Saturday, March 30, 2024

Hairy Phlox - Phlox amoena

Hairy phlox (Phlox amoena) is an uncommon native phlox in Florida - vouchered sporadically in extreme north Florida: Escambia and Jefferson Counties in the Panhandle and four counties in and around the Jacksonville area in northeastern Florida.  It is widely distributed north of Florida, however, from Georgia and Alabama north to North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky.  It is a perennial wildflower most common to upland sunny habitats such as sandhills, open woodland edges and roadsides.  

This species dies back to the ground in winter and reemerges again in spring.  It eventually reaches a mature height of about 1 foot prior to flowering in late spring.  Though phlox species share many characteristics, hairy phlox is rather easily identified by the noticeable hairs on both the leaves and stems. Even the flower calyx is hairy though the flowers themselves are smooth. The narrow eliptical leaves are opposite along the stem and up to 2 inches long.  

The flowers are typically shaped and colored for others in this genus; the color can range from pale pink to a much deeper rose.  The center is marked by a deeper color. One characteristic to also look for is that the stamens do not extend outside of the corolla tube of the 5 fused petals. Other phlox species that I am more familiar with attract a wide variety of pollinators and I suspect this species does as well.  Pollinated flowers produce small seed capsules that "explode" when fully ripe, scattering the seed away from the parent plant.

Many native phlox are available from various native plant nurseries in the Southeast, but I can find none that currently offer this one.  It would seem to be a species that would warrant commercial availability.  

The above photos were taken in south Georgia by my friend, Floyd Giffith and used by permission.

Gulf Coast Lupine - Lupinus westianus

Gulf Coast lupine (Lupinus westianus) is a short-lived perennial endemic to the western Panhandle counties of Florida and listed as a state-threatened species.  Like other native members of this genus, it is found in very well-drained sandy and open sunny habitats.  Gulf Coast lupine is most common near the Gulf Coast on relic dunes though its salt toleranance is not well reported.  Most lupines, except sundial lupine (Lupinus perennis), live at most for three years, flowering sparingly during year two and forming large plants that flower expansively in year three.  They persist by reseeding and their seeds survive for many years in the seedbank.  Disturbance can stimulate germination and result in large areas of new plants.

Mature plants reach a height of about 3 feet and can spread to about that distance in width.  The leaves and stems are covered by soft hairs and the leaves are alternate on the stems. Each leaf is unifoliate and without the stipules present in some other Florida species.  The stems are herbaceous in young plants, but become "woody" in older plants. 

Flowering occurs in spring.  The purple to lavender blooms occur on terminal spikes that arise on the multiple stems.  Like other lupines, there is a distinct keel above the fused lower lip. The keel is marked by a deeper purple patch that extends from the tip to the throat.  Plants in bloom are very showy.  Pollination is likely performed primarily by large-bodied bees, though I have no personal observations of that.  The pollinated flowers produce the typical oval seed pods and these are quite hairy.

Florida's native lupines (with the exception of sundial lupine) are notoriously difficult to propagate for commercial or restoration production though they are in high demand for such purposes. Though seeds are not difficult to germinate without special scarification/stratification, the seedlings form complex relationships with soil microbiota and they are very difficult to keep them alive for any appreciable period of time in containers.  They also are difficult to grow out via direct seeding unless the proper soil conditions already exist for them.  For these reasons, Gulf Coast lupine is not propagated by any of the nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries, or by others. Its conservation is the target of the Center for Plant Conservation and its future rests largely in protecting coastal dune properties within its range from development and by wise land management.

All of the photos in this post were taken by my friend, Floyd Griffith, and used by permission, except the comparision one which was produced by Edwin Bridges, also used by permission.

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Large-leaved Jointweed - Polygonum smallianum


Large-leaved jointweed (Polygonum smallianum) is a perennial sub-shrub found in scrub habitat within a very restricted range in western peninsular Florida and in one county (Baldwin) adjacent to Florida in Alabama.  It is listed as a state-threatened species and that denotation is largely due to the extensive habitat loss occurring within this region.  Large-leaved jointweed forms stiff, almost-woody stems that can stand 3 feet tall.  As its common name indicates, large, spatulate-shaped, succulent leaves alternate up these stems. At the base, these leaves can be nearly 3 inches long. 

