Sunday, February 20, 2011

Swamp Marsh-pink - Sabatia calycina

One of the most common marsh-pinks in Florida is swamp marsh-pink (Sabatia calycina).  This species occurs nearly statewide and throughout the states of the Southeast.  It prefers moist soil habitats and can be found in nearly every type of open and forested wetland; tolerating more shade than most members of this genus.  Swamp marsh-pink differs from many other members of this genus by also being a perennial (though rather short-lived) and by being a bit more luxuriant.  The oval, pointed leaves occur from the base of the many stems to the top of the flower stalks.
Swamp marsh-pink may over-winter in warmer climates, but often dies back when temperatures drop to well below freezing.  The photo above was taken in February; demonstrating that it can bloom nearly year-round. The flowers have five or six petals and are soft pink in color with a rather unique multiple pointed yellow pattern at their base. 
This is a delicate wildflower that has more potential for home landscape settings than most other members of this genus.  Individual plants rarely stand taller than about 12 inches, but produce multiple stems.  Flowering occurs atop each stem and the tops of the many side stems near the top.  The long flowering period and the attractive foliage contribute to its overall aesthetic qualities and its ability to thrive in full sun to partial shade make it rather adaptable.  It does require moist soil, however, to thrive.
We have kept this wildflower for a number of years at Hawthorn Hill, but have never attempted to propagate it as part of our nursery business. Regretably, no one else seems to being propagating it either.  This would be a good species to add to a wetland edge if you could find it for sale.  Plant it in mass and mix it with other smaller species, such as sky flower (Hydrolea corymbosa) and lemon bacopa (Bacopa caroliniana). In our landscape, it has spread by self-sown seed.

Bartram's Marsh-pink - Sabatia decandra (syn. S. bartramii)

One of my very favorite marsh-pinks is named after William Bartram, one of the earliest of the Eurpopean botanists to explore and classify Florida's flora. Bartram's marsh-pink (Sabatia decandra) was formerly known as S. bartramii, but is now correctly named for its 10 petals - which in reality can vary from between 9 and 12 in number.  Bartram's rose-pink occurs throughout Florida in moist to wet soil habitats; primarily at the upper edges of open sunny marshes.  It is also native to our immediate neighbors and to the Carolinas as well.
Though sometimes described as a perennial, I have found it to be an annual.  It forms rather large, linear, almost succulent basal leaves in the early spring, but these largely disappear by the time the plants bloom in mid summer.  The flower stalks are robust and stand about 2 - 2 1/2 feet tall.  Small opposite leaves are present up the flower stalks.
What makes this species so showy are its vivid pink flowers, with its broad petals forming a corolla nearly 3 inches across.  Although a few white forms are encountered, most are similar to the photo above.  And, as common to the genus, the base of each petal has a canary yellow point outlined in red - forming a complex star pattern around the noticeable green ovary and the coiled stigma and style.
This species has never been offered for sale by any of the nurseries affiliated with AFNN - the Association of Florida Native Nurseries, and is not likely to be.  Although I have tried to maintain it in my marshy garden at Hawthorn Hill, I have not been successful.  I have accepted that this is one of the great many beautiful wildflowers meant mostly to be admired in the wild.  Look for it in open wet marshes and wet prairies during the summer months.  It is spectacular when growing in mass.

Large-flowered Marsh-pink - Sabatia grandiflora

There are a dozen native marsh-pinks (Sabatia spp.) in Florida.  One of the most striking is large-flowered marsh-pink (S. grandiflora). This beautiful wildflower is found only in Florida and in one county of southeastern Alabama - making it a near endemic.  In Florida, however, it occurs nearly statewide in open moist-soil habitats such as the edges of marshes and in wet prairies and flatwoods.
Marsh-pinks are annuals and members of the gentian family. They emerge as seedlings in early spring and quickly attain their mature stature by summer.  Large-flowered marsh-pink, like most species in this genus, produces very little foliage at the base of the plant.  Its flower stalk, accompanied by a few linear leaves, eventually reaches a height of about 2 feet.  The flowers are produced at the top of the main stem and on numerous side stems also near the top.  They remain open for several days and occur for weeks during the summer months.  In large-flowered marsh-pink, these blooms are often a deep pink in color, but can be pale pink and even white.  At the base of the 5-petaled flowers, is a star-like pattern in bright yellow, outlined in red.  The green ovary with its twisted yellow stigma and style are also distinctive. The flowers attract pollinators: notice the small crab spider in the above photo on the lower lefthand petal awaiting one.
Because it is an annual and requires moist to wet soil, large-flowered marsh-pink is not an easy planty to maintain in a garden setting.  I am not aware of any nurseries affiliated with AFNN - the Association of Florida Native Nurseries, that has ever offered this or its relatives for sale commercially.  It is easy to grow, however, from the copious seed produced inside the center ovary of the flowers. Just don't attempt to add it to your landscape unless you can meet its growing requirements - moist soil and plenty of sunshine.  For the vast majority of us, just seeing these beautiful wildflowers in the wild is sufficient reward. 

