If you have ever walked a trail with a botanist to discover and name each flower you pass, you realize the importance of plant morphology in the taxonomic routine of plant identification. Not only do the “small parts” of each flower and leaf provide clues to each plant’s identity and separate members of the same genus and family, they also show the evolutionary trends that forced that species to specially adapt for survival.
‘Tis the season for seed collecting. As you return to the garden after the last two months of unbearable heat, biting bugs and sweat, you’ll probably encounter a lot of overgrown stems. Cut those back to their base to freshen up the plant for winter. Trailing species, such as beach sunflower and Gaillardia, can also be whacked into submission and will probably bloom again by late November.
Jackie Rolly joined the Florida Wildflower Foundation when she purchased a license plate for her car many years ago. She’s also a member of the Florida Native Plant Society (FNPS), as well as the Audubon Society and the Sierra Club. On Mondays, you’re likely to find her at the Oakland Nature Preserve (ONP) where she’s been working since 2007. And when the travel bug bites, Rolly volunteers for expeditions with Earthwatch Institute, on which she’s done such things as helped track wild elephants in Sri Lanka and studied biodiversity in the vineyards of France.
Sometimes we think of spring as having the showiest wildflower display, but I think this time of year wins that title. Somehow nature has worked this out. Pollinators are abundant, gathering their provisions before cold weather comes. The fall wildflowers are taller too, having had the whole summer to grow.
Corn snakeroot blooms vary in color from rich lavender to a pale cornflower blue. They are globular and are surrounded by spiny bracts. They typically bloom summer through late fall, attracting a variety of pollinators. The common name snakeroot (also known as rattlesnakemaster, both of which are used to describe the Eryngium genus) may have come from its use in Native American culture as a remedy for snakebite.
Also known as silver-leaved aster, grass-leaved goldenaster, and silky golden-aster, narrowleaf silkgrass is a robust perennial with brilliant yellow flowers and silvery leaves. It flowers in late summer through early winter in sandhill, flatwoods and scrub habitats throughout the state.
Narrowleaf yellowtops is a perennial, low-growing herbaceous shrub that produces many bright yellow flowers that are attractive to a plethora of butterflies, bees and flower beetles. It occurs naturally in Florida’s depression and basin marshes, wet prairies, pine rocklands, hydric hammocks, mangrove swamp and tidal marsh edges, and in disturbed or ruderal areas.
Purple passionflower, also known as maypop, is an herbaceous, perennial vine that produces extraordinarily intricate purple-and-white-fringed flowers resembling something out of a Dr. Seuss book. It occurs naturally in open hammocks, along roadsides and in disturbed areas and is the larval host plant of several butterflies including the gulf fritillary and zebra longwing.
Dune (or beach) sunflower (Helianthus debilis) is a sprawling, herbaceous groundcover that produces many yellow, daisy-like flowers. It typically flowers in the summer, but may flower year-round in South Florida. Its flowers attract a variety of pollinators, including butterflies, moths and bees. Its dense growth pattern provides cover for many small animals, while its seeds are eaten by birds.
Blue porterweed is a low-growing and sprawling evergreen shrub that produces small bluish-purple flowers. It typically blooms in the summer, but may flower year-round in South Florida. It is an excellent addition to a butterfly garden: It is the host plant of the tropical buckeye and is a nectar source for many butterfly species.
Purple coneflower is an endangered Florida native wildflower, found naturally growing only in Gadsden County. Its striking bloom attracts a variety of butterflies, bees and even hummingbirds, while its seeds are eaten by birds and other wildlife.
Spotted beebalm (also known as dotted horsemint) is a robust, aromatic wildflower known to attract a huge variety of pollinating insects, including bees, wasps and butterflies. It blooms from early summer through fall, and occurs naturally in meadows, coastal dunes, roadsides and dry disturbed areas.
Scarlet rosemallow (also known as scarlet hibiscus) is an herbaceous to semi-woody perennial wildflower that is common along wetland and stream edges, and in swamps and other wet, open sites. Its deep red flowers are very attractive to hummingbirds.
Also known as beach morning glory, bayhops, or goat’s foot, railroad vine is a fast-growing, evergreen, perennial commonly found on beach dunes. Its large showy flowers attract bees, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, wasps and ants. As with other morning glory species, railroad vine flowers open in the morning and last only one day, however, the plant is a prolific bloomer.
American lotus is an aquatic emergent perennial with large, solitary flowers that are pale yellow in color and are very fragrant. It has one of the largest blooms of any flowering plant in America. It occurs naturally in still to slow moving freshwater habitats such as along lake and pond edges, and in freshwater marshes.