves and it can appear almost anytime from early summer to fall. Flowering is sometimes stimulated by fire, but it is not necessary. The plant above is in my landscape and began blooming in late October - without fire. The flower stalks reach 2-3 feet tall prior to the flowers opening. It is multi-branched near the top. Each branch contains 10-20 small silvery white flowers  with a yellow center. The flower stalk, flower buds, and the undersides of the sepals are covered by silky silver "hairs".
Though rare in nature, scrub buckwheat is uncommonly offered by native nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries. It is not an especially showy addition to a scrub/sandhill wildflower garden, but it is interesting - especially if planted in small clusters. To date, our single plant has done well in sandy soil in nearly full sun that also has various Conradina's and other scrub plants around it. In the spring, before flowering, it can be confused with wild buckwheat as both have linear leaves arranged in a rosette, with silvery undersides. If you find scrub buckwheat, do not collect seed, but simply admire it for its uniqueness.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Water Hoarhound - Lycopus rubellus

Water hoarhound (Lycopus rubellus) is one of four hoarhounds/bugleweeds native to Florida, and the only one widely found south of the Panhandle. It is an herbaceous perennial that dies back to the ground in winter and reemerges in the spring. As their common name suggests, all four species are obligate wetland species - resident to freshwater swamps, marshes, bogs, and wet shorelines.
Water hoarhound eventually reaches a mature height of about 3 feet. It produces many single stems off its spreading system of underground rhizomes, so when you find it, it normally is present in clusters or in mass depending on the openness of the habitat surrounding it.  As this is a mint, the stem is square. It also is slightly "hairy" and a deep maroon red in color. The leaves are opposite on the stem, normally sessile (without a petiole), and elliptical in shape. The edges have distinctive teeth.
Blooming occurs from summer into late fall. The small white flowers are produced in the leaf axils in clusters. Individual blooms last just a few days, but each cluster produces more over a several month period. Each bloom is about 1/4 inch long and somewhat tubular; the five petals are mostly fused.  The anthers are purple and the throat has several tiny purplish dots, making the flowers appear somewhat pinkish from a distance. They are pollinated by small bees and butterflies.
Water hoarhound can be commonly encountered in the wet areas of Florida, but overlooked when not in bloom. It is not currently being propagated and is unlikely to be in the future as more-showy wetland species are the ones in demand for landscape purposes.