Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Piedmont Blacksenna - Seymeria pectinata

Piedmont blacksenna (Seymeria pectinata) occurs statewide in Florida in a variety of well-drained uplands - pinelands and open woods.  It is also found throughout the Southeastern Coastal Plain states from Louisiana to North Carolina in similar habitats.
The blacksennas are annuals and semiparasitic on the roots of other plants.  As members of the Orobanchaceae family, they share the trait of being semiparasitic with members such as false foxglove (Agalinis spp.) and bluehearts (Buchnera spp.). They also share the ability to serve as the larval food of common buckeye butterflies.
Piedmont blacksenna emerges in early spring and quickly attains its mature height of about 2 feet.  It is a lanky plant with a few basal leaves and a thin wiry stem.  Very narrow pointed leaves attach themselves up the stem, normally opposite each other.  Unlike its close cousin, S. cassioides, these leaves are lanceolate, not filiform (like a filament) and the buds are "hairy" not smooth. You can see the hairiness of the buds and petals on the lower photo above.
Flowering occurs in late summer and early fall.  The bright yellow, 5-petal flowers open from bottom to top and are produced for many weeks. They attract a variety of pollinators, but mostly bees.  Multiple stems are often produced by each plant.
Piedmont blacksenna is not a particularly showy plant, but it has a simple beauty - especially when seen in its natural habitat, blooming with a variety of other wildflowers. It has value in a butterfly garden as larval food for common buckeye caterpillars, but it has not been propagated, to the best of my knowledge, by anyone commercially.  Annuals are tough to grow commercially as they take time to get to blooming size and they die shortly after that.  They are tough to keep in a garden because they have to have conditions where they can reseed successfully.  If you wish to attempt it, collect seed (legally - with permission from the landowner) in the fall when the seed capsules are ripe. They are tiny, so they are best sowed on a flat of potting soil instead of directly in the garden.  Piedmont blacksenna does best in sunny, well-drained sites associated with other wildflowers and native grasses. Or, you can simply admire it when you are hiking upland habitats in Florida - and if you do, look for the brightly colored caterpillars of common buckeye butterflies feeding on them.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Stiff Yellow Flax - Linum medium var. texanum

Stiff yellow flax (Linum medium var. texanum) is a perennial herbaceous wildflower found statewide in a variety of upland habitats.  These plants, photographed above, were in a sandhill understory, but the species can be found in dry open woodlands and other similar conditions. It has been reported from every state from Texas north to Wisconsin and from Ontario, but is uncommon in most of the northern extent of its range.
Stiff yellow flax dies back to the ground in winter and emerges in early spring.  A few linear basal leaves are formed and then the plants begin producing a main central stalk.  The narrow, elliptical leaves are appressed along the stem and lack a leaf petiole.  As the stem reaches its mature height of about 3 feet, it divides into many side stems - each producing a flower bud at the end.
Flowering occurs in late summer and fall.  Each bloom is composed of five petals.  The flowers are relatively flat, about 1/2 inch across, and bright yellow in color.  They seem most attractive to bees.
None of the flaxes in the genus Linum have ever been propagated for the home landscape.  As the plants are not very showy individually and are not especially important in a butterfly garden setting, the genus itself has been overlooked.  Its close cousin, Linum floridanum,  has been reported to be a larval food for caterpillars of the variegated fritillary.  Perhaps further study would find that stiff yellow flax is too. In small masses stiff yellow flax (and its relatives) are attractive wildflowers.  I have no experience growing them at present and no immediate plans to in the future.  Admire it when you encounter it and perhaps, someday, someone will offer it commercially to home gardeners.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Sessileleaf Pinelandcress - Warea sessilifolia

