Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Here we go again… Wildflowers bloom earlier than normal

By Jeff Norcini

Earlier-than-normal blooming of spring wildflowers seems to be occurring more often, but this year stands out because some wildflowers are blooming nearly a month earlier than expected. The influence of this “abnormal” weather will probably be greatest in North Florida. If the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) climate predictions hold true, March will likely be wetter and warmer than normal, which would speed up the time when mid- or late-spring wildflowers bloom, such as Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) and Blanketflower (Gaillardia pulchella).

Bee on Blue-eyed grass. Photo/Mary Keim
This also means that now is not too soon to be looking for wildflowers that normally would bloom in late March or early April, such as Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium spp.), Lanceleaf tickseed (Coreopsis lanceolata), Southeastern sneezeweed (Helenium pinnatifidum), Lyreleaf sage (Salvia lyrata), and Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis). The remainder of the spring weather should be normal, so the effect of the warm, wet weather should dissipate by the end of spring … unless it doesn’t.
Leavenworth's tickseed on State Road 80 near LaBelle. Photo/Jeff Norcini

In Central and South Florida, temperatures are expected to be above normal in March, with normal temperatures the remainder of spring. While rain should be normal throughout spring, NOAA predicts that drought conditions will persist in a large portion of south Central Florida and are likely to develop in South Florida (see U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook).

Where to find wildflowers

Given that outlook, the best places to see native wildflowers will be naturally moist areas, especially in April and May. Look for two of the showiest and most common wildflowers in moist sites — Leavenworth’s tickseed (Coreopsis leavenworthii) and Black-eyed Susan (in North Florida, it tends to occur in drier locations). Because March is expected to be warmer than normal, look for typical April and May bloomers a few weeks earlier than you otherwise would. For instance, Leavenworth’s tickseed and Black-eyed Susan are already blooming.

Sneezeweed on U.S. Highway 27 in Taylor County. Photo/Jeff Norcini
A good place to view showy stands of wildflowers that prefer moist sites is along Florida's Turnpike south of Orlando, from about mile marker 220 south to Yeehaw Junction. Leavenworth’s tickseed and Black-eyed Susan have started flowering in these areas, which means the brilliant yellow flowers of Southeastern sneezeweed should be brightening roadsides and natural areas soon.
Because March is expected to be warmer than normal, Prairie iris (Iris hexagona) and Duck potato (Sagittaria spp.) should be flowering by early April. If you get lucky, you might even spot the bright reddish spikes of the Leafless beaked orchid (Sacoila lanceolata) that month.

Not near an area with naturally moist conditions? Head toward the coast. Blanketflower and Beach sunflower (Helianthus debilis) are showy native wildflowers that thrive in dry, sandy conditions. They can be bloom at any time of the year in South Florida, and typically start by early to mid-spring in the Panhandle.

When you are out and about enjoying the spring beauty that Mother Nature has blessed us with, please don’t pick wildflowers. If you want to preserve the memory of a wildflower, take a picture — it will last longer. Many of our native wildflowers reproduce only by seed. Picking a flower reduces a  plant's ability to sustain itself.

For specific locations to view wildflowers, drive one of the wildflower routes developed by the Florida Wildflower Foundation. Visit www.FlaWildflowerTrips.org to download Eastern Panhandle driving routes, or visit the Foundation's Research page and scroll down to the middle column of the page for wildflower route maps and reports. See more of what's in bloom at www.FlaWildflowers.org/blooming.php.

Now for a bit of science ...

Blooming is dependent on a complex interaction of genetics (that is, the “blueprint” of how the plant is expected to perform) and the environment — mainly day length, temperature and soil characteristics, the most important of which is moisture. The influence of these environmental factors varies among wildflower species. To make this issue a bit more complex, the previous year’s weather can influence wildflowers the next year, especially those that reseed. Weather can affect seed dormancy; dormant seeds do not germinate until the factor(s) causing dormancy have been alleviated, which could take several months or more. Wildflowers producing a high level of dormant seed may not yield a good stand of plants the following year.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Flower Friday: Violet butterworth

Violet butterwort (Pinguicula ionantha)

Click on terms for botanical definitions. 

