Sunday, April 18, 2010

Wood Spurge - Euphorbia commutata

Wood spurge (Euphorbia commutata) is a member of the Euphorbia family and quite rare in Florida.  It is reported from only two counties in the Florida panhandle in rich calcareous woods, and from 2 counties in northern west-central Florida in and around the Brooksville Ridge.  Because of its limited distribution, it is classified as a state endangered species. 
Woodland spurge is a beautiful bright lime green and sprawls in multiple directions from the main stem.  Eventually, individual plants may stand nearly 1 foot tall and more than that across.  Flowering occurs in the early spring.  The individual male and female flowers are surrounded by a round bract.  Eventually, the female flowers produce a three-chambered capsule with tiny seeds.
Wood spurge has never been offered commercially to the home gardener and is not likely to.  It obviously has some ability to thrive across much of the northern third of the state, but also seems to require alkaline soils and rich deciduous woodlands.  Although these conditions could be duplicated in home landscapes - especially near home foundations on the north side, this plant's lack of showy blooms would relegate it to use by the true connoiseurs of the unique. 
This is yet another one of Florida's interesting flora that we should admire in the wild and take pride in its preservation.

Mountain Spurge - Pachysandra procumbens

Mountain spurge (Pachysandra procumbens) is exceedingly rare in Florida, being found only in calcareous woodland habitat in Jackson County; the region in and around Florida Caverns State Park.  It is a state endangered species, but its range extends throughout much of the Southeast Coastal Plain and it is more common in the lower Appalachians. 
Mountain spurge is characterized by its palmate leaves, each leaflet with noticeable teeth along the outer margin. The older leaves are spotted as shown in the second photograph above, though the newer leaves are lighter in color and the spots are barely visible.  These leaves stay close to the ground surface and stand only a few inches above it. 
Flowering occurs in the spring.  The elongated racemes of white flowers appear many inches away from the basal leaves, arising from the ground on a separate spike.  Each flower is composed of spidery petals, tipped in pinkish brown.  They are not especially showy, but quite interesting to observe.
Mountain spurge will never likely be offered in Florida from Florida stock for home gardeners.  It would make a very interesting groundcover wildflower for deciduous woodland gardens with alkaline soils - the same environment that would support trilliums, Walter's violet, fringed campion and the like, but its rarity and lack of showy bloom will likely keep it as one of Florida's many rare and interesting "oddballs" - species left here after the last ice age in small pockets of habitat more in line with the present climate of the Appalachian Mountains.  It is enough that this interesting wildflower maintains its foothold here in Florida Caverns State Park.