Monday, November 22, 2010

Southern River Sage - Salvia misella (Syn. S. riparia)

Southern river sage (Salvia misella) is a low-growing groundcover native to the southern half of Florida and in the Caribbean.  It is most common as an understory plant in semi-shaded locations in moist woodlands and it is not especially well adapted to sunnier locations or locations that frequently dry out.
Southern river sage is evergreen and creeps out across the ground from its main central stem.  Normally, it is no taller than 6-8 inches.  The deltoid leaves are opposite on the stem, deeply toothed and with noticeable veins.  This foliage makes an attractive ground cover for locations where grass is difficult.
Blooming can occur during most months; except periods of cold weather.  The tiny flowers occur at the ends of each stem.  They are a brilliant blue in color, but not easily seen from a distance.  Well-grown specimens, however, with numerous flowers make an attractive statement.
Southern river sage is not widely available from native plant nurseries associated with AFNN - the Association of Florida Native Nurseries, but it can be found with some diligence.  Use it in semi- to mostly shady locations where soils are not too droughty.  It can be used effectively with other such groundcovers like Cooley's waterwillow (Justicia cooleyi), wild ginger (Asarum arifolia), and violets (Viola spp.); as well as inland river oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) and witchgrasses (Dicanthelium spp.).  Plant individuals in small masses of at least 3-5 per clump, 12 inches apart.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sky-blue Salvia - Salvia azurea

Perhaps my favorite native salvia is sky-blue salvia (Salvia azurea).  This exceptionally lanky perennial wildflower is found throughout the northern half of Florida and in most states and provinces in the eastern half of North America.  It is a plant of sunny locations with well-drained sandy soils, though it can tolerate semi-shade as long as the soils do not remain wet for long.
Sky-blue salvia is completely deciduous during the winter.  In the spring, a few basal leaves appear early before the flower stalk arises, but these wither as soon as it does.  This is not a foliage plant.  The flower stalk lengthens throughout the summer and eventually reaches a length of up to 6-8 feet,  Few thin linear leaves occur along its length and at maturity it often bends a bit under the weight of the developing flower buds.
Though sky-blue salvia is not an attractive plant during most months, it is breath taking when in bloom.  The typical salvia flowers are a brilliant azure blue in color; a shade of blue not quite matched by any other Florida wildflower.  A stand of this plant, with its flowers caught in the sunlight, can be seen for hundreds of feet away and are especially showy.  They are pollinated by a wide assortment of bees and butterflies.
Sky-blue salvia is regretably difficult to find from commercial sources.  We have collected a bit of seed this fall and hope to have some available at Hawthorn Hill sometime during 2011 or 2012.  It requires full fun and sandy soil to persist.  Use it at the back of a wildflower garden or in the center of an expansive planting.  It mixes well with other taller wildflowers, such as the palafoxias (Palafoxia spp.), the taller blazing stars (Liatris spp.), eastern silver aster (Symphyotrichum concolor) and standing cypress (Ipomopsis rubra), as well as large native grasses such as the Indiangrasses (Sorghastrum spp.) and bluestems (Andropogon spp.). If you are especially interested in this species, let us know - hopefully, we will have some to share with you in the future.

Lyre-leaved Sage - Salvia lyrata

Lyre-leaved sage (Salvia lyrata) is the other commonly planted salvia native to Florida.  It occurs statewide in Florida and in most states in the eastern half of North America.  Lyre-leaved sage is most common to woodland edges in partial sunny locations, but is exceptionally adaptable and can be grown nearly everywhere except near salt water. In sunny locations, it needs additional moisture. 
This is a perennial that keeps its basal leaves throughout the winter months unless temperatures are exceptionally cold.  As the common and Latin names imply, these leaves are somewhat "lyre-shaped" and they have an irregular purplish blotch in the center of each.  This makes it unique and easy to identify even when the plants are not in bloom.
Lyre-leaved sage exists for most of the year as a simple basal rosette. The leaves, lying close to the ground, can be mowed over to no effect and can withstand some foot traffic as well.  For this reason, it makes a suitable groundcover for lower light situations where grass is either not wanted or performs poorly. 
Blooming is confined to a distinct time period in the spring.  The 2-3 foot tall flower stalks arise quickly in the early spring and the pale blue flowers appear soon after.  Though not nearly as showy as its close cousin, scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea), these flowers are attractive.  They are mostly pollinated by bees.  Like the violets, (Viola spp.), lyre-leaved sage sometimes also produces self-pollinating flower buds (cleistogamous flowers) in the fall which produce fertile seeds, but never open as "flowers".
This plant quickly spreads in the landscape when it finds conditions to its liking, but it is not aggressive and can be easily controlled by periodic weeding of the seedlings or by deadheading the spent flower stalks right after blooming.  Of course, this trait is a real boon to anyone wanting to fill in a difficult, semi-shady area where little else is easy to grow.
Lyre-leaved sage is available from a wide variety of nurseries associated with AFNN - the Association of Florida Native Nurseries.  Plant it in clusters of at least 5 or it will get lost in a mixed wildflower planting and plant each clump at least 4-5 feet apart,  In a few years, these clumps will merge together if you wish them to.

