Saturday, October 31, 2009

Short-leaved rosemary - Conradina brevifolia

Until recently, all taxonomists seemed to believe that this was a distinctly separate species from the wild rosemary (C. canescens). Although they share some characteristics and were likely one species in a far distant past, their populations are separated by a great many miles with very little likelihood of genetic mixing. Short-leaved rosemary is restricted to 2 counties in central Florida and only found in the deep sands of the Lake Wales Ridge - itself an island of endemic plants. Wild rosemary is a species of coastal dune scrubs - and is never found too far inland. They seem to have fairly distinct growth habit differences and I have almost never found a short-leaved rosemary with a lower lip as richly lavender as that almost always found in its close relative. For those reasons, I side with those taxonomists that continue to argue for separate species status. I have grown both species for years and they are distinct...

Short-leaved rosemary is often far more sprawling than wild rosemary. Because of that, it is less attractive as a purely foliage garden plant than its near cousin, but it still maintains its wonderful evergreen nature. Blooming is most common in the spring, but it may produce flowers all the way until early winter - especially if a good rain or two arrives in the late fall.

Use this species as described for its close cousin. Because it may reach several feet in height and many feet across, however, it is best used in a more-central location than right next to a trail or edge of a planting bed. I also recommend giving it the exceptional drainage and sunny habitats found within its natural range in the Lake Wales Ridge. I have not had as easy success getting it established in my typical yard "sand" as I have with wild rosemary.

Etonia rosemary - Conradina etonia

Etonia rosemary (Conradina etonia) is a rare and relatively recently described species native to a very small region of scrub in Putnam County. Because of this, it is listed as Endangered by the federal government and by the state.

Etonia rosemary is very similar in appearance to the large-flowered rosemary (C. grandiflora) and shares many of the same foliage and floral characteristics. It differs by having noticeable lateral veins on the undersides of its leaves - something that no other member of this genus has.

Despite its great rarity and extremely limited range, it is offered by at least one native plant nursery listed in the Association of Florida Native Nurseries. I have had very little personal experience with it, but found that it seemed very similar to other members of the genus in terms of soil and light requirements.

Etonia rosemary offers very little to the home garden that is not already provided by its more common cousin - the large-flowered rosemary. But, then, it has the same wonderful characteristics. Give it a try if you have the right soil and light conditions and you live in the northern half of the state.

Large-flowered Rosemary - Conradina grandiflora

Large-flowered rosemary is a species of the coastal scrubs of central and southern Florida. As such, it is one of just a few endemic species found in the scrubs of this region. Although listed by the state as a Threatened species, it is the most widely distributed of our Conradinas and is found along most of the east coast from Volusia County to Miami-Dade.

Its rarity is really a reflection of the great habitat loss that has occurred throughout Florida's coastal habitats. Because scrubs are well-drained, they were some of the first areas chosen for development. Few of these areas have been preserved, but large-flowered rosemary can be found in most of them.

This species is both robust and beautiful. Mature specimens can reach 4 feet in height, but often are at least a foot shorter. The needle-like foliage is rich green and shiny while the individual leaves tend to be a bit longer and narrower than those found in other species of this genus.

Its common and Latin names come from their large flowers. These are fairly similar in color to those of the wild (C. canescens) and short-leaved (C. brevifolia) rosemaries, but the flowers themselves are nearly twice as large. They also tend to be a bit "floppy". Flowering peaks occur in the spring and fall, and some flowers should be expected anytime in between.

I have grown this species for many years and find it to be a bit forgiving when compared to the others. They still need good drainage and high levels of sunlight, but they can often thrive in soils that are not pure scrub sand.

Give this species good drainage and water it enough to get it well established. Once this occurs, it is relatively easy to maintain. Because of its size, it is best planted near the center of a mixed wildflower bed. Large-flowered rosemary is frequently available from native plant nurseries. Give it a try if you have an area of deeply sandy soils and plenty of sunshine.

