Monday, December 14, 2009

Graceful Blazing Star - Liatris gracilis

Graceful blazing star (Liatris gracilis) is one of the most widely distributed blazing stars in Florida and one of the easiest to maintain in a home landscape setting.  In Florida, it occurs in a wide variety of well-drained upland habitats including scrub, sandhill, flatwoods, and open deciduous woodlands.  This is a southern species and occurs outside Florida only in states in the Southeastern Coastal Plain.
Like other members of this genus, graceful blazing star is deciduous.  By early spring, the basal rosette of thin, whorled leaves are well established.  These leaves also are covered by noticeable hairs.  All parts of this species are "pilose" in this way.
Flowering occurs in the fall; generally October through early November.  The flower stalks are taller than most and often reach 4-5 feet.  Individual flowers are quite small, but the number of flower buds is quite numerous.  Each bud is held well away from the main flower stalk by distinct bud stalks - correctly known as pedicles.  Because of this, the flowering stalk during the peak of blooming is quite broad and showy. 
Graceful blazing star is adaptable to a wider variety of landscape settings than most of Florida's species.  Though it is exceptionally drought tolerant, it will persist in areas that are seasonally more moist as long as this condition doesn't persist for too many days in succession.  Because of its adaptablity and widespread distribution, graceful blazing star is one of the most commonly available blazing stars commercially.  Use this species in a mixed wildflower setting, but use it towards the back of a planting area and mix it with species of wildlfowers and native grasses that can help to hold its tall flower stalk upright.  Of all of our native blazing stars, graceful blazing star is the most prone to falling over.  When this occurs, its flower stalk twists and meanders through the understory before turning upright once again.  Use a plant stake, avoid soils that are too rich, and plant it next to sturdier neighbors to help avoid this from occuring.

Chapman's Blazing Star - Liatris chapmanii

Chapman's blazing star (Liatris chapmanii) is named for one of the Southeast's best known early botanists, A.W. Chapman.  This is another blazing star restricted to the deep sandy soils of Florida and the states immediately adjacent to us - Georgia and Alabama.  In Florida, it occurs nearly statewide in scrub and sandhill habitats.
Chapman's blazing star is rather unique in several ways.  It produces "normal-sized" leaves along the flower stalk - well above the basal rosette, and it produces flowers below the top of the flower stalk into the area where these leaves occur.  For this reason, it is quite easy to distingush from other members of this genus.
Like other members of this genus, Chapman's blazing star is deciduous and makes its appearance in early spring.  The leaves are slightly curved, thin, and about 2-3 inches long.  The basal rosette is dense and has a somewhat whorled appearance.
Blooming begins a bit earlier than many other members of this genus.  Most specimens begin flowering in September and are finished by October. The flower stalks are also a bit shorter and stouter.  Most specimens do not get taller than 3 feet, though they may occassionally reach 4 feet or taller.  The flower buds are densely clustered on the flower stalk and held tightly to it.  Individual flowers are a bright lavender and each bud contains about a half dozen individual flowers. 
Chapman's blazing star is a very attractive addition to a mixed wildflower planting, but it absolutely requires well-drained sandy soils to persist.  Soils that hold water around the corm for too long will cause the corms to rot.  Give this species plenty of sunlight also.  Because it is often a bit shorter than other members of this genus and because it blooms earlier, it is best used with other blazing stars and planted in the mid-section of the planting area.  Good companion blazing stars are graceful, elegant, clusterleaf, and scrub blazing star. 
Chapman's blazing star is only infrequently offered for sale by member nurseries of AFNN.  It is difficult to maintain in a pot under normal growing practices because it rots if kept too moist.  We have been propagating this wonderful species for several years now at Hawthorn Hill and normally have extra specimens for sale.  Please inquire if you are interested.

