Friday, December 30, 2011

Frostweed/Winged Stem - Verbesina virginica

Frostweed or winged stem (Verbesina virginica) is common statewide, occurring most often at the edge of hammocks where it receives part sun and average to moist soil, though it is remarkably tolerant of a wide variety of conditions.  It also occurs throughout much of the eastern half of the U.S. - west to Texas and north to Iowa and then east to Pennsylvania. Throughout this range, it is rather common.
The common names for this plant are self-evident; "frostweed" because it blooms so late in the fall and "winged stem", because of the wing-like appendages on the stem seen in the bottom photo above. This is a coarse, robust herbaceous species that dies to the ground each winter (some basal leaves may remain depending on latitude) and emerges quickly each spring.  Though not woody, it eventually reaches heights of 6-8 feet by October.  The tough scabrous leaves are toothed along the margins and can be nearly 12 inches long - especially near the base.  At its mature height, this is a somewhat weedy looking wildflower and large enough to overwhelm smaller species around it.
Despite this nature, there are good reasons to admire frostweed when it is in bloom.  In October and November, individual plants produce large numbers of white flowers with porcelain white ray petals.  At this time, they are a bevy of activity, attracting pollinators of all types.  The first time I encountered this plant, at Highlands Hammock State Park in Highlands County, I must have counted at least 50 tiger swallowtails nectaring on a patch that lined an old citrus grove.  There were other pollinators too, but the swallowtails captured my attention and I pretty much ignored everything else around me.
Frostweed is sold by a number of commercial nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries, but it should be added to a home landscape with forethought.  For one, it is tall and dominating.  Use it at the back of a mixed wildflower area or as a screen, but if used to screen a view, realize that it is deciduous and absent during the winter months.  Second, it spreads quickly once established and will require annual thorough weeding to keep it only where you want it.  But, if you take this all into account, it can be a very valuable addition to a pollinator garden.
Frostweed thrives in a very wide variety of conditions.  It may perform best if planted in partial sun or locations where it gets sun for half days, but it will flower if given more or less sun than that.  It prefers moist soil, but is amazingly tough in droughty soils as well.  Just don't plant it in submerged locations or in full sun on top of a sand dune.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Salt and Pepper - Melanthera nivea

Salt and pepper (Melanthera nivea), also known as "snow squarestem", is a robust perennial wildflower found statewide in Florida and throughout much of the Southeast.  It is a Species of Concern in Kentucky and endangered in southern Illinois.  This plant often acts like a weed; it occurs in disturbed open habitats, is variable in growth form, and can tolerate a very wide range of conditions. This makes it an easy wildflower to add to nearly any landscape setting, but with caution... as it will require some pruning and control over time.
Although natural short forms are sometimes encountered, salt and pepper most frequently is seen as a tall and lanky semi-woody specimen that reaches a mature height of 3-4 feet.  Like dotted horsemint (Monarda punctata), it is deciduous in winter or retains some of its basal leaves, and then quickly grows upright beginning in early spring.  This is in the Aster family, though its stems are square like those of the mints.  The diamond-shaped leaves are tough and coarse, and often opposite on the stem. 
Flowering occurs in late summer and may last well into early winter.  The plants photographed above still had a few flower heads in late December. It's the flowers that give it its common name.  There are no ray petals and the central disk is composed of small white tubular blooms. Arising from inside each are black anthers (the male portion of the flower).  This is what gives it its Latin genus name.
These flower heads are especially attractive to pollinating insects.  Bees, butterflies, and a host of others are drawn to these blooms and they are a focal point of activity in the garden. Each flower ultimately produces a number of achenes (seeds) and they are released as the heads dry.
Salt and pepper can make a valuable and interesting addition to a wildflower garden if it is maintained.  I would recommend periodic pruning to keep plants no taller than 3 feet and so they remain fuller.  I would also recommend deadheading them once the blooms are spent to reduce the number of seedlings that will come up the following year.
Salt and pepper is only occasionally offered by nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries so it may take some looking to find it if you wish to add it to your landscape.  We do not propagate it at Hawthorn Hill.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Rose of Plymouth - Sabatia stellaris

