This Florida Native Lupine, (Lupinus diffusus) thrives in the dry, sandy soils in sandhill and pinewood habitats as well as in pastures and on roadsides.
A member of the pea family, Sky-blue Lupine has fuzzy grayish-green leaves and beautiful blue flowers emerging from the central spike. This low growing shrub blooms from mid-winter through spring. Seeds are dispersed by animals and the wind.
Lupines can make a wonderful addition to your native garden. In the fall, plant seeds in well-drained sandy soil in full sun. They will produce flowers early next year. At the end of the blooming season, they will reseed and new plants emerge annually.
These blue beauties are quite subtle but get a lot of buzz from the bees. It makes an excellent groundcover and does well in sandy soil. It has a slight aroma that is very earthy but not overwhelming and is a host plant for the fulvous hairstreak. It goes dormant in the winter but quickly returns when temperatures warm up for spring. Do you have an interesting native ground cover in your yards?
“This park is like nothing else in Florida. Being able to see the stars at night in unbelievable detail was absolutely worth the trip.” Jonathan Holmes, IOF Contributor
There is a place in Florida that is world-renowned for stargazing. Designated as a Dark Sky Park due to the absence of light pollution, the stars and planets can be enjoyed the way nature intended.
Located in Okeechobee, Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park is part of the headwaters to the Everglades and is the largest remaining dry prairie ecosystem in Florida. Once spanning coast to coast and from Lake Okeechobee to Kissimmee, the prairie has been reduced to a mere 10% of its original expanse.
Throughout the years, humans have altered the prairie to suit their needs. The State Park is working to restore the land to pre-European influence. Over 70 miles of ditches and canals have been restored to swales and sloughs. Old plow lines are slated for reconditioning, and a cattle pasture will be restored to native shrubs and grasses. As a fire and flood dependent ecosystem, these efforts will allow the prairie to thrive once again.
The most famous resident of the prairie is the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow. Critically endangered, the sparrows rely on a healthy prairie ecosystem for survival. Crested Caracaras, Burrowing Owls, Wood Storks, Swallow-Tail Kites, and White-Tail Kites find refuge at the park. Watch for Bald Eagles, White-tailed Deer, and Indigo Snakes. Native wildflowers are abundant. Look for Blazing Stars, Yellow Bachelors Buttons, Meadow Beauty, Pipewort, and Alligator Lilies.
There is plenty to do at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve. Hiking, horseback riding, and biking are wonderful ways to experience Nature up close. Camping, primitive camping, and equestrian camping are offered for those who want to spend the night. A ranger-led prairie buggy tour and an astronomy pad are spectacular ways to enjoy the park.
Creeping indigo is an invasive plant that originated in Africa. This plant is particularly concerning due to its toxicity. It is highly toxic to cows, horses, and donkeys. Symptoms include a wide range of abnormal behavior such as mouth ulcers, dehydration, heavy breathing, high temperatures, rapid heartbeat, foaming of the mouth, pale mucous membrane, light sensitivity, lethargy, odd gait, pressing their head into a corner, etc. Any abnormal behavior should be brought to the attention of a veterinarian.
This plant can spread rapidly and is difficult to remove due to its strong taproot. If you spot these popping up in your garden remove them before they become overwhelming.
What other invassive species can you think of in Florida?
The Leavenworth’s tickseed is an endemic flower that provides food for several pollinators. It can usually be found in pine flatwoods where the soil is dry but can adapt to other regions. Here we have pictures with a species of fruitfly, Dioxyna picciola and a Green sweat bee, Agapostemon splendens. Most flowers are produced in spring but flowers can be found year-round. Have you spotted these beauties anywhere around the state?
Red Buckeye, Aesculus pavia, is native to Florida from the panhandle through Central Florida. It occurs naturally in soil that is rich in calcium carbonate and in moist areas.
Before cold weather arrives they will lose their leaves to reveal brownish flaky bark with dark reddish-brown twigs. Among the first plants to bloom in spring, the Red Buckeye is an important early source of nectar for butterflies and hummingbirds. Fruit appears in the fall and when split, reveals a seed that resembles a chestnut.
Red Buckeye is a gorgeous addition to your native plant garden. It is a fast-growing plant and can be grown from seeds. Red Buckeyes can be maintained as a shrub or allowed to grow into a tree. The plant grows quickly, thrives in moist, rich soil and partial shade. Irrigation may be required in full sun or dry areas. When planning your garden, you may want to consider the leaves and seeds from the fruit contain saponins which are poisonous to humans and pets.
