Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Carolina Yellow-Eyed Grass - Xyris caroliniana


Of the 24 native species of yellow-eyed grass, only Carolina yellow-eyed grass (Xyris caroliniana) is commonly white-flowered. This makes it much easier to identify in the field than the others. Carolina yellow-eyed grass is common in upland sites throughout Florida into the Florida Keys. It is found in similar upland conditions throughout much of the Southeastern Coastal Plain from east Texas north to Maryland and New Jersey.  

This perennial is characterized by its somewhat twisted linear leaves that are erect and about 12-15 inches tall. They are less than 1/4 inch wide. The base of the plants has a chestnut-brown sheath.  Flowering stems reach a mature height of about the same height as the leaves. They are produced singly from the greenish cones from summer into late fall.  Each bloom is about 1/2 inch wide. While most species in this genus open in the morning, Carolina yellow-eyed grass typically opens later in the day. They are most-often pollinated by bees.

No member of this genus is currently propagated by nurseries affiliated with FANN - The Florida Association of Native Nurseries. Look for this one in upland settings. When not in bloom and relatively obvious, it can be distinguished by its twisted narrow leaves and non-ciliated scales on the spent flower heads.

Coastalplain Yellow-eyed Grass - Xyris ambigua

Coastalplain yellow-eyed grass (Xyris ambigua) is a very common resident of open wetlands throughout Florida. As its name suggests, it also is found throughout the Southeast Coastal Plain from east Texas to Virginia.  This is a perennial with a rather robust growth form. The basal leaves are up to 16 inches in length and about 3/4 inches wide at the base. They taper to a point - as is common to all in this genus.  The base of these leaves is "slimy" to the touch and marked by dark brown striations on a creamy white surface. I was remiss in taking a photograph of this feature - something I will rectify sometime in the future.
Flower stalks rise up to 3 feet above the basal leaves on straight stems. The flowers are produced individually on tapering cones composed of overlapping scales with noticeably fimbriate edges. As is typical for most species in this genus, the flowers are bright yellow and composed of 3 petals. Each bloom lasts just for a part of the day - opening in late morning and shriveling up by late afternoon. They are pollinated mostly by bees.
Coastalplain yellow-eyed grass is robust and showy enough to warrant commercial propagation, but I am unaware of any native plant nursery doing so at this time. It would make a striking addition to a rain garden setting or for a wetland restoration project. Perhaps this situation will change sometime in the future. Look for this robust species at the edge of moist to wet site throughout the state.


Florida Yellow-Eyed Grass - Xyris floridana

There are 24 species of native yellow-eyed grasses in Florida and they can be difficult for most to accurately identify. Florida yellow-eyed grass (Xyris floridana) is one that is rather distinctive. It is a diminutive perennial found throughout much of Florida in wetland conditions. This is a species confined to the Southeastern Coastal Plain; occurring in open wetlands from Louisiana to North Carolina. 

This plant can be distinguished from its closest relative (X. serotina) by the growth form and the coloration of the base of the leaves. Florida yellow-eyed grass normally occurs as individual plants, not dense tufts, and the base of the leaves is typically dark maroon to purple. This can be seen in the lower photograph above.Unlike many in this genus, the "cones" of flowers are small and rounded - not elliptical. These are obvious in the first photograph.

Flowering occurs on stalks that reach only about 12 inches in height. Flowers are bright yellow as is common to most species and they are produced singly in summer to fall. Pollination is most likely the result of small bees.

Yellow-eyed grasses in general are not grown commercially by nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries.  This is regrettable as they would make interesting additions to wetland plantings and restoration projects. As Florida yellow-eyed grass is so small and largely inconspicuous, it is even less likely to be offered in the future. For the die hard hobbyists, collect the tiny seed once the cones are brown and ripe ad scatter the seed on wet potting soil for best germination. Otherwise, just be content to find this species in moist to wet soils in open sunny locations.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Tall lespedeza - Lespedeza stuevei

Tall bush clover (Lespedeza stuevei) is a perennial legume found in most counties in north Florida. It also has been reported from most states in the eastern half of the U.S.  Throughout its range, it is most commonly found in well-drained sunny habitats and seems to especially respond to disturbances.  Legumes like this serve to enrich soils by fixing nitrogen.

