Sunday, May 30, 2010

Smooth Phlox - Phlox glaberrima

In many respects, smooth phlox (Phlox glaberrima) closely resembles downy phlox (P. pilosa).  Their distribution overlaps and it is not uncommon to find both growing in somewhat close geographic distances from each other.  There are, however, some very noticeable differences.  While downy phlox (covered elsewhere in this blog) is noticeably "hairy" - especially near the top of the stems, just beneath the flower heads, smooth phlox is not.  Secondly, the yellow stamens extrude slightly outside the floral tube.  They are not visible in downy phlox.  Lastly, its noticeably lance-shaped leaves are much different from the thin leaves present on downy phlox.
Smooth phlox also occurs in very different habitats than its close cousin.  This is a plant of woodland understories and moist locations where it gets filtered or part sun; never full  sun all day.  In Florida, it is distributed throughout much of the central and western panhandle, but it is rather common in most of the eastern U.S. as far north as Wisconsin.
Smooth phlox is deciduous and appears each year in early spring.  Generally, it produces a main stem that remains less than 2 feet tall, though its length may be greater.  At it reaches its mature length in late spring, it tends to bow over with the weight of its developing flower buds.  Blooming occurs from April to early summer.  Large clusters of soft pink flowers open at the end of each stem.  These are pollinated mostly by butterflies, though some bees and other pollinators may also visit them. 
Although this genus is widely cultivated throughout the U.S. in wildflower gardens, few of Florida's native phloxes are routinely offered by nurseries affiliated with AFNN - the Association of Florida Native nurseries.  This is very regrettable as most make absolutely beautiful additions to mixed wildflower gardens - given the correct growing conditions.  To the best of my knowledge, no Florida nursery has yet offered smooth phlox.  It is a species we are looking to add to our collection at Hawthorn Hill, so ask us if you are interested. 
If you are lucky enough to obtain some from somewhere, plant it in small clusters of at least three at the edge of a shady woodland garden or in a light gap where it might receive a few hours of sunlight.  It seems adaptable to a wide variety of soil conditions, but do not attempt it in exceedingly well-drained soils.  It prefers above-average moisture, but it has some drought tolerance if not kept too dry for too long.

Smooth Oxeye - Heliopsis helianthoides

Smooth oxeye (Heliopsis helianthoides) is so named (Latin name, that is) because of its close resemblance to two other members of the aster family - the tickseeds (Coreopsis spp.) and the sunflowers (Helianthus spp.).  But, despite its outward similarities, smooth oxeye is distinct.  It is a member of the woodland understory in six panhandle Florida counties, but is far more common to our north and is resident to nearly every state and province in the eastern two-thirds of North America. Although it often occurs in open habitats in states to our north, in Florida it is usually found in filtered or patchy sun beneath open deciduous forests or pinelands.
Smooth oxeye in Florida is a 2-3 ft. perennial with stiff, branched stems, sunflower-like heads, and opposite, toothed leaves. The leaves are lance- to triangular-shaped and between 1-4 inches long.  Plants arise early each spring and reach their mature height by late April to early May.  Blooming occurs shortly thereafter and continues for several months - sometimes until late summer.  Each flower head is composed of 8 yellow ray flowers (approximately 3/4 inches long) surrounding a central disc of yellow disc flowers.
This species looks like  a member of the true sunflowers, but its rays persist on the flower heads instead of withering and falling away once blooming is over. Like the sunflowers, however, it is a wonderful wildflower for nectaring butterflies, bees and other pollinators.
Smooth oxeye makes an excellent addition to a woodland understory planting where it adds color and texture.  Plant it along the edges of shady areas or in sunspots where it might get a couple of hours of sun each day.  Do not plant this in areas of deep shade.  Because individual plants are rather thin, it should be massed for best effect; plant it in clusters of 5-7.  Like most members of the aster family, it will reseed and spread if it is in a location where it is "happy."
Smooth oxeye is only rarely offered by commercial nursery sources in Florida and it may take some time to find plants.  Hopefully, this will change as a wider assortment of Florida wildflowers are grown and sold.  If you choose to purchase your plants from out-of-state sources, be careful to get material from our neighboring Southeastern states and not from states further north.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Black-eyed Susan - Rudbeckia hirta

