Preserving, conserving, and restoring the native plants and native plant communities of Florida.


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Wednesday's Wildflower: Yellow Jessamine

I could not think of a better native wildflower to feature in February than Yellow Jessamine, Gelsemium sempervirens . After reading Roger Hammer's sinister portrayal of this "pretty and evil” native, your appreciation for its lovely flower and fragrance will be restored by the poem “Yellow Jessamine” written by Constance Fenimore Woolson in 1874. Thank you to Peg Urban, who brought this poem to my attention when she remembered it from a past issue of the Palmetto.   

Gelsemium sempervirens (L.) W.T. Aiton
Gelsemium Family (Gelsemiaceae)
text and photos by Roger Hammer, Dade Chapter

Carolina Jessamine, by Roger Hammer, Dade Chapter

This twining vine has stems to 20' long with light green, lanceolate leaves from 1"–3" long and ½"–¾" wide. The fragrant, trumpet-shaped flowers are about 1½" long and are typically present from January into April. Look for it in deciduous forests south throughout northern and central Florida to Charlotte, Highlands, and Palm Beach Counties. It can climb high into tree canopies and oftentimes the way to find it is to look for flowers on the forest floor. Also, look for it growing on fencerows along roadsides adjacent to its natural habitat.
Gelsemium is a latinized version of gelsomino, the Italian name for jasmine (Oleaceae), created in 1789 by French botanist Antoine Laurent de Jussieu (1748–1836), best known for being the first to publish a natural classification of flowering plants. The genus name reflects the sweet, jasmine-like perfume produced by the flowers of this species. The name sempervirens means “evergreen” or “living forever,” even though it loses its leaves in cold temperate regions. Carolus Linnaeus (1707–1778) first described this species as Bignonia sempervirens in 1753 from plants collected in Virginia in 1696, but was later relegated to the genus Gelsemium in 1811 by English botanist William Townsend Aiton (1766–1849).
There are only 3 members of this genus and 2 occur in Florida (the third species, Gelsemium elegans, is native to Asia). Gelsemium rankinii flowers are similar but are not aromatic, and it occurs mostly in the Florida panhandle (also Hamilton and Nassau Counties). This family was separated from the Bignoniaceae by the absence of stipules and latex, plus the heterostylous flowers and superior ovaries. 

Members of this genus are HIGHLY TOXIC and a single flower may be fatal if ingested. The toxin acts much like strychnine by blocking muscle activity, and symptoms are similar to tetanus. The flower nectar is also toxic to bees and honey derived from the flowers has been implicated in human deaths. Medicinal uses are ill-advised but it has been used to treat measles, muscular rheumatism, tonsilitis, and headaches. In Asia, Gelsemium elegans has been used to commit murder and suicide.

Carolina jessamine is sometimes cultivated and can be pruned into a shrub. Be careful not to get the sap on your skin because it can cause a blistering rash on sensitive people. Its global range extends from Virginia to Texas south through Mexico into Central America. It is pretty and pretty evil at the same time.


Yellow Jessamine and Bee, photo by Peg Urban

Yellow Jessamine 

by Constance Fenimore Woolson(March 5, 1840 – January 24, 1894)

In tangled wreaths, in clustered gleaming stars,
In floating, curling sprays,
The golden flower comes shining through the woods
These February days;
Forth go all hearts, all hands, from out the town,
To bring her gayly in,
This wild, sweet Princess of far Florida –
The yellow jessamine.

The live–oaks smile to see her lovely face
Peep from the thickets; shy,
She hides behind the leaves her golden buds
Till, bolder grown, on high
She curls a tendril, throws a spray, then flings
Herself aloft in glee,
And, bursting into thousand blossoms, swings
In wreaths from tree to tree.

The dwarf–palmetto on his knees adores
This Princess of the air;
The lone pine–barren broods afar and sighs,
“Ah! come, lest I despair;”
The myrtle–thickets and ill–tempered thorns
Quiver and thrill within,
As through their leaves they feel the dainty touch
Of yellow jessamine.

