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

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Wednesday's Wildflower: Wiregrass Gentian

Gentiana pennelliana 

Submitted by Kitty Loftin, Sarracenia Chapter

Genus: Gentiana
Species: Gentiana pennelliana Fernald
Family: Gentianaceae
Common name: Wiregrass gentian

Photo by Kitty Loftin, Sopchoppy, Florida

Wiregrass gentian is a small, rare perennial plant of moist to wet flatwoods and savannas.  It is an endemic species, restricted in distribution to nine counties in the Florida panhandle. It needs to have sunlight for growth and for the flowers to open. It is often found growing with wiregrass, thus the common name. 

The 1 1/2 to 2 1/2-inch-long flowers are borne singly or in pairs at the tip of the stem.  They are white inside and white suffused with purple outside. They bloom in winter, typically December-January It's threatened by habitat loss, fire suppression, and is listed as endangered.  

The genus Gentiana is named after Gentius, a 6th century King of Illyria, who used the roots of the yellow gentian to treat malaria in his soldiers.

Kitty Loftin photographed this Gentian in Sopchoppy in the Florida Panhandle where she says, " Nothing better than hiking or biking in the woods.... well maybe fishing :)"

Other Links: 
USF Atlas:Gentiana pennelliana