Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Virginia buttonweed - Diodia virginiana

Virginia buttonweed (Diodia virginiana) is sometimes considered a "weed" when it occurs and spreads in a turf grass setting, but it is an attractive ground cover elsewhere. This perennial forb occurs throughout Florida in a variety of moist to average soil habitats and has also been reported in most of the eastern US from Texas and Oklahoma through the southern Midwest to the Atlantic.  

The prostrate stems are noticeably "hairy" and jointed. Individual plants can spread out in many directions for several feet over time. The narrow lanceolate leaves are sessile on these stems, somewhat "hairy" too, and deep green in color. They are opposite each other on the stems and about 1 inch long.  

Flowering occurs in most months in warmer parts of Florida.  The white to pinkish tubular flowers are produced at the axils of the leaves. Each is composed of 4 slightly fused, somewhat "hairy" petals and is about 1/2 inch across.  The flowers attract a variety of pollinators and the ripe seed capsules are also "hairy", ridged and elliptical.  

Virginia buttonweed can spread rapidly in a landscape setting by seed, by its rooting stems and by stem fragments that can root on their own if mowed or cut.  For these reasons, it is not a species likely to be cultivated by nurseries associated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries.  Although adaptable and native, I do not recommend it for most landscape settings as it can crowd out other species and reduce diversity.  In a natural area, however, it can play an important ecological role as a pollinator plant.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Sandpaper vervain - Verbena scabra

The true vervains (Verbena spp.) are a mixed lot of native and nonnative species in Florida, characterized by tall upright stems and small fragrant flowers that attract the attention of a wide variety of pollinators. Very few species in this genus are native to a broad range of peninsular Florida. Sandpaper vervain (V. scabra) is an exception as it is found nearly statewide in a variety of open and disturbed habitats. It also occurs throughout the lower 1/3rd of the US from California to Virginia. Throughout its range, it is found in moist to upland soils.

This is a perennial species that produces stiff thin upright stems that can reach 2-3 feet tall by summer. These stems produce multiple branches.  The leaves are oval with decided teeth along the margins. They often are alternate along the stems, but can be whorled. Each has a short petiole. As the common and Latin names imply, they are rough to the touch.

Flowering occurs in the summer on numerous branches at the top of each stem. They occur in pairs. Each flower is no more than 1/8 inch long and comprised of 4 partially fused petals. The flowers are pale lavender to nearly white in color. Like other members of this genus, they are relished by pollinators. On the day I took these photos (Okeechobee County in mid-June), they were being assiduously visited by queens - a butterfly that almost would seem too large for these diminutive blooms. 

Sandpaper vervain is relatively weedy in appearance and not a likely candidate for commercial native plant nursery people.  It would make a good addition, however, to an open meadow-type pollinator garden where aesthetics are less important than function. Give it full to part sun and seasonally moist soil.

Narrow-leaved primrosewillow - Ludwigia linearis

There are nearly 30 species of native primrose willows in Florida and they are a very diverse genus in terms of growth form and preferred habitat. This makes field identification a bit tricky for some. Narrow-leaved primrose willow (Ludwigia linearis) is relatively easy to identify as it is a relatively diminutive upright species with decidedly narrow leaves. It is common to open moist to wet habitats throughout much of the Panhandle and then south to the upper two-thirds of the peninsula.  It also is found throughout much of the Southeast Coastal Plain from east Texas to New Jersey.

Narrow-leaved primrosewillow is a perennial that dies back to the ground in winter and reemerges in early spring.  The thin stems can reach a mature height of 3 feet by summer. Individual plants can produce up to 3 stems each. The stems tend to be reddish in color and smooth. The thin leaves alternate on the stem and are 1-3 inches long with entire leaf margins.

Flowering occurs in the summer months. Each bloom is comprised of 4 bright yellow rounded petals and is about 1 inch across.  They are sessile to the stems and this is a key field identification feature along with the leaves.  Flowers are pollinated mostly by bees and the ripened seed capsules are smooth and noticeably 4-sided.

This is a rather nondescript member of the genus and not offered for sale commercially as far as I know. It would be easy to grow from seed collected after the capsules turn brown and begin to split. Otherwise, simply enjoy it when exploring moist areas in much of the state.

Marsh seedbox - Ludwigia palustris

Marsh seedbox (Ludwigia palustris) is a low-growing member of a large genus native to most of Florida and the rest of North America. As its Latin name suggests, it is common to marshes and other low-lying habitats. In such areas, it can withstand prolonged inundation and is even sold as an aquarium plant because of this.

This is a perennial species. Over time, it produces mats of reddish stems that grow outward in all directions. These mats can extend several feet in all directions from the original stem. The leaves are small (about 1/8-1/4 inch), oval in shape, opposite each other on the stems, and dark green in color. They also are somewhat succulent in appearance.  

Flowering can occur in most months. The individual flowers are less than 1 inch across and comprised of four bright yellow circular petals.  Though small, they are quite striking. They attract the attention of bees for the most part.

