Sunday, November 22, 2015

Apalachicola Meadowbeauty - Rhexia parviflora

Apalachicola meadowbeauty (Rhexia parviflora) is an especially rare member of this common genus and listed as a state endangered species. Found in Florida only in the central and western Panhandle counties, it also has a very limited distribution in parts of adjacent Georgia and Alabama. Throughout its limited range, it is resident to moist soil habitats such as seepage slopes, depression marshes, and the upper edges of cypress domes. The plants photographed above were found growing in about 1 inch of water at the edge of an isolated cypress dome in the Apalachicola National Forest in mid-August.
Apalachicola meadowbeauty is a perennial herb that dies back to the ground in winter. It emerges in spring, but remains small and can go largely unnoticed in the understory vegetation until it blooms in summer. Few plants reach a mature height of 16 inches; most are less than 1 foot tall. The stems are square and somewhat "hairy", while the leaves are 1/2-1 inch long, oval in shape and attached to the main stem by a petiole. No other meadowbeauty in Florida combines this feature with white petals. The common pale meadow beauty (R. mariana)  is only sometimes white, does not have leaf stalks, and normally occurs in drier habitats.
The flowers are composed of four bright rounded white petals and are normally less than 1 inch across. The reproductive parts are bright yellow and the anthers curl slightly backward. The blooms mostly attract the attention of bees.
Apalachicola meadowbeauty is one of many examples of how unique the state's flora is. This is a difficult plant to locate and requires some sleuthing in wet habitats during the summer to locate it. If you do, simply admire it for its subtle beauty. Do not attempt to collect any portion of it for any purpose without permits. This is not a specimen for use in a home landscape. There are many, more common species better for that purpose.

Fringed meadowbeauty - Rhexia petiolata

Fringed meadow beauty (Rhexia petiolata) is a common component of wet open habitats throughout much of Florida (except the very lowest tiers of counties). It also occurs in much of the Southeast Coastal Plain from Texas to Maryland. It can be easily confused with the also-common Nuttall's meadow beauty (R. nuttallii), with which it overlaps significantly in geographic range, but fringed meadow beauty has no hairs on the outside of its rounded urn-shaped seed capsules while Nuttall's is conspicuously covered by glandular hairs.
This, like other members of the genus, are perennial herbs that die back in winter. Stems arise from the hardened base in spring and reach a mature height of 6 inches to 2 1/2 feet. The plants photographed above in a pitcher plant bog in Apalachicola National Forest in mid-August were on the taller end of the height spectrum for this species. The leaves are oval, clasp the stem and are less than 1 inch long. Noticeable hairs occur on the margins.
Flowering lasts from June until early fall. The 4-petal pink flowers are borne singly or in small clusters at the end of the stems. The blooms are about 1-inch across and nearly indistinguishable from Nuttall's meadow beauty. The petals tend to have wavy margins and curl upwards. Most other meadow beauties hold their flowers at 90-degree angles to the ground and have more-flattened petals,
Fringed meadow beauty is not currently grown commercially in Florida by any nursery affiliated with FANN- the Florida Association of Native Nurseries.  Its somewhat demure aesthetics make it unlikely to be added in the future.

Lance-leaf Rose-gentian - Sabatia difformis

Lance-leaf rose-gentian (Sabatia difformis) is a perennial member of this genus and resident to wet open habitats throughout much of central and north Florida. It also is resident throughout much of the Southeast Coastal Plain from Alabama to New Jersey.
This is a unique member of an interesting genus; its species name, difformis, is derived from its atypical form, and it is distinctive enough not to be confused with other rose-gentians. Lance-leaf rose-gentian dies back to the ground in winter, but reaches a mature height of about 3 feet by late spring. The leaves are only about 1 inch long, narrowly lanceolate, and tend to point upwards. They also lack a petiole (the leaf stem) and strongly clasp the main stem. The basal leaves are normally absent (or underwater) by blooming season.
A multi-branched flower stalk is produced atop the main stem and may be 6 inches across. Clusters of bright white, 5-petal flowers open from May through late summer. Each petal is nearly 1/2 inch long, making the mature inflorescence quite showy. They attract pollinators.
Lance-leaf rose-gentian is not grown commercially in Florida and would require specific conditions to prosper. Look for it in open marshes and bogs in summer and admire it for its simple beauty.

