Thursday, May 11, 2023

Long-leaved Summer Bluet - Houstonia longifolia


Long-leaved summer bluet (Houstonia longifolia) is a rather rare herbaceous perennial wildflower vouchered only from Walton, Washington, and Jackson Counties in the central Florida Panhandle, but widespread to our north; occurring in nearly every state in the eastern half of the nation.  Throughout, it is most often found in open sunny to partly sunny well-drained habitats.  

This species dies back to the ground in winter and reappears in spring. By early summer it reaches its mature height of 10-12 inches. Pairs of opposite narrowly linear 1-inch long leaves occur along the stem.  Some use this feature to distinguish a separate species, H. tenuifolia, from H. longifolia.  I have chosen to lump the two together as many taxonomists do although there are some differences. Flowering occurs in early summer atop the branched stems. These flowers occur in cymes, are about 1/4-inch wide and composed of 4 fused light lavender to white petals.  These occur on noticeable stalks in H. tenuifolia, but on much shorter ones on H. longifolia.  Once pollinated, small capsules are formed. This species is easily propagated by seed sown shortly after ripening.

Long-leaved summer bluet is a close relative of the commonly encountered innocence (H. procumbens) and shares some of those "demure" characteristics. Its small flowers are pollinated by small bees and other small invertebrates, but it is not grown commercially by nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries. It is occasionally offered for sale by northern native plant nurseries, but it is not the form native to Florida and the south and is unlikely to prosper here.

The above photos were taken by my friend, Floyd Griffith, and used by permission.

Monday, May 8, 2023

Narrowlweaf Vervain - Verbena simplex


Narrowleaf vervain (Verbena simplex) is a rare plant in Florida, having only been vouchered from Jackson County in the northcentral Panhandle.  It occurs throughout much of the eastern half of the US, however, and is common throughout.  Throughout its range, it is most often found in full sun, dry-mesic to dry conditions, and gravelly to sandy soil. 

This herbaceous perennial dies back to the ground in the winter and reemerges again in spring, eventually reaching a mature height of about 2 feet on a slender erect stem.  It often branches near the base, while above it is unbranched or sparingly branched. The stems are glabrous or short-pubescent; pairs of opposite leaves occur at intervals along these stems. The narrow leaves are 1¼–4" long and less than ½" across; they are narrowly oblanceolate or narrowly elliptic in shape and smooth to coarsely toothed along their margins. There are more teeth toward the tips of the leaves than at their bases. The leaves taper gradually into petiole-like bases. Their upper surfaces are pale to medium green and glabrous or sparsely short-pubescent.

Flowering occurs in late spring to summer at the ends of the stems in spike-like racemes.  There is only one raceme per stem. Only a few flowers bloom at the same time, beginning at the bottom and ending at the top of each raceme. Individual flowers are up to ¼" across, consisting of a lavender to nearly white corolla with 5 spreading lobes, a short tubular calyx with 5 teeth, 4 inserted stamens, and a pistil with a single style. At the base of each flower, there is a lanceolate leafy bract that is about the same length or a little shorter than the calyx. The blooming period occurs for about 2 months. Afterwards, the flowers are replaced by nutlets (4 per flower). These nutlets are oblongloid, somewhat flattened, and about 1/8" long.

All vervains are of interest to pollinators, especially bees.  It is the host for the verbena moth.  There are 7 native verbenas in Florida and 5 that are not.  None are currently in propagation by members of FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries.  

These photos were taken by my friend, Floyd Griffith, and used by permission.

Sunday, May 7, 2023

Hairy Skullcap - Scutellaria elliptica -


Hairy skullcap (Scutellaria elliptica) is one of 13 native members of this very widespread genus.  This species has a limited distribution in Florida - occurring only in 11 north Florida  counties, but occurs widely north of us throughout much of the Midwest and from east Texas to Delaware and Pennsylvania across the Coastal Plain.  Throughout its range, this perennial mint is found in partly shady woodland understories in a variety of soil types, often near streams, but never in poorly drained conditions. 

It dies back to the ground in winter and reemerges again in early spring. It reaches its mature height of 2.5 feet by late spring and the flowers appear by early summer.  They are typical for the genus. The purple and blue flowers bloom from May to July in a 4-inch long raceme. Individual flowers are up to 3/4 inches long and 2-lipped with the upper one hooded and the lower one having white blotches. The calyx has long, spreading glandular hairs.

Hairy skullcap gets its common name from its distinctive foliage. The green leaves are 1.5-3 inches long and 3/4 to 1.5 inches wide. Margins are crenate to serrate, the shape is lanceolate-oblong to oval, the base is rounded to broadly wedge-shaped (cuneate) and the tip is blunt. The underside of the leaf is paler with hairs. The upper surface is dotted with glands. These are quite visible in the photos above.

Skullcaps are hosts for several species of moths and they are of special interest to bees that can squeeze into the hooded blooms. Despite the fact that this genus contains a great many ornamental and easy to grow wildflowers, only a few of Florida's native species are currently available commercially. Hairy skullcap is not one of them.  It is rarely offered by native nurseries outside of Florida.

These photos were taken by my friend, Floyd Griffith, and used by permission.