Monday, December 31, 2012

Woody Goldenrod - Chrysoma pauciflosculosa





 
Woody goldenrod (Chrysoma pauciflosculosa) is the sole member of this genus. It is not a true goldenrod (Solidago spp.,), but a sub-shrub in the aster family with golden yellow flowers that look a bit like those of the goldenrrods. It is found only in the western half of the Panhandle, in xeric uplands near the coast and in sandhills and scrubs, and outside Florida from Mississippi to North Carolina in ximilar habitats.  It is endangered in North Carolina.
Woody goldenrod is an evergreen perennial that stands about 2-3 feet tall.  It produces many thin woody stems and assumes a very rounded aspect at maturity.  The foliage is mostly confined to the ends of each stem. The leaves are elliptical and bluish green in color. There are no teeth along the margins and they alternate along the stem.  The underside of each leaf is wooly, an adaptation to prevent water loss.
Flowering occurs in late fall.  Hundreds of flower heads are formed at the crown of each plant. These heads are produced on stalks that stand an additional 1-2 feeet above the foliage. The ray petals of each are a light lemon yellow. Mature plants in flull bloom are quite spectacular, and like other asters, they attract a large diversity of pollinating insects.
This species prefers full sun and excellent drainage and has high tolerance of salt spray.  This makes it an excellent choice for beach dunes and sandhill/scrub settings. But, despite its charm, woody goldenrod is only infrequently available to the home landscaper through commercial native plant nurseries.  We have collected seed from a sandhill site in Washington County and hope to have seedlings available by late spring 2013.  Should they prosper, we will also experiment with it in our Pinellas County landscape as well. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Beach Morning Glory - Ipomoea imperati



Beach morning glory (Ipomoea imperati) is the "other" native morning glory in Florida, common to beach dunes (the other being railroad vine, I. pes-caprae). Beach morning glory is found in coastal counties primarily along the Atlantic coast and the Panhandle.  It only occurs sporadically on the west coast, but is common in Pinellas County where I reside.  This coastal morning glory also is found up the Atlantic Coast to the Carolinas (though it may have been extirpated from North Carolina) and along the Gulf Coast to Mexico and beyond.
Beach morning glory is easy to distinguish from railroad vine, even when flowers are not present.  Though it has the same identical ability to ramble widely across the dunes, its foliage is almost arrow-shaped and definitely not cloven.  This is an evergreen perennial.
Like other members of this genus, flowering occurs in the morning hours and the blooms begin to wilt by mid-day.  The flowers are a brilliant white in color with a lemon-yellow throat.  On a white sand background, the beauty of these petals gets a bit lost, but well-grown specimens are especially attractive. Flowers are produced in every month if temperatures do not dip below freezing.
Beach morning glory is widely propagated by commercial nurseries, but is best used in beach dune restoration plantings.  In a typical landscape, it is impossible to control and will spread in all directions for up to 20 feet.  On a beach dune, however, it can run free and will provide invaluable services in stabilizing beach sands.

Railroad Vine - Ipomoea pes-caprae

Railroad vine (Ipomoea pes-caprae) is one of two morning glories common to Florida's beach dunes.  It is common to the coastal counties of central and southern Florida, but occurs only sporadically in coastal Panhandle ones.  This is essentially a tropical/subtropical species and it is found on the dunes of southern Georgia and along the Gulf of Mexico to Mexico southward.  It also is distributed throughout much of the tropical world - it is found in Hawaii, for example, where Roger Hammer reports the plant was used by native peoples since ancient times.
This is an evergreen perennial renowned for its durability and ability to stabilize dune sands.  Railroad vine rambles great distances over the surface of the open sand.  It withstands being buried periodically by the shifting soils, then re-emerging to take off across the surface once more.  The stems and leaves are succulent and covered with a thick cuticle that helps it prevent water loss in this exceedingly inhospitable environment.  The leaves are rounded with a noticeable notch at the apex. This cloven appearance is what gives it its Latin name which means "goat's foot."
Railroad vine produces large rose-pink flowers throughout the year, if temperatures do not get too cold.  Like other members of this family, each flower opens only in the morning for one day, but plants bloom profusely and have multiple flowers every day. If you get to the beach too late, you simply have to return the next morning. 
Because of its durability and beauty, railroad vine is offered for sale by a number of commercial nurseries devoted to native plants.  It is a wonderful plant for beach dune plantings, but a very difficult one for typical landscape settings.  Once, in my early naive years, I was involved in a native plant parking lot planting design.  The railroad vine we used soon escaped the medians and took off across the blacktop - where it was a major nuisance.  This plant can send runners in all directions, up to 20 feet long.  Be careful where you plant it, but if you have a coastal setting where it can ramble and stabilize your dune, use it liberally.
 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Corn Snakeroot - Eryngium aquaticum