Photo by Eleanor Dietrich
Also known as Godfrey’s butterwort, violet butterwort is a rare perennial insectivorous plant that typically blooms between February and April. It is endemic to only Bay, Franklin, Gulf, Liberty and Wakulla counties in the Florida Panhandle, and occurs naturally in wet prairies, bogs, seepage slopes and wet pine flatwoods. It is a state-endangered and U.S.-threatened species. Threats to this plant include fire exclusion, drought and habitat loss. 

Violet butterwort’s solitary bloom may be pale violet to nearly white with five notched petals. The corolla is slightly tubular with a deep violet throat and violet veination. It is borne on an erect leafless scape that arises from a basal rosette of succulent yellowish-green leaves. Leaf margins are entire and involute. The scape, sepals and leaves are covered in tiny hairs. The hairs on the leaf surface secrete a sticky mucilage in which insects become trapped. (Insects often mistake the mucilage for drops of water.) Enzymes are then secreted to help the plant digest the insects. The ability to trap and digest insects allows violet butterwort (like most insectivorous plants) to survive in nutrient-deficient conditions. Subsequently, it helps prevent insect predation. 

The genus name, Pinguicula, comes from the Latin pinguis, which means “fat” and alludes to the greasy feeling of the leaf surface. The species epithet, ionantha, references the Latin word ianthinus, or “violet.” 

Basal rosettes and lighter, whitish flower color
Photo by Eleanor Dietrich

: Lentibulariaceae (Bladderwort family) 

Native range: Central and Eastern Panhandle 
To see where natural populations of violet butterwort have been vouchered, visit www.florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/
Soil: Moist to inundated, acidic soils with poor nutrients 
Growth habit: About 6” tall 
Garden tips:Although not commercially available, violet butterwort can be propagated by seed. Getting seed, however, may be challenging as it cannot be collected from public natural lands. Your best bet is to find someone who has it growing on privately owned land. Be sure to get permission before collecting on private land.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Member profile: Dr. Loran Anderson

Dr. Loran Anderson is a professor emeritus in the department of biological science at Florida State University in Tallahassee. His research has focused on plant taxonomy and systematics in the Florida Panhandle and elsewhere. He is currently compiling a checklist of native plants in Panhandle counties that will include rare and endangered species. Over the course of his career, he has authored numerous publications and has named (i.e., described for science) 12 new Florida native plant species or subspecies. Dr. Anderson is a long-time member of the Florida Wildflower Foundation. In 2016, he received the Foundation’s “Coreopsis Award" in recognition of contributions to Florida's wildflowers.

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

Tell us a little about yourself — Where are you from? How long have you been in Florida and what brought you here?
I was born and raised in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Love of nature came to me rather naturally — my father was a breeder of peas and beans and introduced me to the study of native flora. (I learned my first scientific names at 11 years old.) I spent six consecutive summers in the Tetons with a scout camp as the camp naturalist, teaching plant identification to scouts older than myself. After earning degrees at Utah State University and Claremont Graduate University, I taught botanical subjects at Michigan State University and Kansas State University before coming to Florida State University in 1974. I have lived in Tallahassee longer than all other places (i.e., eight states) combined.

How did you first get involved with the Florida Wildflower Foundation and why do you stay involved?
I don’t recall when I first joined the Florida Wildflower Foundation, but it was a natural thing to do because that involvement enables fellowship and interaction with other plant enthusiasts, and the Foundation’s collective voice should have more impact in the community. 

Dr. Anderson poses in a field of pitcher plants.
Do you have a favorite wildflower?

I’ll answer that the way I answer my grandchildren who often ask which of them is my favorite — my favorite wildflower (or grandchild) is the one I happen to be with at that time!

Why should people care about wildflowers?
The reasons we should care about wildflowers would fill a book. One would be “pure aesthetics” — we are happier when we have them around us. Another reason is that biotic communities are defined by the plants that are present, and wild animals (which get more attention) are dependent on their given plant communities water abundance and quality also are governed by those plant communities. Finally, Florida’s agriculture (and the rest of the world’s) needs wildflowers to sustain pollinators throughout the year when they are not “working” the crops.

Have you documented many rare plants in the Florida Panhandle?

I’ve sat on the Florida Endangered Plant Advisory Council for over 30 years and enjoy finding new sites for rare plants. I retired in 2003 and since then have continued exploring the Florida Panhandle and documenting occurrences for the Florida Atlas of Plants. Between 2013 and 2015, I averaged 320 first records per year for given species in Panhandle counties; then in 2016, I recorder over 435 first county records.  

