Monday, December 31, 2012

Woody Goldenrod - Chrysoma pauciflosculosa

Woody goldenrod (Chrysoma pauciflosculosa) is the sole member of this genus. It is not a true goldenrod (Solidago spp.,), but a sub-shrub in the aster family with golden yellow flowers that look a bit like those of the goldenrrods. It is found only in the western half of the Panhandle, in xeric uplands near the coast and in sandhills and scrubs, and outside Florida from Mississippi to North Carolina in ximilar habitats.  It is endangered in North Carolina.
Woody goldenrod is an evergreen perennial that stands about 2-3 feet tall.  It produces many thin woody stems and assumes a very rounded aspect at maturity.  The foliage is mostly confined to the ends of each stem. The leaves are elliptical and bluish green in color. There are no teeth along the margins and they alternate along the stem.  The underside of each leaf is wooly, an adaptation to prevent water loss.
Flowering occurs in late fall.  Hundreds of flower heads are formed at the crown of each plant. These heads are produced on stalks that stand an additional 1-2 feeet above the foliage. The ray petals of each are a light lemon yellow. Mature plants in flull bloom are quite spectacular, and like other asters, they attract a large diversity of pollinating insects.
This species prefers full sun and excellent drainage and has high tolerance of salt spray.  This makes it an excellent choice for beach dunes and sandhill/scrub settings. But, despite its charm, woody goldenrod is only infrequently available to the home landscaper through commercial native plant nurseries.  We have collected seed from a sandhill site in Washington County and hope to have seedlings available by late spring 2013.  Should they prosper, we will also experiment with it in our Pinellas County landscape as well. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Beach Morning Glory - Ipomoea imperati

Beach morning glory (Ipomoea imperati) is the "other" native morning glory in Florida, common to beach dunes (the other being railroad vine, I. pes-caprae). Beach morning glory is found in coastal counties primarily along the Atlantic coast and the Panhandle.  It only occurs sporadically on the west coast, but is common in Pinellas County where I reside.  This coastal morning glory also is found up the Atlantic Coast to the Carolinas (though it may have been extirpated from North Carolina) and along the Gulf Coast to Mexico and beyond.
Beach morning glory is easy to distinguish from railroad vine, even when flowers are not present.  Though it has the same identical ability to ramble widely across the dunes, its foliage is almost arrow-shaped and definitely not cloven.  This is an evergreen perennial.
Like other members of this genus, flowering occurs in the morning hours and the blooms begin to wilt by mid-day.  The flowers are a brilliant white in color with a lemon-yellow throat.  On a white sand background, the beauty of these petals gets a bit lost, but well-grown specimens are especially attractive. Flowers are produced in every month if temperatures do not dip below freezing.
Beach morning glory is widely propagated by commercial nurseries, but is best used in beach dune restoration plantings.  In a typical landscape, it is impossible to control and will spread in all directions for up to 20 feet.  On a beach dune, however, it can run free and will provide invaluable services in stabilizing beach sands.

Railroad Vine - Ipomoea pes-caprae

Railroad vine (Ipomoea pes-caprae) is one of two morning glories common to Florida's beach dunes.  It is common to the coastal counties of central and southern Florida, but occurs only sporadically in coastal Panhandle ones.  This is essentially a tropical/subtropical species and it is found on the dunes of southern Georgia and along the Gulf of Mexico to Mexico southward.  It also is distributed throughout much of the tropical world - it is found in Hawaii, for example, where Roger Hammer reports the plant was used by native peoples since ancient times.
This is an evergreen perennial renowned for its durability and ability to stabilize dune sands.  Railroad vine rambles great distances over the surface of the open sand.  It withstands being buried periodically by the shifting soils, then re-emerging to take off across the surface once more.  The stems and leaves are succulent and covered with a thick cuticle that helps it prevent water loss in this exceedingly inhospitable environment.  The leaves are rounded with a noticeable notch at the apex. This cloven appearance is what gives it its Latin name which means "goat's foot."
Railroad vine produces large rose-pink flowers throughout the year, if temperatures do not get too cold.  Like other members of this family, each flower opens only in the morning for one day, but plants bloom profusely and have multiple flowers every day. If you get to the beach too late, you simply have to return the next morning. 
Because of its durability and beauty, railroad vine is offered for sale by a number of commercial nurseries devoted to native plants.  It is a wonderful plant for beach dune plantings, but a very difficult one for typical landscape settings.  Once, in my early naive years, I was involved in a native plant parking lot planting design.  The railroad vine we used soon escaped the medians and took off across the blacktop - where it was a major nuisance.  This plant can send runners in all directions, up to 20 feet long.  Be careful where you plant it, but if you have a coastal setting where it can ramble and stabilize your dune, use it liberally.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Corn Snakeroot - Eryngium aquaticum

