Sunday, December 29, 2013

Early Fleabane - Erigeron vernus

Early fleabane (Erigeron vernus) occurs statewide in Florida, except for the Florida Keys, and from Louisiana to Virginia within the Southeast Coastal Plain.  It is resident to open habitats that are generally moist - pine flatwoods, savannas, roadside ditches, and the edges of ponds.  Though common throughout much of Florida, it seems to be not nearly as well known as its close relative, daisy fleabane (E. quercifolius). Both are common statewide, but only the latter seems to have been included in the plant trade by native plant nurseries, even though early fleabane is a bit more attractive in my opinion. 
Early fleabane is easily distinguished from daisy fleabane by two significant differences.  The first is their difference in blooming season.  Early fleabane blooms only in early spring while the latter has an extended flowering period from summer through fall.  If you find a patch of fleabane in March or April, it most assuredly is early fleabane. The second difference is in the basal leaves.  As the photo above (from Shirley Denton and taken from the University of South Florida ISB site) shows, early fleabane has somewhat succulent basal leaves that lack teeth along the margins (sometimes shallow teeth are present) and are oval in shape.  Daisy fleabane has rough elliptical basal leaves that are deeply toothed.  Even in winter, when neither is blooming, they are easily told apart.
Early fleabane maintains its basal leaves year-round.  They form small colonies on the ground, slowly dividing over time.  It is a short-lived perennial, often a biennial, and produces its 18-24 inch flower stalk in early spring.  The outer white ray petals are thinner and more delicate than in daisy fleabane, and surround a central yellow disc. All fleabanes attract the attention of small pollinators.
Though not sold in the trade, it makes an attractive addition to a wildflower garden. It is easily grown from seed collected in late spring, but needs to reseed in the garden to persist.  Look for it in early spring in moist open habitats and learn to distinguish it from its ubiquitous later-blooming relative.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Tampa Verbena - Glandularia tampensis

Tampa verbena (Glandularia tampensis) is a state-listed endangered species, endemic to just a few coastal counties on both sides of the state in north and central peninsular Florida.  It is a short-lived perennial that most often occurs in light gaps and disturbed openings in woodland hammocks.  I have found it in a number of locations over the years, but always in edges, in areas rooted by wild hog, along trails, and other such places, and often, when I have returned a year or two later, it has either disappeared or moved.Though somewhat adaptable to growing conditions, it seems to most prefer moist soils and partial sun.
Tampa verbena is an upright, evergreen herbaceous species that rarely stands taller than 2 feet.  Given extra fertilizer or in places that get very little sunlight, it can reach 3 feet, but it often becomes weak and droops over.  Multiple stems arise from the ground and mature plants form a very attractive mass. Each stem, however, forms very few side branches. The opposite leaves are arrow shaped and deeply toothed along the margins.
Blooming can occur in most months, but is most prolific in late spring and summer. Like its close (and also endangered) relative, beach verbena (G. maritima), clusters of very stunning light to deep pink (sometimes, almost lavender) flowers form at the ends of each stem.  Each flower remains open for about a week, and individual plants remain in bloom for many months, if given the right conditions. Like others in this genus, the flowers attract pollinators.
Though quite rare in nature, Tampa verbena is rather widely propagated and is very easy to grow from cuttings.  Its ease of propagation, however, is not matched by ease of maintenance in the garden.  I have grown this beautiful wildflower many times and in many places within my landscape, but I have never had it persist for more than two years and it has never self-seeded.  Its attractiveness warrants using it much like an annual, adding new plants when the older ones expire.  In the garden, Tampa verbena will do well in almost full sun and is rather drought tolerant once established.  It does not seem particularly fussy about soil pH. Given a choice, I would give it part sun and a bit of extra moisture - conditions I find it growing in the wild.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Poeppig's Rosemallow - Hibiscus poeppigii

