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Friday, July 22, 2016

Flower Friday: Spotted water hemlock is a treat for swallowtails but toxic to humans.

Spotted water hemlock (Cicuta maculata)

Click on terms for botanical definitions.

Photo by Mary Keim.
Spotted water hemlock is a robust herbaceous perennial with a bad reputation of being one of the most toxic plants known to man. Its inflorescences are compound umbels borne on stalks – typical of many Apiaceae family members. Flowers are white, with five petals, sepals and stamens. Leaves are long, pinnately compound and alternately arranged. Leaflets are elliptic- to lance-shaped with toothed margins and are oppositely arranged. Stems are smooth, hollow and highly branched. They can be entirely purple, or green with purple splotches or streaks.

Spotted water hemlock occurs naturally in freshwater swamps, marshes and floodplains, and along riverbanks and roadside ditches. It blooms spring through fall and dies back in winter. It attracts many species of bees, wasps and butterflies, and is a larval host plant for the black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes).

An inflorescence of compound umbels,
covered in black swallowtail caterpillars.
Photo by Mary Keim.
Like all other plants in the Cicuta genus, spotted water hemlock contains cicutoxin, a poisonous compound that can fatally disrupt the central nervous system. In humans, symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain will appear within 30 to 60 minutes of ingestion, followed by tremors, convulsions, seizures or death. It is also known by the more telling common names of beaver poison and suicide root. It is not, however, the famous hemlock that killed Socrates; that was poison hemlock (Conium maculatum), a relative of spotted water hemlock.

Family: Apiaceae (also Umbelliferae) (Parsley, carrot or celery family)

Native range: Nearly throughout the peninsula and in a few Panhandle counties

To see where natural populations of spotted water hemlock have been vouchered, visit www.florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/.

Soil: Saturated to inundated soils

Growth habit: 4’+ tall

Caution: Spotted water hemlock is often mistaken for elderberry (Sambucus nigra), which has a similar flower form and is found in the same habitat (often growing alongside spotted water hemlock). However, elderberry flowers and fruits are edible. Extreme caution should be used when harvesting elderberry to ensure you have the right species. For more information on how to tell them apart, check out www.eattheweeds.com.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Flower Friday: Hairy leafcup just might be the cure for what ails you!

Photo by R.W. Smith
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Hairy leafcup (Smallanthus uvedalia) Click on terms for botanical definitions.

Also known as bear’s foot, hairy leafcup is an uncommon herbaceous perennial with bright blooms comprised of yellow ray and disk florets. Ray florets are notched at the tips. Flowers are borne on branched panicles. Leaves are distinctively broad and palmately lobed or dissected, giving the leaf a “bear’s foot” appearance (hence the common name). Leaf has a prominent midrib, rough surface and toothed margins. Lower leaves are oppositely arranged, while upper leaves are alternate. Stems are hollow, ribbed and may be mottled with purple. Fruit is an almost-spheric achene.

Hairy leafcup occurs naturally in upland hardwood forests, slope forests, upland mixed woodlands, and moist shaded hammocks. It typically blooms in summer and attracts a variety of bees and other pollinators.

Smallanthus uvedelia was formerly placed in the “leafcup” genus – Polymnia — and was known as Polymnia uvedalia. It was reclassified as Smallanthus and is currently the only species in the United States in that genus. It’s cousin, Tennessee leafcup (Polymnia laevigata), is endangered in Florida, and is found only in the upland hardwood forests of Jackson County. Its flowers are small, white and not showy.

Image courtesy of Smithsonian Institute,
National Museum of American History,
Kenneth E. Behring Center.
An herbal tincture made from hairy leafcup’s roots was created by Dr. J.W. Pruit in the 1870s (although prior uses have been documented). It was used to control internal or external bodily inflammation and also was sold as a rheumatism medicine. In the early 1900s, William Brooks Medicine Co. began selling “Brooks’ Bears-foot Ointment.” It claimed to treat “piles, sores, itch, tetter, eczema, chronic sore legs, dandruff and other scalp diseases, mange in dogs, sore backs and sore shoulders in horses.” The tincture also was used as a tonic to stimulate hair growth and can still be found in some hair lotions.