This vibrant wildflower is found throughout the coastal regions of Florida, from the panhandle to the Keys. It is tolerant of salty and flooded soils. These plants are annuals and require open soil to spread and reseed. Depending on the conditions, the Rose of Plymouth can grow from 6 inches to 24 inches tall. The flowers are 1 to 1-1/2 inches wide and the plant creates many blooms. Flowers peak in the summer but can be seen blooming all year long. Rose of Plymouth can be grown from seeds and cuttings in wet to moist soils.
The Orange Blossom from the sweet orange tree, Citrus x sinensis, was made Florida’s state flower in 1909. The sweet orange tree that bears this flower was introduced to Florida by the Spaniards in the 15th century. The orange tree is not endemic to Florida but has been naturalized.
Orange Blossom flowers have waxy petals that are small and white. Each flower has 5 petals with 20 to 25 stamens in a compact spiral. In the spring flowers grow in clusters of 6 flowers per cluster. Each flower is a point of where an orange will grow in the spring. Orange Blossoms have a strong citrus scent and are an incredibly fragrant flower. The scent of the blossoms has been described as creamy, sweet and rich, with a hint of a tart, citrus essence.
A full sunlight location and soil with a mixture of sand, clay, and organic matter is needed to produce these vibrant flowers. The orange tree begins to bloom at 2 to 5 years and blossoms can appear while there are oranges on the tree. The Orange Blossom is the only state flower used to make perfumes, colognes, toiletries herbal teas, and the ever-popular Orange Blossom Honey.
Did you know? Throughout history, the Orange Blossom has come to symbolize good fortune and brides often include the fragrant blossoms in their bridal bouquets.
There are two species of cattails that are found in Florida. They are Typha domingensis (southern cattail) and Typha latifolia (common cattail).
Cattails are important to our water since they continuously filter the water where they grow and thrive. They are capable of filtering arsenic, pharmaceuticals, and explosives. Cattails also store algae-producing nutrients in their leaves while their roots stabilize the water edge and prevent erosion.
Cattails are a great haven for protective nesting areas for animals and birds. Cattail seeds can remain in a dormant stage for up to 100 years. Once established, cattails grow up to 8 feet tall and multiply from thick, underground rhizomes.
Cattails are used as a buffer between sugar farms and the Everglades where they remove phosphorous from the water before it flows into the Everglades. Unfortunately, cattails love phosphorous and can grow out of control and block out the sun while outcompeting the native sawgrass. Spraying herbicides to kill them have a negative effect on the water quality and local wildlife. Of course, any plant given the right conditions, albeit unnatural conditions, can become invasive and will need to be thinned out at times.
Cattails can be used to prevent excess methane emissions in an effort to slow global warming. Currently, scientists are exploring the possibility of using cattails as a biofuel.
Other fun facts – Cattails can be woven into baskets, hats, mats, and beds. The dried seed heads attached to their stalks can be dipped into oil and used as torches. The honey-like substance of the plant near the root has been used as an antiseptic and for toothaches. The roots and cattails themselves can be cooked and turned into a sweet flour that has gluten similar to wheat. The sap in between the leaves is an excellent starch and can be used to thicken stews and soups.
So the next time you see a cattail remember, some may call it a super plant.
Sea Oats are an important species to coastal sand dunes. The dunes provide housing and food to a variety of wildlife. The Florida beach mouse is an endemic species isolated to coastal dunes. Roseate terns, least terns, loggerheads, Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles, green sea turtles, hawksbill sea turtles, leatherback sea turtles, and Black skimmers rely on dunes for nesting. Piping plovers and southeastern snowy plover spend the winter in Florida where they breed in coastal dunes. American oystercatchers feed on small invertebrates and breed on sand dunes (U.S. Fish and Wildlife).
Reconstruction of coastal dunes is a common method of fighting climate change. In an effort to determine if this approach was offering a benefit to vertebrates, a study was conducted between June 2015 and June 2016 to compare natural coastal dunes and reconstructed coastal dunes. After collecting 2537 photos, 33 species were recorded. Common species overlapped both natural and reconstructed dunes. Differences were a result of rare species that were isolated to one area. Overall, the two types of dunes attracted similar types and numbers of vertebrates (Martin et al 2018).
Sea oats may not be endangered but they are protected under Title XI Chapter 161 Section 242 of Florida Statute due to their ability to stabilize sand in coastal regions and protect coasts from erosion. Can you think of any beautiful spaces with sea oats?
