Thursday, June 4, 2020

Hairy Bretonica - Melochia spicata

Hairy bretonica (Melochia spicata) is a mat-forming wildflower native to much of peninsular Florida in xeric sandy soils and in sunny locations. The above plant was photographed in Hendry County in a disturbed field dominated by ruderal plants. It also has been reported in Georgia and from various islands in the Caribbean - including Puerto Rico.  It is considered to be an annual in the northern parts of its range where temperatures dip below freezing, and a perennial elsewhere.
This plant can be more upright than the above photos indicate, but it tends to sprawl outwards over time, forming clumps more than 6 feet across and only 6-12 inches high. The stems and leaves are covered by a soft pubescence. Each leaf is characterized by a distinctly rippled edge as well. The leaves are about 1 inch long and are narrowly elongate in shape.
Flowers occur on stalks that stand above the foliage. Each stalk has multiple flowers along the stem on short flower stalks. The flowers are violet/pink in color with darker lines running the length of each petal. Blooming can occur throughout the year in frost-free locations. All members of this genus are excellent pollinator plants for bees and butterflies, and hairy bretonica is no exception.
Although the shrubby teabush (Melocia tomentosa) has become a popular native plant for Florida pollinator gardens, hairy bretonica has not been cultivated for that purpose and is not available from native plant nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries. This is a bit puzzling as this plant is not particularly fussy about growing conditions and provides color and nectar year-round. It should be easy to propagate from the ripe seed produced inside each mature capsule. This is not a plant, however, well-suited for a small mixed-species wildflower garden as it would need constant pruning.

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