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Friday, March 27, 2015

Flower Friday: Did you know prairie iris is Florida's most widespread iris?

Iris hexagona (Photo by Jeff Norcini)
Prairie iris (Iris hexagona)

Prairie iris (also known as Dixie iris) is a rhizomatous perennial wildflower. Its showy flowers have 3 petals and 3 sepals. Each petal is bluish to deep purple, narrow and mostly ascending. Sepals are larger than petals (measuring up to 5 inches long), spatulate, downward-arching, and have a yellow to whitish "signal" or crest along their midribs.* They are more recognizable and thus often mistaken for the petals. Leaves are bright green, sword-like and erect, standing up to 3 feet tall and overlapping at their base. Its seed is a 6-angled capsule (hence the scientific name hexagona).

Iris hexagona with different coloring (Photo by Stacey Matrazzo)
Prairie iris blooms in spring. It occurs naturally in swamps, wet prairies and marshes, and along the edges of rivers and ditches. 

Family: Iridaceae (Iris family)
Native range: Central and eastern Panhandle, north and central peninsula
Hardiness: Zones 8a-9b
Soil: Rich, moist to wet soils
Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
Growth habit: 3+ feet
Garden tips: Prairie iris is an excellent plant for water features, lake edges and retention ponds. Spring flowers don't last long, but their beauty makes the plant well worth adding to moist garden or landscape. It can be propagated by division and seed.

Mass planting of Iris hexagona (Photo by Stacey Matrazzo)
Prairie iris is often available at nurseries that specialize in native plants.Visit plantrealflorida.org to find a native nursery on your area.

To see where prairie iris occurs naturally, visit www.florida.plantatlas.usf.edu.

*Coloring can vary greatly among specimens.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Pinellas garden demonstrates beauty, variety of natives

More than 38,000 visitors have had the opportunity to become better acquainted with the beauty and benefit of Florida's native wildflowers since the establishment of a wildflower demonstration garden at the Pinellas County Extension Center in Largo. The garden was funded by a $3,000 grant from the Florida Wildflower Foundation, Maitland.

 The garden is described as "very showy" during spring and fall.
Project manager Debbie Chayet said the planting had generated "highly positive" feedback from visitors, particularly during the peak bloom seasons of spring and fall. Tour groups have included Florida Native Plant Society members and area Girl Scout troops. College professors also have found the area to be a "wonderful outdoor laboratory" where they can address a range of topics, including pollinators, native vs. non-native plants, general ecology, habitats, invasive plants, water conservation and reduction in sod use.

Of the garden's allure, Lisa Boing, the project's volunteer coordinator and a Florida Wildflower Foundation member, recently wrote, "Perhaps it is the swaying color of the Tropical sage (Salvia

coccine), along the sidewalk, the unique flower and many pollinators of the Spotted horsemint (Monarda punctata), the flash of yellows from the Tickseed Coreopsis spp., Greeneyes Berlandiera spp., Silkgrass (Pityopsis graminifolia), Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), and Beach sunflower
(Helianthus debilis), or the burst of flowers from the Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) and Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) on our arbor, but the positive comments of the young and old who visit this area have only been enhanced" with support from the Foundation.

The project was completed in several phases: removal of weedy turf in the planting area; installation of recycled wood-chip mulch, and, finally, the planting of hundreds of wildflowers by volunteers.
Volunteers planted more than 100 plants native to Florida.
The Foundation's Viva Florida grant program funds wildflower garden demonstrations or restoration projects that showcase the beauty and variety of Florida's native wildflowers at Florida botanical gardens, parks and nature centers. Projects must also relate the history and natural heritage of La Florida, “place of flowers.”

Since the program began in 2011, the Florida Wildflower Foundation, which distributes the proceeds from the State Wildflower license plate, has awarded 12 Viva Florida grants to projects throughout the state. Other Viva Florida projects in Central Florida are at Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens, Sanford; UCF History Center, Sanford; Leu Botanical Gardens, Orlando; Bok Tower Gardens, Lake Wales, and Stetson University, DeLand.

The next grant application period is March 30 to May 8. Click here for more details.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Banner bloom ahead for Florida's spring wildflowers

It looks like a banner bloom ahead for Florida's spring wildflowers, thanks to our relatively warm and wet winter months. Here's a look at what's happening across the state. See the Florida Wildflower Foundation's What's in Bloom page, for more blossoms and instructions on how to submit your own spring wildflower photos.

