Wednesday, September 16, 2009

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.

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