Corn snakeroot (Eryngium aquaticum) is the most robust member of this carrot-family genus in Florida. Its distribution is rather scattered within the state; it is found in most of the counties that lie along the Gulf to west-central Florida, and in various other counties within that general latitude.  It is not found south of the line from Manatee to Indian River Counties.  It also occurs along the Gulf Coast from Mississippi and up the Eastern Seaboard to New York.  Throughout this range, it is confined to wet sunny habitats such as freshwater marshes.  There is some discrepency in the literature regarding its lifestyle - many report it to be a biennial (like many carrots), but my personal experience in Florida is that it behaves more like a short-lived perennial.  Regardless, this is a species that does not persist long in the landscape even when given good growing conditions.
Corn snakeroot maintains a basal rosette of leaves through the winter in Florida.  These leaves are grasslike, about 1/4 inch wide and up to 6 inches long.  The margins do not have teeth or spines as they do in many other species in this genus.
Flower stalks emerge from the center of the rosette in early summer and reach their mature height of 2-3 feet by late summer.  The stalks produce multiple branches near the top and a large rounded flower head is produced at the top of each. Like other species in this genus, each head is subtended by toothed bracts and each flower head appears spiny.  What sets this species apart from others is that the heads are about 1/2 inch across and the flowers are normally a rich cornflower blue.  Though a few other Eryngiums have blue flowers, their heads are tiny in comparison.
The flowers attract a wide variety of pollinators and maintain their showy appearance for several weeks.  The foliage, however, is not used by the caterpillars of eastern black swallowtail butterflies though it is sometimes marketed that way.  A few Eryngiums are useful larval plants for this butterfly, but corn snakeroot is not. 
Because of its beauty, corn snakeroot is often grown commercially in Florida and made available to the home gardener.  It is not an easy plant, however, to provide for.  For one, it is not forgiving of droughty conditions.  Over the years, a great many of my plants have succumbed to soils that have been allowed to dry out for more than just a few days.  I have learned to keep it in spots that do not dry out and that stay wet to extremely moist during much of the year.  It also does not survive long, even under optimum growing conditions.  This is a plant that either needs to reseed to persist or be replanted every couple of years.  I have not had great success getting it to reseed, so I purchase new plants from time to time. I find the effort worth the trouble because corn snake root, in flower, is a spectacular wildflower. 
 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Seminole False Foxglove - Agalinis filifolia




Seminole false foxglove (Agalinis filifolia) `is one of sixteen closely related species in Florida.  I find them difficult to distinguish from each other, but the type of habitat you locate them in helps to narrow down the possibilties a bit.  This one occurs in well-drained sandy uplands - sandhills, coastal scrub, and xeric woodlands.  Seminole false foxglove is found statewide in appropriate habitats, but is a near endemic as its only other occurrences are to states immediately adjacent to us - Georgia and Alabama.
False foxgloves are members of the Broomrape Family; as such they are root parasites to varying degrees on their neighbors.  They also are annuals.  Seminole false foxglove emerges in the spring and reaches its mature size by late summer.  Many stems arise from an underground rhizome; each is partially erect and stands about 3 feet above ground.  A mature plant spreads in all directions and may reach a circumference of 6 or more feet.  Each stem is thin and clothed in small, needlelike leaves.  Therefore, it does not shade out its neighbors, though it drapes many of them.
Blooming occurs in fall. The flowers resemble true foxgloves in shape, but they are a deep pink in color with darker spots inside the corolla.  In this species, the outer petals have a conspicuous fringe - tiny "hairs" that make them look a bit shaggy. The blooms attract a wide variety of pollinators. Pictured above is a green metallic bee (Halictid Family). False foxgloves also serve as a larval food for comon buckeye butterfly caterpillars - pictured below.
Though Seminole false foxglove is an adaptable plant to normal landscape conditions, has beauty in its blooms, and value in the butterfly garden, they have (as a genus) never been offered for sale by any of the nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries.  Their annual nature makes them a difficult group to maintain in a landscape and their sprawling habit reduces the aesthetics of the plant - until they bloom.  This species, and its relatives, are best admired in the wild in fall. And, when you encounter one, look for buckeye butterflies.  They are almost always nearby.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