Since early childhood, I have been in love with the simple beauty of black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia hirta).  I remember my grandfather taking my brother and me for drives into what was then "country" to a wildflower farm where they sold cut flowers.  Black-eyed susans were always among the bouquets we brought home. They brought life to every arrangement and they were nearly always in bloom. And, though there may be showier species in this wonderful genus, the simplicity and ease of growing it is hard to surpass. 
Black-eyed susan is ubiquitous in Florida and occurs in every state of the U.S. except Hawaii and Alaska, as well as all the southern tier of Canadian provinces.  It is a variable species, however, and takes on different "identities" in diferent parts of its range.  Two distinct forms are found in Florida.  If you live in the northern 1/3 of the state, you are most likely to see R. hirta var. angustifolia.  Where I live in central Florida and further south, the black-eyed susan we encounter is R. hirta var. floridana.  The north Florida variety generally branches midway up the stem, the basal leaves are more lanceolate and the stems are soft-hairy.  Variety floridana (pictured above) generally branches near the basal leaves and the stems are stiff-hairy.  Both forms are commonly sold commercially by memberes of AFNN - the Association of Florida Native Nurseries and it is generally true they sell the form most common to their latitude.
Although garden catalogs offer large showy black-eyed susans to home gardeners (including the so-called "gloriosa daisy"), these will quickly perish here in Florida.  Our native varieties are not as robust and their flowers are not as large, but they are extremely adaptable.  Native black-eyed susans generally act as annuals or, at best, biennials.  They reseed abundantly in most settings, however, and often are a common component of the flora.  Seedlings mature quickly and often flower during their first year.  Mature plants are rather thin and without well-developed basal rosettes of leaves.  They rarely stand taller than two feet.  Flowers are produced from early summer through fall.  Individual flower heads are about two inches across and composed of bright yellow ray flowers surrounding a black core of disc flowers.
Black-eyed susan occurs in a wide variety of open habitats and is adaptable to nearly every setting except very wet or dry locations.  It also is not salt tolerant.  Use this species mixed with other open understory wildflowers - species such as coreopsis, blazing star (Liatris spp.), pink beardtongue (Penstemon australis), wild petunia (Ruellia caroliniana) and grassleaf goldenaster (Pityopsis graminifolia) and short native grasses such as wiregrass (Aristida spp.) and pinewoods dropseed (Sporobolus junceus) in the front half of the planting.  Because this species is not very tall or robust, it works best planted in clusters and in locations where it can be easily admired.  Realize, though, that it also is not long-lived and it will move around your planting area wherever it can find some open soil for its seed to germinate in.  In most gardens, black-eyed susan increases over time and this increase is welcome.  Do not mulch your beds with heavy mulches or it may not be able to reseed well and do not deadhead your plants until late winter (if at all) or you may remove your seed source.
Because of its wide popularity, black-eyed susan is commonly available in the nursery trade.  In my experience, it is best to use the native variety found naturally in your latitude.  I have had far better success, for example with var. floridana in my Pinellas County landscape than I have had with var. angustifolia. DO NOT USE non-native varieties unless you wish to use them only as short-lived annuals. 