Poeppig's rosemallow (Hibiscus poeppigii) is a perennial evergreen species native to extreme south Florida - Miami-Dade County and the Florida Keys. It is quite rare in Florida and listed by the state as an endangered species.  This is a tropical hibiscus, also is found in the West Indies and Mexico.  Throughout its range, it is found in upland woods and in open coastal areas, often in shallow soils with limestone beneath.
Poeppig's rosemallow is a semi-woody dwarf shrub. It often reaches mature heights of 2-4 feet, but may grow as tall as 6 feet in ideal conditions. Unlike most of Florida's native hibiscus, it does not die back to the ground in winter, but keeps its leaves and may bloom during any month.  It is cold sensitive and will be killed by temperatures below freezing.  Therefore, it is best used in parts of tropical Florida or as a potted plant that can be moved indoors during nights that dip below 30 degrees F.
Poeppig's rosemallow produces multiple thin stems that ascend off the main semi-woody trunk.  The ovate, deeply toothed leaves are alternate along the stem and both the leaves and the green stems are roughly hairy. Overall, the plant assumes a somewhat rounded appearance - more so if kept lightly pruned.
While not an exceptionally beautiful foliage plant, Poeppig's rosemallow compensates by producing good numbers of carmine red, bell-shaped blooms.  Each is only about 1 inch long, but they are enchanting. Small, rounded seed capsules follow about a month later.
In the right location, Poeppig's rosemallow makes an interesting addition to the home landscape. It is drought and salt tolerant, performs well in full to partial sunlight and fits well into many landscape settings. Regrettably, it is not widely propagated and not currently offered by any of the native plant nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries.  It can be purchased from a few south Florida native plant sources with some sleuthing. Currently, we have a few seedlings from our plants at Hawthorn Hill that we hope to have ready for sale in spring 2014. Inquire if you are interested.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Fragrant Button Snakeroot - Eryngium aromaticum

Fragrant button snakeroot (Eryngium aromaticum) is a low-growing, somewhat sprawling perennial herb native to well-drained upland habitats throughout peninsular Florida and a few Panhandle counties, as well as parts of Georgia and Alabama.  It is a rather diminutive member of this carrot family genus and for a good part of the year it takes a good eye to spot it.  It can be quite common, however, in the open sunny habitats it favors.
Fragrant button snakeroot rarely stands taller than 6 inches. For much of the year, it occurs as a basal rosette of slightly spiny deeply dissected leaves.  Over time, multiple rosettes form above the carrot-like tap root.  The stems elongate over the spring and summer and can extend several feet in multiple directions.  Flowers are produced in fall.  Multiple, spiny flower heads occur at the ends of each stem. Tiny cornflower blue flowers surround the heads. They attract extremely tiny pollinating insects and eventually form brown "balls" of spiny seeds.
Though snakeroots are members of the carrot family, most are not used as larval food by the Eastern black swallowtail butterfly. Fragrant button snakeroot is one of the exceptions - making it an excellent choice for the butterfly garden. 
Regrettably, this useful wildflower is not currently offered by members of FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries. We have collected seed this year, however, and have hopes of offering it for sale at Hawthorn Hill in Spring 2014.  It needs good drainage, full sun and a bit of space to prosper in the home landscape.  Let me know if you are interested in giving it a try.

Camphorweed - Heterotheca subaxillaris

Camphorweed (Heterotheca subaxillaris) is a common roadside plant throughout Florida and much of middle and southern North America.  As an annual it thrives in disturbed open habitats and can be found in a wide variety of sites.
Camphorweed emerges in the spring and rather quickly forms a basal rosette of arrow-shaped leaves that are slightly rough to the touch. The foliage is also aromatic when bruised, hence its common name.  Once the basal leaves are formed, it sends up a flower stalk that can reach three feet tall.  Multiple heads, approximately 1/2 inch across, are produced at the tops of the stems.  The heads are a rich yellow in color with a slightly deeper yellow in the center. Blooming can occur during any month, but is most common in summer and fall.  As this species is an aster, the blooms attract a wide variety of pollinating insects - especially bees and butterflies. 
Camphorweed is not unattractive, but a bit weedy in nature.  It has value in a butterfly garden, but needs to reseed to persist.  To my knowledge, it has never been offered for sale commercially by any of the nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries, but it would be easy to propagate from seed - collected when the seed heads are "fuzzy" as they are in the photos above.  Sow this seed no deeper than 1/4 inch and give it a bit of time to germinate.  DO not mulch it heavily if you wish to have it reseed.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Leavenworth's Tickseed - Coreopsis leavenworthii

