Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Southern lobelia - Lobelia georgiana



Foliage in situ
Southern lobelia (Lobelia georgiana) seems to be a rather poorly described species based on the lack of unified descriptions of this species online.  While some sources list its natural range as occurring throughout much of the Southeastern Coastal Plain - Mississippi to Virginia, others list it as native only to 3 of these counties - Alabama, Georgia and Florida. in Florida, it has been vouchered from 10 central Panhandle counties with a disjunct population reported from Marion County. It seemingly has often been misidentified with other closely related species. In L. georgiana the lower lip of corolla is usually glabrous on upper surface near throat of corolla tube, but occasionally papillate or minutely pubescent (with very short hairs); calyx tube usually glabrous, rarely with a few scattered chaffy hairs, but often with a warty texture; corolla tube glabrous.  Regardless, throughout its range, it occurs most often in forested wetland habitats such as along riverine floodplains. 
This is a perennial wildflower that dies back to the ground in winter. Its basal leaves are similar to other members of this species. The simple flower stalks eventually reach 3-4 feet in height by late summer. The leaves are alternate on the stem and have entire margins or are shallowly toothed.  The deep blue to purple blooms are produced in fall. They are of greatest interest to bees for pollination.
I am not aware of this lobelia ever being offered for sale commercially. It would require conditions very similar to other wetland members of this genus.
The flower photo was taken by Lily Byrd and used with permission. The aspect photo at the bottom is credited to Mathew Mrizek and was posted to iNaturalist.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Striped gentian - Saponaria villosa


Striped gentian (Gentiana villosa) is Florida's most unique member of this beloved genus - having white to very pale blue striped flowers instead of the usual deep blue ones.  It is found in seven Panhandle counties in extreme north Florida, but is found in much of the Southeast Coastal Plain from Louisiana to Virginia and Maryland.  Throughout its range, it is most often encountered in open woodlands.

Although its Latin species name means "hairy", the foliage is decidedly glabrous.  The leaves are lanceolate but are typically wider above the middle of the leaf. The leaves are dark green and shiny. like other members of this genus, it is a perennial that dies back to the ground each winter and emerges again in early spring.  Mature plants can reach 2 feet in height.  The flowers buds are clustered at the top of the plant. Striped gentian typically blooms during the fall in late August to October. The flowers are pollinated mostly by bees that are attracted to their stripes and nectar. The seed capsules ripen during October to November. The seeds of G. villosa differ from other gentians because they are wingless.

Gentians have long been used medicinally by herbalists.  As one of its common names suggest  (Sampson's snakeroot), striped gentian is thought to aid in the relief of snakebites. In Appalachia, its roots are carried as a charm. The Catawba Indians used the boiled roots as medicine to relieve back pain. 

Despite the charm and utility of gentians, few are ever offered commercially and none are available from nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries.  This is regrettable and so this species and its relatives must solely be admired when encountered in the fall when hiking in  their preferred habitat.  Do not be tempted to collect it.

These photos were taken by Helen Roth and used by permission. 

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Grassleaf blazing star - Liatris elegantula

Grassleaf (Shaggy) blazing star (Liatris elegantula) is an upland member of this decidedly abundant Florida genus, common to sandhill and xeric oak uplands in most of the north Florida counties and south along the Gulf Coast to Citrus County.  It also has been vouchered from nearly all of Georgia and Alabama and is reported from a few counties in extreme eastern Mississippi.  This, like nearly every member of this genus, is a perennial herbaceous species that dies back to the ground in late fall and reemerges again in spring. It is reported to prefer moist, but well-drained soils.

The leaves are simple and nearly linear, alternate along the stem and are without the "hairs" found in many other species such as L. savannensis and L. gracilis.  The simple flowering stalk reaches its mature height of about 3 feet by August and the blooms open from the top of the stalk downwards for the next 2-3 weeks.  The flower buds are sessile (without a stalk) and are slightly hairy.  Like most members of this genus, the flowers are lavender and attract the attention of a great diversity of pollinators.  

Florida is home to 19 species of blazing stars, but only a few are grown commercially by native plant nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries. Grassleaf blazing star is one of the many that I have not seen offered.  Blazing stars are easy to propagate from mature seed collected in late fall and sown immediately just below the soil surface in flats.  As all blazing stars are beautiful additions to a pollinator garden, more species, like this one, should be made available in the future.

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