Sessileleaf pinelandcress (Warea sessilifolia) is one of only four species of this genus native to Florida.  All are rare and confined in their distribution, but sessileleaf pinelandcress is not listed by either the state or federal government. Like other members of this interesting genus, it is an annual and relies on the production of copious numbers of seed each year to survive.  Sessileleaf pinelandcress occurs in sandy open pinelands and road shoulders within the western and central panhandle.  It also is found in Georgia and Alabama.
As an annual, seedlings emerge in early spring and form a rather nondescript set of basal leaves.  These go unnoticed, but a central flowering stalk emerges from the center in early summer, reaching a mature height of about 3 feet by August.  As the Latin name implies, the leaves are attached directly to the stem without a petiole.  Each is oval in shape and no longer than 1 inch.
The flowers open from August through September and are spectacularly colored.  Almost the color of some phlox (Phlox spp.), they stand out brilliantly along roadsides and in open fields.  In this species, the flowers are a fuschia pink, though there sometimes are flowers in lighter shades.  This is a mustard and the pollinated flowers eventually produce long thin seed pods that split and twist, sending the tiny dark seeds away from the parent plant.
None of the Wareas have been offered commercially and they are a difficult species to maintain in a landscape - native or not.  They thrive in open sands in full sun and seem to do best if the ground is disturbed slightly- mowed roadways and edges of trails are favorite haunts.  This is simply a beautiful wildflower that should be admired if encountered and left in place to distribute its seeds for next year.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Scarlet Creeper - Ipomoea hederifolia

Scarlet creepr (Ipomoea hederifolia) is yet another member of the morning glory family native to Florida.  It is found nearly statewide in moist, partly sunny locations, and in other states along the southern edge of the country from New Mexico to Georgia.  It has also been reported from Virginia, Massachusetts, and Vermont.
Scarlet creeper is an annual that grows quickly in the spring and reaches its mature size by late summer.  It is a weak twining herbaceous vine with distinctive heart-shaped leaves - with multiple points instead of a smooth margin.  It tends to grow through and over neighboring vegetation, eventually forming a thick mass that can shade over the plants below it.
It makes up for the rambling trait, however, with its attractive scarlet red flowers.  Though small (about 1 inch long and about 1/2 inch wide), each plant produces many blooms each morning.  They are striking to look at, but also attract pollinators such as butterflies asnd bees.  As might be guessed, hummingbirds will also use them.
Though this plant is most often found in moist locations, it is fairly drought tolerant and can sometimes be found in upland settings. It has not been offered commercially to the best of my knowledge and is a difficult plant to keep in a nursery and in a landscape because of its behavior.  If you wish to try it, it grows easily from seed collected from the dry capsules.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Coastalplain Angelica - Angelica dentata

Coastalplain angelica (Angelica dentata) occurs in eight counties within the central panhandle of Florida and in three counties in southwestern and south central Georgia.  Though very limited in its natural distribution, it is common where it occurs and is not listed. 
Coastalplain angelica is a member of the carrot family and from a distance looks like water dropwort (Oxypolis filiformis).  What makes this impossible is the types of habitats it occurs in.  This is a species of well-drained uplands and makes its home in sandhills and open woodlands.  These plants, photographed above, were blooming in late August within the sandhill regions of Torreya State Park.
Coastalplain angelica is a perennial that dies back to the ground in winter.  In spring, it produces a few leaves near the base and then quickly grows upward to its mature height of about 3 feet.  Few leaves are produced along the stem. As the photograph above shows, they are toothed and deeply lobed.  Each is only about 1 1/2 inches long.
As other members of the carrot family, the flowers are produced in an umbel and are white.  Blooming occurs in late summer and early fall and the flowers attract a diversity of small pollinators.  Most members of the carrot family serve as larval food for black swallowtail butterflies. Though Angelica is not listed as one of these, I suspect that it might.  It is regrettable that no one grows this wildflower commercially so butterfly gardeners could evaluate it for this purpose.  As a carrot family member adapted to well-drained soils, it would seem to offer many attributes that would make it a valuable member of a mixed wildflower meadow.
I have never grown coastalplain angelica and have no experience with it to evaluate its performance in a home landscape or whether it could be pushed outside its natural range.  I hope to get the chance from the few seed I recently collected in north Florida. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Ciliate Wild Petunia - Ruellia ciliosa