White Oldfield /Frost Aster - Symphyotrichum pilosum



White oldfield aster (Symphyotrichum pilosum) occurs primarily in the Panhandle region of Florida, though it also has been reported in Marion County in the north-central portion of the state.  It is much more common north of us; its range extends across the eastern half of North America. A disjunct population also has been reported from British Columbia.
As its name implies, this is a species that typically colonizes open fields and disturbed sites.  Like most asters, it suckers and eventually forms colonies, but white oldfield aster does it aggressively and eventually forms dense masses in the landscape.  It dies back to the ground each winter, but maintains its many stems above ground well into spring.  At that time, a basal rosette of linear leaves emerges and each stem begins its upward growth.  By late summer, the stems are 2-3 feet tall. As the flower buds develop, they may arch over a bit and form a mound up to 3 feet across.
Blooming occurs in late fall or early winter; a characteristic that gives it its other common name of "frost" aster.  Numerous bright white ray petals surround a central disc of yellow blooms. Each head is 1/2 inch across. Plants (clumps) in bloom may have hundreds of flowers open at one time. Asters are exceptional magnets for pollinating insects and because these are open so late in the season, white oldfield aster is particularly valuable.
This species is not grown commercially in Florida at this time, though we hope to make it available at Hawthorn Hill by Spring 2013.  As we have not grown it in our own landscape, I do not know how easily it is maintained in landscapes outside its north Florida range. I suspect, however, that it can be "pushed" well into central Florida. If you are interested, contact me in late winter to see how our seedlings are doing.
 

Canada Goldenrod - Solidago canadensis




Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) is an extremely common goldenrod in north Florida, but only found in scattered locations elsewhere; it has been reported from Alachua, Marion, Seminole, Polk, and Lee Counties. It also is an extremely common goldenrod throughout much of North America, being absent only in the extreme Northwest. Canada goldenrod is an upland species, most commonly encountered in old field and disturbed sites.  In these locations, it suckers aggressively and forms large populations. 
Like most species in this genus, Canada goldenrod is deciduous and dies back to the ground each winter.  The dead stems, with their fluffy seedheads, remain standing throughout the winter, however. New basal leaves emerge in early spring. The leaves are oval and the margins have noticeable teeth on the margins.  What most differentiates this species from its close cousin, pinebarren goldenrod (S. fistulosa) is that each leaf is noticeably 3-nerved.  This trait is evident in the photos above.
Canada goldenrod eventually reaches a mature height of about 3-4 feet. Blooming occurs in the very late fall, hence one of its other common names - "late goldenrod". These photos were taken in north Florida in early December, past the time when most species would still have flowers.  The flower heads are in loose panicles at the top of the stem and the small yellow blooms are typical for the genus.
All goldenrods are excellent nectar sources for pollinating insects and make wonderful additions to a landscape targeting bees and butterflies. Canada goldenrod, however, does not play well with its neighbors and is difficult to control in all but the largest planting areas.  Unless you are restoring or creating an expansive prairie setting, use this one with caution and prepare yourself to weed out the suckers that spread beyond the area they are welcome in.
Canada goldenrod is not offered commercially in Florida, but would be easy to propagate from seed or suckers collected legally. Sow the seed just beneath the surface and sit back...

