Monday, September 28, 2015

Downy Lobelia - Lobelia puberula



Downy lobelia (Lobelia puberula) is a robust perennial forb found throughout the northern one-third of Florida in moist to mesic habitats such as open woodlands, roadsides, and meadows. It also occurs in much of the Southeast and southern Midwest, from Texas and Missouri, east to New Jersey southward.
Downy lobelia dies back to the ground in winter and emerges in early spring. It quickly produces a set of basal leaves that are up to 5 inches long and 1.5 inches wide. The leaves are elliptical, clasp the stem (lack a petiole), and are finely toothed along the margin.  They also alternate up the stem.
Flowering occurs in late summer and well into fall. The mature flower stalk is 3-5 feet tall and the deep lavender flowers are produced singly on the upper 2-3 feet.  Each bloom is nearly 1 inch long with a distinct white blotch in the throat.  Sharply pointed sepals subtend each flower and a nearly sagittate wavy leaf occurs opposite.
Although some lobelias have found favor in the landscape trade, downy lobelia has not in Florida. Though quite showy and adaptable to non-wetland conditions, it has not been offered by nurseries affiliated with FANN, the Florida Association of Native Nurseries. It is sold commercially by native nurseries to Florida's north, however.  We have not experimented with downy lobelia at Hawthorn Hill and I do not know how adaptable out-of-state stock is to our growing conditions. If you attempt it, give it mesic to moist conditions. In mesic conditions, it is likely to do best in partial to half sun. If you are growing it, let us know what you've discovered. I hope this beautiful wildflower is someday made more available in Florida than it is at present.

Spanish Needles - Bidens bipinnata



Spanish needles (Bidens bipinnata) is a member of a genus well known for its barbed seeds that catch on clothing and hair, and get transported well away for dispersal purposes. Though it shares the same common name as its white-flowered cousin, Bidens alba, it is quite distinct and impossible to confuse. Spanish needles occurs throughout much of Florida, except the western panhandle and the extreme southern peninsula. It also is reported from nearly every state in the southern two-thirds of the U.S. It is not a wetland plant, but is most commonly encountered in disturbed sites such as roadsides and agricultural edges in mesic to well-drained soils.
Like its more common cousin, Spanish needles is an upright annual and forms a noticeable taproot. The stems reach a mature height of about 3 feet in late summer. As the Latin name suggests, the leaves appear to be bipinnately compound - though they are, in fact, simple, but deeply dissected. They are opposite each other on the stem and several inches long near the base of the plant.
Flowering occurs in late summer and fall. The plants above were photographed along a roadside in Jefferson County on September 26, 2015. Many flowers are produced at the tips of the stems, they are less than 1/2 inch across, and composed of a set of bright yellow ray petals encircling a center of yellow disk flowers.  Once flowering ends, the ripened fruit is an elongated collection of 4-barbed achenes.
Spanish needles attracts pollinators, but has few aesthetic qualities that would make it suited for a home landscape. As such, it is a plant most likely to be encountered on a hike along disturbed edges in full to partly sunny locations. Just watch that you don't take some home with you, hooked tightly to your socks or pant legs.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Swamp Hornpod - Mitreola sessilifolia




Swamp hornpod (Mitreola sessilifolia) is a common wetland species, found nearly statewide in open marshes, bogs and savannas.  It also occurs throughout the Southeastern Coastal Plain from Texas to Virginia. Though common in the understory, it can go largely unnoticed when not in bloom.
Swamp hornpod is an annual herbaceous wildflower. It forms a single erect stem that generally stands 12-18 inches tall by summer. The opposite oval leaves have noticeable teeth along the margins and the edges curl under slightly. The Latin name is derived from its leaves lacking a petiole - they are sessile to the stem. As evidenced by these photographs, the stems are also smooth and reddish.
Flowering occurs in summer. The tiny white flowers occur in branching clusters at the tips of the stems.  They are rounded in appearance and open only slightly to make themselves available to pollinating insects.
The hornpods are in the Loganaceae, a family well known for species that are highly toxic due to the presence of alkaloids in their foliage such as strychnine. Though you may not want to eat this plant, they are beautiful when seen in patches in full bloom. Because of its annual nature, however, it is not propagated commercially by any of the nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries.  This is a species you'll simply have to admire if you are walking in open shallow wetlands in summer in most parts of Florida.