Doll's Daisy - Boltonia diffusa

Doll's daisy (Boltonia diffusa) is easily confused, at first glance, with the true daisies in the genus Symphyotrichum. In fact, the best way of telling the genera apart lies in looking at the seeds. Asters (and fleabanes (Erigerons) ) have coverings over the seeds that have numerous bristles while doll's daisy has very few. Doll's daisies (there are 3 species in Florida) are thinly branched perennial herbs that occur in seasonally wet habitats. They are never found far from shallow standing water. This species is the only one found statewide. It also occurs throughout much of the southern and lower Midwestern states.
Doll's daisy dies back to the ground in winter and emerges in early spring. As it suckers profusely underground, it normally occurs in colonies. It reaches a mature height of 3-5 feet tall by summer. The leaves are narrow, alternate along the stem, and are less than 1 inch long. The leaf margins are often smooth, but may have several small teeth.
Flowering occurs from summer through fall. Each bloom is 1/2 inch across, on average, and composed of numerous white to light lavender ray petals surrounding a bright yellow disk. Each is held on long stems on top of the main branches. Like all members of the daisy family, they attract pollinators.
Doll's daisy requires seasonably wet to shallowly inundated soils. As such, it is not a wildflower likely to be offered for home landscape purposes. Its small flowers and spindly stems also reduce its aesthetic qualities, but it has value in a wetland pollinator garden. To my knowledge, it is not available commercially, but could be grown from seed collected in fall.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Scrub Buckwheat - Eriogonum longifolium var. gnaphalifolium

Scrub buckwheat (Eriogonum longifolium var. gnaphalifolium) is a very rare endemic species, found only within the scrub and sandhill habitats of Florida's central ridges - from Ocala National Forest south to the end of the Lake Wales Ridge. It listed as threatened by both the state and federal government.
Scrub buckwheat is a perennial forb that generally maintains its linear basal leaves through the winter. These leaves are 6-8 inches long, deep green in color and slightly "hairy" on the upper surface. Like its close (and much more common) cousin wild buckwheat (E. tomentosum), the undersides of these leaves are densely silvery hairy. The third photo from the top shows this.
A central flower stalk is produced in the center of this basal rosette of leaves and it can appear almost anytime from early summer to fall. Flowering is sometimes stimulated by fire, but it is not necessary. The plant above is in my landscape and began blooming in late October - without fire. The flower stalks reach 2-3 feet tall prior to the flowers opening. It is multi-branched near the top. Each branch contains 10-20 small silvery white flowers  with a yellow center. The flower stalk, flower buds, and the undersides of the sepals are covered by silky silver "hairs".
Though rare in nature, scrub buckwheat is uncommonly offered by native nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries. It is not an especially showy addition to a scrub/sandhill wildflower garden, but it is interesting - especially if planted in small clusters. To date, our single plant has done well in sandy soil in nearly full sun that also has various Conradina's and other scrub plants around it. In the spring, before flowering, it can be confused with wild buckwheat as both have linear leaves arranged in a rosette, with silvery undersides. If you find scrub buckwheat, do not collect seed, but simply admire it for its uniqueness.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Water Hoarhound - Lycopus rubellus