Friday, May 14, 2010

Heartleaf Skullcap - Scutellaria ovata

The skullcaps (Scutellaria spp.) are a large and diverse group of wildflowers in the mint family.  Their common and Latin names come from the wafery cap-like seed capsules that follow flowering and persist along the stem.  Florida is home to 13 distinct skullcaps and the various species occur in nearly every type of habitat.
Heartleaf skullcap (Scutellaria ovata) is one of our rarest; having been reported from only two Florida counties quite disjunct from each other.  The plants photographed above come from a small, but thriving population, rather recently discovered in Hernando County.  Prior to this, the only known population occurred in Escambia County - the farthest west county in the Florida panhandle. Though very rare in Florida, this species in its many forms occurs throughout the eastern half of the U.S.
Heartleaf skullcap has oval, heart-shaped leaves which are quite distinctive for this genus.  The leaves are large; up to six inches long and an equal length across.  The edges are noticeably toothed and the leaf veins are deeply indented.  Like other members of this genus, it is deciduous and makes its appearance in early spring.  Mature plants may reach several feet tall prior to blooming.
Flowering occurs in mid-spring.  The plants above were photographed in early May, 2010, but most species have bloomed about 3 weeks later than normal this year because of our colder-than-normal winter which preceded this.  The flower stalks arise from the main stem and stand about one foot above the highest leaves.  Flower shape is typical for the genus and the color is a pale lavender with a lightly spottted lower lip.
Heartleaf skullcap occurs in shady hammocks where it receives filtered light during the day.  The population in Hernando County was mostly situated in sun spots within the shady forest floor and occurred in a sinkhole with limestone at the surface.
Heartleaf skullcap would seem to be an excellent candidate for use in a shady forest landscape - used in much the same way that columbine, woodland phlox, violets, and other such wildflowers would be.  Although it is very rare in Florida, it is widespread in states to our north and is offered by several nurseries outside of Florida.  Our subspecies, S. ovata spp. bracteata, however, is a bit more difficult to find commercially and is the only one I would recommend trying here.  I would love to experiment with this species should the opportunity ever arise, but until then I will remain content to simply view it in its native habitat and be thankful that its small natural Florida population is largely protected.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Carolina Rockrose - Crocanthemum carolinianum

Carolina rockrose (Crocanthemum carolinianum) is a rather diminutive member of this wonderful wildflower genus.  It is found throughout the northern half of Florida in well-drained sunny habitats and in the southern U.S. from Texas to North Carolina.
Unlike pinebarren frostweed (C. corymbosum) which I have also written about in this blog, Carolina frostweed remains as a short, narrow plant.  Its round basal leaves form a circle about 6 inches across.  From this, a flower stalk is produced in the early spring which eventually reaches about 12 inches in height.  Atop this stalk, several large showy yellow blooms are produced in March.  As with other members of this genus, the flowers have 5 bright yellow petals - looking very similar to those pictured for pinebarren frostweed.  I captured these photos above in early May when the seed capsules were splitting open.  Even at this stage, I find this wildflower to have a lot of charm.
Carolina frostweed is native to habitats with lots of sun and well-drained sandy soil.  If you can provide these conditions, it is easy to grow and maintain in a wildflower garden.  Mass it in the front of the bed or along trails or it will get lost amongst the other plants. 
We hope to propagate this species in the years ahead here at Hawthorn Hill to make it available to others.  Please check with us fall 2010 to see if we were successful.

Pinebarren Frostweed - Crocanthemum corymbosum

Although not as showy as some of our wildflowers, I have always admired the simple beauty of our frostweeds - or "rockroses" as I first learned them; species in the genus Crocanthemum.  Pinebarren frostweed (C. corymbosum) is perhaps my favorite.  It is found throughout Florida in upland, well-drained sandy habitats, and throughout the Southeast. 
Pinebarren  frostweed is an evergreen perennial that remains low to the ground throughout the year.  It rarely stands taller than about 8 inches, but slowly spreads outward to form a mound that can reach several feet wide.  As such, it makes an attractive mass of foliage when not blooming and always looks "tidy".  The leaves are linear, about an inch long, and alternate along the stem. 
Blooming occurs mostly in the spring, though a few flowers may be present at other times.  They are a wonderful canary yellow in color, about 1/2 inch across, with 5 petals and produced in numbers across the crown of the plant.  The contrasting orange of the anthers (the pollen-bearing parts of the flower) inside the floral "cup" lend an additional beauty to the blooms.
Pinebarren frostweed is easy to maintain in a landscape. It is extremely drought tolerant and thrives just about anywhere as long as its given good drainage and plenty of sun.  Because of its short stature, it should be placed in the front of a mixed wildflower planting or placed along trails so it can be fully admired while in bloom.  It would make a nice mass planting as well, but plant individual plants on at least 18-inch centers as they will spread outward in all directions.
Regrettably, none of the frostweeds are currently being propagated commercially in Florida - at least by nurseries associated with AFNN, the Association of Florida Native Nurseries.  We are hoping to change some of that at Hawthorn Hill.  We have maintained this species for several years now in our Pinellas County landscape and are preparing to collect seed from our plants for future propagation.  Let us know if this species interests you.  We hope to have a few seedlings by fall 2010.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Dwarf indigo/ Clusterspike leadplant - Amorpha herbacea