Ciliate wild petunia (Ruellia ciliosa) is another species with some taxonomic discrepencies.  Wunderlin and Hansen list it as a distinct species, but many others consider it merely a subspecies of the common wild petunia (R. caroliniensis).  In my humble opinion, it seems distinct enough to warrant species status.
Regardless, it occurs throughout much of north and central Florida in xeric open habitats - with a record also from Lee County in southwest Florida. Outside the state, it has been reported from Texas to North Carolina.
Ciliate wild petunia tends to grow close to the ground.  Its foliage often consists of little other than a rosette of basal leaves, and as the Latin and common names indicate, the leaves are covered with noticeable hairs.  They are also commonly purplish in color, not green as in R. caroliniensis.
Flowering occurs from late spring through fall.  Like its close relative, they remain open for only a day before wilting. They are also the same size (about 1 inch in diameter). What separates them is that the color is nearly always very pale - almost white. Even with the flowers open, plants are rarely more than 3-4 inches tall.
Ciliate wild petunia has never been listed commercially by FANN, the Florida Association of Native Nurseries, in the 20+ years I have been active in Florida plants, but I have run across it from time to time in batches of typical wild petunia being sold.  It seems to be more touchy than its more-common relative to growing conditions; persisting best if given well-drained sandy soils and high light levels.
Look for it as you hike Florida's sandhills and xeric flatwoods, but it may be difficult to find once the day's flowers have wilted in the afternoon. 

Smooth Yellow False Foxglove - Aureolaria flava

Smooth yellow false foxglove (Aureolaria flava) is found throughout much of the Panhandle and south along the western half of the peninsula to Hillsborough County.  It also occurs throughout much of the eastern half of the U.S and in Ontario.  Throughout this range, it occurs in sunny well-drained soils.
False foxgloves are members of the broomrape family, though at times they have been included in the snapdragon family. A look at their flowers and flower buds shows this relationship clearly.  Smooth false foxglove is a perennial (possibly a root parasite of other plants), vine-like forb whose stem may reach more than 3 feet in length. The sheer weight of this structure causes the stem to bend, and it is supported by nearby vegetation.  The leaves are shiny green, opposite on the stem, and oval with a pointed tip.  From a distance, these plants may look a bit like climbing yellow jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens), but that similarity is quickly lost when the plant is seen up close. 
Flowering occurs along the length of the stem in summer and early fall.  The flowers are nearly 3/4 inch in diameter and canary yellow in color.  Tubular in structure, they have 5 fused petals.  Their large size makes them most attractive to large pollinators - such as bumblebees.
Look for this plant in sandhills and open dry woodlands in early fall, but don't expect to find it offered for sale commercially. Its large size and growth habit make it a difficult plant to keep in a nursery setting and a tough sell to folks looking for wildflowers for a more traditional garden planting.  This species has been reported as one of the larval food plants for the beautiful Baltimore Checkerspot butterfly in New England, but it is not recorded for butterflies in Florida, like the common buckeye, that use other members of this family.  Perhaps they do and it simply has not been recorded yet.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Piedmont or Few Flower Blazing Star - Liatris pauciflora var. secunda

Piedmont or Few flower blazing star (Liatris pauciflora var. secunda) is a species for which little has been written.  The plants photographed above occurred on the back dunes and coastal strand scrub at Topsail Beach Preserve State Park in Walton County.  Its status as a recognizable variety is given by Wunderlin and Hansen, our state's most recognized plant taxonomists, but it is not recognized by others.  Overall, the variety of this species occurs in the farthest six counties of Florida. The species, including this variety, has been reported in much of north and central Florida - as well as the Southeastern Coastal Plain from Alabama to North Carolina.
This is a species adapted to harsh, well-drained conditions that experience salt spray.  Like all blazing stars, it is a perennial that dies back to the ground each winter and emerges in spring.  On the beach dunes, it tends to sprawl along the sand instead of standing upright.  On the back dunes, it often adopts a more upright manner.  Mature specimens reach a height of about 2-3 feet.  The lower leaves are arranged somewhat like a Christmas tree and do not reach the height of the flower buds - as they do in Chapman's blazing star (L. chapmanii), for example.
Flowering occurs in late summer and very early fall - a bit earlier than many other blazing stars.  As the common and Latin names imply, the flowers are not densely arranged on the stalk and as the varietal Latin name implies, they tend to occur mostly on only one side of the stem.
Piedmont blazing star has never been offered commercially by members of FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries, but it would be an excellent candidate given its salt tolerance and its typical blazing star aesthetics.  This would be an excellent candidate for beach dune restoration plantings and one can only hope that someone will offer it for those purposes someday in the future.