Clusterleaf Blazing Star - Liatris laevigata

Clusterleaf blazing star (Liatris laevigata) is found nearly statewide in Florida and in portions of Georgia.  Like many other Florida blazing stars, this species occurs only in exceptionally well-drained sandy soils - conditions most commonly found in scrub and sandhill habitats.  Taxonomists sometimes combine this species as a variety of Liatris tenuifolia, but the two are quite distinct and seem to deserve separate species status.  Of the two, clusterleaf blazing star has the narrowest range in North America, but is more widely distributed in Florida.
The top photograph shows the difference in leaf form between L. laevigata and L. tenuifolia.  Clusterleaf blazing star is pictured on the left and has leaves that are decidedly wider and "coarser" than scrub blazing star.  Sometimes, these leaves persist through the winter, but most commonly they are deciduous.  In the early spring, they emerge and soon a dense basal rosette is formed.
Clusterleaf blazing star begins to send its flower stalk upward in mid-summer.  Eventually, it reaches 3-4 feet.  In our gardens at Hawthorn Hill where we grow both species side by side, clusterleaf blazing star's flower stalks tend to be several inches taller than scrub blazing star, the flower buds tend to be larger and held at more of an angle away from the stalk, and the flowers tend to be a bit larger.  As its sometimes-used Latin name implies (L. tenuifolia var. quadriflora), the buds often are composed of four flowers, but as the photographs above demonstrate, this is not always the case.  Flowering occurs in late fall - late October to early November.
Clusterleaf blazing star is showier than scrub blazing star, but it is not quite the same splash of color as many of our other species.  But, because it is often in bloom a bit later than the others, it is a wonderful way to extend the season.  Use this species in a mixed wildflower setting, but only in sites with exceptionally well-drained soils.  Cluster individual plants into groups of five or more and use them in the front half of the planting area.  I like to combine this species with Chapman's, graceful, elegant, and scrub blazing star as all of these species have similar growing requirements and often occur together in nature. 
Clusterleaf blazing star is sometimes available from nurseries associated with AFNN, the Association of Florida Native Nurseries, but is often listed as L. tenuifolia.  Because of this, it may be necessary to ask further as to which "L. tenuifolia" is being offered.  Sometimes, they are even mixed together on the same bench and labeled similarly.
We have grown both species together in our landscape at Hawthorn Hill for years and they remain true and distinct.  And, I have never seen forms in the wild that were indistinct. For this reason, I have chosen to use the taxonomy that clearly separates them.  I suspect that someday, everyone else will do the same - but until that time, make sure you get what you ask for.

Scrub Blazing Star - Liatris tenuifolia

Scrub blazing star (Liatris tenuifolia) is sometimes combined taxonomically with clusterleaf blazing star (L. laevigata).  Taxonomosts that lump the two refer to the former as L. tenuifolia var. tenuifolia and the latter as L. tenuifolia var. quadriflora.  I have chosen to follow the taxonomists who split them, as they are quite distinct and I have never seen forms that seem to be somewhere in between.  In the upper photo, the narrower basal leaves of scrub blazing star contrast sharply with the wider leaves of clusterleaf blazing star.  In the lower photo several specimens of scrub blazing star are blooming to the right of a specimen of clusterleaf blazing star.  These photos were taken in my gardens at Hawthorn Hill where I grow both species side by side.  Over the years, the seed of both has remained true to species.
Scrub blazing star is found throughout much of Florida and in states immediately adjacent to us.  As its name implies, this is a species that occurs only in the most well-drained sandy soils of Florida's scrub community.  In these areas, it is relatively common and abundant. 
Scrub blazing star is deciduous.  In the early spring, it sends out its extremely narrow leaves that resemble pine needles - or the leaves of wiregrass.  For much of the spring and early summer, it exists as a basal rosette of these needle-like leaves and is difficult to distinguish from all of the other plants surrounding it.  Then, in mid-summer, it begins the process of sending its wand-like flower stalk upward.
Scrub blazing star has an extremely narrow flower stalk and the small flower buds are held close to it.  Eventually, the stalk reaches a height of 2 1/2-4 feet.  Blooming occurs in late fall, usually a week or more later than other species, like L. chapmanii or L. ohlingerae, that may occur in the same area.  This is one of the least showy of our species.  The rich lavender flowers are attractive, but quite small. 
Scrub blazing star requires exceptionally well-drained soil to prosper.  If these conditions can be provided, it makes a wonderful addition to a mixed wildflower planting.  Group five or more specimens together, 6 inches apart so the individual plants do not "get lost" and plant them near the front half of the planting area.  Mix it with other mid-sized to smaller late-fall blooming wildflowers such as grassleaf goldenaster (Pityopsis graminifolia).
Scrub blazing star is often available from nurseries associated with the Association of Florida Native Nurseries (AFNN).  We have grown it in our gardens at Hawthorn Hill from the beginning, but do not intend to propagate it ourselves. 