The garden–roses wonder as they see
The wreaths of golden bloom,
Brought in from the far woods with eager haste
To deck the poorest room,
The rich man’s house, alike; the loaded hands
Give sprays to all they meet,
Till, gay with flowers, the people come and go,
And all the air is sweet.

The Southern land, well weary of its green
Which may not fall nor fade,
Bestirs itself to greet the lovely flower
With leaves of fresher shade;
The pine has tassels, and the orange–trees
Their fragrant work begin:
The spring has come – has come to Florida,
With yellow jessamine.

Constance Fenimore Woolson

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Wednesday's Wildflower: Golden Club

Golden Club, Orontium aquaticum L.

Text and Photos by Donna Bollenbach, Suncoast Chapter

Golden Club, Alderman Ford Preserve, Hillsborough County
photo by Donna Bollenbach

Golden Club is an aquatic plant that grows from stout rhizomes in shallow streams, ponds and swamps throughout most of Florida, and much of the eastern United States, and on the coastal plains
The Waxy leaves repel water.
Photo by Donna Bollenbach
of Southeast Texas.  Typical of plants in the family Araceae, its tiny flowers are closely arranged around a fleshy stem, forming a yellow spadix, thus the common name “Golden Club.” It’s other common name “Never Wet”, refers to its large velvety bluish green leaves with a waxy coating that repels water
.  Its Latin generic name derives from a plant that grows in the Orontes River of Syria.

Golden Club is a member of the arum family, and related to Jack-in-the pulpit, skunk cabbage and the garden calla lily. It is the only arum species that does not have a spathe (hood formed from a leaf.) The flower of the Golden Club starts out green, turns yellow during pollination, then back to green during fruit formation. The seeds are dispersed by floating in the water.  

The large leaves and underwater roots provide shelter
 for small fish and frogs. Photo by Donna Bollenbach

Like many members of the Arum family, all parts of the plant are toxic, although there is evidence that Native Americans once ate the seeds and rhizomes.  The leaves and roots provide shelter for tiny fish, frogs and other aquatic wildlife.   

Family Name: Araceae
Genus/Species: Orontium aquaticum L.
Common Name(s): Golden Club, Never Wet
Native Range: Native to Florida, Eastern US and Coastal Plains
Bloom Season: Late Winter through early Spring
Hardiness zone: 5-11
Soil Type: Acidic, loamy soil, requires moving water
Preferred Sun: Prefers Part Shade
Propagation: Root Division, Seeds
Commercially available: Yes

Other Links: 
FNPS: Golden Club
USF Plant Atlas: Orontium aquaticum L. 

Donna Bollenbach is a member of the Suncoast Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society in Hillsborough County Florida, and editor of the FNPS blog.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Wednesday Wildflowers: Sundial and Skyblue Lupines

Today's Wednesday's Wildflower features two species of Lupine, the Skyblue Lupine, submitted by Roger Hammer, and the Sundial Lupine, submitted by Bill Berthet

Skyblue Lupine, Lupinus cumulicola                                                        

Text and photo by Roger Hammer, Dade Chapter

Skyblue Lupine, by Roger Hammer

From January to May each year the white sand scrub on the Lake Wales Ridge in Lake, Osceola, Polk, and Highlands Counties are adorned with the cheery blue flowers of the Florida endemic skyblue lupine (pronounced LOO-PIN). Some botanists consider it a synonym of Lupinus diffusus but others argue that L. diffuses differs by its habitat, range, prostrate to decumbent stems, orbicular-reniform (kidney-shaped) standard, and a nearly straight beak on the pods. The stems of Lupinus cumulicola are usually erect with gray-green, silky pubescent, elliptic leaves that average 2”–3” long and about 1” wide. The pods have a curved beak.

Lupinus is taken from lupus, or “wolf,” and alludes to the curious belief that these plants consumed soil fertility, when, in fact, they improve the soil with nitrogen-fixing bacteria. The species name cumulicola means “dweller on a heap or mound,” in this case, sand. It comes from the same root word for cumulus clouds that form billowing mounds in the sky. The seeds of some species were used in ancient Greece as a hallucinogen to psychoactively prepare people to commune with the dead.