Carolina Milkweed - Asclepias cinerea

Carolina milkweed (Asclepias cinerea) is a species of the Southeast Coastal Plain, occurring from South Carolina to Mississippi.  In Florida, it is restricted to the Panhandle and northern counties, south to Marion and Levy Counties.  Throughout its range, it is native to well-drained uplands - principally longleaf pine sandhills.
Carolina milkweed is a difficult plant to spot in the understory when not in bloom.  After emerging in the spring, it becomes a thin-stemmed plant about 2 feet tall, with narrow linear leaves several inches long and opposite on the stem.  Its thin aspect and general lack of noticeable foliage allows it to remain mostly undetected in the wiregrass-dominated understory it typically grows in.
Flowering changes that.  Though the flower clusters are loosely arranged on the ends of the stems and relatively few buds are produced, each flower is about 1/2 inch across and noticeable.  The weight of these blooms is enough to make most stems bend over a bit.  The flowers are a unique shade white, tinged with grey-purple and the sepals open into a star-like pattern and don't curl backwards like many other species in this genus. Flowering typically occurs in early summer, but these plants, photographed at Torreya State Park, were all in full bloom the late August/early September.
Florida is blessed with 21 species of native milkweeds, but very few are currently propagated commercially, despite great interest from butterfly gardeners seeking native larval plants for monarch and queen butterflies to replace the non-native scarlet milkweed (A. curassavica). Carolina milkweed is just one of many interesting species that have been ignored to date. Hopefully that will change.  Given well-drained soils and plenty of sun, it should prosper in landscapes throughout its natural range.  I have never grown this species personally, so I do not know if this range could be extended significantly.

Spurred Butterfly Pea - Centrosema virginianum

Spurred butterfly pea (Centrosema virginianum) is the most common butterfly pea in Florida, occurring statewide in a variety of upland habitats.  It is primarily a species of the Southeast, but specimens occur into the Midwestern state of Illinois and into the Eastern Seaboard as far north as New Jersey - where it is an endangered species.
Like other members of this genus, spurred butterfly pea is a perennial vine with a weak stem that winds its way through adjacent vegetation.  It does not have tendrils, but coils its stem around neighboring plants to gets its flowers upright and above the ground.  Each of these stems emerges in the spring from the base and may reach 6-8 feet in length.
One difference between this species and its much rarer relative (C. arenicola) is the leaf shape.  Though variable, spurred butterfly pea tends to have narrower leaves.  These leaves are comprised of three leaflets that are alternate along the winding stems.
Like all members of this genus, the flowers are a rich purple to light lavender, with a strongly keeled lower calyx lobe. Because the flowers open "upside down", this lobe is above the bifurcated upper lobe. 
A white patch, striped with purple, guides nectaring insects to the nectar source beneath the keeled lobe above. The flowers occur mostly in summer and plants are in bloom for many weeks.
Spurred butterfly pea is an attractive wildflower that also serves a purpose in the butterfly garden. It is the larval food plant for long-tailed and northerrn cloudywing skippers. Despite this, I have not seen it offered historically by anyone associated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries. In fairness, it is a difficult species to keep in a nursery because of its tendency to scramble everywhere and tangle itself in every adjacent plant nearby.  It is easy to grow from seed, however, collected as the pea-like pods ripen and split.  Spurred butterfly pea is tolerant of a wide variety of growing conditions, but should be kept on a fence or trellis in a small garden setting.  If the planting is large enough, it could be allowed to vine on larger upright species such as goldenrods and blazing stars. If you see this species, you can also simply admire its beauty - and look for butterflies alightng on it to lay their eggs.