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Eastern Silver Aster Part 2 - Symphyotrichum concolor

I couldn't help but post a few more photos of one of my favorite wildflowers - Eastern silver aster (Symphyotrichum concolor).  These photos were taken November 28 in our Pinellas County landscape at Hawthorn Hill and show how magnificent this plant is when in full bloom.  Eastern silver aster is a very late bloomer and becomes one of the last wildflowers blooming in a mixed wildflower planting.
We hope to have plenty of this available next summer to others that may wish to try it.  Drop me an e-mail if you are interested:

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Florida goldenaster - Chrysopsis floridana

Florida goldenaster (Chrysopsis floridana) is a very rare endemic species, native only to a few coastal counties in west-central Florida.  This goldenaster is found only in excessively well-drained soils and occurs mostly in scrub.  Hillsborough and Manatee County populations have been somewhat protected in preserves; those in Pinellas County were extirpated, but have been reintroduced recently to several natural lands.
Unlike other upright-growing species in this genus, Florida golden aster stays densely wooly along the entire length of the growing stem to the flower buds.  This makes it easy to identify in the field.
Liker other members of this genus, Florida goldenaster is deciduous for a brief period in late winter.  In the early spring, the densely wooly basal leaves appear and are quite attractive vegetatively.  The flower stalks make their appearance by mid summer and continue to elongate until late fall.  Eventually, Florida goldenaster may stand 4 feet tall and it takes on a very lanky appearance.
Blooming occurs in late fall; anytime from November to early December.  Multiple flower buds are formed at the tip of the upper branches.  Individual flowers are typical in size and color for the genus; most being a bit less than 1 inch across.
Florida goldenaster is a very interesting and unique member of this genus, but it is a bit "weedy" looking due to its tall thin aspect.  Several commercial sources routinely make it available to the home landscape.  Use it from the middle portion of a mixed planting rearward and plant it in small clusters.  Because it has a tendency to lean over, it should be planted with other taller species that can help prop it up.  Plant it only in extremely well-drained sands and give it plenty of sunlight.
We have grown Florida goldenaster for a number of years in our Pinellas County landscape at Hawthorn Hill, but have never propagated it.  If this is a species that interests you, let us know and we may collect some of our seed and make a few more plants.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Rayless Sunflower - Helianthus radula

Rayless sunflower (Helianthus radula) is unique among Florida's many sunflower species.  Its Latin name "radula" is derived from its rough "raspy" basal leaves while its common name is pretty self-explanatory.  In most specimens, the beautiful yellow ray flowers so characteristic of this genus are absent.  In a few, like the photograph above shows, a few tiny ray flowers are actually present - mocking in a way the "sunflower" relationship it has to its relatives.  What is left are the dull-brown disc flowers.  While these may not be especially attractive to us, watch one for any length of time and you will find that they are attractive to butterflies and other pollinators.  To them, nectar is much more attractive than physical beauty.
Rayless sunflower is found almost statewide in Florida and occurs in a wide diversity of habitat types; from well-drained sandy uplands to seasonally wet pine flatwoods and savannahs.  The common denominator seems to be its need for openness and ample sunlight.  Rayless sunflower is also resident to our neighboring states of the Deep South.
Like most other members of the genus, it is a deciduous perennial.  Its basal leaves are unlike any other sunflower, however.  They are rounded, thick and rough, and held tightly against the ground surface.  As this plant also suckers, these leaves eventually form thick colonies that prevent most others from gaining a foothold next to them. 
Flowering occurs in the summer.  The single flower buds are held upright on 1-2 foot tall stalks while the small disc flowers open up over a period of several weeks. 
Rayless sunflower is almost always offered by a few of the native nurseries in Florida.  Its adaptability and ability to draw butterflies make up for its lack of aesthetics and gives reason for including it in a mixed wildflower planting.  We have incorporated it into our own landscape for a number of years at Hawthorn Hill and admire it for its "strangeness" and its wildlife value.  Use rayless sunflower in open sunny locations and place it near the front of the planting area where its foliage can be admired.  Mix it with other showier species for color and see which blooms the butterflies visit when they arrive.  You might just be surprised.

