Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Carolina Yellow-Eyed Grass - Xyris caroliniana


Of the 24 native species of yellow-eyed grass, only Carolina yellow-eyed grass (Xyris caroliniana) is commonly white-flowered. This makes it much easier to identify in the field than the others. Carolina yellow-eyed grass is common in upland sites throughout Florida into the Florida Keys. It is found in similar upland conditions throughout much of the Southeastern Coastal Plain from east Texas north to Maryland and New Jersey.  

This perennial is characterized by its somewhat twisted linear leaves that are erect and about 12-15 inches tall. They are less than 1/4 inch wide. The base of the plants has a chestnut-brown sheath.  Flowering stems reach a mature height of about the same height as the leaves. They are produced singly from the greenish cones from summer into late fall.  Each bloom is about 1/2 inch wide. While most species in this genus open in the morning, Carolina yellow-eyed grass typically opens later in the day. They are most-often pollinated by bees.

No member of this genus is currently propagated by nurseries affiliated with FANN - The Florida Association of Native Nurseries. Look for this one in upland settings. When not in bloom and relatively obvious, it can be distinguished by its twisted narrow leaves and non-ciliated scales on the spent flower heads.

Coastalplain Yellow-eyed Grass - Xyris ambigua

Coastalplain yellow-eyed grass (Xyris ambigua) is a very common resident of open wetlands throughout Florida. As its name suggests, it also is found throughout the Southeast Coastal Plain from east Texas to Virginia.  This is a perennial with a rather robust growth form. The basal leaves are up to 16 inches in length and about 3/4 inches wide at the base. They taper to a point - as is common to all in this genus.  The base of these leaves is "slimy" to the touch and marked by dark brown striations on a creamy white surface. I was remiss in taking a photograph of this feature - something I will rectify sometime in the future.
Flower stalks rise up to 3 feet above the basal leaves on straight stems. The flowers are produced individually on tapering cones composed of overlapping scales with noticeably fimbriate edges. As is typical for most species in this genus, the flowers are bright yellow and composed of 3 petals. Each bloom lasts just for a part of the day - opening in late morning and shriveling up by late afternoon. They are pollinated mostly by bees.
Coastalplain yellow-eyed grass is robust and showy enough to warrant commercial propagation, but I am unaware of any native plant nursery doing so at this time. It would make a striking addition to a rain garden setting or for a wetland restoration project. Perhaps this situation will change sometime in the future. Look for this robust species at the edge of moist to wet site throughout the state.


Florida Yellow-Eyed Grass - Xyris floridana

There are 24 species of native yellow-eyed grasses in Florida and they can be difficult for most to accurately identify. Florida yellow-eyed grass (Xyris floridana) is one that is rather distinctive. It is a diminutive perennial found throughout much of Florida in wetland conditions. This is a species confined to the Southeastern Coastal Plain; occurring in open wetlands from Louisiana to North Carolina. 

This plant can be distinguished from its closest relative (X. serotina) by the growth form and the coloration of the base of the leaves. Florida yellow-eyed grass normally occurs as individual plants, not dense tufts, and the base of the leaves is typically dark maroon to purple. This can be seen in the lower photograph above.Unlike many in this genus, the "cones" of flowers are small and rounded - not elliptical. These are obvious in the first photograph.

Flowering occurs on stalks that reach only about 12 inches in height. Flowers are bright yellow as is common to most species and they are produced singly in summer to fall. Pollination is most likely the result of small bees.

Yellow-eyed grasses in general are not grown commercially by nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries.  This is regrettable as they would make interesting additions to wetland plantings and restoration projects. As Florida yellow-eyed grass is so small and largely inconspicuous, it is even less likely to be offered in the future. For the die hard hobbyists, collect the tiny seed once the cones are brown and ripe ad scatter the seed on wet potting soil for best germination. Otherwise, just be content to find this species in moist to wet soils in open sunny locations.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Tall lespedeza - Lespedeza stuevei

Tall bush clover (Lespedeza stuevei) is a perennial legume found in most counties in north Florida. It also has been reported from most states in the eastern half of the U.S.  Throughout its range, it is most commonly found in well-drained sunny habitats and seems to especially respond to disturbances.  Legumes like this serve to enrich soils by fixing nitrogen.

As its common name suggests, it is an erect forb that can reach a mature height of 3 feet or more. The three-parted (trifoliate) leaves alternate along the stems. They are sparsely hairy and numerous.  The plants are much taller than they are wide.

Flowering occurs in summer to early fall. Clusters of pale to rich-colored pink pea-shaped blooms occur at the tips of the stems. They are noticeably keeled (as are most legumes) and the inside of the petals are marked with deeper pink lines and blotches. Following blooming and in late fall, pollinated flowers give rise to a one-seeded rounded pod. The seeds, like in other bush clovers, are important food for bobwhite quail, ground doves and other ground-nesting birds. Although not reported, this species (like L. hirta) may serve as a host plant for gray hairstreaks and southern cloudywings.  