Saturday, November 24, 2012

White Vine - Sarcostemma clausum




White vine (Sarcostemma clausum) is found only in the southern third of the Florida peninsula and in Texas.  It is a vining member of the milkweed family and tends to occur in moist hammock edges and near the edge of open wetlands.  It is evergreen, but subject to freeze damage if temperature reach below 32 degrees F, and may bloom at most months of the year if not interrupted by extreme cold.
White vine is an aggressive rambler and will ultimately grow many feet in every direction.  Its succulent elliptical leaves are opposite each other on the stout stems and exude a milky sap, like most milkweeds, if injured.  This foliage serves well as food for milkweed butterfly caterpillars and I have seen monarchs, queens and soldiers feeding on them at various times.
The flowers are typical of the family, though the petals do not curve backwards to the extent most milkweeds in the genus Asclepias do. They are produced in large clusters along the stems and are white in color. Pollinated flowers produce the typical ear-shaped follicle that eventually splits open - sending the fuzzy-winged seeds airborne to new locations.
White vine is a good larval food plant for milkweed butterflies, but extremely difficult to control in the landscape.  For this reason, it is rarely offered for sale commercially and is a poor choice for most landscapes except those with lots of space and/or on a stout trellis with moist soil conditions. 

Mohr's Thoroughwort - Eupatorium mohrii

Mohr's thoroughwort (Eupatorium mohrii) is a common understory wildflower, found statewide in Florida and in much of the Southeast Coastal Plain.  It is most abundant in moist to mesic pinelands and savannas. In these habitats, it is often quite common.
Like other members of this genus in Florida, Mohr's thoroughwort is a perennial that dies back to the ground each winter.  As it emerges in the spring, it is not very distinctive. The thin stem eventually reaches a height of 2-3 feet by early summer.  Mohr's thoroughwort is a narrow plant in general aspect and its leaves are narrowly elliptical.  Some have tiny teeth along the margins while others lack them.  These leaves are opposite each other near the base of the stem and ultimately alternate as they near the top.
Flowering occurs in summer and early fall.  The corymbs of white flowers are narrow - not nearly as broad as seen in many other members of this genus, and each bloom is white.
Despite its somewhat less-than-showy aspect, Mohr's thoroughwort is sometimes offered for sale by members of FANN- the Florida Association of Native Nurseries.  It is easy to grow in the landscape, quite adaptable to conditions, and not so large or aggressive as to crowd out other members of a mixed wildflower garden.  Use it in the back half of the planting bed. Thoroughworts are members of the aster family and, therefore, attract a variety of pollinators. 


Semaphore Thoroughwort - Eupatorium mikanioides

Semaphore thoroughwort (Eupatorium mikanioides) is endemic to Florida and found only along the coastal Panhandle counties and generally along both coasts to the southern end of the peninsula.  It also has been reported in a few inland counties within the peninsula as well.
Like other members of this genus, semaphore thoroughwort is a perennial that dies back to the ground each winter.  What distinguishes this species from its many close relatives is its leaves.  They are simple, opposite along the stem, and nearly succulent in appearance.  Each leaf is broadly arrow shaped, about 2 inches across at the base (except those higher on the stem), and deeply toothed.  They also tend to be held upright along the stem instead of at right angles.
Semaphore thoroughwort occurs most commonly in moist flatwoods near the coast and in ithe upper edges of salt marshes.  It is, therefore, quite salt tolerant. Mature plants reach a height of about 3 feet.
Flowering occurs in late summer and early fall.  It is one of the earlier thoroughworts. Like so many others in this genus, the flowers occur in broad corymbs - flattened heads, and each bloom is white in color. All asters attract pollinators and this species is no exception.
Semaphore thoroughwort is common in the habitats it occurs in, and its foliage and broad flower heads are attractive.  It has never, to my knowledge, been grown commercially and I have no experience with it in my landscape in Pinellas County. It is one of those many wildlfowers that we will simply admire as we explore the wild areas of this state.
 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Hairy Dawnflower - Stylisma villosa