As its common name suggests, it is an erect forb that can reach a mature height of 3 feet or more. The three-parted (trifoliate) leaves alternate along the stems. They are sparsely hairy and numerous.  The plants are much taller than they are wide.

Flowering occurs in summer to early fall. Clusters of pale to rich-colored pink pea-shaped blooms occur at the tips of the stems. They are noticeably keeled (as are most legumes) and the inside of the petals are marked with deeper pink lines and blotches. Following blooming and in late fall, pollinated flowers give rise to a one-seeded rounded pod. The seeds, like in other bush clovers, are important food for bobwhite quail, ground doves and other ground-nesting birds. Although not reported, this species (like L. hirta) may serve as a host plant for gray hairstreaks and southern cloudywings.  

Although important wildlife plants, none of the bush clovers are routinely propagated by nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries.  They deserve more attention. With its richly colored flowers and its ability to improve soils, this species especially seems to warrant being propagated. I do not know how adaptable it would be, however, south of its geographical range.

Plumose aster - Symphyotrichum plumosum

 Plumose aster (Symphyotrichum plumosum) is endemic to Florida and found only in a small 8-county cluster of counties in central north Florida in and around Torreya State Park and the Apalachicola National Forest. In this region, it can be common in well-drained upland habitats. These photos were taken in a sandhill ridge at Torreya State Park.It is very close in appearance and growth form to the widely distributed eastern silver aster (S. concolor), but is clearly distinguished from it by its noticeably recurved phyllaries. These are easily seen in the photos above.

This perennial wildflower has narrow, linear basal leaves covered by silvery silky hairs. The leaves are appressed to the stems. Mature plants reach a height of 2-3 feet by fall. Numerous flower heads are formed at the tips of the stems. Individual flowers are present for at least a month until late fall.  Each is composed of many cornflower blue ray petals surrounding a central disc that is white. All true asters are favored by a wide variety of pollinating insects and this is no exception.

Little seems to be written about plumose aster, perhaps because it has often been confused with eastern silver aster. It is a species I would dearly love to experiment with here at Hawthorn Hill and I hope to get seed to do that later this fall. I suspect that it has similar growing requirements to eastern silver aster which has done well here - well-drained soils and full sun. As I add more asters to my landscape/nursery each year, this species seems to deserve attention and to be made available to native plant gardeners.

Narrow-leaved blue curls - Trichostema setaceum

Narrow-leaved blue curls (Trichostema setaceum) is an annual wildflower found throughout much of the northern half of Florida in sandy, xeric habitats such as sandhills and open oak woodlands. It also occurs in much of the eastern half of North America. It is often confused with the more ubiquitous common blue curls (D. dichotomum) though the latter does not often occur in such xeric conditions. As its name implises, narrow-leaved blue curls is also distinguished by its relatively narrower foliage.

As an annual, this species grows quickly in the spring to reach a maximum height of about 2 - 2 1/2 feet. The stems are weakly hairy with many branches that branch off opposite of each other.  The leaves are either entire or have small teeth along the margins. They are without petioles or with very short ones. Each is about 1/2 inch long and about 1/4 inch wide. They are highly fragrant if crushed - as its close relative. 

Flowering occurs in late summer and fall. They are similar in color and form to its more-common relative. The lower blue to almost-violet lower lip is extended from the corolla with a white splotch dotted with purple spots.The four long, curved stamens  arch above the petals and give this species its common name.  Numerous seeds are produced in the ripe capsules and these serve to disperse the plants abundantly for next season. The flowers are primarily pollinated by bees.

Blue curls in general are favorite wildflower additions to landscapes in Florida, but this species has been virtually ignored. It shouldn't be. It is easily grown from ripe seed. Just be aware that it will need open ground in the planting bed for it to be able to reseed effectively. Given those conditions, it may also reseed aggressively and need thinning - especially if added to a mixed wildflower planting.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Blue Ridge horsebalm - Collinsonia serotina

Blue ridge horsebalm (Collinsonia serotina) is a wildflower confined in Florida to many counties in the extreme northern part of the state. These photos were taken at Torreya State Park in Liberty County in early October. As its common name suggests, it is more commonly found north of Florida and has been documented from the Southeast Coastal Plain from Louisiana to North Carolina. Throughout its range, this perennial occurs in moist upland woodlands within light gaps where it remains partly sunny during the growing season.

