Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Low Rattlebox - Crotalaria maritima


Low rattlebox (Crotalaria maritima) is often considered to be a variant of the common rabbitbells (C. rotundifolia), but it is distinctive and considered a separate species by other taxonomists. Its very distinctive foliage leads me to agree with those that keep these two as separate species. Because of the confusion regarding its status, it is difficult to pinpoint its exact range in Florida and elsewhere. It seems to occur sporadically throughout Florida and there are records from 2 counties in extreme southern Alabama adjacent to Florida.
While the flowers of both species are indistinguishable, it has a different growth form and foliage. While rabbitbells has distinctly rounded leaves, the leaves of low rattlebox are linear, Each leaf is about an inch long and opposite on the stems. This perennial ground cover produces multiple stems that range about 12- 18 inches from the main stem.  They reach only about 6 inches above the ground.
The bright yellow flowers are produced at the ends of these stems and tend to open in the afternoon for a day. They are visited by bees. Pollinated flowers produce a rounded "pea" that turns black in color before splitting open to scatter the seeds. These are a favored food of seed-eating birds such as doves and quail. 
Although this species is most-often lumped together with rabbitbells, look for it in well-drained sunny habitats. This specimen was photographed in a sandhill understory in the Ocala National Forest in Polk County.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Spiked Hoarypea - Tephrosis spicata


Spiked hoarypeas (Tephrosia spicata) is a species with somewhat confused attributes as its flower buds are red, its flowers start out white when they first open in the morning and turn bright red by afternoon. Therefore, it is a difficult plant to ID simply from its flowers and/or from wildflower books with photographs that don't show this metamorphosis.
This is a species of open, well-drained habitats throughout the state, except for the Florida Keys. It also is reported from the entire Southeastern Coastal Plain from Louisiana up to Maryland on the East Coast. These photographs were taken in sandhill habitat within Ocala National Forest.
Spiked hoarypea is a perennial ground cover that emerges in the spring and sends its long thin stems in multiple directions across the ground.  Like other hoarypeas, the stems, leaves and even the flowers are covered in soft hairs.  Each of its compound leaves are composed of 5-15 oval leaflets and reach a length of almost 1 inch. 
As stated above, the flowers are white when they first open in the morning and turn bright red by afternoon. Each bloom is open for a day and they generally occur as pairs on the leaf stem.  Like most members of the legume family, the upper petal is broad and partially covers the fused petals of the lower lip. Each bloom at about 1/2 inch long. Blooming can occur from late spring until mid-fall. Bees are especially interested as pollinators, but it also is used as a host plant by the northern cloudywing skipper.  The seeds, like all legumes, are excellent food for birds such as quail and doves.
For the most part, members of this genus are not propagated by members of the Florida Association of Native Plant Nurseries (FANN) and their somewhat diminutive size and less-than-overwhelming floral display make them a group with limited appeal to the general landscaping public. Their usefulness in a wildlife garden, however, should make then more widely offered. This is not one of the hoarypeas that is currently being propagated at Hawthorn Hill.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Florida Sunflower - Helianthus floridanus



The genus Helianthus is aptly named as Helios was the God of the Sun in ancient Greek culture. There are 16 native species of sunflowers in Florida. Many of them are quite similar in appearance and difficult for the novice to distinguish from each other. Florida sunflower (H. floridanus) is one of those in my opinion. This sunflower shares some of the same characteristics as the common narrow-leaved sunflower (H. angustifolius), but has foliage that differs substantially.
Florida sunflower is a wetland perennial, though it can be found in moist habitats as well. It has been vouchered from Northeast Florida, from the Jacksonville area south to Osceola County. It has not been reported from this region west of the central counties. It also occurs in a four-state region north of us - Georgia, Alabama and the Carolinas. There also are records from Louisiana. 
Florida sunflower is a large robust species that may reach 5-6 feet in height by its late-summer blooming season. It has distinctive wide leathery basal leaves that emerge in early spring. Each is about 6-8 inches long and several inches wide. They are deep green in color and glossy in appearance. Multiple branched stems arise from these leaves. Like most sunflowers, it spreads to form colonies that can become extensive over time.
Flowering occurs in late summer and early fall. The showy yellow ray petals surround a disk of yellow disk flowers. The petals are similar to those of narrow-leaved sunflower, but a bit narrower. They attract a wide variety of pollinators.
Florida sunflower grows best in sunny moist habitats. As a landscape plant it needs a lot of room as it spreads by underground rhizomes and its large size tends to overwhelm less-robust species. I have used it quite successfully in central Florida in plantings at the edge of lakes and wetlands, however. This species is only occasionally offered for sale by native plant nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries and it may take some sleuthing to locate plants for sale. I do not intend to add it to the species I offer here at Hawthorn Hill, but I could change my mind if I felt that there was a demand.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Earred Tickseed - Coreopsis auriculata

