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.
Also known as rusty staggerbush, rusty lyonia (Lyonia ferruginea) is a long-lived evergreen flowering shrub. Its common descriptor, “rusty,” and its species epithet, ferruginea, both refer to the many rust-colored hairs that cover the plant’s leaves, stems and trunk. It occurs naturally in scrub, scrubby flatwoods, xeric hammocks and moist pine flatwoods. Flowers typically appear in spring but can bloom as early as late winter.
Crossvine is a perennial evergreen vine, so named because a cross section of its stem reveals a cross-shaped pattern. It typically blooms in spring, when it puts on a spectacular display, but they can appear as early as February and as late as June. It occurs naturally in mesic to dry hammocks, floodplain forests and dry hardwood forests. It is mainly pollinated by hummingbirds but attracts some butterflies, as well.
Wakerobins (Trillium spp.) are long-lived perennial wildflowers native to upland hardwood forests, slope forests, hammocks and bluffs. They typically bloom in late winter before the tree canopy leafs out, but can bloom as late as early spring. The common name wakerobin refers to the flower appearing around the same time as the first robins. It is also known as birthroot due to its medicinal use during childbirth, and toadshade because some have said it resembles a toad-sized umbrella.
Bay lobelia (Lobelia feayana) is a dainty endemic perennial commonly seen on moist roadsides. It typically blooms in January through early spring, but can bloom year-round. The plant occurs naturally in moist habitats, particularly roadside ditches and depressions where, en mass, it appears as a brilliant blue haze.
Ashe’s calamint is a state-threatened perennial shrub that produces many tubular-shaped lavender flowers. It typically blooms in spring but can bloom as early as January and as late as summer or early fall. Its leaves emit a strong basil-like scent when crushed. Bees love Ashe’s calamint!
Coastal searocket (Cakile lanceolata) is a charming little wildflower found on dunes and strands in many of Florida’s coastal counties. It typically blooms in early spring and summer, but can bloom year-round. The specimen in the photo was recently spotted on St. George Island in the Panhandle. The flowers attract bees and butterflies, including the great southern white, for which it is a larval host. The stems and leaves are edible.
Pineland daisy (Chaptalia tomentosa) is an early-blooming aster found in wet flatwoods, bogs and freshwater marsh edges. It begins as nodding pinkish bud, and opens into a wheel of white disk and ray florets. It is also known as woolly sunbonnets — “woolly” because the undersides of its leaves are covered in a dense mat of hairs, and “sunbonnets” because the drooping bloom has a bonnetlike appearance.
Fanpetals (Sida spp.) bloom in dry uplands and ruderal and disturbed areas. This member of the Hibiscus family can bloom year-round and attracts bees and butterfies, including the tropical checkered skipper, for which it is a larval host. Fanpetals do well in naturalistic landscapes as they can become weedy if not maintained.
With so much attention given to the Christmas poinsettia this time of year, we thought it would be a good time to pay homage to our native poinsettia, paintedleaf (Poinsettia cyathorphora). It is smaller and far less dramatic than its Mexican cousin, but it is just as striking. The flowers, which are tiny and greenish-yellow, are surrounded by large, leaflike bracts with distinctively red bases, giving the plant its common name. The seeds are a favorite of mourning doves.
Smallfruit beggarticks (Bidens mitis) is an annual aster that blooms year-round in wet prairies and along fresh and brackish marsh edges throughout much of Florida. It blooms en masse in Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, among other locations. The bright yellow flowers attract many bees and butterflies.