Sunday, January 24, 2010

Scrub Lupine - Lupinus aridorum

Scrub lupine (Lupinus aridorum) has been somewhat of a puzzle for plant taxonomists attempting to define it.  At times, and to some, it is a unique species with the Latin name I am using.  At other times and to other taxonomists, it is a unique variety of another rare lupine (Lupinus westianus) that is found only in coastal beach dune scrub in the western panhandle.  I am not a taxonomist so I am not qualified to weigh in on the debate from that point of view. I choose to keep the two separate, because they look to be distinct visually and because their populations are so widely separated from each other geographically and by plant community type.
Scrub lupine is found only in a tiny geographic area of scrubby sandhill within a three-county area around Polk, Osceola and Orange Counties.  Within this region, it seems to occur mostly in somewhat disturbed and always open areas of deep sand; not within the Lake Wales Ridge itself and rarely in association with other Ridge endemics.  It is a beautiful, but rather "strange" plant.
Like nearly all of Florida's native lupines, scrub lupine is a very short-lived "perennial" that survives by producing copious seed that can remain viable for many years; waiting for disturbance of some type to provide the conditions it needs to release it.  Lupines seem to spend the first year as small non-flowering seedlings and the second as mature plants which flower sparingly.  During the third year, however, well-grown plants assume a massive width, flower spectacularly, and die after seed dispersal.  The photo at the top of this post shows a mature plant in full flower.  Its height of the foliage is about 12-18 inches, but the diameter nearly 4 feet.  This same plant was dead the next year when I returned to check up on it once more.
Scrub lupine blooms in the spring.  The flower stalks reach about 3 feet in height and many are produced per plant.  The flowers are a soft pink in color with a distinct rosy "eyespot".  The color of the blooms is never as deeply pink as evident in the much more common lady lupine (L. villosus).  All of our other native lupines are blue.
Lupines are bee pollinated.  Though the gray hairstreak butterfly is known to sometimes use its common cousin, sky-blue lupine (L. diffusus), as a larval plant, lupines are mostly fed on by moth caterpillars and they can sometimes cause extensive leaf damage.
All native lupines, with perhaps the exception for sundial lupine (L. perennis) which occurs only in extreme north Florida, are extremely difficult to grow.  In nature, they are extremely finicky about where they will prosper and they require the services of a specific mycorrhizal fungi and cyanobacteria for their roots to fully develop.  I have found seeds of all lupines easy to sprout, but extremely difficult to grow into healthy seedlings.  The seedlings vehemently detest pot culture, but are very hard to get established into plants.  Over the years, I have grown most species, including scrub lupine, in my home scrub garden and had them bloom.  I just have never had them persist and my attempts to reintroduce them have been more "miss" than "hit".  I once germinated large numbers of scrub lupine seed that was over ten years old; given me by a biologist who had once worked with the species.  We can only hope that this peristence allows it to survive the onslaught it faces from runaway development in the Orlando area.  Few pockets of this species are currently protected and its long-term future seems precarious.

Lewton's Polygala - Polygala lewtonii

Most milkworts in Florida (i.e. polygalas) are associated with wetlands or the moist pockets of open uplands.  Lewton's polygala (Polygala lewtonii) is a beautiful, but very rare exception.  It is endemic and found only within the central portion of the peninsula that includes the Lake Wales Ridge and adjacent uplands, such as Ocala National Forest.  In its 6-county distribution, it is found in scrub and sandhill communities, and always in sunny locations with deep well-drained sands.
Lewton's polygala produces multiple branches from its central base.  Each stands less than 12 inches tall and is rather densely covered by linear succulent foliage that is alternate in clusters going up the stem.  As such, it is another "exception"; a scrub plant that is verdant.
Blooming occurs in late winter and spring.  Multiple flower stalks are produced at the ends of each stem and they bloom profusely for several weeks.  The flowers are somewhat tubular in shape, with a noticeable keel (wing) formed by the fused petals.  Each is a deep rosy pink in color.  A patch of blooming Lewton's polygala is striking and easy to find among its neighboring plants.
Lewton's polygala is listed by both the state and federal government as an endangered species.  Luckily, a good share of its known population is protected within Ocala National Forest so it is not under the same level of threat as many of our other scrub endemics.  It has never been offered commercially by any nursery, to the best of my knowledge, and I have never attempted to grow it myself.  I suspect it would require nearly perfect drainage and high sunlight to prosper in any landscape - natural or not.
Lewton's polygala is one of Florida's many unique treasures and that simply seems enough.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Simpson's Rain-lily - Zephyranthes simpsonii

