Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Trout Lily - Erythronium umbilicatum

Trout lilies (Erythronium umbilicum) are found naturally in only three counties in the central Panhandle of Florida, but occur throughout the Southeastern Coastal Plain in the Appalachians and other temperate woodland settings. These photos were taken recently at Wolf Creek Preserve near Cairo, Georgia off US 84 - the largest population in the world.  In Florida, trout lilies are listed as a state endangered species.
These members of the lily family are true spring ephemerals.  Though perennial in their growth habit, they emerge with their two speckled leaves in very early spring, send their single flower bud up just a few days later, bloom, and then essentially disappear for another year.  If pollinated, the small capsule will remain above ground until the seeds are dispersed, but that is all that remains. The leaves shrivel and die back to the ground.
When present, the 6 inch narrow fleshy leaves are distinctive.  Like our native trilliums, they are dark green and covered by maroon-colored splotches. I suspect these plants produce side bulbs like other lilies over time and slowly spread outward, but they are slow to reproduce. It takes several years for young plants to flower and set seed.
The plants above were photographed on Saturday, February 22. The peak of blooming often occurs in mid-February to early March, depending on the winter temperatures that precede it.  The single lemon yellow flower stands less than 6 inches above the ground and only opens on days with sufficient sunlight.  The buds remain closed on extremely cloudy days and close up in the evening.  Individual flowers may open on several consecutive days.  They are pollinated by bees.
The spectacle at Wolf Creek Preseve is one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the Deep South and everyone that loves wildflowers should add it to their list of places to visit. I made the 550-mile round trip from my home in Pinellas and it was one of the most worthwhile days I've ever spent.  Trout lilies are not a landscape plant unless you can meet their exacting requirements. NEVER dig plants from the wild. A few native nurseries offer plants that are nursery propagated.  I tried this once and they failed miserably in my central Florida landscape. From now on, I will be content to visit them in the wild.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Blanketflower - Gaillardia pulchella

Blanketflower, or firewheel, (Gaillardia pulchella) is an annual or very short-lived perennial common to much of Florida and the rest of North America.  It is extremely hardy and adaptable, and can be found on coastal dunes as well as open uplands and disturbed sites in interior counties.  In the prairie states to our north where I have used it in restoration projects, it behaves like a perennial, but in Florida, it is rare to have individual plants last more than 12 months.  It persists and spreads, however, by vigorously self-seeding.
Blanketflower overwinters as a rosette of leaves that hug the ground. Some are nearly devoid of teeth, but the vast majority of the leaves are deeply notched and quite distinctive.  They are several inches long, light green in color, and roughly hairy.  Flower stalks emerge in late spring and the plants become more upright, standing 12-18 inches tall without including the flower heads.  They form a somewhat rounded mass. and often become top heavy as the blossoms form - tipping to one side under that weight.
Flowering can occur in most months from spring through fall.  Each bloom is several inches across and very showy. Normally, the ray petals are deep orange in color, tipped in bright yellow, though yellow forms are common and there is quite a bit of variation in the depth of orange present.  The ray petals surround a mounded central disk that is dark orange to nearly red.  These persist well after pollination and eventually become silvery as the seedheads mature and disperse. Like all asters, blanketflower is attractive to a variety of insect pollinators.
This is one of the most widely propagated wildflowers native to Florida and is commonly used along roadsides and in other cultivated wildflower plantings.  It requires high sunlight and sandy soils to prosper, but it can be grown nearly anywhere if not given too much shade or moisture.  In a mixed planting, it can spread too abundantly and shade other, less robust, species, but it is easily weeded if this becomes a problem.  Do not use it in mass plantings unless you are aware that it will die back in late fall and leave your planting bed virtually bare until spring.  I like it best planted with other robust beach-dune species such as beach sunflower (Helianthus debilis) that typically keep their foliage through winter.

Open House at Hawthorn Hill - Saturday, March 22, 9 am - 1 pm

Alexa and I have scheduled our Spring Open House for Saturday, March 22, 9 am- 1 pm.  The new crop of wildflowers should be ready by then -  including the ones featured above: Bartram's ixia, Downy phlox, and Silver aster.  If you are interested in stopping by to purchase plants or just talk wildflowers, let us know.  This sale will precede all of the other Spring plant sales we will be attending. Many of our species are in limited numbers.  If you want a current plant list, let  us know that too.  Hawthorn Hill is in Seminole, Pinellas County.  We'd love to see you!