Also known as sandhill or purple milkweed, pinewoods milkweed (Asclepias humistrata) is a robust perennial #wildflower with umbels of distinct pinkish-white to pale purple flowers. Its large leaves are thick and dull grayish-green with conspicuous pink to lavender veins. Pinewoods milkweed occurs naturally in sandhills, scrub and dry, ruderal areas. It blooms in spring and summer, attracting many pollinators including wasps and butterflies, and is the larval host plant of monarch and queen butterflies.
Shiny blueberry (Vaccinium myrsinites) is a low evergreen shrub that flowers heavily in the spring. It occurs naturally in mesic pine flatwoods, sandhills, scrubby flatwoods, dry prairies and scrub habitats. The flowers attract a variety of pollinators. The fruits are consumed by birds and other wildlife – humans enjoy them, too!
Gulf purple pitcherplant (Sarracenia rosea) is an insectivorous perennial wildflower that blooms in spring. It occurs naturally in wet prairies, seepage slopes and roadside ditches. It is a state-listed threatened species and is found only in the Panhandle from Gadsden and Liberty counties west into Escambia County.
Swamp tickseed is a short-lived perennial with charming pink and yellow blooms. It occurs naturally in wet prairies, bogs, seepage slopes, wet flatwoods and roadside ditches. It blooms in spring (typically April and May) and is attractive to bees, although butterflies and other pollinators are known to visit them. Birds eat its seeds. Swamp tickseed is often confused with the non-native Cosmos bipinnatus.
Parsley haw (Crataegus marshallii) is a deciduous flowering shrub or small tree. It occurs naturally in moist wooded slopes, floodplains and riverine forests in the Panhandle and north and west-central peninsula. Its flowers, which bloom in the spring, are an important source of nectar for a variety of pollinators. The plant is a larval food source for many butterfly and moth species, and provides food and shelter for birds and small mammals.
Southeastern sneezeweed (Helenium pinnatifidum) is a sunny spring bloomer found throughout most of Florida. But don’t let its name fool you — sneezeweed does not refer to the biological reaction one might have to smelling it. Rather, it is a reference to the plant’s historic use. Native Americans were known to dry and grind into a powder certain species of Helenium and use it as snuff.
Colletids are one of the smaller bee families in Florida, but are diverse in size and appearance. They’re named for the unique cellophane-like substance that many females secrete to line the walls of their nest cells.
Wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) is one of Florida’s most striking and unique native wildflowers. It occurs naturally in only three counties in the Panhandle (where it is a state-listed endangered species) but given the right conditions, it can grow in landscapes as far south as Central Florida. It is found in limestone outcroppings and calcareous and is common in Florida Caverns State Park. Wild columbine blooms in spring. Its nectar is a favorite of hummingbirds and long-tongued bees, butterflies and moths. Small birds enjoy its seeds.
Swamp leather-flower (Clematis crispa) is a perennial vine with distinct nodding flowers that have no petals. Rather, each bloom has four large petal-like sepals that are fused at the base, giving it a bell- or urn-like shape. The sepals separate and curl back as the flower opens. Swamp leather-flower occurs naturally in floodplain forests, wet hammocks and riverine swamps. It typically blooms in spring and summer, attracting a variety of pollinators. The seeds provide food for many birds and small wildlife.
Southern crabapple (Malus angustifolia) is a deciduous flowering shrub to small tree with showy pink blossoms. It occurs naturally in open woods and disturbed areas in Florida’s Panhandle, where it is a state-threatened species. Its fragrant spring blooms are pollinated primarily by bees, but butterflies are also known to visit them. Birds and other wildlife love its ripe fruits. Humans do, too — but not raw! They contain malic acid, which makes them sour and astringent. They are tastiest when made into jelly or jam!
Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) is a unique perennial wildflower that typically blooms in spring. Its pendulous, greenish-white flowers hang in pairs from the leaf axils and are often obscured by leaves. Its leaf surfaces are bright green with a gold iridescence. Wildlife enjoy its ripe berries, while humans may eat the rhizomes and young shoots. The plant also possesses medicinal properties
Earlier-than-normal blooming of spring wildflowers seems to be occurring more often, but this year stands out because some wildflowers are blooming nearly a month earlier than expected. The influence of this “abnormal” weather will probably be greatest in North Florida. If the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) climate predictions hold true, March will likely be wetter and warmer than normal, which would speed up the time when mid- or late-spring wildflowers bloom, such as Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) and Blanketflower (Gaillardia pulchella).
Violet butterwort (Pinguicula ionantha) is a rare insectivorous wildflower. That’s right — it eats insects! Hairs on its leaf surface secrete a sticky substance in which insects become trapped. Enzymes are then secreted to help the plant digest the insects. The ability to trap and digest insects allows violet butterwort (like most insectivorous plants) to survive in nutrient-deficient conditions. It typically blooms between February and April, but you have to go to the Panhandle to see it as it is endemic to only Bay, Franklin, Gulf, Liberty and Wakulla counties.
Dr. Loran Anderson is a professor emeritus in the department of biological science at Florida State University in Tallahassee. His research has focused on plant taxonomy and systematics in the Florida Panhandle and elsewhere. He is currently compiling a checklist of native plants in Panhandle counties that will include rare and endangered species. Over the course of his career, he has authored numerous publications and has named (i.e., described for science) 12 new Florida native plant species or subspecies. Dr. Anderson is a long-time member of the Florida Wildflower Foundation. In 2016, he received the Foundation’s “Coreopsis Award” in recognition of contribution to Florida’s wildflowers.
Some of the plants that are common to our home landscapes are actually invasive species, many of which are now widespread in Florida’s natural areas. Removing these species from your landscape and replacing them with native alternatives can help prevent the spread of invasive species and will provide suitable food and cover for native wildlife. We suggest some “alter-natives” for your landscape.