Much of what I could say about this wonderful wildflower has already been written below in my description of Atamasco rain-lilies (Zephyranthes atamasca).  Simpson's rain-lily (Z. simpsonii) shares many of the same characteristics as its close relative and the same growing requirements.
Simpson's rain lily, however, is far less common in Florida and occurs only in the northern two-thirds of the peninsula - not the panhandle or in the extreme south.  It also occurs in the Atlantic Coastal Plain to South Carolina.  In Florida, it is considered a state threatened species. 
I believe that part of the reason this species seems less common here is that it goes unnoticed.  I have found it regularly in pastures where it is totally leafless.  If not for the flowers, it would have been impossible to find.  I am still not sure if Simpson's rain lily regularly loses its leaves from grazing by cattle and other ungulates or if it loses them during periods of drought to conserve water.  I have only found it so far in areas where cattle are present - pastures and open pine flatwoods.
Regardless, this species is less floriferous that Atamasco rain-lily.  The leaves are extremely thin (rarely more than 1/8 inch) and it seems to produce fewer of them than its close cousin.  The flowers, however, are of equal size and beauty.  They seem to be universally white in color with only a hint of pink from time to time.  They are 2-3 inches long and held 6-18 inches above the ground.  What quickly separates this species apart are the lengths the anthers are held within the flower tube compared to the length of the female portion (the stigma and style).  In Simpson's rain-lily all of the reproductive structures are of equal length.  In Atamasco rain-lily the yellow anthers are much shorter than the female flower parts.
I have found this species to be as forgiving of growing conditions as Atamasco rain-lily and easy to maintain in a landscape.  But, for some reason, it has never been propagated by members of the Association of Florida Native Nurseries, AFNN, and is difficult to find from any commercial source.  We are currently trying to correct that at Hawthorn Hill and have specimens for sale.  If you are interested, please contact me:

Atamasco Rain-lily - Zephyranthes atamasca

Florida is home to two distinct varieties of Atamasco rain-lily (Zephyranthes atamasca).  While some taxonomists separate the two into different species, I will side this time with the "lumpers" - and hope I am wrong because I am a "splitter" at heart.  Basic Atamasco rain-lily (Z. atamasca var. atamasca) has leaves that are at least twice as wide as those of Treat's rain-lily (Z. atamasca var. treatiae), but otherwise they are identical.  Atamasca rain-lily occurs throughout the northern two-thirds of Florida and in much of the Southeastern Coastal Plain.  In Florida, it is considered a state threatened species.
All of our native rain-lilies require open habitats and reasonable moisture to prosper so they are most common to open flatwoods, mowed roadsides (and similar types of such habitats), and pastures.  In these areas, it often goes unnoticed when not in bloom as it consists of linear grass-like leaves that often blend into the surrounding vegetation.  But, when in bloom it becomes spectacular - especially if growing in mass. 
Atamasco rain-lily is a perennial evergreen (at least in central Florida) member of the lily family.  As such, it originates from a bulb, and this bulb produces bulblets off its outer edge over time which form new plants.  Eventually, Atamasco rain-lily forms colonies around each plant consisting of many individuals.  These are easy to subdivide and transplant to new areas or they can be left alone as a mass planting.
Basic Atamasco rain-lily has leaves that are about 1/4 inch wide while those of Treat's rain-lily rarely exceed 1/8 inches.  Both can be as long as 18 inches and the plants form nice mounds of leaves when not in bloom.
It's the blooms which make this species a favorite wildflower, however.  Though individual flowers only last a couple of days, they are 3-4 inches long and either pure glistening white or with a flush of pink - as in the photo above.  They are held 6-18 inches above the leaf mass. 
As its common name implies, flowering occurs only after a spring or early summer rain shower.  The day after a measureable rain, a rose-pink bud becomes visible within the basal leaves and by the second (or third) day, the flowers are open.  Although flowering may occur sporadically at other times, nearly all blooming takes place during late spring or summer and only lasts for about a month.  Flowers are sometimes produced in succession, but individual plants will flower after each rain event during this time period. Once the plants have gone through this cycle of flowering, additional rains later in the season rarely trigger more.
Rain-lilies produce large numbers of seed and also propagate themselves this way.  I have found them easy to grow from seed and it allows me to produce more plants without the trauma of digging them out of the ground to remove the side bulbs.  Pollination mostly comes from bees.
Treat's rain-lily is very similar in appearance to Simpson's rain-lily, described below.  The best way to keep the two species separate is by looking at the length of the female part of the flower (the style) compared to where the pollen-producing parts are (the anthers).  In both forms of Atamasco rain-lily, the female portion of the flower is nearly twice as long and sticks well out beyond the anthers.  In Simpson's rain-lily, they are the same length.
As should be expected, Atamasco rain-lilies are commonly propagated by commercial sources and are widely available to the home gardener.  Just be careful that you are getting a native rain-lily, however, instead of one of the many non-natives that are also widely sold.  Rain-lilies are extremely hardy and durable.  They can withstand long periods of drought as well as great amounts of moisture.  They also have a wide tolerance for amounts of sunlight.  Just don't try to use them in deep excessively well-drained sands or in deep shade.  I like rain lilies in mass, but they also do well in mixed plantings or planted in lawns.  They can be mowed regularly with no real damage as long as they are not cropped right to ground level. Just don't mow them for several days after a rain or you will miss the reason you added them.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Common/Leavenworth's Tickseed - Coreopsis leavenworthii