Wild rosemary - Conradina canescens

Wild rosemary (Conradina canescens) is a truly beautiful species native to coastal scrub habitats in the western Panhandle area of Florida as well as parts of Georgia and Alabama. A small disjunct population has been found in Hernando County in the central peninsula as well, but I can find very little confirmation of it there and have never stumbled onto the supposed population. I question whether this species is truly native or was planted. Some taxonomists have recently lumped another member of this genus, the short-leaved rosemary (C. brevifolia) with this species, but I believe them to be different and have kept them separate. Short-leaved rosemary is a very rare species found only in Polk and Highlands Counties; the scrubs of the Lake Wales Ridge.

Wild rosemary is a robust woody sub-shrub that can eventually attain a mature height of 3-4 feet. It is often a bit sprawling too and may be even larger in diameter. Like other members of this genus, the needle-like foliage is evergreen and quite attractive. Unlike the other members, it is somewhat "canescent" or fuzzy. This makes it an exceptional foliage plant in a mixed wildflower planting - if planted in areas of deep sands and good light.

Wild rosemary is also an exceptional flowering plant. Blooming may occur nearly anytime from spring to early winter, but a definite peak occurs in late spring. At this time, the entire plant may be covered by the white and lavender flowers. Conradinas have a double lip. In this species, the lower lip is most always a rich lavender. The rest of the bloom is mostly white flecked by purple spots.

Wild rosemary flowers are extremely attractive to bees and other such pollinators. Butterflies sometimes visit them too, but these are not really "butterfly plants". This species is often available from the native nursery trade and I have had great success over the years using it in my landscapes. It is somewhat forgiving of soils. Whereas I have often had to actually remove my topsoil "sand" down to the deeper sand layers and then replace the upper layers with true scrub sand to make other species of native perennial mints thrive, I have planted wild rosemary in my native yard soil and had it live for years - once established.

Establishing all of these species is the most important step. just because they are "drought tolerant" does not mean they do not need water. Water them well for the first month or so and then be prepared to give them some supplemental watering if your landscape enters an extreme drought period. No plant survives if their roots dry out.

If you have an area where this plant might thrive, I would encourage you to try it. It is one wildflower that is beautiful year-round and it never completely ceases to make an impression.

Apalachicola rosemary - Conradina glabra

Apalachicola rosemary (Conradina glabra) is a member of another wonderful small genus of perennial evergreen woody mints; the Conradinas. All of them are apapted to excessively drained deep sandy soils and full sun and most are exceedingly localized in distribution and quite rare.

Apalachicola rosemary is the rarest and most localized of the group. It is a Florida endemic (only found in Florida and nowhere else in the world) and occurs in only two small populations located in two Panhandle counties. Because of this, it is listed as an Endangered species by the federal government and as Threatened by the state.

The "false" rosemaries are not closely related to the rosemary commonly used as a table herb, but they have silimilar-looking leaves. These short, needle-like leaves are quite fragrant and produce a wonderful minty aroma when bruised or crushed. Apalachicola rosemary had deep green shiny leaves that have a whitish pubescence on the underside.

These are extremely handsome plants even when not in bloom. Mature specimens rarely stand taller than 18 inches, but may have a spread of more than 2 feet. The rounded plants with their deeply green needle-like leaves make an outstanding addition to the landscape.

Flowering occurs mostly in the spring and early summer, but a few blooms can be expected any time after that into the fall. The flowers are rather showy. They are very pale lavender to almost blue, two-lipped and spotted on the lower lip. The blooms, like most mints, are especially attractive to bees, but butterflies may visit them on occasion.

Apalachicola rosemary is not currently available in the nursery trade in Florida, though it has been offered at times in the past. I have found it to be fairly easy to grow, even in Pinellas County, if care is given to its ecological needs; deep well-drained sands and plenty of sunlight. The Florida rosemaries seem to be longer lived in nature than the calamints (Calamintha spp.), but they are by no means "perennial". If you can find this species, give it a try if and only if you can give it the conditions it needs. Otherwise, be content to appreciate it in the wild.