Dr. Anderson shows a pitcher plant to
FWF field trip participants in Liberty County.

Is there a favorite area in Florida you can recommend to our readers who like to botanize and enjoy wildflowers?
Counties bordering the Apalachicola River are very rich in unusual or rare plant species (State Road 65 in the national forest being a particularly good area to visit). However, the further one goes from a major university (or other botanical institution), the less well-known the flora is, so I’ve recently been inventorying in Washington and Holmes counties.

Why did you pick the Asteraceae family for your taxonomic studies?
In college, my major professor suggested I study the rabbitbrushes (which belong to the Asteraceae family). These shrubs are as abundant out West as sagebrush (also in the Asteraceae or Compositae family), only they are prettier. Historically, rabbitbrushes were once placed in the genus Bigelowia — a genus now structured for two species found in the Southeastern U. S., which got me interested in this region before I moved here.

How many plants do we now have in that family?
Asteraceae (which contains sunflowers, goldenrods, daisies, thistles, dandelions, etc., as well as asters) is possibly the largest family of plants. Many consider the orchids more numerous, but the most recent listing I’ve seen shows Asteraceae as having 22,750 species with Orchidaceae at 21,950.

Are any asters rare or endangered in Florida?
The Asteraceae family has several rare species in Florida, but those we generally call “asters” that are listed as endangered in the state include Aster hemisphericus (
Southern pine aster) and A. spinulosus (Apalachicola aster), both now placed in the genus Eurybia, and Pityopsis flexuosa, which we call “Florida golden aster” or “zigzag silkgrass.”

You have written articles on “noteworthy plants of North Florida.” What makes a plant “noteworthy” for you?
I wrote a series of articles with the heading of noteworthy plants, wherein I reported native or naturalized species newly found in the state or in the Panhandle or otherwise “noteworthy” because of their rareness.

Your page on the FSU website states that you are working on other plant species as well. Where are your plant expeditions taking you?
Most of my expeditions are within the Florida Panhandle, but I still am interested in the flora of the West where I grew up. Past projects have taken me over much of the U.S. (with a few excursions into tropical America looking for other Asteraceae). A major part of my botanical research involved anatomical studies, wherein I would examine the internal structure of flowers, leaves, stems, etc., to find features that would help define plant relationships. One such study of goldenrods that we now list in the genera Chrysoma, Euthamia, and Solidago showed that leaf anatomy clearly supported those three groupings. Another anatomical study involved Cannabis, where I found the various species could be identified by wood anatomy in the stems. This was of great forensic interest, and I was invited to participate in an international working group of the botany and chemistry of Cannabis (sponsored by an agency of the United Nations). Some say that was the high point of my career!

Try these "alter-natives" to common invasive species

Florida is uniquely varied in its climate and growing conditions, allowing for a huge variety of plants to thrive. But some of the plants that are common to our home landscapes are actually invasive species, many of which are now widespread in Florida's natural areas. Removing these species from your landscape and replacing them with native alternatives can help prevent the spread of invasive species and will provide suitable food and cover for native wildlife. 

Below are just a few of the commonly sold exotic invasive species, along with recommended "alter-natives." Click on the plant's common or scientific name to see photos as well as the plant's distribution into natural areas.

 Wildflowers and groundcovers    
Invasive: Wedelia (Wedelia trilobita, syn. Sphagneticolatrilobata) (FLEPPC CAT II)
Invasive: Lantana (Lantana camara) (FLEPPC CAT I)
Invasive: Mexican petunia (Ruellia simplex, syn. Ruellia brittoniana) (FLEPPC CAT I)
Alternative: Beach verbena (Glandularia maritima) (Click here to find a nursery in your area that sells Beach verbena.)
Alternative: Dune sunflower (Helianthus debilis)* (Click here to find a nursery in your area that sells Dune sunflower.) *See note at bottom of article.
Alternative: Powderpuff (Mimosa strigillosa) (Click here to find a nursery in your area that sells Powderpuff.)
Alternative: Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) (Click here to find a nursery in your area that sells Blue-eyed grass.)