Family: Asteraceae (Aster, daisy or composite family)
Native range: Most Panhandle counties west of Jefferson County; central and north-central peninsula
To see where natural populations of hairy leafcup have been vouchered, visit www.florida.plantatlas.usf.edu.
Hardiness: Zones 7-9b
Soil: Dry to moderately moist, well-drained soils
Exposure: Partial sun; shaded areas with light gaps
Growth habit: 3-5’
Propagation: Seeds
Garden tips: Hairy leafcup is adaptable to a variety of growing conditions. Its large size and stature can make a bold statement in a moderate to dry shaded garden, particularly when paired with plants of similar size and contrasting colors such as frostweed and cardinalflower. It also pairs well with low shrubs such as wild coffee or rouge plant. Do not cut back in winter as bees will make nests in the large hollow stems to overwinter.

Hairy leafcup is occasionally available from nurseries that specialize in Florida native plants. Growers may post availability on www.plantrealflorida.org.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Flower Friday: Mornin' buttercup! Pitted stripeseed is in bloom!

Photo by Wayne Matchett.

Pitted stripeseed (Piriqueta cistoides subsp. caroliniana)
Click on terms for botanical definitions.
Also known as morning buttercup, pitted stripeseed is a cheerful perennial wildflower. It emerges in early spring as multiple stems that spread in various directions to form a moundlike arrangement. Its bright yellow flowers have five petals, five stamens and three stigmas with “frilly” tips. Leaves are dark green and linear with toothed margins. They are alternately arranged. Leaf and stem morphology is regionally variable. Both may be pubescent or smooth; pubescence may give the foliage a coppery tone. The fruit is a three-parted capsule that explodes when ripe to scatter seeds away from the plant. Seeds are long and narrow, with longitudinally striped depressions (hence the common name “pitted stripeseed”).

Pitted stripeseed occurs naturally in open, sandy areas of pine flatwoods and sandhills. It typically blooms in late summer, although it can bloom year-round in southern climes. It attracts small bees and butterflies. Gulf fritillary butterflies may use this wildflower as a host plant as it is chemically similar to the fritillaries’ primary host plants, passionvines. (The genera Passiflora and Piriqueta are in the same order.) Rabbits also like to nibble on the foliage.

Pitted stripeseed was once known as Piriqueta caroliniana but has more recently been reclassified as a subspecies of Piriqueta cistoides. It is the only member of the Turneraceae family native to Florida.

Photo by Claudia Larsen
Family: Turneraceae
Native range: Nearly throughout
To see where natural populations of pitted stripeseed have been vouchered, visit florida.plantatlas.usf.edu.
Hardiness: Zones 7-11
Soil: Adaptable to varied conditions, but prefers dry to moderately moist, well-drained sandy soils
Exposure: Full sun
Growth habit: Variable from 4” to 18” but typically 10” to 12”
Propagation: Seeds, cuttings
Garden tips: Although it is rarely available commercially, pitted stripeseed’s abundant foliage and flowers make it an interesting addition to a landscape. Plant in clusters along the front edge of a garden or trail where it won’t get lost among other wildflowers and plants. It may spread by suckering and form small colonies.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Flower Friday: Freshen your breath with a little Baldwin's eryngo

Photo by Craig Huegel
Baldwin’s eryngo (Eryngium baldwinii)

Click on terms for botanical definitions.

Baldwin’s eryngo is a deciduous perennial (sometimes biennial) wildflower with a prostrate, vine-like growth habit. You’ll rarely notice it as you drive along the highway, but it can form a large sprawling groundcover, providing a hazy, light blue understory to other wildflowers. Eryngium species lack the characteristic umbellate flower form of their other cousins in the Apiaceae (carrot) family. Rather, the umbel is compacted into a tight, prominently globose flowerhead, reminiscent of an aster. In Baldwin’s eryngo, the flowerhead is less than ¼-inch in diameter and comprised of many tiny, greenish-white flowers that turn a purplish-blue. It is subtended by bristly lower bracts. The fruit structure is a schizocarp that splits into separate carpels at maturity. Leaves are small and finely dissected with sharp tips. Stems are thin and multi-branched.