Yeatesia/Yellow Bractspike - Yeatesia viridiflora



Yeatesia (Yeatesia viridiflora) is a member of the same family as wild petunia (Ruellia) and twinflower (Dyschoriste), the Acanthaceae, yet is not propagated commercially as these other two genera are and generally is not included in books featuring Florida wildflowers. Perhaps it's because it has a limited range here; it is reported only from a 4-county area in the central Panhandle in and near Torreya State Park. It also occurs in much of the western half of the Southeastern Coastal Plain - from Texas to Georgia. In this region, it is most often found in the understory of deciduous woodlands where it gets some protection from full sun, but in light gaps where it is not completely shaded.
Yeatesia is an herbaceous perennial that dies back to the ground in winter. It emerges in early spring and reaches a mature height of 18-24 inches by June. The foliage very closely resembles that of the common wild petunia (R. caroliniensis), and when not in flower it could easily be mistaken for it.  The leaves are thin and broadly elliptical.  They also are opposite each other on the stem with long petioles. On close examination, the surface of the leaves are sparsely "hairy".
Flowers are produced at the top of the stems in compact spikes; each flower is surrounded by a pair of large bracts. This characteristic makes the identification of this species easy. Single, 4-petal bright white flowers are produced within this spike. Each remains open for only one day - normally only in the morning half of the day, but flowering proceeds for several weeks on individual plants from late spring to summer. The photographs above were taken 15 August in Torreya State Park and most individuals seen had just finished flowering for the year. The flowers attract pollinating insects.
Yeatesia would make an interesting addition to a shade garden if not planted in deep shade. As so few native wildflowers are suited to these conditions, it makes its propagation even more useful.  We have not had experience with it here in our landscape nor intend to grow it at Hawthorn Hill as we are so distant from its natural geographic range.  Hopefully, it will be taken on by some of the native nurseries in north Florida. I suspect it would be as easy as its widely grown relatives to propagate in a nursery setting.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Wild Strawberry - Fragaria virginiana

Wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) is a perennial herbaceous wildflower whose fruit is the ancestral foundation of one our most important fruit crops.  The vast commercial strawberry industry in North America began with the tiny, but extremely tasty, fruit of this wild plant. Wild strawberry occurs in every state and province in the United States and Canada, but is extremely rare in Florida - reported only in Jackson and Leon counties near the Georgia state line.
Wild strawberry is most often found in mesic open woodlands and in grassy open fields. It prefers ample, but somewhat filtered sunlight to perform best. It is a creeping ground cover that produces many above-ground stems (stolons) that spread from the main stem and root periodically along their length. It rarely stands taller than 6-12 inches above the ground and can be easily overlooked when not in flower or fruit.  Like its commercial cousins, it has a distinctive 3-parted compound leaf, oval in shape, and with noticeable teeth along the margins. This is also representative of the blackberries (Rubus spp.), but wild strawberry is thornless. There are, however, noticeable soft hairs on the stems and leaves.
Wild strawberry produces numerous 5-petal white flowers in the spring. These are followed by the bright red succulent fruit in June-July. The fruit of wild strawberry is rarely as much as 1/2 inch across, but are far more flavorful than any of the commercial berries you are likely to find for sale. They make exquisite jam if you can find enough to collect. The leaves also make a fragrant tea that is high in Vitamin C.  The tea is made by adding about 1/2 cup of the leaves to 2 cups of boiling water and letting it steep before straining.
Wild strawberry is rare in Florida and none of our native nurseries propagate it commercially. It is widely grown, however, by sources close to us. If you choose to give it a try, choose a source as close to Florida's growing conditions as possible and use it as a ground cover for areas that receive at least half day sun and in soils that are neither too droughty or too wet.


