Saturday, August 29, 2015

Mock Pennyroyal - Hedeoma graveolens

Mock pennyroyal (Hedeoma graveolans) is endemic and found only in a seven-county area in and around Apalachicola National Forest in the central Florida Panhandle. It's narrow geographical range and very spotty distribution within it has led to it being listed as a state-endangered species. Within this range, it is most common in dry pinelands, mostly sandhills and xeric pine flatwoods.
Mock pennyroyal is in the mint family, but does not have the same strong fragrance of false pennyroyal (Piloblephis rigida) nor share the same growth habit.  It is a semi-woody evergreen sub-shrub with thin stems that creep just above the vegetation. It rarely seems to stand upright and is most often less than 20 inches tall, but with numerous stems arising from the main one. The branches and the leaves are noticeably "hairy."
The leaves are tiny and curled inward, 0.5 inches long (smaller near tips of stems), aromatic, opposite, oval, sessile, and with margins entire or slightly toothed. Though difficult to find this plant when not in bloom, it is distinctive because of these characters.
Flowering occurs in summer, May-September. The photographs above were taken 13 August and I thank my friend Eleanor Dietrich for taking me to this spot where she had previously taken her own photos. The tiny (0.5 inch long) deep pink blooms occur at the tips of the many stems and have a noticeable 3-lobed lower lip and a hood above. The "mouth" of the lower lip is deeply spotted. Like all mints, the flowers attract pollinating insects.
Mock pennyroyal is rather diminutive, but has a great many aesthetic qualities. Despite this, it is not being propagated by any of the nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries, and I have never seen it offered during my 30 years in this state.  Look for it during the summer in sandy uplands when it is in bloom and simply admire it for its simple beauty. You'll have to look closely to see it, but the effort is worth it.

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