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Friday, August 26, 2016

Flower Friday: With sandbog deathcamas, it's all in the name!

Photo by Stacey Matrazzo
Sandbog deathcamas (Zigadenus glaberrimus)

Sandbog deathcamas is short-lived perennial wildflower. Its many star-shaped flowers are born in loose panicles atop multi-branched stems. Flowers are cream-colored and appear waxy. They have six conspicuous stamens and six tepals. Each tepal has two greenish-gold glands at its inner base. The flower center and tepal tips may be pinkish. Basal leaves form in the spring and are linear and grasslike. Stem leaves are reduced and alternate. Stems are glabrous and may have a reddish hue. Seeds are born in cone-shaped capsules. The flower remains attached to the capsule.

Sandbog deathcamas occurs naturally in wet pine flatwoods, seepage slopes and wet prairies. It blooms summer through fall and attracts bees, butterflies and other pollinators.

The genus Zingadenus once contained 20 species; all but Zingadenus glaberrimus have been reclassified to other genera. All were previously considered members of the Liliaceae (lily) family. The common name “deathcamas” alludes to the similarity in appearance to plants in the camas or Camassia genus, which are edible and often occur in the same habitat. However,  Zingadenus glaberrimus is poisonous.

Photo by Stacey Matrazzo
Family: Melanthiaceae
Native range: Panhandle west of Jefferson County
To see where natural populations of sandbog deathcamas have been vouchered, visit florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/Plant.aspx?id=3186.
Hardiness: Zone 8
Soil: Wet to moderately dry, acidic soils
Exposure: Full sun to minimal shade
Growth habit: 3-4’+ tall
Propagation: Seed, division                 
Garden tips: Sandbog deathcamas is not commercially available. It is best enjoyed in the wild, where it grows in large stands and makes quite a visual impact.

Caution: Zigadenus glaberrimus is poisonous to livestock and humans if consumed.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Flower Friday: Don't forget pineland heliotrope for year-round blooms!

Pineland heliotrope (Euploca polyphylla)

Photo by Alan Cressler
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Pineland heliotrope is a perennial herbaceous wildflower. Its many small flowers may be yellow or white and are born on distinctly curved spikes. The yellow-flowered form tends to be erect and upright, while the white-flowered form has a more prostrate and creeping habit. Stems are pubescent. Leaves are small (<3/4"), sessile and needlelike with a smooth upper surface and densely pubescent underside. They are alternately arranged. The fruit is a small schizocarp.

Pineland heliotrope is endemic to Florida. It occurs naturally in pine rocklands, wet prairies, coastal thickets and ruderal areas. It typically blooms throughout the year, but in North Florida, it may bloom only in fall. The flowers attract a variety of pollinators, especially small butterflies.

This plant was recently reclassified as Euploca polyphylla, although many sources still refer to its original name, Heliotropium polyphyllum. The yellow and white flower forms were once separated into two genera: H. polyphyllum (white) and H. leavenworthii (yellow).

The common name "heliotrope" (as well as the original genus name Heliotropium) comes from the Greek helios, or "sun," and trepein, or "to turn." It refers to the belief that the plants turn their flowers toward the sun.

Family: Boraginaceae (Borage or forget-me-not family)
Native range: Peninsula south into the Keys and Escambia County
To see where natural populations of pineland heliotrope have been vouchered, visit www.florida.plantatlas.usf.edu.
Hardiness: Zones 8a-11
Soil: Moist to moderately dry sandy soils
Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
Growth habit: 6-12" tall
Propagation: Cuttings, seeds (seeds are difficult to germinate)
Garden tips: Pineland heliotrope is adaptable to many growing conditions, making it an excellent addition to butterfly and wildflower gardens, as well as in the home landscape. It suckers and can form large patches if allowed. It is drought tolerant and can grow in nutrient-poor soils. It is not particularly salt tolerant.

Pineland heliotrope is often available from nurseries that specialize in Florida native plants. Visit plantrealflorida.org to find a grower in your area.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Flower Friday: Swamp milkweed puts on quite a summer show!

Hummingbird clearwing (Hemaris thysbe) on Asclepias incarnata.
Photo by Mary Keim.
Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

Click on terms for botanical definitions.
Swamp milkweed is an erect, herbaceous perennial wildflower. Its showy pink flowers are slightly fragrant. They are born in compact terminal or axillary umbels. Individual flowers have reflexed corollas and an upright corona — a characteristic typical of milkweed flowers. Leaves are long (up to 6 inches), elliptic to lanceolate, and glabrous. They are oppositely arranged. Stems are stout, glabrous and multi-branched. Seeds are flat and brown with silky white hairs attached. They are born in pods, which split open when ripe. Seeds are dispersed when their silky hairs catch the wind.

Swamp milkweed occurs naturally in floodplain swamps, hydric hammocks, wet pine flatwoods and marshes. It typically blooms in summer and attracts many pollinators. It is a larval host plant for monarch, queen and soldier butterfly caterpillars.

The genus Asclepias is named for Asclepius, the Greek god of healing. 

