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Friday, May 20, 2016

Flower Friday: Creatures of the night love Southern beeblossom.

Photo by Mary Keim
Southern beeblossom (Oenothera simulans) (previously Gaura angustifolia)

Southern beeblossom is an erect herbaceous annual. It produces wandlike spikes of fuzzy, reddish-pink buds that open in the evening as delicate white four-petaled blossoms. They turn pink the following day and then wither away. Each flower has four narrow sepals, eight prominent stamens with reddish-brown anthers, and a long pistil that flares open at the tip. Stems emerge from basal rosettes of long, lanceolate leaves with toothed margins. Stems are long, slender and widely branched, giving the plant a lanky appearance. Stem leaves are sessile with entire or toothed margins and are alternately arranged.

Southern beeblossom occurs naturally along roadsides and in pinelands, open woods and sandy fields. It flowers spring through summer and attracts a wide range of small pollinators, including moths and bees. The pollen grains are held together by a threadlike substance and can only be collected by pollinators that are morphologically specialized. Its flowers open at night (hence the family name, evening primrose), so only pollinators that forage at night can pollinate them. Birds have been known to eat Southern beeblossom seeds.

The genera Gaura and Calylophus were once separate but have now been combined with Oenothera based on DNA evidence.

Family: Onagraceae (Evening primrose or willowherb family)
Native range: Nearly throughout Florida
To see where natural populations of Southern beeblossom have been vouchered, visit www.florida.plantatlas.usf.edu.
Hardiness: 7-11
Soil: Dry, well-drained sandy soil
Exposure: Full sun
Growth habit: 3-6’+ tall
Propagation: Seeds
Garden tips: Southern beeblossom self-seeds readily and produces many seedlings. Deadheading is recommended to prevent it from spreading.

Although Southern beeblossom plants are not widely available commercially, they are sometimes available from nurseries that specialize in Florida native plants. Visit www.plantrealflorida.org to find a nursery in your area.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Flower Friday: Pricklypear cactus is just bristling with personality.

Pricklypear flower. Photo by Stacey Matrazzo.
Pricklypear cactus (Opuntia humifusa)

Pricklypear cactus is an erect to sprawling perennial succulent. Its blooms are large with bright yellow petals, sepals and stamens. Petals and sepals are often indistinguishable, and may have a waxy feel. Flowers occur singularly or in clusters. Leaves are absent, replaced by flattened cladodes, commonly referred to as “pads.” The cladodes are segmented, fleshy and armed with two types of barbed bristles: long, fixed spines, and small glochids or hairlike bristles (see caution below). Flowers are born on the margins of mature cladodes. The pear-shaped fruit is hard and green; it softens and turns a bright purplish-pink as it matures. It is also covered in fine bristles.

Long, fixed barbed spines. Photo by Stacey Matrazzo.
Pricklypear cactus occurs naturally in scrub, scrubby flatwoods, sandhills, coastal strands, ruderal sites and dry, open areas. It flowers in late spring and attracts a wide range of pollinators, especially native bees. The fleshy fruits and seeds are eaten by birds, small mammals and gopher tortoises (who also enjoy browsing the pads).

Pricklypear cactus fruits and young pads are edible to humans once they have been carefully de-bristled. The ripe fruits can be eaten raw or used to make juice, jam or syrup. The pads or nopales can be sautéed or grilled.

Caution: Long spines and glochids will easily penetrate skin and can be very painful to remove. The glochids can cause skin irritation upon contact. Handle with care. For more information on handling and preparing pricklypear, visit www.wildflower.org


Mature pricklypear fruits. Photo by Mary Keim.
Family
: Cactaceae (Cactus family)
Native range: Nearly throughout Florida
To see where natural populations of pricklypear cactus have been vouchered, visit www.florida.plantatlas.usf.edu.
Hardiness: 8-11
Soil: Dry, well-drained sandy soil
Exposure: Full sun
Growth habit: 1-3’+ tall, usually wider than tall
Propagation: Seeds, cuttings/fragments
Garden tips: Pricklypear can be easily grown and is very hardy and enduring. Plant in an obvious location where there is no risk of it being accidentally stepped on. Pad fragments will regenerate into a new plant; simply bury the end of the fragment in a sandy, sunny spot and wait for your new plant to emerge.

Pricklypear cactus plants are sometimes available from nurseries that specialize in Florida native plants. Visit www.plantrealflorida.org to find a nursery in your area.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Flower Friday: Mock bishopsweed is a must-have in any butterfly garden.

Photo by Stacey Matrazzo
Mock bishopsweed
(Ptilimnium capillaceum
)

Click on terms for botanical definitions.


Mock bishopsweed is a delicate little annual that is too often disregarded as a weed.
But despite its small stature, it is both attractive and ecologically beneficial, especially when it occurs in mass. Its many dainty white flowers are born in compound umbels that are encircled at their base by threadlike bracts. Though the flowers are tiny, the nectar is easily accessible to many pollinators, including flies and wasps. It is also the larval host plant for the black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) butterfly. Its leaves are compound with finely dissected leaflets, giving it a thin, wispy appearance (see photo below). Stems are slender, hollow and branched. Seeds are ovoid and less than 1/8” long.

