Friday, March 24, 2017

Flower Friday: Swamp leather-flower

Photo by Stacey Matrazzo
Swamp leather-flower (Clematis crispa)

Click on terms for botanical definitions.

Swamp leather-flower is a climbing or trailing perennial vine. Its distinct nodding flowers are pinkish-purple and mildly fragrant. No petals are present, but the four petal-like sepals are fused at the base, giving the bloom a bell- or urn-like shape. The sepals separate and become revolute as the flower opens. Sepal margins are thin and undulate. Flowers are solitary and born on naked, angled stems. Leaves are pinnately compound, oppositely arranged, and usually have 3 to 5 leaflets. Fruits are achenes with long conspicuous awns.

Swamp leather-flower occurs naturally in floodplain forests, wet hammocks and riverine swamps. Flowers typically bloom in spring and summer, attracting a variety of pollinators. The seeds provide food for many birds and small wildlife.

The genus name Clematis is from the Greek clĂ©matis, or “climbing plant.” The common name leather-flower refers to the flower’s fleshy sepals. Clematis crispa is also known by the common names Curly Clematis, Curlflower, Curly virgin's bower, (all referring to the curled-back sepals), and Marsh Clematis.

Photo by Stacey Matrazzo
: Ranunculaceae (Buttercup or crowfoot family)
Native range: Panhandle; nearly throughout North and Central Florida
To see where natural populations of swamp leather-flower have been vouchered, visit florida.plantatlas.usf.edu. Hardiness: Zones 8a-9b
Soil: Moist to moderately dry sandy, loamy or mucky soils
Exposure: Partial sun/shade
Growth habit: 6+ feet long
Propagation: Seeds, division, cuttings
Garden tips: Swamp leather-flower does well on a fence or trellis. Old growth and stems should be cut back periodically.

Swamp leather-flower plants are occasionally available from nurseries that specialize in Florida native plants. Visit www.plantrealflorida.org to find a nursery in your area.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Flower Friday: Southern crabapple

Photo by Stacey Matrazzo
Southern crabapple (Malus angustifolia)

Click on terms for botanical definitions.

Southern crabapple is a deciduous flowering shrub to small tree with showy pink blossoms. It occurs naturally in open woods and disturbed areas in Florida’s Panhandle, where it is a state-threatened species. Its fragrant spring blooms are pollinated primarily by bees, but butterflies are also known to visit them. Birds and other wildlife love its ripe fruits.

Southern crabapple flowers are pink, five-petaled and borne in clusters of three to five. They appear in early spring and give off a very sweet fragrance. Leaves are elliptic to ovate and 1 to 2 inches long with serrated margins. They are alternately arranged. Stems and trunk bear leafy thorns. Fruits are yellow-green, apple- to pear-shaped, and grow to about an inch in diameter. They are edible but are astringent and sour when raw due to the presence of malic acid. They are best when made into jelly or jam and are an excellent source of pectin (so no extra pectin is needed when making jelly or jam).

The genus name Malus comes from the Latin malum, referring to the malic acid content. The species name angustifolia comes from the Latin angustus, or narrow, and folia, or leaf.

Photo by Stacey Matrazzo
: Roseacea
Native range: Central and east Panhandle
To see where natural populations of Southern crabapple have been vouchered, visit florida.plantatlas.usf.edu.
Hardiness: Zones 8a-9b
Soil: Moderately moist to moderately dry sand, clay or loam
Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
Growth habit: up to 30’ tall, up to 20’ spread
Propagation: Seed, division of suckers
Garden tips: Southern crabapple makes a lovely specimen or ornamental tree. It is long-lived, slow-growing and adaptable to moist and dry conditions. It is not salt tolerant.

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

Friday, March 10, 2017

Flower Friday: Solomon's seal

Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum)
Click on terms for botanical definitions.