Lyreleaf sage on a Panhandle roadside. Photo/Jeff Norcini
Panhandle and North Florida: As spring begins in North Florida and the Panhandle area, wildflowers are beginning to make their appearances in abundance. Some of the most common species you'll see on roadsides include the blue Lyreleaf sage, yellow Lanceleaf Coreopsis, and drifts of white Daisy fleabane.

In the Apalachicola National Forest, drive County Road 375 (Smith Creek Road) from SR 20 in Leon County to Sopchoppy in Wakulla County to see stately purple Lady Lupine in sandy soil and a variety of carnivorous plants - such as the Parrot pitcherplant - in wet areas. You'll also find such beauties as the native orchid Grass pink. In the forest on State Road 65, you can see another of the carnivorous plants, the beautiful Rose or Gulf Purple pitcher plant, one of the first of the carnivorous plants to bloom. State parks also have wonderful flowers to see. Try Torreya State Park, where the striking Indian pink blooms near the visitor parking lot, and Florida Caverns State Park, which hosts abundant Columbine. For more of what's blooming in the Panhandle and suggested viewing routes, see www.flawildflowertrips.org.

Blue flag iris. Photo/Lisa Roberts
North and North Central Florida: Unseasonal warmth had wildflowers usually seen in March popping blooms in February, like the White star of Bethlehem, which forms mat-like colonies in lightly shaded to open areas.  Low-growing Blue-eyed grass is also putting on a show on roadsides, lending a low-growing haze of blue flowers to roadsides. Spiderwort also is coming on a strong. Look for it along such roads as the Beachline (SR 528) and Interstates 4, 75 and 95, and along rural roads, along with such favorites as Lyreleaf sage and Oakleaf fleabane.

Tropical sage, Leavenworth's Coreopsis and Lanceleaf Coreopsis are well into their blooms, while Dune sunflower rules coastal sands. Along sandy trails, keep a lookout for Prickly pear cactus, which is just budding in many areas and will soon be crowned with beautiful yellow blossoms. And don't forget the omnipresent Spanish needles. A favorite of pollinators, its white and yellow blossoms can be seen about everywhere, especially on roadsides. Another spring favorite, Carolina jessamine, can been seen trailing on the ground and hanging from trees and fences. The plant's yellow trumpet-like flowers are a favorite of bees.

On rural roads, look for red Coral bean and the tall, white plumes of White wild indigo along fencerows. If you're lucky, you might also spot the white flag-like flowers of Pawpaw in open fields and in natural areas, such as the Ocala National Forest's restored sandhills.  Two species seen are Narrow-leaf pawpaw and Flag pawpaw. Another white wildflower, Prickly poppy, is easy to identify - it is 3- to 4-feet high and has prickly dark-green leaves and bright-white 3- inch blooms resembling poppies.

Other great spring wildflowers to look for are the blue spikes of Lyreleaf sage, the daisy-like yellow flowers of False dandelion, Hastateleaf dock, which creates beautiful rusty-colored meadows in open fields. Another eye-catcher is Purple thistle, with its large  serrated leaves.  All parts of the plant have spines, which makes it unpopular.

In  wet areas, look for Blue flag Iris, which also makes a great garden addition (as do many of the plants named here). Atamasco lilies also like dampness, blooming around Easter, especially after rain - which is why they're also known as Rainlilies.

Oakleaf fleabane. Photo/Lisa Roberts
South Florida: It's this region's natural areas that steal the wildflower show in spring. "We did have a wetter than normal year, but the good news is that there were some areas in Jonathan Dickinson and at CREW Marsh that burned the previous season," says Roger Hammer, Florida wildflower expert and author. Burns open space and provide nutrients - things that many wildflower species thrive upon. Because of that, they're usually good places to see blooms in the seasons immediately following fire.