This wildflower eventually reaches a mature height by mid-summer of 2-3 feet. The stems are stout and keep the plant erect. The leaves are wide (about 6-7 inches), ovate in shape, and coarsely toothed. They are opposite each other along the stems.

Flowering occurs from summer until mid-fall. These photos were taken in early October. Multiple racemes of flowers are produced at the ends of the stems. They open in succession from the base of the inflorescence.  Each is tubular and yellowish white in color. They are attractive to a wide variety of pollinators.

Horsebalms of all species have been used medicinally for years, though great care should be used as they possess powerful properties that could prove harmful to some people. This article discusses its medicinal use: https://healthyfocus.org/collinsonia-root-benefits/   The common name does not relate to it being a balm for horses (or other livestock).

I am not aware that this, or any of the other related species of Collinsonia have ever been propagated by nurseries affiliated with FANN - the  Florida Association of Native Nurseries. There is a second species native to north Florida (C. canadensis) and several others that are not native. The latter species are likely available from nurseries that specialize in herbal plants. I do not know how well they would grow in Florida. 

Yankeeweed - Eupatorium compositifolium

Yankeeweed (Eupatorium compositifolium) is a close relative of dogfennel (E. capillifolium) and is often mistaken for it. Some taxonomists consider them to be varieties of the same species. Both are generally considered to be weeds and undesireable in a landscape, but they are not without some redeeming value. Yankeeweed is distinguished from the latter by having wider leaves and a more wide-spreading crown. It occurs throughout much of the northern two-thirds of Florida in a variety of upland sites - especially disturbed ones. It also occurs throughout much of the Southeast Coastal Plain from Texas to West Virginia.

As stated above, this is a plant of upland disturbed soils. It is a perennial that dies back to the ground in winter. By late summer, it may reach 6 feet in height with a crown that expands 2-3 feet wide. The narrow linear leaves are fragrant, but not as strongly so as dogfennel from my experience. The stems are semi-woody in character. It spreads quickly in disturbed sites by its many seeds and by its ability to spread underground by rhizomes.

Flowering occurs in the late summer months and is profuse. The tiny white blooms attract the interest of a great many pollinators, but mostly small bees. The foliage is toxic to most herbivores, but it serves as the host for the scarlet-bodied wasp moth. 

Yankeeweed should not be propagated in areas with livestock or where pets might feed on the foliage. It also should not be encouraged in areas where one would want to encourage a mixed wildflower meadow as it tends to dominate and take over the space required by other species. 

Sweet Everlasting - Pseudognapthalium obtusifolium

Sweet everlasting (Pseudognapthalium obtissifolium) is a widespread wildflower found statewide throughout Florida in a variety of upland habitats and across most of eastern North America. It was once placed in the genus Gnapthalium, but was moved several years ago. It also has been called cudweed and rabbit tobacco as common names though these are also applied to other relatives of this annual wildflower.
This becomes a rather tall plant, reaching several feet in height before its late-summer blooming period. Like other members of this genus, its leaves are densely tomentose on the undersides. The leaves are linear in shape, alternate along the stem and about 3-4 inches long - becoming shorter up the stems.  The stems are silvery tomentose as well.
Flowering occurs typically from August through October in Florida. The buds form atop the many upper stems. They are white and barrel shaped. Each bloom is small - rarely longer than 1/4 inch. The profusion of blooms at the height of blooming makes it rather attractive. The blooming season lasts several weeks before the flowers start to decline. They seem of most interest to bees.
This is another plant not typically propagated by native nurseries; often considered somewhat weedy. It is the host plant, however, for the American lady butterfly and it is grazed by a number of herbivores. As such, it has value in a mixed wildflower meadow. Propagation is best done with seeds, but as an annual it needs bare soils to reseed in order to maintain it over time. This is a forgiving plant that thrives in most soils except those that stay routinely wet. 

