Friday, March 16, 2012
Trailing Phlox - Phlox nivalis
Trailing phlox (Phlox nivalis) is a low, sprawling perennial wildflower native to much of north Florida and with a disjunct record in Manatee County. It occurs throughout the Southeast Coastalplain as well, and disjunct, rare, populations are reported in Texas and Michigan.
Though fairly widespread in the northern half of Florida, its distribution is sporadic. It occurs in sunny, well-drained uplands; in old fields and sandhills. Here, it forms large mounds. Many runners emerge from the central portion of the plant and they grow in all directions, hugging the ground and rarely standing more than 6 inches above it. The runners occassionally root as they touch moist soil.
The stems are clothed in evergreen, needle-like foliage. Each leaf is a shiny rich green in color and the edges have short stiff hairs. A well grown specimen makes a striking foliage plant in the garden - even when it is not in bloom.
The flowers are similar to those of other phlox. They occur at the ends of the stems in small clusters and are often held upright; sometimes 6-8 inches above the ground. Each is tubular with five petals flaring out from the central tube. Color is extremely variable, from deep pink to lighter shades and sometimes with "eyespots" near the opening of the tube. Horticulturalists have taken advantage of this variability and there are named color forms available in the trade. Flowering occurs in the spring and may last through the summer.
Trailing phlox is offered by southern nurseries in states outside of Florida, but it has never been offered here for some reason. It is a beautiful, hardy member of a most-beloved genus of garden plants, so its lack of availablility is a mystery to me. I currently am growing it in my Pinellas County landscape, so if it prospers I hope to make it available to others in future years.
Use trailing phlox as a ground cover near the front of a mixed wildflower bed or as a mass planting in areas near walkways and trails. Because it is evergreen, it remains attractive throughout the year as a foliage plant and because it is low, it does not overwhelm neighboring plants or small spaces. Keep it trimmed if you need to confine it or let it sprawl and form masses that can reach several feet across.