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Common Yellow Stargrass - Hypoxis curtissii

Common yellow stargrass (Hypoxis curtissii) is a diminutive member of the Hypoxidaceae family, though it has at times been included as an iris and as a lily.  Regardless, it is a monocot - like the lilies, irises, and amaryllises and arises each spring from a tiny bulb.  Yellow stargrass is common to most of Florida, in moist woodlands.  Its national range is restricted to the Deep South - from Texas to North Carolina.
Yellow stargrass is a perennial that dies back to the ground during a brief period in winter.  In warm years, however, it is possible to find it in bloom at any time.  Elliptical sedge-like leaves extend about 6-12 inches from the bulb, but often lie near the ground instead of standing upright.  In fact, the leaf shape is the easiest way to tell this species apart from its equally common cousin - Hypoxis juncea.
A single yellow flower is produced at any one time, though individual plants may produce more than one flower during the year.  These are bright canary-yellow in color, about 1 inch across and consist of six petals in a star-shaped arrangement.  Flowering in the southern half of Florida can occur during any month, but is often confined to spring through fall elsewhere.  The flowers are showy, but are held close to the ground.
Yellow stargrass is not available commercially to the best of my knowledge and we do not propagate it at Hawthorn Hill.  If you had access to a source, it should be used in an open sunny, moist setting that does not stay dry for long - especially during the hot summer months.  Use it in the front of a garden and make sure it does not get crowded out by taller more-aggressive species.
Look for yellow stargrass any time you are hiking in flat open areas in Florida.  You may have to look close for it, but once your eye is trained to see it, I expect you will see it often.

Innocence - Houstonia procumbens

Its not difficult to see why this diminutive wildflower would be called "innocence" or why its Latin species name is "procumbens".  Its white flowers seem to exude an aura of "purity" while its growth form is flat to the ground.  Innocence (Houstonia procumbens) was formerly known as "Hedyotis procumbens", and most wildflower books will list it under its former name.  One of the vagaries of taxonomy is that names often change despite the inconvenience due to rigid rules imposed by an international taxonomy organization.  But, despite all that, the plant remains the same.
Innocence is found throughout Florida in moist open habitats; pinelands, prairies, and open fields. It is a plant of the Southeast and only occurs from Louisiana to South Carolina, nationally.  Throughout the major part of its range, however, it is rather common.
Innocence is a perennial that generally maintains its foliage through the winter months.  Its round, almost succulent looking leaves form a dense mat and the plants creep out across the ground, rooting periodically.  Well grown specimens may be more than 12 inches across, but stand no more than 1 inch tall.
Flowering can occur during any month from mid spring through fall.  The pure white flowers are produced in reasonably large numbers at the tips of the stems.  They are tubular in shape, but the tips flare into four petals.  These attract pollinators, but because they are held so low to the ground, most of the larger butterflies ignore them.
Innocence is easy to grow if given the right conditions.  It is not especially drought tolerant, so plant it in soil that routinely stays moist to wet.  It also does best in sunny locations.  If you have a marshy edge or a planting area at the upper edge of a pond, this wildflower would make an interesting addition.  Use it where it can be admired and be careful not to mix in other taller and more aggressive species.
I have never seen innocence offered by any of the nurseries affiliated with AFNN - the Association of Florida Native Nurseries and we do not propagate it here at Hawthorn Hill.  It can be grown from seed if you are willing to carefully collect a few of the small ripe seed capsules from a site where such collecting is permissable.  Germination will be enhanced if you cold-stratify the seed - put them in moist sand in a container and keep it in the refrigerator for several months.  Then scatter the sandy seed mixture onto a flat. 
Innocence is a lovely wildflower that might be confused sometimes with various lawn weeds and other wildlfowers.  Just look for the distinctive foliage and the pure white tubular flowers with the flared petals.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Eastern Bluestar - Amsonia tabernaemontana

