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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.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Blooms for your summer garden — cool natives color the landscape

by Claudia Larsen

If you’re looking to dress up your landscape this summer, consider these native species, which adapt readily to home gardens and provide weeks of blooms.

Daisy fleabane (Erigeron spp.) flowers throughout the season with dozens of tiny white petals that create an airy daisy bouquet. This annual grows where it pleases and not always where you want it, but its delicate form is complimentary to most plantings. Dried plants have been used in bedding to repel fleas and other pests.

Yellowtops (Flaveria linearis)
Yellowtops (Flaveria linearis) is a great plant anywhere in Florida, although its natural range is coastal. Cheerful bright-yellow flower heads top this perennial, which grows 30 inches or more and flowers most of late summer. Light-green succulent leaves create a fresh look even in dry times. It is easy to start from seed and should regenerate in your garden year after year.

Soft-hair coneflower (Rudbeckia mollis) makes a strong presence with gray-green leaves with soft hairs and a sturdy stem that supports multiple yellow flowers. It is very statuesque and makes an impact when grouped together. There are at least nine members of this coneflower family in Florida, and they grow in diverse habitats including swamps, pine flatwoods, hammocks and sandhills.

False petunia (Ruellia caroliniana) will make itself at home in just about any garden situation, where its light blue flowers create a cooling effect. Its exploding seed capsules may spread over a wide area, but it is a good filler plant and grows where other things won’t. It is single-stemmed in shade but happier in sun, where it forms a compact 12- to 15-inch plant that blooms continuously this time of year.

Poppymallow (Callirhoe papaver) is seldom found in the nursery trade, but the low-growing plant is a showstopper with 2-inch bright-pink poppy-shaped flowers. Each mature 8- to 12-inch rosette will have more than 30 blooms that you’ll enjoy for weeks. It is a plant that must be in the “right place” to be happy. While its natural habitat is an upland mixed forest, poppymallow can be grown in home landscapes in light shade.

Frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora) continues to amaze me as the busiest plant in the garden since it is always covered with small insects and butterflies that visit its tiny match-head flowers. This plant is a fast mat-like spreader and is a good candidate for naturalizing in a sparse lawn, septic mound or retention ditch. I like it best in a hanging basket or trailing out of a large display patio container. It may go dormant in drought but revives after rain. Frogfruit is a larval host plant for the white peacock butterfly.

Threadleaf Coreopsis, also called Leavenworth’s Coreopsis, (Coreopsis leavenworthii) is always a part of the summer garden, although it does not do well in prolonged drought. Try using it in light shade, and remember it will re-seed bountifully on bare ground or in nearby potted plants.

Blanketflower (Gaillardia pulchella)
Blanketflower (Gaillardia pulchella)
and beach sunflower (Helianthus debilis) are happy to fill the job as hardworking groundcovers when planted in well-drained soil in full sun to light shade. They produce tons of flowers with little upkeep besides an annual trimming in fall.

Bluecurls (Trichostema dichotomum), a member of the mint family, is becoming a well-known annual that returns by seed in well-drained sunny gardens. It emerges after spring has passed to form a 30-inch-tall well-branched plant. Look closely to admire its spotted lower lip petal beneath a blue-lobed corolla with four amazing long-curled stamens. It’s a great drought-tolerant plant for the whole state.

Most wildflower vines take advantage of summer heat and rains to increase growth and initiate flowering. Vining leaf tendrils will rapidly cover fences and trellises, forming a cascade of leaves and flowers.  

Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) vines produce red tubular flowers during the summer, which are frequently visited by hummingbirds. These plants can grow in shade but bloom best with at least a half day of sun. 

There are several Florida Clematis species that can be seen growing over shrubs and trees in shady sites. These adapt well to gardens and delight us with intriguing upside-down bell-shaped flowers followed by seed heads with feathery attachments. They are often referred to as leather flower or leather leaf.

Many vines often sprawl along the ground in native habitats. Some, such as purple maypop or passionvine (Passiflora incarnata), can take over in the home garden so plan to prune. This plant is a larval host for the common gulf fritillary butterfly. During summer, you’ll see ominous orange caterpillars with harmless black hair-like spines.

Beautiful flowering vines that contribute to dune stability on our beaches include members of the morning-glory family, such as purple railroad-vine (Ipomoea pes-caprae) and yellow beach morning-glory (Ipomoea imperati). Both have stout stems and succulent foliage to keep them hydrated and aid in salt resistance. Look for smaller, more delicate flowering vines in the pea-family when visiting natural areas.

