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Sunday, November 14, 2021

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Caroliana scalystem (Elytraria caroliniensis) is a perennial herb found statewide in a variety of moist habitats.  It also is found in Georgia and South Carolina. It is a member of the Acanthaceae and, therefore, related to species in Ruellia, Dyschoriste, and Justicia genus.  Though many of these are cultivated for home landscapes, Carolina scalystem has not to the best of my knowledge.

This is not an especially showy or robust species.  It has a basal rosette of spatulate leaves that measure from 4-6 inches in length and up to about 1/2 inch wide.  From this, a 6-8 inch tall flower stem emerges. It has a great many scale-like leaves as it nears the tip and appears almost cone-like.  White tubular flowers emerge from beneath these bract-like leaves. They are comprised of 5 petals, fused near the base into a tube, and are about 1/3 inch wide.  Flowering can occur during most months between February and November.  They are mostly of interest to small butterflies.

Due to its diminutive nature and because its flowers are not especially showy, it is unlikely that Carolina scalystem will be offered by commercial native nurseries associated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries. Other members of this family serve as host plants for various butterflies, but Carolina scalystem is not recorded as one.  Should you wish to add it to a moist-soil landscape, scatter the small ripe seed on the soil surface and give it some time.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Jerba De Jicotea - Ludwigia erecta


Jerba de Jicotea (Ludwigia erecta) is an annual member of this diverse genus and often considered to be a weed throughout its very cosmopolitan distribution.  It is found nearly statewide in Florida in sunny wet habitats and has a very limited distribution in Mississippi and east Texas.  It also is native throughout the Caribbean, central America and South America. It has been introduced in Africa and is considered to be a pest there. As its Latin name suggests, this is a tall upright species, reaching an adult height of 9 feet at times.  The tall thin stems are reddish in color and multi-branched.  The elliptical leaves are deeply veined and several inches long.  They are alternate on the stems.

Like the vast majority of species in this genus, Jerba de Jicotea has lemon yellow flowers with four petals.  The flowers are solitary and sessile on the stem with petals that are about 1/4 inch long.  The seed capsules are narrow and 4-angled.  As other members of this genus, the blooms attract a variety of pollinators. Flowering occurs in most months.

Jerba de Jicotea is not a good choice for home landscapes as it is weedy and an annual with rather small flowers. It has not been propagated, to my knowledge, by any nursery affiliated by FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries and is not likely to be in the future. Other perennial primrosewillows would make better choices, but it would be easily propagated by seed collected from its ripe capsules.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Fringed bladderwort - Utricularia simulans

Bladderworts are a very interesting genus, being semi-carnivorous - supplementing their nutritional needs in poor soil by capturing tiny invertebrates with the tiny bladders located on their leaf margins. Some do this by floating on top of the water and capturing them at the water surface. Others, like the fringed bladderwort (Utricularia simulans), do so at ground level.  It, and a few others, survive in seasonally wet soils in open trails and the edges of freshwater wetlands.  These were recently photographed at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park in depressions along a firebreak trail. Fringed bladderwort has only been recorded in the southern half of peninsular Florida, but it also is found south into northern South America.

This genus includes annuals and perennials and I could not find published evidence as to the nature of this species. I suspect, because of its mostly tropical distribution, that it is a perennial.  The foliage of bladderworts is fairly nondescript and difficult to notice. It is the flowers that bring attention to them. A few are purple, but the majority, like fringed bladderwort, are yellow. This species is a bit deeper yellow than others. What distinguishes it, however, are the noticeable "hairs" on both the flowers and the stems.  This is unique to Florida's species.  Flowering can occur throughout most of the year.

Bladderworts are not offered commercially by any of the nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries. They are sometimes grown in pots where their water needs can be properly met. It seems to me that they are best simply admired where they occur naturally.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

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Gulf Coast swallowwort (Pattalias palustre) has a somewhat confused taxonomy. Because of various legitimacy issues with the generic name, it has been moved to this genus. It was formerly known as Seutera angustifolia and before that as Cynanchum angustifolium.  It is under that last name that I first learned it. Regardless of its taxonomic confusion, it is well entrenched as a member of the milkweed family - Apocynaceae, and serves as an important host plant to milkweed butterflies in coastal habitats.

As its name suggests, Gulf Coast swallowwort occurs in every Florida county along the gulf coast in brackish saltmarsh habitats. It also occurs in virtually every county along the east coast of Florida - always in saltmarsh conditions.  Outside of Florida, it has been recorded from the Texas coast to North Carolina in coastal habitats as well as the West Indies, Mexico and portions of Central America to Belize. 

This is a perennial vine that twines its way throughout the neighboring vegetation. It does not have tendrils. It is easy to miss in this situation as it rarely grows taller than 3 feet and both its foliage and flowers are rather inconspicuous.  The leaves are simple and opposite each other on the stem.  Each is narrow and pointed, and may reach 1.5 - 2 inches in length.

Flowering occurs in summer and the ripened pods are formed by very early fall.  The plants above, were growing in a saltmarsh in Pasco County and photographed in early September.  I apologize for the poor quality of the photos taken with my cell phone... The flowers are produced in small heads and are greenish white in color. The pods are a bit longer than 1 inch and contain a great many tiny seeds - each attached to a fluffy appendage. As a milkweed, these plants also produce a milky sap.

Gulf Coast swallowwort provides an important food source for coastal milkweed butterflies - especially queens.  Nevertheless, it is rarely propagated by native plant nurseries for butterfly gardeners. It would require moist to wet soils in a landscape, but likely not require salt to thrive.  Everywhere I have seen it, it has been growing in full sun.

Monday, June 28, 2021

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Spotted water hemlock (Cicuta maculata) is a perennial member of the carrot family (Apiaceae) found statewide (except for the extreme southern counties) in open wetlands - pond and marsh edges.  It also occurs throughout much of the U.S. in similar habitats.  Like most members of this family, it is highly toxic and should never be consumed. Deaths have been reported from this even when consumed in very small amounts. It is, however, a host for the eastern black swallowtail butterfly and makes a valuable addition to a landscape devoted to butterflies as long as it is placed in an area where it won't be mistakenly eaten by humans or livestock.

This perennial forb dies back to the ground during the winter and reemerges in early spring. It reaches its mature height of about 6 feet by early summer. The foliage is composed of pinnately compound leaves that alternate along the stem.  The leaves are robust. Each is about 8 inches long and up to 6 inches wide. The leaf margins are toothed. These are held on purplish stems that appear spotted on close glance - hence its common name.

Flowering occurs from early summer to early fall. They occur in umbels - which is a distinguishing feature of this family. The umbels are 6-8 inches across and contain a great many tiny white flowers. Each flower is only about 1/8 inch across. The blooms attract the attention of a great many pollinators. Pollinated flowers become equally small brownish slightly winged seeds that are eaten by birds.

Because of the extreme toxicity of its foliage, spotted water hemlock is very infrequently offered for sale by native plant nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries. Its value as a host and pollinator plant, however, cannot be ignored and it should be considered for plantings along lake edges away from the possible grazing of livestock. Ripe seed is easily germinated. Collect it when fully dry and sow it just beneath the soil surface. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Virginia buttonweed - Diodia virginiana

Virginia buttonweed (Diodia virginiana) is sometimes considered a "weed" when it occurs and spreads in a turf grass setting, but it is an attractive ground cover elsewhere. This perennial forb occurs throughout Florida in a variety of moist to average soil habitats and has also been reported in most of the eastern US from Texas and Oklahoma through the southern Midwest to the Atlantic.  

The prostrate stems are noticeably "hairy" and jointed. Individual plants can spread out in many directions for several feet over time. The narrow lanceolate leaves are sessile on these stems, somewhat "hairy" too, and deep green in color. They are opposite each other on the stems and about 1 inch long.  

Flowering occurs in most months in warmer parts of Florida.  The white to pinkish tubular flowers are produced at the axils of the leaves. Each is composed of 4 slightly fused, somewhat "hairy" petals and is about 1/2 inch across.  The flowers attract a variety of pollinators and the ripe seed capsules are also "hairy", ridged and elliptical.  

Virginia buttonweed can spread rapidly in a landscape setting by seed, by its rooting stems and by stem fragments that can root on their own if mowed or cut.  For these reasons, it is not a species likely to be cultivated by nurseries associated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries.  Although adaptable and native, I do not recommend it for most landscape settings as it can crowd out other species and reduce diversity.  In a natural area, however, it can play an important ecological role as a pollinator plant.

Monday, June 21, 2021

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The true vervains (Verbena spp.) are a mixed lot of native and nonnative species in Florida, characterized by tall upright stems and small fragrant flowers that attract the attention of a wide variety of pollinators. Very few species in this genus are native to a broad range of peninsular Florida. Sandpaper vervain (V. scabra) is an exception as it is found nearly statewide in a variety of open and disturbed habitats. It also occurs throughout the lower 1/3rd of the US from California to Virginia. Throughout its range, it is found in moist to upland soils.

This is a perennial species that produces stiff thin upright stems that can reach 2-3 feet tall by summer. These stems produce multiple branches.  The leaves are oval with decided teeth along the margins. They often are alternate along the stems, but can be whorled. Each has a short petiole. As the common and Latin names imply, they are rough to the touch.

Flowering occurs in the summer on numerous branches at the top of each stem. They occur in pairs. Each flower is no more than 1/8 inch long and comprised of 4 partially fused petals. The flowers are pale lavender to nearly white in color. Like other members of this genus, they are relished by pollinators. On the day I took these photos (Okeechobee County in mid-June), they were being assiduously visited by queens - a butterfly that almost would seem too large for these diminutive blooms. 

Sandpaper vervain is relatively weedy in appearance and not a likely candidate for commercial native plant nursery people.  It would make a good addition, however, to an open meadow-type pollinator garden where aesthetics are less important than function. Give it full to part sun and seasonally moist soil.