Narrowleaf Sunflower - Helianthus angustifolius

Narrowleaf sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius) is one of the most common sunflowers in Florida. It is found statewide, except for extreme south Florida, and occurs throughout much of the eastern half of the United States besides.  This is a wetland species, and it is most common in sunny locations with saturated soils; marshes, roadside ditches, and open savannahs.
As its name implies, this species has noticeably narrow leaves.  These are mostly alternate on the stems, up to 8 inches long, and rather rough to the touch.  Narrowleaf sunflower is deciduous, but grows rapidly in the spring.  By late summer, individuals may be as tall as 6 feet and are often 4-5 feet.  They also sucker aggressively and tend to form dense colonies in the sites where they occur.  Because of their size, these colonies are often virtual monocultures with little else finding a niche to fit into.
Narrowleaf sunflowers are spectacular when they are in bloom.  They are a fall-flowering species and the peak bloom times are October-November, though limited flowering can occur just prior to this and just after.  Individual flowers are often 3 inches across and the ray flowers are an exceptionally bright yellow in color.  The disc flowers, however, are dark.
Narrowleaf sunflower is widely grown commercially and is fairly easy to maintain in the home landscape - as long as its moisture requirements are met.  Although it is a wetland sunflower, it can persist in many upland settings if it receives adequate rainfall during the heat of summer.  If not, it will quickly disappear.  As described for the paleleaf woodland sunflower previously, do not use this plant in small settings or in formal wildflower beds.  It is a wonderful addition to larger-scale settings and in more naturalized plantings.  It is also exceptional as a wildflower along the shoreline of a pond.

Paleleaf Woodland Sunflower - Helianthus strumosus

Paleleaf woodland sunflower (Helianthus strumosus) is a common species native only to the northern tiers of counties in Florida, but resident to much of the eastern half of North America.  As its name implies, it occurs most commonly at the edges of woodlands.  It is an upland sunflower, but in much of Florida it does best when given just a bit of extra moisture during the heat of summer.
Paleleaf woodland sunflower is a thin-stemmed tall perennial.  It dies back to the ground in the fall and re-emerges in the spring.  By early summer, it may stand as tall as 7 feet.  The leaves are somewhat glaucous which gives them a pale appearance.  They are also coarse and rough to the feel, somewhat arrow-shaped, and opposite on the stem (normally). 
Paleleaf woodland sunflower blooms in mid-summer to very early fall (June-September) and has a protracted flowering season; individual plants are likely to be in bloom for more than a month.  The flowers are rather typical for most in this genus.  Each flower may be 2-3 inches in diameter, and both the ray petals and disc flowers are bright yellow.  These attract bees more than butterflies, but a wide variety of pollinators can be expected to visit them.
In the landscape, pale woodland sunflower is relatively easy to grow.  We have maintained ours (pictured above) in an opening in our backyard woodland.  Here, they get ample sunshine for part of the day and just enough moisture at their roots to keep them thirving.  I have killed my share in other locations that were just too harsh. Like many other members of this genus, it suckers aggressively and our 3-4 plants that we started with became nearly 100 by the end of the second year.  This has worked well for the location we have it planted in and these suckers have filled in an otherwise open area and provided some real habitat value.  But, we have to keep them back from some of the smaller wildflowers planted up front or they would have shaded them into oblivion. 
Pull any suckers that you are displeased with and pot them up for others to enjoy.  They are easy to weed out and to replant elsewhere.  Paleleaf woodland sunflower is more drought tolerant than many of the other species commonly propagated in Florida.  It is normally fairly easy to find commercially and makes a great addition to the right location.  Do not attempt this in a wildflower setting that is meant to be somewhat formal looking; it does best where it can be naturalized and allowed to roam a bit to where it wants to be.  Do not use it either in a small landscape setting as its large size and tendency to wander will make it look out of place.

