Sunday, August 29, 2010

Flyr's Nemesis - Brickellia cordifolia

I have previously posted a blog on this species, but wanted to update it with some better close-up photos and some more first-hand knowledge of its propagation...

Flyr's nemesis (Brickellia cordifolia) is a state-listed endangered species found in a handful of upland sandy locations in the central panhandle and in Alachua County outside of Gainesville.  It also occurs in a few locations in Georgia and Alabama.  How it got its common name is a mystery I have not yet solved, but its Latin species name comes from its heart-shaped leaves.  The leaves are opposite on the stems and toothed.
Flyr's nemesis is a semi-woody, perennial member of the aster family that dies back to the ground each winter and re-emerges again in the spring.  It produces many stems at the ground level and eventually reaches a mature height of up to 5 feet.  A well-grown plant resembles a young beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) somewhat and the stems sometimes arch over in much the same manner.  But, nothing really resembles this plant by late August to early September when it blooms.
Flyr's nemesis produces a great many heads of soft pink flowers in small clusters atop each stem.  There are no ray flowers, as in many of the asters - only disc flowers with extremely elongated styles that give each flower head a distinctive spidery appearance.  Flowering occurs for 3 weeks or more and the blooms are especially attractive to butterflies. 
Despite its natural rarity, Flyr's nemesis is not difficult to grow or propagate.  It requires well-drained sandy soils, but tolerates partial shade as well as sunnier locations.  Give individual specimens plenty of room and plant them near the back edge of a mixed wildflower garden.  This interesting and beautiful wildflower has recently been offered by a north Florida native plant nursery and we can only hope that this grower keeps it in propagation.  Currently, we are evaluating it in our gardens at Hawthorn Hill - well south of its natural range, and we hope to find that its use can be extended at least to central Florida in home landscapes.  If we succeed, we will have seedlings available next summer.  Check back with us if you wish.

Wild buckwheat - Eriogonum tomentosum

Wild buckwheat (Eriogonum tomentosum) occurs in well-drained sandy uplands across much of Florida, except the southern one-third of the peninsula. It also occurs in similar habitats in the Southeastern Coastal Plain up to South Carolina. This is a rather common plant in those areas where it occurs (except in North Carolina), but goes largely unnoticed when not in bloom.

Wild buckwheat is a deciduous perennial which eventually reaches about 2 feet tall. In the spring, it consists as a whorled set of elliptical basal leaves, each about 6 inches long. As the Latin name implies, they are densely wooly on their undersides. Often, these leaves begin to wither and die as the flower stalk grows upwards in late summer. At this time, the plant consists mostly of several main stalks, each multi-branched and covered by sets of whorled leaves around the various branch nodes. These leaves are only about 2 inches long.

Flowering occurs in late summer and early fall. Each plant produces numerous inflorescences of creamy white flowers. In full bloom, this wildflower is quite striking; especially contrasted with the many yellow and lavender flowers common to the habitats it occurs in. The flowers attract a wide assortment of pollinators, but are not especially attractive to butterflies. And, it is not recorded as a larval plant, though the gray hairstreak does use a few members of the buckwheat family.

I have not seen this wildflower offered by any of the native plant nuseries who are members of the Association of Florida Native Nurseries (AFNN) during my 20+-year career here. This is regretable as this attractive species has much to offer a mixed wildflower planting. We are currently propagating it here at Hawthorn Hill and hope to have plants available in 2011.  Ask us about it if you are interested.

Wild buckwheat is rather easy and forgiving in the landscape, but requires sandy soils and good drainage and sunlight to prosper. Use it in a mixed planting with blazing stars (Liatris spp.), Florida paintbrush (Carphephorus corymbosus), grassleaf goldenaster (Pityopsis graminifolia) and similar species common to sandhill and xeric flatwoods sites. Because of its height, it would do best in the middle portion of the planting bed.

Friday, August 27, 2010

October Flower - Polygonella polygama

October flower (Polygonella polygama) is another interesting member of the buckwheat family and found throughout Florida in a variety of well-drained sandy uplands.  It is also found throughout the Southeast, from Texas to Virginia.  This species is relatively common throughout, though not always that noticable when not in bloom.
October flower is a perennial wildflower which spends the winter as a small cluster of small half-moon shaped leaves.  In the spring, it begins growth and sends out its semi-woody multi-branched stems in a variety of directions.  These are mostly upright and eventually reach a height of about 2 feet.  Only a few leaves are noticeable along these stems and this makes the plants appear quite wiry.
Blooming occurs in October, as the common name implies.  Like other members of the buckwheat family, each flower is subtended by a papery bract which looks like the petals.  These are bright white in color, rather small individually, but clustered together in small racemes across the ends of each stem.  For 2-3 weeks, each plant is quite showy.  These bracts then turn brown and the plants return to being rather inconspicuous.
October flower makes a wonderful addition to a sandhill/scrub/upland planting, but is not very showy by itself.  Use it in combination with other wildflowers and native grasses with similar growing needs and use it in the mid-section of the planting bed.  This is a relatively easy plant to maintain, but it does not like to be crowded.  
It also may be difficult to find from a commercial source, though it is almost always available from a few nurseries associated with AFNN - the Association of Florida Native Nurseries.  It also is easy to propagate from seed collected in early winter from roadsides.   

