You may know this group of plants as “rattlesnakemasters.” Although not widely grown for landscape use, these perennial plants can be found across Florida in a variety of habitats. I love the diversity of these plants, as well as their interesting flowers that occur in summer and fall. They are always a little hard to describe because the heads are comprised of many tiny flowers, but their unique blooms, which may last for several months, are best captured in photos.
Spring and fall wildflowers can be spectacular with a plethora of yellow and purple flowers, but summer seems to offer a wider diversity of colorful, showy wildflowers along roadsides.
The Wildflowers, Naturally! program was launched to recognize gardens throughout the state that have areas dedicated to native wildflowers, flowering shrubs and trees. One of the first to apply for recognition was Roger Agness of Orlando.
Butterfly milkweed is a perennial that produces large, showy clusters of bright orange to reddish flowers from spring through fall. It occurs naturally in sandhills, pine flatwoods, and other sandy uplands as well as along sunny roadsides. It is an exception to the Asclepias genus in that its stem does not contain the milky latex that distinguishes the rest of the genus and gives it the common name “milkweed.”
Partridge pea flowers in the summer to late fall, and year-round in southern Florida. It occurs naturally in scrub, sandhill, flatwoods, beach dunes and disturbed areas. The blooms attract mostly bees and butterflies, although ants are also attracted to the nectar glands. It is the host plant to several species of butterfly, including the gray hairstreak (Strymon melinus) and cloudless sulfur (Phoebis sennae).
Tarflower is a woody evergreen shrub with showy white to pinkish flowers. It occurs naturally in scrub, pine flatwoods and scrubby flatwoods and is found in most of peninsular Florida, but its native range does not extend into the Panhandle. It gets its common name from its sticky flowers that attract and then trap bees, flies and other insects.
Blanketflower, also known as Indian blanket or firewheel, is a brightly colored herbaceous wildflower that blooms in spring, summer and into fall in North Florida, and year-round in Central and South Florida. It occurs naturally in dry savannahs, coastal dunes and other dry, open areas. The blooms attract a variety of pollinators.
Starry rosinweed is a robust perennial that produces showy yellow blooms. It is typically found in pine flatwoods, sandhills, open woodlands, mixed upland forests and disturbed or ruderal areas.
Buttonbush is a large wetland shrub that produces many globular, white flowers with protruding pistils that give them a pincushion-like appearance. It occurs naturally in wetlands and along stream and river edges. The flowers attract many bees, butterflies and moths; the seeds are eaten by ducks and other birds; and the foliage is browsed by deer.
Also known as seven sisters or swamp lily, string lily is an erect, emergent perennial with showy, fragrant blooms. It is found in wet hammocks, marshes, swamps, wetland edges, and along streams and rivers throughout Florida and the southeast United States. The bulbs and leaves are poisonous to humans, but are a favorite treat of lubber grasshoppers.
Also known as largeflower rosegentian, marsh-pink is a beautiful herbaceous wildflower found in mesic pine flatwoods and wet prairies throughout Florida. In northern Florida, its showy blooms appear in summer, but it can bloom year-round in southern Florida. It is almost endemic, occurring in only one county in Alabama outside of the state of Florida.
Also known as cardinal spear or Cherokee bean, coralbean is a semi-deciduous to evergreen woody shrub. It produces red tubular flowers that attract hummingbirds and butterflies.
Firebush is a hardy, fast-growing and showy evergreen shrub to small tree. It produces clusters of bright orange to red tubular flowers that are filled with nectar. The blooms vary in length, attracting both butterflies and hummingbirds.
Virginia pepperweed is a member of the mustard family and is edible to humans. It is also the host plant for the checkered white (Pontia protodice) and great Southern white (Ascia monuste) butterflies. Bees love it, too!
Butterweed is one of the first wildflowers to bloom in early spring. It grows in dense stands that illuminate moist roadsides and river edges. It also occurs naturally in alluvial forests and wet, disturbed sites and attracts a variety of pollinators.