Flowering occurs in spring.  The above photos, taken by my friend Floyd Griffith and used by permission, were taken on 15 March 2024.  Like other members of this genus, the tiny flowers occur as racemes in an open inflorescence.  This red-flowered form has only been reported from Franklin County, Florida.  Elsewhere in its range, the flowers are white with pink anthers as evidenced in the below photo taken by Roger Hammer and used in the University of South Florida's ISB site.

Jointweeds are typically pollinated by a variety of pollinators and I suspect this is true for this species.  

Large-leaved jointweed is not available commercially by any of the nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries and its protected status makes it illegal to collect any part of it without permits.  This is an interesting component of our flora that should be admired when encountered in those areas where it still occurs.


Bearded Milkvetch - Astragalus villosus

Photo by Steve Coleman

 Two photos above by Floyd Griffith

Bearded milkvetch (Astragalus villosus) is an annual member of the legume family and one of two milkvetches native to Florida.  I have written about the other (A. obcordatus) previously.  Unlike A. obcordatus which has a very limited range in Florida and the Southeast, bearded milkvetch is widespread throughout the Florida Panhandle and the northern peninsula in open well-drained habitats - often those that are somewhat disturbed such as roadsides and pastures.  This is a component of the Southeastern flora and also is found in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.  

Bearded milkvetch forms a taproot in late winter and then forms numerous prostrate stiff stems that spread outward in all directions for about 3 feet.  The compound leaves are composed of 10 or more rounded leaflets without a noticeable notch at the tip.  Both the stems and the leaves are covered by villous to hispid hairs.  There also are noticeable stipules at the base of each leaf.

Flowering occurs in the spring.  Clusters of lemon yellow blooms are formed at the tips of each branch, though they can appear much paler than those in the photos above.  Like most members of the bean/pea family they are composed of a noticeable keel above a fused lip.  The calyx immediately below the petals is hairy as well.

Milkvetches are important nitrogen fixers and are pollinated mostly by big-bodied bees.  Although many legumes serve as host plants for butterflies such as the long-tailed skipper, I can find no record of them using this genus and no record that this species has been used in herbal medicine.

Although this is an attractive and useful wildflower, I also could find no records of it being offered for sale either as seed or plants.  As a short-lived annual it would have limited use as a landscape plant, but a nice addition to a larger restoration planting in the right growing conditions.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Florida Milkvetch - Astragalus obcordatus


Florida milkvetch (Astragalus obcordatus) is a perennial legume (bean/pea family) that is nearly endemic to Florida.  Isolated populations have been vouchered in Mississippi, Alabama,  and Georgia, but it is found throughout much of the Panhandle and the northern half of peninsular Florida. Throughout its range, it is most commonly found in open mesic to xeric uplands.

Although this is a widespread and common genus, Florida milkvetch is only one of two species found in Florida. The other species, bearded milkvetch (A. villosus) is an upright species with much smaller flowers that are yellow instead of pinkish purple.  As the above photos, taken by my friend, Steve Coleman and used by permission, demonstrate, Florida milkvetch is a prostrate species that creeps across the ground - often for several feet away from the center.  They sometimes root at the nodes and/or by underground rhizomes.  The stems are solid (nearly woody in appearance) and often glabrous - though they can sometimes be sparsely hairy.  The compound leaves are composed of many (10 or more) small rounded leaflets with a noticeable notch at the tip.  The leaflets are opposite each other along the petiole and hairy on one or both of the surfaces.  The leaves and stems spread outward across the surface of the ground.

Flowering occurs in the spring.  Clusters of these appear at the tips of the many stems.  They are typical in shape to most other members of the legume family with a noticeable keel and fused lower lip.  They are a rich pinkish purple with darker striations in the petals.  Although I have no observations of this, I suspect that it is mostly pollinated by large-bodied bees.

Legumes are important species for fixing nitrogen in the soil and Florida milkvetch produces these types of root nodules.  As a genus, Astragalus has been used as an herbaol medicine, commonly combined with other herbs to treat upper respiratory infections, hayfever, chronic fatigue syndrome, and kidney diseases.  The efficacy of this not scientifically documented, however, and I could find no literature regarding Florida milkvetch.  Although Astragalus roots and tinctures are available online, I could find few sources of this genus for sale as live plants and none for Florida milkvetch. This is a species to admire when found afield.

