Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Bloodroot is impossible to misidentify. In late winter, its single palmate leaf emerges with its deeply dissected lobes and noticeable veins. This leaf is often held nearly vertical to the ground and on a relatively long petiole; up to 6 inches. Over time, plants sucker and produce clusters.
Flowering occurs in late February through March in its Florida range. The solitary bloom may stand 6-12 inches above the ground. The six, crystalline white petals surround the bright yellow reproductive parts; the flowers are about 6 inches across and quite beautiful. The flowers are primarily pollinated by bees and pollinated flowers form an elliptical seed capsule that ripens by April.
Bloodroot is so named because the stems and roots "bleed" a bright red juice when cut. This was used by Native Americans to dye clothes, skin, and pottery. The plant was also used in herbal medicine and as an insect repellent. The alkaloid compound, sanguinarine, is still commercially used in some toothpastes and mouthwashes to control plaque, however, this compound is also toxic and bloodroot should never be ingested.
Bloodroot is one of the sure signs of spring and makes a wonderful addition to a mixed wildflower meadow beneath a deciduous forest canopy. It will not prosper in evergreen shade or in infertile sandy soils, not enriched by a good surface cover of decomposing leaf litter. Because of its great beauty, it is propagated by several native plant growers in north Florida. Do not attempt this plant in Florida using plants from further north. We have grown it in our central Florida landscape by putting it in large pots with fertile potting soil. It has not survived being grown in our native sandy soil. If you attempt it, try it with meadow rue, blue woodland phlox, trilliums, and rain lilies.
Thursday, March 13, 2014
Semaphore cactus occurs in open areas within tropical hammocks of the Florida Keys. It is erect and can reach mature heights of six feet. The plants assume an irregular form as the pads (cladophylls) align themselves mostly on one plane. Each is oblong in shape and nearly one foot long when mature. Like other members of this genus, they are covered by stout spines.
Flowering occurs throughout the year. They are a bright orange in color with contrasting yellow stamens. Each bloom is about 1/2 inch long. The pollination of this plant is unknown and fruit have not been seen. Currently, reproduction is known only by asexual means - the pads break off, root, and form new plants.
Semaphore cactus is both beautiful and interesting, but its future is imperiled. Hopefully, conservation efforts currently underway will be successful and this species will continue on into the future.
Wednesday, March 12, 2014
I do not have any cultural experience with this wildflower and what I know comes largely from the writings of South Florida's renowned ecologist, Roger Hammer, and from the observations I was able to make while touring the Gardens. Havana skullcap is a distinctive member of this popular and widely dispersed genus, and it would be difficult to confuse it with other Florida skullcaps. As a tropical, this perennial remains green and blooms throughout the year. The exceedingly slender stems are covered with tiny hairs that are visible on close inspection. Each stem stands no more than 12 inches tall and the ovate leaves have entire margins (no teeth) and are about 1/2 inch long. The plants sucker, as do other members of this genus, and eventually established plants form mats.
Blooming can occur in every month if winter temperatures remain above freezing. They have the typical skullcap shape, but are a deeper blue than many and make quite an attractive statement in the landscape. Skullcaps are most typically pollinated by bees, but I did not observe pollinators around these plants at the time of my visit.
Havana skullcap seems to possess all the attributes that should make it an excellent candidate for a sunny wildflower garden in areas of Florida that do not regularly freeze, ,and it has recently been added to the list of native plants offered for sale by nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Association of Florida Native Nurseries. Use it in sunny to mostly sunny areas in well-drained soil near the front of the bed and the edge of trails and walkways.
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
These members of the lily family are true spring ephemerals. Though perennial in their growth habit, they emerge with their two speckled leaves in very early spring, send their single flower bud up just a few days later, bloom, and then essentially disappear for another year. If pollinated, the small capsule will remain above ground until the seeds are dispersed, but that is all that remains. The leaves shrivel and die back to the ground.
When present, the 6 inch narrow fleshy leaves are distinctive. Like our native trilliums, they are dark green and covered by maroon-colored splotches. I suspect these plants produce side bulbs like other lilies over time and slowly spread outward, but they are slow to reproduce. It takes several years for young plants to flower and set seed.
The plants above were photographed on Saturday, February 22. The peak of blooming often occurs in mid-February to early March, depending on the winter temperatures that precede it. The single lemon yellow flower stands less than 6 inches above the ground and only opens on days with sufficient sunlight. The buds remain closed on extremely cloudy days and close up in the evening. Individual flowers may open on several consecutive days. They are pollinated by bees.
The spectacle at Wolf Creek Preseve is one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the Deep South and everyone that loves wildflowers should add it to their list of places to visit. I made the 550-mile round trip from my home in Pinellas and it was one of the most worthwhile days I've ever spent. Trout lilies are not a landscape plant unless you can meet their exacting requirements. NEVER dig plants from the wild. A few native nurseries offer plants that are nursery propagated. I tried this once and they failed miserably in my central Florida landscape. From now on, I will be content to visit them in the wild.
Sunday, February 2, 2014
Blanketflower overwinters as a rosette of leaves that hug the ground. Some are nearly devoid of teeth, but the vast majority of the leaves are deeply notched and quite distinctive. They are several inches long, light green in color, and roughly hairy. Flower stalks emerge in late spring and the plants become more upright, standing 12-18 inches tall without including the flower heads. They form a somewhat rounded mass. and often become top heavy as the blossoms form - tipping to one side under that weight.
Flowering can occur in most months from spring through fall. Each bloom is several inches across and very showy. Normally, the ray petals are deep orange in color, tipped in bright yellow, though yellow forms are common and there is quite a bit of variation in the depth of orange present. The ray petals surround a mounded central disk that is dark orange to nearly red. These persist well after pollination and eventually become silvery as the seedheads mature and disperse. Like all asters, blanketflower is attractive to a variety of insect pollinators.
This is one of the most widely propagated wildflowers native to Florida and is commonly used along roadsides and in other cultivated wildflower plantings. It requires high sunlight and sandy soils to prosper, but it can be grown nearly anywhere if not given too much shade or moisture. In a mixed planting, it can spread too abundantly and shade other, less robust, species, but it is easily weeded if this becomes a problem. Do not use it in mass plantings unless you are aware that it will die back in late fall and leave your planting bed virtually bare until spring. I like it best planted with other robust beach-dune species such as beach sunflower (Helianthus debilis) that typically keep their foliage through winter.
Friday, January 10, 2014
Sea purslane, however, is a prostrate perennial designed for life in the harsh conditions found along the coast. Its stems and leaves are especially waxy to reduce water loss and the leaves are succulent-like. Both the stems and leaves often are reddish in color - especially in areas where they receive high light and salt. This foliage scrambles along the ground, rooting periodically, and forming large mats. The leaves are high in vitamin C and are salty in taste, therefore, it has been used to treat scurvy and is often added to salads. In some locations, the pulverized leaves are also used to soothe wounds caused by the spines of venomous fish.
The soft-pink 5-petaled flowers are produced year-round in warm areas. They form along the stems, but open for only a brief period in mid-day. Do not look for the blooms first thing in the morning.
Sea purslane is an excellent coastal plant to help stabilize dunes, but it is not a very good candidate for home wildflower gardens. It is widely propagated by native plant nurseries affiliated with FANN (Florida Association of Native Nurseries) - primarily for coastal restoration projects. Look for it along the coast, and taste a leaf as you walk by.