Dwarf indigo (Amorpha herbacea) is a somewhat "plain Jane" in comparison to its better known cousin, false indigo (A. fruticosa), but it has its own subtle beauty and value to a landscape composed of wildflowers.  It is rarely, if ever, propagated by commercial sources at this time, though we are correcting that at Hawthorn Hill.
I prefer to call this leadplant "sandhill leadplant" for its affinity to upland habitats.  This species occurs throughout much of Florida and in our neighboring states of the Deep South.  In extreme south Florida, it occurs as a very rare variety and component of the pine rockland community, (A. herbacea var. crenulata).  Crenulate leadplant is a state endangered species and was once afforded separate species status.  Today, taxonomists consider it to be a variety of dwarf indigo.  Throughout its range, this species occurs in droughty, well-drained soils with full sun.  It is adaptable, but will not tolerate soils that remain wet.
Dwarf indigo is deciduous and remains leafless during the winter and early spring.  The showy compound leaves are noticeably longer than in false indigo and are silvery blue-green in color; making the foliage one of the best features of this woody wildflower. 
Blooming occurs most often in early summer.  The elongated flower racemes are composed of a large number of tightly packed creamy white flowers with contrasting orange-yellow anthers.  Although these blooms are not especially showy in comparison to false indigo, they are attractive and they attract the same variety of bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.  The foliage provides the larval food for the same two butterflies; the southern dogface sulphur and silver-spotted skipper - as well as for herbivores such as rabbits and white-tailed deer.
Dwarf indigo rarely exceeds 3-4 feet tall and can be kept even shorter by regular pruning.  It tends to grow outward, however, and may form a dense crown equally wide as it is tall.  Because of its density, other plants cannot be grown beneath it.
If you have well-drained soils, plenty of sun, and the necessary space, dwarf indigo can be a very interesting addition to a landscape devoted to wildflowers and butterflies.  Use it towards the back of the garden or as a small grouping in the center to serve as a focal point.  Hawthorn Hill is currently growing this species in our Pinellas County nursery and has it available to others who may wish to try it.  Give me a call or drop me an e-mail if you are interested in this or any other wildflower curently in our catalog.