Scarlet Sage - Salvia coccinea

Scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea), or red salvia, may be the most commonly planted Florida wildflower, at least in the southern half of the state.  It is exceptionally adaptable, long-blooming, and extremely valuable in the butterfly/wildflower garden; so its wide use is quite understandable.  Scarlet sage is found throughout Florida and in all of the states bordering the Gulf of Mexico.  It is most abundant in open habitats with well-drained soils, but can occur nearly everywhere except where soils remain too wet.  It also has minimal salt tolerance.
Scarlet sage is a short-lived perennial that persists over time by reseeding itself vigorously.  Individual plants may bloom through the winter if temperatures do not go below freezing or spend the winter vegetatively if the winters are cold.  Without an occasional cold/freezing evening, this plant may get rather lanky and become 3-4 feet tall.  When this occurs, it is best to prune it a bit to keep it fuller in character. 
Like all mints, scarlet sage has a square stem and opposite leaves that are strongly aromatic when bruised.  The leaves are deltoid in shape with toothed margins.
Blooming can occur nearly all year.  The bright scarlet flowers are produced in mass and occur at 90 degrees from the flower stems.  Each flower is about 1 inch long and decidedly tubular.  Scarlet salvia  flowers attract the attention of nearly every pollinating insect; but especially bees and larger butterflies such as cloudless sulphurs and swallowtails.  They also are superb hummingbird nectar sources and a wonderful component of any hummingbird garden.
Thankfully, this wildflower is widely grown and very easy to locate from commercial nurseries.  A range of other color forms have been produced; most commonly white and pink, but salmon and bi-color forms are also offered.  These are recessive genes, however, and may not persist over time in the landscape if other color forms - especially the dominant red form - are planted nearby.
Use scarlet sage in the mid-portion of a mixed wildflower garden or as an accent plant in a planting all to itself.  It prefers to be planted in open sunny locations, but will also bloom well if used in semi-shady locations.  In too much shade,however, it will become very lanky and not look its best.  Plant it with bright white and blue-colored wildflowers for a "patriotic" look or include wildflowers with yellow blooms as well. Because it blooms nearly all year, it will compliment nearly every other wildflower in your landscape at some time.

Dotted Horsemint - Monarda punctata

Dotted horsemint (Monarda punctata), or spotted beebalm is Florida's version of a genus widely used in wildflower gardens throughout North America. It may not be quite as showy as some of those other species, but it is just as fantastic in bringing in a huge assortment of pollinating insects. When in bloom, you will see species of bees and pollinating wasps that you never knew existed in your area and it is a show not repeated by the use of any other wildflower.
Dotted horsement is the only Monarda native to Florida, though several other species get close to our border.  It is found statewide and is distributed throughout the eastern half of North America besides.  It is a deciduous perennial that dies to the ground each winter and emerges each spring as a rosette of linear basal leaves.  In many parts of Florida, where temperatures do not get too cold, this basal rosette persists through the winter though the top dies.
This is a very tall and robust species.  Dotted horsemint very quickly establishes itself each spring, and by early summer, it may be 4-6 feet tall.  At this time, it is a dominant component of the garden and often out-competes less robust species planted near it.  By fall, areas of this species may have become virtual monocultures.  For this reason, I think it is best used in patches set aside exclusively for it. 
As a mint, it has square stems and very aromatic foliage.  The leaves are linear and toothed along the edges.  It is not an especially beautiful foliage plant, but it makes up for that when it blooms.  Blooming occurs in late summer and may extend for more than a month into mid-fall.  Like other beebalms, the flowers are actually small and arranged in a whorl around the stem; repeated a great many times up the stalk.  Each whorl is subtended by showy bracts - modified leaves that look like flower petals.  In dotted horsemint, these bracts range in color from deep lavender to a very pale lavender. The flowers themselves are white with lavender spots.
For the month or so that this plant remains in bloom, it is a flurry of insect activity; making it a science experiment in itself.  Although butterflies and hummingbirds visit ours, it is the diversity of bees and pollinating wasps that is most intriguing.  We grow a great many wildflowers in our gardens at Hawthorn Hill, but many of these pollinators only make an appearance when the dotted horsemint is in bloom and they disappear as soon as its done. 
This is an intriguing species for the home landscape, but it must be used in the right situation or it will quickly become a nuisance.  For one, it reseeds itself aggressively.  If left alone, a garden would quickly become a patch of dotted horsemint and nothing else.  I have learned over the years to cut the spent flower stalks soon after blooming is over to reduce the number of seeds that will scatter and to aggressively pull seedlings from everywhere I don't want this plant to spread to each spring and early summer.  We keep it confined to a back corner of our garden, near the road, where everyone walking past can admire its better qualities. And we always get positive comments from our neighbors while it is in flower.
Dotted horsement does not mix well with most other wildflowers and I think it does best when given a back corner somewhere all to itself.  It handles almost any soil condition, but needs good sunlight to perform well. It is widely grown commercially and should be easy to locate.  And, if you are a member of a local chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society, I suspect that someone there would gladly give you a few seeds or seedlings to get you started.  Just be prepared to pay for it in regular maintenance.  To me the effort is worth it, but give it your consideration before you add it to your landscape.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Saltmarsh Mallow - Kosteletzkya pentacarpos