There are few wildflowers that say "wildflower" better than Leavenworth's tickseed (Coreopsis leavenworthii).  It is found statewide in a variety of habitats, is nearly endemic (found in a few locations in Georgia), and is essentially the wildflower adopted as the official state wildflower (though the state legislature selected the overall genus and the license tag depicts the non-native, C. basalis, which is a bit showier).  Often, this species is simply referred to as "coreopsis" when a discussion centers on it and it is widely propagated in the native plant industry.
Leavenworth's tickseed is most frequently encountered in moist sites, but is very adaptable and can be found in a variety of upland areas as well.  Though described as a perennial, I find it to behave more as an annual. If plants survive past their first year, they are extremely short-lived perennials.  They proliferate profusely, however, by producing large numbers of seed. In a natural or home landscape setting, this often results in the plant forming extensive colonies. 
Leavenworth's tickseed is a thin plant with narrow leaves and a narrow crown.  In my garden, it emerges in early spring and quickly grows to a mature height of 18-24 inches.  Many small flowers are produced at the ends of each branch from summer into fall, though it may bloom through the year in extreme south Florida.  Each flower is about one inch across; the bright yellow ray petals surround a darker disc. Like all members of the aster family, these blooms are of great interest to pollinating insects.
Because of its adaptability, its ability to persist and thrive in most landscape settings, and its cheery blooms that occur for months before declining, Leavenworth's tickseed is an extremely popular wildflower for the home landscape.  Ours has persisted for more than a decade in our landscape without any supplemental care. The only thing that keeps it in check are the cottontail rabbits that love to eat it and the occasional weeding I do to keep it in bounds. This is a widely propagated species and should be easy to locate from commercial sources.  Do not deadhead spent blooms for at least a month after flowering has finished if you want this plant to reseed and persist, and because the seeds are small, do not mulch it too heavily.

Florida Tickseed - Coreopsis floridana

Florida tickseed (Coreopsis floridana) is a perennial member of this well-known genus and endemic to Florida.  It occurs throughout most of the state, except the extreme northern Panhandle counties, in wet open habitats such as the upper edges of marshes, savannas and prairies.  The photos above were taken at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park in mid-October in moist soils.
Florida tickseed is superficially similar to many of the other yellow-flowered species in Florida, but it is much more robust than the annual C. leavenworthii and C. gladiata, and it is a fall bloomer.  Florida coreopsis eventually stands about three feet tall. The bright yellow ray petals, surrounding the dark disc flowers form a bloom that is two inches across. The leaves are narrowly elliptical in shape.
Florida coreopsis is occasionally offered for sale by nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries, but it is a plant that requires wet to moist soils to survive and is not a good candidate for typical landscape settings.  Its best use is at the upper edge of a wetland feature where it would get consistent moisture.  In such settings, its perennial nature and its showy flowers make it a beautiful wildflower addition.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Coastalplain Rayless Goldenrod - Bigelowia nudata subsp. australis

Coastalplain rayless goldenrod (Bigelowia nudata subsp. australis) is the Florida-specific form of a wildflower distributed along the Gulf Coast from Texas to North Carolina.  The australis subspecies is found throughout the Florida peninsula, except in the very extreme southern tip. These are in the Aster family, but are not closely related to the true goldenrods - genus Solidago.
This perennial is a species of wet open habitats. It dies to the ground in winter and emerges each spring.  Strap-like basal leaves, about one inch long, are soon formed, but these are easily overlooked amidst the grasses and other forbs with which it grows. It makes its full appearance in late spring to fall when the thin 1-3 foot tall flower stalks produce their numerous canary yellow blooms.  As its common name implies, the flowers do not have ray petals, like many other asters.  The tubular flowers are packed into flattened heads that look a bit like candelabras.  Plants are often found in colonies, and these are striking during their several-week blooming season.  They also attract the attention of pollinators.
Florida is home to two species of rayless goldenrod. I have posted previously on B. nutallii. The latter species is quite rare in Florida, found only in excessively well-drained sandy habitats, and has leaves that are even narrower than those shown above.
Coastalplain rayless goldenrod would make a beautiful addition to a wet prairie garden, but its need for moist to wet soils precludes its use in most home landscape settings.  it is not currently offered for sale by any nursery associated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries.