Common tickseed (Coreopsis leavenworthii) is the most widespread and easily recognized of any of Florida's wildflowers.  But, although it is found statewide in Florida, its only occurs here and in a limited portion of Georgia.  So, in a way, it is not really all that "common".
Common tickseed prefers moist soils, but it is adaptable to a wide variety of habitat types.  It is most common in open disturbed sites, such as roadsides and fields, but is also abundant in the undestory of moist prairies, savannahs and pine flatwoods.  It is an annual, but it readily persists in most areas by producing abundant seed crops.  The upper photo shows a small patch of open soil in one of my wildflower beds in mid January.  The entire patch of open soil is full of seedling common tickseed.
Seedlings can emerge at almost any time, but they come on thickly during the winter months after the rains common to most cold fronts.  The leaves are not generally linear, but lobed.  As the plants begin growing upwards, however, linear leaves (as shown in the middle photograph) are common along the stem.  Eventually, mature plants reach a height of 2-3 feet - depending on growing conditions.  Plants grown in moist soil tend to be more robust than those in drier soils.
Flowering can occur during any month and only ceases completely after a hard freeze.  The peak of blooming occurs in late spring, however, and often ceases a bit after that until the return of summer rain showers. The flowers are quite similar in size and color to those of coastalplain tickseed - described above.  The outer ray petals are bright lemon yellow and the inner disk flowers are dark.
Common tickseed is extremely easy to grow and it prospers in nearly any landscape situation other than deep droughty sands.  Because individual plants are thin and not very luxuriant, they look best planted in mass.  Add no less than 7-12 individuals to any one clump and mix them with other wildflowers (perennials, mostly) anywhere within the back half of a planting bed.  Because these are annuals, they will die back after seeding.  Do not remove the dead plants until after the seeds are dispersed.  Eventually they will produce more seedlings than you may prefer to keep.  The seedlings are easily weeded out and can be either transplanted or given away to friends. 
Common tickseed is one of the most widely propagated of all our native wildflowers and is easy to find from commercial sources.  We have kept it in our landscape since the beginning and love it mixed with our other wildflowers.  Because it is almost always in bloom somewhere, it is extremely useful in adding color and interest.  Common tickseed is not especially attractive to butterflies as a nectar source when they have other choices to pick from, but it is great for small native bees and other pollinators.

Coastalplain Tickseed - Coreopsis gladiata

At first glance, coastalplain tickseed (Coreopsis gladiata) looks quite similar to the very abundant common tickseed (C. leavenworthii).  The differences are subtle.  One is that the leaves of this species tend to be entire - not compound as in common tickseed.  The other difference is the length of the sepals - the small green petal-looking structures behind the flower buds. 
Coastalplain coreopsis occurs in much of the same types of habitats as its more common cousin; moist open and sunny areas.  It does not have the same tolerance for drier site, though. Its range in Florida extends south to the central peninsula and it occurs in much of the southeast coastalplain as well.  It is a short-lived perennial or annual that relies on its large seed production to persist over time.
Coastalplain coreopsis emerges in the spring as a small basal rosette of linear leaves.  By late spring, its thin multi-branched stem begins growing upwards and it eventually reaches a mature height of 3-5 feet - depending on light and soil moisture. 
Blooming is confined to the fall, generally September and October.  Unlike common tickseed, it does not flower at other times and never in the spring.  The flowers are similar in size and color, though.  The ray petals are bright yellow and the disc is dark.  The yellow ray petals are noticeably notched.
Coastalplain coreopsis requires open, sunny and moist growing conditions to prosper.  Without it, it will not persist over time.  And, because of this, it is not an easy species to use in a typical landscape setting.  Currently, no nurseries associated with AFNN, the Association of Florida Native Nurseries, offer this plant commercially and I am not aware of others who propagate it.  We do not grow coastalplain tickseed at Hawthorn Hill.  This is a species with wonderful attributes, however, and a relatively wide natural range in Florida.  For these reasons, it would make a good addtion to a wildflower planting in a swale, marsh edge, or similar moist-soil area.

Lanceleaf tickseed - Coreopsis lanceolata

My wife, Alexa, and I first came upon this wonderful wildflower for the first time on our honeymoon trip through north Florida state parks and preserves.  We gave it the "common" name of "Honeymoon coreopsis" because of that.  To most of the world, however, it is lanceleaf tickseed (Coreopsis lanceolata). Lanceleaf tickseed is found throughout the panhandle and the northern third of the peninsula - and throughout much of the Southeast besides.  It seems to thrive in moister soils, but it also occurs in much drier locations; in sandhills, roadsides, and open fields.  As such, it is one of the few tickseeds that performs well in typical home landscape conditions.
Lanceleaf tickseed is a perennial that often maintains some of its basal leaves throughout the winter.  In spring, it adds a flush of new growth and occurs as a dense cluster of basal leaves.  As its common name implies, the leaves of this plant are mostly lance shaped.  As the leaves begin to go up the stem, however, a great many of them are multi-lobed (3-5 lobes, generally).  The photos above show this fairly well.
Blooming can occur over a number of months from March - July, but is most common in late spring.  The flowers are not held as high above the basal foliage as many in this genus; often only about 12 inches, but sometimes up to 2 feet.  The ray and disk flowers are yellow and the ray petals are deeply notched.
Because of its adaptability, attractive foliage and wonderful blooms, lanceleaf coreopsis is widely available from commercial sources.  It is also fairly easy to grow.  We have maintained this wildflower in our Pinellas County landscape since collecting a few seeds from a mowed roadside in 2007.  It has reseeded and prospered despite being 100 miles south of its natural range.
Use this wildflower near the front half of a planting bed.  It looks good planted in mass or combined with other species in a mixed planting.  Let it go to seed and do not mulch the planting areas heavily so it can spread a bit.  Because the basal rosette of leaves may be 18-24 inches across, plant individuals no closer than 2 feet on center. 
Alexa and I love our "honeymoon coreopsis" for its color and its foliage.  We hope you will explore it a bit more if you haven't already.