Rose of Plymouth (Sabatia stellaris) is one of Florida's most widely distributed marsh pinks; found statewide from the western panhandle to the Keys.  It is a species of the Southeastern Coastal Plain and is distributed from Louisiana to Florida and north up the Eastern Seaboard to New York and Massachusetts.  It is quite rare, however, in the northern portion of its range; it is listed as state endangered in Connecticut and Massachusetts and threatened in New York and Rhode Island.
Rose of Plymouth is sometimes called "sea pink", and it is both tolerant of salt and flooded soils.  Although it is considered an "obligate" wetland plant by the National Wetland Inventory, I have found it often in seasonally wet pine flatwoods where soils are often dry for months at a time. 
Sabatias/marsh pinks are annuals and require open soil to reseed and spread over time.  Depending on the latitude in Florida, seedlings quickly emerge in early spring and reach their mature height by summer.  The plants above, that I photographed in a mesic pine flatwoods in Lee County, were only about 6 inches tall, but they often reach heights of about 12 inches.  The foliage is much reduced and the plant consists mostly of thin stems that overlap each other and form an almost rounded mass.  Flowering occurs at the ends of the stems and lasts for many weeks.
Like most in this genus, rose of plymouth produces a great many soft-pink blooms.  The centers are vivid yellow and form a star-shaped pattern around the green ovary.  There are five petals.
Marsh pinks, because they are annuals perhaps, are not often grown commercially by any of the commercial nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries.  We also do not propagate these species at Hawthorn Hill.  To grow this in a landscape would require providing it with ample moisture, especially in the summer season, and ample light.  To persist, it would also require open soil to reseed into.  But, perhaps this is a species and a genus that is simply best admired in those wild places where it occurs.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Pinebarren Rockrose - Crocanthemum corymbosum

Pinebarren rockrose (Crocanthemum corymbosum) is found statewide in open well-drained habitats, including scrub and sandhill.  This is a plant of the Southeast Coastal Plain and also occurs from Mississippi to North Carolina. 
Like other species in this small genus, pinebarren rockrose is a perennial sub-shrub.  Its thin wiry stems rarely stand taller than 12 inches and the plants are tardily deciduous in late winter.  Over time, this species slowly suckers and produces a mounded colony that can be several feet across.
The foliage is sparse; often clustered near the ends of the stems. Each leaf is elliptical, bluish green and with deep-set veins.  The edges of each leaf tend to roll under along the leaf margin as well.
Flowering can occur for several months; from late spring to early summer.  This is when this plant truly "shines".  Large numbers of bright yellow blossoms adorn the top of each stem. They have five petals and, in sharp contrast to each, are bright orange anthers.  Each bloom last only a day, but the buds are arranged in clusters and they open in succession.
The rockroses make excellent additions to the front of a mixed wildflower garden, but they are rarely offered.  We have been growing pinebarren rockrose for several years at Hawthorn Hill, but generally have it only in small numbers.
This is an easy wildflower to maintain.  Give it plenty of sun and good drainage.  It is forgiving if not exposed to too much water or shade.  Give it some room too, as it will want to spread out and it will be more striking if it isn't competing for space.  Because of its low stature, it should be grown with other small wildflowers such as twinflower, wild petunia, pink penstemon, and the like.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Wild Petunia - Ruellia caroliniensis

