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.
“Flower Friday” is a weekly profile of a different Florida native wildflower.
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.
The brilliant red flowers of Scarlet calamint (Calamintha coccinea) offer a dramatic contrast against the backdrop of scrub, sandhill and coastal dunes where the plant naturally occurs. The long, nectar-rich flowers are particularly attractive to hummingbirds and large butterflies. They bloom in abundance in early spring and late fall, but may flower sporadically throughout the year. In peak bloom, a single plant may produce 100 or more flowers.
October flower (Polygonum polygamum) is a subshrub found in sandhill, scrub and scrubby flatwoods throughout much of Florida. For most of the year, it is a rather understated plant. But in late summer and fall — particularly October — it is covered in a profusion of snowy white blooms. These small but prolific flowers are especially attractive to native bees.
Clustered bushmint (Hyptis alata) occurs naturally along pond and swamp margins, in moist roadside ditches, and in wet prairies and pinelands. It typically blooms spring through fall, but may bloom year-round. The small flowers attract a variety of pollinators, including bees, butterflies, wasps and occasionally hummingbirds. When crushed, the plant emits a musky fragrance, giving it another common name, Musky mint.