Friday, June 26, 2020

Tropical Puff - Neptunia pubescens


Tropical puff (Neptunia pubescens) is a bit of a misnomer as this wildflower is found throughout much of Florida and from Mississippi to Texas across the southern tier of the Southeast Coastal Plain. These photos were taken with my cell phone camera at a native plant nursery that I visited a few days ago. Normally, this species occurs in a wide variety of open sunny habitats including disturbed areas and at the edges of salt marshes.
Tropical puff is a perennial member of the legume family. It is evergreen in the more-tropical parts of its range and tardily deciduous in cooler climates. The foliage is said to produce good fall color in those locations. Like a few other widely used legumes, tropical puff grows as a creeping ground cover. Many stems arise from the main stem and spread out several feet away. These stems are not as dense as species such as sunshine mimosa (Mimosa strigillosa), however. The foliage is bipinnately compound. Each leaf is several inches long, but the leaflets are no more than 1/2 inch. As the Latin name implies, the leaves and stems are pubescent - covered by noticeable soft hairs. They also are touch sensitive and fold at night too.
Flowering occurs from late spring until fall. Small "powder puff" heads of bright yellow flowers are produced on stalks along the stems. The stalks are about 3 inches long and the flower heads are about 1/2 inch in diameter. These bright and showy flower heads are visually attractive and are of interest to small pollinators. The foliage serves as a host for Ceraunus blue butterflies and possibly other butterflies that  use a variety of legumes.
Despite its many attributes, this wildflower is rarely propagated commercially by members of FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries. The plants photographed above were propagated by the owners of Sweetbay Nursery in Parrish, Florida from seed sent to them by a friend. One can only hope that it will gain wider cultivation in the future. As a legume, tropical puff fixes atmospheric nitrogen and incorporates it into soil. The seed  and foliage are widely consumed by wildlife and its growth form and salt tolerance make it an excellent ground cover in a wide variety of growing situations. Although I do not have personal experience growing this species, it is said to be easy from seed if scarified by nicking the seed tip and soaking it for about 8 hours prior to planting.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Rouge Plant - Rivina humilis


Rouge plant (Rivina humilis) is not a plant I typically would consider to be a "wildflower", but its display of blooms and the resulting fruit lend itself to putting it in this blog. It occurs in the partial shade of wooded understories in moist to average soil throughout peninsular Florida. It also is found in the Deep South from Louisiana and Arkansas to Arizona. It has not been vouchered from Georgia, Alabama or Mississippi.
Rouge plant is a semi-woody evergreen small shrub that can reach a mature height of 5-6 feet, but often is several feet less.  The leaves are ovate in shape with no teeth (entire) along the leaf margins. Each is several inches long and quite thin. 
Flowering can occur throughout the year in frost-free months. Many racemes are produced from the tops of the stems. The individual flowers vary in color from pinkish to white. Though tiny in size, they attract the attention of various pollinators, including the zebra longwing butterfly. Pollinated flowers give way several weeks later to bright red round fruit, each about 1/4 inch in diameter. These are prized by fruit-eating songbirds such as mockingbirds. It's the bright red color of these fruit that give this plant some of its common names. The "rouge plant" name stems from the fact that they have also been used as a dye and as a rouge. 
Rouge plant has a great many attributes that lend it to be a good landscape plant for native-plant gardeners. It is widely propagated because of that. Though it is a shade-loving species, it requires a few hours of good sunlight to prosper. Plant it at the edge of a shady location  and let it expand where it wants to. It reseeds rapidly and birds will also help plant it away from your original plantings. I like to use it mixed with other good wildlife plants such as the various native wild coffees (Psychotria spp.). If you add it, however, be prepared to have it spread and to weed it where it is not wanted.