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Sand ticktrefoil - Desmodium lineatum

Sand ticktrefoil (Desmodium lineatum) is a diminutive perennial member of a genus comprised of plants most-often considered as nuisance weeds because their many-parted loments are sticky and adhere to pant legs and other clothing - as well as the hair of pets. The loments of this species are characterized by being in 3 parts. This is also sometimes called matted ticktrefoil as the foliage typically forms a mat on the ground. As its common name implies, this is a plant most common to well-drained sandy uplands. It is found in most Florida counties in the northern one-third of the state. It also is reported from most of the Southeast Coastal Plain from east Texas to Virginia and Maryland. It is a species that responds positively to fire and other habitat disturbances. 
As other members of this legume-family genus, the leaves are three-parted leaflets, each being about 1/3 inch wide and decidedly rounded. From this mat of leaves emerges flower stalks in summer that may reach about 1 foot tall.The individual flowers are light lavender with a deeper purplish lower lobe. They are small - about 1/4 inch long. Flowering is most common in the summer months, though this photo was taken in early October in an area that had been rather recently burned.
Ticktrefoils are a nuisance due to their method of seed dispersal, but they are important host plants for various skipper butterflies - most notably the long-tailed skipper.  This and other members of this genus are easy to cultivate from ripe seed. They are not plants likely to be propagated by commercial nurserie, however, so you would have to grow your own.

Snakeroot - Nabalus (Prenanthes) serpentaria

Also called cankerweed and lionsfoot, snakeroot (Nabalus serpentaria) is named for its once-believed properties in curing the effects of venomous snake bites. Don't attempt it.... The Latin for its genus name means "drooping" and the flowers are decidedly so.  This perennial herb is found throughout much of Florida's most northern counties along the Georgia and Alabama border and is reported in most states in the eastern 1/3 of the US. in these areas it most often occurs in the understory of deciduous woodlands in light gaps. 
This wildflower is a perennial characterized by its roughly lobed leaves, often with a pair of small side lobes at the base. Each of the main leaves are 2-4 inches long and about half that wide. They often are finely tomentose as are the greenish to purplish stems. Plants reach several feet in height, sometimes up to 6 feet tall.  
Flowering occurs in fall to early winter in Florida. Flower stalks stand well above the lower leaves and occur in clusters at the end of the many stems and side stems. They have a similar characteristic to columbine (Aquilegia canadnesis), but this species is a member of the Asteraceae and there are a good number of differences if looked at more closely. The many petals are yellowish white in color with reddish linear markings along the length of each. Each flower is about 1 inch long. I suspect they are pollinated by a wide variety of pollinators - as most asters are, but I have not witnessed this.
This is a very visually interesting wildflower and would seem to make a good addition to a woodland wildflower landscape setting. It has not, however, to my knowledge, ever been propated commercially by any of the nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries. Until the day it is made available, look for it in openings within deciduous woodlands in extreme Florida and admire it for its understated beauty.

Rush featherling - Pleea tenuifolia

 Rush featherling (Pleea tenuifolia) looks a bit like a rush but is currently placed in a small family - the Tofieldiaceae. It was once included in the lily family and the flowers exhibit some of those characteristics. Rush featherling occurs in most of the counties in the Florida Panhandle but it also is recorded from Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas.  Throughout its range, this interesting wildflower occurs in moist habitats - flatwoods, savannas, and seepage areas. These photos were taken in a low depressional wetland edge in the Apalachicola National Forest. It is a perennial herb that forms clumps that spread slowly by underground rhizomes. The foliage, like many monocots, is grasslike, about 15-18 inches tall and about 1/4 inch wide. The foliage is pictured in the lowest photo above.

Flowering occurs most often in late summer and early fall. Individual flowers occur along the 2-foot-tall flower stalks from the lower portion of the stem towards the top in succession. Each is composed of 3 snow-white sepals and 3 petals and the overall flowers are about 1/2 inch wide. The yellow anthers are quite noticeable and they surround a broad green ovary. The flowers are pollinated by bees.

Though showy in an understated way, this wildflower has never been propagated to the best of my knowledge - at least not in Florida. It is one of many of Florida's wildflowers to be simply admired when encountered in the field.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Creeping Wild Cucumber - Melothria pendula

Creeping wild cucumber (Melothria pendula) is a perennial vine that creeps across the forest floor and forms mats in the areas it occurs in. It is common to shady hammock understories throughout Florida and in much of the southern half of the eastern U.S.  Hardly considered a wildflower, its tiny yellow flowers are often inconspicuous; partially covered by the extensive foliage. 