False Indigo - Amorpha fruticosa

False (or bastard) indigo (Amorpha fruticosa) is another member of the legume family that provides wonderful color as well as some value to a butterfly garden.  It is widely distributed in Florida; having been recorded in nearly every county statewide, and it occurs in nearly every state and province in North America. 
False indigo is a wetland plant in nature.  It occurs most frequently near the upper edges of riverine and other freshwater wetlands, where it receives ample soil mositure and at least a half day of sun.  It is extremely adaptable, however, and can be grown quite successfully in most upland settings except those with excessively well-drained soils.  It does well in full sun and blooms much heavier if not given too much shade.
This plant eventually gets quite large and shrublike.  It is not uncommon to find well-grown specimens that have reached 10 feet tall.  Because it also is multi-trunked, its diameter may reach 6 feet or more as well.  So, give it plenty of room if you are considering adding it to your landscape. 
False indigo is deciduous and loses its leaves from late fall until mid-spring.  The feathery compound leaves are attractive.  Shortly after they appear, large numbers of flower spikes burst forth across the tops of its many branches.  Each is a raceme 1-2 inches long, densely crowded with the showy purple flowers.  Each flower is deep purple in color with contrasting anthers that are a golden yellow.  Its this contrast that makes them especially showy.  Flowering starts at the stem end of the raceme and works its way towards the tip over about a 2 week period.
The flowers of this species are somewhat fragrant and attract a wide assortment of bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.  It also serves as the larval food plant for the southern dogface sulphur and silver-spotted skipper butterflies.  Once flowering is finished, the pollinated flowers ripen to small dry seeds that are eaten by a variety of doves and other seed-eating birds.
False indigo is available from a variety of commercial nurseries, including a few that are associated with AFNN - the Association of Florida Native Nurseries.  We have grown it for years in our landscape at Hawthorn Hill, but do not propagate it at this time.  It is very easy to grow from seed, however, and grows quickly to flowering size.
False indigo is very adaptable. Use it as a focal/anchor point in the landscape and give it some room.  Although it can be maintained as a single trunk shrub, I like it best when it is allowed to form multiple stems.  Mature specimens do not create too much shade, so many other wildflower and/or native grass species can be planted beneath it.  I like to think of this species as Florida's "butterfly bush" as it has many of the same qualities as a Buddleia, and performs much better here - at least in the southern half of the state.

Monday, May 10, 2010

American Wisteria - Wisteria frutescens

American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens) is our only native wisteria.  The other commonly planted species all originate from Asia and can be quite invasive.  American wisteria occurs naturally in Florida only in the panhandle and a few scattered counties in north Florida.  It also occurs throughout nearly every state in the eastern half of the U.S.  Like its Asian relatives, it is a vine that rambles extensively throughout the adjacent vegetation and it can eventually extend its reach many feet from the main stem.  But, compared to Chinese and Japanese species, it is diminutive.
American wisteria is a wetland plant and most common at the edge of forested wetlands where it gets partial sun - or at least some shade for part of the day.  It is quite adaptable, however, and can be grown in the landscape in much drier soils and in nearly full sun. 
It is deciduous and remains leafless for several months during the winter.  In April to early May, the compound leaves are quickly followed by many flower buds.  These are produced on last year's growth, so it is very important not to prune these plants back in winter while they are dormant.  Each flower bud is composed of many dozens of rich purple flowers.  As this plant is in the bean and pea family (legumes), the flowers are distinctive and are followed by small heads of beans, each containing a few hard seeds.
American wisteria can be grown very effectively on a fence or trellis where its rambling growth can be somewhat maintained.  It does not have tendrils, so it may have to be helped at first while it tries to find a place to hang on to.  Give it a bit of extra water during periods of extended drought and it will perform well nearly statewide.  The plant we added to our Pinellas County landscape has bloomed profusely for years and has required very little care or attention.
American wisteria is sometimes offered by nurseries associated with AFNN - the Association of Florida Native Nurseries, though it may take some looking to find it.  We do not grow it at Hawthorn Hill, but it would be quite easy to take our seed and germinate them should an interest for it arise.  Ask us if you are interested.