Hairy dawnflower (Stylisma villosa) belongs to a small genus of white-flowered morning glories that creep along the ground.  This particular one produces numerous wiry stems with elliptical/oval leaves, densely covered with white "hairs".  Hence the Latin and common names.  Hairy dawnflower occurs in well-drained scrubs and sandhills in many counties throughout Florida. It is also found in Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, and Georgia. 
All dawnflowers are perennial vines that die back to the ground in winter.  Hairy dawnflower emerges in spring and produces large numbers of stems that hug the ground and wander many feet in all directions.  The stems are grayish in color and look a bit like dead sticks.  The leaves alternate on the stem and are generally held upright - at right angles to the ground.  In this way, they reduce water loss from transpiration during the heat of the day.  This is important as this species occurs in harsh open sandy areas.  The leaves are about 1/2 inch long and covered in white "hairs."
Flowering occurs over a protracted period from spring to summer.  Like other morning glories, each bloom is open only during one morning.  They are about 1/4 inch across and crystalline white in color. The petals are "hairy" as well as the leaves.
Hairy dawnflower is easy to miss in the understory of scrubs and sandhills when it is not in bloom because of its small size, but can be quite striking when encountered in the morning in places where there is a lot of open sand.  Its rambling habit makes it extremely difficult to maintain in any kind of traditional landscape and it has not been offered commercially by any of the nurseries affilliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries.  It is easy to grow from seed, however, collected from the ripe seed capsules produced in large numbers along the stems.  If you wish to add it to a scrub or sandhill area, make sure you have room and give it good drainage and plenty of sun.

Lady Lupine - Lupinus villosus

Lady lupine (Lupinus villosus) is the common pink-flowered lupine of Florida.  It occurs throughout the northern tiers of counties to about the latitude of Citrus County, with a slightly disjunct population reported in Polk County.  It also occurs in states to our north - from Louisiana to the west and North Carolina to our northeast. This is a species found only in extremely well-drained sandy habitats, most commonly in open sandhills.
Like most of our lupines, lady lupine is a short-lived perennial.  Most plants do not flower their first year, flower sparingly the second, and then reach their full potential in the third when they bloom profusely.  Very few, if any, plants survive into a fourth season.
Lady lupine can be distinguished from sky-blue lupine (Lupinus diffusus) in areas where they both occur by their extremely tomentose (hairy) leaves.  This characteristic is what gives it its Latin name.  Both species have a pair of small leaves (correctly termed stipules) at the base of their main leaves.  These stipules are not present in the extremely rare scrub lupine (L. aridorum) and Gulf coast lupine (L. westianus). The leaves of lady lupine also are normally held more erect than those of sky-blue lupine.
A mature lady lupine can attain a height of about 1 foot and a width more than twice this.  Many flowering stems emerge from the center of the plant. These may stand 2 feet high. The flowers are soft pink in hue with a dark red spot on the upright petal above the lip.  Flowering begins at the base of the stalk and proceeds upward.  Because of this, plants remain in flower for many weeks - beginning in early spring and lasting into April. 
Lupines are exceedingly beautiful wildflowers, but our Florida species (with the exception of perennial lupine, L. perennis) are nearly impossible in cultivation.  Most seedlings die early in their development when kept in pots and most that survive die soon after replanting.  For this reason, they have never been offered for sale by any commercial grower I am aware of in Florida.  My own experiences with these species have been extremely "spotty."  Plants that have survived to flower have been rare and they die after 3 years without producing new progeny through reseeding. 
I understand that some success has recently been acheived by growing the seeds in grow (peat) pots and transplanting them directly to approapriate sites without disrupting their roots.  If you chance upon seed and are interested in attempting this species, try this method.  Just be sure that the site you choose to plant in has absolute perfect (pure sand) drainage and plenty of sun. Seedlings may also require a specific micorrhizal fungus to thrive, so planting them in areas where lupines have not previously grown may prove difficult.
From my experiences, lupines in Florida are best appreciated where they are growing in nature and admired for their unique character without coveting them for the home landscape.
 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Roundleaf Thoroughwort - Eupatorium rotundifolium


