Saturday, November 24, 2012

White Vine - Sarcostemma clausum

White vine (Sarcostemma clausum) is found only in the southern third of the Florida peninsula and in Texas.  It is a vining member of the milkweed family and tends to occur in moist hammock edges and near the edge of open wetlands.  It is evergreen, but subject to freeze damage if temperature reach below 32 degrees F, and may bloom at most months of the year if not interrupted by extreme cold.
White vine is an aggressive rambler and will ultimately grow many feet in every direction.  Its succulent elliptical leaves are opposite each other on the stout stems and exude a milky sap, like most milkweeds, if injured.  This foliage serves well as food for milkweed butterfly caterpillars and I have seen monarchs, queens and soldiers feeding on them at various times.
The flowers are typical of the family, though the petals do not curve backwards to the extent most milkweeds in the genus Asclepias do. They are produced in large clusters along the stems and are white in color. Pollinated flowers produce the typical ear-shaped follicle that eventually splits open - sending the fuzzy-winged seeds airborne to new locations.
White vine is a good larval food plant for milkweed butterflies, but extremely difficult to control in the landscape.  For this reason, it is rarely offered for sale commercially and is a poor choice for most landscapes except those with lots of space and/or on a stout trellis with moist soil conditions. 

Mohr's Thoroughwort - Eupatorium mohrii

Mohr's thoroughwort (Eupatorium mohrii) is a common understory wildflower, found statewide in Florida and in much of the Southeast Coastal Plain.  It is most abundant in moist to mesic pinelands and savannas. In these habitats, it is often quite common.
Like other members of this genus in Florida, Mohr's thoroughwort is a perennial that dies back to the ground each winter.  As it emerges in the spring, it is not very distinctive. The thin stem eventually reaches a height of 2-3 feet by early summer.  Mohr's thoroughwort is a narrow plant in general aspect and its leaves are narrowly elliptical.  Some have tiny teeth along the margins while others lack them.  These leaves are opposite each other near the base of the stem and ultimately alternate as they near the top.
Flowering occurs in summer and early fall.  The corymbs of white flowers are narrow - not nearly as broad as seen in many other members of this genus, and each bloom is white.
Despite its somewhat less-than-showy aspect, Mohr's thoroughwort is sometimes offered for sale by members of FANN- the Florida Association of Native Nurseries.  It is easy to grow in the landscape, quite adaptable to conditions, and not so large or aggressive as to crowd out other members of a mixed wildflower garden.  Use it in the back half of the planting bed. Thoroughworts are members of the aster family and, therefore, attract a variety of pollinators. 

Semaphore Thoroughwort - Eupatorium mikanioides

Semaphore thoroughwort (Eupatorium mikanioides) is endemic to Florida and found only along the coastal Panhandle counties and generally along both coasts to the southern end of the peninsula.  It also has been reported in a few inland counties within the peninsula as well.
Like other members of this genus, semaphore thoroughwort is a perennial that dies back to the ground each winter.  What distinguishes this species from its many close relatives is its leaves.  They are simple, opposite along the stem, and nearly succulent in appearance.  Each leaf is broadly arrow shaped, about 2 inches across at the base (except those higher on the stem), and deeply toothed.  They also tend to be held upright along the stem instead of at right angles.
Semaphore thoroughwort occurs most commonly in moist flatwoods near the coast and in ithe upper edges of salt marshes.  It is, therefore, quite salt tolerant. Mature plants reach a height of about 3 feet.
Flowering occurs in late summer and early fall.  It is one of the earlier thoroughworts. Like so many others in this genus, the flowers occur in broad corymbs - flattened heads, and each bloom is white in color. All asters attract pollinators and this species is no exception.
Semaphore thoroughwort is common in the habitats it occurs in, and its foliage and broad flower heads are attractive.  It has never, to my knowledge, been grown commercially and I have no experience with it in my landscape in Pinellas County. It is one of those many wildlfowers that we will simply admire as we explore the wild areas of this state.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Hairy Dawnflower - Stylisma villosa

