Sunday, February 18, 2024

Florida Water Aster - Symphyotrichum fontinale

Florida water aster (Symphyotrichum fontinale) is an endemic perennial member of one of the most varied and important families of wildflowers in Florida (and North America).  This species occurs sporadically in Florida from Holmes County in the Panhandle to Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties at the southern tip of the state.  Although its distribution appears to be scattered based on herbarium records, it is likely to have been largely overlooked. This is an aster confined to sunny to partly sunny moist freshwater habitats - marsh edges, floodplains, and ditch banks, among others.

Throughout most of its range in Florida, it dies back to a basal rosette of leaves in the early winter and reemerges shortly after in early spring.  It eventually reaches a height of about 3 feet on a narrow upright stem.  The leaves are a rich green in color, linear in shape and moderately covered with stout hairs.  The stems are often more densely bristly.  The leaves are without a petiole, alternate on the stem, and the edges are largely without teeth (entire margins).

Flowering occurs in late fall.  Like most members of this genus, a great many ray petals surround a central head of yellow disc flowers. The ray petals can vary from nearly white to lavender.  They are produced atop the main stem and multiple side stems. Like other members of this genus, the flowers attract the attention of a wide diversity of pollinators. Although not specifically reported, it also likely serves as a host to the pearl crescent butterfly.

I have been collecting native Florida asters now for at least half a decade, but I have not seen this species in the wild nor ever seen it offered for sale by members of FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries.  I suspect it behaves similarly to the widely distributed Elliott's aster, but it would be easily distinguished by its stark foliage differences. I'll be looking for it more purposely in the future.

The above photo was taken recently by my friend and skilled naturalist, Roger Hammer, and used with permission.

Field Pansy - Viola rafinesquei

Field pansy, also known as Johnny jump-up,  (Viola rafinesquei) is one of at least 12 species of violets found in Florida.  The taxonomy of our violets remains a bit confused, but this member is easily distinguished from the others.  To me, at least, it looks quite similar to the popular horticultural pansy; hence its common name.  In fact, horticultural varieties of pansies are violet hybrids.  Field pansy is native to much of the Florida Panhandle with an outlying population in Marion County. It is a widespread species outside of Florida - found throughout eastern North America and west of the Mississippi to Arizona, New Mexico and South Dakota. Throughout its range, it is most common in open disturbed upland habitats in a wide variety of soil types.  

Field pansy is an annual that can spread rapidly by seed or by undergound rhizomes.  Because of this, it is sometimes considered weedy.  Like other members of this genus, it is low growing, but it forms erect upright stems with spatula-shaped leaves up the stems to just below the solitary flowers.  Each bloom stands 3-4 inches high and consists of 5 dark-veined petals with the side petals being "bearded" and the lip having a distinct yellow patch.  The colors of these petals varies from nearly white to blue.  One characteristic that distinguishes it from other violets outside of our range is that the petals are longer than the green sepals.  Like other members of the violet genus, flowering occurs in the spring.

In states north of Florida, violets are important host plants for butterfly species like the great spangled fritillary.  In Florida, this genus is sometimes used by the variegated fritillary, though it is not considered to be a main host.  Violets are pollinated mostly by small bees. The seeds are eaten by doves and other ground birds.  Field pnasy is sometimes offered for sale in states outside of Florida and marketed as Johnny jump-ups and/or by its former Latin name - Viola tricolor.  

The photo above was taken recently by my friend and wonderful photographer, Floyd Griffith, and used by permission.

Saturday, February 10, 2024

White sunbonnets - Chaptalia albicans

White sunbonnets (Chaptalia albicans) is a state-threatened perennial wildflower native to the pine rockland habitats of Miami-Dade County.  It is not an endemic species, however, as it also is found in the West Indies and parts of Central America.  Throughout this range, it occurs in sunny, but moist, shallow alkaline soils. As such, it is quite drought tolerant once established. It is not tolerant of salts, however.