Saltmarsh mallow (Kosteltzkya pentacarpos; syn. K. virginica) is a member of the hibiscus family and a common occurrence in salt marsh and freshwater wetland habitats throughout Florida and the Eastern Seaboard.  This widely distributed species goes largely unnoticed, however, when not in bloom.
Saltmarsh mallow is a deciduous perennial  that emerges each spring and produces a thin weak stem that eventually reaches a height of up to 6 feet.  The thin stems and elongated diamond-shaped leaves are sometimes difficult to discern within the adjacent foliage unless the plant is encountered along stream edges where it may stand alone.
Blooming can occur during most months from late spring through fall.  The individual flowers are small by native hibiscus standards; 1-2 inches across, but a wonderful rich pink in color.  These flowers are attractive nectar sources for a wide variety of pollinators.
Saltmarsh mallow needs wet soils to prosper, but given these, it can be a handsome addition to a mixed wildflower planting  when cultivated and maintained a bit.  Use it as an accent within a pond or marsh edge planting and use several together to maximize the impact of its blooms.  This species is frequently grown by nurseries that specialize in wetland mitigation plantings, so it may not be difficult to locate.  Individuals do not get much larger over the years - the way many species in the Hibiscus genus do, but they produce large numbers of seed and often spread this way when conditions are right.

Pineland Hibiscus - Hibiscus aculeatus

Despite its common name, pineland hibiscus, or comfortroot (Hibiscus aculeatus) is a wetland plant, frequently encountered in very wet pinelands and along roadside edges where soils are saturated for at least part of the year.  It has more drought tolerance than some native Florida hibiscus and will tolerate extended drought to some extent, but it will eventually perish if not provided moist to wet soils for at least part of the year.
Pineland hibiscus is a deciduous perennial that emerges each spring from a semi-woody root base.  Multiple stems are produced, but unlike our other species, these stems sometimes remain low to the ground and act almost like a groundcover.  Each stem may venture several feet from the central growing point. They tend to turn up and stand 2-3 feet tall at blooming time. The scabrous 3-lobed leaves are rather small and rough to the touch. 
Pineland hibiscus produces saucer-shaped blooms that are a bit smaller than some; rarely more than 4 inches across.  The petals are a creamy white in color (more yellowish than those of H. moscheutos, for example) with a crimson center.  Plants in bloom are very attractive and remain so for weeks during the early to late summer months.
This plant occurs naturally in Florida only in the panhandle (there are records from Lake County as well) and also occurs throughout the southern tier of states along the Gulf Coast to Texas.  I do not recommend its use very far south into the Florida peninsula.  We have grown it at Hawthorn Hill in Pinellas County for several years though, and it may be more adaptable than I currently believe it to be - if grown in moist to wet soil.  Pineland hibiscus is a bit "weedier" in appearance than some of our other native species, but it can add great beauty to a mixed wildflower landscape at the edge of a marsh or open savanna - in an expansive setting and in small clusters of at least 3 plants planted 18-24 inches apart. This species has never, to my knowledge, been propagated by nurseries affiliated with AFNN - the Association of Florida Native Nurseries, but it is available from a number of mail order sources with plants originating from north Florida. I would love to see it more widely propagated in the future.

