Rabbitbells (Crotalaria rotundifolia) is a low-growing wildflower found in pinelands, sandhills and disturbed sandy areas throughout Florida. Its small yellow flowers bloom throughout the year, attracting mostly bees. The unassuming plant often goes unnoticed as its flowers do not open until the afternoon and remain open only for one day. Of the 15 species of Crotalaria that occur in Florida, only four are native. Rabbitbells is the most common and widespread of the native species.
“Flower Friday” is a weekly profile of a different Florida native wildflower.
Carolina cranesbill (Geranium carolinianum) is an annual native wildflower that occurs in lawns, urban gardens and disturbed areas throughout Florida. It is often considered a weed, but its winter- and spring-blooming flowers attract bees and other small pollinators. Birds eat the seeds and white-tailed deer may forage on the leaves. Humans can eat the leaves, too, but they can be very bitter and astringent. The root has been used historically to treat sore throats and diarrhea. Carolina cranesbill is Florida’s only native Geranium species.
Clamshell orchid (Prosthechea cochleata var. triandra) is a striking epiphytic orchid found in South Florida’s cypress swamps and hammocks.This state-listed endangered species blooms late fall through early spring, peaking in December. Blooms can last several months. The plant is believed to be self-pollinated in Florida as it has no known pollinators here. The plant has several common names, including Florida cockleshell orchid and Octopus orchid.
The understated vegetative appearance of Scaleleaf aster (Symphyotrichum adnatum), also known as Clasping aster or Whipcord aster, is hardly noticeable when not in bloom. But in late fall and early winter, its copious periwinkle blooms make for a showy display in pine flatwood and sandhill understories throughout much of Florida. The daisy-like flowers are attractive to many pollinators, especially bees. The plant is easily distinguished from other Symphyotrichum species by its scale-like leaves and wiry appearance.
Sweet acacia (Vachellia farnesiana) is an aptly named shrub to small tree with golden, sweet-scented flowers that bloom year-round, peaking in winter. These nectar-rich flowers attract a variety of pollinators, especially butterflies like the Red-banded hairstreak. The plant’s dense foliage provides cover for birds and small animals. Few birds eat the pods. Sweet acacia occurs naturally in pinelands, coastal hammocks and shell middens throughout Central and South Florida, with rare populations in three Panhandle counties. In Europe, the plant is cultivated for use in perfumes.
Georgia aster (Symphyotrichum georgianum) blooms in October and November and is a magnet for bees and butterflies. Its flowers are distinguishable from other Symphyotrichum species by their relatively large size (up to 2 inches in diameter) and deep violet-colored ray petals. In Florida, the plant occurs only in Leon County and is a state-listed threatened species. It is also found in a few counties in Alabama, Georgia and North and South Carolina. Habitat loss and fire suppression in its native pineland and savanna ecosystems have contributed significantly to its decline.