Lakeside Sunflower - Helianthus carnosus

Florida is the "Sunshine State" and the "Land of Flowers", so it is only appropriate that we have a diversity of sunflowers - members of the aster family in the genus Helianthus.  Sunflowers are spread across Florida in a wide variety of habitats and many are quite common.  Lakeside sunflower (H. carnosus) is an exception to that; being quite rare and listed as state Endangered species.  Lakeside sunflower is endemic to Florida and only found naturally in 5 counties in the northeastern peninsula. 
This sunflower differs in several respects to many of our more-common species.  For one, it is relatively short.  For much of the year, it exists as a mass of strap-shaped basal leaves.  While a few other species, most notably the rayless sunflower (H. radula), grow rather low, their basal leaves are not almost succulent and strap-like.  The flower stalks stay relatively short too.  Instead of standing 6 feet tall or more like many of our common species, lakeside sunflower rarely reaches more than 3 feet tall.   
As its common name implies, lakeside sunflower is a species of wet-soil habitats. Its short stature also implies that it is adapted to open sunny locations, surrounded by other species that don't often get too tall either.  These conditions are more typically found around the edges of lakes and marshes; not forested wetlands.
Lakeside sunflower blooms during the summer months.  The flower heads are typical for many in this genus; 2-3 inches across with bright yellow ray and disc flowers.  They attract a wide variety of pollinators, including butterflies and bees, and they are especially showy.  Of course, sunflower seeds are important to seed-eating birds and this plant is no exception.
Lakeside sunflower is occasionally offered commercially through Florida native plant nurseries.  Alexa and I purchased ours several years ago and we have successfully grown ours in our Pinellas County landscape.  We have found it to be relatively easy to maintain and to propagate from seed.  This is not a plant that fares well  if allowed to dry out.  We have ours in a "marsh/savannah" we created in our side yard and we keep this area wet to moist.  To date, our plants have not suckered aggressively like some of the other sunflowers, but they do produce a few suckers which become new plants near the parents.
Given the ability to provide it the conditions it requires, lakeside sunflower is an interesting and beautiful addition to a wildflower garden - and another reason to consider adding a wet-soil area to your home landscape.  We would consider adding it to our list of plants we propagate at Hawthorn Hill should a demand arise for it.

Florida Paintbrush - Carphephorus corymbosus

Florida paintbrush (Carphephorus corymbosus) is found throughout peninsular Florida and in Georgia and South Carolina.  Its Latin name comes from the shape of its flowerhead; a "corymb" being "flat" or "convex"-shaped.  The common name comes from the extremely large and colorful flowerheads that seem to paint the landscape during the fall months.
Florida paintbrush is hands down the showiest member of this wonderful genus and one of Florida's brightest wildflowers.  It occurs in well-drained sandy and sunny habitats and is the most drought tolerant member of this genus besides.  Like all the Carphephorus in Florida, Florida paintbrush is a deciduous perennial.  It dies back each winter after the seeds are dispersed and reappears in early spring.  For much of the ensuing months, it remains as a flat rosette of succulent basal leaves.  Then, in mid-summer, it begins growth on its flower stalk.
At maturity, Florida paintbrush stands 2-3 feet tall (sometimes up to 4-5 feet).  Flowering generally occurs a few weeks before most other members of this genus; usually from August-October depending on latitude.  Well-developed flowerheads may be 5-6 inches across and contain hundreds of strikingly bright lavender flowers.  Few wildflowers in Florida attract butterflies as well as Florida paintbrush.  If you want to know which butterflies are present in your area during their early fall blooming time, simply watch a patch of this plant for an hour or two.  There would be no reason to conduct any other kind of survey.
Thankfully, this is a species that is widely available from commercial sources and relatively easy to add to a wildflower planting.  Florida paintbrush is a long-lived perennial and very well-behaved in the landscape.  Mature specimens will add "pups" next to the main rosette, so over time individuals will slowly spread outward from the parent.  They also are likely to spread from seed if you do not "deadhead" the spent flowers and if you do not mulch the ground beneath them to cover the bare ground.
Though Florida paintbrush is very drought tolerant, it requires moisture at its taproot.  Plant it in well-drained soil so that rainfall soaks in deeply instead of running off the surface.  Give it plenty of sunshine also.  I like to plant it in small groupings instead of singly, and towards the middle of the planting bed.  It works very well mixed with blazing stars (Liatris spp.), goldenasters (Pityopsis spp. and Chrysopsis spp.), and other fall-blooming wildflowers.