Asclepias incarnata flowers and leaves.
Photo by Mary Keim
: Apocynaceae (Dogbane family)
Native range: Most peninsular counties, Wakulla County
To see where natural populations of swamp milkweed have been vouchered, visit www.florida.plantatlas.usf.edu.
Hardiness: Zones 8b-10b
Soil: Wet to moderately dry soils
Exposure: Full sun to minimal shade
Growth habit: 2-3’+ tall, 1-2’ wide
Propagation: Seed                 
Garden tips: Swamp milkweed is one of the most striking native milkweeds. It makes an excellent addition to moist, sunny landscapes, but can tolerate occasional drought once established.

Caution: All milkweeds contain a toxic latex sap that may irritate skin.

Swamp milkweed is available from nurseries specializing in Florida native plants. Visit www.plantrealflorida.org to find a grower in your area

Friday, August 5, 2016

Flower Friday: Comfortroot is a soothing presence in wet pinelands.

Comfortroot (Hibiscus aculeatus)

Click on terms for botanical definitions.

Photo by Eleanor Dietrich
Comfortroot, also known as pineland hibiscus, is a large perennial wildflower. Its showy blooms are 3-4” wide, with five cream-colored petals that have scalloped edges and appear pleated. The bloom’s center is a deep purplish-red. The plant has a semi-woody base from which multiple stems emerge. Leaves are palmate and scabrous with toothed margins. They are alternately arranged. Seeds are borne in large scabrous capsules. Stems are also scabrous.

Comfortroot occurs naturally in wet to mesic pinelands, and along the edges of savannas, bogs and roadside ditches. It typically blooms late spring through fall and attracts pollinators, specifically bees.

The common name comfortroot may allude to the belief that the plant’s mucilaginous roots has soothing properties.
Photo by Eleanor Dietrich
Family: Malvaceae

Native range: Panhandle to Alachua and Columbia counties; Lake, Clay, Duval and Nassau counties

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

Hardiness: Zones 7-9b

Soil: Moist to moderately dry acidic soils

Exposure: Full sun to minimal shade

Growth habit: 2-3’+ tall and wide

Propagation: Seed, cuttings

Garden tips: Comfortroot is an attractive addition to a moist landscape. It appears shrubby but will die back in the winter and all but disappear. Annual pruning to the ground may be necessary. It can tolerate seasonal flooding and is also drought tolerant; however, it will not survive if soils are not moist or wet for part of the year. It will self-seed, but not prolifically.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Member profile: Walter and Karin Taylor

You will find Walter and Karin Taylor at most Florida Wildflower Foundation and Florida Native Plant Society events, many times volunteering their time to speak to others or sit at information tables and promote wildflowers. They are longtime residents of Florida and experts on wildflowers, with Walter having authored numerous field guides that have become indispensable to Florida wildflower enthusiasts.

Karin holds an MS degree in zoology, and Walter, a PhD in zoology, both obtained from Arizona State University. They have a daughter, Anna Ree, who holds a PhD in molecular neurobiology from Wake Forest Medical School (North Carolina) and works in the neuroscience area of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.

Join the Taylors in supporting the Florida Wildflower Foundation by becoming a member or making a one-time donation to support our work.  

Tell our readers a little about yourselves.  
Karin grew up on the side of a mountain at the outskirts of Asheville, N.C. I grew up in the Green River farming area of western Kentucky. Both of us spent much of our early years exploring the wonders of the outdoors. Karin made collections of wildflowers that grew on her mountain, and I chased and collected insects. In those days, you could “trespass” on folks' property without getting shot!

I couldn’t help but notice the plants that were visited by insects, especially wildflowers and butterflies. Not only did I begin learning the names of the plants, but I also discovered they provided good sites to use my sweep net. I especially remember looking for all metamorphic stages of the monarch butterfly on the common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca. There were lots of these milkweeds growing in fields, pastures and along roadsides. I had a short stint of raising adult monarchs from the caterpillar stage. It was amazing how the larva formed the beautiful pale green, gold-dotted chrysalis. For my birthday, my mother gave me Frank E. Lutz’s Field Book of Insects and the Golden Nature Guide of Insects. Karin’s father had given her both volumes of Rickett’s Wildflowers of the Southeast. We still have these. My uncle Carl Donahoo, who repaired and rebuilt tractors and other farm implements in his shop near where we lived, often chided me for wasting my time chasing “bugs.” One good thing about his shop was the Grapette you could get out of his drink machine for a nickel. Why that pop is not available today is a mystery to me!

Left to right: FWF board member Carolyn Schaag, Executive
Director Lisa Roberts and board member Donna Torrey
pose with Walter and Karin Taylor at the Wildflower
Festival in DeLand.
Shortly after I left home to enter Murray State, my parents passed and my insect collection was given to a local natural history museum. I had several glass-covered wooden cases and several cigar boxes filled with butterflies, moths, beetles, orthopterans and hemipterans. Karin had amassed an extensive collection of pressed wildflowers.