Wild petunia (Ruellia caroliniensis) is a very common wildflower in Florida; found statewide in a variety of habitat types.  It is also distributed throughout the eastern half of North America, though it becomes much more rare in states such as Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  Wild petunia extends its range in the south as far west as Texas.
Though its flowers closely resemble those of the common garden petunia in shape, they are not related.  True petunias are members of the Solanaceae, the family that includes tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, and nightshades.  Ruellias, the "wild petunias", are members of the Acanthaceae; a family that includes a great many tropical and semi-tropical plants commonly grown in Florida for their flowers - e.g. Justicia and Thunbergia.  The one characteristic that members of this family share is that their ripened seed capsules explode and send the seeds off a good distance away from the parent plant.  Because of this, all Ruellias tend to move around a landscape over time.
Wild petunia is one of the most adaptable and easy to grow wildflowers available to home gardeners in Florida.  Though it is most often encountered in sandy & sunny uplands, it will tolerate a great deal of shade and moisture as well.  I have found it in shady hammocks in nearly saturated soils and in pure sand in exposed scrub.  In the garden, it will grow nearly everywhere, though it will be leggier and bloom less often in shade.
Wild petunia is a long-lived perennial that dies back to the ground each winter.  Its leaves emerge in early spring and it quickly reaches its mature height of about 12-18 inches by late April - early May.  The leaves are ovate and opposite on the stem.  Often, many stems arise from the basal portion near the root mass and the plants develop a nice rounded form. 
Blooming occurs almost non-stop from late spring to late summer/early fall.  The trumpet-shaped flowers are about 1 inch across and vary in color from nearly white to a deep purple.  Often, they occur in pairs and they remain open for only one day.  I have found that butterflies relish the nectar from these flowers; in some of my gardens, they have been the top choice among nectar plants. 
Wild petunia scatters its seed everywhere in the landscape.  Once established, you will find new plants many feet from their parents, and after several years, you may find them in the front and the back yard - as well as everywhere in between.  Often, this is a good thing.  How many attractive wildflowers in your garden are this easy to propagate?  And, their small size does not make them crowd out larger neighbors.  But, it can be a nuisance to weed them if you are wanting a more formal look.
Wild petunia is one of the most widely propagated wildflowers in Florida and is grown by a great many nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries.  Be careful NOT to purchase the incredibly invasive Mexican wild petunia (R. simplex; syn. R. brittoniana; R. tweediana) pictured below, however.  They are very different plants and Mexican wild petunia...

has become extemely problematic to Florida's natural areas.  Mexican wild petunia spreads quickly from underground runners and is nearly impossible to eliminate without the use of herbicides.
Use our native wild petunia in mixed wildflower gardens.  Do not use it in large patches because it is absent in the winter and this will create bare patches of dirt that are unattractive.  Use smaller patches mixed with short grasses such as pinewoods dropseed (Sporobolus junceus) and wiregrass (Aristida spp.) and mix it with short wildflowers that maintain their basal leaves, such as pink penstemon (Penstemon australis).

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Downy Ragged Goldenrod - Solidago petiolaris

Downy ragged goldenrod (Solidago petiolaris) is one of our most attractive native goldenrods, though you would never guess that from its common name.  This deciduous perennial goldenrod is native to open upland sites across much of the Florida panhandle and in a few interior counties as far south as Alachua.  Though not widely distributed in Florida, it occurs throughout much of the south and middle portions of the country, from New Mexico, Colorado and Nebraska, north to southern Illinois and east to North Carolina.
Downy ragged goldenrod gets its common name from the rough hairs (trichomes) on both the stems and the leaves.  These are evident in the photo above.  It gets its Latin name from the obvious petioles (the stalk that connects the leaf to the main stem) that also keep the leaves away from it - not appressed to the stem.
Downy ragged goldenrod is one of the better behaved species in this genus and works well in a mixed wildflower garden. At maturity, in early fall, it normally stands no taller than 3 feet.  Each plant is normally composed of multiple stems, but it doesn't sucker extensively like many do.  Over time, downy ragged goldenrod tends to form dense patches in the landscape, not widely scattered stands.
Both the foliage and the flowers are distinctive.  The leaves are more broad than most members of this genus, oval in shape, and with a noticeable midrib.  The flowers are arranged in a willowy panicle.  Each head is a bit broader across than most and bright canary yellow in color. Like all members of this genus, the blooms are excellent nectar sources for bees and butterflies.
Though downy ragged goldenrod has a great many attributes to recommend it for the home landscape, it is only available sporadically.  Currently, it is being propagated by Claudia Larsen at Micanopy Wildflowers and I can only hope that her sales of this plant justify her growing it for many years to come. We have purchased plants from her for our landscape in Pinellas, but it is far too early for us to evaluate its ability to be grown this far south of its normal range.
Use this species in a mixed wildflower garden in the middle portion and mix it with other medium-sized wildflowers such as Florida paintbrush (Carphephorous corymbosus), butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa), red salvia (Salvia coccinea), and the like.  It blooms in October into early November in Florida and mixes well with any wildflower with a fall blooming season.  It is drought tolerant and adaptable to most upland landscape settings. If you can find some plants for purchase, this is a wonderful goldenrod to add - and, every garden should have at least a few goldenrods.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Sweet Goldenrod - Solidago odora var. odora