American Bellflower - Campanula americana

Members of the genus Campanula are common components of woodland understories to our north and one of the real harbingers of spring.  In my Wisconsin youth, I would encounter them everywhere each spring after snowmelt as I wandered through the woods exploring.  In Florida, however, bellfowers are quite rare.
American bellflower (C. americana) is reported from only 3 counties around Torreya State Park - the setting for so many northern species that have maintained a small foothold in Florida because of the unique microclimate generated by the ravine forests there.  This same species is commonly found throughout all of eastern North America.
American bellflower in Florida is found in the understories of deciduous forests - particularly in the cooler and moister conditions generated by steep ravine forests where conditions somewhat mimic the Appalachians.  Alexa and I encountered these blooming specimens on our October visit to Torreya State Park, but most sources describe its typical blooming season to be "summer."  These are annuals.  Growth is rapid from their spring germination and mature specimens stand several feet tall.
This is yet another interesting addition to Florida's native flora and a fascinating look into our past history when Florida's climate may have been much more similar to that of areas to our north.  American bellfower is not a candidate in Florida as a landscape plant, but it is something to witness if you take the time to explore such treasures as Torreya State Park and the Nature Conservancy's Bluffs and Ravines Preserve near Bristol.

Indian Pink - Spigelia marilandica

Indian pinks (Spigelia marilandica) are simply a stunning wildflower.  No more, perhaps, needs to be said.  In Florida, it is present in the understory of various deciduous hardwood forests in the central and western Panhandle.  Its range, however, extends north to southern Illinois and covers much of the south and mid-south, and west to Texas.  It is a member of the "strychnine" family and is poisonous to consume.  In small doses, however, it has been used medicinally to control intestinal worms, but not so in modern times.
Indian pink is a deciduous perennial.  It makes its appearance each year in the spring , producing multiple stems from its woody underground growing point.  The stems eventually reach a height of several feet and are rather thin with wide, oval, opposite leaves.
Blooming occurs mostly in the late spring as the overstory canopy starts to develop, but subsequent blooming can occur in summer and fall months too.  Its the brightly colored flowers that make this wildflower so wonderful.  Each tubular flower is nearly 2 inches long and a brilliant scarlet red.  The inside of the reflexed petals are bright yellow in contrast.  Individual plants produce blooms over several weeks, a few at a time.
Indian pink is pollinated by hummingbirds as well as a variety of insects.  In the garden, it does best in partial shade and in rich well-drained soils.  Do not plant it in deep shade or underneath hardwoods, such as live oaks (Quercus virginiana), that are not deciduous in the winter months. 
Indian pink is regularly available commercially though none of the nurseries associated with the Association of Florida Native Nurseries currently list it.  We have maintained it for a number of years in our Pinellas County landscape, but have not quite found the secret to keeping it vigorous for extended years where we have planted it.  It may simply not be well adapted to our more-southern growing conditions where winter temperatures do not normally go below freezing.
If you have the right setting, this is one woodland wildflower that makes a spectacular spring show.  Make sure you purchase it from a reputable nursery that is propagating it and not from someone who is digging them from the wild.  If you are not sure, ask.

