Thursday, September 17, 2009

Chapman's Blazing Star - Liatris chapmanii

Chapman's blazing star (Liatris chapmanii) is a species common to upland habitats throughout Florida. Found primarily in sandhill and scrub, it is very adaptable as long as the soils are well drained.
Chapman's blazing star is easily recognized from others in this genus. The needle-like leaves are curved upwards toward the flower stalk and partially cover the developing buds. Unlike many other blazing stars, the leaves are prominent nearly to the tip of the flower stalk and the buds are held close to it. This makes the bloom spike appear quite dense.
Chapman's blazing star is somewhat variable in size. In extremely poor soils, it is rarely taller than 2-3 feet, but in better soils, it may stand as tall as 4-5 feet. When it reaches these heights, it is prone to falling over; especially when grown in the open conditions it favors.
Blooming occurs a bit earlier than most other members of this genus. Most specimens begin in late August to very early September and are finished before October arrives. The blooms are especially attractive to a wide variety of pollinators, including bees and butterflies and the rich lavender color is aesthetically interesting.
We have grown Chapman's blazing star in our wildlfower gardens for many years and have found it to be one of the easiest species to maintain. Give it plenty of sun and deep sandy soils and it will thrive. Plant this specimen in clumps and place it in the middle of the planting. If your soils are more fertile than pure scrub sand, place it near some other plants to give it structure and to help keep it from falling over.

Pineland Chaffhead - Carphephorus carnosus

Pineland chaffhead (Carphephorus carnosus) is a pretty unappealing name for this beautiful little wildflower. Its a shame it couldn't have been endowed with something more attractive -like prairie stars - that captured both its interesting foliage and the beauty of its bloom. But, it is what it is.

Pineland chaffhead is a Florida endemic and essentially occurs in wet prairies along the Kissimmee River basin in the central panhandle. In these habitats, it is quite abundant and is a significant component of the dry prairie ecosystem. It is not commonly found in pinelands, except within open, wetter pine flatwoods where saw palmetto is not dominant.

"Dry prairie", however, is a bit of a misnomer. Regions such as what is found at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park are relatively dry during the drier months in Florida, but have shallow standing water during the wet summer ones. Pineland chaffhead is adaptable to those widely varying conditions.

This species is one of 5 members of this genus - and very closely related to the blazing stars. In fact, the misapplied genus name Trilisa is an amalgram (a mixing of the letters) of Liatris. Pineland chaffhead is deciduous. In the early spring, the pointed star-like basal leaves emerge. Several months later, the short flower stalk rises from the center of this rosette.

Flowering occurs in September, for the most part, and lasts about a month. Flower stalks are much shorter than other members of this genus and rarely stand taller than 12-18 inches. Individual flowers are an intensely rich lavender, but are quite small. The tiny flowers occur in broad corymbs and the sheer numbers makes this plant a real head-turner when it is in bloom.

Pineland chaffhead prefers mostly sunny locations and plenty of water. Although it is reasonably drought tolerant during the winter and early spring, it will not persist if not given ample moisture during the extreme heat of summer. If you have these conditions, this is a beautiful addition to a wildflower garden. Plant it near the front where its interesting foliage can be seen and the late-summer flowers can be fully admired.

At present, no member of the Association of Florida Native Plant Nurseries is offering pineland chaffhead for sale, but it has been sold in the past. This seems to be one species worthy of production if there was an obvious market. Hawthorn Hill is evaluating this species in our own gardens. Perhaps, we will have some to share in the years ahead.

Brown-eyed Susan - Rudbeckia triloba

Brown-eyed susan (Rudbeckia triloba) is the daintiest member of this common wildflower genus and the rarest in Florida. It is reported from only 4 counties in the state; three in the central panhandle and from Levy County in the northwestern peninsula. It is listed as a state endangered species. Like many other wildflower species relatively rare in Florida because we are at the southern edge of their range, brown-eyed susan is common to our north and is found in nearly every state east of the Mississippi River and Canadian province from Ontario east to the Atlantic.
Named for its leaves, which are often three-lobed, brown-eyed susan is an annual (or very short-lived perennial) that reseeds itself when grown in the proper conditions. Therefore, it is extremely important to use this plant in areas where it will thrive and where the mulch is not too thick to allow the seed to contact the soil. Of course, you can always collect the seed each year and grow it in flats before transplanting it back to your garden, but this takes a lot of extra work.
This species in Florida requires a bit of extra moisture and a bit of protection from the full sun. Although we have found it to be very forgiving of growing conditions, it is not as drought tolerant as the common black-eyed susan (R. hirta) and needs to be watered during periods of extremely low rainfall. It does not seem to be particularly sensitive to soils and I suspect it will thrive in most conditions here except the poorest sands.
Brown-eyed susan appears in the spring with its distinctive lobed leaves and develops quickly. It is a somewhat delicate looking species and eventually reaches 2-3 feet in height - although it grows much taller in states to our north. Our plants that have grown from reseeding bloom in early September, but plants we have purchased from other growers develop and flower much earlier.
The flowers of this species are typical of the genus, but quite small - rarely more than 3/4-inch in diameter. What this plant lacks in flower size, however, is made up in numbers of blooms. Well-grown specimens will have well over a dozen flowers open at any one time and flowering occurs for well over a month in duration.
We enjoy this species and try to keep it in our Pinellas County garden, but don't intend to propagate it as part of our nursery. Thankfully, others do and it is not difficult to find this wonderful wildflower from other native plant nuseries.