Rose-mallow - Hibiscus moscheutos

I love rose-mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) for its beautiful simplicity; pure white flowers with a blood-red center.  This species occurs throughout the northern half of Florida and throughout much of the eastern half of the US.  Like many other native hibiscus, it is a wetland plant adapted to seasonally flooded habitats in coastal and interior areas and it requires sunny wet conditions to thrive.
Rose-mallow is a deciduous perennial that dies to the ground each winter.  By late spring to early summer, its multiple semi-woody stalks stand about 4-6 feet in height, clothed with oval-shaped toothed leaves that are slightly silvery from the hairs across its surface. 
Flowering occurs mostly in early summer. The large flowers are saucer shaped and about 8 inches across.  Each is open for only a day, but mature plants can remain in bloom for 3-4 weeks.  Patches of this plant with dozens of bright white flowers with crimson "eyes" are spectacular.  My wife, Alexa, and I came across such stands on our honeymoon trip through the Florida Panhandle and we had to stop each time to admire them.
Rose-mallow needs wet soils to prosper.  We have grown it at Hawthorn Hill on several occasions, but it slowly dies out if not kept wet.  For this reason, I would recommend using it much like scarlet and swamp pink hibiscus - at the edges of ponds and streams or planted in pots in 6-12 inches of water in a home pond.
Despite what I consider to be its great beauty, few commercial sources in Florida have ever propagated rose-mallow.  It is available, but may take some searching to find it.  Several good mail order nurseries may be your best option.  I would not attempt this species much south of its natural range either.

Swamp Pink Hibiscus - Hibiscus grandiflorus

Swamp pink hibiscus (Hibiscus grandiflorus) is the perfect counterpart to scarlet hibiscus (H. coccineus) described previously.  Both occur in much of the same locations (brackish and freshwater wetlands in sunny areas), both are deciduous perennials that eventually reach 6-8 feet in height, and both produce spectacularly large saucer-shaped flowers.  Those of swamp pink hibiscus are a soft pink in color and may be even a few inches larger.
This species occurs throughout Florida, but is confined to the southern tier of states in the Southeast adjacent to us.  It grows and blooms much the same as scarlet hibiscus, but its foliage is silvery green in color and each leaf is deltoid in shape, with noticeable teeth along the margins.  This makes it an interesting foliage plant during times it is not in bloom.
Like scarlet hibiscus, swamp pink hibiscus is best used in expansive landscape settings where its large size is not a problem.  I believe it looks best used along the edges of ponds and streams, planted in wet soil that may be inundated by 12 inches of water during most months.  Because each plant will produce multiple stems, plant them no closer than 1 foot apart.  Mix it with scarlet hibiscus - or other native wetland hibiscus species, native yellow canna, iris, pickerelweed, and the like.
For some reason, swamp pink hibiscus is not as widely propagated as scarlet hibiscus and it may take some looking to find a source for this beautiful plant.  It is well worth the time, if you have the right spot to grow it.

Scarlet Hibiscus - Hibiscus coccineus

Florida is home to a number of native hibiscus, but none are more spectacular than scarlet hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus). This deciduous perennial occurs in wet-soil habitats, along stream edges and marshes, throughout most of Florida and the Southeast. 
Scarlet hibiscus dies back to the ground each winter and emerges in early spring.  Its very stout, semi-woody stems quickly reach their mature height of 6-8 feet by summer.  Mature specimens produce additional stems each year; eventually as many as half a dozen or more.  These robust stems are purplish green in color and numerous deeply 5-lobed leaves occur along their length.  To the casual glance, the leaves look much like marijuana and I have heard numerous stories over the years of folks being reported to authorities by concerned neighbors...  They are easy to tell apart, however, even when the flowers are absent.
The flowers are what makes this plant so incredible.  Each is a deep scarlet red, saucer shaped, and 8-12 inches across.  Although each bloom is open for only 1 day, large numbers are produced and mature specimens may remain in bloom for about a month.  The flowers are visited by all kinds of pollinators, including hummingbirds.
Scarlet hibiscus has tolerance for short-term drought, but it will die if not provided wet conditions for much of the year.  Because of this, it is not a good candidate for typical home landscape conditions, but an ideal one for shallow ponds and water features.  We have kept ours in pots and placed them in our backyard pond in water about 12 inches deep with great success.  They quickly outgrow pots, however, and this approach requires you to divide the plants every couple of years and repot them.  Where this plant works best is in shallow water edges or wet marshes in mostly sunny locations.  In an expansive landscape setting, patches of this plant in bloom are breathtaking.
Scarlet hibiscus is grown and sold by a large number of commercial sources and should be relatively easy to locate.  Once established, it often spreads easily by increasing the number of stems and by seed.  If you have a water feature and enough room, this is one plant you will definitely treasure.