Sweet or Anise-scented goldenrod (Solidago odora var. odora) is an extremely widespread species with wonderful fragrant foliage.  It occurs throughout much of the eastern half of the U.S. in upland habitats, but in Florida, it is confined almost exclusively to the panhandle.  It is essentially the northern version of Chapman's goldenrod (S. odora var. chapmanii) that I have discussed previously.
In terms of habitat requirements, ecology, and landscape potential, sweet goldenrod is virtually identical to Chapman's goldenrod and I will not repeat myself here in this blog.  They are both widely occurring in open upland habitats and they play similar roles in the landscape.  Though sweet goldenrod's leaves are often more linear than Chapman's goldenrod, the major difference lies in the fragrance of the foliage.  As its common name suggests, sweet goldenrod has highly aromatic foliage owing to the essential oils in its leaves.  This fragrance is quite noticeable when the leaves are crushed and they can be very successfully used in herbal teas and potpouris. 
This is a wonderful goldenrod for home landscapes, but it is only recommended for north Florida.  Success further south is unlikely and Chapman's goldenrod should be used instead.  Because of its limited range in Florida, sweet goldenrod is rarely offered by Florida nurseries, but it is widely propagated in states to our immediate north.
The photos above do not give this species justice.  They were taken of a plant in our Pinellas County landscape that we have attempted to push a bit.  Judging from the plant's condition, it is not welcoming our attempt to make it live this far south. I just couldn't resist having access to the wonderful foliage....

Chapman's goldenrod - Solidago odora var. chapmanii

Chapman's goldenrod (Solidago odora var. chapmanii) is the southern version of a widely occurring goldenrod known for its highly aromatic foliage, (S. odora var. odora).  Unlike its more northern relative however, Chapman's goldenrod has only faint fragrance and is poorly suited to making such things as herbal teas.
Chapman's goldenrod is found throughout the peninsula and is scattered also in a few panhandle counties.  It is a near endemic as it is found outside Florida only in a few counties in Georgia.  It is a frequent component of mesic to more xeric pinelands and open habitats throughout its range.  I encounter it nearly everywhere I hike in upland settings.
This is a medium-sized member of the genus and generally extremely well behaved in the landscape. Like nearly all members of the genus, it is deciduous and makes its appearance known in early spring.  Its elliptical foliage often goes unnoticed until it begins to send its flower stalk upward in early summer.  This is one of the earliest goldenrods to bloom, so it reaches its mature height of 3-4 feet by about July.  If you notice flowering goldenrods in Florida in July and August, they are most certainly Solidago odora
Flowering occurs throughout mid to late summer and is often done about the time most other species in Florida begin.  The heads are irregular to rather "formal" pannicles with many side shoots forming near the top that can go off at right angles to the main stem. The heads are not particularly dense, but they are attractive.
We have grown this species in our landscape at Hawthorn Hill for many years and find it to be a wonderful addition to a mixed wildflower bed.  Chapman's goldenrod suckers, but very unobtrusively.  Stems appear widely scattered over time so it mixes throughout the bed; not forming dense monocultures as some do.  Its moderate size also makes it blend well with many other wildflowers. Chapman's goldenrod is not fussy about growing condtions, but it will not perform well if given too much moisture.  Otherwise, it is a very easy species to maintain.
Chapman's goldenrod is one of the goldenrods nearly always available from nurseries affiliated with FANN- the Florida Association of Native Nurseries. You may have to search a bit, but its excellent landscape qualities make the time well spent.