Because of its growth form and size, this primrosewillow is not offered commercially by any of the native plant nurseries I am aware of in Florida associated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries. It is offered by sellers of aquarium plants, however, but most or all of those are offering specimens from locations outside of Florida. It should be easy to grow from cuttings if desired and would make an interesting ground cover at the edge of a pond, lake or seasonally flooded location.

Monday, June 7, 2021

Muck Sunflower - Helianthus simulans

 Muck sunflower (Helianthus simulans) is a perennial rhizomatous species found throughout much of north and central Florida. As its common name suggests, it occurs in wet soil habitats where it gets high sunlight. It is also found in the southern tier of states within the Southeast Coastal Plain from Louisiana to Georgia.

This species can be distinguished from other somewhat similar sunflowers by its foliage and its vigorous growth. The leaves are generally wider (up to 2 inches) than the common narrow-leaved sunflower (H. angustifolius) and they are very rough to the touch and dark green in color. Growth occurs rapidly in spring from a basal rosette. Each plant may eventually reach a mature height of 6-8 feet by summer and blooming occurs in late summer to fall. Multiple heads are produced on each stem. 

The flower heads are several inches across with dark to yellow disk flowers surrounded by a dozen or more bright yellow ray petals.  In full bloom, the weight of these flowers tends to bend the flower stem over. Like all other species in this genus, they attract a great variety of pollinators and the seeds are an important bird food in late fall to winter. The flower buds in the photo above were photographed in early June. I hope to add more photos to this post in the months ahead.

Muck sunflower is only rarely offered for sale by native plant nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries. As it requires wet soils and suckers aggressively, it is best planted along lake and pond edges with ample room to spread out. I have only recently planted a few along a lake edge in Pasco County and hope to learn more about it in the years ahead. 

Southeastern Sunflower - Helianthus agrestis

Southeastern sunflower (Helianthus agrestis) is found in moist to wet soil habitats throughout much of peninsular Florida except the most southerly counties. It is a near endemic with only one collection made historically (1904) near Thomasville, Georgia - near the Florida border. This is an annual species, generating from seed each spring before reaching a mature height of about 6 feet in the summer.  

Most sunflowers require sunny, open habitats and this is not an exception to that. Unlike many, however, it does not sucker, but needs to be able to reseed each year in moist mucky soils. Growth in the spring is rapid. The plant photographed above had reached blooming size by early June. The leaves are lanceolate with slightly serrate edges. Each leaf is about 1/2 inch wide - wider than the more-common narrow-leaved sunflower (H. angustifolia) and brighter green in color. The stems are smooth and each plant may produce several from the basal cluster.

The flower heads are several inches across with the bright yellow ray petals being about 1/2 inch across. Like all members of this genus, they attract the attention of a great many pollinators. The seeds are important to songbirds as well. Because of its annual nature, southeastern sunflower is rarely offered by native plant nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries. If you find one, make sure that you collect seed from your plants before the birds find it and sow them when ripe in a good potting mix for eventual transplanting. I have recently planted this at a project I am directing in Pasco County and will do this myself. It is my hope that if I get a sufficient number of plants that they will reseed themselves naturally. Time will tell.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Woodland lettuce - Lactuca floridana

Woodland lettuce (Lactuca floridana) is an annual or biennial native to disturbed somewhat shady moist habitats throughout most of Florida. It is also widespread across much of the eastern and central US, as well as the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Manitoba.  Though widespread here in Florida, this species and its close relatives are rarely included in wildflower guide books. Why that is so seems a mystery to me.

Lactuca is the genus that includes the edible lettuces of our salads, but the leaves of this species are bitter and are best eaten only after a thorough soaking in water for some time. The genus name is derived from the milky sap produced by most of this genus and woodland lettuce is no exception.  When in doubt as to whether this is actually wild lettuce, pick a piece off of a leaf and look for the white sticky sap that will emerge.

This species emerges from the seed bank in early spring and grows quickly to a mature height of about 4-6 feet. Deeply-lobed, pinnately veined, lanceolate to triangular, dandelion-like, basal leaves (to 3-10” long and 1-4” wide) have pointed tips, toothed margins and tapered bases. Smaller upper leaves are lanceolate. Leafy purplish stems to 7’ tall rise from the basal clump in spring topped by large branching inflorescences of pale blue flowers (hence the other common name of Florida blue lettuce) which bloom, only several at a time, from July to October. Each inflorescence is in the form of a loose panicle of 11-17 flowers (each to 1/2” across) featuring small, petal-like, pale blue (sometimes close to white) rays with no center disks. Flowers give way to flattened short-beaked achenes featuring white fluffy bristles (pappus). 

Woodland lettuce is not likely to ever be purposely grown as an ornamental by any of the native plant nurseries due to its short-lived nature and limited aesthetics. The small attractive compound flowers are visited by pollinators, however, and the greens can be used in much the same way that dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) are further north. If you desire this plant in your landscape, it is easily grown from seed. Plant it in partial shade in a location that retains some moisture.