Alexa and I owe our "discovery" of this wonderful wildflower to Gil Nelson too, as he took us to see it during our October camping trip to the Apalachicola National Forest. Flame flower (Macranthera flammea) is also known as hummingbird flower, and it is no stretch at all to see this as a favorite nectar source for hummingbirds stoking up for their fall migration south.
Like another favorite hummingbird flower, standing cypress (Ipomopsis rubra), flame flower is a biennial. During its first year, it exists as a basal rosette of rounded leaves. Its during its second year that it forms the flower stalk that makes its presence so commanding. After blooming, it sets large numbers of seeds and dies.
Flame flower produces a flower stalk that may reach 9 feet in height, though 6 feet is a bit more common. At this stage, the plants are almost woody and shrub-like and the flower stalks are a bit brittle. Blooming occurs from August through October and the pollinated flowers produce large rounded seed capsules. Individual flowers are a brilliant orange, tubular in shape, and more than 1 inch in length.
Flame flower occurs at the edge of wetland systems where it gets plenty of sunlight and experiences seasonally inundated soils. It is found from the central Panhandle westward in Florida and in the states adjacent to us.
This is another plant unlikely to ever be propagated commercially. Because of its large size and biennial growth habit, it would be very difficult to maintain in a landscape setting. Most authorities also believe it to be a root parasite on neighboring species. But, where it occurs in nature, it is a spectacular addition to the overall landscape.