Solidago stricta - Wand Goldenrod

Wand goldenrod (Solidago stricta) is another unique species that is relatively easy to identify. Found statewide in Florida in a variety of mesic upland settings and in much of the Southeastern Coastal Plain states, wand goldenrod is difficult to notice until it sends its slender flower stalk upward in late summer.  This is a deciduous species. In the spring, it produces a rosette of thin, lanceolate leaves which tend to blend in with the grasses and other wildflowers it occurs with.  A single slender flower stalk emerges from this cluster of basal leaves in late summer to early fall.  By late fall, it may reach 3 feet in height and the bright yellow flowers open.
Wand goldenrod almost looks like a yellow blazing star (Liatris spp.) when in bloom.  The wand of blooms stays compact; rarely do side shoots emerge and give it a wider aspect.  This species does not readily sucker, but over time multiple clusters of basal leaves form and each produces a flower stalk.
This is one of the very best goldenrods for the home landscape, yet it is not widely propagated at this time.  Because it does not aggressively sucker or get overwhelming in size, it mixes extremely well in a wildflower garden. Its bright blooms provide color and are magnets for pollinating insects. It also is very undemanding in the types of growing conditions it needs.  Wand goldenrod will adapt to nearly any landscape condition normally encountered in a residential setting.  Don't plant it in inundated soils or the driest xeric sands, and it will prosper. As interest in goldenrods for home landscapes increases due to their color and their exceptional value to pollinators, I suspect this will be one species that becomes much more widely available.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Solidago tortifolia - Twistedleaf goldenrod

Twistedleaf goldenrod (Solidago tortifolia) is yet another large and often dominating species within this genus. It is a common species in open fields and woodlands across most of Florida and in much of the Southeast from Texas to Virginia. 
This species is deciduous, but grows rapidly through the summer to reach a mature height of 6-8 feet by fall.  In Pinellas County, it blooms in mid-September into October, just a bit ahead of the peak bloom time for pinebarren goldenrod (S. fistulosa), another large goldenrod sometimes confused with this species.
Unique to this goldenrod is its twisted leaves.  Each is willowlike and most have a half twist that is quite distinctive. The leaves going up the stem also remain nearly the same size as the lower leaves.
The flowers occur on arching stems near the tip of the plants.  These are arranged in open panicles like many other species, but they are not as uniformly arranged as in pinebarren goldenrod and the side stems often fall away from the main stem and are nearly horizontal to the ground surface below.  This makes the overall infloresences irregular and a bit more open than most.
Twistedleaf goldenrod is somewhat "weedy" in nature and is a difficult species to maintain in small landscapes.  It suckers extensively and becomes quite dominant when planted with other species.  In expansive settings, however, it can be striking with its large yellow inflorescences and its interesting foliage.  It is only very infrequently offered by native plant nurseries in Florida  and may be difficult to locate.  We have grown it at Hawthorn Hill, but do not plan to offer it commercially. 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Solidago fistulosa - Pinebarren goldenrod

