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.

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