Creeping cucumber is a rambling vine that extends many feet in all directions from the main stem. Left alone, it can be rather weedy, but it also has positive attributes as well. The stems are thin and the deeply lobed leaves are alternate along these stems. Flowering occurs throughout much of the summer and early fall. The distinctive lobed petals (5) are canary yellow in color and form a tube that attracts a variety of pollinators. Pollinated flowers form small "cucumbers" that are about 3/4 inch long. They are edible when still green. Ripe fruits turn black in color and are said to act as a laxative.  Like many native plants, some caution should be taken when consuming them to make sure that one does not suffer some side effects.

This is not a plant likely to be propagated by commercial native plant nurseries. It is a common "weed", however, in landscapes and sometimes encouraged because of its positive attributes. 

Monday, September 28, 2020

American Hog-peanut - Amphicarpaea bracteata

 American hog-peanut (Amphicarpaea bracteata) is an annual twining vine native to a handful of counties in Florida, mostly along the Georgia border with populations also vouchered from Alachua and Citrus Counties a bit further south. The plants photographed above were observed in San Felasco Hammock Park in Alachua County, in moist semi-shaded conditions in the woodland understory. This species is more common further north and is reported from every state and province in the eastern two-thirds of North America.

This twining vine emerges in early spring and its thin stems grow outward for up to 6 feet from the main stem. The leaves are comprised of 3 leaflets, each oval in shape and about 1 inch in width. They are alternate along the stems.

Flowering occurs in late summer to early fall. These plants were photographed in late September. There are 2 kinds of flowers and each produces its own distinctive fruit. The flowers shown above are produced along the upper stems. They are composed of 3 fused petals that form a tube approximately 1 inch in length. The petals are white, but the upper two are tipped by light lavender or pink. They are attractive to a variety of bees and butterflies. Flowers also are produced near the base of the plant and these are without petals. The upper flowers produce narrow "beans" that are inedible while the lower ones produce a somewhat larger bean that is supposedly edible if boiled. Caution always should be taken before sampling wild plants.

American hog-peanut serves as a host plant for 2 skipper butterflies - the silver-spotted skipper and northern cloudywing.  Despite its potential value in a butterfly garden, its rambling nature and limited aesthetics have not lent it to being propagated by any of the nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries - or likely any of the native nurseries in states north of us.  it is to be admired simply as it is encountered.

Yaupon Blacksenna - Seymeria cassioides

Yaupon blacksenna (Seymeria cassinoides) is a sprawling annual herbaceous plant, native to the northern two-thirds of Florida and to most of the Southeast Coastal Plain from Texas to Virginia.  Throughout its geographical range, it occurs in dry to moist open pinelands  and savannas. These photos were taken in a xeric flatwoods dominated by longleaf pines (Pinus palustris) in Alachua County. There are two species of blacksenna in Florida. I have written previously about S. pectinata. They are similar in many ways, but yaupon blacksenna is distinguished by its narrow, needle-like leaves. 

As an annual, yaupon blacksenna emerges in the spring and quickly produces a number of thin, wiry stems that may each 1.5 - 2.5 feet tall and extend for that distance in all directions away from the main stem.  These stems are reddish purple in color and are covered with fine hairs. Flowering tends to occur in early fall. Large numbers of the small lemon yellow blossoms are produced in the leaf axils. The flowers are comprised of 5 petals and together they may be 1/2 inch wide.  Tiny reddish dots and markings occur at the base of each petal.  They are visited primarily by bees. Small rounded seed capsules follow in late fall to early winter.

Blacksennas are fairly showy wildflowers, but have not been propagated for several reasons. As an annual it does not lend itself well to typical landscape settings. Second, it and its close relative are root parasites on southern pines, like longleaf and slash (Pinus elliottii) pines.  It is not clear whether these plants cause the pines any significant harm by their parasitism, but most such plants do poorly in a landscape without an opportunity to function as a parasite. These are interesting plants that should simply be admired when encountered in the field. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Western Silver/Silky Aster - Symphyotrichum sericeum (S. pratense)

 Western silver or silky aster (Symphyotrichum sericeum) is another rare aster in Florida; only vouchered from Gadsden County near the Georgia border. Ours is known as variety microphyllum. While the standard variety is found throughout the south from Texas and all states north to Quebec and Ontario in a mid-North-American distribution, our variety is found throughout the Deep South from Texas to Virginia. Some taxonomists give var. microphyllum unique species status, referring to it as Syphyotrichum pratense.  