Mock bishopsweed typically blooms in spring and summer. It occurs naturally in swamps, marshes, coastal swales, ditches and along pond edges.
 

Like most members of the Apiaceae family, mock bishopsweed has a long taproot, which helps the plants survive “hazards” such as drought and being eaten by black swallowtail caterpillars.

Mock bishopsweed leaves
Photo by Shirley Denton
Family
: Apiaceae (Umbelliferae, celery, carrot or parsley family)
Native range: Nearly throughout Florida
To see where natural populations of mock bishopsweed have been vouchered, visit www.florida.plantatlas.usf.edu.
Hardiness: 7-11
Soil: Moist to wet soils
Exposure: Full sun
Growth habit: 12-18”
Propagation: Seed
Garden tips: Mock bishopsweed usually volunteers itself into a landscape, particularly in sites that are wet or watered regularly. It is a prolific self-seeder, so be sure to thin it out before it goes to seed as it can take over if you allow it.
 

Mock bishopsweed plants are occasionally available from nurseries that specialize in Florida native plants. Visit www.PlantRealFlorida.org to find a nursery in your area.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Flower Friday: Ol' blue eyes is back.


Photo by Mary Keim.
Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium)           

Click on terms for botanical definitions.



Blue-eyed grass is an evergreen, clump-forming perennial wildflower. Its dainty star-shaped flowers and are born atop flat, grasslike stems. Tepals may be blue, purple or lavender and darken as they near the center of the flower, which is bright yellow. They have obvious venation, are tipped with sharp points, and arch back toward the stem as the flower opens. Leaves are long, linear and basal. Seeds develop in capsules that wrinkle and turn dark brown as they mature. The grasslike appearance of both stems and leaves give this plant its common name. However, it is in no way related to the grass family.



Blue-eyed grass typically blooms in spring. It occurs naturally in moist hammocks, bogs, and along riverbanks and moist roadsides.



There are several species of Sisyrinchium native to Florida, but only S. angustifoloium is available for the home landscape.

 Blue-eyed grass along Suncoast Parkway in Hernando County.
Photo by Jeff Norcini.
Family: Iridaceae (Iris family)

Native range: Throughout Florida

Hardiness: 8–11

Soil: Moist to moderately dry, sandy to loamy soils

Exposure: Full sun

Growth habit: 6-12” tall

Propagation: Seed, division

Garden tips: Blue-eyed grass’ low profile makes it an excellent groundcover choice. It is fairly adaptable to conditions of drought and partial shade, but planting in full sun and moist soil will result in denser foliage and more flowers. It is a prolific self-seeder provided there are multiple plants; solitary plants typically don’t produce viable seed. It will also spread by underground rhizomes. Blue-eyed grass does not transplant well in full summer heat, so plants should be installed in fall or winter to insure that they are well established before summer.



Blue-eyed grass plants are often available from nurseries that specialize in Florida native plants. Visit www.plantrealflorida.org to find a nursery in your area.  



To see where blue-eyed grass occurs naturally, visit florida.plantatlas.usf.edu.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Flower Friday: False indigo is genuinely gorgeous.

Photo by Craig Huegel
False indigo (Amorpha fruticosa)

False indigo is a densely branched woody shrub with a striking spring and summer floral display. The tightly packed terminal spikes are comprised of many dark purple, one-petaled flowers that bear contrasting yellow to orange anthers. Leaves are alternately arranged and pinnately compound. Leaflets are elliptic with entire margins and are oppositely arranged on the leaf stalk. The leaves give the plant a feathery appearance. Seed pods are glandular and curved.

False indigo occurs naturally in alluvial forests, wet and coastal hammocks, cypress pond edges, and along stream and river banks. It attracts many pollinators and is the larval host plant for the silver-spotted skipper (Epargyreus clarus), Southern dogface (Zerene cesonia), gray hairstreak (Strymon melinus) butterflies.  

False indigo is also known as bastard indigo, bastard false indigo and desert false indigo. The genus name amorpha comes from the Greek amorphos, or "without form," and refers to the flowers having only one petal, unlike most flowers in the pea family. 

Photo by Harry Cliffe,
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Family: Fabeaceae (Legume, bean or pea family)
Native range: Throughout Florida
Hardiness: 8a–10a
Soil: Moist to moderately dry soil
Exposure: Light to moderate shade
Growth habit: 4’–12’ tall
Propagation: Seed, cuttings
Garden tips: When in bloom, the combination of purple, orange and green gives false indigo a stunning and unusual appearance. It is extremely adaptable and does well in most landscapes. As it can get rather tall comparatively, it is best planted in the back of a mixed planting or as a screen or hedge. False indigo is deciduous, however, in more southern locations, it often performs as an evergreen.

False indigo plants are often available from nurseries that specialize in Florida native plants. Visit www.plantrealflorida.org to find a nursery in your area.


Click here to see where false indigo occurs naturally.