Obedient Plant - Physostegia virginiana

This very attractive member of the mint family is one of several species of obedient plants found in Florida.  There is some confusion regarding the nativity of this species, however. Some consider it to be an introduced non-native, while others regard it as a true native. All are wetland species with pink to purplish pink "snapdragon" flowers - which gives this group its other common name; "false dragon-heads".  Of the four species found in Florida, only this one, Physostegia virginiana, is likely to be found for sale by commercial sources.
Obedient plant is a deciduous perennial that dies to the ground each winter and emerges early in the spring. It produces few basal leaves before quickly sending a tall and lanky flower stalk upwards.  For most of the time from late spring to late summer, it exists in this condition; a 2-4 foot-tall stalk with linear opposite leaves.  In this condition, it is not especially interesting.
By late fall, however, that changes with the onset of flowering.  Obedient plant produces large numbers of deeply pink blooms along the top 6-8 inches of the flower stalk. These occur at right angles to the stem and, like many other mints, are most interesting to pollinating bees; although butterflies and even hummingbirds may visit them.  The common name comes from the fact that you can gently push the open flowers 90 degrees and they will stay there; they are, in a sense, "obedient".
Obedient plant is native to the northern two-thirds of Florida and much of North America, and it is adaptable to most landscapes in the state if planted in moist to wet soils.  It has good tolerance for short-term periods of drought, but it will eventually expire if moister conditions do not return.  When it is in an area it is comfortable with, it will sucker extensively.  This is a problem in small confined areas, but a blessing if used in expansive plantings along ponds and streams.  In mass, during late October to November, large stands of this plant in bloom are spectacular.  Because it occurs as multiple, but thin, stems, it rarely outcompetes other neighboring wildflowers - unless they are diminutive. 
Use this wildflower with native yellow canna, iris, cardinal flower, and native hibiscus and it will fill in the "holes" throughout the planting.  It may have to be periodically thinned, however, to keep it in the locations it is wanted. Obedient plant is often available from nurseries associated with AFNN - the Association of Florida Native Nurseries.  We have kept it in our landscape at Hawthorn Hill for years, but we do not propagate it for sale as others do that well.  If you have the right location for obedient plant, I would encourage you to give it a try. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

Lewton's Milkwort - Polygala lewtonii

Lewton's polygala (Polygala lewtonii) is an exceedingly rare endemic species; listed by the state and federal governments as endangered and confined to a 6-county area in the central Florida peninsula.  This distinctive and beautiful member of the milkwort family requires deep well-drained sandy soils and high light levels.
Lewton's polygala is a perennial.  Its many stems tend to lean sideways, so the plant itself rarely stands taller than about 6-8 inches.  They are densely clothed in needle-like evergreen leaves. 
The flowers occur in long racemes at the end of each stem and blooming is most common in early spring.  The flowers are a rich pink in color and are keeled - somewhat like those in the legume family.
This is a species that is easy to miss when not in bloom.  Look for it from February to April if you are hiking in upland sandy habitats in central Florida.  It will be one of a few bright pink wildflowers at this time.  This is not a candidate for home landscapes and we have never grown it at Hawthorn Hill, but its aesthetic qualities and perennial nature might lend itself to that purpose if someone were to take it on legally for the rest of us with somewhat esoteric tastes and sandy open wildflower gardens.

Procession Flower - Polygala incarnata

Procession flower (Polygala incarnata) is yet another beautiful and distinctive member of the milkwort family.  It occurs nearly statewide in Florida in upland habitats and throughout much of the eastern US as well.  It is listed as endangered or threatened in much of the upper Midwest, however. This is a species of open pine flatwoods and fields where moisture levels are not too severe.  It is not considered a "wetland plant", but it is not especially adapted to xeric conditions either.
Procession flower is an annual.  Typically, it has a few linear basal leaves and narrow alternate leaves up the central stem.  At maturity, in early summer, this stalk may stand several feet tall.  The flower bud is elliptical.
Unlike many other species in this genus, flowering occurs over time with only a few open and these opening from the bottom to the tip over several weeks.  The typical color is a rich purple, but white-flowered forms are not uncommon.  Each flowers looks a bit like a sea anemone in shape.
Procession flower has never been propagated to my knowledge by any nursery associated with AFNN - the Association of Florida Native Nurseries.  Despite its ability to adapt well to typical landscape settings and its beautiful flowers, its annual nature make it difficult to maintain over time in a mixed landscape bed.