Hairy dawnflower (Stylisma villosa) belongs to a small genus of white-flowered morning glories that creep along the ground.  This particular one produces numerous wiry stems with elliptical/oval leaves, densely covered with white "hairs".  Hence the Latin and common names.  Hairy dawnflower occurs in well-drained scrubs and sandhills in many counties throughout Florida. It is also found in Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, and Georgia. 
All dawnflowers are perennial vines that die back to the ground in winter.  Hairy dawnflower emerges in spring and produces large numbers of stems that hug the ground and wander many feet in all directions.  The stems are grayish in color and look a bit like dead sticks.  The leaves alternate on the stem and are generally held upright - at right angles to the ground.  In this way, they reduce water loss from transpiration during the heat of the day.  This is important as this species occurs in harsh open sandy areas.  The leaves are about 1/2 inch long and covered in white "hairs."
Flowering occurs over a protracted period from spring to summer.  Like other morning glories, each bloom is open only during one morning.  They are about 1/4 inch across and crystalline white in color. The petals are "hairy" as well as the leaves.
Hairy dawnflower is easy to miss in the understory of scrubs and sandhills when it is not in bloom because of its small size, but can be quite striking when encountered in the morning in places where there is a lot of open sand.  Its rambling habit makes it extremely difficult to maintain in any kind of traditional landscape and it has not been offered commercially by any of the nurseries affilliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries.  It is easy to grow from seed, however, collected from the ripe seed capsules produced in large numbers along the stems.  If you wish to add it to a scrub or sandhill area, make sure you have room and give it good drainage and plenty of sun.

Lady Lupine - Lupinus villosus

Lady lupine (Lupinus villosus) is the common pink-flowered lupine of Florida.  It occurs throughout the northern tiers of counties to about the latitude of Citrus County, with a slightly disjunct population reported in Polk County.  It also occurs in states to our north - from Louisiana to the west and North Carolina to our northeast. This is a species found only in extremely well-drained sandy habitats, most commonly in open sandhills.
Like most of our lupines, lady lupine is a short-lived perennial.  Most plants do not flower their first year, flower sparingly the second, and then reach their full potential in the third when they bloom profusely.  Very few, if any, plants survive into a fourth season.
Lady lupine can be distinguished from sky-blue lupine (Lupinus diffusus) in areas where they both occur by their extremely tomentose (hairy) leaves.  This characteristic is what gives it its Latin name.  Both species have a pair of small leaves (correctly termed stipules) at the base of their main leaves.  These stipules are not present in the extremely rare scrub lupine (L. aridorum) and Gulf coast lupine (L. westianus). The leaves of lady lupine also are normally held more erect than those of sky-blue lupine.
A mature lady lupine can attain a height of about 1 foot and a width more than twice this.  Many flowering stems emerge from the center of the plant. These may stand 2 feet high. The flowers are soft pink in hue with a dark red spot on the upright petal above the lip.  Flowering begins at the base of the stalk and proceeds upward.  Because of this, plants remain in flower for many weeks - beginning in early spring and lasting into April. 
Lupines are exceedingly beautiful wildflowers, but our Florida species (with the exception of perennial lupine, L. perennis) are nearly impossible in cultivation.  Most seedlings die early in their development when kept in pots and most that survive die soon after replanting.  For this reason, they have never been offered for sale by any commercial grower I am aware of in Florida.  My own experiences with these species have been extremely "spotty."  Plants that have survived to flower have been rare and they die after 3 years without producing new progeny through reseeding. 
I understand that some success has recently been acheived by growing the seeds in grow (peat) pots and transplanting them directly to approapriate sites without disrupting their roots.  If you chance upon seed and are interested in attempting this species, try this method.  Just be sure that the site you choose to plant in has absolute perfect (pure sand) drainage and plenty of sun. Seedlings may also require a specific micorrhizal fungus to thrive, so planting them in areas where lupines have not previously grown may prove difficult.
From my experiences, lupines in Florida are best appreciated where they are growing in nature and admired for their unique character without coveting them for the home landscape.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Roundleaf Thoroughwort - Eupatorium rotundifolium