Corn snakeroot (Eryngium aquaticum) is the most robust member of this carrot-family genus in Florida. Its distribution is rather scattered within the state; it is found in most of the counties that lie along the Gulf to west-central Florida, and in various other counties within that general latitude.  It is not found south of the line from Manatee to Indian River Counties.  It also occurs along the Gulf Coast from Mississippi and up the Eastern Seaboard to New York.  Throughout this range, it is confined to wet sunny habitats such as freshwater marshes.  There is some discrepency in the literature regarding its lifestyle - many report it to be a biennial (like many carrots), but my personal experience in Florida is that it behaves more like a short-lived perennial.  Regardless, this is a species that does not persist long in the landscape even when given good growing conditions.
Corn snakeroot maintains a basal rosette of leaves through the winter in Florida.  These leaves are grasslike, about 1/4 inch wide and up to 6 inches long.  The margins do not have teeth or spines as they do in many other species in this genus.
Flower stalks emerge from the center of the rosette in early summer and reach their mature height of 2-3 feet by late summer.  The stalks produce multiple branches near the top and a large rounded flower head is produced at the top of each. Like other species in this genus, each head is subtended by toothed bracts and each flower head appears spiny.  What sets this species apart from others is that the heads are about 1/2 inch across and the flowers are normally a rich cornflower blue.  Though a few other Eryngiums have blue flowers, their heads are tiny in comparison.
The flowers attract a wide variety of pollinators and maintain their showy appearance for several weeks.  The foliage, however, is not used by the caterpillars of eastern black swallowtail butterflies though it is sometimes marketed that way.  A few Eryngiums are useful larval plants for this butterfly, but corn snakeroot is not. 
Because of its beauty, corn snakeroot is often grown commercially in Florida and made available to the home gardener.  It is not an easy plant, however, to provide for.  For one, it is not forgiving of droughty conditions.  Over the years, a great many of my plants have succumbed to soils that have been allowed to dry out for more than just a few days.  I have learned to keep it in spots that do not dry out and that stay wet to extremely moist during much of the year.  It also does not survive long, even under optimum growing conditions.  This is a plant that either needs to reseed to persist or be replanted every couple of years.  I have not had great success getting it to reseed, so I purchase new plants from time to time. I find the effort worth the trouble because corn snake root, in flower, is a spectacular wildflower. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Seminole False Foxglove - Agalinis filifolia

Seminole false foxglove (Agalinis filifolia) `is one of sixteen closely related species in Florida.  I find them difficult to distinguish from each other, but the type of habitat you locate them in helps to narrow down the possibilties a bit.  This one occurs in well-drained sandy uplands - sandhills, coastal scrub, and xeric woodlands.  Seminole false foxglove is found statewide in appropriate habitats, but is a near endemic as its only other occurrences are to states immediately adjacent to us - Georgia and Alabama.
False foxgloves are members of the Broomrape Family; as such they are root parasites to varying degrees on their neighbors.  They also are annuals.  Seminole false foxglove emerges in the spring and reaches its mature size by late summer.  Many stems arise from an underground rhizome; each is partially erect and stands about 3 feet above ground.  A mature plant spreads in all directions and may reach a circumference of 6 or more feet.  Each stem is thin and clothed in small, needlelike leaves.  Therefore, it does not shade out its neighbors, though it drapes many of them.
Blooming occurs in fall. The flowers resemble true foxgloves in shape, but they are a deep pink in color with darker spots inside the corolla.  In this species, the outer petals have a conspicuous fringe - tiny "hairs" that make them look a bit shaggy. The blooms attract a wide variety of pollinators. Pictured above is a green metallic bee (Halictid Family). False foxgloves also serve as a larval food for comon buckeye butterfly caterpillars - pictured below.
Though Seminole false foxglove is an adaptable plant to normal landscape conditions, has beauty in its blooms, and value in the butterfly garden, they have (as a genus) never been offered for sale by any of the nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries.  Their annual nature makes them a difficult group to maintain in a landscape and their sprawling habit reduces the aesthetics of the plant - until they bloom.  This species, and its relatives, are best admired in the wild in fall. And, when you encounter one, look for buckeye butterflies.  They are almost always nearby.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