Photo by Stacey Matrazzo
Solomon’s seal is a unique perennial wildflower. It typically blooms in spring in moist, shady habitats. Its flowers are greenish-white, tubular and pendulous or bell-like. They hang in pairs from the leaf axils and are often obscured by leaves. Stems are arching and tend to zigzag. Leaves are simple and oval to elliptic with parallel veination. They are alternately arranged. The leaf surface is bright green with a gold iridescence; the underside is whitish. Fruits are pea-sized berries that turn dark blue to black when ripe. They are eaten by a variety of wildlife.

The genus name Polygonatum comes from the Greek poly, or “many,” and gony (also gonato), or “knee,” and refers to the many jointed rhizomes. The common name is derived from scars on the rhizomes that are said to bear a resemblance to the ancient Hebrew seal of King Solomon.

Parts of Solomon’s seal are edible. Young shoots can be eaten raw or boiled. The starchy rhizomes were used by Native Americans to make bread. It also possesses a number of medicinal properties including anti-inflammatory and sedative. The rhizomes have been made into a tonic to treat gout and rheumatism. 

Leaves showing gold iridescence. Photo by Stacey Matrazzo
Ruscaceae* (Butcher’s broom family)
Native range: Some counties in North Central Florida and the Eastern Panhandle, as well as Escambia County
To see where natural populations of Solomon’s seal have been vouchered, visit florida.plantatlas.usf.edu
Hardiness: Zone 7-8
Soil: Moist to wet well-drained soils
Exposure: Partial to full shade
Growth habit:  1-3’ tall
Propagation: Division, seed
Garden tips: Solomon’s seal is rarely available at nurseries that specialize in native plants. A non-native variegated form is more commonly sold at big box garden centers. To be sure you are getting the native species, visit www.plantrealflorida.org to find a nursery in your area.

*Some sources have reclassified the Ruscaceae family to Nolinoideae, a subfamily of the Asparagaceae family. However, the University of Florida Institute for Systematic Botany’s Atlas of Florida Plants (as well as other sources including the University of North Carolina Herbarium’s Flora of the Southern and Mid-Atlantic States) still list Ruscaceae as its own family and Solomon’s seal as a member.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Flower Friday: Dune sunflower makes an attractive groundcover in coastal landscapes.

(Photo by Walter Taylor)
H. debilis makes an excellent border planting, too. (Photo by Lisa Roberts)
Dune sunflower (Helianthus debilis)

Dune (or beach) sunflower is a sprawling, herbaceous groundcover that produces many yellow, daisy-like flowers. Its leaves are deltoid-shaped, with rough surfaces and toothed margins; they are alternately arranged. Blooms consist of brownish-red disk florets surrounded by bright yellow ray florets.

Dune sunflower typically flowers in the summer, but may flower year-round in South Florida. Its flowers attract a variety of pollinators, including butterflies, moths and bees. Its dense growth pattern provides cover for many small animals, while its seeds are eaten by birds.

The genus name Helianthus comes from the Latin heli (sun) and anthus (flower). There are 17 species of Helianthus native to Florida.

Family: Asteraceae (Aster famiily)
Hardiness: North, Central and South Florida (Zones 8–11)
Soil: Well-drained sandy soil
Exposure: Full sun
Growth habit: 1–2+ feet tall with a 3–4+ foot spread
Garden tips: Dune sunflower is a prolific self-seeder, and has a tendency to spread quickly if not maintained. It is also easily propagated by cuttings. Periodic removal of spent plants is recommended.

Note: There are three subspecies of Helianthus debilis occurring in Florida, all of which are capable of hybridizing and thus, should not be planted together. When using in a landscape or garden setting, It is recommended that the subspecies native to/appropriate for the region be used. Visit PlantRealFlorida.org to find a native nursery in your area that sells the appropriate subspecies for your region. Seeds of the East coast subspecies are available through the Florida Wildflowers Growers Cooperative.