Pinebarren goldenrod (Solidago fistulosa) is another exceptionally widespread Florida species; found statewide in a variety of upland habitats.  It is a species primarily of the Southeast Coastal Plain, however, and follows the curve of North America from Louisiana to New Jersey. 
As its common name suggests, pinebarren goldenrod is a common component of pine flatwoods and open pine forests.  I find it most commonly in mesic conditions; not areas that are the most well-drained.  It is deciduous. Growth occurs in very early spring and individual stems eventually reach a mature height of 4-6 feet (rarely a bit taller) by its fall blooming season.  Like seaside goldenrod (S. sempervirens), the leaves are lance-shaped and remain fairly large going up the stem.  These leaves, however, are slightly toothed and the stems are slightly "hairy."  It also differs in that it produces large numbers of rhizomes and suckers quite aggressively in all directions.  For this reason, pinebarren goldenrod often occurs in dense patches; almost as monocultures, when it is in an area that provides ideal growing conditions.
Pinebarren goldenrod produces large open panicles of bright yellow flowers in fall.  In my region of the state, it normally starts blooming in October and continues into November.  These panicles are rather "regular", not overly arching and definitely not lop-sided off the main stem. 
This is an extremely attractive species that is quite easy to grow, but consideration must be given to its aggressive nature.  It performs best in expansive landscapes where its dense stems can serve to screen adjacent views or structures.  It is a very poor choice for small landscaped areas or in situations where a wide diversity of wildflowers is desired.
Pinebarren goldenrod is frequently propagated by members of FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries, and can usually be located for home landscapes. 

Solidago sempervirens - Seaside goldenrod

Seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens) is perhaps the most distinctive species among Florida's goldenrods.  Found throughout much of Florida, but primarily within our coastal counties, this species is both robust and evergreen.  Though its common name suggests it to be "seaside", it also is resident to most states and provinces in the eastern half of North America.
As its Latin name indicates, seaside goldenrod is not entirely deciduous like other Florida species.  Over winter, it maintains its large strap-like leaves.  Then, in early spring, it begins its upward growth.  This occurs throughout the summer and early fall.  By its late fall blooming season, seaside goldenrod may stand 8 feet tall. 
The foliage also stays rather robust up the stem to the flower head.  The leaves are thick and elliptical, with few teeth along the margin.  Like all goldenrods, it forms multi-stemmed colonies over time, but it does not produce underground rhizomes that would allow it to aggressively sucker as some.  It also spreads easily from seed and new plants are likely to arise almost anywhere from plants not deadheaded and allowed to shed their cottony seed.
Seaside goldenrod blooms most abundantly in late fall.  The flower heads are held somewhat upright as spires; not at all angles like some that also arch over.  These bright golden heads of flowers attract a wide assortment of pollinators - as all goldenrods do. Its just that their sheer numbers make this species especially good for migrating monarch butterflies and a great many bees.
Seaside goldenrod is widely propagated for home landscapes and restoration projects by nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries.  It makes a stunning landscape addition, but I believe it looks best when planted in mass and in expansive settings.  Its very large size and tendency to spread make it a poor choice in small areas or areas not confined well by concrete.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Goldenrods - Solidago spp.

There is no better harbinger of fall than goldenrods (Solidago spp.). Their bright yellow blooms can be spectacular and their generally robust nature makes them stand out wherever they occur.  These blooms are excellent nectar sources for pollinating insects.  No garden should be without at least some goldenrods for the bees and butterflies.
Florida has 19 unique species (plus two distinct varieties of one species, Solidago odora), and one species or another can be found in pretty much every habitat type throughout the state.  The problem with this diversity is that the individual species are often difficult for the average person to identify.  Most all of us are simply content to know its a goldenrod and leave it at that.  But, eventually the underlying urge to accurately name it rears its ugly head.
In the next series of posts (and over the next couple of weeks), I will attempt making them a bit easier.  Identifying individual species requires you to look at the whole picture.  It is not enough to simply look at part of it.  Often it's a combination of key characteristices that will enable you to know for certain which species you are looking at.  The most important things to notice are:
1. Habitat - Where is it growing?  Different species tend to be most often encountered in distinct habitat types. Knowing which species are most likely to be encountered where will often limit the number of species you have to sort out.
2. Blooming Season - Though most species bloom in the "fall", even that is protracted over several months.  Some goldenrods, like S. odora, are most likely to flower in the summer and some fall blooming species are most likely to bloom in early fall while others flower most commonly very late in the season. If you watch goldenrods, you may notice that there is a progression of bloom times among them.
3. Leaf Shape - Though there is always some variation within species, most goldenrods have fairly distinctive foliage.  I will try to post good photos of each of the species I have good photos of.  What is difficult to show well is the relative size of the leaves to each other.
4. Shape of the Flower Head - While many goldenrods have a loose panicle of blooms that fall away from the main stem in all directions, many others are very distinctive.  Even the "loose panicle" types are different and could be told from each other if the species were side by side...  Of course, that doesn't happen much in nature, but after some practice you will get an eye for telling them apart this way.
5. Degree of  Suckering - All goldenrods sucker.  Their root systems send rhizomes out from the main plant and these produce more stems, but not every species suckers aggressively.  Some, like the pinebarren goldenrod (S. fistulosa) (photo below shows extensive suckers of this species), produce so many suckers that they soon develop an almost monoculture of stems in well-defined patches.  Others, like Chapman's goldenrod (S. odora var. chapmanii), send far fewer suckers out and individuals are often fairly widely spaced in the landscape.
6. Relative Height - Some goldenrods, like seaside goldenrod (S. sempervirens) are giants and can reach heights well over 6 feet, while others, like wand goldenrod (S. stricta) are diminutive in comparison; standing only about 2-3 feet with their flower stalk.  Knowing the extremes and which ones fall in the middle can often help narrow the field down when trying to make an identification.