Both of us had great high school biology teachers. Mine was dubbed “Bug Nall” by her students. She was a super demanding teacher who did not tolerate any foolishness. For her class, we had to make an insect collection representing 10 orders of insects — that was a piece a cake for me.

Karin’s and my interest in nature, biology and the outdoors never waned. In those days you seldom heard the words ecology, conservation, pollinators or the like. Although we both took the zoology tract of biology in college, our interest in the plants continued to grow. I still remember standing in the hallway of the biology department talking to my general botany and plant taxonomy instructor, Dr. A. M. Harvill, who often asked me when I was going to “divorce bones, muscles, and blood” and come over to the plant world. After Dr. Harvill left Murray State, he eventually moved to Virginia, where he was an early founder of the Atlas of Virginia and became an authority of Virginia plant distributions. The common chickweed, Stellaria media, was the first plant I ever keyed out, using the eighth edition of Gray’s Manual of Botany.

How long have you been in Florida?
We've been here 47 years. We have lived in the same house we purchased new in August 1969. I finished my active duty military stint at Fort Detrick, Md., and came to Florida to begin a teaching career at Florida Technological University (FTU), which later became the University of Central Florida (UCF), now the second largest university in the United States. Karin taught middle school in Orlando for several years. Besides teaching zoology courses, I taught local flora, Florida wildflowers, and Florida natural history before I retired in 2004 after 35 years at UCF.

Is there a moment you recall that first sparked your interest native flora?
Karin: Hiking Flattop Mountain in North Carolina with my faithful dog Suzette, who I thought helped ward off snakes.

Walter: Although I had an interest in plants in high school and at Murray State, the real spark came when students would ask me during our ornithology field trips, “What is that plant?” I specifically recall two plants that were often queried: Florida greeneyes (Berlandiera subacaulis) and the blue violet (Viola palmata), then named Viola septemloba. After replying “I don't know” numerous times, I decided I would just learn these plants. With Dick Wunderlin’s book on Central Florida plants, Mary Frances Baker’s wildflower book with keys, and a binocular scope and dissecting tools, I began to examine and key every blooming plant I could find on UCF campus, which then had a huge, diverse and rich flora. Had the Atlas of Vascular Plants been around at that time, I would have not had to work so hard. It wasn’t long until I was “hooked” on Florida wildflowers; one thing led to another.

How did you become acquainted with the Florida Wildflower Foundation?  

I remember Gary Henry, then executive director of the Foundation, coming to UCF to promote it and to tell us that funds were available for certain types of research. I never applied for funds, but it would have been nice to have had a few dollars!

Do you have any words of wisdom to share with people who are just getting to know about wildflowers?
Get off your duff and go in the fields, woods, swamps or wherever and look for the plants; they won’t come to you. Learn the Florida ecological communities. Take along some good picture field guides — mine will help! Read the descriptions and learn some terminology and classification. If a person really wants to grasp these plants, they should be willing to work at their identifications. Yes, some plants can be tough and that is when you need to ask someone. Florida has some of the best state parks on Earth. Visit these and attend meetings and field trips offered by the Foundation and Florida Native Plant Society chapters.

Why should people care about wildflowers?
Wildflowers are an essential part of planet Earth, as is anything else — including humans! These plants are here for a reason and they should be protected and loved beyond reproach. Not only do wildflowers add color to the environment, but they also serve our pollinators, provide sources of inspiration to poets, artists and the ordinary Joe Blow who is willing to observe. Many wildflowers are sources for medicines and foods for humans and other animals. What would seed-eating birds (and there are lots of them) do without seeds produced by many wildflowers? Wildflowers are precious assets to mankind and therefore an important link in the “web of life.”

Do you have a favorite wildflower or family of wildflowers?
Karin: Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) and dune sunflower (Helianthus debilis). My favorite tree is the live oak (Quercus virginiana).
Walter: Florida greeneyes (Berlandiera subacaulis) got me started in the beautiful world of Florida wildflowers. I am especially fond of our weedy, less gorgeous wildflowers that most people ignore or stomp on with their feet! Sweetbroom or licoriceweed (Scoparia dulce), for example, has one of the most beautiful flowers of any plant when viewed under magnification. I have always been fond of milkweeds (Asclepias), and plants in the Asteraceae (daisy), Lamiaceae (mint), and Fabaceae (bean and pea) families.

Besides wildflowers what are some other favorite pastimes you enjoy.
Karin: Walking, reading and quilting.
Walter: Gardening, photography, playing the pipe organ and piano, and of course, looking for wildflowers, especially a new find.

Walter, what other botanist from history would you enjoy meeting and why?
The French botanist, André Michaux, who has become a part of my life for 15+ years. I know that man as well as members of my own family. Many of our wildflowers bear his name. I'd also like to meet Mary Francis Baker, an earlier promoter of Florida wildflowers who lived in Winter Park. Her little book with keys was a great asset to me when I began studying our wildflowers. Neither Michaux nor Baker have received the accolades they deserve.

What goals do you want to see the Foundation continue to pursue?
Continue to promote the importance and value of our wildflowers, their protection and preservation. Expand roadside beautification and wildflowers as major sources of all our pollinators.