The plant photographed was growing on a hill of white sand right alongside US27 in Polk County in mid-January 2015. When in flower, it’s hard to miss. Bees are the principal pollinator.

Roger is a member of the FNPS Dade Chapter and is currently working on a new Falcon Guide titled Complete Guide to Florida Wildflowers, due to be released in Spring 2018. His other wildflower guides include Florida Keys Wildflowers (2004), Everglades Wildflowers (2nd edition, 2014), and Central Florida Wildflowers (2016).


Sundial Lupine, Lupinus perennis

Text and photos by Bill Berthet, Ixia Chapter

Sundial Lupine, 04-22-2016 Nassau Co, Bill Berthet

Every spring, I look forward to the emergence of the wildflower Sundial Lupine, Lupinus perennis gracilis, in Nassau and Clay Counties. I look for eggs, larvae, and adult Frosted Elfin, Callophrys irus arsace, butterflies that only use this lupine as a host plant and sometimes nectar source.

The egg and larvae of the Frosted Elfin on Sundial Lupine, Bill Berthet

Lupinus is from the latin word Lupus meaning “wolf” alluding to the belief that these plants robbed the soil. This is opposite of the truth, since Lupine actually helps to increase soil nitrogen.

Newly emerging Sundial Lupine 02-02-2017 Nassau Co.,
 Bill Berthet
Sundial Lupine is a perennial herb up to 2-ft. tall. Stems are slender, erect, or spreading. Alternating compound leaves are palmate in shape. Seven to 11 leaflets arise from the same point. Flowers are in terminal racemes. Calyces are two-lipped. 

Flowers are pea-shaped, bluish purple, rarely pink or white. Fruit is a hairy pod seed head that bursts open at maturity scattering the poisonous seeds. Native Americans drank a leaf tea made from this Lupine for nausea and internal hemorrhaging.

Bill Berthet is an avid butterfly and pollinator enthusiast, and has been landscaping his yard in Mandarin, Florida, with mostly native plants, bushes, vines, and trees to attract our N.E. Florida pollinators and birds for the past 15 years. 

Read more about the imperiled  Frosted Elfin and its  lupine relationship in a previous blog by Bill here


Monday, February 6, 2017

Pawpaw Chapter gives awards to budding environmental scientists...

Submitted by Don Spence and Sonya Guidry, Pawpaw Chapter of FNPS

Once again the Pawpaw Chapter sponsored a special award at the annual Tomoka Regional Science and Engineering Fair, held at Spruce Creek High School on Jan. 28. Pawpaw’s judges were Don Spence, Danny Young and Sonya Guidry.

Emma Schlageter, 1st Place Winner. Photo by Sonya Guidry

The PawPaw Chapter selected Emma Schlageter as first-place winner. Ms. Schlageter’s project reported on the biodiversity of salt marsh restoration in the Halifax River basin.

The first-place winner received a certificate, a wildflower guide by Dr. Walter Taylor, $60.00, and a student membership.

Isabel Kraby, honorable mention. Photo by Sonya Guidry.

An honorable mention was awarded to Isabel Kraby.  Ms. Kraby examined leaf pigments of plants commonly found in Florida.

Our honorable mention winner received a certificate and a student membership.  

Both young women are middle school students. 

Emma Schlageter is no stranger to estuary restoration, it runs in the family, as her proud father illustrates in these family photos:

This is a photo of my Emma and I during our first restoration project at Gamble Rogers. She was only 3 years old.

 After that, there were many more opportunities to for Emma to learn about the enviroment while playing with her sister and dad in the mud.

This is a photo of Emma last October collecting data for her science fair project at North Peninsula State Park. She is 13 years old now.