There are a great many thoroughworts in Florida (nearly 20 species and natural hybrids) and they can be somewhat difficult to distinguish from each other. Roundleaf thoroughwort (Eupatorium rotundifolium) is one of the most common. It can be found in a wide variety of mesic upland sites throughout Florida, except the extreme southeastern counties and in those locations it is often quite abundant. It also occurs throughout much of eastern North America, but has been extirpated or is very rare in most of the states in the extreme northeastern part of its range.
Roundleaf thoroughwort is a perennial that normally dies back to the ground in winter. It emerges in spring and forms a rosette of rounded basal leaves; each about 1 inch long and about 3/4 inch wide.   The leaf margins are decidedly toothed and this is distinctive for the species. By late spring to early summer, it begins its ascent upward and by late summer, it has reached its mature height of 3-4 feet.
Flowering occurs in late summer and can persist through the fall.  The broad, flat umbel of flower heads can be as much as 6 inches across. Each small head within the umbel consists of many tiny porcelain-white flowers.  These do not contain ray petals.
Most of the many white-flowered thoroughworts are not available commercially from members of FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries, but roundleaf thoroughwort can sometimes be found. It is easy to grow in an average home landscape, but can spread from the large numbers of seed and be difficult to control.  If you decide to add this wildflower, use it at the back 1/3 of a planting bed and be prepared to weed out seedlings each year.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Nuttal's Rayless Goldenrod - Bigelowia nuttallii

Nuttal's rayless goldenrod (Bigelowia nuttallii) is not a goldenrod, but a member of a small genus that is largely confined to Florida.  It's relative, pineland rayless goldenrod (B. nudata) is endemic to Florida, but found throughout much of the state in wet pine flatwoods and the upper edges of marshes. Nuttal's rayless goldenrod is resident to xeric woodlands, including scrub, and has been reported from only 2 counties in Florida - Washington in the central Panhandle, and Pinellas on the central west coast.  It has a tendency to skip counties, however, and has disjunct populations in Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas. 
Nuttal's rayless goldenrod is a perennial that maintains its clump of exceedingly thin basal leaves into the winter.  These leaves are less than 1/8 inch wide; one of the characteristics that separate this species from its more common cousin.  Of course, habitat preferences are totally different between the two species and serve to make confusing them difficult in the field.  This is not a robust species and rarely stands taller than 2 feet in late fall.  Thin eliptical leaves occur up the stem and it ends in a flat corymb of flower heads that is several inches wide.
Flowering occurs in fall. The Pinellas County population blooms in early November while the Washington County one blooms several weeks earlier.  As the common name implies, the flowers do not have ray petals - the showy outer petals common to most members of the aster family.  All they have are the central disc flowers. These are small and elliptical in shape, but bright canary yellow and attractive. They also attract the attention of insect pollinators.
This very rare plant is listed as a state endangered species. If you are lucky enough to encounter it in the fall, take note and appreciate it.  It is just one of many Florida wildflowers that make living here special.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

False Flowering Spurge - Euphorbia pubentissima

False flowering spurge (Euphorbia pubentissima) occurs in scattered locations from Madison County, just east of Tallahassee, to Santa Rosa County in the far western panhandle.  It is also present in much of the eastern half of the U.S., except the extreme north.
This member of the Euphorbia family, is generally found in well-drained sandy locations. The plants photographed above were in sandhill habitat within Topsail Beach Preserve State Park in Walton County.  They are perennials which die back during the winter months.
Like other euphorbias, false flowering spurge has rather weak stems that exude a milky sap if cut.  This protects them from herbivory, but can cause blisters and other skin irritations in sensitive people.  They are also poisonous if ingested. 
The plants rarely stand taller than about 2 feet and the branches grow outward - parallel to the ground.  The leaves are elliptical and opposite each other on the stems.
Flowering occurs in summer and fall.  As its common name suggests, what looks to be flowers are not.  The white "petals", seen in the above photographs are specialized appendages meant to draw the attention of pollinators to the small green flowers inside.  This is much like what occurs in the common poinsettias grown for Christmas displays.  Inside the white false petals are male flowers and a single female flower - none of which have petals of their own. 
False flowering spurge is an interesting wildflower that is never likely to be grown commercially. If you are in one of the counties it might occur in, look for it along roadsides and other well-drained open areas. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Cottonweed - Froelichia floridana