Eastern bluestar (Amsonia tabernaemontana) is our other native bluestar, and it differs in many significant respects to fringed bluestar (A. ciliata).  Though both species are deciduous perennials, eastern bluestar is native to deciduous woodland understories where it receives reduced light during most of the year and a bit of extra moisture and soil fertility.  Eastern bluestar occurs naturally only in extreme north Florida, but is rather common to our north from New York to Texas.
Eastern bluestar emerges in mid-spring and quickly reaches its mature height of 2-3 feet.  Established plants often form multiple stems, but each is rather lanky and often bends a bit with the weight of the developing flowerheads.  The leaves are lanceolate and occur all the way to the top of the stems.
Flowering occurs in late spring.  Large clusters are formed at the tip of each stem and they range in color from white to pale blue.  As is normal for the genus, the petals flare into a star-like pattern from a thin central tube.  Because this wildflower occurs in shadier habitats than fringed bluestar, they are not visited as frequently by butterflies but are still wonderful attractors for pollinating insects.
Eastern bluestar has never been offered by member nurseries of AFNN- the Association of Florida Native Nurseries (to the best of my knowledge), but is widely grown by regional wildflower nurseries that specialize in native plants.  We purchased ours for our Pinellas County landscape from one of those many years ago and they have thrived to date.  We have no plans to propagate it at Hawthorn Hill, but it is a very worthy addition to a mixed wildflower and fern understory planted beneath a deciduous canopy.  Our plants have been very forgiving of droughty conditions and average soil.
Plant this wildflower in small clusters of 3-5 for best effect.  It mixes well with other deciduous woodland wildflowers such as woodland phlox (Phlox divaricata), violets (Viola spp.), wild gingers (Asarum spp.), jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triplyllum), columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), and the like.  I would recommend also adding some of the shorter native ferns - Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides), southern lady fern (Athyrium felix-femina), and ebony spleenwort (Asplenium platyneuron). Its rather short blooming time and not exceptionally beautful foliage structure and more than compensated by its bright color.  We have enjoyed our plants and look forward to their return each spring.

Fringed Bluestar - Amsonia ciliata

Fringed bluestar (Amsonia ciliata) is found throughout much of the northern half of Florida in open sandy habitats.  It also occurs in most states of the lower southeastern U.S., from Texas to North Carolina. It is a member of the same family as the milkweeds - Apocynaceae, but does not serve as a larval plant for any of the milkweed butterflies. 
Bluestars (we have two native species) are deciduous and perennial.  They die completely back to the ground in early winter and re-emerge in mid spring.  They are not among the first to make their appearance, and when they do they look a bit like seedling pine trees, but with their needle-like leaves whorled a bit around the stem.
By late spring, they may stand as tall as two feet, but are often several inches less.  Several stems often arise from the stout underground "tuber".  The leaves are very thin (ciliate) and bright shiny green in color.  These are quite attractive. They clothe the stems all the way to the top.
Heads of 5-petal flowers are formed at the top of each stem in late spring - very late March to April in a normal Florida season.  These star-like flowers are pale blue to nearly white in color and approximately 1/2 inch across - with a narrow floral tube that produces nectar of interest to a number of pollinators and butterflies in particular.  Plants remain in bloom for several weeks.  After that, they remain rather inconspicuous in the landscape as mounds of feathery foliage.
Despite its rather extensive natural distribution and beauty, fringed bluestar is relatively poorly known in the nursery trade and has never been offered (to my knowledge) by anyone associated with AFNN - the Association of Florida Native Nurseries.  Hopefully, this will change someday as this beautiful wildflower has much to offer.  We have grown it in our Pinellas County landscape for many years now and have found it to be quite easy and undemanding.  Regrettably, we have not gotten seed to propagate more and it is on our "future" list at Hawthorn Hill. 
If you locate a source for this species, plant it in high sunlight in sandy well-drained soils.  Because it is rather short, put it near the front of the planting bed and mass it in clusters of at least 3 per cluster.  It mixes well with other short sandhill species, such as the two species of greeneyes (Berlandiera spp.), downy phlox (Phlox pilosa), pink beardtongue (Penstemon australis), and the like.