Drumheads - Polygala cruciata

Drumheads (Polygala cruciata) is quite distinctive in appearance and not likely to be confused with other species.  It occurs nearly statewide in Florida and throughout the eastern US in open moist-soil habitats such as savannas, marsh edges, and wet pinelands. 
It is an annual and relatively small in stature.  At maturity, it rarely stands taller than about 6-8 inches.  The short linear leaves occur mostly in whorls of 4 around the stem.  Arising from these leaves are the branched flower stalks that reach 8-12 inches at maturity in late summer.
Drumheads produce conical heads of flowers that are normally surrounded by bracts that are a rich pink in color.  The tiny interior flowers are yellowish and pollinated by a variety of small insects.
Watch for this wonderful wildflower in late summer and early fall nearly everywhere in Florida where soils are moist and the habitat is open and sunny.  It may never be a candidate for home landscapes, but it is easy to admire nevertheless.

Yellow Milkwort - Polygala rugelii

Yellow or Rugel's milkwort (Polygala rugelii) is a more robust member of the milkwort family.  This species is a Florida endemic, found only in the Florida peninsula and nowhere else.  Yellow milkwort occurs in moist to wet soil habitats where it gets high levels of sunlight; open savannas, marsh edges and wet pine flatwoods. 
It is an annual (sometimes a biennial).  An irregular rosette of spatulate leaves is formed in spring and a flower stalk arises interior to these by summer.  At this time, the basal leaves mostly wither and disappear.  The flower stalk stands about 1-3 feet tall and is often branched. The flower buds at the end of each stem are rounded.
Flowering occurs mostly in the late summer and early fall.  The rounded heads of bright yellow flowers are about 1 inch in diameter and quite showy. They are pollinated by a variety of small insects.
Yellow milkwort can be abundant in locations that meet its growing requirements.  Because it is an annual, however, it is not always present and difficult to maintain in the landscape.  Admire it while you are hiking throughout penisular Florida and respect the fact that only Floridians can call this beautiful wildflower a native species.

Orange Milkwort - Polygala lutea

The other diminutive and common member of this genus is orange milkwort (Polygala lutea).  Orange milkwort is common nearly statewide, except the extreme southern counties, and occurs throughout the Eastern Seaboard, though rare in New York and Pennsylvania. It has similar habitat requirements to its close cousin, candyroot (P. nana) which I have described elsewhere, and it is a biennial with almost-succulent basal leaves that rarely stand taller than 2-3 inches.  These leaves, however, are more oblong and the flower stalks tend to stand several more inches above the leaves.
Orange milkwort, produces a cylindrical head of flowers on a stalk interior to the leaves.  Although blooming is most common in the early summer, it may be found in bloom well into fall.  As the common names implies, the flowers are bright orange in color and extremely showy. 
Despite its very showy blooms, orange milkwort has never been commercially propagated by nurseries affiliated with AFNN - The Association of Florida Native Nurseries.  It is relatively easy to grow, however, if provided good sunlight levels and reasonably moist soils - especially during the summer.  If you are hiking about in Florida's pine flatwoods, look for it during the summer in open herbaceous pockets and trails where water collects a bit more than elsewhere. It is worth stopping to take a closer look.

Candyroot - Polygala nana

Candyroot (Polygala nana) is a diminutive member of this diverse genus.  It is found statewide in Florida in a variety of moist soil habitats and throughout the Southeast.  It seems to be especially abundant in pinelands where the ground is relatively open and in low pockets where moisture levels are a bit higher.
Candyroot is an annual (sometimes persisting for two years) that emerges in the spring. Eventually, it forms a small rosette of spatula-shaped almost-succulent basal leaves that stand about 1-2 inches tall.  Rabbit's-foot heads of flowers are formed interior within the leaves and these stand several inches taller. 
Flowering is most common in summer.  The entire head blooms at about the same time and each of the tiny flowers is a light lemon yellow - hence the Latin name. This plant tends to occur in patches and often substantial areas of the ground are covered with this attractive wildflower. Then, it disappears.
Because of its size and annual nature, I know of no commercial nursery that has or is propagating this species.  It is relatively easy to maintain, given the right growing conditions - sun and moist soils, but I have never had it persist over time by reseeding.
Look for this plant in the summer - right after the start of the rainy season and admire for its own right.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