Water hoarhound (Lycopus rubellus) is one of four hoarhounds/bugleweeds native to Florida, and the only one widely found south of the Panhandle. It is an herbaceous perennial that dies back to the ground in winter and reemerges in the spring. As their common name suggests, all four species are obligate wetland species - resident to freshwater swamps, marshes, bogs, and wet shorelines.
Water hoarhound eventually reaches a mature height of about 3 feet. It produces many single stems off its spreading system of underground rhizomes, so when you find it, it normally is present in clusters or in mass depending on the openness of the habitat surrounding it.  As this is a mint, the stem is square. It also is slightly "hairy" and a deep maroon red in color. The leaves are opposite on the stem, normally sessile (without a petiole), and elliptical in shape. The edges have distinctive teeth.
Blooming occurs from summer into late fall. The small white flowers are produced in the leaf axils in clusters. Individual blooms last just a few days, but each cluster produces more over a several month period. Each bloom is about 1/4 inch long and somewhat tubular; the five petals are mostly fused.  The anthers are purple and the throat has several tiny purplish dots, making the flowers appear somewhat pinkish from a distance. They are pollinated by small bees and butterflies.
Water hoarhound can be commonly encountered in the wet areas of Florida, but overlooked when not in bloom. It is not currently being propagated and is unlikely to be in the future as more-showy wetland species are the ones in demand for landscape purposes.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Downy Lobelia - Lobelia puberula

Downy lobelia (Lobelia puberula) is a robust perennial forb found throughout the northern one-third of Florida in moist to mesic habitats such as open woodlands, roadsides, and meadows. It also occurs in much of the Southeast and southern Midwest, from Texas and Missouri, east to New Jersey southward.
Downy lobelia dies back to the ground in winter and emerges in early spring. It quickly produces a set of basal leaves that are up to 5 inches long and 1.5 inches wide. The leaves are elliptical, clasp the stem (lack a petiole), and are finely toothed along the margin.  They also alternate up the stem.
Flowering occurs in late summer and well into fall. The mature flower stalk is 3-5 feet tall and the deep lavender flowers are produced singly on the upper 2-3 feet.  Each bloom is nearly 1 inch long with a distinct white blotch in the throat.  Sharply pointed sepals subtend each flower and a nearly sagittate wavy leaf occurs opposite.
Although some lobelias have found favor in the landscape trade, downy lobelia has not in Florida. Though quite showy and adaptable to non-wetland conditions, it has not been offered by nurseries affiliated with FANN, the Florida Association of Native Nurseries. It is sold commercially by native nurseries to Florida's north, however.  We have not experimented with downy lobelia at Hawthorn Hill and I do not know how adaptable out-of-state stock is to our growing conditions. If you attempt it, give it mesic to moist conditions. In mesic conditions, it is likely to do best in partial to half sun. If you are growing it, let us know what you've discovered. I hope this beautiful wildflower is someday made more available in Florida than it is at present.

Spanish Needles - Bidens bipinnata

Spanish needles (Bidens bipinnata) is a member of a genus well known for its barbed seeds that catch on clothing and hair, and get transported well away for dispersal purposes. Though it shares the same common name as its white-flowered cousin, Bidens alba, it is quite distinct and impossible to confuse. Spanish needles occurs throughout much of Florida, except the western panhandle and the extreme southern peninsula. It also is reported from nearly every state in the southern two-thirds of the U.S. It is not a wetland plant, but is most commonly encountered in disturbed sites such as roadsides and agricultural edges in mesic to well-drained soils.
Like its more common cousin, Spanish needles is an upright annual and forms a noticeable taproot. The stems reach a mature height of about 3 feet in late summer. As the Latin name suggests, the leaves appear to be bipinnately compound - though they are, in fact, simple, but deeply dissected. They are opposite each other on the stem and several inches long near the base of the plant.
Flowering occurs in late summer and fall. The plants above were photographed along a roadside in Jefferson County on September 26, 2015. Many flowers are produced at the tips of the stems, they are less than 1/2 inch across, and composed of a set of bright yellow ray petals encircling a center of yellow disk flowers.  Once flowering ends, the ripened fruit is an elongated collection of 4-barbed achenes.
Spanish needles attracts pollinators, but has few aesthetic qualities that would make it suited for a home landscape. As such, it is a plant most likely to be encountered on a hike along disturbed edges in full to partly sunny locations. Just watch that you don't take some home with you, hooked tightly to your socks or pant legs.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Swamp Hornpod - Mitreola sessilifolia