Blue Porterweed - Stachytarpheta jamaicensis


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Blue porterweed (Stachytarpheta jamaicensis) is a perennial trailing wildflower native to much of the southern half of peninsular Florida, especially in the coastal counties. It also has been vouchered for Wakulla County in the Big Bend portion of the state and in Georgia. For a great many years, it was confused in the trade with an upright form that was sold here as a native plant, but has since been determined to be a Caribbean species (S. cayennensis). These 2 species are easily told apart by their growth form, however. While blue porterweed is a trailing plant that rarely stands taller than about 8 inches, S. cayannensis grows upright and can reach several feet in height.
Blue porterweed is primarily a coastal species and occurs most often in uplands and in disturbed sites in sunny exposed areas. It produces thick stems and coarsely toothed leaves with deep veins. Each leaf is ovate in shape and several inches long. Individual plants extend outward in all directions from the main stem and eventually cover an area several square feet wide. As such, it makes a good ground cover.  
Flower stalks also are thickened and are produced at intervals along the stems. Small purple blooms are produced daily along their length. Each flower lasts only a day, but several are produced daily. Blooming occurs throughout the year during frost-free months. They attract the attention of various small butterflies and bees, making it a good plant for a pollinator garden.
Because of its growth form and pollinator value, blue porterweed is widely cultivated by commercial nurseries. It is sensitive to freezing temperatures, however, and suffers damage at these times. Temperatures below the mid-20's F, can kill it. Use this plant as a ground cover in areas that rarely see freezing temperatures and plant it where it will receive adequate sunlight and average to above-average drainage. It will die if planted in areas that remain wet for extended periods. It is easily propagated by cuttings or by the seed that is produced beneath the scales of the flower stalks.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Bird Pepper - Capsicum annuum var. glabriusculum


Peppers in the genus Capsicum are decidedly an American phenomenon and only became part of the world's culinary diet after the discovery of the New World by Europeans. Imagine a recipe without peppers - hot or mild. If you enjoy them, thank the Mayans, Incas and Aztecs for their earliest cultivation. Bird pepper (Capsicum annuum) is the only native Florida pepper. Our native variety is var. glabriusculum. This is the same genus as the favorite chile pepper used in so many recipes worldwide. As its name suggests, it typically is an annual, but in the southernmost part of its range, it is a short-lived perennial. Bird pepper is native to most of Florida, though most common in the southern third of the peninsula. Surprisingly, it occurs also in a widely scattered distribution from New Mexico to New York and Connecticut on the East Coast. In those northern regions, it most definitely acts as an annual.
Bird pepper can hardly be called a wildflower in the same way most others are, but its small white blooms and bright red fruit lend color to a wildflower planting. This species prefers sunny locations and well-drained soils. In frost-free areas, it forms a woody stem and can reach a mature height of 6 feet. The plants photographed above are in my nursery and still in pots as I decide what to do with them. The foliage is similar to other peppers - deep green in color and lanceolate in shape. Each leaf is about 1 inch long and 1/2 inch wide.
Flowering can occur throughout the year in frost-free locations. The white flowers are about 1/4 inch wide and dangle downwards. Pollinated blooms give rise to small green fruit that ripen to bright red. Each is tiny - never much more than 1/4 inch long, but extremely pungent. It is said to be at least 10 times the pungency of a typical jalapeno, for example.
The vast majority of bird species have no real sense of smell/taste and an eye for the red of ripe fruit. Because of this, fruit-eating birds like mockingbirds and catbirds relish the fruit of bird pepper, but it is avoided by mammals such as squirrels. 
Bird pepper is something of a conversation piece and therefore is offered regularly by a number of native plant nurseries. In a landscape, it is a good bird plant and the tiny pungent peppers are a good addition to all kinds of dishes where its small size and flavor are an important attribute. Bird pepper reseeds well, but I find it best to save a few dried peppers to sow just in case my mature plants die over winter.

