Sunday, June 28, 2015

Scrub Balm - Dicerandra frutescens

Scrub balm is one of seven perennial Dicerandra species native to Florida.  A seventh species (D. linearifolia) is an annual. All are short-lived evergreen woody mints confined to small regional patches of yellow-sand scrub and all are extremely rare endemics, listed as federal endangered species. Scrub balm is found in extreme southern Highlands County in and near Archbold Biological Station, south of Lake Placid.
Dicerandra species all have distinctively fragrant minty foliage. Scrub balm is no exception. Its thick, glossy linear leaves are also similar to other species in this genus.  Mature plants are upright on thin woody stems that stand about 1 foot high.  Each plant forms a mound as wide as it is tall.
Flowering occurs in late summer to early fall, though some sporadic blooming can occur earlier. The plants photographed above had a few open flowers when these pictures were taken in late June. The flower shape is typical of the genus - the lower petals are fused to form a broad lip and upper fused petals curl back to form a sort-of-hood and expose the long reproductive organs.  Unlike Christman's mint (D. christmanii), the anthers are purplish to white instead of yellow. The white to pinkish petals are deeply spotted in red dots.
The genus Dicerandra is one of the most unique in Florida and showcases the state's unique geological history consisting of periods of sea level rises and falls.  Most have been protected through land acquisition and land management programs, and scrub balm has populations within the well-managed acreage of Archbold Biological Station south of Lake Placid.  They do not, however, make good additions to home landscapes as they hybridize readily with other members of this genus and they are extremely short lived.  Protecting each of Florida's unique species will come with educated land acquisition and management.  They have always been rare. They are endangered now only because of the rapid and excessive development of the state's most well-drained sandy areas.

Fragrant pigeonwings - Clitoria fragrans

Fragrant pigeonwings (Clitoria fragrans) is a rare endemic, found only in a four-county region along the Lake Wales Ridge (and adjacent ridges) in central Florida. It is federally listed as an endangered species and occurs only in excessively well-drained scrub sands. Pigeonwings and butterfly peas (Centrosema spp.) have flowers that are similar to each other, but have very different growth forms. While butterfly peas are herbaceous vines, pigeonwings are upright herbs. Fragrant pigeonwings can be distinguished from its native close cousin Atlantic pigeonwings (C. mariana) by its much wider leaves.  While those pictured above are oval, the leaves of C. mariana are linear.
Fragrant pigeonwings is a perennial that dies back to the ground in winter.  It emerges early in spring and reaches a mature height of about 12 inches.  New foliage and the slender geniculate stems are reddish in color. Like most other members of the bean family, it has compound leaves. In this family, each is composed of three leaflets.
Flowering occurs in early summer - June and July.  The large showy blooms are produced along the stems for several weeks. The five petals are a light lavender in color with darker purplish lines and a white throat.  As its Latin name suggests, the inner three petals are folded into a keel that is flanked by two outer wings - giving it the appearance of a clitoris - at least to the male-dominated taxonomic world... Pollinated flowers give rise to 1 1/2 - 2 inch beans in early fall. It is not uncommon for Clitoria to produce a second set of flower buds later in the summer that never open and self pollinate - cleistogamous buds.
Fragrant pigeonwings is one of many legumes used by the long-tailed skipper as a host plant. As such, it would make an interesting addition to a butterfly garden in scrub sand. Its small size and the fact that it does not ramble throughout adjacent vegetation, makes it a well-behaved neighbor in a mixed planting, and its attractive flowers and foliage add color and interest. It has never been propagated, however, for that purpose and its classification as a federally listed endangered species makes collecting it or its seed illegal.  Hopefully, it will someday be offered commercially for gardeners lucky enough to have scrub sand in their landscape.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Rattlesnake Master - Eryngium yuccifolium

Rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium) occurs throughout Florida in moist pinelands, prairies, and savannas.  Though it is not considered a wetland plant in most texts, it does not persist in areas that remain too dry - especially during the summer months. Besides Florida. it is rather common to much of the eastern U.S. where it occurs most frequently in prairies and open glades.
Rattlesnake master is an herbaceous perennial that keeps its basal leaves through the winter in south Florida, but dies to the ground elsewhere.  These upright linear, grass-like leaves are up to 2 feet long, have a succulent appearance and are armed with evenly spaced soft spines - hence its Latin name.  Its common name comes from its use by native Americans in treating rattlesnake bites, but its efficacy in using its roots for this purpose is very poor.
While the foliage can be difficult to see in spring, the upright flower heads that are produced in summer are distinctive.  These can reach 3-5 feet tall and become multiply branched at the top of the stem.  Like other Eryngiums, they occur in spiny heads, each subtended by stiff bracts. The tiny white flowers are imbedded in these heads.  They attract a wide variety of pollinators.
Eryngiums are members of the carrot family, and include a few species that are used by the Eastern black swallowtail as larval food. Rattlesnake master, however, is not one of these and is useful in the butterfly garden only as a nectar source. We have grown this species in our Pinellas County landscape for many years, but it has struggled to adapt to our sometimes droughty soils.  It is often sold commercially by members of FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries, but it is best used in open moist conditions where it will receive ample sunlight and water. If you can supply these conditions, it makes a showy addition to the landscape when planted in mass.