Congratulations to both winners!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Wednesday's Wildflower: Bahama Senna

Senna mexicana var. chapmanii
Submitted by Beryn Harty, Miami-Dade Chapter, resident of the lower Florida Keys

Photo by Beryn Harty in a refuge area of Lower Florida Keys

Bahama Senna is a small shrub, or sprawling groundcover with showy yellow flowers that bloom year-round in its natural, southern range. The bright yellow, five petal flowers, about the size of a US quarter, bloom the heaviest in the fall and winter. 

Photo by Beryn Harty in a refuge area of Lower Florida Keys

Bahama Senna is the host plant for Cloudless Sulphur, Orange Barred Sulphur, and Sleepy Orange Butterflies. Its preferred habitat is pine rocklands and rockland hammock edges in moist, well-drained limestone soils, typically in full sun to light shade.   

While listed as threatened in the state of Florida, it is easy to find and grow, stocked by many native nurseries, and can be grown from seed.  

Family Name: Fabaceae
Genus/Species: Senna mexicana var. chapmanii
Common Name(s): Bahama Senna, Chapman's wild sensitive plant, Mexican Senna. 
Native Range: South Florida and the West Indies (Cuba, Bahamas)
Seed pod,
photo by Beryn Harty

Hardiness zone: 11
Soil Type: Moist, well-drained limestone soils
Preferred Sun: full sun to light shade
Height at maturity: 2-4 feet
Propagation: (seed, seedling) Can be grown from seed

Other Links: 
FNPS: Bahama Senna
IRC Natives For Your Neighborhood: Bahama Senna
USF Plant Atlas: Senna mexicana var. chapmanii

Beryn Harty is a member of the Miami-Dade Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society and lives in the lower Florida Keys.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Wednesday's Wildflower: Pineland Heliotrope

Heliotropium polyphyllum
Submitted by Cathy Beals, Palm Beach County Chapter 

Photo by Cathy Beals,  Palm Beach Gardens

The Pineland Heliotrope is a partly erect to prostrate perennial herb with hairy stems and numerous alternate leaves.  Even though the flowers are very small, they usually bloom in paired spikes, often with hundreds of brilliant yellow or white flowers at one time, making it obvious, even in small clusters along the side of a road or cultivated in your garden.

This Florida native blooms year round in the Coastal areas from Flagler County South to the Keys and grows in a wide variety of inland counties in habitats including sandy coasts, prairies, flatwoods, and rocky pinelands.  It is sometimes seen on the drier, plant side of swampy areas (on the sunny edges) where there has been some disturbance, such as the road between the canal and the wetlands at Sandhill Crane Access Park in Palm Beach Gardens where this picture was taken.
Close up of flower: Photo by Donna Bollenbach. 

Cathy Beals is a member of the Palm Beach County Chapter of FNPS and has served on the Board as secretary for five years and as a Director for two years.

Other Links: 
FNPS: Heliotropium polyphyllum
IRC Natives For Your Neighborhood: Pineland Heliotrope
USF Plant Atlas: Listed under Euploca polyphylla

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Wednesday's Wildflower: Sweet Acacia

Vachellia farnesiana, formerly Acacia farnesiana

Submitted by John Holyland, Mangrove Chapter

Photo by John Holyland, Lemon Bay County Park, Englewood, Florida
Sweet Acacia, (Pronunciation: uh-KAY-shuh far-nee-zee-AY-nuh), is a large shrub or small tree in the legume family. It is native to the Americas, including the Southern United States, Mexico, and the tropics. Sweet Acacia is fast growing and drought tolerant, making it good for landscapes, but it can suffer from root rot if too wet. As it is very thorny, with thorns on its trunks and branches, it should be placed away from walkways. 

The oval yellow flowers, about 1-2 cm. in diameter, bloom in the winter. They are very fragrant and have a long history of being using to make perfume and scented ointments. The fruits are cylindrical green pods that will will turn purple as they age. 

The thorny branches make good cover for birds and other wildlife, and bees love to forage in flowers. 

Legend has it that Jesus’ Crown of Thorns came from a tree of the Acacia family.