Flower while the plant was still in the pot
Foliage of the above, planted in my landscape

Native, or not?  Earred tickseed (Coreopsis auriculata) is not listed on the ISBN site, Florida Plant Atlas, maintained by the University of South Florida, but others list it as such. It was recorded in Florida from one site near a powerline pole in extreme north Florida, but subsequent trips to that site in recent years have failed to rediscover it. Chances are it was "managed" by the utility company out of existence. I have chosen to label it as a Florida native that seems to have been extirpated. This species is rather common to our north, however, being recorded throughout the Southeast Coastal Plain from Louisiana to the Virginias. In these areas, it is found most often in moist open habitats.
I was fortunate in locating this species from a native plant nursery in north Florida and the photos above are from this plant. To date, it has prospered and spread in my new landscape - in full sun and in the moistest part of my new wildflower planting here in west-central Florida.
Earred tickseed is a beautiful, but rather diminutive species. As its Latin and common names suggest, the foliage is distinctively "earred". Each leaf is deep green and glossy, about 2 inches in length, and often lobed near the petiole with two smaller lobes off of the main one. Mature plants rarely stand taller than about 6 inches when not in bloom. In my landscape, it is an evergreen perennial. Plants form side stems and, over time, it becomes a clump that can extend over a foot in width.
Blooming occurs over a several week period in late spring. The flowers are large considering the size of the plant. Each deeply yellow flower head is several inches across and is very glossy. As with most composites, the flowers attract a wide diversity of pollinators.
I hope that this species makes it into the native plant trade here in Florida and that the plant I purchased was not just a lucky break. I also hope to collect seed from my plant next spring and make it available from Hawthorn Hill. Stayed tuned if you are interested - or search for it from native plant nurseries in Georgia or Alabama.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Smooth Blue Aster - Symphyotrichum laeve


There are nearly 30 species of Symphyotrichum asters native to Florida. Some are widespread, but a good many are species with extremely limited natural ranges here - species more common north of us and  ones that have snuck over our border in just a few locations. Smooth blue aster (S. laeve) is one of those. It is vouchered only from Jackson County, west of Tallahassee along the Georgia border. It is widespread north of us, however, and occurs in most states east of the Mississippi River. 
As its common name suggests, this species has smooth leaves and stems - without trichomes (hairs) of any kind. It is a perennial that dies back to the ground each winter and emerges early in spring, eventually reaching a mature height of about 3 feet.  The distinctive leaves are sessile to the stem, wrapping around it in a heart-shaped pattern. The leaves are alternate along the stem, about 1/2 inch wide and 2-3 inches long - becoming smaller as they go up the stems.
Many aster flowers are light blue with yellow disk flowers and this is no exception. These are especially attractive however. The photo above does not do them justice and I hope to get better ones as this plant matures. Each composite flower head is about 1/2 - 3/4 inch wide. A great many of them are produced in late summer to fall at the top of each stem.
This is a species of well-drained open habitats. Over the past few years, I have made a concerted effort to add Symphyotrichum asters to my home landscape and to what I can offer at Hawthorn Hill. All are exceptional at attracting pollinators and I find them to be equally attractive to my eye as well.  Historically, very few of these asters has been cultivated by native nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries. Currently, I have about a dozen species here in my landscape at Hawthorn Hill and I was very excited to find this one for sale recently at The Native Nurseries of Tallahassee. It is reportedly being grown at Superior Trees, Inc. in Lee Florida. It is my hope that I will get seed from this plant and that I can offer it as well next year.