Sky Blue Lupine - Lupinus diffusus

Sky blue lupine (Lupinus diffusus) is one of Florida's most beautiful wildflowers.  It is found nearly statewide in sandy well-drained uplands and in our neighboring states throughout the Deep South.  It is extremely sensitive to growing conditions and its distribution is restricted only to those areas with the proper soils and high light.  It also responds quickly to soil disturbances and prescribed fire.  Its seed can lie dormant for years waiting to be released.  When this happens, large areas can become dominated by this lupine - for a few years. 
Sky blue lupine is a very short-lived perennial.  From my experience, it rarely lives beyond about three years after germination.  The first year is spent as a non-flowering seedling while a few flowers occur in year two.  In the third year, individual plants may be several feet across and up to two feet tall.  At this size (as those plants pictured above), the entire plant seems to be covered in sky blue flowers.  Most of these plants, set large numbers of seed and then die by fall.
Sky blue lupine is unique among our native lupines.  Although most have lanceolate leaves covered by silky hairs, others tend to have pink or deep purple blooms.  The foliage is evergreen, though it often is eaten by moth caterpillars and may almost disappear for times due to this.  Flowering occurs in February through March.
As beautiful as this wildflower is, sky blue lupine is unlikely to be offered in the trade to home gardeners.  It is exceedingly difficult to grow in pots, for one.  Though I have worked with this plant for years and get most seeds to germinate, very few live past the first leaf phase.  Those that do, do not do well in pots for very long and need to be transplanted into the garden.  At this stage, most simply die as they "hate" to be moved.  But, I have had some that lived, flowered and produced seed - and these were magnificent.  If you have the right soil for lupines, and you love them as much as I do, you may wish to frustrate yourself with one of Florida's greatest wildflower gardening challenges...  If you succeed, the effort will be well worth it and if you don't, you will join countless others.  At least you will have company.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Halberdleaf Yellow Violet - Viola tripartita

Halberdleaf yellow violet (Viola tripartita; syn. V. hastata) is exceedingly rare in Florida and our most unique violet species.  In Florida it is only found in a small region around Torreya State Park in Gadsden County.  Here it grows on steep hillsides, near the base where conditions are a bit cooler and moister.  It is listed as a state endangered species.  It is more common to our north, however, and is found up the Eastern Seaboard to Maryland.
Halberdleaf yellow violet is our only yellow flowered species, though others ocur in states to our north.  Its growth form is quite distinctive.  It arises each year in late winter and has a narrow single stem which holds its "halberd-shaped" leaves several inches above the ground.  Scattered atop these plants, in late February to March are its bright yellow flowers with deep purple stripes inside the lower lip.
It is not likely that anyone will ever offer this interesting violet to the home gardener in Florida.  It is also unlikely that any of us have the conditions it needs to thrive.  For that reason, we should give thanks that wise leaders have set aside its Florida habitat in public lands - where we can search for a look at it at the right time of year.

Bog White Violet - Viola lanceolata

Bog white violet (Viola lanceolata) is a unique member of this genus and easy to distinguish from its close relatives.  For one, it is quite small.  The entire plant is almost never larger that 1 inch across and 1-2 inches tall.  The leaves are very narrow and linear; looking somewhat like grass blades in amongst the surrounding vegetation.  Lastly, the small white flowers are streaked with purple inside the lower lip.
Bog white violet is found statewide in appropriate habitats and in nearly every state of the U.S. except the drier central prairie states.  As its common name implies, it occurs in very wet habitats, near the waterline in ponds, marshes and bogs.  It is not adaptable to drier conditions and quickly disappears if the hydrology is not quite right.
For this reason, bog white violet is difficult in the home landscape.  I have tried it several times in the wetland my wife and I created in our Pinellas County landscape, but it has always died out within months of planting each time.  I would love to figure out exactly what I need to make it work, as I find this diminutive species quite interesting, but to date I have drawn only blanks.
Bog white violet is not commercially available from nurseries associated with AFNN - the Association of Florida Native Nurseries and its limited landscape use may make it remain that way.  Look for it in the soggy edges of mostly open wetland systems - in the early spring when it is in bloom.  You may be rewarded if you look close enough.

White Violet - Viola primulifolia

White violet (Viola primulifolia) is very difficult to distinguish from common blue violet (V. soraria) when they are not in bloom.  Both have very similar heart-shaped leaves and both are identical in size.  Both also have nearly identical ranges in Florida, though white violet does not occur beyond the U.S. border into Canada.
White violet is very easy to grow and quite adaptable to many home landscape settings.  I have planted it beneath the canopy of our deciduous hardwood hammock in Pinellas County, but it has spread over the years to nearly every shaded and semi-shaded area of our yard.  Its many crystalline white flowers are abundant in late winter to very early spring, though (like most members of this genus) it may produce cleistogamous flowers during other months which produce fertile seed.  Violet seed capsules dehisce with some energy and the seeds are expelled outward for some distance.
White violet is commonly available from Florida's native plant nurseries and is a good choice to mix with other woodland wildflowers and ferns to give some color and character to shady areas of the landscape.

