Sunday, May 27, 2018

Thickleaf Wild Petunia - Ruellia succulenta

Nearly everyone in Florida who has a wildflower garden is familiar with wild petunia (Ruellia caroliniensis). There are other species in this genus, however, and I have featured a few of them previously in this blog. Thickleaf wild petunia (R. succulenta) is yet another.  Thickleaf wild petunia is a Florida endemic and confined to five counties in extreme south Florida. In this region, it is relatively common - occurring in pine rockland and flatwoods. 

As its common name implies, its foliage is thicker and more succulent than others in this genus. The 1-3" leaves are opposite on the 4-8" stems and elliptical in shape. The margins are shallowly lobed as well and covered by short hairs.  All of this makes this species quite distinctive in relation to its more common cousins.  In south Florida, it is an evergreen perennial. The purple flowers are similar to other Ruellias - tubular and about 1- 1 1/2 inches wide.  Flowering in south Florida can occur year round. In its south Florida range, thickleaf wild petunia serves as a larval host plant for the common buckeye and the malachite butterfly. This would not be the case if this plant was used in more-northern parts of the state.

Despite the great popularity of R. caroliniensis, other species in this genus are not propagated by members of FANN - the Florida Association of Native Plant Nurseries.  The lack of propagation interest is even more surprising given that this species is also a larval host for two beautiful butterflies.  I have not grown this species and do not know its cold tolerance. I suspect it would be easy to propagate from seed, should you have access to plants and a legal ability to collect the seed.  Ruellias have seed capsules that "explode" when fully ripe.  Collect them when they start to turn brown and keep them in a covered container or bag. You can actually hear them explode in this situation.  Take the seed and sow it shallowly. Germination should be apparent in 1-2 weeks.

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