False Pennyroyal - Piloblephis rigida

False pennyroyal (Piloblephis rigida) is a near endemic; found only in peninsular Florida and a few counties in Georgia.   Throughout this range, it occurs in well-drained sunny locations including pine flatwoods, sandhills, and open woodlands. 
False pennyroyal is a mint and its foliage gives off an aroma very similar to true pennyroyal when bruised.  It is a short-lived perennial with thin woody stems and dense needle-like foliage.  At maturity, individuals may attain a height of about 8-12 inches and a circumference of about 12-18 inches.  These round, deeply evergreen plants are especially attractive even when not in flower and make wonderful accents in the landscape.
Blooming is mostly confined to the spring.  Rounded rabbit's foot flower heads are formed at the ends of each stem and tiny light lavender flowers occur in abundance.  Each flower has dark purple spots on the lower lip.  Because false pennyroyal blooms at a time when few other native wildflowers are available, butterflies and bees are especially attracted to them. 
False pennyroyal is adatable to a variety of growing conditions except wet soils and salt, but even in the best locations it does not live more than a few years.  In the landscape, I have not found it to reseed itself reliably and it will do so only when planted in areas with open sand and good sunlight.  Otherwise, it will have to be replanted every few years.  Use this plant in small clumps near the front half of a mixed wildflower planting.  Good companions are twinflower (Dyschoriste oblongifolia), wild petunia (Ruellia caroliniensis), grassleaf goldenaster (Pityopsis graminifolia), and other scrub and sandhill mints.
False pennyroyal is widely propagated by nurseries affiliated with AFNN - the Association of Florida Native Nurseries and should be relatively easy to locate.  We have no intention of adding to our list at Hawthorn Hill - not because it doesn't have great merit, but because others are doing the job just fine.

Shortleaf Lobelia - Lobelia brevifolia

Shortleaf lobelia (Lobelia brevifolia) occurs only in the central and western Panhandle portion of Florida and in portions of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana.  Throughout its range, it is most often found in wet prairies, savannas, and pinelands. It is a diminutive member of this wonderful wildflower genus and goes mostly unnoticed during most months of the year.
Shortleaf lobelia is a deciduous perennial that dies to the ground each winter.  A small rosette of linear leaves emerges in the spring and the main stem begins to emerge by late spring.  Eventually, it reaches a mature height of about 2-3 feet.  As the common name implies, the leaves up the stem are very small.  
Flowering occurs in the fall.  The color varies from a very pale lavender to a richer tone and the lower lip is a bit more elongated than some other lobelias.  The calyx surrounding each bud is noticeably "armed" with recurved spines.  All of this makes this plant distinctive and easy to identify. 
Shortleaf lobelia has never been propagated in Florida to my knowledge and is not a likely candidate for such attention.  Although stands of this plant with blooms standing up out of the grasses make an attractive picture, its general short stature and small flowers are less showy that some other members of the genus.  Yet, it would make a nice addition to a moist savanna planting should the opportunity to add it arise.

Glade Lobelia - Lobelia glandulosa

Glade lobelia (Lobelia glandulosa) occurs statewide and in much of the Southeast in moist soil habitats such as wet prairies, marshes, and wet pinelands.  Throughout this region, it goes largely unnoticed except when it flowers.
This is a small deciduous perennial that dies back to the ground each winter and re-emerges in the spring.  A small basal rosette of linear leaves is present most months.  By early summer, the central flower stalk becomes apparent and reaches a mature height of 2-3 feet.  The light lavender to deep pinkish flowers open along the stalk from late summer to fall.  As with other members of this genus, flowering starts at the bottom and works its way up the stalk. The attractive blooms are visited mostly by butterflies, but also bees. 
Glade lobelia is not widely propagated for the home landscape.  Despite its attractive flowers, its small stature and requirements for wet soils limit its use in most settings.  We have grown this species sporadically in our home "marsh" at Hawthorn Hill, but have found it difficult to keep over long periods of time. If you wish to give it a try, plant it in moist soils with good sunlight and make sure the soils do not dry out for extended periods.

Cardinal Flower - Lobelia cardinalis

There are few more stunning wildflowers than cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis).  This amazing wildflower is native to the northern half of Florida and much of North America, except the far Northwest.  Everywhere it occurs, it is held in high esteem and actively propagated.
In Florida, cardinal flower is most common along stream and river edges - in the shallow backwater areas that stay wet year-round and are often flooded with several inches of water.  It can occur in other moist soil habitats as well, but does not perform as well there.
This is a deciduous perennial.  In warmer parts of its range in Florida, it may retain a rosette of basal leaves through the winter, but most often it dies back below ground.  Leaves emerge in early spring.  They are bright green, triangular with somewhat wavy edges, and almost succulent.  Mature plants eventually produce "pups" off the sides of the rosette - so eventually multiple rosettes with multiple flower stalks are formed.
Flower stalks begin to be apparent in late spring and eventually reach their full height by mid-summer.  Depending on growing conditions and maturity, these stalks may stand 4-5 feet tall.  Large numbers of buds are produced along the stem and flowering begins at the bottom and works its way to the top.  Because of this, plants may be in flower for nearly a month.  The bright carmine red blooms are tubular with wide-spreading petals.  They are one of the very best at attracting the attention of hummingbirds, but are also pollinated by large butterflies and bees.
Cardinal flower is widely propagated and is relatively easy to find from native plant nurseries.  It is relatively long-lived and easy if kept wet.  I have had my best success by keeping it in pots and placing them in shallow water in my pond.  Even then, cardinal flower is attacked by a variety of insects that girdle stems and eat leaves.  Do not allow such pests free reign or you may lose your plants for good - or at least lose a year of flowering. Cardinal flower can grow well in full sun to partial shade.  In sunny locations, it needs plenty of water and in shadier locations it may not bloom as well.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Honeycombhead - Balduina angustifolia

