Saturday, August 29, 2009

Appalachian blazing star - Liatris squarrulosa

Appalachian or southern blazing star (Liatris squarrulosa) is quite rare in Florida - occurring in only Gadsden and Okaloosa Counties in the panhandle. It is rather common, however, to much of the Southeast and Midwest in well-drained soils and open, sunny habitats. Throughout its range it is a rather variable species.

This is another fall-blooming blazing star and in our gardens at Hawthorn Hill it begins in late Auguest and continues into September. The buds are large and contain a great many light lavender flowers. They are enclosed in scaly bracts.

Appalachian blazing star is also rather tall. By blooming season, the wand-like flower stalk is 3-4 feet tall. The coarse and twisted leaves go all the way to the top of the stalk and partially hide the developing buds.

Like others in this genus, it is deciduous. The basal leaves develop in early spring, but it begins to elongate shortly thereafter. The leaves and stems are not "hairy", but they are a bit "scurfy".

We are currently experimenting with this species at Hawthorn Hill and trying to learn more about what it needs to prosper here in Florida landscapes. This is a species that has never been offered before in Florida and we would like to change that someday. We are expecting a good seed crop this year and seedlings in 2010. If you are interested in this beautiful blazing star, check back with us next spring to see how we did.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Fringed campion - Silene catesbaei (syn. S. polypetala)

Fringed campion (Silene catesbaei) is another rare member of the Silene genus in Florida, but unlike the royal catchfly, fringed campion is listed as an endangered species by both the state and federal government. This is because it is a truly rare species everywhere; occurring in only 4 counties naturally in Georgia and 2 in Florida. And, nowhere is it common or well protected.

Fringed campion is a wildflower of the understories of rich, slightly alkaline, deciduous forest soils. Here, it is a classic spring-blooming wildflower - unfurling its pale pink blossoms before the canopy closes over. Flowering lasts for several weeks and then the plants retire to basic obscurity in the forest floor for the rest of the year.

It is the spring blooms that make this wildflower something to behold. Each flower is more than 1 inch across and pale pink. The ends of each petal are fringed; giving it its common name. During the season, each plant will have numerous flowers open at any one time. The flowers are held close to the ground. We are still trying to learn what its major pollinators are.

Fringed campion is a low-growing ground cover. Each plant is anchored by a tap root and creeps outwards about a foot in each direction. The foliage is not easy to detect when the plants are not in bloom, but makes a wonderful ground cover in a deciduous woodland wildflower garden.

We have been experimenting with this wonderful wildflower in our gardens at Hawthorn Hill for about a year. We have a lot left to learn before we can start to propagate it and offer it to more homeowners. If you want to give it a try yourself until then, it is sometimes available from other Florida nurseries.

Royal Catchfly - Silene regia

Royal catchfly or royal firepink (Silene regia) is extremely rare in Florida and found only in Jackson County near the Georgia border. Despite its rarity here, it is not currently listed in Florida; perhaps because it is more abundant in states just to the north of us and throughout the Mideast and Mid-south.

Royal catchfly is a breath-taking site in full bloom. The rich crimson-red flowers are held on 2-3 foot flower stalks and command attention to themselves. Flowering occurs in late summer to early fall and lasts for several weeks.

Royal catchfly is a hummingbird-pollinated wildflower. Although butterflies and bees sometimes attempt to nectar from it, it is a classic for hummingbirds. The blooms are held at right angles from the main stem, high enough to be easily accessed and uncluttered by the foliage.

For most of the year, this species occurs unobtrusively as a basal rosette of elliptical leaves. It is not especially noticeable at this stage and goes largely unnoticed in a wildflower garden setting at this time. The flower stalks start to appear about 2-3 weeks before blooming.

This is a tough plant to grow in much of Florida. To be successful for more than a single season, it needs to be planted in rather rich forest soil in partly sunny conditions and where it is unlikely to get too dry. If you have such a location, or wish to try it long-term in a large landscape pot, this is a species well worth adding.

Currently, we are still experimenting with this species here at Hawthorn Hill. We have killed a few specimens over the past few years, but are learning from our mistakes. Eventually, we hope to add this to our regular offerings. Until then, you can find royal catchfly offered by a very few Florida nurseries and a number of out-of-state sources. Good luck.

Cutleaf Coneflower - Rudbeckia laciniata

Cutleaf coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata) is one of the most unique of Florida's black-eyed susans. While it is found naturally in only 6 Florida counties (all in north Florida), it is found in nearly every state in the lower 48 and in nearly every province of Canada, except the extreme north. Despite its greatly restricted range in Florida, we have had good success growing it in our Pinellas County landscape here at Hawthorn Hill and it seems to be much more adaptable than might be otherwise indicated.

Cutleaf coneflower is native to moist sites and is not especially adaptable to drier conditions in Florida. If given sufficient soil moisture, it can be grown in full sun to partly sunny areas with good results. This species is rather robust. Individual plants may grow as much as 4 feet wide and their flower stalks may reach 4-5 feet in height.

Flowering occurs in summer to very early fall; generally from mid-August to September. The flowers are unique among Florida black-eyed susans as the centers are green instead of dark brown. The large blooms with their long, bright-yellow ray petals and the green disc flowers put on a spectacular show that lends real interest to any wildflower planting.

Cutleaf coneflower is a perennial. It spends its winter as a basal rosette of large rich-green leaves (in areas where severe freezes are uncommon) that look something like an extremely large version of Italian parsley. As new growth is added in the spring, these basal leaves are extremely attractive. We grow this species almost as much for its foliage and the interest this adds to our plantings as we do for the wonderful summer flowers.

Use this plant in mass for full effect. Because it is large, plant individuals at least 3 feet apart and somewhere in the center of your overall planting area. Let it go to seed and then prune the old flower heads so that the basal leaves once again become a focal point.

Well-established specimens in moist soil are reputed to sucker in other parts of its range. We have not seen that yet in our plantings and it may be that our conditions, outside of its natural range, limit this trait. We have grown cutleaf coneflower at Hawthorn Hill for several years and find it extremely easy to propagate from untreated seed. this is one species we nearly always have available and we encourage you to give it a try - if you have a site with ample moisture.

Garber's Blazing Star - Liatris garberi

Garber's blazing star (Liatris garberi) is restricted nationally to the southern half of the Florida peninsula, though it also occurs in the Bahamas. This is a species of moist open habitats and it is most common in the understory of wet flatwoods.

Garber's blazing star shares many of the characteristics of the genus. It overwinters underground and re-emerges in the spring as a basal rosette of grasslike leaves. In the early summer, it begins to send its flower stalk upward. Blooming occurs in late August and early September on flower stalks that rarely stand taller than 2 feet. The stems are slightly "hairy" and the flower buds are held away from the main stem by short stalks. Each bud contains less than 10 rich lavender flowers.

What distinguishes Garber's blazing star from others is its early blooming time, its adaptation to moist soils, and its finger-like corm. While other blazing stars have rounded corms that look like a typical bulb, Garber's is decidedly finger-like with at least three "fingers"; sometimes more.

Garber's blazing star is well-behaved in the garden. Because of its shorter stature, it is not prone to falling over like many of the taller species. Its small size allows it to fit nearly anywhere, but it is best used near the front of the planting bed or near walking trails so it can be easily admired.

Hawthorn Hill has recently added this species to its collection of Florida blazing stars and is propagating it for the homeowner market. Let us know if you are interested.