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.
Weekly plant profile of Florida Favorites.
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.
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.