Swamp hornpod (Mitreola sessilifolia) is a common wetland species, found nearly statewide in open marshes, bogs and savannas.  It also occurs throughout the Southeastern Coastal Plain from Texas to Virginia. Though common in the understory, it can go largely unnoticed when not in bloom.
Swamp hornpod is an annual herbaceous wildflower. It forms a single erect stem that generally stands 12-18 inches tall by summer. The opposite oval leaves have noticeable teeth along the margins and the edges curl under slightly. The Latin name is derived from its leaves lacking a petiole - they are sessile to the stem. As evidenced by these photographs, the stems are also smooth and reddish.
Flowering occurs in summer. The tiny white flowers occur in branching clusters at the tips of the stems.  They are rounded in appearance and open only slightly to make themselves available to pollinating insects.
The hornpods are in the Loganaceae, a family well known for species that are highly toxic due to the presence of alkaloids in their foliage such as strychnine. Though you may not want to eat this plant, they are beautiful when seen in patches in full bloom. Because of its annual nature, however, it is not propagated commercially by any of the nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries.  This is a species you'll simply have to admire if you are walking in open shallow wetlands in summer in most parts of Florida.

Yeatesia/Yellow Bractspike - Yeatesia viridiflora

Yeatesia (Yeatesia viridiflora) is a member of the same family as wild petunia (Ruellia) and twinflower (Dyschoriste), the Acanthaceae, yet is not propagated commercially as these other two genera are and generally is not included in books featuring Florida wildflowers. Perhaps it's because it has a limited range here; it is reported only from a 4-county area in the central Panhandle in and near Torreya State Park. It also occurs in much of the western half of the Southeastern Coastal Plain - from Texas to Georgia. In this region, it is most often found in the understory of deciduous woodlands where it gets some protection from full sun, but in light gaps where it is not completely shaded.
Yeatesia is an herbaceous perennial that dies back to the ground in winter. It emerges in early spring and reaches a mature height of 18-24 inches by June. The foliage very closely resembles that of the common wild petunia (R. caroliniensis), and when not in flower it could easily be mistaken for it.  The leaves are thin and broadly elliptical.  They also are opposite each other on the stem with long petioles. On close examination, the surface of the leaves are sparsely "hairy".
Flowers are produced at the top of the stems in compact spikes; each flower is surrounded by a pair of large bracts. This characteristic makes the identification of this species easy. Single, 4-petal bright white flowers are produced within this spike. Each remains open for only one day - normally only in the morning half of the day, but flowering proceeds for several weeks on individual plants from late spring to summer. The photographs above were taken 15 August in Torreya State Park and most individuals seen had just finished flowering for the year. The flowers attract pollinating insects.
Yeatesia would make an interesting addition to a shade garden if not planted in deep shade. As so few native wildflowers are suited to these conditions, it makes its propagation even more useful.  We have not had experience with it here in our landscape nor intend to grow it at Hawthorn Hill as we are so distant from its natural geographic range.  Hopefully, it will be taken on by some of the native nurseries in north Florida. I suspect it would be as easy as its widely grown relatives to propagate in a nursery setting.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Wild Strawberry - Fragaria virginiana