Beach Clustervine - Jacquemontia reclinata

Beach clustervine (Jacquemontia reclinata) is found in various coastal strands in four counties in extreme south Florida.  It is endemic to this region and classified as both a state and federal endangered species. The photographs above were taken in a Palm Beach County coastal scrub of plants introduced as part of a restoration effort.
Beach clustervine is a member of the morning glory family and shares many of those attributes.  Its herbaceous twining stems ramble across the open sand and intertwine with the stems of other vegetation.  Mature plants may spread many feet across.  It is evergreen and perennial in nature.  The elliptical, nearly succulent leaves alternate on the stem.  They are 1/2-3/4 inch in width and have a distinct pointed tip.
Flowering can occur all year. The plants above were blooming in mid-May. Like other members of this genus, the somewhat tubular blooms are composed of five petals. These are bright white, sometimes with a pink blush, and about 3/4 inch across.  They are attractive in appearance and draw the attention of various pollinators as well.
Though extremely rare in nature, beach clustervine is sold commercially by several nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries.  This is an attractive plant for beach dune projects or in landscapes with well-drained sandy soil. It is cold sensitive, however, and should not be used outside its native range.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Pride Of Big Pine - Strumpfia maritima

Pride of Big Pine (Strumfia maritima) is a perennial evergreen woody shrub, native to the lower Florida Keys as well as much of the Caribbean, parts of southern Mexico, and Venezuela. As its name implies, it was first described from Big Pine Key, and it is a coastal species found on berms and in pine rocklands.  It is a state-listed endangered species.
Pride of Big Pine can eventually reach a mature height of 6 feet, though it is often considerably shorter and salt pruned.  The linear, somewhat succulent leaves are 1/2-1 inch long and whorled along the stems. The foliage is confined mostly to the ends of the stiff branches.  These features make it an especially interesting foliage plant.
Blooming can occur throughout the year.  Racemes of small pinkish to pure white flowers form at the ends of the branches. Each bloom is composed of five petals and they surround the bright yellow reproductive structures in the center.  Pollinated flowers form spherical bright white fruit, about 1/4 inch in diameter.  The flowers are mostly bee pollinated and the fruit has some value to birds and other wildlife.
Pride of Big Pine makes an exceptionally attractive landscape plant in locations where it will not receive freezing temperatures.  Give it plenty of sun and average soil conditions. Though rare in Florida, it is grown commercially by several native nurseries in extreme South Florida.  Do not attempt it in locations unprotected from temperatures below freezing.

Florida Shrub Thoroughwort - Koanophyllon villosum

Florida shrub thoroughwort (Koanophyllon villosum) was previously included with the larger genus of herbaceous thoroughworts (Eupatorium spp.) common to Florida and the rest of North America, but has since been placed in this single-species genus. Unlike its close cousins, it is a semi-woody evergreen shrub that can reach 6 feet in height.  In Florida, it is a state-listed endangered species and native only to a few pine rocklands and hammock edges in Miami-Dade County.  It also occurs in the Caribbean.   The plant above was photographed at Mounts Botanical Garden in Palm Beach County in mid-May.
Florida shrub thoroughwort has oval leaves that are often lime-green in color, opposite each other along the reddish stems and with a slight covering of whitish hairs. The edges of the leaves are slightly toothed as well.  Flowering can occur in nearly any month, but is most frequent in autumn. A second bloom is common in the spring.  Small heads of white flowers, typical of other thoroughworts, develop on the ends of the branches. Like other members of the aster family, they attract the interest of pollinators - especially bees and butterflies. The flowers, though not especially showy, are also slightly fragrant.
Evergreen, woody asters are not common in Florida but can be used to great effect in the landscape if placed near the back edge of the planting bed. This species performs best if given ample sun and reasonably well-drained soil.  Though rare in nature, it is sometimes propagated by commercial nurseries and can be found with some sleuthing.  It is easily propagated from seed. I do not have any experience with it in my own landscape, but suspect it is only slightly tolerant of freezing temperatures.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Florida Coastal Indigo - Indigofera miniata var. floridana

Florida coastal indigo is a native perennial vining herbaceous plant with an unusual distribution. In Florida, it is found in the Florida Keys and in extreme southeastern counties of the peninsula, but it also occurs just south of Jacksonville along the northeastern coast and in Levy and Alachua Counties. This species also has been reported from Georgia and Alabama as well as most Gulf Coast states to the west, all the way to Texas.  Its range also extends throughout much of Central and South America. Its preferred habitat is coastal sandy soils - both scrub and dunes.
As it's name implies, this tends to be a procumbent species. It is a perennial herb (1-2 feet tall) that spreads out across the ground - growing as a clump that may reach several feet across. The stems and leaflets are covered with silvery hairs and the leaflets normally number from 5-7 per leaf.  Blooming can occur in every month. The carmine red blooms are quite attractive with a broad standard that can measure nearly 1/4 inch long. The flowers are mostly bee pollinated.
Indigos are so named because they have been used as dye plants throughout the world. They also are in the bean family and are used as larval plants for several species of native butterflies, in particular the ceraunus blue and Zarucco duskywing.  Florida coastal indigo is not difficult to maintain in the landscape and makes an attractive and useful ground cover.  Despite its usefulness/attractiveness, however, it is not currently offered for sale by any of the nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries.