Sunday, December 29, 2013

Early Fleabane - Erigeron vernus

Early fleabane (Erigeron vernus) occurs statewide in Florida, except for the Florida Keys, and from Louisiana to Virginia within the Southeast Coastal Plain.  It is resident to open habitats that are generally moist - pine flatwoods, savannas, roadside ditches, and the edges of ponds.  Though common throughout much of Florida, it seems to be not nearly as well known as its close relative, daisy fleabane (E. quercifolius). Both are common statewide, but only the latter seems to have been included in the plant trade by native plant nurseries, even though early fleabane is a bit more attractive in my opinion. 
Early fleabane is easily distinguished from daisy fleabane by two significant differences.  The first is their difference in blooming season.  Early fleabane blooms only in early spring while the latter has an extended flowering period from summer through fall.  If you find a patch of fleabane in March or April, it most assuredly is early fleabane. The second difference is in the basal leaves.  As the photo above (from Shirley Denton and taken from the University of South Florida ISB site) shows, early fleabane has somewhat succulent basal leaves that lack teeth along the margins (sometimes shallow teeth are present) and are oval in shape.  Daisy fleabane has rough elliptical basal leaves that are deeply toothed.  Even in winter, when neither is blooming, they are easily told apart.
Early fleabane maintains its basal leaves year-round.  They form small colonies on the ground, slowly dividing over time.  It is a short-lived perennial, often a biennial, and produces its 18-24 inch flower stalk in early spring.  The outer white ray petals are thinner and more delicate than in daisy fleabane, and surround a central yellow disc. All fleabanes attract the attention of small pollinators.
Though not sold in the trade, it makes an attractive addition to a wildflower garden. It is easily grown from seed collected in late spring, but needs to reseed in the garden to persist.  Look for it in early spring in moist open habitats and learn to distinguish it from its ubiquitous later-blooming relative.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Tampa Verbena - Glandularia tampensis

Tampa verbena (Glandularia tampensis) is a state-listed endangered species, endemic to just a few coastal counties on both sides of the state in north and central peninsular Florida.  It is a short-lived perennial that most often occurs in light gaps and disturbed openings in woodland hammocks.  I have found it in a number of locations over the years, but always in edges, in areas rooted by wild hog, along trails, and other such places, and often, when I have returned a year or two later, it has either disappeared or moved.Though somewhat adaptable to growing conditions, it seems to most prefer moist soils and partial sun.
Tampa verbena is an upright, evergreen herbaceous species that rarely stands taller than 2 feet.  Given extra fertilizer or in places that get very little sunlight, it can reach 3 feet, but it often becomes weak and droops over.  Multiple stems arise from the ground and mature plants form a very attractive mass. Each stem, however, forms very few side branches. The opposite leaves are arrow shaped and deeply toothed along the margins.
Blooming can occur in most months, but is most prolific in late spring and summer. Like its close (and also endangered) relative, beach verbena (G. maritima), clusters of very stunning light to deep pink (sometimes, almost lavender) flowers form at the ends of each stem.  Each flower remains open for about a week, and individual plants remain in bloom for many months, if given the right conditions. Like others in this genus, the flowers attract pollinators.
Though quite rare in nature, Tampa verbena is rather widely propagated and is very easy to grow from cuttings.  Its ease of propagation, however, is not matched by ease of maintenance in the garden.  I have grown this beautiful wildflower many times and in many places within my landscape, but I have never had it persist for more than two years and it has never self-seeded.  Its attractiveness warrants using it much like an annual, adding new plants when the older ones expire.  In the garden, Tampa verbena will do well in almost full sun and is rather drought tolerant once established.  It does not seem particularly fussy about soil pH. Given a choice, I would give it part sun and a bit of extra moisture - conditions I find it growing in the wild.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Poeppig's Rosemallow - Hibiscus poeppigii

Poeppig's rosemallow (Hibiscus poeppigii) is a perennial evergreen species native to extreme south Florida - Miami-Dade County and the Florida Keys. It is quite rare in Florida and listed by the state as an endangered species.  This is a tropical hibiscus, also is found in the West Indies and Mexico.  Throughout its range, it is found in upland woods and in open coastal areas, often in shallow soils with limestone beneath.
Poeppig's rosemallow is a semi-woody dwarf shrub. It often reaches mature heights of 2-4 feet, but may grow as tall as 6 feet in ideal conditions. Unlike most of Florida's native hibiscus, it does not die back to the ground in winter, but keeps its leaves and may bloom during any month.  It is cold sensitive and will be killed by temperatures below freezing.  Therefore, it is best used in parts of tropical Florida or as a potted plant that can be moved indoors during nights that dip below 30 degrees F.
Poeppig's rosemallow produces multiple thin stems that ascend off the main semi-woody trunk.  The ovate, deeply toothed leaves are alternate along the stem and both the leaves and the green stems are roughly hairy. Overall, the plant assumes a somewhat rounded appearance - more so if kept lightly pruned.
While not an exceptionally beautiful foliage plant, Poeppig's rosemallow compensates by producing good numbers of carmine red, bell-shaped blooms.  Each is only about 1 inch long, but they are enchanting. Small, rounded seed capsules follow about a month later.
In the right location, Poeppig's rosemallow makes an interesting addition to the home landscape. It is drought and salt tolerant, performs well in full to partial sunlight and fits well into many landscape settings. Regrettably, it is not widely propagated and not currently offered by any of the native plant nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries.  It can be purchased from a few south Florida native plant sources with some sleuthing. Currently, we have a few seedlings from our plants at Hawthorn Hill that we hope to have ready for sale in spring 2014. Inquire if you are interested.