Blue Violet - Viola sororia

Blue violet (Viola soraria) may actually be several closely related species.  It has given plant taxonomists fits over the years and some have divided this species into several.  I have chosen to use what seems to be the most widely accepted current thought - that all of our oval-leaved blue-flowered violets are the same species.
Blue violet is found throughout eastern North America, including all of the southern tier of Canada's provences.  In Florida, it is found in nearly every county.
This is a common violet of woodland understories.  Its heart-shaped leaves are deciduous in colder parts of Florida and mostly evergreen in parts that rarely see freezing temperatures.  The basal rosette is about an inch above the leaf litter and nearly 6 inches across.  The deep purple flowers are produced on long stalks and bloom in early spring.  The flowers generally are held several inches above the leaf litter.
Blue violet is often available from Florida commercial nurseries and is easy to grow.  Use it in the understory of forested landscapes.  Though it will survive beneath the shade of evergreen canopy trees, such as live oaks, it will perform better beneath deciduous trees that let more light in from late winter to early spring.  This also is a relatively drought-tolerant violet, but prefers soils that are moist most of the time.
I use this species throughout the shadier parts of my Pinellas County landscape and look forward to letting it signal in spring for me each year.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Early Blue Violet - Viola palmata

Early blue violet (Viola palmata) has undergone a great many taxonomic name changes over the years.  Regardless, it is one of our most unique species and is easily identified by its deeply lobed leaves.  In fact, one of its incorrect Latin names (V. septemloba) calls attention to that. 
Early blue violet is widely distributed throughout Florida, and is found in nearly every county except the extreme south in pine flatwoods, deciduous hammocks, and moist prairies.  As such, it is one of our most drought tolerant and adaptable violets. 
This species is deciduous during the winter.  Its leaves emerge in early spring and soon form a basal rosette of a half dozen or more leaves.  These are several inches long and stand several inches above the ground.  Flowering occurs from early to late spring.  The flowers are a rich purple in color and stand several inches above the rosette of leaves.
I have found that this species does best if given a bit more sun than most other violets.  While it does not thrive under sunny conditions, it also declines in full shade.  Give it a bit of morning sun or good dappled light during the day and it will bloom much better. 
Although this is one of our most attractive violets, it is only rarely offered for sale by commercial nurseries associated with AFNN - the Association of Florida Native Nurseries.  It is easy to grow and will self sow once established in your landscape.  Perhaps a bit of demand from the public will change its relative unavailability in the market in years ahead.

Walter's violet - Viola walteri

Coming from Wisconsin, violets to me are a sure sign of spring.  I love hiking through Florida's deciduous woodlands and finding them here as well.  For this reason, I plant them all over my yard, in the understory and in every corner where they might thrive.
Walter's violet (Viola walteri) is one of our most unique species.  Its diminutive flowers and foliage barely stick up above the leaf litter and it forms sinuous chains of basal leaves which snake their way along the forest floor.  The leaves rarely stand taller than an inch and they are often distinctly mottled - as in the photo above. The basal leaves tend to remain through the winter and new growth commences in the early spring.  Small light lavender flowers appear at this time also.  They stand about 2 inches above the ground.
Walter's violet is found in scattered locations in north and north central Florida.  It is often associated with calcareous soils, but does not seem to require them.  It is a wildflower of the Southeast and occurs throughout the region from east Texas in the western part of its range to Virginia in the north.
I have had very poor success trying to keep this violet alive in my Pinellas County landscape.  Although I have planted it in a deciduous woodland setting - in locations where other species normally associated with it have thrived, I have never been able to keep it for more than 6-7 months.  For this reason, it seems best to attempt it closer to its natural range.  Plant it in a woodland setting in moist soils.  If those soils are alkaline, you may succeed even better.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Eastern False Rue Anemone - Enemion biternatum