Sandhill Wireweed - Polygonella robusta

I learned this wonderful wildflower as "October flower", but that common name seems more applied to its close relative (Polygonella polygama).  In truth, this common name applies well to both as they are in full bloom at that time.  Sandhill wireweed (P. robusta) is defintitely a member of the sandhill community, but is common to a variety of upland sites with well-drained sands and plenty of sunshine.  It is found throughout much of Florida, but is yet another one of our endemic species - found nowhere else.
Sandhill wireweed is mostly deciduous, but generally maintains a rosette of basal foliage through the winter.  Its leaves are rather stiff and the stems are covered by short stiff hairs.  By spring, it begins extending its many stems in all directions.  These do not go straight up, but sideways; eventually reaching about 1-2 feet above the ground.  The stems are multi-branched as well, so a mature specimen eventually produces a somewhat tangled mass of relatively stiff stems with few leaves.  This species is not the most attractive foliage plant you might decide to use in a home landscape, but it makes up for this when it blooms.
Like other members of the buckwheat family, sandhill wireweed produces an abundance of flowers that are surrounded by papery bracts.  But, unlike most others, these come in a variety of shades from light pink to deep rose - and the colors change as the flowers mature and age, eventually becoming rusty orange.  The flowers are produced at the ends of each stem and a fully mature specimen is covered by flowers for 2-3 weeks in October.  The flowers are of most interest to bees and similar pollinators, but skippers and other small butterflies may use them as well.  The seeds are important to seed-eating birds, like doves.
Sandhill wireweed is often visible in fall growing in the open sands along roadsides and it is adaptable to most landscape settings if given suitable drainage, good sunlight, and open space between its neighbors.  Do not crowd this species or it will fade away.  If you can give it these conditions, it makes a wonderful addition to a sandhill/scrub planting.  Use it in the middle section of the planting and combine it with other medium-tall fall-blooming species, such as grassleaf goldenaster (Pityopsis graminifolia) and wild petunia (Ruellia caroliniensis). 
Sandhill wireweed is only rarely offered by commercial nurseries, but is relatively easy to grow from seed collected along the roadside in early winter.  We do not currently propagate it at Hawthorn Hill, though my wife, Alexa, and I admire it greatly. 

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Coastalplain Palafox - Palafoxia integrifolia

Coastalplain palafox (Palafoxia integrifolia) is found throughout Florida, except for the western panhandle, and in parts of Georgia - in well-drained sandy uplands.  Unlike its endemic relative (P. feayi), it is not restricted to scrub and sandhill, but can be found in a variety of other upland settings. 
This is a more diminutive species as well - though still tall and robust in character.  Coastalplain palafox is a deciduous perennial which dies to the ground each winter and re-emerges in early spring.  The individual stems elongate immediately and there are no real basal leaves.  These leaves are alternate along the stem and glossy green in color.  The lower leaves are elongate and they become nearly linear near the top of the stem.  Stems reach a mature height of 3-5 feet on average by the fall blooming season.
Like its close relative, P. feayi, the flower heads are produced atop the stem and its many side shoots, but these flowers have "petals" around the central tube.  And, although lacking true ray flowers, the frilly pinkish white disc flowers produce an attractive and "softer" look to the inflorescence.  Color in this species can be variable with some plants producing only white flowers instead of those which are decidedly pinkish.
Despite its adaptability, its ease of culture, and its attractive blooms, coastalplain palafox is not regularly offered for sale by any of the nurseries associated with AFNN - the Association of Florida Native Nurseries.  We have grown it for years, however, in our gardens at Hawthorn Hill and often have seedlings available.  Let us know if you are interested.  Use this species in small groupings in the back of a mixed planting bed with other tall wildflowers and larger native grasses.  Because it produces as many as a dozen stalks on mature specimens, a few plants will go a long way.  Its stems are not as woody as those of feay's palafox and they will droop if not given sufficient sun.  Even then, we sometimes stake a few of them to keep them fully upright. 