Lanceleaf Blanketflower - Gaillardia aestivalis

It would seem that most folks that grow wildflowers in Florida have used blanketflower (Gaillardia pulchella) at one time or another and are quite familiar with it.  Few of these same people seem to know that it has a close cousin - lanceleaf blanketflower (Gaillardia aestivalis) - that has its own certain charm and beauty.  Lanceleaf blanketflower is found throughout the northern two-thirds of Florida in upland habitats such as sandhills and open xeric flatwoods.  Its range extends throughout much of the south and mid-south and west to Texas and Oklahoma. 
Lanceleaf blanketflower is a deciduous short-lived perennial that rarely stands taller than 24 inches.  Unlike its more commonly grown cousin, it is an erect plant with a small rosette of basal leaves, few leaves going up the stem and a single bloom on top.  For much of the year, this rather diminutive plant remains hidden in the understory mix of other wildflowers and native grasses.  It only becomes noticeable at flowering time.
Lanceleaf blanketflower blooms during the summer and early fall; anytime from June through October.  The ray flowers are not as dense around the disc as its close relative and they are almost always a pale yellow with a tiny bit of darker orange near the base.  The disc flowers are a dull red.
Lanceleaf blanketflower attracts a variety of pollinators to its blooms and makes a wonderful addition to a mixed wildflower planting.  Because of its small size and non-aggressive growth habit, it can be added to nearly any setting with good drainage and sunlight.  It just is likely to get lost in the mix unless you plant several in closely spaced clusters and scatter these clusters near the front of the planting area.
This is yet another species which is not currently being propagated commercially in Florida, and we have not yet attempted to do so at Hawthorn Hill.  Please check back with us, however, if you are interested as we are very likely to add it to our gardens in the months ahead.

Feay's Prairieclover - Dalea feayi

Feay's prairieclover (Dalea feayi) is one of only four prairieclovers native to Florida; a genus that makes some of its most spectacular impact in the Midwest prairie states.  This species, however, occurs in the excessively well-drained sands of Florida's scrubs and sandhills and it is found only in peninsular Florida and a few locations in Georgia.  I also believe it to be the most beautiful species of this genus to grace our state's flora.
Feay's prairieclover is a woody perennial that stands 18-24" tall in most situations.  It has an erect and rather rounded growth form and produces a great many branches.  As such, it makes an aesthetically interesting sight within the landscape - even when it isn't blooming.  Prairieclovers have compound leaves and those of this species are a deep green and finely divided.
Blooming occurs in the fall; generally August-September.  Mature specimens are a wonder to behold at this time with their crowns completely covered with soft-pink flower heads.  Individual plants may have a hundred or more flower heads open at any one time and they remain open for several weeks before the pollinated blooms turn into reddish-brown seeds.
Daleas are not particularly interesting to butterflies as nectar sources from my experience, but they do attract a wide variety of bees and other such pollinators. 
None of Florida's prairieclovers are currently offered commercially by any of the nurseries listed within the Association of Florida Native Nurseries, but we grow the 3 most widely distributed species in our gardens at Hawthorn Hill and offer them to others.  Feay's prairieclover, however, is the most demanding of the three when it comes to growing conditions.  This species requires excellent drainage to prosper over time and we grow ours in pure scrub sand.  I have not had success with it when I have planted it into my typical sandy Florida landscape soil. 
If you have an extremely well-drained and sunny location or are willing to create one in your landscape, this is one of the most beautiful wildflowers to add.  Plant it in small groups and scatter it throughout the mid-region of your planting area so that you can admire both its foliage and its fall blooms.  This is not a species likely to spread much after it is planted so add it where you want it right from the start.