Saturday, September 19, 2015

Sidebeaked Pencilflower - Stylosanthes biflora




Sidebeaked pencilflower (Stylosanthes biflora) is found throughout much of north and central Florida in well-drained sandy uplands.  The plants photographed above were found in a recently burned longleaf pine sandhill, but it also is resident to dry hammocks, old fields, and roadside edges. This species also occurs in much of the eastern U.S.
Sidebeaked pencilflower is a perennial species that dies back to the ground in winter, unless temperatures remain above freezing.  It can act like a low-growing ground cover or be mostly erect. The plants above are assuming the former aspect. This is a rather diminutive species. Like many other members of the bean/pea family, the foliage is composed of three leaflets. Each is somewhat narrow and less than 1/3 inch long. A close inspection of the leaves shows that they have a few sharp teeth along the margins and stiff "hairs" as well.
Flowering occurs in the leaf axils - either solitary or in small clusters, in summer and early fall. Each bloom is deep yellow to nearly orange with darker lines on the larger "flag" petal. A much smaller fused lower lip is beneath. The flowers are very small, less than 1/2 inch in size. They are pollinated by small bees. The foliage is the larval food source for the barred sulfur.
Sidebeaked pencilflower is currently being propagated by many commercial nurseries, mostly as an alternative to turf. Though not as resistant to repeated foot traffic, it will spread and form a mat over time. Though the flowers are tiny, its additional value to a landscape devoted to butterflies and pollinators makes up for its deficiencies.

Variable-leaved Sunflower - Helianthus heterophyllus



Variable-leaved sunflower (Helianthus heterophyllus) is one of 18 species of sunflowers native to the Sunshine State. It occurs throughout the central and western portion of the Panhandle in low/wet open habitats such as roadside ditches, savannas and wet pine flatwoods. It also is reported from much of the Southeast Coastal Plain - from Louisiana to North Carolina.  This is an herbaceous perennial that dies back to the ground in winter.
Many of our native sunflowers can be tricky to differentiate by species. Variable-leaved sunflower is most easily identified by its relative lack of leaves along the stem. It produces a tuft of 4-6" long linear leaves in spring, They are rough to the touch - a result of the many stiff hairs along the surface and leaf edge. Though a few of these leaves may occur a short distance up the 4-5 foot tall hairy stem, it is mostly leafless. A single flower head is produced at the top of each by mid-summer.
The composite flowers are comprised of 1-2 dozen bright yellow ray petals surrounding a dark center of disk flowers. The size of these flower heads is variable, but can be 4 inches across. Like other sunflowers, they are exceptional at attracting pollinating insects and the ripened seeds provide food for various seed-eating birds.
Variable-leaved sunflower is not propagated by any of the native nurseries in Florida associated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries, though other species are commonly offered. It would require sunny moist locations to prosper and it would require ample space as it has a tendency to spread by underground rhizomes.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Stoke's Aster - Stokesia laevis



Stoke's aster (Stokesia laevis) is a very showy species that is widely propagated throughout the south in both wildflower gardens and in more formal settings.  It has been adopted by the plant breeders and many horticultural varieties are offered in garden catalogs.  All this is justifiable as Stoke's aster has all the natural attributes that make it a valued addition to the landscape.
As a Florida wildflower, however, it is quite rare, found in only 9 counties scattered in extreme north Florida. The largest population occurs in the Apalachicola National Forest. The plants photographed above were taken along a Forest roadside on 13 August.  Stoke's aster occurs naturally throughout much of the Southeast Coastal Plain, from Louisiana to North Carolina.  Throughout this range, it prefers moist and sunny locations - savannas, the upper edges of pitcher plant bogs, and roadside depressions.
Stoke's aster is an herbaceous perennial that dies back to the ground during the winter. Its large thick, strap-like leaves emerge in spring and form a rosette at ground level that may be 12 inches or more across.  The leaf surfaces are "hairy" and densely glandular; the leaves also often have spine-like teeth near their base. The flower stalk soon emerges from this leaf rosette and reaches its mature height of about 18-24 inches by mid-summer. Each stalk produces one flower at the top, though individual plants may produce more than one stalk.
The extremely showy blooms are what has made stoke's aster such a favored landscape plant. When fully open, each is 2-3 inches across and light lavender/pinkish blue in color. As a member of the aster family, these blooms are really a composite of a great many small tubular flowers and the large numbers attract the attention of pollinating insects of all kinds. Stoke's aster is an exceptional addition to a pollinator garden. Flowering is most common from June to August when few other asters are in bloom. Individual flower heads remain open for about a week.
Though Stoke's aster is offered by a great many garden catalogs, it is not an easy wildflower to keep in the Florida landscape unless attention is paid to its growing requirements. For one, I (and others I know) have had very limited success in my Pinellas County landscape with stock that does not originate from our Florida population; the garden catalog individuals and the plants I've purchased from "native plant" nurseries who've acquired their stock from sources originating outside Florida, have not survived long. This may not be as important for those of you that live in extreme north Florida. Stoke's aster is drought tolerant, but it will decline and eventually die if kept too dry for too long. It performs best in moist, but well-drained soils. Do not plant it in "heavy" soils, high in clay or organics. It also performs very poorly if not given ample sunlight; they will not flower and they will become thin and weak by the second season.
Given the right stock and growing conditions, Stoke's aster makes a wonderful addition to the home landscape. It is a species Alexa and I always include.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Sandbog Deathcamus - Zigadenus glaberrimus