Recent sightings at Martin County's Jonathan Dickinson State Park's wet/damp areas and prairies include Manyflowered grass-pink orchid, the hatpin-like Tenangle pipewort, tiny Fringed yellow stargrass, Blue flag iris, and the small drumheads of Orange milkwort, as well as Wand goldenrod and Yelloweyed-grass. At CREW Marsh in Collier County, look for water-loving Blue waterhyssop, Leavenworth's tickseed, lavender-colored Bay lobelia, Rose of Plymouth and Yellow hatpins. In dry areas, look for the blue blossoms of Wild pennyroyal and Whitemouth dayflower.

 Everglades National Park is hopping with color, too. Beauties there include the threatened Pinepink orchid, elegant bouquets of white String-lily, and the butter-yellow blooms of Coastalplain hawkweed. Lanceleaved arrowhead thrive in wet locations, as do the delicate white spires of spring ladiestresses. In drier areas, look for the diminutive white-rose knobs of Capeweed blossoms, white clusters of Oakleaf fleabane, and the blue-purple blossoms of Thickleaf wild petunia, which is found nowhere else in the world but South Florida.

Need a Florida wildflower field guide? Visit our Learn web page for suggested field guides and other references.

Note: Common names as per Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Flower Friday: It's spring in Florida's scrub -- Skyblue lupine is in bloom!

Photo by Alan Cressler,
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Skyblue lupine (Lupinus diffusus)

Skyblue lupine is a lovely herbaceous perennial that occurs primarily in scrubby habitats. Its flowers are born on dense spikes. They have a broad
upper petal and two lower petals that are fused. Flowers are bluish to lavender, with a white spot on the upper petal. Leaves are elliptical to lanceolate, alternately arranged, and covered in many fine, silvery white hairs, giving them a metallic look. They are soft to the touch. Fruits are elongated, flattened pods that are also covered in fine, silvery white hairs.

Skyblue lupine flowers in spring. It occurs naturally in sand and oak scrub, sandhills, pine flatwoods and coastal strands.

Family: Fabaceae (Pea family)
Native range: Peninsula (except Miami-Dade and Monroe counties) and western Panhandle
Hardiness: Zones 8-10
Photo by Lisa Roberts
: Well-drained, sandy soil
Exposure: Full sun
Growth habit: 2–3' tall and equally wide 

Garden tips: Skyblue lupine is not easy to propagate. Seeds can be collected and sown in late spring or early summer, but they must be sown where the plant will live as they do not transplant well. Plants have a taproot so deep soil is required.


To see where skyblue lupine occurs naturally, visit www.florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/Plant.aspx?id=2988.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Flower Friday: Chickasaw plum is almost done blooming for the season. Don't miss it!

Chickasaw plum blooms (Photo by Stacey Matrazzo)
Chickasaw plum (Prunus angustifolia)

Chickasaw plum is a deciduous flowering shrub or small tree that produces profuse blooms, making for a spectacular spring display. Its flowers are 5-petaled and white, with many obvious yellow anthers. Blooms are cupped in yellowish-green sepals. Leaves have shiny green surfaces and finely toothed margins and are alternately arranged. Fruits are cherry-like drupes that are borne yellow, and turn a reddish or purplish-pink when ripe, usually in late summer. Its bark is rough and dark on the trunk, but more reddish on the branches. Chickasaw plum has an interesting growth habit that results in an irregular shape and a "twiggy" look.
Chickasaw plum fruit
(Photo by Stacey Matrazzo)

Chickasaw plum flowers in early to mid-spring. It occurs naturally in dry hammocks, woodland edges, and disturbed areas and roadsides. The flowers are attractive to pollinators; the fruit is eaten by birds and other wildlife — and humans! (They are quite tart!)

Family: Rosaceae (Rose family)
Native range: Central and west panhandle to north/central peninsula
Hardiness: Zones 7-9b
Soil: Dry to moist, sandy soil
Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
Growth habit
: 12–20' high, 10–20' feet wide
Chickasaw plum in full bloom
(Photo by Stacey Matrazzo)
Garden tips: Because it has a tendency to sucker, Chickasaw plum can form dense thickets and may be difficult to control. This same characterization, however, also makes it a good candidate for a buffer or screen planting and for soil stabilization. It can be propagated by seed or by harvesting and planting the suckers.

Chickasaw plum is often available at nurseries that specialize in native plants.Visit plantrealflorida.org to find a native nursery on your area. 

To see where Chickasaw plum occurs naturally, visit www.florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/Plant.aspx?id=3855.