Friday, June 11, 2010

Phoebanthus - Phoebanthus grandiflorus

Phoebanthus (Phoebanthus grandiflorus) is endemic to Florida and one of only two species in this genus of aster-like plants.  The other species, P. tenuifolius, has narrower leaves and is also endemic to Florida (though reported once from one Alabama county).  Sometimes called "Florida false sunflower", this is a deciduous perennial wildflower with no basal leaves; tall, thin and rough wiry stems; and wide flat flower heads.  It occurs in well-drained sunny habitats in north and central Florida.  It has not been reported in the panhandle or in the extreme southern peninsula.
Phoebanthus emerges in the early spring and quickly develops its thin wand-like stem.  By June, it has reached its mature height of  about 3 feet.  A flower bud develops atop the main stem and a few short side branches near the top of the main stem. 
Flowering occurs between June and July.  Each head is composed of bright yellow ray flowers surrounding a rather flat central disc of yellow disc flowers.  Flower heads may be as broad as 3 1/2 inches and are quite showy.  They are of great interest to butterflies and bees.
Like many members of the aster family, phoebanthus suckers from its underground rhizome and after some years forms a colony.  This enhances its landscape value as phoebanthus looks its best when used in clusters.  Individuals are rather thin and get lost in the landscape by themselves. 
Use this plant in open sunny areas with well-drained soil near the middle to back section of a mixed wildflower planting.  Plant at least 5 individuals per cluster and space them at least 6 inches apart to give them some space to sucker and fill in.  Because phoebanthus blooms earlier than most wildflowers; especially other asters, use it in combination with other summer-blooming species.  Good choices are red salvia and common skullcap.
Despite the general interest shown to native aster-family species by the commercial trade, neither phoebanthus is currently offered by nurseries associated with AFNN - the Association of Florida Native  Nurseries.  This seems a bit odd to me considering its versatility and its attractiveness.  Perhaps with renewed interest in using native wildflowers, more attention will be given to this Florida endemic and its endemic panhandle cousin.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Common Evening Primrose - Oenothera biennis

Common evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) is a biennial common to a wide variety of upland sites throughout Florida.  Although considered a "weed" by many, it produces large showy yellow flowers that more than make up for its common nature.
As its Latin name suggests, this species takes two years to reach flowering age and then dies once its over.  As its common names implies, these flowers are open mostly in the evening hours and are moth pollinated.  As the sun rises, the flowers tend to wilt and fold.  They are open generally for only one evenng.
Common evening primrose may reach 4-6 feet in height, but often is much shorter.  The leaves are lanceolate with a noticeable deep central vein running the length of the leaf.  This is an adaptable wildflower which can show up in nearly any upland habitat - especially those that are periodically disturbed.
I am not aware of anyone ever propagating this species for sale.  Because it is a biennial whose flowers are open mostly during the evening, it is not the best choice for a typical wildflower garden, except for those that might get used during the evening. 

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Yellow Meadowbeauty - Rhexia lutea

Meadowbeauties (Rhexia spp.) are a genus that includes 10 species in Florida.  Eight of them are various shades of pink, one (R. parviflora) is white and one (R. lutea) is bright canary yellow.  Yellow meadowbeauty occurs throughout much of north Florida in wet savannas and pinelands, and other open wetland habitats.  It does not prosper in habitats that do not stay moist.
This is a deciduous perennial which resurfaces in early spring.  Individuals stay relatively short (about 12-16 inches), but are many stemmed and resemble tiny shrubs.  The leaves are linear and both the stems and leaves are covered by noticeable and distinct bristles. 
Flowering occurs over several weeks in late spring.  Like other members of this genus, numerous flower buds are produced at the tips of each branch and many flowers may be open at one time.  The flowers are composed of 4 diamond-shaped petals and are very showy.  These are followed later by the urn-shaped seed capsules indicative of the genus.
Yellow meadowbeauty is not currently being propagated by any native nursery I am aware of.  Because it is restricted to moist to wet open habitats, it is not a good candidate for most home landscape settings, but it would make a wonderful addition to a wetland/wet savanna garden.  I have never grown this species and have no idea how far south in Florida it might be grown, given some care.  I would like to hear from anyone who has attempted this species - especially anyone who has grown it south of its natural range.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

False Vervain - Stylodon carneum

False vervain (Stylodon carneum) is actually a member of the verbena (vervain) family, but it differs from the true vervains in a few small details.  This is a relatively common wildflower of well-drained uplands throughout much of north and central Florida.  It also is found throughout much of the Coastal Plain - from Texas east and north to Virginia.
This is a deciduous species which appears in early spring and grows quickly to a mature height of about 3 feet.  The leaves are very similar in appearance to those of other vervains, somewhat triangular near the base with shallow teeth and becoming more linear near the top of the flower stalk. 
The stems are square in cross section (like a mint) and they and the flower buds (sepals) are noticeably hairy.  Up to five stiff and wandlike flower stems arise from the basal leaves and the flowers open between late April and July.  They are soft pink in color, held perpendicular to the stem, and are of great interest to bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. 
Although many members of the verbena family have made their way into the commercial nursery trade because of their blooms and value to the butterfly garden, false vervain has been ignored.  To my knowledge it has never been offered by any of our native plant nurseries and it does not seem to be available from other sources in states near us.  I suspect it is relatively easy to grow - as other members of this family are, and perhaps someday it may be offered.  Until then, look for it in the open understory of sandhills and xeric flatwoods and be content that it is another interesting member of our flora.