Strawberry in Flower

Wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) is a perennial herbaceous wildflower whose fruit is the ancestral foundation of one our most important fruit crops.  The vast commercial strawberry industry in North America began with the tiny, but extremely tasty, fruit of this wild plant. Wild strawberry occurs in every state and province in the United States and Canada, but is extremely rare in Florida - reported only in Jackson and Leon counties near the Georgia state line.
Wild strawberry is most often found in mesic open woodlands and in grassy open fields. It prefers ample, but somewhat filtered sunlight to perform best. It is a creeping ground cover that produces many above-ground stems (stolons) that spread from the main stem and root periodically along their length. It rarely stands taller than 6-12 inches above the ground and can be easily overlooked when not in flower or fruit.  Like its commercial cousins, it has a distinctive 3-parted compound leaf, oval in shape, and with noticeable teeth along the margins. This is also representative of the blackberries (Rubus spp.), but wild strawberry is thornless. There are, however, noticeable soft hairs on the stems and leaves.
Wild strawberry produces numerous 5-petal white flowers in the spring. These are followed by the bright red succulent fruit in June-July. The fruit of wild strawberry is rarely as much as 1/2 inch across, but are far more flavorful than any of the commercial berries you are likely to find for sale. They make exquisite jam if you can find enough to collect. The leaves also make a fragrant tea that is high in Vitamin C.  The tea is made by adding about 1/2 cup of the leaves to 2 cups of boiling water and letting it steep before straining.
Wild strawberry is rare in Florida and it is quite rare that any of our native nurseries propagate it commercially. It is widely grown, however, by sources close to us. If you choose to give it a try, choose a source as close to Florida's growing conditions as possible and use it as a ground cover for areas that receive at least half day sun and in soils that are neither too droughty or too wet. The plants above were photographed in my landscape in south Pasco County. My original three plants have filled in a much larger area as the stolons grow in all directions and root where they touch. As I now have more plants than fit in this limited space, I have started to propagate it for sale at Hawthorn Hill.

Ripened fruit

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Sidebeaked Pencilflower - Stylosanthes biflora

Sidebeaked pencilflower (Stylosanthes biflora) is found throughout much of north and central Florida in well-drained sandy uplands.  The plants photographed above were found in a recently burned longleaf pine sandhill, but it also is resident to dry hammocks, old fields, and roadside edges. This species also occurs in much of the eastern U.S.
Sidebeaked pencilflower is a perennial species that dies back to the ground in winter, unless temperatures remain above freezing.  It can act like a low-growing ground cover or be mostly erect. The plants above are assuming the former aspect. This is a rather diminutive species. Like many other members of the bean/pea family, the foliage is composed of three leaflets. Each is somewhat narrow and less than 1/3 inch long. A close inspection of the leaves shows that they have a few sharp teeth along the margins and stiff "hairs" as well.
Flowering occurs in the leaf axils - either solitary or in small clusters, in summer and early fall. Each bloom is deep yellow to nearly orange with darker lines on the larger "flag" petal. A much smaller fused lower lip is beneath. The flowers are very small, less than 1/2 inch in size. They are pollinated by small bees. The foliage is the larval food source for the barred sulfur.
Sidebeaked pencilflower is currently being propagated by many commercial nurseries, mostly as an alternative to turf. Though not as resistant to repeated foot traffic, it will spread and form a mat over time. Though the flowers are tiny, its additional value to a landscape devoted to butterflies and pollinators makes up for its deficiencies.

Variable-leaved Sunflower - Helianthus heterophyllus

Variable-leaved sunflower (Helianthus heterophyllus) is one of 18 species of sunflowers native to the Sunshine State. It occurs throughout the central and western portion of the Panhandle in low/wet open habitats such as roadside ditches, savannas and wet pine flatwoods. It also is reported from much of the Southeast Coastal Plain - from Louisiana to North Carolina.  This is an herbaceous perennial that dies back to the ground in winter.
Many of our native sunflowers can be tricky to differentiate by species. Variable-leaved sunflower is most easily identified by its relative lack of leaves along the stem. It produces a tuft of 4-6" long linear leaves in spring, They are rough to the touch - a result of the many stiff hairs along the surface and leaf edge. Though a few of these leaves may occur a short distance up the 4-5 foot tall hairy stem, it is mostly leafless. A single flower head is produced at the top of each by mid-summer.
The composite flowers are comprised of 1-2 dozen bright yellow ray petals surrounding a dark center of disk flowers. The size of these flower heads is variable, but can be 4 inches across. Like other sunflowers, they are exceptional at attracting pollinating insects and the ripened seeds provide food for various seed-eating birds.
Variable-leaved sunflower is not propagated by any of the native nurseries in Florida associated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries, though other species are commonly offered. It would require sunny moist locations to prosper and it would require ample space as it has a tendency to spread by underground rhizomes.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Stoke's Aster - Stokesia laevis

