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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.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Flower Friday: Wildlife love white wild indigo

Photo by Lisa Roberts.
White wild indigo (Baptisia alba)

White wild indigo is a long-lived perennial herbaceous wildflower. Its showy white blooms are borne on erect, terminal racemes that extend a foot or more above the foliage and remain for several weeks. A single plant may produce several flower stalks. Leaves are compound, alternately arranged, and comprised of three bluish-green, elliptic to ovate leaflets. Young seed pods are green and turn grayish-black as they mature. They often appear inflated.

White wild indigo occurs naturally in pine flatwoods and along riverbanks and deciduous forest edges. It attracts many pollinators and is the larval host plant for the wild indigo duskywing and Zarucco duskywing butterflies. The fruits are eaten by a variety of birds, and the foliage is browsed by rabbits and deer. (The plant’s large tuberous roots allow it to withstand browsing.)  

Many species of Baptisia were historically used to produce a blue dye, hence the common name of the genus, indigo.

Immature seed pods.
Photo by Sally and Andy Wasowski,
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Family: Fabeaceae (Legume, bean or pea family)
Native range: Panhandle, north and central peninsula
Hardiness: 8a-9b
Soil: Moderately to very dry, acidic to neutral soils
Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
Growth habit: 2–3++ tall, often wider than tall
Propagation: Seed
Garden tips: White wild indigo works well in a mixed wildflower planting, particularly in the background given its relative height. It dies back in winter, but returns in the spring. It does not tolerate root disturbance, so plant seed or seedling where the mature plant is intended to remain.

White wild indigo plants are often available from nurseries that specialize in Florida native plants. Visit www.plantrealflorida.org to find a nursery in your area. Seeds can be purchased through the Florida Wildflower Growers Cooperative.

Click here to see where white wild indigo occurs naturally.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Know your native pollinators: Cuckoo bees

by Claudia Larsen

"Know your native pollinators" is a series of articles that will help you identify and appreciate Florida's varied pollinators, including bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, beetles, flies, birds and bats.

Cuckoo bees are often mistaken for wasps because their body shape resembles a wasp, and they are nearly hairless. They also lack the pollen baskets that most bees have on their legs because they do not collect pollen for their young. 

Insecta: Hymenoptera: Apidae : Nomadinae

Cuckoo bees are generalists, so they may visit a number of flowering species, but they are especially fond of blanketflower (Gaillardia pulchella), Spanish needles (Bidens spp.), frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora), Florida sunflowers (Helianthus spp.) and dotted horsemint (Monarda punctata). They do not collect pollen. They visit flowers solely to collect nectar.

Cuckoo bees are cleptoparasitic, meaning the females lay their eggs in nests of other bee species (i.e. host nests). To find a nest, the female cuckoo will hover near the ground to identify a particular odor emitted from a nest. Once she finds one, she will wait for the host to leave, then enter and lay eggs. When her young hatch, they kill the host’s larva and feed on pollen collected by the host. They remain in the nest until mature. The bee gets its name from the cuckoo bird, which also will leave its egg in a host's nest for the host to raise.

Like carpenter bees (introduced in the first article in this series), cuckoo bees are also in the Apidae family, but make up the subfamily Nomadinae. In Florida, there are three main genera of Nomadinae: Nomada in the Nomadini tribe, and Epeolus and Triepeolus in the Epeolini tribe. These three genera represent 42 species. Also in the Epeolini tribe is the genus Doeringiella, which includes three species endemic to Florida: D. alachuensis, D. rugosus and D. rufuthoax

DID YOU KNOW? Ninety-nine percent of cleptoparasitic bees descended from a single bee that lived 95 million years ago? (Cornell Chronicle)

Nomada imbricata. Photo by Paul Coin.
Nomada spp.
Although it may be difficult to identify different species, most of the members of the Nomada genus are wasp-like and moderate in size (0.1-0.6 inches long). They are red or black and show yellow or red integument coloring. Their antennae may look thicker than other bees and they have no pollen-carrying structures. Most Nomada species prefer the nests of Andrena (mining bee) species for parasitizing. They will often lay up to four eggs in a single nest.