Coreopsis nudata - Georgia tickseed

Georgia tickseed (Coreopsis nudata) is our only native coreopsis with ray petals that are not yellow. (There are other pink tickseeds which don't occur in Florida.)  The bright pink petals of this species are beautiful and make this a truly special native wildflower.  Georgia tickseed is found throughout north Florida in prairies, open flatwoods, and savannahs where the soils are frequently wet and it also occurs in similar conditions in states immediately adjacent to us.  It is critically imperilled, however, in all of these states except Georgia.
Georgia tickseed is a perennial that dies back to the ground each winter and emerges each spring.  Eventually, it reaches a mature height of 3-5 feet.  Individual plants are thin, like the common tickseed (C. leavenworthii),  and the foliage is somewhat similar besides.  Most of the 1" linear leaves are found at the base of the plant, and these leaves become smaller and more widely spaced up the stem.
Flowering occurs in late spring to early summer.  The pink ray petals may be 1" long and are numerous around the disk.  As the photo shows, the disk flowers are yellow.  Like all tickseeds, the flowers are favorites of bees and other similar pollinators.  Butterflies are attracted also, but not to the same degree.
Georgia coreopsis requires wet to evenly moist soils to persist. This requirement may be what has limited its availability from commercial sources.  I am not aware of it ever being offered by any of the nurseries affiliated with the Association of Florida Native Nurseries (AFNN) and it seems to have been largely ignored by others who sell plants.  We do not propagate it at Hawthorn Hill at this time either. This is an easy species to grow from seed.  If you have the right growing conditions - moist soil and at least half sun, give it a try.  I am not experienced with how far south it may be grown.  I expect it can be pushed at least into the northern half of the peninsula, but if you have experience with it, I would appreciate hearing from you:

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Lakela's Balm - Dicerandra immaculata

Lakela's balm (Dicerandra immaculata) is one of six perennials in this genus; all extremely rare and confined to tiny ranges in different parts of Florida - all in yellow sand scrub.  Lakela's mint is located in a small region of this habitat type that straddles Indian River and St. Lucie Counties near the coast.  It is listed as an endangered species by both the state and federal governments.
Although considered perennials, all six of the woody Dicerandra's (there are two herbaceous annuals as well) are actually very short-lived plants.  In scrubs where I have monitored individual plants, very few live more than 3 years.  Seedlings grow quickly, they produce some flowers during the second fall, and they bloom profusely during the third, set seed and die. All members of this genus rely on this strategy of producing very large numbers of seed. 
Like all of the woody species, Lakela's mint is rather short of stature and larger in circumference.  Mature specimens rarely stand taller than 12 inches, but may reach 18 inches in diameter.  The foliage is very linear and bright green, and it emits a very pleasant minty aroma when bruised - or even brushed against.
Its the flowers which make this species so spectacular.  As the Latin name suggests, the petals are not spotted ("immaculate") but a pure light pink in color.  Mature plants in full bloom are absolutely covered by the 1/2-inch flowers.  Blooming occurs mostly in late summer to early fall and may last for nearly a month.  The flowers are designed to be pollinated by small to medium-sized bees and sometimes a lack of pollinators limits their survival in developed landscapes.
Despite their rarity, most of the Dicerandra's have been offered for sale sporadically by native plant nurseries affiliated with AFNN, the Association of Florida Native Nurseries.  They are rather easy to grow if provided the types of conditions they occur in naturally - coarse-grained and deep sands, and full sun.  If you can provide these conditions and you can find specimens for sale that have been propagated legally, they make beautiful additions to a scrub garden.  Do not plant more than one species, however, as they will hybridize, and be prepared to either keep your plants going by taking cuttings each year or by hoping for seed set and eventual germination.  If you are counting on the latter, do not mulch your sand and make sure you have plenty of open sand for the seed to fall into.  I have successfully kept these species in white sand scrub as well as in yellow sand.  The mystery as to why they naturally occur only in yellow sands remains to be solved.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Scratch Daisy - Croptilon divaricatum

Scratch daisy (Croptilon divaricatum) is one of a great many yellow-flowered members of the aster family in Florida.  On quick examination, it looks very similar to the goldenasters - both those in the genus Chrysopsis and in Pityopsis, but it differs from those in several characteristics.  This is the only member of this genus to occur in Florida, but it is quite common in uplands and disturbed sites in all of our counties from Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties north.  It is also common throughout much of the Southeast.
Scratch daisy is an annual forb with slender stems and reduced leaves that are alternate up the stem.  Mature plants may stand about 2 feet tall at flowering time and are multi-branched.  And, as the common name implies, the stems are covered by short stiff "hairs".
Flowering is most abundant in the fall.  The 1/2-inch bright yellow flowers are quite attractive and are pollinated by a wide variety of pollinators, including butterflies. 
Because it is an annual and not an especially beautiful foliage plant, it is unlikely that scratch daisy will ever become a wildflower propagated commercially for the home wildflower market.  It is easy to grow, however, for anyone who admires its bright yellow blooms.  Large numbers of seeds are produced.  Collect these when ripe and plant them just below the soil surface shortly afterwards.  Scratch daisy will persist if planted into average soils that are not too heavily mulched.