This perennial aster is reported to occur in a variety of open habitats and does not seem to be dependent on a narrow range of growing conditions. I have not seen this aster in its natural growing habitat in Florida. The plants photographed were purchased and originate from out-of-state stock. To date, they have prospered in my landscape in typical sandy soils and in relatively high light.  As it's common names indicate, the foliage is covered by silky silvery "hairs" (trichomes) that give it a very distinct appearance.  Plants emerge in the early spring and form willowy stems that reach a mature height of about 2-3 feet and a width of 1-2 feet.  Numerous stems are produced on each plant and flowering occurs at the ends of each.

The flowers are very similar in color to our more-common silver aster (S. concolor). The ray petals are numerous, linear in shape, and are cornflower blue in color. The disc flowers are white. Each flower head is about 1 inch in diameter. Flowering occurs in fall - September through October.  Like all asters, they are excellent nectar sources for a wide variety of bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. My plants are still small, but during the limited blooming period of the one photographed above, it attracted a great many different bees. This species might also serve as a host for the pearl crescent.  

As I've written before, very few Symphyotrichum asters have been grown commercially by the native plant nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries. Though I would have preferred to use Florida stock here, it was not possible and I'm experimenting with these. Over the years, I have had mixed results - some species have done excellent while others eventually perish. I hope that these will be in the former group and that I will be able to make it available to other native plant gardeners through my hobby nursery, Hawthorn Hill.  Over the next year, I'll get an answer to this question. This is a beautiful wildflower and a wonderful addition to a pollinator/wildflower garden.

Short's Aster - Symphyotrichum shortii

Short's aster (Symphyotrichum shortii) is a rare plant in Florida, vouchered only from Jackson and Gadsden Counties along the Georgia border. It occurs more widely north of us, however, and is reported in most states north of us to Iowa and Minnesota east to Pennsylvania. It also is reported from Quebec. At the northern portions of its range, it also is considered rare.

In it's natural habitat, Short's aster seems most often to occur in calcareous soils where the limestone is close to the surface and in open pockets within deciduous woodlands. I have not seen this aster in its natural habitat here in Florida, but the region of the state where it is vouchered certainly has these type of conditions. My plants were grown from seed purchased from out-of-state stock and are planted in typical Florida soils. They have prospered in the months since they've been added to my landscape and it would seem that calcareous soils are not necessary. As other websites list it as occurring in slightly acidic conditions, soil pH does not seem to be a real consideration in where it is planted.

Short's aster starts out with decidedly heart-shaped foliage and as a basal rosette. The two plants I have added to shadier conditions have remained in this state while the three I have planted in the open quickly grew upwards and are now flowering in early September. Like most all of the asters I have experience with, high levels of sunlight seem to be needed for proper growth. Though the basal rosette remains throughout its growing cycle the flowering stalks eventually reach a mature height of 2-3 feet. The lower leaves generally have teeth along the leaf margins, but these are largely absent in the upper ones. Like other species in this genus, the plants die back to the ground in the winter, after flowering.

Flowering occurs in the late summer to early fall. A profusion of light lavender blooms occur at the ends of the many side branches. The ray petals are linear while the disc flowers are yellow. Each flower head is about 1 inch in diameter. Asters attract the attention of a great many pollinators and that is true for this species. Mine are especially attractive to small bees. It also may serve as a host for the pearl crescent, like other asters in this genus, but I have not recorded that butterfly yet in my landscape.

Very few Symphyotrichum aster species are generally available from the native plant nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries. This is something I have tried to correct over the past few years as I try to collect the showiest species here in my landscape and to eventually make available at my hobby nursery - Hawthorn Hill. The few I had extra for sale this past spring all seem to be doing well for those who purchased them and I hope to get more seed from these plants for 2021.  