Like its only other Florida relative, wooly sunbonnets (C. tomentosa), it spends much of the year as a rosette of basal leaves. It differs as these leaves are not tomentose and have noticeable teeth along the leaf margins.  They are elliptical and 6-8 inches long.  Flowering can occur at any time of the year.  The 8-12 inch flower stalks emerge from the center of the basal leaves and each produces a single bloom at the tip.  The white-petaled flowers are similar to those of wooly sunbonnets, but much smaller in size.  They often are less than 1 inch across. the buds also are more elongated.  Like all members of the Asteraceae, they attract the attention of pollinators.

White sunbonnets is occasionally offered for sale by native plant nuseries in South Florida.  I purchased these 3 specimens recently and have yet to add them to the native wildflower planting I'm developing at the University of South Florida Botanical Gardens. I hope that they are adaptable to my conditions and that I can propagate them, as I am doing with wooly sunbonnets, for sale in the future. 

Sunday, February 4, 2024

White Screwstem - Bartonia verna

White screwstem (Bartonia verna) is an annual member of the Genian family found nearly statewide in Florida in the edges of open shallow sunny wetlands.  It has not been reported in Miami-Dade or Monroe Counties.  It is a plant of coastal counties throughout the Southeast Coastal Plain as well - from eastern Louisiana to North Carolina with one report from eastern Texas.  It is considered an obligate wetland species throughout this range. It is one of many plants first described by French naturalist Andre Michaux.

One must look closely to find this species and you are likely only to see it when it is in bloom.  The frail stem stands only 4-8 inches in height and is nearly leafless.  These stems are smooth and reddish in color. They are topped by delicate white flowers - often branching near the top, each with a single bloom at the end of the stem as can be seen in the photo above.  Each flower typically has four bright white petals surrounding a noticeable bright green ovary and four stamens.  As the Latin name suggests, the flowers are most commonly produced in spring, but can occur from November through May in Florida. It flowers are reported to attract bees and butterflies.

Because of its overall nature, white screwstem is not a good candidate for home landscapes and has not been propagated by any of the nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries.  It is simply a beautiful wildflower to be looked for if exploring wet flatwoods or the edges of marshes and bogs from winter to spring.

The above photo was taken by Steve Coleman and used by permission.

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Fourleaf Vetch - Vicia acutifolia


Fourleaf vetch (Vicia acutifolia) is a member of the bean family (Fabaceae) that occurs widely throughout peninsular Florida and much of the Panhandle in a wide variety of wet to moist open habitats such as pond and depressional wetland edges.  It's overall range is mostly confined to Florida, though it extends along the coastal counties of Georgia and South Carolina.  It is a perennial that dies back in the late fall and reemerges again in winter.  Here in central Florida it is present yearround.  

As a whole, vetches are sprawling herbaceous plants and fourleaf vetch is no exception.  Its thin stems can extend up to 3 feet from the main stem.  The narrow leaves that come to a point at the end are bipinnate and alternate along the stem.  They are deciduous for a brief time from late fall to early winter.  

Flowering mostly occurs from early January through May though some flowers can occur in other months - especially in South Florida.  The blooms are white to light lavender with a decided deep lavender spot in the throat.  The shape is typical for members of the bean family and they are arranged as a raceme along the axils of the stems.  Each flower is about 1/4 inch long.  

Legumes in general are widely used host plants for a variety of the smaller sulfur butterflies and some of the skippers. Fourleaf vetch might serve as a host for several of these, but it is reported to be used by the barred  yellow.  The flowers are likely pollinated by small bees; as are many members of the legume family. This sprawling perennial can cover over diminutive plants in the habitats it occurs in, but for the most part it does no real harm to the grasses such as maindencane and sawgrass that it often uses for support.  It can be easily grown from the ripe seed that is produced in the 1-inch narrow pods that it produces from late winter to early summer.