Coastal Plain Milkwort - Polygala setacea

Coastal plain milkwort (Polygala setacea) is a diminutive species that is fairly easy to overlook during its summer-fall blooming season.  Native to most of Florida, and north up the Southeast Coastal Plain to North Carolina, it is resident to moist pine flatwoods, open savannas and prairies.  The flowers pictured here were found at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, just north of Lake Okeechobee in mid-October. 
Like most other members of this genus, it is an annual. Its slender stems reach a mature height of 6-12 inches, and rise above small basal leaves.  The narrow raceme of white flowers is no more than 1/2 inch long. The flower structure is very similar to that of other milkworts; the bright yellow anthers are obvious as they extrude from the open blooms.
This is a plant that is common in the right habitat, but often goes unnoticed.  The blooming season is several months earlier in more northern regions of its range. Look for it as you hike the type of moist open areas where so many other milkworts also reside.

Friday, August 23, 2013

White-flowered Pricklypoppy - Argemone albiflora

Two species of pricklypoppies are native to Florida. The yellow-flowered one, Mexican pricklypoppy (Argemone mexicana) is common throughout much of peninsular Florida. The white-flowered species (A. albiflora), described in this post is found in the same locations. It is not uncommon to find both along roadsides in full sun and sandy soils.  These are members of the true poppy family.
White-flowered pricklypoppy is an annual with thistle-like foliage. The clasping, very spiny leaves are deeply lobed and the leaves are alternating along the stem. Multiple flower stalks are produced and reach a maure height of about 3-4 feet. The flowers are produced for several months from late spring through summer.  They are quite showy, with broad, frilly petals and bright yellow stamens (the male parts of the flower) in the center.  The pollinated flowers form spiny seed capsules that open at the top. The poppy-type seeds are then released over time as the seed capsules are shaken by wind and rain.
Although the flowers are quite attractive, the very spiny nature of this wildflower limits its attractiveness in a landscape setting. I am not aware that either species of pricklypoppy has ever been offered for sale commercially in Florida. It is extremely adaptable to open sunny locations and would be easy to grow. If you are interested, be careful to limit its spread to only those areas where its prickly nature won't be a problem.

Florida Tasselflower - Emilia fosbergii

Florida tasselflower (Emilia fosbergii) is a common non-native lawn weed, but an attractive one that is found in nearly everyone's landscape within peninsular Florida. It is not likely to be found in extreme north Florida or the Panhandle.  This is a widely distributed plant worldwide, and is reported from much of the West Indies, Mexico south to parts of Brazil, many western Pacific islands, tropical Africa, and parts of Indonesia.
Florida tasselflower is an annual member of the aster family. It comes up each year from the copious seed shed from the year before. A cluster of basal leaves forms early. They are diamond  shaped with a toothed margin and a "wing" along the leaf stem (i.e. the petiole).  A central floral stem is then produced that can reach 2-3 feet tall. The leaves along the stem do not have petioles .  Flower buds occur at the top of each stem. They open from late spring to fall on open heads. The petals are crimson to deep pink in color.  A closely related non-native species, lilac tasselflower (E. sonchifolia) has lilac-colored flowers - not crimson or pink.
Florida tasselflower produces a great many flowers and, when ripe, they produce a great many dandelion-type seeds. The fluffy appendages, attached to each seed, are designed to catch the wind and waft each seed far away from the parent plant.  If you allow your plants to go to seed, you will get a great many more each season. Florida tasselflower is extremely adaptable. It does very well in open sunny, disturbed locations as well as sites that are mostly shady. As a member of the aster family, its flowers draw pollinators. 
I choose to leave a few of these "weeds" alone each year in the corners of my landscape for the bees and butterflies, but I weed them aggressively in the other parts of my landscape. If you leave it completely alone, it will take over your landscape and likely become a nuisance.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Goldencrest - Lophiola aurea