Very few of our many goldenrods are widely propagated for the home landscape, but there is some evidence that this is changing as the public comes to understand the genus a bit better and looks for some of the better species for landscape settings.  So - stayed tuned for my future posts on the individual speces - and start to look for them as our summer turns to fall and winter.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Catesby's (Pine) Lily - Lilium catesbaei

Catesby's lily (Lilium catesbaei), also known as the "pine lily", is the most widely distributed member of this genus in Florida.  Found nearly statewide in moist pinelands and open savannas and prairies, Catesby's lily is still a rather uncommon occurrence and is listed as a state-threatened species.  Though widespread, it is extremely sensitive to growing conditions and requires just the right combination of soil moisture, light, and fertility to prosper.  Catesby's lily occurs in similar habitats in much of the Southeastern Coastal Plain - from Louisiana to Virginia and is only listed in Florida.
It is resident to open habitats that routinely become wet to saturated during the summer rainy season.  In the pine flatwoods where I have studied them for many years, they are found in the lower pockets that remain moister than the norm.  In wet flatwoods and prairies, such as Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, they are more uniformly distributed.  Catesby's lilies also require high light levels to prosper.  Areas that become overgrown due to lack of regular fire, soon lose their lily population.  Plants may linger as bulbs beneath the soil surface for years, but may not even produce leaves while they wait for things to open up.  Plants quickly respond to fire; both because it reduces competition from neighboring plants (especially the woody ones) and because it provides a shot of fertilizer in the ash.  Areas that have recently been burned often have significantly larger populations of blooming lilies.
Like other lilies, Catesby's lily loses its leaves in late fall and produces new ones in early spring.  In plants that should bloom, a dense rosette of linear, pointed leaves arises around the bulb; each leaf about 2-3 inches long.  The flower stalk eventually emerges from this rosette in early summer and elongates throughout the next 3 months or so.  By early September, it reaches its mature height of about 2-3 feet.
Individual plants rarely produce more than 1 flower, but these are spectacular.  The blooms vary in color from yellow (a fairly rare color) to almost red, but most are a brilliant orange with darker spots near the base of each petal.  The amount of spotting is also extremely variable - this is seen from my photographs above.  Each flower is 3-4 inches across and remains open for about a week.  They attract a variety of pollinators, but seem to be pollinated mostly by large swallowtail butterflies - especially Palamedes and Spicebush. Blooming in Pinellas County may start in early September and sometimes lingers into December if below freezing temperatures don't arrive.
Pollinated flowers produced elliptical seed capsules about 2 months later.  Each produces hundreds of papery seeds, designed to blow away a short distance from the parent plant.  Few seeds eventually grow into new lilies and it takes several years before they reach maturity and produce flowers.  Plants are also generated by the bulbs.  Like other lilies, mature bulbs produce "bulblets" off the side and these can produce new plants as well.
Though beautiful, Catesby's lily is not easy to grow in the landscape or easy to propagate from seed.  For this reason, it is rarely offered for sale by commercial nurseries - in Florida or elsewhere.  I have had success growing it in my landscape by planting it in large landscape pots set inside a large saucer.  The pots allow me to regulate the potting soil and light, and the large saucer maintains the moisture.  During the summer when rains are more predictable, the saucer stays full and the soil in the pot remains nearly saturated.  Under these conditions, my lilies have fared very well.  I have never had this type of success planting the bulbs directly into my landscape.
Hopefully, this species will become more widely propagated and put into the hands of gardeners capable of growing it.  Catesby's lily is one of my favorite Florida wildflowers and I get a thrill each year when thery come into bloom.  Take a hike through a wet flatwood or prairie in late September-October and look for them. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Michaux's (Carolina) Lily - Lilium michauxii