Ashe's Savory - Calamintha ashei

Ashe's savory (Calamintha ashei) is a rather rare Florida endemic (it is listed by the state as a Threatened species), found mostly in Polk and Highlands County in the Lake Wales Ridge. There is a disjunct, small population in a portion of the Ocala National Forest in Marion County. In all locations, it is restricted to excessively well-drained sands and full sun.

Ashe's savory is a bit more sprawling than the other Florida species. Often, it is more wide than tall. Well-grown specimens rarely stand taller than 18 inches, but they may be 2-3 feet wide. The foliage is a beautiful blue-green in color and the leaves are rather elliptical and curl under quite noticeably.

This species is described as a perennial, but I have not found it to be especially long lived. Truly large woody specimens are rare in nature and most individuals are no older than 3-5 years by appearance. It seems to thrive in open and somewhat disturbed areas of the Florida scrub where its many seeds can find a place to germinate and get started without competition.

Ashe's savory blooms most abundantly in the spring. Very few flowers, if any, should be expected at other times. The flowers are especially striking; light lavender and a bit larger than either the Georgia calamint (C. georgiana) or the toothed savory (C. dentata) I have described previously. I will admit an extreme fondness for this plant and I try to make at least one trip each spring to places where I can see it in bloom. the flowers are especially attractive to bees, but butterflies can be see pollinating it too.

Because of its rarity and narrow tolerance to growing conditions, this is not a plant likely to be offered commercially; although it has been from time to time over the years. We have kept this plant in our gardens by creating the type of scrub conditions it requires in nature and we propagate it from time to time by cuttings. At this time, however, we do not anticipate offering it through Hawthorn Hill.

Georgia calamint - Calamintha georgiana

This beautiful member of the "savory" or "calamint" genus is extremely rare in Florida and is listed as a state Endangered species. It is widespread in appropriate habitats elsewhere throughout the Southeastern Coastal Plain, however. Like other Calamintha's, it requires upland sandy soils with extremely good drainage and prefers sunny to mostly sunny conditions. It is not, however, as narrowly restricted to sandhill and scrub habitats like the other three species in our Florida flora and it will tolerate some shade.

Georgia calamint is a robust woody sub-shrub that can reach nearly 2 1/2 feet in height, but is usually nearly a foot shorter when observed in nature. This species is a bit different than other members of this genus in Florida as it is deciduous (instead of evergreen) and its leaves are narrow and elliptical and show almost no evidence of curling under. It also is a very handsome specimen from a purely floristic point of view - except during the brief winter period when it is leafless.

Georgia calamint is another mostly fall-blooming species. Few blooms, if any, should be expected during other months. But, when it is in bloom, it is simply covered, head to foot, with the pale purple flowers typical for most members of this genus. Blooming can last for more than a month, but the peak is a ~2-week event.

Because of its widespread distribution and somewhat tolerant nature, Georgia calamint is offered by a variety of native plant nurseries in Florida and in states adjacent to us. Plant it in Florida in well-drained soils with plenty of sun and water it well until it is well established. The flowers attract butterflies, but are especially attractive to a wide assortment of bees. Use it near a walkway or the front of a mixed wildflower bed so its foliage and flowers can be admired. Just don't plant it too close to places you may walk by regularly as its branches are brittle and will break if touched too energetically.

Toothed Savory - Calamintha dentata

Toothed savory (Calamintha dentata) is another member of this wonderful genus. Unlike the red basil (C. coccinea), however, this is a very rare plant reported only from 8 counties in the north-central Panhandle of Florida and from Georgia. The Georgia records are not well documented and the species is likely no longer present there. The Florida population is listed as "Threatened" by the state.

Toothed savory occurs in excessively well-drained yellow sands and fares best in full to mostly full sun. In areas where it occurs, it is fairly common. Its just that it does not find that many areas suitable...