Helianthus debilis -- an excellent
"alter-native" to Wedelia
Mimosa strigillosa

 Low flowering shrubs 
Invasive: Coral ardisia (Ardisia crenata) (FLEPPC CAT I)
Invasive: Surinam cherry (Eugenia uniflora) (FLEPPC CAT I)
Invasive: Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) (FLEPPC CAT I
Invasive: Climbing cassia (Senna pendula var. glabra) (FLEPPC CAT I)
Alternative: Marlberry (Ardisia escallonioides) (Click here to find a nursery in your area that sells Marlberry.)
Alternative: Simpson's stopper (Myrcianthes fragrans) (Click here to find a nursery in your area that sells Simpson's stopper.)
Alternative: Wild coffee (Psychotria nervosa) (Click here to find a nursery in your area that sells Wild coffee.)
Alternative: Bahama senna (Senna mexicana var. chapmanii) or Privet senna (Senna ligustrina) (Click here to find a nursery in your area that sells Bahama or Privet senna.) 
Alternative: Walter's viburnum (Virbunum obovatum) (Click here to find a nursery in your area that sells Walter's viburnum.)

Ardisia escallonioides
(photo by Homer Edward Price)
Psychotria nervosa
(photo by Stacey Matrazzo)
 Flowering vines 
Invasive: Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) (FLEPPC CAT I)
Invasive: Gold coast jasmine (Jasminum dichotomum) (FLEPPC CAT I)
Invasive: Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) (FLEPPC CAT II)
Alternative: Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) (Click here to find a nursery in your area that sells Coral honeysuckle.)
Alternative: Climbing aster (Symphyotricum carolinianum) (Click here to find a nursery in your area that sells Climbing aster.) 
Alternative: American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens) (Click here to find a nursery in your area that sells American wisteria.)

Wisteria frutescens (Photo by Shirley Denton,
Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants
Lonicera sempervirens (Photo by Terry Zinn)

Invasive: Napier, Elephant or purple fountain grass (Pennisetum purpureum) (FLEPPC CAT I) 
Invasive: Green fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum) (FLEPPC CAT II)
Alternative: Elliott's lovegrass (Eragrostis elliottii) or Purple lovegrass (Eragrostis spectabilis) (Click here to find a nursery in your area that sells Elliott's or Purple lovegrass.)
Alternative: Muhlygrass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) (Click here to find a nursery in your area that sells Muhly grass.)
Muhlenbergia capillaris (Photo by Bill Randolph)

There are many native plant alternatives to common invasive exotic landscape plants. Check out the following resources for help selecting the right plant for your landscape:

*Note: There are three subspecies of Helianthus debilis occurring in Florida, all of which are capable of hybridizing and thus, should not be planted together. When using in a landscape or garden setting, it is recommended that the subspecies native to/appropriate for the region be used. Visit PlantRealFlorida.org to find a native nursery in your area that sells the appropriate subspecies for your region. Seeds of the East coast subspecies are available through the Florida Wildflowers Growers Cooperative.

To see where each subspecies of dune sunflower occurs naturally in Florida, visit www.florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/Plant.aspx?id=660, www.florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/Plant.aspx?id=3367 and www.florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/Plant.aspx?id=1249

Friday, February 17, 2017

Flower Friday: Rusty lyonia

Photo by Stacey Matrazzo
Rusty lyonia (Lyonia ferruginea)

Click on terms for botanical definitions.

Also known as rusty staggerbush, rusty lyonia is a long-lived evergreen flowering shrub. Its common descriptor, "rusty," and its species epithet, ferruginea, both refer to the many rust-colored hairs that cover the plant's leaves, stems and trunk. It occurs naturally in scrub, scrubby flatwoods, xeric hammocks and moist pine flatwoods. Flowers typically appear in spring and are attractive to butterflies and bees; fruits are eaten by birds and other wildlife.

Rusty lyonia’s small flowers are white, urn- or bell-shaped and borne in clusters. They have a faint-but-pleasant rose-like fragrance. Leaves are dark green, leathery and elliptic to oblanceolate. They are alternately arranged. Leaf margins are entire and can be flat, wavy or strongly revolute (typical). All parts of the plant have a rusty pubescence, but it is most prominent on leaf undersides. Newly emerging leaves also have a rusty color. Trunks are usually crooked or irregularly shaped. Fruit is a small oval capsule

The species epithet ferruginea is from the Latin ferrugo (ferrum) or "rust" ("iron").