There are a great many thoroughworts in Florida (nearly 20 species and natural hybrids) and they can be somewhat difficult to distinguish from each other. Roundleaf thoroughwort (Eupatorium rotundifolium) is one of the most common. It can be found in a wide variety of mesic upland sites throughout Florida, except the extreme southeastern counties and in those locations it is often quite abundant. It also occurs throughout much of eastern North America, but has been extirpated or is very rare in most of the states in the extreme northeastern part of its range.
Roundleaf thoroughwort is a perennial that normally dies back to the ground in winter. It emerges in spring and forms a rosette of rounded basal leaves; each about 1 inch long and about 3/4 inch wide.   The leaf margins are decidedly toothed and this is distinctive for the species. By late spring to early summer, it begins its ascent upward and by late summer, it has reached its mature height of 3-4 feet.
Flowering occurs in late summer and can persist through the fall.  The broad, flat umbel of flower heads can be as much as 6 inches across. Each small head within the umbel consists of many tiny porcelain-white flowers.  These do not contain ray petals.
Most of the many white-flowered thoroughworts are not available commercially from members of FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries, but roundleaf thoroughwort can sometimes be found. It is easy to grow in an average home landscape, but can spread from the large numbers of seed and be difficult to control.  If you decide to add this wildflower, use it at the back 1/3 of a planting bed and be prepared to weed out seedlings each year.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Nuttal's Rayless Goldenrod - Bigelowia nuttallii





Nuttal's rayless goldenrod (Bigelowia nuttallii) is not a goldenrod, but a member of a small genus that is largely confined to Florida.  It's relative, pineland rayless goldenrod (B. nudata) is endemic to Florida, but found throughout much of the state in wet pine flatwoods and the upper edges of marshes. Nuttal's rayless goldenrod is resident to xeric woodlands, including scrub, and has been reported from only 2 counties in Florida - Washington in the central Panhandle, and Pinellas on the central west coast.  It has a tendency to skip counties, however, and has disjunct populations in Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas. 
Nuttal's rayless goldenrod is a perennial that maintains its clump of exceedingly thin basal leaves into the winter.  These leaves are less than 1/8 inch wide; one of the characteristics that separate this species from its more common cousin.  Of course, habitat preferences are totally different between the two species and serve to make confusing them difficult in the field.  This is not a robust species and rarely stands taller than 2 feet in late fall.  Thin eliptical leaves occur up the stem and it ends in a flat corymb of flower heads that is several inches wide.
Flowering occurs in fall. The Pinellas County population blooms in early November while the Washington County one blooms several weeks earlier.  As the common name implies, the flowers do not have ray petals - the showy outer petals common to most members of the aster family.  All they have are the central disc flowers. These are small and elliptical in shape, but bright canary yellow and attractive. They also attract the attention of insect pollinators.
This very rare plant is listed as a state endangered species. If you are lucky enough to encounter it in the fall, take note and appreciate it.  It is just one of many Florida wildflowers that make living here special.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

False Flowering Spurge - Euphorbia pubentissima



False flowering spurge (Euphorbia pubentissima) occurs in scattered locations from Madison County, just east of Tallahassee, to Santa Rosa County in the far western panhandle.  It is also present in much of the eastern half of the U.S., except the extreme north.
This member of the Euphorbia family, is generally found in well-drained sandy locations. The plants photographed above were in sandhill habitat within Topsail Beach Preserve State Park in Walton County.  They are perennials which die back during the winter months.
Like other euphorbias, false flowering spurge has rather weak stems that exude a milky sap if cut.  This protects them from herbivory, but can cause blisters and other skin irritations in sensitive people.  They are also poisonous if ingested. 
The plants rarely stand taller than about 2 feet and the branches grow outward - parallel to the ground.  The leaves are elliptical and opposite each other on the stems.
Flowering occurs in summer and fall.  As its common name suggests, what looks to be flowers are not.  The white "petals", seen in the above photographs are specialized appendages meant to draw the attention of pollinators to the small green flowers inside.  This is much like what occurs in the common poinsettias grown for Christmas displays.  Inside the white false petals are male flowers and a single female flower - none of which have petals of their own. 
False flowering spurge is an interesting wildflower that is never likely to be grown commercially. If you are in one of the counties it might occur in, look for it along roadsides and other well-drained open areas. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Cottonweed - Froelichia floridana