Shady areas can also support wildflowers as long as shade is not too deep and the soil too dry. High shade from pines and shifting shade during the day create niches for wild plants.
Elephant’s foot (Elephantopus elatus) forms a ground-hugging plant with strap-like leaves. It survives drought and even light mowing to form large patches under trees. It blooms in late summer.

Scarlet hibiscus (Hibiscus coccinea)
Some plants flower in response to rainfall. Keep an eye on scarlet hibiscus (Hibiscus coccinea) for an eye-popping display of large red solitary flowers and hemp-shaped leaves. Like other Hibiscus, this plant grows 4- to 6-foot tall and needs a moderately moist site to thrive.

Firebush (Hamelia patens) is always a star in the shade garden, growing 4 feet high and wide and luring butterflies and hummingbirds to feed from its numerous red-orange tubular flowers. It’s a good bet for a dry site. It is best grown in areas with minimal winter frost — but who thinks about frost during the Florida summer!

Visit www.flawildflowers.org/planting.php for links to Florida native plant and seed sources and find more summer gardening tips on our blog.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Flower Friday: Keep yellow colicroot in moist soils to prevent fussiness.

Photo by Eleanor Dietrich
Yellow colicroot (Aletris lutea) Click on terms for botanical definitions.

Yellow colicroot is a slender, short-lived perennial that produces long terminal spikes of yellow blooms. Flowers have six fused tepals with bumpy outer surfaces. The flower stalk rises from the center of a basal rosette. Stem leaves are reduced or absent. Basal leaves are yellow-green with pointed tips. Seeds are born in three-parted capsules.

Of the five species of Aletris native to Florida, yellow colicroot is the most common and widely distributed (see native range below). It occurs naturally in mesic pine flatwoods, wet prairies, open seepage areas and moist ruderal sites. It flowers in late winter/early spring through summer.

Plants in the Aletris genus were previously classified in the Liliaceae family.

Family: Nartheciaceae (Bog asphodel family)
Native range: Nearly throughout except Broward and St. Lucie counties and the Keys in South Florida; Citrus County north to Suwannee and west to Jefferson County in North Florida; and Franklin and Gadsden counties in the Panhandle.
To see where natural populations of yellow colicroot have been vouchered, visit www.florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/Plant.aspx?id=3986.
Hardiness: Zones 8a-10b
Soil: Moist, acidic sandy soils
Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
Growth habit: 3’+tall
Propagation: Seeds, division
Garden tips: Yellow colicroot is not suitable for all landscapes as it requires regular moisture. It is tall and thin and is best planted in groups of three to five or more plants and behind shorter plants where it will be visible. Because it is deciduous, it should be planted with other tall species that flower in the fall to provide color and habitat in its absence. It is not salt tolerant.

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

Friday, June 10, 2016

Flower Friday: Pale meadowbeauty is as unique in its design as it is lovely to look at.

Pale meadowbeauty (Rhexia mariana)
Click on terms for botanical definitions.

Pale meadowbeauty is an herbaceous perennial wildflower with showy blooms that vary in color from white to pink. Flowers have four petals, four sepals, and eight long stamens with curving yellow anthers that extend far beyond the bloom. Leaves are narrowly elliptic to lanceolate with three veins and toothed margins. They are oppositely arranged. Stems are hairy, as is the hypanthium, where the seeds develop. The hypanthium is distinctly urn-shaped and long (see photo below), providing a good attribute for identification in all meadowbeauties.

Pale meadowbeauty occurs naturally in wet flatwoods, open savannas, marshes, bogs and wet roadsides. It flowers spring through fall and attracts many bees and butterflies. 

Family: Melastomataceae (also Melastomaceae)
Native range: Throughout Florida except Suwannee, St. Johns, St. Lucie, Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties
To see where natural populations of pale meadowbeauty have been recorded, visit www.florida.plantatlas.usf.edu.
Hardiness: Zones 7-10
Soil: Moist, acidic sandy or loamy soils
Urn-shaped hypanthium after petals have fallen off.
Once seeds develop and disperse, it will turn brown and brittle.
Photo by Stacey Matrazzo.

Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
Growth habit: up to 2’ tall
Propagation: Seeds, cuttings
Garden tips: Although it is not common in the commercial market and is not easily propagated, pale meadowbeauty can do well in a landscape with moist soils. It will sucker and can colonize, but it is not aggressive and will not outcompete other wildflowers.

Pale meadowbeauty is occasionally available from nurseries that specialize in Florida native plants. Visit www.plantrealflorida.org to find a nursery in your area.