Silver Croton - Croton argyranthemus

Silver croton (Croton argyranthemus) is native to well drained uplands throughout much of the northern half of Florida. This is a plant of the Deep South and occurs in states immediately adjacent to us, west to Texas and Oklahoma.

Silver croton is not named for its foliage. Its 1-inch linear leaves are decidedly coppery hairy and give this plant its distinctive appearance. This is an evergreen wildflower and it reaches a mature height of 18-24 inches. Blooming can occur almost anytime from spring to fall, with a peak during the spring months. The small white flowers, produced in racemes at the top of each stem, are a silvery white in color - and this is what gives it its common and Latin names. The flowers are pollinated mostly by small bees.

Silver croton is in the euphorbia family. As such, it has milky sap which protects it from herbivory. However, this wildflower is the larval food plant for a wonderful north to north-central Florida butterfly, the goatweed leafwing. This leafwing is not an easy one to be lured into a typical butterfly garden setting and it occurs sporadically throughout its range, but planting this wildflower would be your only way of possibly succeeding in bringing it up close.

Silver croton is not currently offered by any of the nurseries affiliated with AFNN - the Association of Florida Native Nurseries. It is relatively easy to grow from seed, however, and we have given a good deal of consideration to adding it to our inventory at Hawthorn Hill. If you would be interested, please let us know.

This is a relatively adaptable plant, but requires well-drained sandy soils and sunlight to prosper. Individual plants are not robust or very showy so it is best planted in clusters of at least five or more, about one foot apart. Use them in the middle section of the planting area. Silver croton is as interesting for its foliage color as for its white blooms, so make sure it is in an area where it can be seen; not buried beneath the foliage of larger plants.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Waxyleaf Meadowrue - Thalictrum revolutum

Waxyleaf meadowrue (Thalictrum revolutum) is one of four species of this genus of spring ephemeral wildflowers native to Florida.  Meadowrues are species much more commonly encountered in states to our north.  Waxyleaf meadowrue is no exception.  Though it has only been recorded in four Florida counties (three in the central panhandle and in Alachua), it occurs throughout the eastern half of North America and in most states in the Southwest as well. 
In Florida, it is confined to deciduous woodland understories.  Here it emerges in the early spring, flowers by late April or May and then disappears once the seed are ripened.  Some meadowrues are monoecious, but waxyleaf meadowrue is decidedly dioecious. The photo at the top and the very bottom are females while the others are of males.   The anthers with their pollen are clearly visible.
At blooming, waxyleaf meadowrue is approximately 3 feet tall.  The leaves look a bit like those of columbine and are composed of 3 leaflets.  A great many creamy white flowers are produced and these make a wonderful show.
Meadowrues are not being propagated at this time by any of the nurseries affiliated with AFNN - the Association of Florida Native Nurseries, and they are not likely to be any time in the future.  A few out-of-state nurseries offer it, but I do not know how they would do here. So, I guess they will remain beautiful rarities, adaptable only to the right type of deciduous woodland setting.  With some experimentation, it may be found that this wildflower is equally adaptable as Florida's native columbine, but we have no plans to experiment with it at Hawthorn Hill.  But, I will continue to seek it out in the early spring every time I get a chance to "botanize" in north Florida.  Who knows, perhaps someday it may be offered by someone and we will all be the richer for it.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Carolina larkspur - Delphinium carolinianum

Carolina larkspur (Delphinium carolinianum) is one of many Florida rarities (it is a state-listed endangered species) and certainly one of its most beautiful. It also is another example of a relict species still found here from an earlier age, growing in a confined location where its growing needs are still met.  In Florida, its population is confined to a relatively small area of Gadsden County, near the Georgia border.  Here, it occurs in mostly open sunny conditions growing in well-drained alkaline soils.  But, it is widely distributed in states to our north and west and occurs north all the way to Manitoba Province in Canada. 
Carolina larkspur is a deciduous perennial which makes its appearance in early spring.  A basal cluster of deeply dissected leaves is soon followed by a flower stalk.  By late April, this stalk has reached its mature height of 18-36 inches.  Flowering occurs from late April through May in most years.  The spurred flowers are a wonderfully beautiful sky blue in color with the central portion of the corolla being purplish blue.  The flowers open on the bottom of the stalk first and proceed towards the tip.  These blooms are mostly bee pollinated.
Carolina larkspur is not likely to ever become a widely planted member of the wildflower garden in Florida, though it is popular in other states.  Its limited range in Florida would suggest that it may be difficult to meet its growing requirements here, but other narrowly distributed wildflowers such as wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) are successfully grown well beyond their native distribution.  So, the verdict is out and a bit of experimentation seems to be needed.
This species has recently been offered for sale in limited numbers by Trillium Gardens in Tallahassee, a member of AFNN - the Association of Florida Native Nurseries.  It is seemingly easy to grow from seed, and we at Hawthorn Hill will hopefully be giving that a try from the plants we purchased recently.  If you are interested in using this plant in a native wildflower setting, provide it with half sun and plant it in well-drained sandy soils.  Though it occurs in alkaline soils in Florida, it is tolerant of a wide range of pH in other parts of its range.  This wildflower should be planted in mass (at least five plants per cluster) to give it some effect in the landscape.  Good companion plants would be eastern smooth beardtongue (Pentemon laevigatus), American wild carrot (Daucus pusillus), and several of the milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) and black-eyed susans (Rudbeckia spp.).
Plants of the genus Delphinium contain toxins, and no parts of them should ever be eaten. They can be fatally poisonous to both humans and animals. Sensitivity to a toxin varies with a person’s age, weight, physical condition, and individual susceptibility. Children are most vulnerable because of their curiosity and small size.