Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Wild Sweet Basil - Ocimum campechianum




Wild sweet basil (Ocmium campechianum) is a state-endangered annual herb found only in the extreme southern tier of Florida counties - Collier, Monroe and Miami-Dade.  As its Latin name suggests, however, it is more common in Mexico - and it also occurs throughout much of tropical Latin America.  In those regions, it is used as a culinary herb or as a "cooling" tea.  It is also sometimes used to ward off mosquitoes - hence its other common name of "mosquito plant."  The genus, Ocimum, includes standard basil and all its many varieties.  Though our native basil seems to have rarely been used in that fashion, it has highly aromatic foliage.
Wild sweet basil is a tropical species that persists in frost-free areas by reseeding heavily.  It has no cold tolerance, but has fared well to date in our Pinellas County landscape despite some cold winter temperatures because seed has sprouted from frost-killed plants.  It is unlikely, however, to persist in areas where the climate is more harsh.
Wild sweet basil rarely stands much taller than 18 inches, but it rapidly becomes much wider than that.  And, because it reseeds so heavily, it often forms large patches of plants that can extend for many feet.  The leaves are oval, opposite each other on the stem, and about 2-3 inches long.  They are also slightly pubescent.  The stems are often purplish - especially on the newest growth. 
Flowering can occur throughout the year.  Like other basils, they occur in small terminal spikes. Each flower is pink/lavender in color and only about 1/8 inch across.  They are especially attractive to small bees.  As the flowers are pollinated, they form a small thin papery seed.
Wild sweet basil is an attractive and useful native wildflower that is easy to cultivate from either seed or cuttings.  It is, however, rarely offered by nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries.  With the strong attention that sustainable landscapes have garnered in recent years, it would seem that this is one native that might be offered more regularly in the future.  We often have a few plants for sale at Hawthorn Hill, but do not plan to add it as a regular feature of our nursery.  That could change if demand seemed to warrant it.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please let me know if this site and the various postings have been useful to you.