Twinflower - Dyschoriste oblongifolia

Twinflower (Dyschoriste oblongifolia) is a member of the snapdragon family and found nearly statewide in Florida.  Elsewhere, it is found only in states immediately adjacent to us; Alabama (where it is extremely rare) and Georgia.  It occurs in a variety of upland habitats, but is most common in flatwoods and sandhills that are not excessively well drained.
Twinflower is a low-growing groundcover that can spread rapidly in the understory by underground runners and form near monocultures in open and/or disturbed sites.  It rarely stands taller than 12 inches. The thin stems are cloaked in oval-shaped opposite leaves that may be 1 inch long.  This is a deciduous perennial.
Blooming occurs over many months beginning in the spring and sometimes extending until November.  The flower buds are formed in pairs opposite each other on the stem and these usually open at the same time.  The light purple tubular flowers are characterized by a reticulated pattern on the lower lip and inside the corolla.  The flowers are primarily of interest to bees and other such pollinators. 
Twinflower spreads primarily by its underground runners, though it does set plenty of seed which is spread when the seed capsules split open.  Because of its small size and extended blooming season, it makes a wonderful addition to the front of a mixed wildflower planting.  And, although it will spread, it is not aggressive and usually does not compete well with larger and denser species.  Give it some space if you want it to expand its population.  Twinflower is also good in a butterfly garden - not so much for its nectar production, but as a larval food plant for the common buckeye.
Twinflower is an exceptionally adaptable species in a home garden, but does not appreciate extremes in soil moisture levels.  If soils remain too dry for long, it will quickly disappear.  It can tolerate high moisture for short periods without harm, but is certainly not a wetland plant.
Many Florida nurseries propagate and sell this wonderful wildflower.  We have grown it for years at Hawthorn Hill and appreciate its many qualities.  We do not intend to propagate it ourselves, however.

Green and Gold - Chrysogonum virginianum

Green and gold (Chrysogonum virginianum) is a wonderful spreading groundcover that produces both attractive foliage and flowers.  In Florida, it is confined to only a four county area in the central panhandle, but it is rather common throughout much of the eastern seaboard region of the U.S. to our north.
Green and gold occurs in the understories of upland woods where it is neither excessively wet or dry and in situations where it receives filtered or dappled light, but not deep shade or full sun.  It is especially touchy to its growing conditions, but quite vigorous in situations to its liking.  If you give it too much of anything, it will die - quickly.
This is an almost mat-forming groundcover.  The "hairy" rounded foliage hugs the ground and individual plants send out runners, much like a strawberry, which form new plants that root where they come into contact with the ground.  Eventually, masses of this plant will form and the deep green of the foliage makes a striking addition to the semi-shaded locations where it prospers.
At the center of each plant, small (about 1 inch in diameter) yellow daisy-like flowers are produced - one at a time.  These also hug the ground and stand just above the foliage.  Their bright golden color is very attractive.  Flowering can occur during many months beginning in late spring, but is most common in April and May.
Green and gold is only occassionally available to the home gardener in Florida, but can sometimes be found online from various wildflower growers that have stock which originates from here or nearby.  We have grown it successfully for several years in our Pinellas County landscape, but find it extremely touchy as to microclimate. Our once-thirving colony disappeared after 2 years soon after the tree that was partially shading it died and we have not yet replaced it elsewhere.
If you have the right conditions, you will likely love this wildflower.  You just may have to experiment a bit to find a spot where it will be happy. 

Woodland Phlox - Phlox divaricata

Phlox (Phlox spp.) have been a favorite wildflower of the home gardener for centuries and a large number of species are widely cultivated.  This has not been the case for much of Florida's native species and only woodland phlox (P. divaricata) has been made available by the nursery trade.  Woodland phlox is naturally rare in Florida and confined to a four-county area west of Tallahassee near the Georgia border.  It is extremely widespread in North America, though and rather common to most of the eastern two-thirds from New Mexico in the west to Quebec in the northeast.
In Florida, woodland phlox is confined to the understories of woodlands and in the edges of fields where it is somewhat protected from the harshness of full sun and excessive drought.  It prospers in filtered sun and in places where it receives half sun.
Woodland phlox is a deciduous perennial which makes its appearance in early spring.  Established specimens stand 12-24 inches tall. Their linear pointed leaves are 1-2 inches long and opposite each other on the stems.  Over time, plants produce many stems from their underground growing point, but each stem is a bit lanky and may bend over a bit - especially under the weight of a fully opened flower head.
Flowering occurs in late spring or very early summer and is relatively short lived. The numerous large 5-parted flowers, however, are wonderful.  Flower color is quite variable and can range from white to deep pink.  All phlox are attractive to pollinating insects and especially to butterflies. 
The pollinated flowers produce seed capsules which ripen about a month after flowering.  The ripe capsules turn a golden yellow and then burst open; tossing the seeds a good distance away from the parent plant.  If you are in the garden when this happens, the sound of the capsule popping open is actually audible.
Despite its natural rarity in Florida, woodland phlox is commonly propagated and offered to the home gardener.  Just make sure to use plants propagated from Florida or near-Florida stock. We have grown it quite successfully in our home landscape in Pinellas County for a number of years now so it is more adaptable geographically than might be expected.  It is especially intolerant, however, to improper growing conditions.  We have ours planted near the foundation of our home in woodland soil and in an area where it receives only about 2-3 hours of direct sunlight.  It has died in sunnier locations and in areas where the soils were droughtier, but it also will not prosper if planted in deep shade. Given the right microclimate, this is a wildflower well worth adding to the home landscape.  Use it in mass and mix it with other wildflowers, such as violet (Viola spp.) and green dragon (Arisaema dracontium) and with some of the smaller stature ferns such as Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) and southern lady fern (Athyrium felix-femina).