Although important wildlife plants, none of the bush clovers are routinely propagated by nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries.  They deserve more attention. With its richly colored flowers and its ability to improve soils, this species especially seems to warrant being propagated. I do not know how adaptable it would be, however, south of its geographical range.

Plumose aster - Symphyotrichum plumosum

 Plumose aster (Symphyotrichum plumosum) is endemic to Florida and found only in a small 8-county cluster of counties in central north Florida in and around Torreya State Park and the Apalachicola National Forest. In this region, it can be common in well-drained upland habitats. These photos were taken in a sandhill ridge at Torreya State Park.It is very close in appearance and growth form to the widely distributed eastern silver aster (S. concolor), but is clearly distinguished from it by its noticeably recurved phyllaries. These are easily seen in the photos above.

This perennial wildflower has narrow, linear basal leaves covered by silvery silky hairs. The leaves are appressed to the stems. Mature plants reach a height of 2-3 feet by fall. Numerous flower heads are formed at the tips of the stems. Individual flowers are present for at least a month until late fall.  Each is composed of many cornflower blue ray petals surrounding a central disc that is white. All true asters are favored by a wide variety of pollinating insects and this is no exception.

Little seems to be written about plumose aster, perhaps because it has often been confused with eastern silver aster. It is a species I would dearly love to experiment with here at Hawthorn Hill and I hope to get seed to do that later this fall. I suspect that it has similar growing requirements to eastern silver aster which has done well here - well-drained soils and full sun. As I add more asters to my landscape/nursery each year, this species seems to deserve attention and to be made available to native plant gardeners.

Narrow-leaved blue curls - Trichostema setaceum

Narrow-leaved blue curls (Trichostema setaceum) is an annual wildflower found throughout much of the northern half of Florida in sandy, xeric habitats such as sandhills and open oak woodlands. It also occurs in much of the eastern half of North America. It is often confused with the more ubiquitous common blue curls (D. dichotomum) though the latter does not often occur in such xeric conditions. As its name implises, narrow-leaved blue curls is also distinguished by its relatively narrower foliage.

As an annual, this species grows quickly in the spring to reach a maximum height of about 2 - 2 1/2 feet. The stems are weakly hairy with many branches that branch off opposite of each other.  The leaves are either entire or have small teeth along the margins. They are without petioles or with very short ones. Each is about 1/2 inch long and about 1/4 inch wide. They are highly fragrant if crushed - as its close relative. 

Flowering occurs in late summer and fall. They are similar in color and form to its more-common relative. The lower blue to almost-violet lower lip is extended from the corolla with a white splotch dotted with purple spots.The four long, curved stamens  arch above the petals and give this species its common name.  Numerous seeds are produced in the ripe capsules and these serve to disperse the plants abundantly for next season. The flowers are primarily pollinated by bees.

Blue curls in general are favorite wildflower additions to landscapes in Florida, but this species has been virtually ignored. It shouldn't be. It is easily grown from ripe seed. Just be aware that it will need open ground in the planting bed for it to be able to reseed effectively. Given those conditions, it may also reseed aggressively and need thinning - especially if added to a mixed wildflower planting.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Blue Ridge horsebalm - Collinsonia serotina

Blue ridge horsebalm (Collinsonia serotina) is a wildflower confined in Florida to many counties in the extreme northern part of the state. These photos were taken at Torreya State Park in Liberty County in early October. As its common name suggests, it is more commonly found north of Florida and has been documented from the Southeast Coastal Plain from Louisiana to North Carolina. Throughout its range, this perennial occurs in moist upland woodlands within light gaps where it remains partly sunny during the growing season.

This wildflower eventually reaches a mature height by mid-summer of 2-3 feet. The stems are stout and keep the plant erect. The leaves are wide (about 6-7 inches), ovate in shape, and coarsely toothed. They are opposite each other along the stems.

Flowering occurs from summer until mid-fall. These photos were taken in early October. Multiple racemes of flowers are produced at the ends of the stems. They open in succession from the base of the inflorescence.  Each is tubular and yellowish white in color. They are attractive to a wide variety of pollinators.

Horsebalms of all species have been used medicinally for years, though great care should be used as they possess powerful properties that could prove harmful to some people. This article discusses its medicinal use: https://healthyfocus.org/collinsonia-root-benefits/   The common name does not relate to it being a balm for horses (or other livestock).

I am not aware that this, or any of the other related species of Collinsonia have ever been propagated by nurseries affiliated with FANN - the  Florida Association of Native Nurseries. There is a second species native to north Florida (C. canadensis) and several others that are not native. The latter species are likely available from nurseries that specialize in herbal plants. I do not know how well they would grow in Florida.