Goldencrest (Lophiola aurea) is an erect perennial herb native to the central and western portions of the Florida Panhandle. Originally included in the same genus as redroot (Lachnanthes caroliana) there are superficial resemblances between the two, but also significant differences. For one, goldencrest has whitish to brownish roots - not red, and there are also differences in their chemical and pollen structure. Goldencrest, therefore, has been put in its own genus and this is the only species worldwide. It is found throughout the Deep South with disjunct populations being reported from New Jersey and Prince Edward Island. Goldencrest is a species of wet savannas, bogs and ditches where it gets full sun and nearly constant wet soil.
It dies to the ground each winter, and reaches a mature height of 1-3 feet in late spring.  The leaves are small, linear, and less than 1/4 inch wide. Flower heads are produced at the top of the stalk. They are open cymes with the stems and the flower heads covered by white wooly hairs.  The individual flowers are tiny with a yellow crest emerging from the top of the bud. Each of these flower buds ripens to a dry capsule in late summer.
Goldencrest has never been offered for sale commercially in Florida, to the best of my knowledge.  It is a common plant of the open savannas of Apalachicola National Forest (where these photos were taken), in the same types of habitats where pitcher plants, sundews, and grass pink orchids occur. Look for it in late spring.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Purple Coneflower - Echinacea purpurea

Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is a common wildflower throughout much of the eastern half of North America, but exceedingly rare in Florida.  Resident to only a few limestone glades in Gadsden County, purple coneflower is listed here as a state endangered species.
In these glades communities, it occurs in open to partially sunny openings, in well-drained soil that has a rather high pH.  These are not the same conditions this plant is found in further north. Purple coneflower is a perennial that dies back completely to the ground in winter. A basal rosette of noticeably toothed, arrow-shaped leaves emerges in spring. Each leaf is deep green and up to 6 inches long.  They are rough to the touch. Multiple flower stalks arise from inside these rosettes in spring and flowering occurs over a protracted period in summer.  The large showy blooms are several inches across with pink to lavender ray petals and a central disk of spiky greenish brown ones.  Purple coneflower attracts a very diverse assortment of pollinating insects and there is always someting nectaring on it. In sunny areas, these flowers stand several feet tall, but in the shade (like the photos taken above) they can reach 3-4 feet tall.
The vast majority of purple coneflower being propagated here in Florida does not come from Florida stock, which is why so many people tell me that their plants act like annuals. Seed and plants from areas to our north do not perform well in Florida and should be avoided if you do not wish to replant it each spring. Dan Miller, of Trillium Gardens in Tallahassee, has been propagating his purple coneflower from Florida plants. My stock came from his and it has done well in Pinellas County and has lasted now for 2 years without sign of wasting away. The same is true of the specimens photographed above in the landscape of a friend in Gainesville.
In Florida, purple coneflower seems to do best when used in partly sunny locations. It is drought tolerant and does not require limey soils, but do not plant it anywhere that does not drain well.  I like it mixed with other medium-tall wildflowers, in patches of no less than 3 plants, preferably more than 5.  Just make sure your plants come originally from the Florida population. Don't be fooled by those who tell you it came from plants grown in Florida - most of those are not Florida genetic stock, but out-of-state stock grown in a Florida garden. I have tried plenty of those in the past and every time I have, the plants died after the first year.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Coastal Bog Asphodel - Tofieldia racemosa

