Thursday, November 23, 2023

Wiregrass Gentian - Gentiana pennelliana


Wiregrass gentian (Gentiana pennelliana) is a rare and endemic herbaceous perennial wildflower native to ten counties in the central Florida Panhandle.  This state-listed endangered species is found in open moist habitats such as wet pine flatwoods, prairies, pitcher plant bogs, and seepage slopes.  Like most wildflowers restricted to north Florida, it dies back to the ground in very late winter and reemerges shortly after.  Its common name comes from its affinity to wet wiregrass prairies and not from its foliage.

Wiregrass gentian eventually reaches a mature height of about 1 inch with weak herbaceous stems produced from a woody node at the ground. The leaves are opposite, widely spaced along the stem, linear elliptic, and 1-1.5 inches long. They are difficult to find within the adjacent vegetation when the plant is not blooming.

The distinctive showy white tubular flowers are produced in early winter - well after most wildflowers have bloomed. It is at this time of year that this wildflower makes its presence known.  A single bloom is produced at the tip of the stem.  Each is 2 to nearly 3 inches long, with 5 bright white petals that flare outward from a green center.  Between each petal is a fringed membrane.

Wiregrass gentian responds to fire like many species native to open graminoid-dominated systems.  It is most commonly observed in these systems during its blooming season in the year following a prescribed burn or natural fire. I could find no information on its value to pollinators and the lateness of its blooming season in north Florida likely restricts the number of pollinators present to visit it.  Although this is a beautiful wildflower, its restricted habitat needs do not make it a good candidate for home landscapes and it is not propagated by any nursery affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries.  This is a plant to admire if encountered and left alone.

The above photos were taken by Steve Coleman and used with permission.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Catesby's/Coastal Plain Gentian - Gentiana catesbyi

Catesby's gentian (Gentiana catesbyi) is a perennial herbaceous wildflower found throughout most of the Florida Panhandle in organic-rich moist to wet soils from moist pine savannas, moist hardwood hammocks and seepage slopes.  In these habitats it prefers partial shade.  It also occurs throughout much of the Southeast Coastal Plain from Mississippi north to the edge of the Piedmont in New Jersey.  

Like other members of this genus, Catesby's gentian dies back to the ground in late fall and reemerges again in spring.  By early summer the stems are 6-18 inches tall, but often droop a bit. The stems are unbranched and pubescent while the leaves are dark green and shiny.  They also are opposite each other on the stem, elliptical in shape and without teeth along the leaf margins.  Most are without petioles as is evidenced in the above photos.

Flowering occurs from late September into early November; towards the latter end of this period in Florida.  The deep blue flowers occur in terminal clusters of up to 6 blooms and the weight of these also causes them to droop a bit.  Flowers are sessile. The calyx is green in color, glabrous, with lobes longer than the tube. The corolla is funnelform and is dark to light blue in color. Some flowers are almost white. The corolla lobes part only slightly at the apex. The fruit is a capsule.  It is reported that hummingbirds are attracted to the flowers, but most have migrated south of the range of this plant by blooming time.  This species is sometimes offered for sale by native nurseries north of Florida.  I have not tried to grow it in any of my landscapes. 

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

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Chapman's Sage - Savia chapmanii

Chapman's sage (Salvia chapmanii) was formerly lumped with S. urticifolia but has since been determined to be separate.  While S. chapmanii flowers in the fall, S. urticifolia blooms in the spring.  It also tends to be noticeably taller. 
This is a very rare species in Florida and classified as state endangered. It only has been vouchered from Jackson, Gadsden, and Alachua Counties in north Florida though it may have been missed in others. It also has been vouchered in Alabama (in three counties) and occurs in a variety of upland habitats - prairies, cedar glades, open hardwood forests, roadsides and rights-of-way.  

This perennial member of the mint family and a widely occurring genus is easily distinguished from other native salvias in Florida by its wide arrow-shaped foliage.  The leaves are opposite on the stem, pubescent, and slightly toothed along the leaf margins as can be seen in these photographs.  Chapman's sage spreads by underground rhizomes.  Though it tends to die back in winter, it reaches a mature height of 3-6 feet by fall.  

As stated above, the flowers are produced in the fall.  They occur in terminal and axillary clusters and also are dotted with noticeable glands and hairs.  The shape of the blooms is typical for the genus and the color is most often a deep purple with a white spot on the lower lip.  Flowers are reported to sometimes be whitish.  Each flower is rather small - about 1/4-1/3 in length.  I suspect that it is visited by much the same type of pollinators that are attracted by S. coccinea and S. lyrata.

I have not personally seen this in its native range.  These photos were taken by my friend, Floyd Griffith and used by permission.