To see where each subspecies of dune sunflower occurs naturally in Florida, visit www.florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/Plant.aspx?id=660, www.florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/Plant.aspx?id=3367 and www.florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/Plant.aspx?id=1249

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Here we go again… Wildflowers bloom earlier than normal

By Jeff Norcini

Earlier-than-normal blooming of spring wildflowers seems to be occurring more often, but this year stands out because some wildflowers are blooming nearly a month earlier than expected. The influence of this “abnormal” weather will probably be greatest in North Florida. If the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) climate predictions hold true, March will likely be wetter and warmer than normal, which would speed up the time when mid- or late-spring wildflowers bloom, such as Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) and Blanketflower (Gaillardia pulchella).

Bee on Blue-eyed grass. Photo/Mary Keim
This also means that now is not too soon to be looking for wildflowers that normally would bloom in late March or early April, such as Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium spp.), Lanceleaf tickseed (Coreopsis lanceolata), Southeastern sneezeweed (Helenium pinnatifidum), Lyreleaf sage (Salvia lyrata), and Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis). The remainder of the spring weather should be normal, so the effect of the warm, wet weather should dissipate by the end of spring … unless it doesn’t.
Leavenworth's tickseed on State Road 80 near LaBelle. Photo/Jeff Norcini

In Central and South Florida, temperatures are expected to be above normal in March, with normal temperatures the remainder of spring. While rain should be normal throughout spring, NOAA predicts that drought conditions will persist in a large portion of south Central Florida and are likely to develop in South Florida (see U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook).

Where to find wildflowers

Given that outlook, the best places to see native wildflowers will be naturally moist areas, especially in April and May. Look for two of the showiest and most common wildflowers in moist sites — Leavenworth’s tickseed (Coreopsis leavenworthii) and Black-eyed Susan (in North Florida, it tends to occur in drier locations). Because March is expected to be warmer than normal, look for typical April and May bloomers a few weeks earlier than you otherwise would. For instance, Leavenworth’s tickseed and Black-eyed Susan are already blooming.

Sneezeweed on U.S. Highway 27 in Taylor County. Photo/Jeff Norcini
A good place to view showy stands of wildflowers that prefer moist sites is along Florida's Turnpike south of Orlando, from about mile marker 220 south to Yeehaw Junction. Leavenworth’s tickseed and Black-eyed Susan have started flowering in these areas, which means the brilliant yellow flowers of Southeastern sneezeweed should be brightening roadsides and natural areas soon.
Because March is expected to be warmer than normal, Prairie iris (Iris hexagona) and Duck potato (Sagittaria spp.) should be flowering by early April. If you get lucky, you might even spot the bright reddish spikes of the Leafless beaked orchid (Sacoila lanceolata) that month.

Not near an area with naturally moist conditions? Head toward the coast. Blanketflower and Beach sunflower (Helianthus debilis) are showy native wildflowers that thrive in dry, sandy conditions. They can be bloom at any time of the year in South Florida, and typically start by early to mid-spring in the Panhandle.

When you are out and about enjoying the spring beauty that Mother Nature has blessed us with, please don’t pick wildflowers. If you want to preserve the memory of a wildflower, take a picture — it will last longer. Many of our native wildflowers reproduce only by seed. Picking a flower reduces a  plant's ability to sustain itself.

For specific locations to view wildflowers, drive one of the wildflower routes developed by the Florida Wildflower Foundation. Visit www.FlaWildflowerTrips.org to download Eastern Panhandle driving routes, or visit the Foundation's Research page and scroll down to the middle column of the page for wildflower route maps and reports. See more of what's in bloom at www.FlaWildflowers.org/blooming.php.

Now for a bit of science ...

Blooming is dependent on a complex interaction of genetics (that is, the “blueprint” of how the plant is expected to perform) and the environment — mainly day length, temperature and soil characteristics, the most important of which is moisture. The influence of these environmental factors varies among wildflower species. To make this issue a bit more complex, the previous year’s weather can influence wildflowers the next year, especially those that reseed. Weather can affect seed dormancy; dormant seeds do not germinate until the factor(s) causing dormancy have been alleviated, which could take several months or more. Wildflowers producing a high level of dormant seed may not yield a good stand of plants the following year.