Cottonweed (Froelichia floridana) is an annual member of the Amaranth family found statewide in Florida, and across much of the eastern half of the U.S. except the extreme northeast.  The derivation of its common name is very easy to see from the photos above. This species is most likely to be encountered in disturbed upland sites from coastal areas to inland sandhills. In most of these sites, it will be abundant.
Growth occurs throughout the spring and summer months.  Few leaves are produced. These are mostly near the base of the plant and opposite each other on the stem.  The stem is wiry and erect. By summer it reaches a mature height of 5 feet and is largely unbranched.
Flowering can occur in summer, but is more common in early fall.  Racemes of tiny tubular white flowers are produced near the top of the main stem.  As these flowers are pollinated and mature, the fruiting bodies become cottony in appearance.  Soon after, the fully ripened seed capsules open, releasing the seed below. At this time, they fall off the stem.
This interesting wildflower is commonly encountered, but has never been propagated for the landscape.  It would be easy to grow in a mixed wildflower garden, but care would have to be taken to ensure its need to reseed - most importantly, keeping bare soil near the parent plants. Otherwise, simply enjoy it as you travel throughout the state.

Tall Jointweed - Polygonum pinicola - fka Polygonella gracilis

Tall jointweed (Polygonum pinicola) occurs statewide and in the other states of the Deep South.  This member of the buckwheat family shares an affinity for sunny well-drained habitats and has a simple beauty all its own.  Tall jointweed is decidedly tall and graceful.  As an annual, this means it grows rapidly in the spring to achieve its mature height of 5-6 feet tall. 
Tall jointweed produces an extremely thin wiry stem with short side branches. The thin leaves, alternate along the stem, are sparse except near the base of the plant.
Flowering occurs in fall - sometimes into late November.  The tiny capsule-shaped white blooms are clustered at the ends of each stem in racemes about 1 inch long.  Each flower is no more than 1/8 inch in length.
This distinctive wildflower can hardly be confused with any other.  In the open sandy places where it prospers, tall jointweed often occurs in large colonies.  This is not a wildflower likely to be cultivated by commercial nurseries or in great demand by the home gardener.  As an annual, it is difficult to grow for sale to the public and in the landscape it needs open sandy soil to reseed effectively. Nevertheless, this species has a special charm and I look forward to seeing it each fall as I hike the state. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Bitterweed - Helenium amarum

Bitterweed (Helenium amarum) gets little respect with regard to its common name - or the common name of the genus - sneezeweed, but despite this, it is an attractive little wildflower that occurs throughout much of Florida in open fields, disturbed sites and open woodlands.  It also is widely distributed outside of Florida, occurring in nearly every state east of the short grass prairie states and also in California.  Throughout its range, it is generally regarded as a weed, because it rapidly colonizes disturbed ground.
Bitterweed is an annual that reseeds heavily in open soil.  Growth is rapid in the spring, and by late summer it stands between 2-3 feet tall.  The foliage is finely dissected - hence one of its other common names, yellow dogfennel.  The main stem does not branch much unless it is injured early in its growth stage, so it is upright and not very wide in aspect.
Flowering occurs at the top of each main stem in late summer to very early fall.  The bright yellow ray petals surround a rounded central disc and are attractive.  These look a bit like a yellow blanketflower (Gaillardia spp._ and it has been placed in this genus in the past.
Because of its tendency to spread, bitterweed is not a good candidate for most landscape settings. In open expansive dry sites, however, it could make an attractive addition.  It would be controlled by lack of open space in a well-planted landscape and the addition of taller perennials.  It is not currently propagated by any nursery affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries and it is unlikely to be any time in the future.  Seed collected from dry spent flower heads germinates easily if you want to try it yourself.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Florida yellowtops (Flaveria floridana)