White Oldfield /Frost Aster - Symphyotrichum pilosum

White oldfield aster (Symphyotrichum pilosum) occurs primarily in the Panhandle region of Florida, though it also has been reported in Marion County in the north-central portion of the state.  It is much more common north of us; its range extends across the eastern half of North America. A disjunct population also has been reported from British Columbia.
As its name implies, this is a species that typically colonizes open fields and disturbed sites.  Like most asters, it suckers and eventually forms colonies, but white oldfield aster does it aggressively and eventually forms dense masses in the landscape.  It dies back to the ground each winter, but maintains its many stems above ground well into spring.  At that time, a basal rosette of linear leaves emerges and each stem begins its upward growth.  By late summer, the stems are 2-3 feet tall. As the flower buds develop, they may arch over a bit and form a mound up to 3 feet across.
Blooming occurs in late fall or early winter; a characteristic that gives it its other common name of "frost" aster.  Numerous bright white ray petals surround a central disc of yellow blooms. Each head is 1/2 inch across. Plants (clumps) in bloom may have hundreds of flowers open at one time. Asters are exceptional magnets for pollinating insects and because these are open so late in the season, white oldfield aster is particularly valuable.
This species is not grown commercially in Florida at this time, though we hope to make it available at Hawthorn Hill by Spring 2013.  As we have not grown it in our own landscape, I do not know how easily it is maintained in landscapes outside its north Florida range. I suspect, however, that it can be "pushed" well into central Florida. If you are interested, contact me in late winter to see how our seedlings are doing.

Canada Goldenrod - Solidago canadensis

Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) is an extremely common goldenrod in north Florida, but only found in scattered locations elsewhere; it has been reported from Alachua, Marion, Seminole, Polk, and Lee Counties. It also is an extremely common goldenrod throughout much of North America, being absent only in the extreme Northwest. Canada goldenrod is an upland species, most commonly encountered in old field and disturbed sites.  In these locations, it suckers aggressively and forms large populations. 
Like most species in this genus, Canada goldenrod is deciduous and dies back to the ground each winter.  The dead stems, with their fluffy seedheads, remain standing throughout the winter, however. New basal leaves emerge in early spring. The leaves are oval and the margins have noticeable teeth on the margins.  What most differentiates this species from its close cousin, pinebarren goldenrod (S. fistulosa) is that each leaf is noticeably 3-nerved.  This trait is evident in the photos above.
Canada goldenrod eventually reaches a mature height of about 3-4 feet. Blooming occurs in the very late fall, hence one of its other common names - "late goldenrod". These photos were taken in north Florida in early December, past the time when most species would still have flowers.  The flower heads are in loose panicles at the top of the stem and the small yellow blooms are typical for the genus.
All goldenrods are excellent nectar sources for pollinating insects and make wonderful additions to a landscape targeting bees and butterflies. Canada goldenrod, however, does not play well with its neighbors and is difficult to control in all but the largest planting areas.  Unless you are restoring or creating an expansive prairie setting, use this one with caution and prepare yourself to weed out the suckers that spread beyond the area they are welcome in.
Canada goldenrod is not offered commercially in Florida, but would be easy to propagate from seed or suckers collected legally. Sow the seed just beneath the surface and sit back...