Coastal bog asphodel (Tolfieldia racemosa) is a member of a very small family that also includes the rare endeminc Harper's beauty (Harperocallis flava). Coastal bog asphodel is the only member of this genus native to Florida. It is an obligate wetland plant, found in wet savannas and open bogs across much of the Florida panhandle and in a few counties around the Jacksonville area.  It also is present in most states in the Southeast - from Texas to Maryland.
Coastal bog asphodel is a perennial member of the monocot group of flowering plants and has thin linear basal leaves like many lilies, grasses, and others that comprise this group. It dies back to the ground in winter and produces its basal rosette in early spring.  The flower scape arises from the center of this rosette and reaches its mature height of about 2 feet in early summer. The photos above were taken in mid-June in Apalachicola National Forest in an area that also supported yellow pitcher plants and sundews. The flowers are produced one per node, not in small clusters, and each is comprised of six petals.
This very attractive wildflower is not likely to ever be sold commercially due to its restricted habitat requirements. Look for it during the summer months if you are in open wet prairies in north Florida.  It deserves a close look.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Erect Dayflower - Commelina erecta

Erect dayflower (Commelina erecta) occurs throughout Florida and nearly all of the United States except the extreme Northeast and Far West.  This is a native species, common to a wide variety of dry upland sites. Most other native dayflowers are found in moister habitats and are not erect.
This is a perennial species, a close relative of the spiderworts and roselings, and shares the typical 3-petal flower shape. Dayflowers, as the common name suggests, have blooms that open for only one day, but produce a succession of flowers that keep plants in bloom for many weeks in the summer.  Another common name for this species is "white mouth dayflower", so named because the lower petal is white instead of blue. It also is greatly reduced in size.
Dayflowers have a somewhat complex pollination strategy, but the blooms attract many kinds of bees and other pollinators.  The seeds are produced in large numbers by late summer. The larger upper petals are a bright sky blue in color. This color is typical for this genus.
This is only 1 of 2 native dayflower species, but a great many nonnative species are common lawn weeds and residents of disturbed habitats.  All possess foliage that is somewhat elliptical, with the sessile leaves clasping the main stem. This species is the only one likely to be encountered in xeric conditions, full sun, and upright in nature.  Mature specimens bloom in mid to late summer. They typically reach a height of 18- 24 inches. 

Florida Scrub Roseling - Callisia ornata

Florida scrub roseling (Callisia ornata) (fka Cuthbertia ornata) is endemic to the scrub and sandhill habitats of the Florida peninsula, south to Collier County. Roselings are very close relatives of the spiderworts (Tradescantia spp.) and the dayflowers (Commelina spp.), both very common almost weedy genera, but roselings are diminutive in comparison and not likely to ever be encountered in your lawn. The four native species in Florida are somewhat difficult to tell apart at first glance. Florida scrub roseling is distinguished by its very thin, grasslike leaves all the way up the stem and the fact that its flower scape is held well above the nearest leaves.
Roselings are annuals. Large numbers of seed are produced the previous fall. The tiny, grasslike plants emerge in the spring and eventually they form a basal rosette of bright green leaves. Each rosette is about 2 inches across.
In Florida scrub roseling, the flower stalk eventually reaches a height of about 12 inches. The bright 3-petal pink flowers each open for one day, in succession for several weeks. These blooms are visited by a wide variety of pollinators and the ripened seed is scattered below the parent by late summer/early fall.  The flowers, above, were photographed in late June.
Roselings are not uncommon, but are difficult to distinguish when not in bloom.  Their attractive pink flowers should lend them the qualities sought for landscape purposes, but their annual nature makes them very difficult to keep in a typical mixed wildflower bed.  To persist, they need open, sandy soil and the ability to move about the bed. Since they aren't currently being propagated, it is best to simply admire their simple beauty as you hike Florida's most xeric habitats in mid-summer - a time too few of us get out to explore this amazing state of ours.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Godfrey's False Dragonhead - Physostegia godfreyi