Stoke's aster (Stokesia laevis) is a very showy species that is widely propagated throughout the south in both wildflower gardens and in more formal settings.  It has been adopted by the plant breeders and many horticultural varieties are offered in garden catalogs.  All this is justifiable as Stoke's aster has all the natural attributes that make it a valued addition to the landscape.
As a Florida wildflower, however, it is quite rare, found in only 9 counties scattered in extreme north Florida. The largest population occurs in the Apalachicola National Forest. The plants photographed above were taken along a Forest roadside on 13 August.  Stoke's aster occurs naturally throughout much of the Southeast Coastal Plain, from Louisiana to North Carolina.  Throughout this range, it prefers moist and sunny locations - savannas, the upper edges of pitcher plant bogs, and roadside depressions.
Stoke's aster is an herbaceous perennial that dies back to the ground during the winter. Its large thick, strap-like leaves emerge in spring and form a rosette at ground level that may be 12 inches or more across.  The leaf surfaces are "hairy" and densely glandular; the leaves also often have spine-like teeth near their base. The flower stalk soon emerges from this leaf rosette and reaches its mature height of about 18-24 inches by mid-summer. Each stalk produces one flower at the top, though individual plants may produce more than one stalk.
The extremely showy blooms are what has made stoke's aster such a favored landscape plant. When fully open, each is 2-3 inches across and light lavender/pinkish blue in color. As a member of the aster family, these blooms are really a composite of a great many small tubular flowers and the large numbers attract the attention of pollinating insects of all kinds. Stoke's aster is an exceptional addition to a pollinator garden. Flowering is most common from June to August when few other asters are in bloom. Individual flower heads remain open for about a week.
Though Stoke's aster is offered by a great many garden catalogs, it is not an easy wildflower to keep in the Florida landscape unless attention is paid to its growing requirements. For one, I (and others I know) have had very limited success in my Pinellas County landscape with stock that does not originate from our Florida population; the garden catalog individuals and the plants I've purchased from "native plant" nurseries who've acquired their stock from sources originating outside Florida, have not survived long. This may not be as important for those of you that live in extreme north Florida. Stoke's aster is drought tolerant, but it will decline and eventually die if kept too dry for too long. It performs best in moist, but well-drained soils. Do not plant it in "heavy" soils, high in clay or organics. It also performs very poorly if not given ample sunlight; they will not flower and they will become thin and weak by the second season.
Given the right stock and growing conditions, Stoke's aster makes a wonderful addition to the home landscape. It is a species Alexa and I always include.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Sandbog Deathcamus - Zigadenus glaberrimus

