|Man-in-the-ground (Ipomoea microdactyla), fantastically beautiful |
morning glory for southernmost Florida.
Most everyone is familiar with morning-glories in the genus Ipomoea, and certainly everyone reading this has even eaten Ipomoea batatas, the common sweet potato.
The Morning-Glory Family (Convolvulaceae) is well-represented in Florida, with 67 species in fourteen genera. Of those, twenty-four species are naturalized exotics, and four species are endemic to Florida, found nowhere else. The genus Ipomoea is the largest in the family, with twenty-five species and one naturally-occurring hybrid of two native species. Exactly half of the species (13) in Florida are native.
Only two species are rare enough to be listed as endangered by the state of Florida, and these are the rockland morning-glory (Ipomoea tenuissima) and man-in-the-ground (Ipomoea microdactyla). Both are on the northern extreme of their natural range in Florida, and both are restricted to pine rockland habitat in southern Miami-Dade County.
All species of morning-glories are pretty in their own right, but the most eye-catching, in my not-so-humble opinion, is man-in-the-ground. This peculiar common name refers to the large, underground root, similar to a sweet potato, that stores nutrients and helps the plant survive drought, dormancy, and fire. In fact, man-in-the-ground responds quickly after fire, sending long stems over the charred stems of other plants, and brightening the otherwise bleak landscape with cheery, pink, tubular flowers. Hummingbirds and butterflies (mostly skippers) visit the flowers for nectar.
Outside of Florida, man-in-the-ground is only known from pinelands in Cuba, especially on the Isle of Youth. In Florida you can find it in remnant pine rockland habitat of southern Miami-Dade County, and good places to look for it are in Larry & Penny Thompson Park, Camp Owaissa Bauer, Navy Wells Pineland Preserve, Florida City Pineland Preserve, and on Long Pine Key in Everglades National Park, particularly shortly after fire. It won’t be hard to find; simply look for lots of showy, brilliant pink flowers. Silent Native Nursery north of Homestead grows it if you want one for a sunny spot on a fence or arbor in your yard.