Nomada comes from the Latin for "nomad," referring to the way these bees seemingly wander in search of host nests. 

Epeolus autumnalis. Photo by Tom Murray.
Epeolus spp.  
Bees in the Epeolus genus typically have chunky thoraxes and black-and-white-striped abdomens with close-cropped hair. Some also have red marks on their abdomens. They range in size from 0.2 to 0.6 inches. All Epeolus species parasitize Collettes (polyester bee) species. Female Epeolus bees have spines on their abdomens with which to pierce the cellophane-like lining put up by Collettes to protect their eggs from moisture and soil bacteria. The Epeolus then lays its egg between two layers of lining.  

Triepeolus sp. Photo by Tom Murray.
Triepeolus spp.  
Triepeolus bees also don contrasting black and whitish-yellow stripes, but their thoraxes bear two white dots and a curved whitish stripe against a black background, giving the appearance of a happy face on their backs. They sometimes have red legs. Their size varies from .25 to more than 1 inch. Triepeolus bees will parasitize a number of species' nests.

DID YOU KNOW? It is not uncommon to find a Triepeolus bee snoozing on a flower petal. They simply tuck their legs under their abdomens and relax their antennae straight out before falling fast asleep.


  1. Bee Basics: An Introduction to our Native Bees. Beatriz Moisset, Ph.D. and Stephen Buchmann, Ph.D.; A USDA Forest Service and Pollinator Partnership Publication. http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5306468.pdf 
  2. The Bees of Florida. John B. Pascarella, Ph.D., Dean of the College of Sciences, Professor of Biological Sciences, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas. http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/HallG/Melitto/Intro.htm  
  3. "Florida's Native Bees." Jaime Pawelek. http://www.floridasnativebees.com/bumbles-cuckoos-carpenters-and-more.html  
  4. Surveys of Wild Bees (Hymenoptera: Apoidea: Anthophila) in Organic Farms of Alachua County in North-Central Florida. H. Glenn Hall and John S. Ascher, Florida Entomological Society. http://www.bioone.org/doi/pdf/10.1653/024.094.0319 

Friday, April 8, 2016

Flower Friday: Watch that fringe and see how it flutters!

Fringetree blooms. Photo by Lisa Roberts.
Fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus)

Also known as old man's beard (or grancy graybeard in limited circles), fringetree is often overshadowed by dogwood, plum and other spring-flowering trees. But fringetree’s graceful tassled flowers put on an equally spectacular display. Each fragrant flower consists of four long, linear, ivory-colored petals. They are born in many loose, pendulous clusters that give the tree its “fringed” appearance, and typically appear in late spring when other trees are finishing blooming. Leaves are dark green, lanceolate to oval with pale undersides and entire margins. They are oppositely arranged. Fringetree will leaf out in late spring and drop its leaves in early fall. Fruits are fleshy, olive- or egg-shaped drupes that turn dark blue to purplish-black as they mature in summer and fall. They are born in dangling clusters.

Fringetree occurs naturally in a variety of habitats including moist hammocks and sandy uplands. It attracts many pollinators, including bats. It is the larval host plant for several species of sphinx moths. Birds love the fruits. The fringetree is dioecious, which means both a male and female specimen are needed to ensure pollination and fruit. (Both the male and female trees will produce flowers, but only the female tree will produce fruit.)

Native Americans used the roots and bark to treat skin inflammations and wounds. 

Fringetree in full bloom.
Photo by Shirley Denton.

: Oleaceae (Olive family)

Native range: most Panhandle and north and central peninsula counties (see range map for actual vouchered locations)

Hardiness: 8a-9b/10

Soil: Moist to moderately dry, fertile soils

Exposure: Full sun to partial shade

Growth habit: 15+ tall, 5+wide

Propagation: Seed

Garden tips: Fringetree is fairly adaptable to a variety of conditions and is drought-tolerant once established. It is non-descript when not in flower, so plant in a mixed setting with other trees that will divert attention the rest of the year. 

Fringetree 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 fringetree occurs naturally.