Eastern false rue anemone (Enemion biternatum) is another wildflower found in and around Florida Caverns State Park in the central panhandle of Florida.  It is extremely rare in Florida and listed as a state endangered species, but quite common to states and provinces north of us to southern Canada and throughout the eastern half of the U.S.
This is a perennial ephemeral spring wildflower; emerging in late winter in the understory of deciduous hardwood forests, flowering before the canopy closes, and then declining by late summer.  In Florida, it is found in calcareous woodlands, but it is not confined to them throughout its North American range.  The plants stand about 12- 18 inches tall and tend to sprawl a bit instead of being upright.  Many small crystalline white flowers are produced at the tips of the many stems.  As such, individual plants are quite showy for the several week period in March while they are in full bloom.
Eastern false rue anemone has never been offered for sale to home gardeners in Florida by any of the commercial nurseries affiliated with AFNN - the Association of Florida Native Nurseries, and it is not likely to be given its great rarity here and its seemingly narrow growing tolerances.  It is offered by a wide variety of out-of-state nurseries, however, and might make an interesting candidate for a home gardener here looking for a challenge and an experiment. It is a beautiful and dainty wildflower that would make a wonderful addition to the understory of a woodland planting - in the right setting.

Columbine - Aquilegia canadensis

Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) is one of the most beloved of all wildflowers and widely planted throughout much of its natural range in North America - from southern Canada to nearly every state in the eastern half of the U.S. In Florida, however, it is exceedingly rare and occurs only in a few calcareous deciduous woodlands in and around Florida Caverns State Park in the central panhandle.  In areas where it occurs naturally, it can be quite common, but it has a very narrow range of ecological tolerances.  Foremost, it seems to need high pH, sandy woodland soils overlying limerock.  Secondly, it seems to require sun in very early spring, followed by dappled light the rest of the year.  Lastly, it seems to need some protection from the heat of summer.
Despite all of this, columbine can be grown in Florida landscapes quite successfully outside its natural range.  We have grown it in our Pinellas County landscape for a number of years, but we have taken a few precautions to give it conditions as near as possible to those found around Florida Caverns State Park.  We have sited it near the foundation of our house to give it a higher pH than the rest of our yard offers.  We grow it at the edge of our deciduous woodland garden and we make sure it gets a bit of extra moisture during periods of extreme drought. 
Columbine is a very short-lived perennial.  It should not be expected to live much past 2-3 years and will not persist in a landscape if it doesn't reproduce.  Thankfully, well grown individuals produce large numbers of tiny black seeds.  If you trust your site, you may wish to let some of them sow naturally.  I am not that trusting, so I collect the seed to sow in flats.  Seedlings emerge quickly after sowing and are usually easy to grow.
Blooming may not occur until the second year.  Columbine is deciduous and the entire plant disappears from late fall until late winter/early spring.  Growth is rapid and mature specimens reach a height of 2 1/2 to nearly 4 feet tall by blooming time - March through May.  The feathery foliage is one of its best features, looking a bit like a maidenhair fern.  The most attractive feature of this wildflower, however, is its flowers.  Large bright orange to reddish flowers with a contrasting yellow interior are produced singly on arching stalks over a period of many weeks.  They are distinctive in appearance, with 5 modified petals and upright "horns" which hold large quantities of nectar.  Columbines are favorite nectar sources of our ruby-throated humminbird, but also are pollinated by various long-tongued moths and a few bees and butterflies.
If you have a place for this species, you may well wish to give it a try.  It is propagated by a number of commercial sources.  Just realize that you will have to either keep propagating it yourself or purchase it again every 2-3 years to keep it present.