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Friday, February 5, 2016

Flower Friday: Fall-blooming sandhill wireweed suprises us with winter blooms

Photo by Stacey Matrazzo.
Sandhill wireweed (Polygonella robusta)

Click on terms for botanical definitions.

Also known as largeflower jointweed, sandhill wireweed is a deciduous woody shrub that produces an abundance of spike-like flowering clusters. Individual flowers are absent of petals; rather, the bloom consists of eight prominent stamens surrounded by sepals that range in color from pale pinkish-white to deep rose. The inner sepals are fringed. Leaves are linear and almost needle-like; they are alternately arranged in clusters. Stems are woody and brittle.

Sandhill wireweed is mostly a summer and fall bloomer, with October being its most abundant blooming time, but many of these plants were blossoming last weekend at Allen David Broussard Catfish Creek Preserve State Park in Polk County. It occurs naturally in dunes, scrub and sandhills, and is primarily pollinated by bees. Its seeds are eaten by birds.

Sandhill wireweed is endemic to Florida. It occurs nowhere else in the world.
Needle-like leaves of sandhill wireweed.
Photo by Stacey Matrazzo.

The genus name Polygonella (as well as the family name Polygonaceae) is derived from the Greek words poly, meaning “many” and goni, meaning “knee or joint.” This refers to the swollen nodes that many of the species in the family possess.

Family: Polygonaceae (Knotweed or smartweed family)
Native range: Central peninsula and Bay, Franklin and Wakulla counties)
Hardiness: Zones 8b-10b
Soil: Extremely dry, well-drained and acidic sandy soils
Exposure: Full sun to minimal shade
Growth habit: 18–24”+ tall and just as wide
Propagation: Seed
Garden tips: Sandhill wireweed is suitable for a dry wildflower garden. It does not like a lot of moisture. Given the proper requirements of open, sandy areas, this plant will slowly establish colonies by self-seeding.

Sandhill wireweed plants are not typically available commercially, but a few nurseries that specialize in native plants occasionally carry it. Visit PlantRealFlorida.org to find a native nursery in your area.

To see where sandhill wireweed occurs naturally, click here

Friday, January 29, 2016

Flower Friday: Tread-softly's common name is also a warning to heedless handlers.

Photo by Stacey Matrazzo
Tread-softly (Cnidoscolus stimulosus)

Click on terms for botanical definitions.

Tread-softly is a perennial, low-growing herbaceous wildflower. Its brilliant white blooms are slightly deceiving in that they have no petals. Rather, the “flower” consists of five, petal-like sepals. Its
alternately arranged leaves are deeply lobed and dark green with contrasting palmate veins. As its name suggests, one must tread softly around this plant or else risk being stung by the many stinging hairs that cover its leaves, stems, seeds and even  flowers. The hairs contain an irritant that can cause a rash in some people. Despite its stinging hairs and its inclusion in the spurge family, tread-softly is not a true nettle. It does, however, produce the milky sap common to other members of the Euphorbiaceae family.

Tread-softly is known to flower year-round. It occurs naturally in sandhills, scrub, pine and scrubby flatwoods, and ruderal and disturbed areas. It attracts many butterflies and other pollinators.

Note seed pod and stem in upper left, covered in stinging hairs.
Photo by Stacey Matrazzo
It’s easy to see how tread-softly gets its common name, and its scientific name is just as telling. The genus Cnidoscolus is derived from the Greek cnid, meaning “nettle” and scolus, meaning “thorn.” The species epithet comes from the Latin stimul, meaning “to goad, prod or urge,” as in a “stimulus.”

Family: Euphorbiaceae (Spurge family)
Native range: nearly throughout Florida
Hardiness: Zones 8-11
Soil: Sandy, well-drained soils
Exposure: Full sun to minimal shade
Growth habit: 1+' tall, up to 1’ wide
Propagation: Seed
Garden tips: Its interesting foliage, potential for year-round blooms and relatively low maintenance requirements makes tread-soflty a nice addition to a wildflower garden. However, a severe allergic reaction may occur in some people if their skin comes in contact with the plant’s hairs. Use caution when working with this plant.

To see where tread-soflty occurs naturally, click here

Friday, January 22, 2016

Flower Friday: It's true! False rosemary is great for landscapes.

Conradina canescens. Photo by Wayne Matchett.
False rosemary (Conradina canescens)

Click on terms for botanical definitions.

