Friday, September 17, 2010

Florida Spiny Pod - Matelea floridana

Florida spiny pod (Matelea floridana) is a state-endangered species found in scattered locations throughout much of the peninsula and a few counties in the panhandle.  It is also found in three counties in Georgia. Like other members of this genus, it is a deciduous herbaceous vining milkweed that produces a milky sap when the leaves or stems are cut or injured.  And, because it occurs in open sunny locations, it serves well as a larval host plant for milkweed butterflies; monarchs, queens, and soldiers.
Florida spiny pod is resident to upland sites; open woodlands, sandhills and open fields.  It is a sprawling vine that emerges quickly in the spring and weaves its way through nearby understory vegetation.  The leaves are heart-shaped, but somewhat elongated, opposite on the stems and several inches long.
Flowering occurs in late spring-early summer.  Each bloom is a rich burgundy red with five petals and rather flat.  All Matlea species are pollinated mostly by beetles and the pollinated flowers eventually ripen into elongated spiny pods which release the typical milkweed seeds.
Unlike many other members of this genus, Florida spiny pod is somewhat adaptable to growing conditions and has the traits that would warrant it being grown in the home landscape; especially by butterfly gardeners.  To my knowledge, however, it has never been propagated commercially.  And, as an endangered species, its seed cannot be collected without permission of the landowner and permits by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.  So, those of us that might be interested, will simply have to hope that someone will make this interesting species available to the rest of us through legal channels.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Alabama Spiny Pod - Matelea alabamensis

Alabama spiny pod (Matelea alabamensis) is yet another very rare member of this genus in Florida; known only from Walton and Liberty counties in the panhandle and listed as a state-endangered species. Like other species I have described in this blog,  it is a deciduous herbaceous vine found in the understory of deciduous forests.  It differs, however, by creeping along the forest floor instead of rambling up and through the understory vegetation.
Alabama spiny pod emerges in the early spring and quickly begins trailing along the ground.  The heart-shaped foliage is opposite along the thin stems.  Each leaf is about 5 inches wide and about 6 inches long. 
Flowering occurs in late spring and early summer.  The flowers are produced in small clusters in the leaf axils.  The petals are generally a pale green in color - with a sheen that makes them almost transluscent.  The 5 petals are rounded and each flower is relatively flat in appearance. 
Like all members of this genus, Alabama spiny pod produces a milky sap when the stems or leaves are injured.  This makes it an excellent potential food plant for the caterpillars of queen and monarch butterflies, but because it occurs low on the forest floor in relatively shady locations, it rarely gets used by them.  Pollinated flowers produce the characteristic spiny elongated pods which open to set loose the typical milkweed seeds.
Alabama spiny pod will never likely be grown commercially and will remain another example of Florida's amazing botanical heritage.  It is often overlooked because it is difficult to see - even when in bloom.  Look for it when hiking the types of habitats it is known to prefer and perhaps we can find it in counties adjacent to where it is currently known.  If you see it, make note of it and report your findings to one of the state herbariums.

Baldwin's Spiny Pod - Matelea baldwyniana

Baldwin's spinypod (Matelea baldwyniana)  is another very rare member of this genus; found only in two counties in Florida in the central panhandle (Gadsden and Jackson).  It is a state-listed endangered species.  Baldwin's spiny pod, like the Carolina spiny pod which I have also described, occurs in deciduous bluff forests where it receives sunlight in the early spring and filtered light the rest of the growing season.  It is a deciduous, weak-stemmed herbaceous vine and it rambles over and through the nearby vegetation.
The heart-shaped leaves are opposite on the stem and about an inch across and a bit longer than wide.  Flowering occurs in the spring.  The white, five-petal star-shaped flowers are produced in clusters in the leaf axils.  The pollinated flowers develop into spiny elongated fruit.
Like other members of the milkweed family, this species produces a milky sap and serves as a larval food source for milkweed butterflies.  But, because it is a forest species and occurs in the shady understory, it gets very limited use by monarchs and queens. 
The Mateleas are very interesting plants, but not likely to warrant attention from home gardeners and/or butterfly gardening enthusiasts.  As such, I am not aware of any ever being offered for sale by commercial sources.  This species is simply something to be admired and looked for when hiking in the spring in the types of habitats it may occur in.