Thanks to a reader of this blog, Ellen Honeycutt, I have corrected this post.  What I had previously identified from my recent photographs as Turkscap lily (L. superbum), is in fact Michaux's lily (L. michauxii).  Both lilies are species I am not well familiar with in the field, but I think I have them better sorted out now.  Thanks, Ellen!

Michaux's (or Carolina) lily (Lilium michauxii) is a rather common occurrence in the Southeast, but an exceedingly rare species in Florida. It has been reported only from four counties in Florida: Jackson, Gadsden, Walton, and Liberty Counties in mesic woodlands in the central panhandle and is listed here as a state endangered species. Carolina lily is at the southern end of its geographic range in Florida. It occurs north of us throughout much of the Southeast from Texas to Virginia.

I have never seen this species in Florida. These photos were taken in western North Carolina in the mountains along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Here, the plant is commonly seen on open and partly shady slopes in the understory of deciduous forests. Michaux's lily is somewhat similar to another even rarer Florida lily, turkscap lily (L. superbum), but there are some distinct differences.  Turkscap generally stands taller and produces multiple buds and flowers atop its stems.   Turkscap flowers also have a distinctive green "star" pattern inside the throat of the open flower - caused by a triangular green region at the base of each petal. These photos of one of the many Michaux's lilies I recently saw near Cullowhee, North Carolina, show the typical characteristics of this species: smaller stature and single flower atop the stem with no "star" pattern.  The leaves of both are also different.  Michaux's lily has thicker, "fleshier" leaves than turkscap.

Michaux's lily is a beautiful species, but I have always loved lilies in general. Mature specimens reach 2-4 feet in height by their mid-summer blooming time. Though deciduous during the winter, they reach their mature height quickly by early summer. The lanceolate leaves are whorled along the stem and come up nearly to the top; just beneath the buds.
Flowering occurs in the summer and can last for several weeks once it begins. The large buds are produced at the top of the stalks. This is a few-flowered species, like the also-rare panhandle lily (L. iridollae) I have written about previously.  Each plant produces 1 to several flowers per stem; rarely up to 4. These buds open into impressive bright orange flowers with dark spots near the throat. The flowers nod downwards and the petals curl backwards. Each flower may be 3-4 inches across and remains open for about a week. Lily flowers attract butterflies and bees.
Michaux's lily is offered for sale by several native plant sources outside of Florida, but has never been made available by any nursery that I am aware of from Florida. Although I have had success growing other native lilies at Hawthorn Hill, I have never been successful in getting my Michaux's to bloom. Perhaps part of that problem has been the source of my plants, but it also may be my inability to give it the conditions it needs. Each year, my bulbs emerge in the spring, but do little else.
As I grapple with trying to figure my own plants out, I maintain hope that this species will someday be propagated by a Florida native plant nursery. Our native lilies are not easy in a home landscape setting, but I have had success with Catesby's (L. catesbaei) and panhandle lilies by growing them in pots where I can better control light, moisture, and soil conditions.  Under such culture, they have proven to be excellent additions to my wildflower landscape and not that difficult.  If you are a lily admirer, it may be the your best approach as well.