Photo by Shirley Denton, FNPS


Editor's note: When I originally sent the notice of this blog to the Wednesday Wildflower contributors, I had Acacia farnesiana as the first mentioned scientific name. Roger Hammer corrected me, so I asked him for the story of the name change. Here is his reply:

There was a taxonomic revision in 2005 that placed members of the genus Acacia into an earlier genus, Vachellia. The genus Vachellia was named to commemorate Eleanor Vachell (1879–1948), a Welsh botanist who is perhaps best known for writing the Flora of Glamorgan, one of the 13 original counties of Wales. She was considered to have an unrivaled knowledge of native plants in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Here’s the lovely lady now (ca. 1930s):

Roger added: Vachellia farnesiana is cultivated in France as a source of essential oils to produce violet perfume. The name farnesiana relates to the Villa Farnese in the town of Caprarola in northern Italy. Most people think violet perfume comes from violets in the genus Viola, but violet flowers contain chemicals that can briefly turn off the ability of the human nose to detect the scent consecutively, which is not a very good trait for a perfume.

Links: FNPS: Native Plants for Your Area 
USF Plant Atlas: Vachellia farnesiana

Friday, January 13, 2017

Northern Alabama: Discovering Natives with our Neighbors

Submitted by Devon Higginbotham

Devon's quest to find a stateside location for an FNPS Native Plant Tour, brought her and her husband to North Alabama, where they found the natural areas and plants to be as diverse as anywhere in Florida, and the people just as dedicated to preserving them. You too can discover our native plant neighbors on the FNPS NORTH ALABAMA NATIVE PLANT TOURAPRIL 17 – 22ND, 2017.

Though I’ve travelled throughout the United States, it never seems to be enough.  The United States is so huge, and every state and region has its own unique features; sugar white beaches, rocky cliffs, huge peaked mountains, rolling hills, prairies and alpine meadows.   Every state is diverse, and each season brings different wildflowers and foliage. Spring is nothing like fall, winter or summer. Newly emerging leaves in spring are translucent, ephemeral, pale green.  Fall evolves to the crisp oranges, reds and yellows. I want to see it all……over and over.

Pitcher  Plants, Kaul Wildflower Garden
Last October, my husband and I set off “to see what we could see”.  We had never spent much time in north Alabama, but it was a day’s drive away and far enough north to support different plant communities than Florida.  In anticipation, we poured through magazines, websites and joined the Alabama Wildflower Society (AWS), the Alabama equivalent of our Florida Native Plant Society.  

Then we found Linda.  Actually, I think, Linda found us; two lost souls wandering through the Alabama Wildflower Society website.  You see, Linda has been involved in the AWS for quite some time and she was thrilled to hear that some of the Florida members are interested in her state. We became fast friends, just over the phone.  But that’s the south, where everyone is “Darlin” and no one is a stranger even if you just met, especially if you are another native plant lover.  The world does not know more welcoming people than native plant people!

When we arrived in Birmingham, Linda was waiting for us, along with about 20 other local native plant enthusiasts.  You see, she had already contacted the native plant members in her area and they were ready and eager to showcase their state.   

Marty Shulman, the retired Land Manager of Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve, explained how Birmingham became one of the top steel producing regions in the country, first utilizing Longleaf Pines for the process, then moving on to coal, just as the pines were nearly depleted. Iron ore, coal and limestone are the three ingredients needed to make steel and central Alabama has all three.  Thus, explains the 56-foot-tall cast iron statue of Vulcan, the Roman God of fire and forge, in the center of Birmingham.

Bibb County Glades Preserve

Charles Yeager, Manager of Turkey Creek Nature Preserve, in the heart of the Birmingham, explained how this inter-city preserve had been abandoned by all and utilized by gangs who drove their cars into the river to wash them.  When the land was at its bleakest point, the city proposed building a prison on the site. But to the local residents, this was the last straw. They rose up, banded together and demanded the city preserve it.  Today, it is a beautiful urban renewal project, much loved and used by the local residents.