Friday, June 26, 2020

Tropical Puff - Neptunia pubescens

Tropical puff (Neptunia pubescens) is a bit of a misnomer as this wildflower is found throughout much of Florida and from Mississippi to Texas across the southern tier of the Southeast Coastal Plain. These photos were taken with my cell phone camera at a native plant nursery that I visited a few days ago. Normally, this species occurs in a wide variety of open sunny habitats including disturbed areas and at the edges of salt marshes.
Tropical puff is a perennial member of the legume family. It is evergreen in the more-tropical parts of its range and tardily deciduous in cooler climates. The foliage is said to produce good fall color in those locations. Like a few other widely used legumes, tropical puff grows as a creeping ground cover. Many stems arise from the main stem and spread out several feet away. These stems are not as dense as species such as sunshine mimosa (Mimosa strigillosa), however. The foliage is bipinnately compound. Each leaf is several inches long, but the leaflets are no more than 1/2 inch. As the Latin name implies, the leaves and stems are pubescent - covered by noticeable soft hairs. They also are touch sensitive and fold at night too.
Flowering occurs from late spring until fall. Small "powder puff" heads of bright yellow flowers are produced on stalks along the stems. The stalks are about 3 inches long and the flower heads are about 1/2 inch in diameter. These bright and showy flower heads are visually attractive and are of interest to small pollinators. The foliage serves as a host for Ceraunus blue butterflies and possibly other butterflies that  use a variety of legumes.
Despite its many attributes, this wildflower is rarely propagated commercially by members of FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries. The plants photographed above were propagated by the owners of Sweetbay Nursery in Parrish, Florida from seed sent to them by a friend. One can only hope that it will gain wider cultivation in the future. As a legume, tropical puff fixes atmospheric nitrogen and incorporates it into soil. The seed  and foliage are widely consumed by wildlife and its growth form and salt tolerance make it an excellent ground cover in a wide variety of growing situations. Although I do not have personal experience growing this species, it is said to be easy from seed if scarified by nicking the seed tip and soaking it for about 8 hours prior to planting.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Rouge Plant - Rivina humilis

Rouge plant (Rivina humilis) is not a plant I typically would consider to be a "wildflower", but its display of blooms and the resulting fruit lend itself to putting it in this blog. It occurs in the partial shade of wooded understories in moist to average soil throughout peninsular Florida. It also is found in the Deep South from Louisiana and Arkansas to Arizona. It has not been vouchered from Georgia, Alabama or Mississippi.
Rouge plant is a semi-woody evergreen small shrub that can reach a mature height of 5-6 feet, but often is several feet less.  The leaves are ovate in shape with no teeth (entire) along the leaf margins. Each is several inches long and quite thin. 
Flowering can occur throughout the year in frost-free months. Many racemes are produced from the tops of the stems. The individual flowers vary in color from pinkish to white. Though tiny in size, they attract the attention of various pollinators, including the zebra longwing butterfly. Pollinated flowers give way several weeks later to bright red round fruit, each about 1/4 inch in diameter. These are prized by fruit-eating songbirds such as mockingbirds. It's the bright red color of these fruit that give this plant some of its common names. The "rouge plant" name stems from the fact that they have also been used as a dye and as a rouge. 
Rouge plant has a great many attributes that lend it to be a good landscape plant for native-plant gardeners. It is widely propagated because of that. Though it is a shade-loving species, it requires a few hours of good sunlight to prosper. Plant it at the edge of a shady location  and let it expand where it wants to. It reseeds rapidly and birds will also help plant it away from your original plantings. I like to use it mixed with other good wildlife plants such as the various native wild coffees (Psychotria spp.). If you add it, however, be prepared to have it spread and to weed it where it is not wanted.

Blue Porterweed - Stachytarpheta jamaicensis

Add caption

Blue porterweed (Stachytarpheta jamaicensis) is a perennial trailing wildflower native to much of the southern half of peninsular Florida, especially in the coastal counties. It also has been vouchered for Wakulla County in the Big Bend portion of the state and in Georgia. For a great many years, it was confused in the trade with an upright form that was sold here as a native plant, but has since been determined to be a Caribbean species (S. cayennensis). These 2 species are easily told apart by their growth form, however. While blue porterweed is a trailing plant that rarely stands taller than about 8 inches, S. cayannensis grows upright and can reach several feet in height.
Blue porterweed is primarily a coastal species and occurs most often in uplands and in disturbed sites in sunny exposed areas. It produces thick stems and coarsely toothed leaves with deep veins. Each leaf is ovate in shape and several inches long. Individual plants extend outward in all directions from the main stem and eventually cover an area several square feet wide. As such, it makes a good ground cover.  
Flower stalks also are thickened and are produced at intervals along the stems. Small purple blooms are produced daily along their length. Each flower lasts only a day, but several are produced daily. Blooming occurs throughout the year during frost-free months. They attract the attention of various small butterflies and bees, making it a good plant for a pollinator garden.
Because of its growth form and pollinator value, blue porterweed is widely cultivated by commercial nurseries. It is sensitive to freezing temperatures, however, and suffers damage at these times. Temperatures below the mid-20's F, can kill it. Use this plant as a ground cover in areas that rarely see freezing temperatures and plant it where it will receive adequate sunlight and average to above-average drainage. It will die if planted in areas that remain wet for extended periods. It is easily propagated by cuttings or by the seed that is produced beneath the scales of the flower stalks.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Bird Pepper - Capsicum annuum var. glabriusculum