New York Ironweed - Vernonia novaboracensis



Every ironweed (Vernonia spp.) in Florida, except Blodgett's (V. blodgettii) could aptly be called "giant" ironweed based on their growth form, but since that common name was given to just one of them, we've had to call the others by other common names. Just be assured that all of them are "giant" in terms off their mature height at flowering.
There are six species of ironweeds considered to be native to Florida, though one (Stemless ironweed, V. acaulis) has been recorded as an extreme outlier (Polk County) from the main population in the mountains of North Carolina and seems a bit suspicious as a Florida native. New York ironweed (V. novaboracensis) is restricted to 10 counties in extreme north Florida. It is much more common to our north, however, and extends up the Eastern Seaboard to New York and Delaware. As mentioned above, this is a tall perennial species that can reach mature heights of more than 6 feet by late summer. Like other members of this species also, it suckers outward from the main stem over time and forms clumps of multiple stems. New York ironweed prefers moist sunny locations and is most often encountered at the upper edges of marshes and other wetlands.
The wide oval leaves are alternate along the stems. They are toothed along the leaf margins and somewhat pubescent, but not as much as in V. gigantea. The two species can be easily distinguished from each other when compared to each other side by side, but it is more difficult otherwise. One significant difference lies in the flowers. While V. gigantea produces a great many flowers atop its stems, New York ironweed produces fewer and they tend to be more deeply purple in color. Flowering occurs in late summer and fall. As with other members of the genus, they are excellent at attracting pollinating insects - especially bees and butterflies.
Despite the widespread propagation and availability of other native ironweeds in Florida, this species is only very rarely offered. I purchased this one from The Native Nurseries of Tallahassee where it was grown from seed collected by one of the nursery owners. I hope that this continues to be offered and I hope to get seed from my plant to make it available next year from Hawthorn Hill. It is reported that it requires cold stratification and that it often has low germination rates. It also is reported that it will tolerate most landscape conditions except for highly droughty soils, once established. If you can, however, give it a bit of extra moisture.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Dixie Ticktrefoil - Desmodium tortuosum




Ticktrefoils (Desmodium spp.) are a weedy bunch that produce loments (seeds produced in a "string") as seen in the third photo from the top. Each seed in these clusters is covered by hairs that stick to clothing and fur, causing the ripe seeds to break away from the cluster and be carried away from the parent plant. Of the 24 species vouchered from Florida, four are considered to be non-natives and of the remaining 20, Dixie ticktrefoil (D. tortuosum) is considered by some to be native and by others as not. This species was first recorded in Florida in Leon County in 1823, but has since been found nearly statewide in disturbed upland sites. It also occurs to our north, in the Southeast, from Texas to North Carolina. I photographed this one near a parking lot/trailhead in Goethe State Forest, Citrus County.
While some ticktrefoils are relatively prostrate, this species becomes rather tall and winnowy. In Florida, it is an annual and it reaches a mature height of about 3-4 feet by early summer. Like all members of the genus, the leaves are compound with three leaflets. They are oval shaped and the petioles are slightly hairy. Each leaflet is oval in shape with the top one decidedly so. They are about 1 inch wide.
Flowering can occur during most months until late fall. The flowers on this species are produced in pairs along the stem. Each is a typical legume flower, with a keeled lower lip and a broad fan-shaped upper petal marked by a noticeable yellow splotch outlined in a deeper pink. They, like all members of the genus, are pollinated mostly by bees that push their way into the center of the flower to reach the pollen and nectar.
Tick trefoils can be considered a nuisance in a wildflower landscape as the seeds stick to everything. They also are beneficial as they serve as the host plant for three species of skippers - long-tailed, Dorantes and silver-spotted. Left alone, in a fallow field, they can be valuable additions to a butterfly/pollinator garden, but I would not recommend them in landscapes that need to be tended.