Godfrey's false dragonhead (aka Godfrey's obedient plant) (Physostegia godfreyi) is a rare endemic, found only in the wet open savannas of the Apalacicola National Forest area - Wakulla County west to Walton County.  It is classified as a state threatened species, and it requires moist to wet soils and open sunny areas.
Like other members of this genus, it is an herbaceous perennial that develops networks of underground rhizomes. As these branch and divide, they put up multiple above-ground stems and these form extensive colonies.  Each stem arises in the spring, is quite thin and tends to blend in with the grasses and other graminoids it frequently occurs with.  The leaves of Godfrey's false dragonhead are very thin and alternate along the stem.  By early summer, they have reached a mature height of about 18 inches.
Flowering occurs in June and the weight of the blooms tends to bend the thin stalks over. As the common name implies, the individual flowers look a bit like those of snapdragons. The other common name for this genus, obedient plant, is derived from the curious trait of the blooms along the stem. If you push them 90 degrees from their existing angle on the stem, they will stay in their new position - making them "obedient." The flowers of Godfrey's obedient plant are a pale pink  with darker venation within the throat. Each is about 1/2 inch long.  Obedient plants are mostly pollinated by bees.
Though some obedient plants make excellent landscape specimens (we grow P. virginiana in our landscape), Godfrey's will never be a target for commercial production. Look for it if you are in the open wiregrass savannas and pitcher plant bogs of Apalachicola National Forest in June and early July - and then simply admire it for its rarity and simple beauty. This is one of many beautiful wildflowers found only in Florida.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Chapman's milkwort - Polygala chapmanii

Chapman's milkwort (Polygala chapmanii) is one of 23 species of this widely variable genus in Florida. It has a very restricted distribution here, occurring only from the central Panhandle west.  In this region, it can be found in open wet savannas and flatwoods.  Outside of Florida, it is found from Georgia to Louisiana.
Polygalas generally are annuals. This species emerges in early spring and forms an erect stem that eventually reaches a height of 1-2 feet. It is very difficult to see, however, until the flowers open in early summer because it blends in perfectly with all the grasses, sedges, and other graminoids it occurs with.  The leaves are tiny, occur sparingly and solitary along the stem, and are filiform (grasslike) in shape.
The photographs above were taken in mid-June in Apalachicola National Forest, in an area that also included pitcher plants and Calopogon orchids..  The flowers are typical of the species, forming clustered racemes and blooming from the bottom up. Each bloom is a pale pink in color with bright yellow reproductive parts in the center. Plants in flower are pretty, but their relative small size makes them a bit less showy than many others in this genus.
Milkworts, as a genus, are not offered commercially for the home landscape. Because they are annuals, they need planting beds that allow them to reseed. I have not had success keeping any of the other more common species past one growing season, and I suspect Chapman's milkwort would be even more difficult because of its restricted habitat requirements.  Look for it during the early summer in open wet savannas, in areas where pitcher plants might be present, and admire it for its simple beauty.

Handsome Harry - Rhexia virginica

Handsome harry (Rhexia virginica) is one of ten species of meadow beauties resident to Florida. Common to moist flatwoods, and the margins of open savannas and other wetlands, it occurs across the northern tier of counties in Florida from the far west to the Jacksonville area.  This is a common species to our north, and occurs in every state east of the Mississippi River as well as the line of states immediately west of it.
Meadow beauties are perennial herbaceous plants that die back to the ground each winter, and handsome harry is no exception.  By late spring it reaches a mature height of several feet and initiates blooming.  The stems are squarish, somewhat like a mint, but these belong to the Melastoma family. They are also covered with bristly trichomes - "hairs".  The leaves of this species are opposite on the stem and somewhat variable in shape.  The plants photographed above have lanceolate leaves, but sometimes they are more ovate.  When they are linear, this species could be confused with the much rarer  panhandle meadowbeauty (R. salicifolia). The foliage of handsome harry, however, is held horizontal to the ground and the leaves are sessile and never twisted upright as they are in panhandle meadowbeauty. 
The flowers range in color from the pale form pictured above to a richer pink.  Like most other members of this genus, there are four broad petals and many long curved yellow anthers. These make the plant showy when in bloom. Pollination comes mostly from bees. Like all members of the genus, the pollinated flowers form a brown urn-shaped seed capsule that persists well after the petals have fallen. These seed capsules make identifying the genus easy throughout much of the year.
Rhexias are only occasionally offered for sale commercially.  They are undemanding, if their moisture requirements can be met.  Though somewhat forgiving of short droughty periods, it perfers extended periods during the growing season of ample moisture.  Handsome harry performs best in north Florida and other similar species should be tried further south here if you wish to add it to your landscape.