Southern Bluet - Houstonia micrantha

Photos above by Floyd Griffith

Photo above by R.W. Smith
From website of Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Southern bluet (Houstonia micrantha) is an annual wildflower vouchered only in Florida from Escambia County - the most western county in the Florida Panhandle.  It is not a listed species here, however, and is common to the west of Florida - from Mississippi to east Texas and Oklahoma.  There are a few local populations also vouchered  from Georgia and southern Arkansas. Throughout its range it is found most commonly in open somewhat disturbed uplands such as roadsides and pastures.  

This is a "cool season" species and it makes its appearance in early winter. Like other bluets in Florida, it is a diminutive species. It tends to creep outward on somewhat succulent stems for several inches away from its center and it stands no more than 3 inches tall.  The elliptical to almost rounded leaves are opposite along the stem.

Blooming occurs in the winter - any time from January through March. The 4-petaled flowers are white with a lemon yellow center.  As such, they are very similar to its close cousin Innocence (Houstonia procumbens).  The key differences between the two are that Innocence is a perennial with completely prostrate stems while Southern bluet (and tiny bluet (H. pusilla)) are annuals with semi-erect stems.  Southern bluet can be mistaken for tiny bluet but there are key differences in their flower structure as documented above by my friend Floyd Griffith.  Tiny bluet's flowers can be white but are more frequently purple to pink. Southern bluet's blooms are always white. The above photos clearly show their differences in the position of their corolla tubes and calyx lobes.

This is a species unlikely to ever be sold commercially by any of the regional native nurseries within its range given its annual nature and diminutive stature, but seed mixes are sometimes sold by hobbyists with the addition of tiny bluet. As such, it makes an interesting white and bluish temporary ground cover that would have to annually reseed.

Monday, March 18, 2024

Tiny Bluet - Houstonia pusilla


Tiny bluet (Houstonia pusilla) is a diminutive member of a genus that also includes the widespread wildflower commonly known as Innocence (Houstonia procumbens).  This species, however, is confined to the entire Panhandle region of Florida.  It also is common throughout much of the Eastern and Midwestern portions of the U.S., except the most northern tier of states.  Throughout its extensive range, it is found in a variety of mesic open habitats.  Tiny bluet is an annual that makes its appearance in winter when its tiny rosette of basal leaves become noticeable.  The mostly glabrous rounded leaves are about 1/4 inch long, opposite along the flower stem and sessile.  

Flowering occurs in very early spring.  The flower stalks stand about 2 inches tall at maturity and a solitary flower is produced at the top of each.  The individual flowers are also tiny - about 1/4 inches across and composed of 4 oval pink to bluish purple petals with a deeper rose center.  Although each bloom is small, a patch of tiny bluet is quite showy.  I suspect that they are pollinated mostly by small bees, though I have no experience with this plant.  As an annual, this plant needs to reseed to persist and it requires open ground to do that effectively.

In the right conditions, I suspect that this annual would persist if grown from seed. I have never seen it offered for sale by any of the nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries, but seed is sometimes offered from out-of-state sources.  I have never tried it or attempted to grow this species here in central Florida where it is well outside of its natural range. 

The photographs in this post were taken by Floyd Griffith and used by permission.

Saturday, March 16, 2024

Common Leopardbane - Arnica acaulis

Common leopardbane (Arnica acaulis) is a rare perennial wildflower in Florida, vouchered only from Jackson and Liberty Counties in the Panhandle, but more commonly found in the Southeast Coastal Plain north of us from Georgia to New Jersey and Pennsylvania. In Florida, it is listed as a state endangered species. Like so many wildflowers of north Florida, this plant dies back to the ground in winter and reemerges again in early spring.  Although it is reported to be common in wetland edges elsewhere, Florida populations occur in open sunny moist uplands such as pine flatwoods.  

Perhaps what's most distinctive about this wildflower is its foliage.  Common leopardbane occurs as a thick cluster of broad and stemless basal leaves - each about 2-5 inches long and covered by noticeable glandular hairs.  The basal rosettes themselves are well more than 1 foot across.  The flower stalks emerge from the basal rosettes in spring and eventually reach a height of 2-3 feet.  The bloom season in Florida is from March to very early summer. Several flowers occur atop each of these stalks.  Without the distinctive foliage, this species could be mistaken by its flowers for a good number of other yellow daisy-like blooms.  Each is 2- 2 1/2 inches across, composed of numerous elongated bright yellow petals that surround a similarly yellow center of disk flowers.  Like all members of the aster family, the flowers attract a wide variety of pollinators. Some members of this genus are used as herbal medicine, though I could not find any records for common leopardbane. I also could not find any sources for this species - either as seed or plants, in Florida or elsewhere within its range.