Yellow Coneflower - Ratibida pinnata

Yellow coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) is a rare Florida native wildflower, found naturally only in open calcareous woodlands in Gadsden and Jackson counties in the panhandle, but it is an exceedingly common component of the Midwest and Western prairie communities as well as open glades and woodlands throughout much of the eastern half of the country.

Although far out of its natural range in our Pinellas County landscape, we have grown this species quite successfully now for several years and it has been both tough and adaptable.

Yellow coneflower is a deciduous perennial. In the early spring, it sends up its wonderful large toothed basal leaves. By themselves, the foliage is an attractive component of any garden setting. In the early summer, however, it begins the process of flowering. In the tallgrass prairie, yellow coneflower's flowering stalks may reach 6 feet or taller. In Florida, these rarely stand higher than 3 feet. Nevertheless, the flowers are identical and often stand taller than the other species surrounding them.

On the surface, yellow coneflower looks a lot like a black-eyed susan. The centers are dark and the petals are the same rich yellow. Yellow coneflower, however, has a decidely larger center of disc flowers that is knob-like in appearance. These eventually produce copious numbers of medium-sized seed that is a favorite food source for prairie birds. While in bloom, the flowers are favored nectar sources for butterflies and other pollinators. All of this makes yellow coneflower an ideal wildflower for a wildlife garden.

We have planted yellow coneflower throughout our gardens at Hawthorn Hill, but are not currently propagating it for sale. That may change someday in the future, but at present this wonderful wildflower is frequently available from other sources.

Poppymallow - Callirhoe papaver

Poppymallow (Callirhoe papaver) is a rather rare, but beautiful wildflower native to dry open hammocks in Alachua County and three counties of the central panhandle. Nationwide, it is found scattered across the southeast into Texas and in states just to the north of us.

As its name suggests, poppymallow is a member of the mallow family and is related to the hibiscus, saltmarsh mallow, and wild cotton. Its flowers look a bit like those of the oriental poppy, but true poppies are in a family quite different from the mallows.

Although rare in Florida, poppymallow is not a difficult plant to grow - or to propagate. This is a tough plant, so take care not to baby it. Plant poppymallow where it will get a high amount of light and in soils with good drainage. We grow ours in an area that gets direct sunlight for nearly 3/4'ths of the day, and they have prospered. During periods of extreme drought, we water ours a bit, but they have outlasted a number of other wildflowers native to our county that are also supposed to be drought tolerant.

Poppymallow is perennial, but deciduous in the winter months. Plants develop deep taproots designed to provide them with their drought tolerance. The lobed leaves arise on long stems that may be several feet long and they lay prostrate on the ground. In the spring and early summer, flower buds are formed in succession. Poppymallow produces solitary blooms of a rich wine color. Each flower is 2-3 inches across and lasts for just a few days.

Grow popymallow for the wonderful flowers which provide a wildflower garden with a color truly unique to the species. They are not particularly interesting to butterflies, but attract a variety of bees in our gardens. Pollinated flowers produce a good number of seeds which can be planted and grown to add more plants to your garden.

We have been growing this beautiful wildflower now for several years and try to keep a few dozen seedlings in stock each year.  If you are looking for this species, and can't find it elsewhere, we may have a few here at Hawthorn Hill.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Pink Beardtongue - Penstemon australis

