Saturday, August 3, 2019

Rabbitbells - Crotalaria rotundifolia

Rabbitbells (Crotalaria rotundifolia)

With a developing seedpod
There are a great many rattleboxes (Crotalaria spp.), but only three are native to Florida and these are not the showiest of the group. The nearly 1-dozen others are weedy and often invasive and they give our more-diminutive native species reasons to be overlooked by wildflower enthusiasts. Two of the three are quite rare and confined to narrow ranges in Florida. Rabbitbells (C. rotundifolia), however, occurs statewide and is frequently encountered, though often overlooked. It is an adaptable species, and occurs in a wide variety of upland habitats with reasonably well-drained soil. It is a plant of the Southeastern Coastal Plain and occurs from Louisiana and Arkansas east to Maryland and all the states along the Atlantic south.
This is a diminutive species, rarely growing taller than 6-8 inches, but spreading outwards from the main stem for more than a foot on well-established specimens. As its common name suggests, the leaves are more rounded than in other Florida species, but they are not round. They are decidedly oval in shape with slightly hairy stems. Flowering can occur nearly year round in frost-free areas. It is a perennial and emerges in the spring in areas that freeze.
Rabbitbells, like others in this genus, has bright yellow flowers with a keeled lower lip. The blooms open in the early afternoon and are present for just one day. This makes the plant especially easy to overlook if you are out in the morning. Each day, more flowers open so it is in bloom for most months. The flowers are small - generally about 1/4 inch long. They are pollinated by bees. Flowers very quickly mature into 3/4-1 inch long pods. These turn black when fully ripe and disperse a great number of tiny seeds.
Rabbitbells is a useful wildflower in a butterfly garden as it serves as a host plant for the Ceraunus blue butterfly and likely the long-tailed skipper. It is easy to grow and its low stature allows it to fit in with taller and showier species. I have recently added rabbitbells to my home landscape and have started to propagate it at Hawthorn Hill.

A ripe seedpod.

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