Pineland Heliotrope - Heliotropium polyphyllum

Pineland heliotrope (Heliotropium polyphyllum) is a plant of wetland edges, but exceedlingly adaptable to a wide range of growing sites in cultivated landscapes.  This plant is a member of a large family known for its attractive flowers and value in the butterfly garden.  In Florida, pineland heliotrope is found statewide, but it is an endemic; found nowhere else outside our state lines.
Taxonomists have lumped both forms as one species, though the two are quite different in many characteristics.  The white-flowered form tends to grow as a creeping groundcover; never standing much taller than 12 inches while the yellow-flowered form is more upright and can reach several feet if left unpruned.  I have never seen both forms in nature growing side by side and I sometimes question whether they should actually be considered as two spearate species. Both forms have deep green glossy needle-like foliage that is alternate along the numerous stems and they eventually make a dense planting that shades out their neighbors. 
Pineland heliotrope occurs in nature mostly in moist to wet pinelands as well as coastal settings near mangrove swamps.  It is only rarely observed in drier locations, but it prospers in quite dry settings in the home landscape.  Its tolerance to nearly every growing condition, makes it an ideal wildflower for cultivation and it is widely available in the trade.  Pineland heliotrope, however, is sensitive to cold temperatures and will turn black at first evidence of frost or below-freezing temperatures.  It quickly re-establishes itself once warmer weather returns from its extremely deep taproots and a full pruning of the dead foliage transforms it once more to an attractive landscape addition.
Both color forms have flowers of identical size and shape.  These occur throughout the year (until cold weather appears, if ever) on the ends of the many stems in a sort of coiled panicle.  The small tubular flowers are very attractive to a wide assortment of pollinating insects, including butterflies.
Use pineland heliotrope as a groundcover or as an edge plant near walkways.  In Florida locations where frost and freezing temperatures are common, be prepared to have it looked burned during the colder months of winter, but don't prune the dead foliage back until the danger of frost is passed.  Because this plant is constantly trying to expand outward, it needs to be contained by regular pruning to the area of the landscape where it is desired.  Pineland heliotrope may spread by seed, but it more likely will spread by having its stems root along the ground.  Once well rooted, these are difficult to pull up and oftentimes the portion of stems left in the ground will resprout. 
Using this plant in the home landscape is always a balance between its many very attractive traits and drought tolerance and its tendency to spread where it may not be welcome.  We use it in areas of our landscape and love it there.  We just keep our pruning shears nearby.

Littleleaf New Jersey Tea- Ceanothus microphyllus

Littleleaf New Jersey tea (Ceanothus microphyllus) is a close relative of the widely planted New Jersey tea (C. americanus), but is much more poorly known to gardeners and butterfly enthusiasts.  As a result, it is almost never available from commercial sources.  Littleleaf New Jersey tea occurs in well-drained sandy uplands throughout most of the northern two-thirds of Florida, but is restricted elsewhere to small parts of Alabama and Georgia.
Its Latin name is pretty obvious.  The "little leaves" are, in fact, greatly reduced in this species to tiny rounded nubs; most numerous near the ends of the yellowish wiry stems.  They are deep green and rather thickened as well.  A great many stems arise from the ground and they venture off in all directions, making individual plants difficult to discern from their neighbors and appear as a tangled mass.  Littleleaf New Jersey tea grows as a low groundcover.  Plants rarely stand taller than 1 foot, but extend 2-3 feet outward or more from the center.
Its somewhat unusual growth form is greatly compensated by its flowers.  Flowering occurs in summer and the flower heads are produced at the tips of all the many individual stems.  When in full bloom, this plant makes quite an attractive show with its bright white flowers carpeting the ground.  Flowering occurs over several weeks.
Although butterfly gardeners throughout North America are familiar with this genus for its ability to attract nectaring species, I have not observed a great many butterflies using littleleaf New Jersey tea.  Perhaps its small flowers and their position close to the ground limits its use somewhat to mostly small butterflies such as hairstreaks and skippers.  No butterflies in Florida are known to use it as a larval food source, though the common gray hairstreak is known to use its close relative here and the rare mottled duskywing uses New Jersey tea exclusively.
I have propagated littleleaf New Jersey tea from cuttings, but it has always been more "miss" than "hit" for me using this method and the process is difficult enough to have discouraged most growers.  Growing this species from seed requires that the seeds be first treated by heat.  One method is to pour boiling water on the ripe seed and let it soak for approximately 12 seconds. Cool them off at this point by placing ice in the hot water.
We do not currently have littleleaf New Jersey tea in our landscape at Hawthorn Hill, but we are always looking for seed and a way for us to add it.  This is an interesting species to add to the understory of an expansive sandhill/dry prairie landscape, mixed with native grasses and other taller wildflowers.  Use it near pathways or the front of the planting area or it will get lost amongst the other species.