Pink beardtongue (Penstemon australis) is a rather diminutive member of a widespread wildflower genus in the snapdragon family. Hundreds of penstemons are native to North America, but the vast majority are found in the arid west and southwest. In Florida, we have only three and one, the Eastern smooth beardtongue (P. laevigatus) is quite rare. The other, white or many-flowered beardtongue (P. multiflorus), is common, commonly propagated, and found in most Florida counties.
For some reason, pink beardtongue is not being propagated by any member nursery of the Association of Florida Native Nurseries though this species is beautiful, easy to grow, and found throughout much of Florida except the extreme southern counties. We have rectified this by growing it at Hawthorn Hill.
Pink beardtongue is one tough plant. Native to well-drained sandhills and open woodlands, it is extremely drought tolerant and forgiving of low soil nutrients. It prefers full sunny locations, but can do well if given at least half a day of sunshine.
Beardtongues are deciduous and their basal rosette of elliptical leaves emerge in early spring. Shortly thereafter, they send up their flower stalks. The leaves of pink beardtongue are often edged in red. This distinguishes them from the common and noticeably larger white beardtongue that sometimes grows alongside it in nature.
The flower stalks of pink beardtongue are only 1-3 feet tall, but individual plants produce several during the blooming season and the rosettes produce "pups" alongside the main shoot which also bloom. Over the course of a blooming season, each plant might therefore send up a dozen flower stalks or more.
Each flower stalk produces a dozen or more soft-pink blooms. Unlike the other Florida species, these are tightly tubular - not open at the mouth and very similar in structure to cultivated snapdragons. At the base of the flower is its "beard"; a strip of "hairs" that serve to guide pollinators to the nectar at the back of the bloom. Beardtongues are mostly pollinated by bees ans wasps, though hummongbirds also stop by to use them.
Pink penstemon blooms in our gardens from spring until mid-fall. We love the soft colors, but find that they get lost unless you plant this species in mass and near the front of the planting. We are happy to make this wonderful wildflower available to others and expect to keep this in our gardens for as long as we are here.

New Jersey Tea - Ceanothus americanus

New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus) is another rather common inhabitant of Florida's sandhill and open well-drained woodland habitats and occurs throughout much of the state except the extreme southern counties. It is also found throughout much of eastern North America including all of Canada east of the Rockies.
Named for the fact that both the native peoples and the early settlers made a tea from its roots (drank to relieve toothache, digestive problems, asthma, bronchitis, whooping cough, spleen pain and as a sedative ), the root is astringent due to its tannin content and contains an alkaloid that lowers blood pressure. As one might imagine with this many reported uses, there is some well-developed folklore surrounding this plant.
New Jersey tea also is renowned for use in the butterfly garden. Nearly every book or article written on the topic for the Northeast, Midwest, or Mid-south includes this plant as an ideal nectar source.
Despite this notoriety, New Jersey tea is not available currently from Florida native nursery growers. We are hoping to correct this omission here at Hawthorn Hill, but we are still in the experimental stage with our propagation program.
New Jersey tea is a deciduous shrub that rarely stands taller than 3 feet. It is nearly as round as it is tall. The leaves are a rich green in color, decidely arrow-shaped, with teeth along the leaf margins. What makes it truly attractive, however, are the snow-white blooms that cover the top of the plant for about a month each spring. Though the individual bloom is tiny, they occur in heads nearly 1 inch across and hundreds of these flower heads may bloom simultaneously.
New Jersey tea is an attractive nectar source for a host of small butterflies. It is also the host plant for the gray scrub-hairstreak as well as the mottled duskywing skipper.
In a landscape, New Jersey tea is rather easy to grow and forgiving of most settings except poor drainage. Plant it in the front half of the planting bed and give it plenty of sun.

Downy Phlox - Phlox pilosa

Downy phlox (Phlox pilosa) is a rather common inhabitant of sandhill and other well-drained habitats throughout the northern half of Florida. Although it is reported as far south as Pinellas County, I have never seen it here naturally and it is likely extirpated. Perhaps we can find someone interested in reintroducing it once more from the stock we have at Hawthorn Hill...
Phlox has always been a popular wildflower for the garden and several species are extensively used in gardens to our north. The beautiful woodland phlox (P. divaricata) has received some attention from Florida gardeners, but it is only hardy when given somewhat moderate growing conditions - including partial sun.
Downy phlox, however, thrives with neglect and growing conditions that would kill woodland phlox in a heartbeat. Because of this, we are extremely excited to have this species available to wildflower gardeners. There is much to admire about this species. For one, it blooms from spring through fall. For another, it is tough and perennial.
Downy phlox makes its appearance in early spring and begins to bloom shortly afterwards. This is a rather diminutive species. Although well-grown specimens will have multiple stems, all of them tend to be no taller than 12" in height; rarely to 18". Individual plants may become 12 inches in diameter. The stems are thin and the leaves also are thin and slightly "hairy"; hence the common name.
Downy phlox comes in a variety of colors; from white and light lavendar to deep pink. The flowers are about half an inch in diameter and normally multiple flowers per flower head are open on any one day. Phlox flowers are attractive to butterflies, especially. Pollinated flowers soon ripen into seed capsules and ripe seed capsules "explode" and send their seeds feet away from the parent plants. If you wish to collect the seed of your plants, do so early in the morning when the capsules turn golden and put them in a paper bag to fully ripen. But, close the top to keep the seeds inside after the capsules dehisce.
Grow downy phlox in full sun to half-day sun and in sandy well-drained soil. Because individual plants are small in stature, plant them in clusters near the front of the planting area. Otherwise, they will be more difficult to admire.
Hawthorn Hill has had great success with this species and we finally have plants for sale. Contact us if you are interested.