Carolina Yellow Spiny Pod - Matelea flavidula

Carolina spiny pod (Matelea flavidula) is an extremely rare plant in Florida; known only from three counties in extreme north Florida.  It occurs in deciduous bluff forest understories where it gets sunlight in the early spring and filtered sun for the rest of the growing season.  It is a weak-stemmed deciduous vine and, like other members of this genus, grows up and through adjacent vegetation.
Carolina spiny pod has heart-shaped leaves that occur opposite each other on the stem.  Each is about 1/2 inch wide and less than 1 inch long.  The edges of each are noticeably "hairy".  Flowering occurs in late spring.  The star-shaped flowers are lemon yellow and occur in clusters in the leaf axils.  Eventually, pollinated flowers ripen into small elongated and spiny pods. 
As a member of the milkweed family, Carolina spiny pod is used as a larval food plant by members of the milkweed butterfly family, but because it occurs in shady habitats, it is not visited to the same extent as other members which grow in sunnier areas. Carolina spiny pod is not a good choice for butterfly gardening enthusiasts.
This very rare plant is not likely to ever be offered for sale commercially and it has none of the aesthetics that might make it a likely candidate for the future.  It is an interesting species, nevertheless, and can be appreciated solely for that reason.  Plants like Carolina spiny pod, make Florida an amazing place for "botanizing" - look for it if you are in Gadsden, Washington, or Duval Counties in late spring - or in adjacent counties as well.  Because this plant is not always obvious, you may find it outside its known range and add to our knowledge of Florida's flora.

Spinypod - Gonolobus suberosus

Spinypod, sometimes referrred to as Anglepod, (Gonolobus suberosus; fka Matelea gonocarpos) is a member of the milkweed family and formerly included in a small group of vining milkweeds, the Mateleas.  Recent taxonomy has placed it in its own genus for small differences in its fruit and flower structure.  Like nearly every member of the Mateleas, this species is quite rare in nature and listed as a state threatened species.  Spinypod is found nearly statewide, however, in upland sites, such as sandhills, with well-drained sandy soils and high levels of sunlight.  And, like all nearly all members of this family, the vines and leaves produce a milky sap if injured and serve as larval food plants for members of the milkweed butterfly family.
Spinypod is a rambling deciduous vine.  After emerging in the spring, it quickly grows into a multi-branched herbaceous vine that grows over and through nearby vegetation.  At times, it may be difficult to see, but its presence is given away by the star-shaped flowers and/or the presence of female milkweed butterflies (esp. Queens and Monarchs) laying eggs.
Spinypod, like other close relatives, has heart-shaped leaves; nearly 1" across and more than 1" long. 
Flowering occurs in summer.  The flowers vary a bit in color, but the 5-petal, star-shaped blooms are often maroon red in the center and edged on the outside by greenish yellow.  The petals are thick and fleshy in texture.  A month or more after flowering, the very spiny and angular seed pods mature.  They split open like other members of the milkweed family and the seeds are carried away by the fluffy pappus attached to the end of each.
Spinypod is relatively easy to grow if given soils with good drainage and high levels of sunlight.  It has been offered for sale by commercial nurseries only rarely and is not currently offered by any nursery affiliated with AFNN - the Association of Florida Native Nurseries, though a few mail order specialty sources list it.  This plant is of interest mostly to the most dedicated butterfly gardeners wishing to use as many native species as possible in their landscape and to the most dedicated plant connoisseurs.  Its rambling vining habit is not a feature many gardeners appreciate and its flowers are not so spectacular to make it a mainstay in most wildflower plantings.
Yet, this species has its own unique charm and it will hopefully always remain available to those who wish to add it.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