While visiting the Birmingham Botanical Gardens we met John Manion, Curator of the Kaul Wildflower Garden, a 17-acre garden within the main Garden.  John is the charming personality who created the native plant studies program at the Gardens.   He also manages one of the world’s rarest plants, the Tutwiler’s spleenwort, Asplenium tutwilerae, a fern so rare that less than 5 acres of land hold the only known population in the world.

As we ventured north from Birmingham, the terrain became more rugged, sporting steep canyons with gorges sliced by rivers and streams.  We climbed the mountain in Cheaha State Park, the highest point in Alabama.  

Jim & Fy Lacefield, Cane Creek Canyon Preserve
Linda set up a meeting with more locals, like Jim and Fay Lacefield, two school teachers who saved their own salaries and bit-by-bit bought up 700 acres of canyon land with coursing streams, then, gave it away!  In perpetuity, Cane Creek Canyon Preserve will remain a wilderness area protected by The Nature Conservancy, thanks to two people who had the love and foresight to preserve it.

On to Huntsville where the US Space and Rocket Center is located, the sister facility to Cape Canaveral, and Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, a 37,000 acre preserve for migrating birds, established by FD Roosevelt.  

Cathedral Caverns State Park
Just to the east is Scottsboro and underground is one of the most beautiful caverns in the United States. Cathedral Caverns State Park has some of the largest chambers in a cave system that I’ve ever seen.  One stalagmite is the size of a school bus and bears witness to the earthquakes the region has recently endured.

As we fanned over to the northeast corner of the state we crossed a national preserve, part of the US National Park System. Cousin to our western parks, and equally impressive, the LittleRiver Canyon National Preserve sports a river flowing atop a mountain. The steep canyon walls, appropriately named "Little River", are the most extensive canyon and gorge system in the eastern United States, and habitat for the carnivorous green pitcher plant and Kral’s water plantains.

If this intrigues you, stop dreaming, and join FNPS on a tour of Northern Alabama, April 17-22ndWe will learn more about Alabama native plants, meet the local native plant enthusiasts, learn what inspires them, and discover a world beyond Florida’s borders. Plan to meet Linda and other members of the Alabama Wildflower Society, walk the woods of a Benedictine Abbey, and seek out native trilliums and wild orchids. Check out the itinerary, register, mark your calendar and pack your bags for north Alabama!  For questions, call Devon at 813-478-1183.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Wednesday's Wildflower: Horned Bladderwort & Small Butterwort

Utricularia cornuta, Horned Bladderwort 
Submitted by Carole Tebay, Longleaf Pine Chapter

Photo by Carol Tebay, Escambia County

"How charming," was my thought upon noticing dainty yellow flowers blooming on the floor of a nearly dry ephemeral pond. Then I remembered their identification and realized I was strolling among predators.

The diminutive horned bladderwort, Utricularia cornuta, has an underground bladder which sucks in tiny insects and worms when its hairs are triggered.

The plant's genus, Utricularia, comes from the Latin for bladderwort. Cornuta, is from the Latin, horned, which describes the horn on the snapdragon-like flower. Thus the common name, horned bladderwort. It is also called leafless bladderwort because the small leaves are underground.

The flowers of the horned bladderwort are a reminder of the drama taking place in the world just below our feet.

  • Family Name: Bladderwort
  • Genus/Species: Utricularia cornuta
  • Common Name(s): Horned Bladderwort
  • Type of Plant: wildflower
  • Blooms: year round
  • Native Range: Newfoundland and Quebec to Michigan and Minnesota, south to Florida and Texas
  • Conservation Status: Obligate wetland. Occurs almost always under natural conditions in wetlands.
  • Hardiness zone: Zone 3 - 11a
  • Soil Preference: Acid lakes, sandy or muddy shores, peatlands
  • Height at maturity: stem and leaves are underground, with flowering scape on a 4-10" leafless stalk.
  • Propagation: Seed, seedling. Not many references to cultivating this plant except by carnivore enthusiasts.
Other Links:
USF Plant Atlas:


Pinguicula pumila, Small Butterwort
Submitted by Jean Evoy, a 30-year veteran of FNPS. She has been active in several chapters including Miami-Dade, Serenoa, and Mangrove.