Photo by Grace Howell
Family: Ericaceae (Heath or heather family)
Native range: Panhandle, north and central peninsula
To see where natural populations of rusty lyonia have been vouchered, visit florida.plantatlas.usf.edu.
Hardiness: Zones 8–10

Soil: Moderately moist to dry, acidic sand, loam or clay 
Exposure: Full sun to minimal shade
Growth habit: 6–10’+ tall, spread is about half as wide
Propagation: Seed
Garden tips: Rusty lyonia is a low-maintenance shrub that is adaptable to both well-drained and poorly drained soils and is highly drought tolerant. Its size and irregular shape make it suitable for naturalistic landscapes and border plantings. It does not spread readily by self-seed, but it does have a tendency to sucker.

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

Friday, February 10, 2017

Flower Friday: Crossvine

Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata)
Click on terms for botanical definitions.

Photo by Eleanor Dietrich
Crossvine is a perennial evergreen vine, so named because a cross-section of its stem reveals a cross-shaped pattern. It typically blooms in spring, when it puts on a spectacular display, but they can appear as early as February and as late as June. It occurs naturally in mesic to dry hammocks, floodplain forests and dry hardwood forests. It is mainly pollinated by hummingbirds but attracts some butterflies, as well.

The flowers are long (2–3”), tubular and reddish-orange with yellowish throats. They are borne in showy clusters that emerge from the leaf axil. Both corollas and calyces are five-lobed. Its compound leaves are dark green, petiloate and oppositely arranged. Each leaf bears two lanceolate leaflets and a tendril. The stem is robust, growing to about 1” in diameter. The fruit is a long brown bean-like capsule that splits when dry to expose its winged seeds.

Photo by Eleanor Dietrich
: Bignoniaceae (Bignonia family)
Native range: Panhandle, north and central peninsula
To see where natural populations of crossvine have been vouchered, visit florida.plantatlas.usf.edu.
Hardiness: Zones 8–9
Soil: Moist, well-drained organic soils
Exposure: Full sun to full shade (Full sun will yield more flowers)
Growth habit: Crossvine is long-lived (up to 50 years), fast-growing and can climb long and far if allowed.
Propagation: Seeds, cuttings
Garden tips: Because of its fast growth rate and potential size, may be difficult to control in small setting. It is best used in a naturalistic landscape or trained on a fence, wall or large trellis.

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

Friday, February 3, 2017

Flower Friday: Wakerobin

Photo by Eleanor Dietrich
Wakerobin (Trillium spp.)

Click on terms for botanical definitions.

Wakerobins are long-lived perennial wildflowers native to upland hardwood forests, slope forests, hammocks and bluffs. They typically bloom in late winter before the tree canopy leafs out, but can bloom as late as early spring. 

The common name wakerobin refers to the flower appearing around the same time as the first robins. It is also known as birthroot due to its medicinal use during childbirth, and toadshade because some have said it resembles a toad-sized umbrella.

Four species of wakerobin have been found in Florida:

Wakerobin flowers are solitary and appear just above the leaves. All species have three sepals and three petals, with petal color varying from maroon (T. maculatum) to purple (T. underwoodii) to greenish-yellow with purple (T. decipiens). Petals are erect and elliptic to narrowly spatulate. Sepals are lanceolate and may be erect or flat and green or purplish/maroon, depending on the species. Leaves are sessile and born in threes in a whorled arrangement. They are mottled and veiny with entire margins. Seeds are born in berries.

Family: Trilliaceae (Trillium family)*
Hardiness: Zone 8
Soil: Moist, well-drained calcareous soils with high pH
Exposure: Partial to full shade
Growth habit: 8–12” tall depending on the species
Propagation: Division
Garden tips: Wakerobins require very specific habitat conditions. Do not attempt to incorporate this plant into your garden unless you can meet all of its conditions. Mulch with a light layer of leaf litter. 

Plants generally are not commercially propagated; however, T. underwoodii is occasionally available. Visit www.plantrealflorida.org to find a nursery that carries it. 

Caution: All four species of wakerobin are moderately to very rare. Do not harvest wild plants or purchase them from someone who might have acquired them illicitly. 

*Some sources, including the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (APG III system of flowering plant classification), have moved Trilliaceae to the Melanthiaceae family.