Sandbog deathcamus (Zigadenus glaberrimus) is a member of the "death camus" family, so named because they produce strong alkaloids poisonous to livestock and humans if consumed. This species is common to wet savannas and marshes in the central and western Florida Panhandle. It also is reported from all the states that comprise the Southeast Coastal Plain - Texas to Virginia, though it has not been reported from Louisiana. Sandbog deathcamus is in a monotypic genus - other species once included with it have since been placed in other genera.
This is an herbaceous perennial species that dies back to its thick woody rhizome in winter. The coarse grass-like leaves are produced in spring. The basal leaves are clumped near the ground, but alternate along the flowering stem.  The 3-5 foot tall flower stalk grows rapidly and reaches maturity by mid-summer.
Sandbog deathcamus is a member of the extended lily "family" and, like so many in this group, its flowers are quite attractive.  The creamy white blooms are produced in profusion atop a multi-branched reddish stem. The 3 petals and 3 sepals are nearly identical ("tepals"), are tipped in rose pink, and have two conspicuous golden blotches near their base.  These flowers are attractive to bees and butterflies - and this also attracts predators, like the green lynx spider photographed above.
In my 30 years of living in Florida, I have not seen sandbog deathcamus offered for sale commercially, though it has great aesthetic appeal and value in a wetland pollinator garden. Perhaps this will change as demand for more wildflower diversity is generated by the Florida public. Until then, you will have to be satisfied admiring it in those wild places where it is found.

Florida lobelia - Lobelia floridana


Florida lobelia (Lobelia floridana) is an herbaceous perennial wildflower native to wet marshes and savannas throughout the central and western Florida Panhandle. It also occurs throughout much of the Southeast Coastal Plain from Texas to North Carolina. It has not been reported from South Carolina, however. This is an obligate wetland species that dies back to the ground in winter. When it emerges in the early spring, it forms a whirl of lanceolate basal leaves that exude a milky sap if wounded.
Flowering can occur from late spring to early fall. The 3-5 foot tall flowering stalk has few leaves. The flowers are typically shaped for the genus - they are bilabiate (two lips) - the lower lip is broad and composed of three petals while the upper two petals are much smaller and curve backwards. These petals are fused into a tube which holds the nectar that attracts a diversity of pollinators. Each bloom is white, but with a rose-colored blush
Florida lobelia has not been propagated commercially by nurseries associated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries. Though a perennial, like some of its widely grown relatives, its understated beauty seemingly has limited its commercial appeal. I suspect it would be easy to grow from seed collected when the capsules ripen to brown. Sow the seed on top of the soil and make sure it stays moist. To maintain it in a landscape, it would have to be placed in a wet sunny location.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Sleepy Morning - Waltheria indica