Well-grown specimens may be several feet tall, but it is often seen at less than 18 inches. Its common and Latin names come from the small "teeth" at the edge of the leaf tip. These are not especially easy to see at first glance though as the leaves are rather small and they curl under.

Overall, this is not an especially impressive wildflower. The stems are thin and brittle, the leaves are widely spaced and tiny and, when they are crushed or brushed against, they emit a somewhat unpleasant minty fragrance. What makes this plant most notable (besides that fact that it is quite interesting) is its blooms. Like many other members of this genus, the flowers are a pale lavendar, spotted in the center, and beautiful. Although somewhat small in stature, they appear in profusion during the fall blooming season. Flowers can be found during most months between spring and late fall, but I have found the peak of blooming to occur in late summer and early fall.

Florida is blessed with a large number of interesting and beautiful wildflowers found nowhere else in the world. Many, like the toothed savory, have extremely narrow natural ranges and restricted habitat needs. We can "savor" these species in the wild and take satisfaction that there are conservation biologists and land managers working hard to preserve them. Toothed savory is not offered commercially at this time and it may never make a good choice for the home landscape.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Red Basil - Calamintha coccinea

Red basil (Calamintha coccinea) is one of four woody mints often referred to as "basils" or "calamints". Calaminthas are perennial evergreen wildflowers that generally have small fragrant leaves that curl under. They are all of rather limited distribution and occur in extremely well-drained sandy/sunny locations.

Red basil is the most widely distributed species of this wonderful genus. In Florida, it is found throughout the Panhandle in coastal dunes and in scrub and sandhill communities. At one time, it was widely distributed in various central Florida scrubs and sandhills, but most of these sites have been lost recently to urban development. Limited populations can still be found in and around Orlando and in east- and west-coast scrubs. Besides Florida, red basil is also found in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi.

Red basil is a very weakly stemmed woody herb. Well-grown mature specimens may stand 3-4 feet in height with a main stem of approximately 1/4 inch in diameter and side branches of decidedly smaller dimensions. The leaves are tiny; rather elliptical and about 1/4-1/2 inches in length. They are deep green, but widely spaced along the stems. This plant may never be grown for the beauty of its foliage, but what it lacks in verdancy is more than made up for by its blooms.

Red basil has outlandishly beautiful flowers. It blooms heavily in both the spring and late fall months and often has a few flowers at other times in between. Each flower is a rich scarlet red, decidedly tubular, and nearly 2 inches long. Mature plants can have nearly 100 blooms at any time and there are few plants that can turn a head and demand attention as well as this species in full bloom.

Red basil is a classic hummingbird-pollinated species. The flowers are easy to reach and held well above the ground; with no foliage to speak of to get in the way. The deep floral tube makes it difficult for other species to access the nectar and few bees make the effort. Occasionally, butterflies such as the Cloudless sulphur (pictured above) join in too.

Although often quite common in the localized areas it is found in, red basil is not an easy wildflower for the home landscape. Over the years in which I have tried to grow it, I have killed my share trying to find conditions this plant will thrive in. What I have found is that it needs the absolutely perfect drainage that pure sand provides. I have planted it in droughty "typical" residential soils, but it has nearly always perished in these "sands" within a few months.

If you can provide this plant with the well-drained yellow sands that it typically occurs in (white sands can work too), this plant will reward you with an amazing show of color. Florida's native mints are not naturally long-lived and yours are unlikely to last more than 3-5 years even in the best of conditions. Thankfully, this is an easy plant to propagate from stem cuttings (and seed if you get pollinators to your flowers) and it can be maintained with just a little care.

Red basil is not currently propagated by any of the nurseries listed in the Association of Florida Native Nurseries (AFNN), but it can be found in several mail-order sources. Hawthorn Hill is also not currently planning to grow it, but this could change in the future. Let us know if you are interested.