Other than its flower form and prostrate growth habit, Baldwin’s eryngo is a model carrot family representative: It forms a taproot that helps maintain its basal leaves during the winter; it releases a faint, carrot-like odor when crushed; and it is a larval host plant for the black swallowtail butterfly.

Photo by Claudia Larsen
Baldwin’s eryngo occurs naturally in wet hammocks and in disturbed areas such as moist roadsides. It typically blooms in summer, although it has been known to bloom as early as spring and into the fall. It attracts small bees and butterflies.

According to Florida ethnobotanist Dan Austin, Baldwin’s eryngo was used as a breath freshener with aphrodisiac influence. A candy version was referred to as “kissing comfits.”

The species baldwinii is named for William Baldwin (1779-1819), a physician and botanist from Pennsylvania who explored the southeastern US looking for medicinal herbs and other interesting plants. Many species bear the Baldwin epithet, and the genus Balduina is also named for him.

Family: Apiaceae (Umbelliferae) (Parsley, carrot or celery family)
Native range: Nearly throughout the peninsula, as well as Gulf, Franklin, Wakulla and Jackson counties in the Panhandle
To see where natural populations of Baldwin's eryngo have been vouchered, visit florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/Plant.aspx?id=2628.
Hardiness: Zones 8-10
Soil: Moist to wet organic soils
Exposure: Full sun to minimal shade
Garden tips: While Baldwin's eryngo can make an interesting groundcover, it is not ideal for gardens or landscapes because of its specific habitat requirements. It is not commercially available.

Other species of Eryngium are occasionally available from nurseries that specialize in Florida native plants. Growers may post availability on www.plantrealflorida.org.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Flower Friday: There's a "whorled" of beauty in whorled milkweed.

Whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillata)
Click on terms for botanical definitions.

Whorled milkweed showing slight color variation in corollas.
Narrow, grass-like leaves are also visible.
Photos by Eleanor Dietrich.
Whorled milkweed is an herbaceous perennial wildflower. It is one of the smaller, more delicate native milkweeds. Flowers
are born in umbels in groups of 15-20. The corolla is reflexed and white to greenish-white with tips that may be tinged in reddish-purple. Leaves are long, linear and sessile with margins that are entire and revolute. Leaves are arranged in whorls around the stem (hence the common name). When not in bloom, whorled milkweed is easily overlooked as its narrow leaves blend in with grasses. Seeds are ovately flat with many fine, silky hairs attached to their apices that aid in dispersal.  They are born in erect follicles that are narrow and smooth.

Like all milkweeds, whorled milkweed is a larval host plant for the monarch butterfly and is attractive to a variety of pollinators. It flowers late spring through late summer/early fall.

The species name verticillata refers to the verticillate (i.e. whorled) arrangement of the leaves.

Family: Apocynaceae (Dogbane family)
Native range: Nearly throughout
To see where natural populations of whorled milkweed have been vouchered, visit www.florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/Plant.aspx?id=3470.
Hardiness: Zones 8a-10b
Soil: Moderately moist to moderately dry, sandy to calcareous soils
Exposure: Full sun to minimal shade
Growth habit: 1-3’ tall
Propagation: Seeds
Garden tips: Whorled milkweed may be used in a moist wildflower garden. It may need to be reseeded periodically to maintain a population.

Caution: Whorled milkweed is considered the most toxic of all milkweeds, specifically to livestock, and as such should not be planted where cattle are known to forage.

Whorled milkweed is occasionally available from nurseries that specialize in Florida native plants. Growers may post availability on www.plantrealflorida.org.