Peppers in the genus Capsicum are decidedly an American phenomenon and only became part of the world's culinary diet after the discovery of the New World by Europeans. Imagine a recipe without peppers - hot or mild. If you enjoy them, thank the Mayans, Incas and Aztecs for their earliest cultivation. Bird pepper (Capsicum annuum) is the only native Florida pepper. Our native variety is var. glabriusculum. This is the same genus as the favorite chile pepper used in so many recipes worldwide. As its name suggests, it typically is an annual, but in the southernmost part of its range, it is a short-lived perennial. Bird pepper is native to most of Florida, though most common in the southern third of the peninsula. Surprisingly, it occurs also in a widely scattered distribution from New Mexico to New York and Connecticut on the East Coast. In those northern regions, it most definitely acts as an annual.
Bird pepper can hardly be called a wildflower in the same way most others are, but its small white blooms and bright red fruit lend color to a wildflower planting. This species prefers sunny locations and well-drained soils. In frost-free areas, it forms a woody stem and can reach a mature height of 6 feet. The plants photographed above are in my nursery and still in pots as I decide what to do with them. The foliage is similar to other peppers - deep green in color and lanceolate in shape. Each leaf is about 1 inch long and 1/2 inch wide.
Flowering can occur throughout the year in frost-free locations. The white flowers are about 1/4 inch wide and dangle downwards. Pollinated blooms give rise to small green fruit that ripen to bright red. Each is tiny - never much more than 1/4 inch long, but extremely pungent. It is said to be at least 10 times the pungency of a typical jalapeno, for example.
The vast majority of bird species have no real sense of smell/taste and an eye for the red of ripe fruit. Because of this, fruit-eating birds like mockingbirds and catbirds relish the fruit of bird pepper, but it is avoided by mammals such as squirrels. 
Bird pepper is something of a conversation piece and therefore is offered regularly by a number of native plant nurseries. In a landscape, it is a good bird plant and the tiny pungent peppers are a good addition to all kinds of dishes where its small size and flavor are an important attribute. Bird pepper reseeds well, but I find it best to save a few dried peppers to sow just in case my mature plants die over winter.

Water Dropwort - Tiedemannia filiformis

Formerly know as Oxypolis filiformis, water dropwort (Tiedemannia filiformis) is a perennial member of the carrot family and found statewide in wetland habitats. It also has been documented in much of the Southeastern Coastal Plain from Texas to North Carolina. This is classified as an obligate wetland plant and requires wet soils and relatively sunny locations.
Water dropwort is evergreen in areas without deep freezes. The long linear leaves are almost succulent. Each of these needle-like leaves are 2-3 feet in length on mature plants. They form a dense basal rosette.
Flower stalks emerge from these rosettes in summer and eventually stand 4-5 feet tall by early fall. Water dropwort has a decided blooming season that lasts several weeks in September/October. Like other members of this family, the white flowers are held in an umbel arrangement. Each flower is 1/8-1/4 inch in width, but the umbels are at least 1-2 feet across and composed of a great many flowers. At this time, the plant is rather showy and the blooms attract the attention of a great many small pollinators. When in bloom, it also attracts the attention of eastern black swallowtail butterflies. Though this plant is essentially shunned at other times of the year, a blooming water dropwort is the preferred host plant of this beautiful butterfly. The caterpillars begin only on the flowers, but move on to the foliage after they gain some maturity.
Water dropwort is an essential addition to a wetland butterfly garden and I add it routinely to the ones I work with. Individual plants gain girth over the years and become quite robust with age. They also reseed routinely. Regrettably, it is not routinely propagated by nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries. I grow it here at Hawthorn Hill, however. Give it a sunny location that stays moist to wet and wait for the caterpillars in fall.