Water Dropwort - Tiedemannia filiformis



Formerly know as Oxypolis filiformis, water dropwort (Tiedemannia filiformis) is a perennial member of the carrot family and found statewide in wetland habitats. It also has been documented in much of the Southeastern Coastal Plain from Texas to North Carolina. This is classified as an obligate wetland plant and requires wet soils and relatively sunny locations.
Water dropwort is evergreen in areas without deep freezes. The long linear leaves are almost succulent. Each of these needle-like leaves are 2-3 feet in length on mature plants. They form a dense basal rosette.
Flower stalks emerge from these rosettes in summer and eventually stand 4-5 feet tall by early fall. Water dropwort has a decided blooming season that lasts several weeks in September/October. Like other members of this family, the white flowers are held in an umbel arrangement. Each flower is 1/8-1/4 inch in width, but the umbels are at least 1-2 feet across and composed of a great many flowers. At this time, the plant is rather showy and the blooms attract the attention of a great many small pollinators. When in bloom, it also attracts the attention of eastern black swallowtail butterflies. Though this plant is essentially shunned at other times of the year, a blooming water dropwort is the preferred host plant of this beautiful butterfly. The caterpillars begin only on the flowers, but move on to the foliage after they gain some maturity.
Water dropwort is an essential addition to a wetland butterfly garden and I add it routinely to the ones I work with. Individual plants gain girth over the years and become quite robust with age. They also reseed routinely. Regrettably, it is not routinely propagated by nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries. I grow it here at Hawthorn Hill, however. Give it a sunny location that stays moist to wet and wait for the caterpillars in fall.

Florida Greeneyes - Berlandiera subacaulis




Florida is home to 2 species of greeneyes (Berlandiera spp.). Florida greeneyes (B. subacaulis) is the only one unique to our state. It is endemic to a region that covers most of the peninsula, but it overlaps the range of soft greeneyes (B. pumila) only occasionally.  Where it does, it sometimes hybridizes with it. Florida greeneyes occurs in a variety of habitats, but always in areas with well-drained sandy soils. It does not tolerate flooding.
This is a long-lived perennial wildflower that often holds its leaves through winter. The basal leaves are variable in length (from 1-4 inches long), a bit downy beneath, narrow and deeply notched along their length. Unlike soft greeneyes, these plants stay rather close to the ground and the flower stalks rarely reach more than 18 inches tall.
Flowering can occur throughout the year in frost-free areas. Each bloom is 12-18 inches across and consists of bright yellow ray petals surrounding a green disc of yellow disc flowers. These differ from the reddish ones of B. pumila, and they lack the chocolate fragrance. Many flowers can be produced at any one time. They attract the attention of a great many pollinators.
Florida greeneyes is a superb wildflower for a sunny/sandy mixed wildflower planting because of its size and extended flowering season. Thankfully, it often is available commercially. It is tolerant of most typical landscape settings and individual plants gain girth over the years. It also is easy to grow from ripe seed.

Soft Greeneyes - Berlandiera pumila


Soft greeneyes (Berlandiera pumila) is a perennial wildflower native to well-drained sandy soils in north Florida to the latitude of Levy and Volusia Counties. It also is found across most of the Southeastern Coastal Plain from Texas to North Carolina.  Throughout this range, it is typically found in sandhills and xeric pinelands. It does not persist in areas that remain wet for any period of time.
Unlike its close cousin (B. subacaulis), soft green eyes forms a tall flower stalk prior to bloom time, though its basal foliage is quite similar. These leaves are blue-gray in color, bluntly toothed, and with a noticeable midvein. Each leaf is about 4 inches long and several inches wide. The leaves die to the ground by early winter and reemerge in early spring.
Soft greeneyes has a decided blooming season from March until early July. The flower stalks rise well above the basal leaves, reaching a mature height of  2 - 2 1/2 feet.  Multiple flowers are produced at the tops of each stalk. The bright yellow ray petals  surround a center of reddish disc flowers. Each bloom is several inches across and fragrant - exuding a scent somewhat reminiscent of chocolate. Like other members of the Asteraceae, the flowers attract the attention of a great many pollinators.
Soft greeneyes is a beautiful wildflower that has only rarely been propagated commercially in Florida. I have tried it in central Florida, but found it to be difficult this far outside its natural range. I wish others, in north Florida, would take it up. This species requires well-drained sands and full sun to prosper. It grows easily from ripe seed collected from the brown flower heads. Sow it shallowly in a flat of well-drained potting soil and transplant the seedlings before they get too large.