Photo by Jean Evoy, Manatee County

Six species of carnivorous plants in the genus Pinguicula are found in Florida. Three are widely distributed, and three are only found in the Florida panhandle. These wetland plants are commonly called “butterworts”. 

The succulent basal leaves of the butterwort serve as traps for insect prey. They are equipped with special glands: One gland secretes sticky drops that trap the unwary prey; the second gland produces enzymes that break down the parts of the insect that can be digested. 

Butterwort flowers are held high above the insect trapping basal rosette, thus potential pollinators are spared so they can perform a useful function for the plant.

This Pinguicula pumila, or small butterwort, was photographed in a wet depression in the Coker Preserve in Manatee County. Small butterwort is usually less than 5” tall. It’s flowers, ranging from pale violet to white, may be seen from January to May in moist to wet areas. 

Friday, January 6, 2017

Critically Imperiled Elfins Disappearing from the Forest

 Article and Photos by Bill Berthet Ixia Chapter

Frosted Elfin Panhandle area

Heart pounding, intoxicated with adrenaline, kneeling in a field of swaying 2-3 foot high wiregrass (Aristida stricta) I was trying to follow the fast, low erratic flight of a small brown butterfly. As it finally landed several feet off the ground on a curved section of wiregrass I was able to observe, photograph, and ID this butterfly as the frosted elfin (Callophrys irus Godart, 1824) Florida ssp. arsace (Boisduval & LeConte 1835) FNAI S1 (critically imperiled). I looked up into the clear blue sky with a fist pump yelling “YES!,Thank you mother nature for this moment!”. 

Dusky Roadside-Skipper 
nectaring on shiny blueberry 
(Vaccinum myrsinites)
Treasure hunting comes in many forms. A minute later I spotted two tiny dark butterflies whirling and darting around several feet off the ground finally landing, “Excellent” a pair of Dusky Roadside-Skippers (Amblyscirtes alternata) Florida Natural Areas Inventory S2 (imperiled).

Historically the frosted elfin has been documented from Ontario, Canada to Northern Florida (being the Southernmost extent of this butterflies range), from N. Carolina west to Wisconsin and Texas, for a total of 32 out of 50 states plus Washington D.C. and Ontario, Canada. The NatureServe classification is G3 (globally vulnerable)

Frosted Elfin larvae feeding on
Sundial Lupine 
The larvae feed on sundial lupine (Lupinus perennis) wild indigo (Baptisia tinctoria) blue false indigo (B. australis) and sometimes rattlebox (Crotalaria sagittalis). In Florida the larvae feed solely on L. perennis growing in 19 counties.

Historically this hairstreak had vouchered records from 17 counties in Florida. Recent records show this butterfly is only found in Clay, Franklin, Leon, Liberty, Nassau, and Okaloosa Counties at five localities. Locality records from Leon, Franklin, and Liberty Counties are within Apalachicola National Forest.

Frosted Elfin Nassau Co.

Frosted elfins, measuring a little over an inch, are hairstreaks in the Family Lycaenidae with hindwing tails, appear drab brown-grey with an olive iridescence, and are univoltine, having one brood of offspring per year. 

Sundial Lupine with Polyphemus cocoon 

In general adults are found near their larval host plants. They prefer shady areas where there is sundial lupine, yet this lupine is much more common in sunnier areas. Greater success in viewing adults is achieved on sunny days, minimal to no wind, and after 12:00 P.M. Males are territorial, often perching (sometimes moving its hindwings forward and backward in a wingsawing motion) on vegetation close to host-plant patches, and engage in vertical aerial combat flights. 

In Florida the adults fly during the months of February-April. In Nassau Co. I have observed adults nectaring on sundial lupine, shiny blueberry (Vaccinium myrsinites) and hawthorn (Crataegus sp.) but also use huckleberry (Gaylussacia sp.)

