Sunday, June 12, 2022

Buckroot - Pediomelum canscens

Buckroot (aka Eastern prairie-turnip) (Pediomelum canescens) is a perennial wildflower that occurs widely throughout north and central Florida in sandhill habitats.  It is not uncommon here in Florida, but is much less so north of us. An endemic of the Southeastern Coastal Plain, it is vouchered in southern Alabama and Georgia as well as in scattered locations in the Carolinas. A tiny population in Virginia is considered to be critically imperiled.

Buckroot is a member of the legume family and closely related to Baptisia - wild indigos.  Unlike them, however, buckroot is not widely known and almost never available in the commercial horticultural trade.  Buckroot dies back to the ground each winter and reemerges from its substantial taproot in the early spring.  It gets to be a substantial plant once it reaches its mature size.  Specimens often reach a height of 2.5 feet and a width equally as great.  It forms a great many stout branches. The leaves are mostly alternate on these stems and occur singly or are palmately compound in groups of three. They are noticeably covered by fine hairs.

Flowering occurs at the tips of the stems in late spring to early summer. They are typical of other legumes in terms of their structure and a dull blue-violet in color, though the upper petal is straw-colored on its upper surface.  Like most other legumes of this type, I suspect it is pollinated mostly by bees.

Buckroot was used by Native Americans and early colonists as a food source, as its other common name implies. The thick taproot was used as a vegetable. It is not recorded as being a host plant for any lepidopteran, but it may be one for some of those that use a wide variety of legumes.

These photographs were taken by my friend, Trudy Kenderdine, and used by permission.

Sampson's Snakeroot - Orbexilum pedunculatum/Orbexilum psoralioides

Sampson's snakeroot (Orbexilum pedunculatum) is split into two species by some taxonomists.  Plants that are eglandular are sometimes considered to be O. psoralioides while others with glands are referred to as O. pedunculatum.  For the purposes of this blog, I will lump them.  Sampson's snakeroot occurs in open pinelands and woodlands with well-drained soil and prefers partial shade. It occurs in a cluster of Florida counties in the central Panhandle as well as Holmes and Clay Counties - also in extreme north Florida. It is widely distributed outside of Florida, however, and is reported throughout the Southeast and Midwestern states.

Like its close relative, O. lupinellus, which I've recently written about, Sampson's snakeroot is a perennial wildflower in the legume family. It is easily distinguished from its close cousin by the shape of its compound leaves. Unlike the wiry looking palmately compound foliage of O. lupinellus, the leaves of Sampson's snakeroot are 3-parted and each of the leaflets is elliptical and decidedly pointed. It dies back to the ground in winter and reemerges again in early spring - eventually reaching a mature height of 2-3 feet on thin stems.  

During much of the year, it is difficult to see in the understory, but this changes with the appearance of its rich purple blooms. Flowering is most common from late May into early July.  Dense clusters, 1-2 inches long, are borne on terminal spikes.  Each flower is marked by deeper purple streaks in the throat.  Although I do not have personal experience watching this plant in nature, it is likely pollinated by bees - much the same way that most legumes are.

Despite its beautiful flowers and interesting foliage, I am not aware of any native plant nursery associated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries, offering it for sale. It is reported as being available by nurseries outside of Florida within its extended natural range, however. How such plants would fare in Florida is anyone's guess. If you have experience, I welcome you to share it in the comments for this species. 

These photos were taken by my friend, Lily Byrd, and used by permission.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Piedmont Leatherroot/ Lupine Scurf Pea - Orbexilum lupinellus


Piedmont leatherroot (Orbexilum lupinellus) is a member of the legume family and one of three species native to Florida. These are easily overlooked in the understory when not in bloom, but their exquisite flowers cannot be ignored during their brief flowering period from May to early July.  It is a perennial herbaceous plant that dies back to its deep taproot in the winter and reemerges again in early spring. 

As its common name suggests, Piedmont leatherroot, occurs in the Piedmont region of the Southeastern US, though it is generally rare outside of Florida. There are scattered occurrences of this plant in Alabama and Georgia, north to North Carolina.  Throughout this range, it is confined to well-drained sandy soils of open woodlands and sandhills. In Florida, it occurs in much of north Florida, south to Hillsborough and Polk Counties.

The foliage of this species is unmistakable.  It forms a mass of very thin stems that can reach a mature height or length of 4 feet.  Often, mature plants fall over a bit and form more of a mass of stems than a completely upright plant.  The leaves are exceedingly thin and about 1-2 inches long. They are divided into 5-7 palmately dissected leaflets and this gives the plant a very busy aspect.

Flower stalks arise several inches above the ends of the stems. Individual flowers are typical of most legumes in terms of structure. They are a rich purple in color with a deeper purple throat, but only about 1/4 inch long.  A small "pea pod" fruit is formed following pollination. That is likely facilitated by small bees.

