Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Drumheads - Polygala cruciata

Another very distinctive member of the milkwort genus is drumheads (Polygala cruciata). This species occurs throughout Florida, except in the very extreme southern tip, and throughout the eastern half of the US and in Ontario. In many states in the northern edge of its range, it is very rare.
Drumheads is a perennial and occurs in open wetland habitats.  Mature specimens rarely stand taller than 12 inches and are often partially hidden in the nearby grasses and forbs that grow with it,  The foliage is distinctive.  The small linear leaves are arranged in a whorl of 4 as they go up the stem. The stem is 4-angled.
What makes drumheads most distinctive, however, are the blooms.  The deep pink to pink-lavender flowers are arranged in ellptical heads - hence the common name.  The "flower" color actually comes from the spiky sepals that surround the yellow/white tubular petals inside.  As the petals open and fade, only the sepals remain - and these can last for weeks after the petals are gone. This arrangement is clearly shown in the top photo. Flowers can be encountered from late spring to mid-fall.
Drumheads is a beautiful and distinctive wildflower, but is not currently propagated commercially by anyone associated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries.  As a perennial, it could be an interesting addition to a wetland garden or a wetland restoration project.  I have never tried to maintain this species in my home landscape and do not know how easy it might be to maintain.

Procession Flower - Polygala incarnata

Procession flower (Polygala incarnata) most often is seen in its lavender purple (or pinkish) form, but white-flowered specimens are sometimes encountered.  In either form, it is distinctive in the way the flowers are arranged on the main stalk.  This species occurs statewide in Florida and throughout much of the eastern half of the nation (and in Ontario, Canada) - though it is very rare in most of the northern states within its reported range. Procession flower is not classified as a wetland dependent species, but it occurs most commonly in mesic to moist flatwoods, savannas, and prairies.
Like so many "milkworts", procession flower is an annual that makes its appearance early in spring and reaches its mature height by late spring to very early summer.  The leaves are small and linear, alternating along the stem and are almost scalelike below.  Mature specimens rarely stand taller than 18-24 inches; just a bit taller on average than the surrounding vegetation.
The common name is derived from the way the flowers open within the open head. Blooming begins on the bottom and proceeds to the tip; each blossom remains open for just a few days. Individual flower structure is distinctive.  The petals open in a somewhat sea urchin look-alike pattern while the lower portion is fused into a long floral tube.  A solitary head occurs atop each main stem.
Procession flower is one of the more beautiful components of a wet prairie/open wet pineland habitat.  Often, many specimens will be scattered throughout  in areas where its growing requirements are met. But, despite its attractiveness, it is not currently offered by any commercial nursery I am aware of.  Look for this in flower just about any time from late spring to late fall.  In extreme south Florida, it may bloom at any time.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Candyroot - Polygala nana

Candyroot (Polygala nana) is a distinctive member of this diverse genus, rarely standing taller than 4 inches, but conspicuously adorned with bright yellow "cones" of flowers.  It is found statewide in open wet to moist pinelands, often occurring on trails and the upper edges of shallow depressions.  Outside of Florida, it occurs throughout the Southeast from North Carolina west to Arkansas and south to Texas.
Like many species in this genus, candyroot is an annual.  It emerges very early in spring and forms a basal rosette of thick oval light-green leaves that hug the ground and curl slightly upward.
Flowering occurs in late spring and often lasts well past the start of the summer rainy season - June/July.  The tiny flowers are arranged in a "pine cone"-like structure. Most plants produce about 4-6 of these and they are clustered close together, upright from the base.  Though these are small plants, blooming specimens are quite showy; especially in the understory of pine flatwoods where there might be hundreds in bloom.
Candyroot is common in Florida, but not sold commercially.  I have tried to maintain it in my Pinellas County landscape, but have never had success in getting it to reseed and persist. Simply admire it for its beauty. It is not a landscape plant.

Baldwin's Milkwort- Polygala balduinii

Baldwin's milkwort (Polygala balduinii) is one a just a few white-flowered milkworts native to Florida and the only one with flowers arranged in small circular heads.  This is a wetland species and it occurs nearly statewide.  Its geographic range is limited to the Deep South - Florida to Texas, along the Gulf of Mexico.
Baldwin's milkwort is an annual or biennial, though Roger Hammer lists it as a perennial in his Everglades Wildflowers book.  It emerges in spring and rapidly reaches its mature height of 1-2 feet by early summer.  This species is not much of a foliage plant.  Narrow elliptical leaves mostly disappear by blooming season - leaving only a few sessile leaves along the stem.
Flowering occurs in early summer and can last for several months.  In extreme south Florida, flowers can be found in most months.  The erect stem produces up to a dozen rounded clusters of bright white blooms in a cyme arrangement.  The form looks a bit like several yellow-flowered species, especially P. ramosa and P. cymosa, but no other species like it has white flowers.
Because of its short-lived nature and its wet soil requirement, it is unlikely that Baldwin's milkwort will ever be offered by commercial nursery sources, though it is a very handsome plant.  Look for it in open sunny wetlands beginning in June.  It is likely to occur in colonies if you find it.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Short Milkwort - Polygala ramosa

Short milkwort (Polygala ramosa) is one of 23 species of native milkworts in Florida.  Most are found in moist to wet soil habitats and that is definitely the case for this one.  Short (or "low pinebarren") milkwort is classified as a wetland species by state and federal agencies and is found statewide in open wet prairies, marsh edges and within wet pockets of pine flatwoods.  This is a species of the Southeastern Coastal Plain, and, as such, its overall range extends from parts of Texas to Maryland and New Jersey - states along the coast. 
As its common name implies, short milkwort is a relatively short plant, reaching a mature height of about 18-24 inches. It is an annual, and it grows rapidly in the spring to reach this size by early to mid-summer.  Each plant has a central stem with linear leaves about 1 inch long and 1/4 inch wide.  Like so many species in this genus, the stems and roots exude a sweet smell if crushed.
For much of its short life, short milkwort is rather inconspicuous in the landscape.  This changes when flowering occurs, however.  Large flat clusters of bright yellow flowers adorn the top of the stems and are quite showy. My single photograph above does not do it justice, but it shows quite clearly the arrangement of the tiny individual flowers on the stems.  Other yellow-flowered milkworts are arranged in much "tighter" heads than this species.
Short milkwort has never been sold commercially to my knowledge and its annual nature and wet-soil requirements make it a difficult species to add to anything other than a wetland restoration.  Look for this beautiful wildflower from June-August in open wet habitats and simply admire it for what it is.