Friday, October 21, 2016

Flower Friday: Meet vanillaleaf, the odiferous Carphephorus

Vanillaleaf (Carphephorus odoratissimus)
Click on terms for botanical definitions.

Photo by Eleanor Dietrich
Vanillaleaf is a perennial that produces many small purple flowers in terminal, flat-topped inflorescences. Its basal leaves are straplike, are 6 inches to 1 foot in length, and form a rosette. Stem leaves are clasping and reduced in size as they ascend the stem. They are alternately arranged. Stems are glabrous.

The common name, vanillaleaf, refers to the vanilla-like scent that the wilting leaves emit when crushed. The species epithet, odoratissimus, is from the Latin for “most fragrant” and also alludes to the leaves’ scent.

Vanillaleaf occurs naturally in mesic to hydric pine flatwoods, moist sandhills and bogs and blooms late summer into fall. It is found throughout Florida; however, the species has been divided into two varieties with distinct ranges: C. odoratissimus is found in the Panhandle and north and central peninsula. C. odoratissimus var. subtropicanus (sometimes known simply as C. subtropicanus) is endemic to the central and southern peninsula. Their ranges overlap in Citrus, Sumter, Orange and Osceola counties. The leaves of C. odoratissimus var. subtropicanus emit little to no vanilla-like scent. Its common name is false vanillaleaf. Both varieties attract butterflies and other pollinators.

Vanillaleaf blooming in pine flatwoods. Photo by Eleanor Dietrich.
: Asteraceae (Aster, composite or daisy family)
Click here to see where vanillaleaf occurs naturally. 

Hardiness: Zone 8a-10b, depending on variety
Soil: Moist to moderately dry soils
Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
Growth habit: 4’+ tall
Propagation: Seed
Garden tips: Although vanillaleaf likes moist soils, it does not tolerate inundation. As well, it can tolerate drought once established, but requires sufficient moisture during hot summer months.

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

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