The genus Orbexilum contains some very attractive species, but none have been propagated commercially by members of FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries; perhaps because the flowers are diminutive. The genus also is reported to be a poor fixer of nitrogen compared to most legumes.  Look for this species in the late spring if you are in a sandhill or in xeric open woodlands.  You may easily miss it at other times. 

These photos were taken by my friend, Alex de la Paz and are used by permission.  

Twining Snout Bean - Rhynchosia mollissima (aka R. tomentosa var. mollissima)

There are a great many native legumes in Florida (and elsewhere) and 11 unique species in Florida.  Legumes are important nitrogen fixers in soil and a great many serve as host plants for butterflies - especially long-tailed skippers.  Twining snout bean (Rhynchosia tomentosa) is recognized as being two separate species - differing somewhat in whether they are tomentose or not.  Other taxonomists separate them as two distinct species. The photos above are var. mollissima. Both varieties (or species) share a bit of Florida in their natural ranges, but var. mollissima is most common to eastern north Florida and extends into central Florida to about the latitude of Lake and Hernando Counties.  R. tomentosa var. tomentosa is mostly limited to extreme north Florida across the Panhandle.  Their habitat preferences are the same - they occur mostly in well-drained sandy uplands; deciduous woodlands and sandhills. This species (or two species) occurs throughout much of the Southeastern Coastal Plain from extreme east Texas to the west and north to Virginia and Maryland.  

As its common name suggests, twining snout bean is a plant that twines throughout the understory though it is partly erect as the photos indicate.  It is a perennial that dies back to the ground in winter and reemerges in early spring. By late spring to early summer, it reaches its mature height (length) of about 3 feet.  Like most legumes, it has compound leaves.  These consist of 3 ovate leaflets  1-2 inches long and about 1/3 as wide.  They are opposite each other on the stem. The leaves are subtended by small stipules and a pair of amber-colored glands are present at their junction with the stem.

Flowering occurs from late May to August on a single flower stalk. A great many bright yellow flowers are clustered along the stalk and are typical legume flowers with a noticeable keel and fused lower lip. Like many legumes, they are primarily pollinated by bees.

Although snout beans have value in the landscape, I am not aware of any in this genus currently propagated commercially by members of FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries.  I have not done so either and have no personal experience with them in a home landscape. They should be easily propagated from ripe seed collected from the mature beans in late summer to fall.

These photos were taken by my friend and incredible field ecologist, Alex de la Paz, and used by permission.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Sundial Lupine - Lupinus perennis


Unlike the rest of Florida's native lupines, sundial lupine (Lupinus perennis) is widely distributed throughout eastern North America - from Florida and extreme east Texas in the south, to Minnesota and northern Maine in the north. It is not especially common in Florida, however, as it is at the southernmost limit of its range in the Panhandle.  Unlike Florida's other lupines, it also is a long-lived perennial; our other species tend to bloom in their second and third year and then die.  Individual plants are rhizomatous so it spreads into large clumps over time. In Florida, sundial lupine occurs in the well-drained soils of sandhills and xeric open woodlands though it occurs in a wide variety of soil types north of Florida. Regardless of soil preferences, it is a plant of open sunny areas.

This species is distinct in terms of its foliage as well. Its multi-parted palmate leaves are decidedly different from the single leaves of our other native species - though other non-native lupines also share this attribute. There can be as many as 11 leaflets per leaf, but always at least 7.  This is a wildflower that dies to the ground in winter and reemerges again in very early spring.  A basal rosette of compound leaves eventually reaches a mature height of about 1 foot by March. The leaves are alternate along the stem and are slightly tomentose.

Flowers are produced from late spring into early summer on single stalks that reach 1-2 feet above the basal leaves. They are typical for the genus with a large keeled lower lip. It is the only native species in Florida with a pure pinkish blue flower, unspotted and more lavender than the blue of sky-blue lupine (L. diffusus).  These flowers are pollinated mostly by bees - especially bumblebees. The ripened seed pods mature by early fall.  Lupines are the host for the frosted elfin in north Florida and also the endangered Karner blue within its limited range outside of Florida. Lupines also can be an important browse plant for deer and other herbivores, but has some toxicity to some domestic livestock. Seeds also have some toxicity if eaten in large quantities.

Like other members of this genus, sundial lupine is extremely difficult to transplant because of its deep taproot. It can be propagated by seed, however, or by dividing clumps of their newly developing plants.  Sundial lupine is widely offered in the native nursery trade north of Florida for its many attributes including its ability to fix soil nitrogen, but I have not seen it offered in Florida by nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries.  I have never attempted it in my central Florida landscapes and have no idea how well it would adapt to landscapes south of its natural range. 

Photos with permission by Lily Byrd.