The rare plant count at Sulphur Run Swamp
This event occurred in September 2019 in Sulphur Run Swamp, a tributary of the St. Johns River in the Seminole State Forest. An accompanying video of this memorable experience can be found here: https://youtu.be/9P3nVCJoNYQ
Hammockherb or Gulf Hammock Indian Plantain, Hasteola robertiorum, is a facultative wetland plant that prefers to grow in dappled sun within swamp forest. To date, it is only found in two counties in Florida: Lake and Levy, and is listed as state-endangered. The closely related false Indian plantain, Hasteola suaveolens, does not occur in Florida but has a wider distribution across several northern states where it also listed as endangered due to habitat loss and invasive plant competition.
There are a number of differences and similarities between species. Both Hasteola species flower in late summer to early fall but differ in the number of disc flowers present per inflorescence. Hammockherb has 10-14 while false Indian plantain has 18-55. There is a slight flower color difference with the former being greenish-white and the latter white. Both species differ from Indian plantains (Arnoglossum spp.) by their leaf shape as well as the number of flowers they have (Indian plantains have around 5 flowers per head).
|Annotated USGS Topo Quad, Sanford SW|
|FNPS member Susan Angermeier|
|FNPS member and artist Kate Dolamore|
|FNPS member and Cuplet Fern Chapter President and article author Mark Kateli. Mark's jeans were blue before the count.|
|Hammockherb, Hasteola robertiorium, our target species|
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The plant, at first glance, is no stunner. A perennial non-woody species (hence the common name, herb), it had erect stems that were 2-4’ tall. The hastate (spear-shaped with pointed lobes at the base) leaves had serrate margins with long petioles that were occasionally winged. The fruit is a cypsela (an achene-like fruit produced by some members of the Asteraceae family) though I didn’t get to see one. As for the ‘sweet-smell’ that Hasteola is known for, it wasn’t readily discernible. It certainly wasn’t fetid. My mind was engrossed with the thought that I might be slowly sinking.
|Juvenile plants with varied leaves occasionally appearing hastate and/or with winged petioles. Mature plants exhibited the same.|
|Muck covered shows, a sign of our solidarity.|
|Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia), a member of the rose family, found along the swamp edge.|
|Nodding Nixie (Apteria aphylla), a diminutive wildflower in the Bluethread Family (Burmanniaceae) found in several wetland areas around the state. Nodding Nixie, the purple-flowered plant, is a mycohetertroph which has species around the world but is limited to the geological southeastern coastal plain here in the United States.|
For most FNPS members, this type of event on a difficulty scale of 1-10, would be a 9 with several people needing assistance from getting stuck in muck. Even so it was, by far, an exciting experience for all. I would like to express my deep gratitude to the helpfulness and collaboration of the Florida Forest Service team without whom this memory would not be possible.
Sources (all accessed on December 23, 2019):
 University of South Florida Plant Atlas. https://florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/Plant.aspx?id=1210
 Minnesota wildflowers: A field guide to Minnesota flora. https://www.minnesotawildflowers.info/flower/sweet-smelling-indian-plantain
 Florida Natural Areas Inventory (FNAI) field guide publications https://www.fnai.org/FieldGuide/pdf/Hasteola_robertiorum.pdf