Honeycombhead (Balduina angustifolia) is common statewide in upland habitats; mostly scrub, sandhill, and coastal dunes.  This is a plant of the Deep South and is restricted to Florida and the states closest to us - Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. 
Honeycombhead is a biennial.  It spends its first year as a rather nondescript set of linear basal leaves (often with reddish stems) and only begins its rapid upward growth during its second spring.  By late spring to summer, this main stem may reach 4-5 feet in height, with numerous side branches near the top.  The lower leaves normally slough off while the upper ones remain green and linear in shape.  At this stage, it is not an especially showy wildflower. 
Flowering occurs any time from summer to late fall, but tends to peak in late summer.  This is when this species shines.  Large numbers of 2-inch-diameter canary yellow flowers are produced across the crown of each stem.  Both the ray and disc flowers are yellow and even when the ray petals wilt, the disc remains yellow for weeks more.  Like other members of the aster family, the flowers are very attractive to butterflies, bees, and other pollinators.
As the central disc flowers ripen following pollination they form a rather flat grayish and somewhat spiny "button" that looks a bit like a honeycomb.  This disc of ripe seeds can remain intact for months atop the dead stems and keeps the seed from landing earthward until conditions are more favorable for germination in late winter/early spring.
As this wildflower is a biennial, it is not easy to maintain in a typical home landscape setting.  I have had plants reseed in my garden, but it is not reliable except in locations that are open and sunny with plenty of bare sand.  Therefore, it is easiest to collect the ripe seed and sow it in potting soil; transferring the seedlings to your garden in spring.  Honeycombhead also is not the best species for small spaces.  Because of its height and rather untidy appearance when not in bloom, it looks its best in expansive plantings, scattered in small groupings near the back or in the middle. 
Honeycombhead is sometimes grown commercially and can be located  with a bit of diligence.  We grow it in our landscape at Hawthorn Hill from time to time, but do not have serious plans to propagate it.  If you are interested, however, let me know and we might change our mind.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Native Plumbago - Plumbago scandens

Florida's only native plumbago, (Plumbago scandens), is a sprawling sub-shrub native to coastal hammocks from south-central to south Florida.  It is sensitive to freezing temperatures and its range is restricted to areas that do not regularly get below the upper 20's F during the winter months. If it doesn't freeze back, it is evergreen and may bloom during any month.
This plant is very different from the non-native blue plumbago so often planted in Florida as an ornamental.  For one, it acts almost like a vine in the understory; rarely reaching more than 12 inches in height, but growing outward from the central stem for 3-4 feet or more.  The stems are narrow and relatively fragile.  Elliptical-shaped leaves are alternate on the stems, quite thin, and generally deep green.  The color becomes more yellowish when plants are grown in higher levels of sunlight.  Over time, individual plants become dense from the interwoven stems.
The flowers are bright white and tubular.  Blooming is somewhat sporadic across the plant; a few flowers are nearly always present, but never in the abundance seen in its non-native cousin.  Pollinated flowers (mostly by butterflies) eventually ripen into cylindrical seed capsules that are covered by hooks.  By this means, they catch onto everything that brushes against them (fur, socks, pants, etc.) and eventually get carried to all areas of the landscape.
Despite its general lack of ornamental traits, native plumbago is a valuable addition to a butterfly landscape.  It is the native larval food source for the Cassius blue and they will use this plant during most months when temperatures are above freezing. 
Native plumbago is only occasionally offered for sale by commercial nurseries affiliated with AFNN - the Association of Florida Native Nurseries and may take some looking to locate.  It is fairly drought tolerant, once established, and tolerant of a variety of sunlight levels, but it does best when planted in partial sun in locations with a bit of extra moisture.  We have grown this species for some time now in our landscape at Hawthorn Hill, but have never propagated it.