Monday, September 28, 2015

Downy Lobelia - Lobelia puberula

Downy lobelia (Lobelia puberula) is a robust perennial forb found throughout the northern one-third of Florida in moist to mesic habitats such as open woodlands, roadsides, and meadows. It also occurs in much of the Southeast and southern Midwest, from Texas and Missouri, east to New Jersey southward.
Downy lobelia dies back to the ground in winter and emerges in early spring. It quickly produces a set of basal leaves that are up to 5 inches long and 1.5 inches wide. The leaves are elliptical, clasp the stem (lack a petiole), and are finely toothed along the margin.  They also alternate up the stem.
Flowering occurs in late summer and well into fall. The mature flower stalk is 3-5 feet tall and the deep lavender flowers are produced singly on the upper 2-3 feet.  Each bloom is nearly 1 inch long with a distinct white blotch in the throat.  Sharply pointed sepals subtend each flower and a nearly sagittate wavy leaf occurs opposite.
Although some lobelias have found favor in the landscape trade, downy lobelia has not in Florida. Though quite showy and adaptable to non-wetland conditions, it has not been offered by nurseries affiliated with FANN, the Florida Association of Native Nurseries. It is sold commercially by native nurseries to Florida's north, however.  We have not experimented with downy lobelia at Hawthorn Hill and I do not know how adaptable out-of-state stock is to our growing conditions. If you attempt it, give it mesic to moist conditions. In mesic conditions, it is likely to do best in partial to half sun. If you are growing it, let us know what you've discovered. I hope this beautiful wildflower is someday made more available in Florida than it is at present.

Spanish Needles - Bidens bipinnata

Spanish needles (Bidens bipinnata) is a member of a genus well known for its barbed seeds that catch on clothing and hair, and get transported well away for dispersal purposes. Though it shares the same common name as its white-flowered cousin, Bidens alba, it is quite distinct and impossible to confuse. Spanish needles occurs throughout much of Florida, except the western panhandle and the extreme southern peninsula. It also is reported from nearly every state in the southern two-thirds of the U.S. It is not a wetland plant, but is most commonly encountered in disturbed sites such as roadsides and agricultural edges in mesic to well-drained soils.
Like its more common cousin, Spanish needles is an upright annual and forms a noticeable taproot. The stems reach a mature height of about 3 feet in late summer. As the Latin name suggests, the leaves appear to be bipinnately compound - though they are, in fact, simple, but deeply dissected. They are opposite each other on the stem and several inches long near the base of the plant.
Flowering occurs in late summer and fall. The plants above were photographed along a roadside in Jefferson County on September 26, 2015. Many flowers are produced at the tips of the stems, they are less than 1/2 inch across, and composed of a set of bright yellow ray petals encircling a center of yellow disk flowers.  Once flowering ends, the ripened fruit is an elongated collection of 4-barbed achenes.
Spanish needles attracts pollinators, but has few aesthetic qualities that would make it suited for a home landscape. As such, it is a plant most likely to be encountered on a hike along disturbed edges in full to partly sunny locations. Just watch that you don't take some home with you, hooked tightly to your socks or pant legs.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Swamp Hornpod - Mitreola sessilifolia

Swamp hornpod (Mitreola sessilifolia) is a common wetland species, found nearly statewide in open marshes, bogs and savannas.  It also occurs throughout the Southeastern Coastal Plain from Texas to Virginia. Though common in the understory, it can go largely unnoticed when not in bloom.
Swamp hornpod is an annual herbaceous wildflower. It forms a single erect stem that generally stands 12-18 inches tall by summer. The opposite oval leaves have noticeable teeth along the margins and the edges curl under slightly. The Latin name is derived from its leaves lacking a petiole - they are sessile to the stem. As evidenced by these photographs, the stems are also smooth and reddish.
Flowering occurs in summer. The tiny white flowers occur in branching clusters at the tips of the stems.  They are rounded in appearance and open only slightly to make themselves available to pollinating insects.
The hornpods are in the Loganaceae, a family well known for species that are highly toxic due to the presence of alkaloids in their foliage such as strychnine. Though you may not want to eat this plant, they are beautiful when seen in patches in full bloom. Because of its annual nature, however, it is not propagated commercially by any of the nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries.  This is a species you'll simply have to admire if you are walking in open shallow wetlands in summer in most parts of Florida.

Yeatesia/Yellow Bractspike - Yeatesia viridiflora

Yeatesia (Yeatesia viridiflora) is a member of the same family as wild petunia (Ruellia) and twinflower (Dyschoriste), the Acanthaceae, yet is not propagated commercially as these other two genera are and generally is not included in books featuring Florida wildflowers. Perhaps it's because it has a limited range here; it is reported only from a 4-county area in the central Panhandle in and near Torreya State Park. It also occurs in much of the western half of the Southeastern Coastal Plain - from Texas to Georgia. In this region, it is most often found in the understory of deciduous woodlands where it gets some protection from full sun, but in light gaps where it is not completely shaded.
Yeatesia is an herbaceous perennial that dies back to the ground in winter. It emerges in early spring and reaches a mature height of 18-24 inches by June. The foliage very closely resembles that of the common wild petunia (R. caroliniensis), and when not in flower it could easily be mistaken for it.  The leaves are thin and broadly elliptical.  They also are opposite each other on the stem with long petioles. On close examination, the surface of the leaves are sparsely "hairy".
Flowers are produced at the top of the stems in compact spikes; each flower is surrounded by a pair of large bracts. This characteristic makes the identification of this species easy. Single, 4-petal bright white flowers are produced within this spike. Each remains open for only one day - normally only in the morning half of the day, but flowering proceeds for several weeks on individual plants from late spring to summer. The photographs above were taken 15 August in Torreya State Park and most individuals seen had just finished flowering for the year. The flowers attract pollinating insects.
Yeatesia would make an interesting addition to a shade garden if not planted in deep shade. As so few native wildflowers are suited to these conditions, it makes its propagation even more useful.  We have not had experience with it here in our landscape nor intend to grow it at Hawthorn Hill as we are so distant from its natural geographic range.  Hopefully, it will be taken on by some of the native nurseries in north Florida. I suspect it would be as easy as its widely grown relatives to propagate in a nursery setting.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Wild Strawberry - Fragaria virginiana

Wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) is a perennial herbaceous wildflower whose fruit is the ancestral foundation of one our most important fruit crops.  The vast commercial strawberry industry in North America began with the tiny, but extremely tasty, fruit of this wild plant. Wild strawberry occurs in every state and province in the United States and Canada, but is extremely rare in Florida - reported only in Jackson and Leon counties near the Georgia state line.
Wild strawberry is most often found in mesic open woodlands and in grassy open fields. It prefers ample, but somewhat filtered sunlight to perform best. It is a creeping ground cover that produces many above-ground stems (stolons) that spread from the main stem and root periodically along their length. It rarely stands taller than 6-12 inches above the ground and can be easily overlooked when not in flower or fruit.  Like its commercial cousins, it has a distinctive 3-parted compound leaf, oval in shape, and with noticeable teeth along the margins. This is also representative of the blackberries (Rubus spp.), but wild strawberry is thornless. There are, however, noticeable soft hairs on the stems and leaves.
Wild strawberry produces numerous 5-petal white flowers in the spring. These are followed by the bright red succulent fruit in June-July. The fruit of wild strawberry is rarely as much as 1/2 inch across, but are far more flavorful than any of the commercial berries you are likely to find for sale. They make exquisite jam if you can find enough to collect. The leaves also make a fragrant tea that is high in Vitamin C.  The tea is made by adding about 1/2 cup of the leaves to 2 cups of boiling water and letting it steep before straining.
Wild strawberry is rare in Florida and none of our native nurseries propagate it commercially. It is widely grown, however, by sources close to us. If you choose to give it a try, choose a source as close to Florida's growing conditions as possible and use it as a ground cover for areas that receive at least half day sun and in soils that are neither too droughty or too wet.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Sidebeaked Pencilflower - Stylosanthes biflora

Sidebeaked pencilflower (Stylosanthes biflora) is found throughout much of north and central Florida in well-drained sandy uplands.  The plants photographed above were found in a recently burned longleaf pine sandhill, but it also is resident to dry hammocks, old fields, and roadside edges. This species also occurs in much of the eastern U.S.
Sidebeaked pencilflower is a perennial species that dies back to the ground in winter, unless temperatures remain above freezing.  It can act like a low-growing ground cover or be mostly erect. The plants above are assuming the former aspect. This is a rather diminutive species. Like many other members of the bean/pea family, the foliage is composed of three leaflets. Each is somewhat narrow and less than 1/3 inch long. A close inspection of the leaves shows that they have a few sharp teeth along the margins and stiff "hairs" as well.
Flowering occurs in the leaf axils - either solitary or in small clusters, in summer and early fall. Each bloom is deep yellow to nearly orange with darker lines on the larger "flag" petal. A much smaller fused lower lip is beneath. The flowers are very small, less than 1/2 inch in size. They are pollinated by small bees. The foliage is the larval food source for the barred sulfur.
Sidebeaked pencilflower is currently being propagated by many commercial nurseries, mostly as an alternative to turf. Though not as resistant to repeated foot traffic, it will spread and form a mat over time. Though the flowers are tiny, its additional value to a landscape devoted to butterflies and pollinators makes up for its deficiencies.

Variable-leaved Sunflower - Helianthus heterophyllus

Variable-leaved sunflower (Helianthus heterophyllus) is one of 18 species of sunflowers native to the Sunshine State. It occurs throughout the central and western portion of the Panhandle in low/wet open habitats such as roadside ditches, savannas and wet pine flatwoods. It also is reported from much of the Southeast Coastal Plain - from Louisiana to North Carolina.  This is an herbaceous perennial that dies back to the ground in winter.
Many of our native sunflowers can be tricky to differentiate by species. Variable-leaved sunflower is most easily identified by its relative lack of leaves along the stem. It produces a tuft of 4-6" long linear leaves in spring, They are rough to the touch - a result of the many stiff hairs along the surface and leaf edge. Though a few of these leaves may occur a short distance up the 4-5 foot tall hairy stem, it is mostly leafless. A single flower head is produced at the top of each by mid-summer.
The composite flowers are comprised of 1-2 dozen bright yellow ray petals surrounding a dark center of disk flowers. The size of these flower heads is variable, but can be 4 inches across. Like other sunflowers, they are exceptional at attracting pollinating insects and the ripened seeds provide food for various seed-eating birds.
Variable-leaved sunflower is not propagated by any of the native nurseries in Florida associated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries, though other species are commonly offered. It would require sunny moist locations to prosper and it would require ample space as it has a tendency to spread by underground rhizomes.