White Colic-root - Aletris obovata

White colic-root (A. obovata) is also relatively common in the open moist savannas and flatwoods of north Florida, south to the latitude of Citrus County.  It is a close relative of the more common yellow colic-root (A. lutea) and even shares the trait of having "bumps" on the outside of its flower buds.  But, as the common name states, this species has white flowers. 
These blooms also differ by their shape.  White colic-root has rounded flowers that are not at all tubular-shaped and they open only slightly at the tip to let pollinating butterflies reach their nectar.  Blooming generally occurs a bit later than in yellow colic-root as well; usually between April and June.  And, the buds are more evenly spaced along the main stalk.
I have never seen white colic-root offered for sale by anyone affiliated with the Association of Florida Native Nurseries - AFNN - but its interesting aesthetics warrant more attention.  It would require similar growing conditions as yellow colic-root: evenly moist soils and partial to full sun.  Such conditions are not often easy to provide in typical landscape settings.  If used, it would mix well with yellow colic-root and other medium-tall wildflowers that have later blooming seasons.

Yellow Colic-root - Aletris lutea

Florida is home to five colic-roots; the genus Aletris and a member of the lily family.  Several are quite rare and confined to rocky open habits in very restricted ranges in Florida while the other three are rather widespread and more commonly found in open moist savannas and flatwoods.  Yellow colic-root  (A. lutea) is the most common and widely distributed member of this genus in Florida and definitely one that occurs in open moist habitats. This species is found nearly statewide and in the states immediately adjacent to us.
Yellow colic-root is a deciduous perennial.  It emerges in the spring as a basal rosette of thin leaves.  Shortly afterwards, it begins production of its thin, nearly leafless central flower stalk.  At maturity in late winter or early spring, this stalk may stand 3 feet tall.  Flowering occurs anytime from late winter until July, depending on latitude and weather  conditions.  As the common name implies, the individual blooms are yellow and they are clustered tightly together on the top of the stalk.  They are vase-shaped with a tiny opening for butterfly pollinators, and covered with "bumps".  A similar, much rarer species found only in the panhandle, A. aurea, does not have this bumpy surface. 
Yellow colic-root is rarely offered for sale and is not especially easy to maintain in a landscape.  It needs regularly moist soil to persist and partial to full sun.  If these conditions can be provided, it makes a very interesting accent to a mixed species planting.  Use it in small masses of at least 3-5 plants each and scatter them in the mid-section of the planting area.  This plant essentially "disappears" after going to seed in summer, so it is best mixed with other medium-tall wildflowers that bloom later in the year. 
We do not currently have this species in our Hawthorn Hill landscape and are not likely to attempt it in the future.  But, if you have the right conditions, it is worth seeking out from a nursery source and giving it a try.

Pineland Wild Indigo - Baptisia lecontei

The bean family contains a large number of wonderful wildflowers: lupines, daleas, leadplants, wisteria, and the like.  The genus Baptisia is no exception and the vast majority are extremely beautiful and highly sought-after by home gardeners.  Pineland wild indigo (B. lecontei) may be the least showy of the group. 
Pineland wild indigo occurs throughout the northern two-thirds of Florida in well-drained soils and full sun.  It also has been reported from Georgia. The plants above were photographed in a scrub located within Starkey Wilderness Preserve in Pasco County, but this species also is resident to sandhills and open dry upland woods.  Like all Baptisias, pineland wild indigo is deciduous and dies back to the ground each winter.  In early spring, it makes its appearance known and quickly grows to a mature height of about 3 feet in late spring/early summer.  This is a round semi-woody shrub and mature plants are at least as wide as they are tall.
Flowering occurs around April and May under normal years.  The entire crown is covered by 1-inch long canary yellow blooms, that are pretty, but not spectacular.  These are mostly of interest to small bees as butterflies have a difficult time bulldozing their way between the uppper and lower lips of these flowers to reach the nectar. Eventually, the pollinated flowers ripen into few-seeded "peas" and these seeds are of great value to seed-eating songbirds, mice, and other wildlife.
Pineland wild indigo has never, to my knowledge, been offered for sale by any of the commercial native plant nurseries affiliated with AFNN - the Association of Florida Native Nurseries.  I suspect it would be easy to grow from seed, but have never tried it.  As other, showier Baptisias are regularly offered in the trade, this is likely a species that will never be propagated for sale.  But, we can admire it for its own unique character if we are hiking nearly anywhere in the right habitats in the northern half of Florida during late spring.