Green Dragon - Arisaema dracontium

The green dragon (Arisaema dracontium) is the "other" widespread jack-in-the-pulpit.  It is found in much the same habitat types as its close relative, A. triphyllum, but seems a bit more numerous in moist woodland understories and a lot less likely in wet ones.  Green dragon is found throughout the northern two-thirds of Florida and in much of eastern North America - from Texas west and to Quebec to the northeast.
Green dragon differs from jack-in-the-pulpit in both the structure of its foliage and flowers.  The leaves emerge in early spring and quickly rise to a height of about 3 feet.  This single leaf blade is divided into a large number of leaflets; anywhere from 7 to 15 and they often stand well above the emerging flower stalk.
Flowering occurs at much the same time of year as jack-in-the-pulpit; March and April.  The flowering structure itself is tall and skinny.  Unlike jack-in-the-pulpit, the leafy spathe nearly encloses the fleshy spadix which has the tiny flowers and it tapers well above the spadix and ends in a long tapered point. The pollinated flowers become red fleshy berries in late summer.
Green dragon is not currently offered for sale by any of the nurseries affiliated with the Association of Florida Native Nurseries (AFNN), but is sometimes available from out-of-state sources.  We have had some success in our Pinellas County landscape with specimens originating in neighboring states as long as they have not originated from the Appalachians.  But, though our plants emerge and flower each spring, we have not yet had them produce fruit from which to propagate more.
Use green dragon in the understory of a mesic to moist hammock with reasonably fertile soils.  The underground bulbs should be planted just below the soil surface and they may require additional watering to get them well established.  Use them in the front half of the planting bed so they can be admired and mulch the soil with leaf litter (but not too heavily so as to impact water reaching the soil).

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Jack-in-the-Pulpit - Arisaema triphyllum

Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) is one of those wildflowers recognized by nearly everyone.  It occurs nearly throughout Florida, from the panhandle south into Collier County, and throughout nearly all of the eastern two-thirds of North America.  Its folklore and use in children's literature have given it almost universal appeal.  Despite that, it is not currently offered by any of the nurseries affiliated with the Association of Florida Native Nurseries (AFNN) and, as far as I know, has never been offered in the past.
Jack-in-the-pulpit is resident to the understories of moist shady forests.  It disappears quickly from soils that stay too dry and it does not prosper if the soils are too infertile.  In Florida, I have found it most commonly in locations that infrequently flood for short periods or in forests immediately adjacent to swamps.  In these conditions, it can become very numerous; sometimes almost carpeting sections of the forest floor.
This is a spring-blooming perennial and it often disappears by late summer after the fruit ripens - or earlier if no fruit is produced.  As its Latin name implies, it emerges in the spring with large leaves that are 3-parted.  Individual plants have few leaves, but they may stand more than 12 inches tall and 8 inches across. 
The flower stalk arises in late spring and flowering occurs quickly.  Jack-in-the-pulpits are aroids and their flowers are fairly typical of this family.  The individual flowers are quite small and greenish white, and they occur on the white "tongue" (correctly called a spadix) inside the green leafy hood (the spathe).  The flowers themselves are short-lived, but the overall structure lasts for months.  Flowers that are pollinated, eventually ripen into bright red berries which are eaten by birds and small rodents which carry them about the forest floor.
We have grown jack-in-the-pulpit for several years in our shady forest hammock at Hawthorn Hill; originally propagated from seed collected in Florida.  They have persisted over several seasons, but have not prospered as well as hoped because of the lack of normal rainfall we have experienced these past couple of years.  Jack-in-the-pulpit forms bulbs below ground and these enable them to survive a wide range of conditions once they are established, but good flowering and foliage production only occurs with moist soil conditions.  We hope to eventually get the kinks worked out in our population and make this species more widely available.  Do not use plants which originate from other states - especially those from Appalachian sources.  They just won't last in Florida, unless you live around Torreya State Park.