The fragile status of this butterfly in Florida can be found in frequently disturbed habitats such as oak-pine barrens, oak savannahs, upland pine or sandhill that share an open understory and a heterogeneous mix of open and closed canopy and edges that are managed by periodic fire (but not annual burns) where this butterflies larval host plant, sundial lupine (Lupinus perennis ssp.gracilis) is found. Non-woody plants would include wiregrass (A. stricta) gopherweed (Baptisia lanceolata) wooly pawpaw (Asimina incana) pinewoods milkweed (Asclepias humistrata) and shiny blueberry (V.myrsinites)

Open canopy Frosted Elfin habitat

Closed canopy Frosted Elfin habitat

Frosted Elfin eggs
on Sundial Lupine 
In Northern Florida the emergence of C. irus adults is strongly timed to coordinate with new host resources provided by its sole host plant L. perennis ssp. gracilis with a preference towards larger plants with increased depth of litter/duff around the plant, and the lack of feeding presence from other organisms.  One to seven eggs are laid on new leaf growth, on a joint between two leaflets, the growing flower stalk, or an opening on mature flowers. 

Larvae feed on leaves, stem, flowers, and early seed pods taking 4-6 weeks before pupating. Final instar larvae are usually found at the base of the plant and have a dorsal nectary organ that attract Ants of various species. Pupae are found in the leaf litter or soil near the base of the host plant. Some study has indicated that perhaps up to 25% of larvae pupate below the surface up to 1.20 inches in depth. This allows C. irus the possibility to survive seasonal burns that would kill other species.

Frosted Elfin larvae with ants 
Frosted Elfin eggs 

Sundial Lupine Seed Pod
Frosted Elfin Pupa 

Frosted elfins are thought to be extirpated from Ontario, Maine, Illinois, and Washington D.C., with populations declining through the rest of its range. Frosted’s are rated as S1 critically imperiled, or S2 imperiled in 20 of the 32 states it has been documented to inhabit. (table 1-2 Natureserve 2013)

Many factors are contributing to the decline of frosted elfins, including, habitat loss, direct mortality, land development, fire or disturbance suppression, local extinction of larval host plants, and browsing of flower heads by white-tailed deer.

Fire can have many positive effects on an ecosystem, including releasing nutrients that were previously locked up in inaccessible tissues in dead wood, litter, and duff, to live vegetation, animal matter and reduced fuel loads. Studies have shown that frosted elfin mortality from fire is significant. It is critical for land managers to understand fire tolerance for both the economically important and the rare, imperiled, or endangered species that need the habitat managed correctly. The timing and extent of prescribed fire is an important factor in the management of C. irus populations in sandhill pine and turkey oak forests. Some suggestions to improve fire as a habitat management tool for Frosted elfin habitat include designating portions of managed areas to be left unburned, better timing and extent of burn, using a longer fire return interval (not burning every year or two) the use of other types of management such as light grazing, mowing. or mechanical cutting.

The frosted elfin habitat in Nassau Co. is around 55 acres, and, I have observed the eggs, larvae, and adults from 2008-2013. After numerous trips during the years 2014 to 2016  I have not observed any adults, and have checked over 600 L. perennis host plants for eggs, larvae, or any kind of feeding activity , but none were observed. Too many prescribed burns over this 9 year period may have resulted in this critically endangered butterfly becoming extierpated from this site.

Comment from Matt Thom: It is such a challenge to try and find these butterflies, even when you know they should be there! I hope that it has been a matter of timing, that you missed the window for when they are active. Hopefully it isn’t because of the land management there. Could be just the ephemeral nature of butterfly populations; they can just disappear so fast with no real understanding of what caused it. If they are gone from this location, I’m glad I had the priviledge to study this population and document it’s particular unique characteristics.

Matthew D. Thom:  The Ecology and conservation of Callophrys irus Godart: The Role of Fire and Microhabitat 2013
Mathew D. Thom, Personal Communication
Dean K. Jue, Personal Communication
Atlas of Florida Plants Institute for Systematic Botany