Sunday, January 3, 2010

Florida Loosestrife - Lythrum flagellare

Florida loosestrife is another rare Florida endemic.  Listed by the state as an endangered species, this diminutive plant is known from only 11 counties in Florida and mostly from the southwestern portion of the peninsula.  Do not confuse this beautiful little groundcover with its aggressive invasive non-native cousin - purple loosestrife (L. salicaria).  This is neither non-native nor invasive.  In fact, it is a difficult plant to notice if you are not looking for it.
Florida loosestrife is a multi-branched vining groundcover that tends to blend in with the plants it occurs with.  The stems are reddish and the small thick oval leaves are mostly opposite each other near the tips and alternate near the base.
The flowers are typical of the genus, light lavender petals fused above a cup (hypanthium) that holds the male and female flower parts.  Florida loosestrife has small flowers; less than 1/2 inch across. Flowering occurs over several months during the late spring and summer.
Look for it in the bottom of swales and ditches in open sunny locations or at the upper edges of marshes where it is not outcompeted by taller grasses and other vegetation.  I have found it most often in mowed areas where the soil stays moist to wet.  In these conditions, it can form rather extensive mats along the ground.  It quickly disappears, however, where the soils dry out and where it becomes shaded by taller competitors.
We have grown this tiny wildflower for several years in our created wetland planting bed at Hawthorn Hill and have found it rather easy to maintain.  We do not intend to propagate it, however, and it is unlikely to ever find a demand in the home landscape because of its size and strict habitat requirements.  Florida loosestrife is just simply one of Florida's truly unique species and we should value it because of that.

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