False rosemary is a robust, evergreen flowering shrub. Flowers are two-lipped: the upper lip is whitish with lavender spots and the lower lip is lavender. They appear to bend upward. Leaves are needle-like, grayish-green and oppositely arranged. The calyx, corolla and leaves are all canescent, or covered in fine, whitish hairs (hence the species name canescens, which comes from the Latin canescere, meaning to turn white or gray). The entire plant is aromatic.

False rosemary typically blooms from March through November, but can occur year-round. (A population in Topsail Hill Preserve State Park in Santa Rosa County was flowering last weekend.) It occurs naturally in sand pine scrub and sandhills. Many pollinator species are attracted to false rosemary, but bees are the most prominent visitor.

There are only six species of Conradina worldwide; all are native to the United States and four are native to Florida.*

Family: Lamiaceae (Mint family)
Native range: Western Panhandle (Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Washington, Bay, Jackson, Gulf, Franklin and Wakulla counties) and Hernando, Polk and Highlands counties
Hardiness: Zones 8-9
Soil: Extremely dry, sandy soils
Exposure: Full sun
Growth habit: 2-3+' tall
Propagation: Seed, cuttings
Garden tips: False rosemary is drought tolerant, however, in the landscape setting, it may require additional water during extreme droughts. Otherwise, it is an extremely adaptable species that can make a nice addition to a home landscape.

False rosemary plants are often available at nurseries that specialize in native plants. Click to find a native nursery on your area.

To see where false rosemary occurs naturally, click here

*Some experts consider Conradina brevifolia to be its own species, but the Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants considers it a synonym of Conradina canescens.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Know your native pollinators : Carpenter bees

"Know your native pollinators" is a series of articles that will help you identify and appreciate Florida's varied pollinators, including bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, beetles, flies, birds and bats.


Many Floridians become familiar with carpenter bees by accident. They may notice a hole that appears to have been drilled into unpainted wood around their homes with a sawdust pile beneath it. Or they might hear a buzzing sound coming from within the hole. Both are telltale signs of carpenter bees.  

Insecta: Hymenoptera: Apidae: Xylocopinae

Carpenter bees are generalists, thus they frequent dozens of genera of Florida wildflowers, including Amorpha, Asclepias, Aster, Bidens, Coreopsis, Erigeron, Eupatorium, Euphorbia, Geranium, Helenium, Monarda, Penstemon, Polygala, Sebatia, Scutellaria, Sida, Silphium, Smilax, Solidago, Stachys, Teucrium, Tradescantia, Verbesina, and Vernonia.


Carpenter bees are categorized by their size. Small carpenter bees (Ceratina spp.) are less than 8 mm long, and large carpenter bees (Xylocopa spp.) are 20 mm or larger. That's the easy way to tell them apart. 
Ceratina cockerelli. Photo courtesy of
USGS Native Bee Inventory and Monitoring Laboratory
There are two species of small carpenter bees that live in Florida: 

  • Ceratina cockerelli is found throughout Florida and the eastern United States. It is the smallest of the species in Florida (from 3 to 4.5 mm) and is mostly black. Flower preferences include oakleaf fleabane (Erigeron quercifolius) and blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium rosulatum).
  • Ceratina dupla floridanus is a subspecies of the species Ceratina dupla, found in the eastern United States. It is metallic blue and from 6 to 8 mm in size. Host plants are many including those in the aster and mint families. 
Click here for photos and more information on how to identify small carpenter bees.  

DID YOU KNOW? Ceratina are parthenogenetic, which means the female can produce female eggs without mating or fertilization.
Xylocopa virginica on Monarda punctata. Photo by Mary Keim.
Florida also has two species (and one subspecies) of large carpenter bees: 
  • The Eastern carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica) is found throughout Eastern US and North Florida. Xylocopa virginica krombeini is a Florida subspecies found from Sumter and Lake counties south to Dade County.
  • The Southern carpenter bee (Xylocopa micans) is found along the coast from southeastern Virginia to Florida, and west along the gulf to Texas.
Xylocopa micans on Packera glabella. Photo by Mary Keim.
Both species are similar in size and are often mistaken for bumblebees. Their color may be black, metallic blue, greenish black, or purplish blue and may also have slight yellow pubescence on the thorax, legs or abdomen. Bee taxonomists distinguish each species by determining the distance between the eyes, the number of antenna segments, types of submarginal cells in wings, and abdomen and thorax color and pubescence.
Flower preferences include many native shrubs but also wildflowers of Aster, Bidens, Hibiscus, Monarda, Solidago, Stachys, Teucrium and Vernonia species.

