Sunday, September 5, 2021

Pattalias palustre - Gulf Coast Swallowwort


Gulf Coast swallowwort (Pattalias palustre) has a somewhat confused taxonomy. Because of various legitimacy issues with the generic name, it has been moved to this genus. It was formerly known as Seutera angustifolia and before that as Cynanchum angustifolium.  It is under that last name that I first learned it. Regardless of its taxonomic confusion, it is well entrenched as a member of the milkweed family - Apocynaceae, and serves as an important host plant to milkweed butterflies in coastal habitats.

As its name suggests, Gulf Coast swallowwort occurs in every Florida county along the gulf coast in brackish saltmarsh habitats. It also occurs in virtually every county along the east coast of Florida - always in saltmarsh conditions.  Outside of Florida, it has been recorded from the Texas coast to North Carolina in coastal habitats as well as the West Indies, Mexico and portions of Central America to Belize. 

This is a perennial vine that twines its way throughout the neighboring vegetation. It does not have tendrils. It is easy to miss in this situation as it rarely grows taller than 3 feet and both its foliage and flowers are rather inconspicuous.  The leaves are simple and opposite each other on the stem.  Each is narrow and pointed, and may reach 1.5 - 2 inches in length.

Flowering occurs in summer and the ripened pods are formed by very early fall.  The plants above, were growing in a saltmarsh in Pasco County and photographed in early September.  I apologize for the poor quality of the photos taken with my cell phone... The flowers are produced in small heads and are greenish white in color. The pods are a bit longer than 1 inch and contain a great many tiny seeds - each attached to a fluffy appendage. As a milkweed, these plants also produce a milky sap.

Gulf Coast swallowwort provides an important food source for coastal milkweed butterflies - especially queens.  Nevertheless, it is rarely propagated by native plant nurseries for butterfly gardeners. It would require moist to wet soils in a landscape, but likely not require salt to thrive.  Everywhere I have seen it, it has been growing in full sun.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Spotted Water Hemlock - Cicuta maculata

Spotted water hemlock (Cicuta maculata) is a perennial member of the carrot family (Apiaceae) found statewide (except for the extreme southern counties) in open wetlands - pond and marsh edges.  It also occurs throughout much of the U.S. in similar habitats.  Like most members of this family, it is highly toxic and should never be consumed. Deaths have been reported from this even when consumed in very small amounts. It is, however, a host for the eastern black swallowtail butterfly and makes a valuable addition to a landscape devoted to butterflies as long as it is placed in an area where it won't be mistakenly eaten by humans or livestock.

This perennial forb dies back to the ground during the winter and reemerges in early spring. It reaches its mature height of about 6 feet by early summer. The foliage is composed of pinnately compound leaves that alternate along the stem.  The leaves are robust. Each is about 8 inches long and up to 6 inches wide. The leaf margins are toothed. These are held on purplish stems that appear spotted on close glance - hence its common name.

Flowering occurs from early summer to early fall. They occur in umbels - which is a distinguishing feature of this family. The umbels are 6-8 inches across and contain a great many tiny white flowers. Each flower is only about 1/8 inch across. The blooms attract the attention of a great many pollinators. Pollinated flowers become equally small brownish slightly winged seeds that are eaten by birds.

Because of the extreme toxicity of its foliage, spotted water hemlock is very infrequently offered for sale by native plant nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries. Its value as a host and pollinator plant, however, cannot be ignored and it should be considered for plantings along lake edges away from the possible grazing of livestock. Ripe seed is easily germinated. Collect it when fully dry and sow it just beneath the soil surface. 

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.