Cottonweed (Froelichia floridana) is an annual member of the Amaranth family found statewide in Florida, and across much of the eastern half of the U.S. except the extreme northeast.  The derivation of its common name is very easy to see from the photos above. This species is most likely to be encountered in disturbed upland sites from coastal areas to inland sandhills. In most of these sites, it will be abundant.
Growth occurs throughout the spring and summer months.  Few leaves are produced. These are mostly near the base of the plant and opposite each other on the stem.  The stem is wiry and erect. By summer it reaches a mature height of 5 feet and is largely unbranched.
Flowering can occur in summer, but is more common in early fall.  Racemes of tiny tubular white flowers are produced near the top of the main stem.  As these flowers are pollinated and mature, the fruiting bodies become cottony in appearance.  Soon after, the fully ripened seed capsules open, releasing the seed below. At this time, they fall off the stem.
This interesting wildflower is commonly encountered, but has never been propagated for the landscape.  It would be easy to grow in a mixed wildflower garden, but care would have to be taken to ensure its need to reseed - most importantly, keeping bare soil near the parent plants. Otherwise, simply enjoy it as you travel throughout the state.

Tall Jointweed - Polygonella gracilis



Tall jointweed (Polygonella gracilis) occurs statewide and in the other states of the Deep South.  This member of the buckwheat family shares an affinity for sunny well-drained habitats and has a simple beauty all its own.  Tall jointweed is decidedly tall and graceful.  As an annual, this means it grows rapidly in the spring to achieve its mature height of 5-6 feet tall. 
Tall jointweed produces an extremely thin wiry stem with short side branches. The thin leaves, alternate along the stem, are sparse except near the base of the plant.
Flowering occurs in fall - sometimes into late November.  The tiny capsule-shaped white blooms are clustered at the ends of each stem in racemes about 1 inch long.  Each flower is no more than 1/8 inch in length.
This distinctive wildflower can hardly be confused with any other.  In the open sandy places where it prospers, tall jointweed often occurs in large colonies.  This is not a wildflower likely to be cultivated by commercial nurseries or in great demand by the home gardener.  As an annual, it is difficult to grow for sale to the public and in the landscape it needs open sandy soil to reseed effectively. Nevertheless, this species has a special charm and I look forward to seeing it each fall as I hike the state. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Bitterweed - Helenium amarum



Bitterweed (Helenium amarum) gets little respect with regard to its common name - or the common name of the genus - sneezeweed, but despite this, it is an attractive little wildflower that occurs throughout much of Florida in open fields, disturbed sites and open woodlands.  It also is widely distributed outside of Florida, occurring in nearly every state east of the short grass prairie states and also in California.  Throughout its range, it is generally regarded as a weed, because it rapidly colonizes disturbed ground.
Bitterweed is an annual that reseeds heavily in open soil.  Growth is rapid in the spring, and by late summer it stands between 2-3 feet tall.  The foliage is finely dissected - hence one of its other common names, yellow dogfennel.  The main stem does not branch much unless it is injured early in its growth stage, so it is upright and not very wide in aspect.
Flowering occurs at the top of each main stem in late summer to very early fall.  The bright yellow ray petals surround a rounded central disc and are attractive.  These look a bit like a yellow blanketflower (Gaillardia spp._ and it has been placed in this genus in the past.
Because of its tendency to spread, bitterweed is not a good candidate for most landscape settings. In open expansive dry sites, however, it could make an attractive addition.  It would be controlled by lack of open space in a well-planted landscape and the addition of taller perennials.  It is not currently propagated by any nursery affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries and it is unlikely to be any time in the future.  Seed collected from dry spent flower heads germinates easily if you want to try it yourself.