Sleepy morning (Waltheria indica) is a sprawling, multi-stemmed, semi-woody evergreen plant native to a variety of upland habitats throughout much of central and south Florida counties. It also has been reported in southern Alabama, Texas and Arizona in the U.S., and throughout much of the tropics and semi-tropical regions of the world. Its Latin species name, "indica" (of India), refers to that wide distribution.
Though it can reach a mature height of 6 feet and act more like a shrub, it also has a habit of spreading outward, just above ground level, from its main stem - which is what the specimen in our Pinellas County landscape, pictured above, has done. The leaves are ovate to oblong in shape, alternate along the stems, and have a somewhat wavy margin without teeth. The veins are deeply incised. Each leaf is about 2 inches long and 1/2 inch wide, often covered by white wooly hairs.
Flowers can occur throughout the year in warm temperatures. They occur in clusters in the leaf axils. Each is a bright canary yellow in color with 5 petals, but tiny in size - about 1/4 inch across. As the common name implies, they open in the morning and close by late afternoon. Though small, they attract pollinators - especially small bees.
Sleepy morning is only rarely grown commercially. Our plant was propagated by Green Isle Gardens Native Nursery, based in Groveland, Florida, though it is not listed in their current catalog. Check with them if you are interested in adding it to your landscape. As an upland species, it performs best if given full sun and well-drained soil. This is an interesting addition to a landscape dedicated to pollinators, but the small size of its flowers makes it more of a connoisseur plant than a showy one. Sleepy morning is related to cacao (the source of chocolate) and the leaves have been used medicinally for a variety of ailments in various parts of the world according to Roger Hammer in his excellent book Everglades Wildflowers. Our plant is relished by the cottontail rabbits that sometimes visit our landscape. When they do, it is eaten completely back to the main stem, but it regenerates quickly.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

One-flowered Honeycombhead - Balduina uniflora



While honeycombhead (Balduina angustifolia) is ubiquitous throughout Florida in dry uplands, the more diminutive one-flowered honeycombhead (B. uniflora) is reported only from north Florida counties in moist open savannas, roadsides, and moist pinelands.  It also is recorded from most of the Southeast Coastal Plain - from Louisiana to North Carolina.
One-flowered honeycombhead is an herbaceous perennial that dies back to the ground in winter. In spring, it emerges and forms a small rosette of elliptical leaves that are about four inches long. From this, a single thin stem is produced. It has tiny elliptical leaves up the 2-3 foot tall stem. A single flower typically is produced at the end of this stem, though sometimes it branches. A single flower is produced at the end of each stem.
Flowering occurs in mid-summer to November.  The yellow central disk is typical of the genus, being "bumpy" in appearance. This gives way to a stiff papery fruiting structure after flowering which looks something like a honeycomb. The bright yellow ray petals are thin and widely spaced around the central disk. Overall, the flowers are large for the size of the plants; both the central disk and the ray petals are 1 inch long on average - making a flower that is 2 inches across. Honeycombheads are in the aster family and therefore are good plants for pollinating insects.
Though its upland cousin is widely propagated, one-flowered honeycombhead is not and currently is not available from any nursery affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries.  I hope that gets rectified someday as this wildflower seems to have many attributes that would warrant its inclusion in a home landscape - one that is moist to wet in the summer months. We do not currently grow it at Hawthorn Hill.

Mohr's Coneflower - Rudbeckia mohrii




Mohr's coneflower (Rudbeckia mohrii) is a near-endemic, found only in a nine-county area of the Florida Panhandle and in a small portion of Georgia. Throughout this region, it can be locally common, but confined to open wetlands, such as savannas, roadside ditches, and the upper edges of marshes and swamps. It does not persist in areas that are not exceptionally wet to shallowly inundated in the summer rainy season.
Mohr's coneflower is unique among our nine species of black-eyed susans and cannot be mistaken for any of the others.  It is the only yellow-flowered species to have grass-like leaves and a tall leafless (or near-leafless) flower stalk. This is a perennial species that dies back to the ground in winter and emerges in spring from a stout central stem. As stated above, the basal leaves are linear in shape, without teeth, and up to 12 inches long. From this, a slender flower stem emerges and eventually reaches a mature height of 2-4 feet by the summer.
Flowering occurs from mid-summer to early fall. The photos above were taken in Apalachicola National Forest 13-14 August 2015.  The flowers are typical of most black-eyed susans; yellow ray petals surround a chocolate-colored disk.  The ray petals are thin and 1 inch long while the central disk is compact and about 1/2 inch across.  The ends of the flowering stalks often branch near the top and multiple flowers are the norm atop the stems. Like all black-eyed susans, they attract the attention of various pollinating insects.
Mohr's coneflower has not been regularly offered by commerical nurseries associated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries. Its need for moist to saturated soils limits its use in a typical landscape setting, but its perennial nature and attractive flowers make it a wonderful addition to a wetland planting.  Presently, we are growing this black-eyed susan at Hawthorn Hill and hope to have some extra plants ready for others by spring 2016.  Let us know if you are interested.