Sky Blue Salvia - Salvia azurea

For some mysterious reason, sky blue salvia (Salvia azurea) seems to be one of the "forgotten" salvias of Florida.  While gardeners across the state commonly add our native red and lyre-leaved salvias (S. coccinea and S. lyrata) to their landscapes, very few nurseries and far fewer homeowners seem interested in doing the same with the beautiful sky blue salvia.  Perhaps it comes partly from its somewhat ungainly growth habit, but this can be accomodated in many wildflower settings.
Sky blue salvia occurs across much of Florida (except the extreme southern counties) and across much of North America (except the extreme far west).  In Florida, it is a common component of open, well-drained habitats; especially sandhills and dry pinelands.  It is an adaptable species for most home landscape settings, but needs good drainage and sunlight to prosper. 
This member of the salvia genus (sometimes called "sages") and mint family is a deciduous perennial that dies back to the ground each winter to its woody base.  By early spring, it emerges and begins its rapid growth until fall.  Sky blue salvia does not form basal leaves like many of its relatives.  What it does produce is a square-stemmed stalk that may eventually reach 5 feet in length, though 3-4 feet is more common.  This stalk is not particularly beautiful to behold and this salvia would not win any awards for its addition of foliage to a wildflower planting.
What does make this species worth growing is its absolutely amazing azure-blue flowers.  I am not familiar with any of our wildflowers that match this shade of blue and they stand out, almost crystalline, in the habitats where they are blooming; their pure sky-blue flowers held several feet above the native grasses and other understory wildflowers.  Sky blue salvia blooms in the fall - anytime from September through November.  The flowers are attractive to a wide assortment of bees and other pollinators.
Because of its growth habit, sky blue salvia is not a good choice for a small garden setting nor does it look best if planted singly.  What it needs is a little support from some of our native taller bunch grasses such as the bluestems (Andropogon spp.) or Indiangrasses (Sorghastrum spp.) so that the stems do not flop over at blooming time and a more expansive planting where it can "disappear" into the neighboring foliage until it flowers in the fall.  Individual plants eventually produce multiple stalks so it is not necessary to plant several next to each other for effect.  But, I believe it works best if the planting area is large enough to accommodate several specimens instead of just one or two.
If you have room and the proper drainage and sunlight for this species, it is well worth the effort to grow it.  Let's just hope that the few nurseries that are keeping it in production here in Florida keep it going until demand catches up.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Flame Flower - Macranthera flammea

Alexa and I owe our "discovery" of this wonderful wildflower to Gil Nelson too, as he took us to see it during our October camping trip to the Apalachicola National Forest. Flame flower (Macranthera flammea) is also known as hummingbird flower, and it is no stretch at all to see this as a favorite nectar source for hummingbirds stoking up for their fall migration south.
Like another favorite hummingbird flower, standing cypress (Ipomopsis rubra), flame flower is a biennial.  During its first year, it exists as a basal rosette of rounded leaves.  Its during its second year that it forms the flower stalk that makes its presence so commanding.  After blooming, it sets large numbers of seeds and dies.
Flame flower produces a flower stalk that may reach 9 feet in height, though 6 feet is a bit more common.  At this stage, the plants are almost woody and shrub-like and the flower stalks are a bit brittle.  Blooming occurs from August through October and the pollinated flowers produce large rounded seed capsules.  Individual flowers are a brilliant orange, tubular in shape, and more than 1 inch in length.
Flame flower occurs at the edge of wetland systems where it gets plenty of sunlight and experiences seasonally inundated soils.  It is found from the central Panhandle westward in Florida and in the states adjacent to us.
This is another plant unlikely to ever be propagated commercially.  Because of its large size and biennial growth habit, it would be very difficult to maintain in a landscape setting.  Most authorities also believe it to be a root parasite on neighboring species.  But, where it occurs in nature, it is a spectacular addition to the overall landscape.

Large-leaved grass-of-Parnassus - Parnassia grandifolia

The large-leaved grass-of-parnassus (Parnassia grandifolia) is truly one of the most spectacular of Florida's wildflowers.  There is nothing quite like it anywhere - with its brilliant white petals, streaked by a netting of bright olive green.  While its close cousin, Carolina grass-of-parnassus (C. caroliniana), occurs only in Florida around the Apalachicola National Forest and in a few pockets within the Carolinas in similar habitat, large-leaved grass-of-parnassus occurs in much of the Southeast - though never commonly.
This is a deciduous species.  The rounded basal leaves are several inches long and are often hidden in the grasses of the glades it occurs in.
Blooming is rather abbreviated and occurs in October and November.  The 3-foot tall flower stalks arise above the understory and are held erect. A solitary bud occurs atop each stalk.
The Parnassia family has representatives across North America.  They are, in no way, related to grasses. Parnassus, in both the common and scientific names, dedicates these plants to the Muses, for snowcapped Mount Parnassus, in Greece, was celebrated as their home. The 5 fan-shaped, finger-tipped staminodia of Parnassia are distinctive.