Feay's Palafox - Palafoxia feayi

Feay's palafox (Palafoxia feayi) is endemic to Florida; found only in the southern two-thirds of the peninsula and only in well-drained sandy uplands in full sun.  In these conditions, it is often quite abundant.  Just don't look for it in plant communities which are not scrub or sandhill.
Palafoxias are deciduous perennials and feay's eventually becomes the taller and lankier of the two native species found in Florida.  Emerging in the spring, it quickly produces a wand-like stalk which often reach heights of 6 feet or more.  These stalks become almost woody in nature; a trait which helps keep them stiffly upright instead of flopping over.
This is not much of a foliage plant.  The simple oval leaves are broadest near the ground and become linear along the stalks.  They are rough to the touch.  Flower buds are produced at the ends of the stems and side stems by late summer and flowering typically occurs in early fall.
Feay's palafox has interesting flowers.  They are not as beautiful as some, in my opinion, but attractive in their own right - especially when used in small masses and mixed with other tall species in the right setting.  As a member of the aster family, it produces heads of flowers; but with no ray flowers and all tubular disc ones.  These are white in color, often flushed with rose.  The sharply contrasting maroon styles and curving white stigmas of the female flower parts add greatly to flowers' interest.  These flowers are also of great interest to butterflies and bees. 
Feay's palafox can look weedy if used incorrectly and quite attractive in other settings.  Because of its size, it is not a good choice for small gardens.  In expansive planting beds, however, it can be effectively used in small groupings mixed with other tall species - such as some of the blazing stars (Liatris spp.), rosinweeds (Silphium spp.) and sky-blue salvia (Salvia azurea), as well as large grasses - such as lop-sided indiangrass (Sorghastrum secundum) and splitbeard bluestem (Andropogon ternarius).  Individual plants produce multiple stems from their base over time, so it is not necessary, or even advisable, to plant more than a couple of individuals to start with.  Space each at least 18 inches apart.  If you wish to add this species, make sure you have excellent drainage and plenty of sun.
Feay's palafox is often grown and sold commercially in Florida, but only by a small number of commercial native plant nurseries.  It is easy to grow from seed too, if you have access to plants and the permission of the landowner.  We do not grow it at Hawthorn Hill, but we do maintain its close cousin - coastalplain palafox (P. integrifolia). 

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Helmet Skullcap - Scutellaria integrifolia

Helmet skullcap (Scutellaria integrifolia) is the most widespread and common member of this mint family genus.  It is found statewide in Florida except for the most southern tier of counties, and throughout much of the eastern half of the U.S.  This is a plant of well-drained open habitats and can occur in a variety of communities including sandhill, flatwoods and open dry woodlands and fields.
Helmet skullcap is a deciduous perennial which dies back to the ground in winter and re-emerges again in early spring.  It begins as a basal rosette of arrow-shaped leaves, but soon produces its upright stalk with opposite, mostly elliptical, leaves.  Leaf shape can be somewhat variable in this species, however, and sometimes the leaves remain arrow-shaped at least halfway up the stem.  Mature stems reach a height of about 2 - 2 1/2 feet before the flowers appear in early summer.
Skullcap flowers are similar between species and helmet skullcap is typical of the genus.  Each flower is about 1/2 inch long and a soft sky blue in color.  The fused petals form a hood above the lower lip while the lip itself has a distinct white spot.  Blooming occurs over a few weeks in June or July and, for that time, the plant is awash in color.  Skullcap flowers, like most mints, are pollinated by bees and only sporadically visited by butterflies.  Once flowering is complete, the wafer-like seed capsules ripen along the stems.
Like many mints, helmet skullcap produces large numbers of seed and these are likely to germinate in large numbers too - eventually leading to a great number of seedlings.  This is wonderful in settings where these plants are welcome, but a constant source of thinning for places where more order is desired.  Seedlings are very easy to remove, however, so weeding them from unwanted areas is not much of a challenge.  And, they can be potted up and given to friends if so desired.
We have grown helmet skullcap at Hawthorn Hill for a number of years and look forward to its show of color each summer.  Because few other of our wildflowers are blooming that early, it is especially welcome.  Use it in the front half of a mixed wildflower garden as it doesn't stand too tall and mix it with other medium-tall species such as wild petunia (Ruellia caroliniensis), twinflower (Dyschoriste oblongifolia), and black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia hirta).  If you wish to limit its production of seed, prune it back sharply right after it blooms.
Although few of our native skullcaps are commercially propagated, helmet skullcap can be found without too much effort.  It is also available from commercial seed sources.  Once you have it established, it should thrive and spread without much additional care.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Beach Verbena - Glandularia maritima

