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.

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