These photos were taken by my friend and gifted nature photographer, Steve Coleman, and used with permission.

Wood Betony (Canadian lousewort) - Pedicularis canadensis

Wood betony (Pedicularis canadensis) is a perennial wildflower found across the eastern half of North America from east Texas north to Minnesota and Maine in the U.S. and in the adjoining lower tier of provinces in Canada, though it has been vouchered in Florida in only 6 counties in the Panhandle with a seventh disjunct population in Clay County south of Jacksonville.  Although its common name would suggest it otherwise, wood betony is not a mint but a member of the Orobanchaceae - a family that includes the false foxgloves (Agalinus spp.), bluehearts (Buchnera spp.), and blacksennas (Seymeria spp.) among others.  All of these are semi-parasitic on their neighbor's root systems. It is the only member of this genus native to Florida.  Throughout this vast range, it is most often found in open upland sites such as open woodlands and clearings.

Wood betony dies back to the ground in winter and reemerges again in early spring.  As it emerges, the foliage appears maroon in color, but turns a more traditional green as it matures.  The foliage occurs as a basal rosette of deeply dissected, almost fernlike leaves that may be up to 6 inches long and 1-2 inches wide.  They tend to lie parallel to the ground so that the plants rarely stand more than 6 inches tall.  

Wood betony is an early spring bloomer.  The flowers are formed in a cluster at the top of a single stalk that reaches about 12 inches in height. The color is quite variable and, to some extent, dependent on the amount of sunlight the plant receives according to the literature.  The rich rose colored upper petals in these specimens is not typical  Most commonly, the upper petals are a more brownish red and more faded.  The overall color of the blooms is a butter yellow. The early bloom time makes it an important nectar source for bees - especially the larger bodied species such as bumblebees.  

Although both attractive and useful in the landscape, its semi-parasitic nature on other plants growing with it, makes it a less-than-ideal choice for most garden settings.  I have never seen it offered for sale by any of the nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries, but it is available as seed or plants from sources outside of Florida.  I have not tried any of these offerings in my own landscapes.

The above photos were taken in north Florida, by my friend and excellent nature photographer, Floyd Griffin and used by permission.


Sunday, March 10, 2024

Yellow Fumewort - Corydalis flavula

Yellow fumewort (Corydalis flavula) is an annual wildflower found in only three Florida counties (Jackson, Calhoun, and Liberty) in the central Panhandle.  It is widely distributed north of us, however, and is vouchered from the eastern Great Plains to the east coast north to New York and Massachusetts.  Throughout its wide distribution, it is most commonly found in open, deciduous woodlands in moist, but well-drained soil.  

This is a winter annual, meaning that it sets seed in the summer and reappears in winter or very early spring.  It requires the heat of summer to induce seed germination - unlike many species that require cold stratification.  This is a rather diminutive plant that might be overlooked when not in flower.  At maturity, it only reaches a height of 12 inches, though the flower stalks may stand a few inches taller.  Its distinctive foliage is easily discerned by a watchful eye, however.  Each leaf is palmately veined with deeply dissected lobes.  In Florida, I know of no other wildfower that is similar, though if you live or have lived north of here, the foliage is similar to that of Durchman's breeches (Dicentra cucullaria). The leaves occur on pinkish stems and lie mostly horizontal to the ground.  

Flowering occurs in the late winter to early spring. The flowers are bright lemon yellow in color with green markings along the interior edge of the petals,  They occur in clusters at the end of the flower stalks. The upper petals are fused while the lower petal extends outward and down -reminiscent of many flowers in the mint family though yellow fumewort is in the Papaveraceae.  There is a small spur at the back of each bloom. Once the blooms are finished, it produces long reddish brown seed pods that eventually dehisce and scatter the tiny black seeds. Given the shape of its flowers, I suspect it is mostly pollinated by bees. 

As an annual, this is a species that requires the right soil conditions to reseed or the help of a human cultivator to collect its seed and give it the right conditions to germinate and be replanted.  All of this makes it a wildflower poorly suited to most home landscapes and it has never been offered for sale by native nurseires in Florida associated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries.  It is available, however, from several nurseries to our north - as plants or seed. An Asian relative, (Corydalis yanhusuo) has been used as an herbal supplement to support cardiovascular and digestive systems, but I have found no evidence of our native species having any medicinal value. 

These wonderful photos were takn by Steve Coleman and used by permission.