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.
“Flower Friday” is a weekly profile of a different Florida native wildflower.
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
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.