Martin, Scott A., Rhett M. Rautsaw, M. Rebecca Bolt, Christopher L. Parkinson, and Richard A. Seigel. 2018. Estimating the response of wildlife communities to coastal dune construction. Vol. 161.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Beach Dune, Coastal Strand and Maritime Hammock. Multi-Species Recovery Plan for South Florida. 3:72-76
Pickerelweed, Pontederia cordata, is a Florida native and is found throughout the state in shallow wetland areas, edges of lakes, marshes, and ponds. These plants have shiny green blade-shaped leaves and emerge in the springtime from under the water level. They will grow about 3 to 5 feet tall and flower with 3 to 4-inch purple-blue flower spikes. The individual flowers will only last one day but the plant will flower from spring through fall.
Pickerelweed is very important ecologically. The underwater portion of this plant provides habitats for micro and macroinvertebrates. These invertebrates are a food source for many animals and fish. Above the water, the flowers attract local pollinators such as butterflies, dragonflies, and bees, Once the flowers die the plant will bear fruit with seeds. The seeds are a treat for ducks who will at times, eat the whole plant. Pickerelweed holds and stabilizes the banks of the water bodies that they surround.
Pickerelweed would be a natural beauty when planted on the edge of man-made ponds in parks and HOAs, and on golf courses and other public places. Advocating for pickerelweed and other native aquatic plants would benefit pollinators and underwater species while beautifying your neighborhood naturally.
Fun fact – Pickerelweed’s fruit contains a nutritious seed that can be eaten by humans straight from the plant. The dried seed can be boiled, roasted, or ground into flour. Young leaves have been eaten in salads.
Named after a settlement in the 1840s, Old Miakka Preserve contains four miles of trails including scrub habitat, pinewood flatwood, and wetlands. The preserve is abundant in flowering plants with numerous pollinators and occasional gopher tortoises. One of the trails is named after Horticulturalist Tim Cash who spent years studying plants within the preserve. If you are looking for a calm trail with lots of sunshine and flowers, visit Old Miakka Preserve in Sarasota, FL.
Have you visited any interesting preserves lately? Message us with your pictures and some fun facts about your visit. Imagine Our Florida will feature your story as a Saturday saunter contributor.
Florida tickseed (coreopsis floridana) is just one of Florida’s many diverse and beautiful wildflowers. This wildflower is endemic to Florida. It can be found throughout most of the state, except the extreme northern Panhandle counties. The Coreopsis was adopted as Florida’s State Wildflower in 1991.
Coreopsis grow best in wet open habitats such as the upper edges of marshes, savannas, and prairies. This is a robust fall bloomer and can stand 3 feet tall in ideal conditions. The petals are bright yellow, surrounding a dark disc. The flowers form a bloom that is two inches across. The leaves are narrow and elliptical in shape. This plant requires wet to moist soil to survive. In such settings, it blooms into showy, beautiful wildflowers.
The longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) gets its name from the shape of its needle-like leaves. They can grow as long as 18 inches and come in bundles of three. The tree with it’s thick, scaly bark grows almost completely straight, boasts a 3-foot diameter, and can reach 80 to 100 feet tall. These slow-growing trees can live up to 300 years.
Prior to restoration efforts, longleaf pines once only occupied 3% of their former range. Forests of longleaf pine were cleared for development and agriculture.
The seeds are developed in cones and dispersed by the wind. They must come in contact with the soil to grow. Fires caused by lightning would clear away leaf litter and brush allowing this to take place. When fire is suppressed, the seeds can not reach the soil. The seeds that take root go through a grass stage. During this stage, the longleaf pine starts to develop its central root, called a taproot, which will grow up to 12 feet long. After the tap toot grows the tree will begin to grow in height. Both the tree and the grass stage are resistant to fire.
There are more than 30 endangered and threatened species, including red-cockaded woodpeckers and indigo snakes who rely on the longleaf pine habitat. The longleaf pines are more resilient to the negative impacts of climate change than other pines. The tree can withstand severe windstorms, resist pests, tolerate wildfires and drought, as well as capture carbon pollution from the atmosphere. The restoration of the longleaf pine has become a major restoration effort.
Wild Coffee (Psychotria nervosa) is a Florida native shrub that gets its name from the small, red fruit it produces. Other names are wood balsam, Seminole Balsamo, and café marron. It is extremely cold sensitive. If it freezes it resprouts in the spring producing a shorter plant.
