Sunday, July 20, 2014
Sleepy hibiscus is a lanky perennial that can reach 6 feet at maturity. As a tropical species, it is evergreen and can bloom much of the year. The photos above were taken in mid-July at my Pinellas County residence. Other writers report that it becomes shrubby, as wide as it can be tall, but the plants I've observed have been rather thin with multiple side branches. The leaves are shallowly lobed, more like a maple than a linden (basswood - Tilia spp.), and somewhat rough to the touch. The stems also have stiff hairs.
Sleepy hibiscus is so named because of its nodding, half-open blooms. They are bright pink in color with a deeper rose-colored throat. Each is 6-8 inches long and quite showy. Their "sleepy" aspect makes it somewhat difficult for butterflies to pollinate them, but they are visited by bees - and hummingbirds in parts of their range.
Sleepy hibiscus is most common to the upper edges of south Florida pinelands and wetlands where they are shallowly inundated during the wetter months. Though not as needy of standing water as many of our native hibiscus, it prefers moisture - especially during the hotter months. It is reported to fare reasonably well in typical upland landscape conditions, but I have found it to need supplemental water if the soils become dry.
Regrettably, this species is only rarely offered for sale in Florida. Currently, no nursery affiliated with FANN- the Florida Association of Native Nurseries, is propagating it and I have not seen it offered for at least a decade. The plants above, were grown from seed collected several years ago in a wet flatwoods in St Lucie County. We hope to be able to propagate it from the seed of our plants this fall to make it available in Spring 2015. Inquire if interested.
Wednesday, July 2, 2014
Sea lavender is a perennial forb. In Florida, it tends to keep its basal leaves through winter. These are variable in shape, but most frequently are lanceolate and rather succulent in appearance. The multi-branched, nearly leafless flower stalks arise from these leaves and stand about 2 feet tall. Flowering is most common in spring and in fall, but can occur in most months in central and southern Florida. Numerous 5-petal blooms are produced for many weeks, a few at a time. As the common name implies, they are a rich lavender in color. Though each bloom is small (about 1/8 inch across) and opens for only part of the day, plants during the peak blooming season are quite attractive.
Because of its habitat preferences, sea lavender is only sporadically grown by commercial sources and it does not lend itself to the typical landscape setting. It would make an interesting and attractive addition to a salt marsh restoration or for landscapes on the beach that receive direct saltwater inundation.
Saturday, June 28, 2014
This is a perennial herbaceous wildflower that often dies back to the ground each winter and reemerges in the early spring. Mature plants reach a height of 2-3 feet by summer. The leaves are linear and opposite each other on the very hairy stems. Like other members of the genus, pale meadowbeauty forms extensive colonies by underground stems.
Flowering occurs in early summer to fall. The four broad petals recurve slightly backwards and the overall flowers are about 1 inch across. The stamens end in conspicuous yellow curved anthers and, following pollination, the urn-shaped seed capsules are distinctive.
Meadowbeauties, as a genus, are only rarely propagated and sold commercially. All make wonderful additions to a moist-soil setting, if provided sun to mostly sunny conditions.
Zigzag spiderwort is a perennial herbaceous species that dies back to the ground each winter and reemerges in spring. Mature plants are a bit lanky and stand 12-18 inches tall by early summer. Although it looks a lot like common spiderwort, one distinct difference is in the foliage. Zigzag spiderwort's leaves are much broader at the point of attachment to the stem than they are elsewhere. In common spiderwort, the leaves are pretty much uniformly the same width throughout.
The flowers of zigzag spiderwort are similarly shaped to common spiderwort, but tend to be much smaller in size. In all of the plants I have seen, they are light blue in color and there does not seem to be the variability in shades of blue present in common spiderwort.
Although zigzag spiderwort is tough and adaptable to a wide variety of growing conditions (provided it is not planted in full sun), it is not currently propagated by anyone associated with the Florida Association of Native Nurseries (FANN) and it seems unlikely to be anytime soon. This would be an interesting addition to a shade garden as so few wildflowers bloom in summer in shady settings.
Monday, June 23, 2014
Chapman's crownbeard is a perennial forb with rough-as-sandpaper oblong leaves that vary in length from 1-4 inches. The leaves alternate on the wingless 2-3 foot tall stems. Rounded flower heads form atop these stems in late spring and early summer. Each head is about 3/4 inches across. The bright yellow flowers are quite distinctive; no ray flowers are produced and they appear similar to those produced by Palafoxia spp.- except for the canary yellow color. Like other members of the aster family, the blooms attract pollinators.
Chapman's crownbeard occurs in open wet prairies, pine flatwoods, and bogs and forms an interesting part of the extremely diverse wet-prairie habitats found throughout the Apalachicola National Forest and parts adjacent to it. Though several members of this genus have become common cultivated wildflowers in Florida, Chapman's crownbeard has never been offered for home gardens to my knowledge. I suspect it is somewhat adaptable, but have never grown it myself to verify that. Watch for it along roadsides in moist open areas of the Forest and admire it for its simple beauty.
White birds-in-a-nest is a member of the mint family. Few native mints are truly pure white, and this species stands out among the understory because of the way it glistens in the sun. Its common name is easily understood by looking at the third photo above. Flowers open atop the 18-inch stem in June and July. As they open, the winged blooms encircle the unopened white egg-shaped flower buds.
This is a perennial. I do not know if it persists overwinter as basal leaves or if it dies back to the ground; none of the published resources I have consulted describe this feature. Regardless, it is not a very interesting foliage plant. White-birds-in-a-nest reaches a mature height of 12-18 inches and rather succulent elliptical leaves line the stems, opposite each other, and with rough teeth at the outer margin. The plants can be solitary or in small clusters.
White-birds-in-a-nest is threatened by modern forestry practices and by changing hydrology. It is not a good candidate for home horticulture because of its habitat specificity, but it is relatively well protected at this time in the State Forest where its well being is closely monitored.
Friday, June 13, 2014
Thistles are biennials; they do not flower in their first year, but develop a deep taproot and a basal rosette of leaves. Flowering occurs in the second year, they go to seed, and then the plants die. The large number of seeds produced by their parents, however, ensures that more plants will emerge next spring.
Nuttall's thistle is a robust, lanky species that reaches a mature height of 5 feet or more. The basal leaves are more narrow than in purple thistle, but they are equally armed with numerous sharp spines. In fact, the entire plant is exceedingly spiny.
A great many flower heads are produced atop the stems in summer. These too are much narrower than in purple thistle. The flowers vary in color from nearly white to a more common light pink. Plants remain in flower for many weeks, and as with other thistles, they are exceedingly attractive to pollinating insects.
Though thistles are wonderful plants for pollinators, they are extremely difficult to control in a landscape garden. Their thorniness makes working with them a challenge and the fact that they need to reseed to persist means that they need to be left alone until the seeds are dispersed. By then, you may have hundreds of seedlings germinating in every corner of your landscape (and in those of your neighbors). In many Midwestern states that I have lived in, growing thistles in a landscape is prohibited because they can be invasive.
If you have a more naturalistic setting and wish to add this species, despite its drawbacks, it is easy to propagate from seed collected when mature ("fuzzy"). This species is not currently available from commercial sources. Use it in out-of-the-way locations, away from pathways and trails and be prepared to weed out seedlings that appear in locations where they are not desired. Weed them when very small, when they are less well armed by thorns. Nuttall's thistle does well in partly sunny areas, but also can be grown in full sun.