Like its close cousin Tampa verbena (Glandularia tampensis), beach verbena (G. maritima), is extremely rare in nature, endemic to Florida, and listed as a state endangered species.  For the most part, it occurs only on the east coast of Florida on beach dunes, though it has been reported from Levy County.
Beach verbena is an extremely tough plant.  Its rarity is the result of widespread coastal development throughout its limited natural range.  Like beach sunflower (Helianthus debilis) and blanketflower (Gaillardia pulchella) that it is commonly associated with in nature, it is right at home in the salt spray, low-nutrient sands, and full blown sun of the coastal environment.  And, like them, it can adapt to a variety of less harsh environments in the home landscape. 
Beach verbena grows rather prostrate along the ground, forming a low-growing mass over time.  As such, it makes a wonderful groundcover in the right setting.  Its rich green foliage is evergreen, though subject to freeze damage if exposed to temperatures below freezing. 
Flowering occurs throughout the growing season.  The flowers are very similar in color and structure to Tampa verbena, though the individual flower heads may be somewhat smaller.  Well-grown specimens produce a wonderful floral display and attract the attention of butterflies and other pollinators. 
I have seen this plant used quite effectively as a groundcover when given a location with good sunlight and drainage.  It seems to perform quite well, for example, in the area between sidewalks and roadways - locations notoriously difficult to landscape.  It is subject to fungal problems and will quickly decline if allowed to become too crowded.  Do not plant it into mixed flower beds and give it plenty of room between adjacent plants.  I believe it does best as a single-species planting in full sun or mixed with other coastal species in a dune landscape.
Beach verbena is not widely grown by the commercial nursery trade, but it is available with a bit of looking.  We do not keep it in our landscapes at Hawthorn Hill, but only because we simply do not have the right spot for it.  Seek this plant out if you do and it will reward you.

Tampa Verbena - Glandularia tampensis

Tampa verbena (Glandularia tampensis) is extremely rare in nature, listed as a state endangered species, and endemic to about a dozen mostly coastal Florida counties in central Florida.  It is not a coastal species, however, but largely confined to moist forested habitats in light gaps and edges.  It seems to prefer areas that are lightly disturbed, such as foot trails and near wind-thrown trees.  Although considered to be a perennial, I have not found individual specimens to be especially long-lived and in nature populations seem to appear and disappear despite stable environmental conditions. 
Thankfully, this beautiful wildflower is extremely easy to propagate and can be used in the home landscape with success - though it will need to be replaced frequently no matter how well you mimic its natural environment.  Tampa verbena remains evergreen as long as temperatures do not dip too far below freezing.  It is weak-stemmed and prone to fall over a bit, but well-grown specimens may stand several feet tall.  The diamond-shaped foliage has toothed margins and the leaf veins are noticably indented.  In addition, it is a bright green in color and quite attractive. 
What makes this plant most attractive, however, is its blooms.  Flowering occurs throughout much of the growing season.  Round heads of bright lavender flowers produce a showy display across the top of the plant, and they are especially attractive to butterflies and other pollinators.  Mature specimens produce multiple stems, so each plant may have numerous heads of flowers in bloom at any one time.  Individual flowers remain open for many days before closing.
Despite its rarity in nature, Tampa verbena is propagated commercially by a number of nurseries and is generally widely available.  In the home landscape, it can be grown successfully in sunny locations if given sufficient moisture and in partly sunny locations as it generally occurs in nature.  It becomes weak and leggy with too much shade.  Use this plant like an annual or short-lived perennial in the landscape and be prepared to replace it often.  I like it best when used in a mix of wildflowers in a woodland edge planting - with species such as woodland phlox (Phlox divaricata), violets (Viola spp.),  Indianpinks (Spigelia marilandica) and such, but it also is an excellent choice for a planter placed in good sunlight, but watered often. 

Velvetleaf Milkweed - Asclepias tomentosa

Velvetleaf milkweed (Asclepias tomentosa) is a rather nondescript member of the milkweed family which occurs in a variety of well-drained upland sites throughout most of Florida and the Southeast.  This is a deciduous species and dies back to the ground in the late fall after its seeds are released.  As it emerges in the spring, it can go largely unnoticed as it sends its stalk upwards.  Eventually, it reaches a height of about 3 feet in summer.  The individual stalks are stiff, and opposite rounded leaves occur along the length of each.  The leaves are somewhat fuzzy in texture; hence the common name.
Blooming occurs in summer.  The flower buds are arranged in a conical head at the top of the stem and the plants remain in flower for several weeks.  The flowers are a rather greenish white and not very showy, but they attract the same types of pollinating butterflies as any other milkweed.  Pollinated flowers eventually produce large elongated pods.