Wild Coffee, grows as a dense, round, multi-stemmed shrub about 5 feet tall and spreads between 4 to 8 feet. You will see it in pinelands, shell ridges, coastal hammocks, and sandy shaded areas. Its leaves are glossy, puckered, waxy, and light green when in full sun. When in the shade the leaves are deep forest green. The leaves are 5 inches long with veins running through them. Small, white flowers bloom in spring and summer and produce a fragrance similar to the gardenia.
Many butterflies, including the Florida state butterfly, the zebra longwing, and the spicebush swallowtail drink nectar from the flowers of wild coffee. Honeybees visit the flowers and pollinate them. Bright red, half-inch berries appear, in late summer or fall, each with two seeds. These seeds are an important food source for cardinals, catbirds, mockingbirds and blue jays, as well as other birds. Wild coffee berries were once used as a coffee substitute even though they do not contain caffeine.
The shrub grows well in alkaline soil. It is not salt-tolerant, but germinates readily, has few pest problems, needs only varying amounts of water and is not invasive. Is also prevents soil erosion. With its contrasting green leaves and red berries, its fragrance when in bloom and its wildlife benefits, the Wild Coffee shrub will make a wonderful addition to a shady spot in your landscape.
The Ghost Orchid (Dendrophylax lindenii,) is rare and endangered. There are only an estimated 2000 left in Florida. This orchid is prized for its long, white delicate petals. It is leafless and its roots attach to the host tree. The mass of green roots clings tightly to the trunks. It is distinguished from other species of orchid by the presence of thin white markings dotting its roots.
The Ghost Orchid gets its name from its ability to move at night. It appears as if it’s floating, like a ghost.
The Ghost Orchid is pollinated by the Giant Spinx Moth, whose long tongue can reach the nectar that is not accessible to many insects. The swamps of cypress, pond apple, and palm trees are its preferred environment. The orchids specific habitat requirements are high humidity, mild temperatures, and dappled shade.
The Ghost Orchid does not flower reliably. It will typically flower one to two weeks once a year. It requires a specific fungus (mycorrhizal) to be able to thrive. because it is leafless, the orchid relies on its roots to produce sugars from sunlight. The Ghost Orchid has a symbiotic relationship with the fungus as it gathers nutrients from it in exchange for extra sugars.
Habitat destruction and development, as well as over collecting, have been responsible for the decline of ghost orchid populations. The Ghost Orchid is a protected species in public land areas.
With gratitude to Jay Staton for his patience and perseverance in capturing this rare sight. JAY STATON -Published on Oct 20, 2014 “A ghost orchid’s flower takes, on average, 2 days to fully open. This short video shows the remarkable beauty of the most sought-after orchid in the world, including background sound that gets you in the mood.”
The Sea Grape thrives in Florida’s sandy soils. This plant tolerates windy conditions and can act as a windbreak. As well as being salt and drought tolerant, it will stabilize sand dunes while providing habitat for wildlife. This includes protection for nesting sea turtles from artificial light. Look for Sea Grapes in their natural habitat along the beach.
The Sea Grape has an unusual texture with big, round leaves which grow upright on the branches. The leaves are leathery and grow 8 to 10 inches with a reddish tint. They have red veining and some leaves will turn completely red. The female shrubs produce clusters of fruit that resemble grapes that will start out green, and ripen to purple. This plant needs a male and female to cross-pollinate and bear fruit. A Sea Grape plant with its outstretched branches will grow between 6 to 8 feet tall and wide.
The Sea Grape is a small native evergreen tropical tree which can grow as a shrub or be trained as a hedge and does best in full to partial sunlight. Although sensitive to frost, Sea Grape plants can be grown in your yard or garden. Be sure to water until established. Their fruit is very sweet and when ripe provides a tasty treat for people, birds, and squirrels. Jellies and wine are made from the Sea Grapes. Consider planting a Sea Grape Plant in your Florida Native Garden.
Pink Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris). Muhly grass is naturally found in Florida’s pine flatwoods, coastal uplands and even along its highways. This grass produces clumps that can reach 2 to 3 feet tall and up to 3 feet wide. In the fall, muhly grass produces fluffy pink to purple flower stalks, that can reach up to 5 feet tall and give the plant a distinctive and attractive appearance. This grass is resistant to heat, drought, humidity, and salt tolerant, as well as deer and rabbit resistant. Consider planting this native grass in your yard and garden. Native plants typically are adapted to native soils and climate, which also means they thrive with natural rainfall levels. Pink Muhly grass needs little attention and is definitely low maintenance.