Cooley's Justicia - Justicia cooleyi

Cooley's justicia (Justicia cooleyi) is a very rare plant, endemic to a three-county area in north-central Florida; Hernando, Sumter, and Lake Counties.  It is listed as endangered by both the state and federal government and mostly confined to calcareous hammock soils; locations where it receives filtered sun and/or partial sun in gaps of the forest canopy.
Cooley's justicia is a low-growing perennial herb which rarely stands taller than 12 inches, but grows outward to 18-24 inches in diameter.  Its thin, papery leaves are about 2 inches long, somewhat oval shaped, opposite on the stem and covered by small "hairs".  Individual plants have multiple branches and this gives them a rather dense aspect from a foliage perspective.
The flowers occur over a protracted blooming season which begins in early summer and continues into early winter - depending on the arrival of first frost.  Individual flowers are quite small (about 1/2 inch long), but a deep and striking lavender purple in color with white striations on the lower lip.  These flowers are bee pollinated.
Cooley's justicia is exceedingly rare in nature, but quite easy to grow and propagate in the home landscape - if given the proper conditions.  We have maintained it in our backyard hammock understory for many years at Hawthorn Hill, Pinellas County and it has reseeded itself into many new locations within this setting.  In fact, our original plants came up as volunteers in potted wildflowers purchased from a native nursery that was also propagating Cooley's justicia.  Tiny seed capsules are produced at the tips of all the branches after flowering and the seeds are widely scattered as the capsules open.
Cooley's justicia makes a very interesting addition to the understory of a shady hammock setting.  Because it prefers limey soils, it does well near the foundation of houses or near walkways, but it does not require it.  Make sure it gets filtered light or sun for short periods of the day.  It does not prefer dense shade and will not perform well in these conditions.  Because it is small, plant it near the front of the beds or along pathways so it can be admired.
This diminutive wildflower is sometimes offered by native nurseries affiliated with the Association of Florida Native Nurseries (AFNN), but has never been "popular".  Although we often have additional specimens for sale at Hawthorn Hill, we do not list it in our plant list.  Please inquire if you are interested.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Godfrey's Blazing Star - Liatris provincialis

Another very rare endemic Florida blazing star is Godfrey's blazing star (Liatris provincialis). Godfrey's blazing star is confined to the coastal scrubs and sandhills of Wakulla and Franklin Counties and is listed as a state endangered species. 
In many respects, Godfrey's blazing star is similar to the common Chapman's blazing star.  Both have leaves that become gradually smaller from the base and up the flowering stalk; not sharply smaller.  The flower heads are attached to the main stem by short stalks (they are not attached directly) and the flower heads are similar in size, though Godfrey's tends to be a bit smaller than Chapman's.  One of the easiest features in keying them apart is that in Godfrey's blazing star, the flower buds spread outward from the main stem and this makes the bud stem (the peduncle) visible and obvious.  In Chapman's blazing star, the buds are held tightly against the main stem , they overlap each other, and the peduncle is not easily seen.
Godfrey's blazing star eventually reaches about 3 feet in height and flowering occurs in late summer to early fall.  The flowers are the typical rich lavender of most members of this genus and plants in bloom are quite striking.  Of course, they attract a wide variety of butterflies and other pollinators - as do all members of this genus.
Godfrey's blazing star requires the perfect drainage provided by the coarse-grained sands of Florida's scrub and sandhill habitats.  It also requires high levels of sunlight.  Given these conditions, it is not difficult to grow or propagate.  To the best of my knowledge, however, this rare species has never been offered by anyone in the commercial trade.  We have grown it in the past in our landscape at Hawthorn Hill and currently have a new crop of seedlings from the seed we have collected.  Inquire if you are interested in giving this species a try in your landscape.  Because of its height, I find it looks best if planted in small clusters near the middle portion of a mixed wildflower planting - just attempt it only in deep well-drained sands in an area which receives ample sunlight.

Florida Blazing Star - Liatris ohlingerae

Florida blazing star (Liatris ohlingerae) is one of 5 endemic blazing stars in our flora (counting Garber's blazing star, L. garberi, which also occurs in Bermuda).  It is an extremely rare species; listed by both the federal and state government as an endangered species.  Florida blazing star occurs only within the Lake Wales Ridge scrubs of Polk and Highland counties and is not found universally in all of these areas either.  Thankfully, populations are protected within preserved lands such as the Lakes Wales Ridge National Wildlife Refuge system.
Like many scrub species, Florida blazing star does not invest alot of its energy in lush foliage.  It produces few basal leaves and the leaves which develop up the flowering stalk are rather short and needle-like.  It also produces few side branches. 
There is also an economy to its flowering.  While many blazing stars produce large numbers of flowers along a significant portion of the flowering stalk, Florida blazing star produces few heads and those are generally confined to the very top of the stalk.  But, those heads are enormous (for a blazing star) and each flower is quite large and showy.  The result is a flower head that may exceed 1 inch in width, loaded with deep rich lavender blooms.  This is a definite head turner while in bloom in September to October, but a bit scrawny looking when it is not.  The flowers are magnets for butterflies and many other pollinators as well.
Despite its extreme rarity in nature, Florida blazing star is sometimes available from nurseries affiliated with the Association of Florida Native Nurseries (AFNN).  Like most Lake Wales Ridge endemics, however, it requires the perfect drainage provided by coarse-grained sands and high light levels to prosper.  Do not attempt this plant in a typical Florida landscape.  We have grown this species successfully for a good number of years at Hawthorn Hill within our created scrub garden area.  If you can give this beautiful blazing star the conditions it needs, it makes a wonderful addition to the landscape.  Because it rarely stands taller than 12-18 inches, it should be used in the front portion of the planting area so it can be more easily seen and admired.