Click here for photos and more information on how to identify large carpenter bees.

Xylocopa is greek for "woodworker," referring to the bees' ability to make its home in wood.

In Florida, the bees are active most of the year and may nest in February and March and again in summer months. In the wild, the bees prefer nesting in conifers such as cypress, pine or juniper. They may nest in the same area for generations.

Small carpenter bees make their homes in stems of various dead plants. Adult females sometimes overwinter in hollow stems and continue to use the same stem as a nest. (That's another good reason to leave taller wildflowers with hollow stems to overwinter in your garden, as well!)

Large carpenter bees chew nests in wood, and can use fence posts, stumps or dead tree branches. They also use wood on houses that is not painted or varnished.

Carpenter bees can have horizontal or vertical nests, depending on the direction of the wood's grain. Female bees will mix pollen and regurgitated nectar ("bee bread") in the nest tube, lay one egg on it and then wall it in with a piece of chewed wood pulp; they repeat this process until six to eight eggs are laid. She will stay with the nest until the brood hatches.
Newly hatched females often share the nest with their mother. This behavior is unusual among bees, in general; most female bees do not live long enough to meet and share a nest with their offspring. Large carpenter bees, however, can live up to three years

Although carpenter bees do not usually sting, they may dart around their nests protectively or fly at humans who approach their nest. Only females have stingers, but they rarely sting unless they are provoked.

Large bees like the large carpenter bee can forage for distances up to 1 mile from their nesting sites. But the shorter the distance the bee has to fly to forage, the better.


  1. Carpenter Bees http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/pollinator-of-the-month/carpenter_bees.shtml
  2. Status of Pollinators in North America http://www.nap.edu/catalog/11761/status-of-pollinators-in-north-america
  3. Selecting Plants for Pollinators – A Regional Guide for Farmers, Landowners, Land Managers and Gardeners in the Outer Coastal Plain Mixed Province http://pollinator.org/PDFs/OuterCoastal.rx5.pdf
  4. Pollination: Plants for Year-round Bee Forage http://www.ent.uga.edu/Bees/pollination/plants-year-round-forage.html  
  5. Pollinator Plants: Southeast Region http://www.xerces.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/SoutheastPlantList_web.pdf
  6. Lee-M├Ąder, Eric. Attracting Native Pollinators: Protecting North America's Bees and Butterflies: The Xerces Society Guide. North Adams, MA: Storey Pub., 2011. Print.
  7. Mitchell, Theodore B. Bees of the Eastern United States, Volume 2. Raleigh, NC: Published by the North Carolina Agricultural Experiment Station with Support from the National Science Foundation, 1962. Print.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Flower Friday: Coastalplain goldenaster produces clusters of lustrous flowers.

Photo by Lisa Roberts
Coastalplain goldenaster
(Chrysopsis scabrella)

Click on terms for botanical definitions. 

Coastalplain goldenaster is a biennial herbaceous wildflower. Typically, a single flower stalk will arise from a basal rosette of leaves (pictured), and produce one or more flat-topped and many-flowered inflorescence. Individual flowers are compound and consist of yellow-orange disk florets surrounded by bright yellow ray florets. Basal leaves are whitish-green, pubescent and spatulate with toothed margins. Stem leaves are sessile and scabrous (hence the species name scabrella). They are alternately arranged. Both flowers and leaves are often sticky to the touch. Lower leaves tend to dry out as the plant matures.

Coastalplain goldenaster typically blooms from late summer into late fall, but last week, many were spotted blooming at PEAR Park in Lake County. It occurs naturally in sandhills, scrub, flatwoods and ruderal areas.
Photo by Lisa Roberts

Worldwide, there are 11 species of Chrysopsis, all of which are found in Florida. 

Chrysopsis comes from the Greek chrysos, meaning "golden," and opsis, meaning "likeness or appearance," referring to the color of the flower.

Family: Asteraceae (Composite or daisy family)
Native range: Peninsular Florida south into Collier and Broward counties
Hardiness: Zones 8-10
Soil: Dry, sandy soils
Exposure: Full sun to minimal shade
Growth habit: 2-3' tall
Propagation: Seed
Garden tips: Coastalplain goldenaster is easy to grow and maintain in a landscape setting, but it is rarely available commercially. When in bloom, it is striking due to its many bright flowers.
Basal rosette of leaves. Photo by Shirley Denton.

To see where coastalplain goldenaster occurs naturally, click here.