Florida yellowtops (Flaveria floridana) is endemic to the west-central and southwestern coast of the peninsula and is distinguished from the more common narrowleaf yellowtops (F. linearis) by its slightly wider leaves and the arrangement of the flower heads.  I have posted both in this blog for your comparison and much the same can be said about this species as the other.
Florida yellowtops is an attractive species, but is not currently being propagated by any of the nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries. 
Look for it near the coast in a wide variety of wetland and uplant (not too xeric) habitats.  It is most noticeable in fall when it begins flowering.  The extremely bright yellow flowers can be seen for a great distance.
Sometimes, when viewed from far away, patches of yellowtops can be mistaken for another widely distributed yellow-flowered aster - flat-topped goldenrod (Euthamia spp.). On closer inspection, the great differences in foliage and the much larger heads of flowers in yellowtops make distinguishing them quite easy.

Narrowleaf Yellowtops - Flaveria linearis


Narrowleaf yellowtops (Flaveria linearis) is a widely distributed wildflower in Florida, found in most coastal counties except the panhandle.  This species is a near endemic as it is not found elsewhere in the U.S.  It is found, however, in Cuba and a few other Caribbean islands.  It is quite similar to the endemic Florida yellowtops (F. floridana) - found only in west-central Florida and distinguished mostly by its slightly wider leaves and the presence of noticeable green leafy bracts beneath the flower heads.
Narrowleaf yellowtops is primarily a coastal wildflower, but can be encountered in a wide variety of moist to upland sites including old fields, coastal strand and salt marsh communities.  It is a perennial, semi-woody species that stands about three feet tall in late fall.  The stiff thin stems turn brown and carry the thin elliptical leaves that are opposite each other.  Plants eventually sucker by underground rhizomes and colonies are formed. 
Flowering occurs in fall and lasts for several weeks.  Flat corymbs of canary yellow flowers make this plant especially showy. Like other members of the aster family, these flowers are visited by a large number of pollinators.
All yellowtops are attractive in the home landscape when grown with some care and cultivation.  In nature, they can get a bit leggy if conditions are less than optimal.  They can be maintained well in most typical landscape settings, but they prefer a bit of extra moisture during the summer and early fall.  Its one major drawback is its tendency to spread. Do not attempt yellowtops in small planting beds, but use it in more-expansive settings where its bright yellow flowers can be admired in mass.
Narrowleaf yellowtops is widely propagated by nurseries affiliated with FANN - The Florida Association of Native Nurseries. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Maryland Goldenaster - Chrysopsis mariana

Maryland goldenaster (Chrysopsis mariana) occurs nearly statewide in Florida, except the extreme southern tip, and across the Southeastern Coastal Plain and north to New York and New Jersey.  This member of a widely distributed genus is most often found in well-drained uplands and disappears quickly if soils become wet for any length of time.
Of the eleven distinct species of Chrysopsis goldenasters, Maryland goldenaster may be the showiest and best suited for home landscapes.  While many species in this genus are a bit weedy in appearance, Maryland goldenaster has rather lush foliage and dense heads of flowers in late fall.  For the most part, this species does not become taller than about 2 feet. The stems are rigid and not prone to falling over and the overall aspect is full and rounded.  Like other members of this genus, the basal leaves are somewhat wooly, but the leaves along the main stem are not.  These laaves are somewhat elliptical and a bit "hairy". 
Flowering occurs in fall - late October to early November in central Florida.  Dense clusters of flower heads are produced at the top of each stem. The heads are large for the genus - about 3/4 inch across, and bright yellow.  Asters in general are excellent at attracting pollinators and Maryland goldenaster is no exception.
Chrysopsis goldenasters are deciduous in winter, but often maintain their basal leaves if temperatures are not too cold. Leave the dead stems with the seedheads and allow this plant to reseed in your landscape.
Maryland goldenaster is not widely grown, but can be found with some searching.  I admire this goldenaster, but have found it to be sensitive to its growing conditions.  Do not attempt to use it if you cannot give it good drainage and plenty of sunshine.  In the right place, this plant persists and reseeds well.  In the wrong location, it dies quickly.  My suggestion for those of you that wish to try it is to plant a few plants in several different locations and then let it find its ultimate location by reseeding.