Velvetleaf milkweed has never been offered for sale commercially by anyone associated with AFNN- the Association of Florida Native Nurseries, and it is not an easy species to keep in the home landscape.  I have found it to be very sensitive to having the proper drainage and will quickly rot if not given well-drained sandy soils and good levels of sunlight.  It is, however, a good candidate for gardeners looking to use native milkweeds in a butterfly garden.  Because of its size, it can handle a good number of caterpillars before being completely defoliated - something which is not true of many of our more-diminutive native milkweeds.  The leaves produce an abundance of milky sap as well - a trait necessary in protecting caterpillars from predation by birds.
Perhaps someday, someone will begin propagating this species for that segment of earnest butterfly gardeners who would value the plant more for its value than its aesthetics.  But, until then, anyone with an interest will have to be lucky enough to find a few seeds at the right time and place.  I have not grown velvetleaf milkweed for more than a decade and we are unlikely to attempt it again at Hawthorn Hill unless we get some demand.  Let us know and we'll keep our eyes out.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Southern Indigobush - Amorpha herbacea

Southern indigobush (Amorpha herbacea) is far less used in landscape settings than its more colorful relative, false indigo (A. fruticosa).  It is found throughout much of the Florida peninsula and a few counties within the panhandle, besides states in the Southeast Coastal Plain.  This is a species most common to xeric flatwoods and sandhills. 
Southern indigobush is a deciduous shrub which grows more horizontally than vertically.  Mature specimens are rarely taller than 3-4 feet, but can be 5-6 feet across.  The compound leaflets appear in spring and are somewhat tomentose - giving them a grayish-green color.  The overall appearance of the long feathery foliage, purplish stems and gray-green leaves makes this plant attractive.  Like its close cousin, it too is a larval food source for the southern dogface sulphur and silver-spotted skipper butterflies.
Flowering occurs in late summer.  The long flower spikes are composed of a great many buds which open from bottom to top of the spike.  The individual flowers are a dull white in color. The contrasting orange anthers within each flower tube increases their attractiveness, however.  The flowers are excellent nectar sources for butterflies and other pollinators.
Southern indigobush has never been regularly propagated by commercial sources affiliated with AFNN - the Association of Florida Native Nurseries.  This is regrettable as this planty has much to offer.  Currently, we have a number of healthy seedlings in our nursery at Hawthorn Hill and we hope to continue propagating it in the future.  Ask us if you are interested.
Because of its stature and wide-spreading crown, give this plant plenty of room and don't expect to plant other wildflowers beneath it.  Use it in the middle to back sections of the planting bed.  Southern indigobush is exceptionally drought tolerant and can be grown in most landscape settings except areas that stay wet most months.  Give it plenty of sun for best growth, but it can also tolerate filtered or partial sun. 

False Indigo - Amorpha fruticosa

False indigo, or leadplant, (Amorpha fruticosa) is a deciduous woody shrub native to moist soil habitats, such as stream banks, throughout Florida and much of North America.  This relatively common native plant eventually can reach heights of 12 feet on stems with diameters of 1 inch or more.  Because of their large size, they need to be placed in a landscape where they have ample space.
False indigo loses its leaves in early winter and remains leafless until spring.  At this time, it produces both its compound leaflets and its wonderful flower spikes.  The leaflets are composed of many elliptical opposite leaves which give the plant a feathery appearance.  This foliage keeps the plant looking attractive throughout the summer, even when it is not in bloom, and serves as a larval food source for two butterflies - the southern dogface sulphur and the silver-spotted skipper.  Though both of these butterflies are not common to urban landscapes and are, therefore, not likely candidates for butterfly gardens in highly developed areas, using this wonderful shrub is worth the effort.
What makes false indigo special is its floral display in mid-spring.  At this time, its crown is literally covered with 2-3 inch flower spikes.  Each bloom is a deep purple in color and the bright orange anthers contrast sharply with the purple floral tubes.  False indigo is an excellent butterfly nectar plant, and also attracts bees and other pollinators. 
Although this plant occurs naturally mostly in moist soils in Florida, it is extremely adaptable and can be successfully grown in most home landscape settings.  We have kept ours in nearly full sun and very poor droughty soil for a great many years and it has thrived.  It is best used, however, in moist soil with full sun or in partial sun in droughtier locations.  Plant it at the back of a planting bed.  As it matures, smaller wildflowers can be planted beneath it as it does not throw too much shade.
False indigo is easy to propagate from seed and is available from a number of commercial nurseries statewide.  It grows rapidly.