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.