Sandbog deathcamus (Zigadenus glaberrimus) is a member of the "death camus" family, so named because they produce strong alkaloids poisonous to livestock and humans if consumed. This species is common to wet savannas and marshes in the central and western Florida Panhandle. It also is reported from all the states that comprise the Southeast Coastal Plain - Texas to Virginia, though it has not been reported from Louisiana. Sandbog deathcamus is in a monotypic genus - other species once included with it have since been placed in other genera.
This is an herbaceous perennial species that dies back to its thick woody rhizome in winter. The coarse grass-like leaves are produced in spring. The basal leaves are clumped near the ground, but alternate along the flowering stem.  The 3-5 foot tall flower stalk grows rapidly and reaches maturity by mid-summer.
Sandbog deathcamus is a member of the extended lily "family" and, like so many in this group, its flowers are quite attractive.  The creamy white blooms are produced in profusion atop a multi-branched reddish stem. The 3 petals and 3 sepals are nearly identical ("tepals"), are tipped in rose pink, and have two conspicuous golden blotches near their base.  These flowers are attractive to bees and butterflies - and this also attracts predators, like the green lynx spider photographed above.
In my 30 years of living in Florida, I have not seen sandbog deathcamus offered for sale commercially, though it has great aesthetic appeal and value in a wetland pollinator garden. Perhaps this will change as demand for more wildflower diversity is generated by the Florida public. Until then, you will have to be satisfied admiring it in those wild places where it is found.

Florida lobelia - Lobelia floridana

Florida lobelia (Lobelia floridana) is an herbaceous perennial wildflower native to wet marshes and savannas throughout the central and western Florida Panhandle. It also occurs throughout much of the Southeast Coastal Plain from Texas to North Carolina. It has not been reported from South Carolina, however. This is an obligate wetland species that dies back to the ground in winter. When it emerges in the early spring, it forms a whirl of lanceolate basal leaves that exude a milky sap if wounded.
Flowering can occur from late spring to early fall. The 3-5 foot tall flowering stalk has few leaves. The flowers are typically shaped for the genus - they are bilabiate (two lips) - the lower lip is broad and composed of three petals while the upper two petals are much smaller and curve backwards. These petals are fused into a tube which holds the nectar that attracts a diversity of pollinators. Each bloom is white, but with a rose-colored blush
Florida lobelia has not been propagated commercially by nurseries associated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries. Though a perennial, like some of its widely grown relatives, its understated beauty seemingly has limited its commercial appeal. I suspect it would be easy to grow from seed collected when the capsules ripen to brown. Sow the seed on top of the soil and make sure it stays moist. To maintain it in a landscape, it would have to be placed in a wet sunny location.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Sleepy Morning - Waltheria indica

Sleepy morning (Waltheria indica) is a sprawling, multi-stemmed, semi-woody evergreen plant native to a variety of upland habitats throughout much of central and south Florida counties. It also has been reported in southern Alabama, Texas and Arizona in the U.S., and throughout much of the tropics and semi-tropical regions of the world. Its Latin species name, "indica" (of India), refers to that wide distribution.
Though it can reach a mature height of 6 feet and act more like a shrub, it also has a habit of spreading outward, just above ground level, from its main stem - which is what the specimen in our Pinellas County landscape, pictured above, has done. The leaves are ovate to oblong in shape, alternate along the stems, and have a somewhat wavy margin without teeth. The veins are deeply incised. Each leaf is about 2 inches long and 1/2 inch wide, often covered by white wooly hairs.
Flowers can occur throughout the year in warm temperatures. They occur in clusters in the leaf axils. Each is a bright canary yellow in color with 5 petals, but tiny in size - about 1/4 inch across. As the common name implies, they open in the morning and close by late afternoon. Though small, they attract pollinators - especially small bees.
Sleepy morning is only rarely grown commercially. Our plant was propagated by Green Isle Gardens Native Nursery, based in Groveland, Florida, though it is not listed in their current catalog. Check with them if you are interested in adding it to your landscape. As an upland species, it performs best if given full sun and well-drained soil. This is an interesting addition to a landscape dedicated to pollinators, but the small size of its flowers makes it more of a connoisseur plant than a showy one. Sleepy morning is related to cacao (the source of chocolate) and the leaves have been used medicinally for a variety of ailments in various parts of the world according to Roger Hammer in his excellent book Everglades Wildflowers. Our plant is relished by the cottontail rabbits that sometimes visit our landscape. When they do, it is eaten completely back to the main stem, but it regenerates quickly.