Article by LILLY BROWNING, Hernando County Utilities Florida-Friendly Landscaping Program Coordinator, and ALICE MARY HERDEN. Photography by ALICE MARY HERDEN
In this segment, we have a few very special flowering plants, the Florida Milkvine and the wild orchid, Rose Pogonia. These flowering plants flourish and thrive right where they are, in the wild. The reason these and any other flowering plants grow in a particular spot or area is because it’s their preferred natural habitat. The soil, the amount of shade or sunlight and other natural factors including wildfire give them life, energy, and nutrients to grow.
As you explore the outdoors, whether it may be a walk, hike, or out taking photos, take the time to enjoy the beauty nature provides.
Florida Milkvine (Matelea floridana)
Closely related to milkweed, Florida Milkvine is almost endemic to Florida. It has been spotted in one county in Georgia. This vine is a rare find. It is pollinated by beetles. Being so closely related to the Asclepias family, it has been known to attract larvae for the Monarch, Queen, and Soldier butterflies. It is extremely difficult to identify without blooms, and that may add to the low reports. It is considered endangered. It’s only preferred habitat seems to be a hardwood forest. It is sensitive to foot traffic and it doesn’t rebound from development. In a completely natural setting, wildfires benefit this forest dweller. Yet, the clear-cutting that is necessary for today’s controlled burns is detrimental to this fragile vine. On the other hand, invasive species that would take over without the controlled burns would choke this dainty plant out. It is difficult for this wild vine to make it in the modern world. To give it a fighting chance, do not try to pull any up or even collect seeds. We can’t reproduce the ideal situation for this twining beauty. This plant needs all of its resources to thrive and grow in wild conditions.
Common Yucca (Yucca filamentosa)
Also called Adam’s Needle, because of the thread-like filaments that curl around the sharp blades, Common Yucca is indeed a common sight in the dryer areas of Central Florida. They are often overlooked until mid-May to early-June when they send up very tall stalks, sometimes up to 8 feet tall, that have tops covered in white “jingle-bell” type flowers. They are quite eye-catching if you are used to passing by empty lots in the sandhill areas that don’t usually hold your interest. Suddenly, you see amazing white flowers, shaped like bells, swinging in the breeze. They don’t transplant well but can be found for purchase at native nurseries. They would be great for a low-maintenance landscape, a rock garden, or to give a southwestern look with a southeastern native. Earwigs like to crawl around on this plant, but don’t appear to cause damage. This tough native is the larval host plant for the cofaqui giant skipper and the yucca giant skipper butterflies, but it has a very special relationship with the yucca moth. In fact, they are completely codependent. The moth collects pollen and then lays her eggs in the ovary of the yucca flower, while also packing in the pollen. This fertilizes the flower and nurtures and feeds the larvae of the moth. As with all plants in the “century plant” family, the plant will die after producing it’s spectacular bloom stalks, but it has already procreated by producing “pups” that are growing nearby.
False Indigo (Amorpha fruticosa)
This beauty stands tall among our native wildflowers. Literally, it can grow to 12 feet tall. It has verdant green leaves all summer long, which will look fantastic in a wildflower bed. But in the winter and spring, sans leaves, this tall drink of water will produce gorgeous purple plumes with orange anthers, that will be the highlight of any native garden. Put it in the back of a wildflower garden to showcase shorter beauties as well. In the wild, it’s always found in moist areas with full sun. In a garden situation, it can withstand dryer areas with partial shade. It is the host plant for the southern dog-faced sulfur butterfly as well as the silver-spotted skipper. Neither of those fluttering beauties is fond of urban areas, so you may not see them in a butterfly garden, but many other butterflies will come to nectar. This native propagates easily, so you can find it at native nurseries and grow it guilt-free.
Prairie Bur (Krameria lanceolata)
As the common name indicates, Prairie Bur has a spiny bur, and it would be unpleasant to come into direct contact with it. Unlike the grassy sandspur, this prickly plant produces deep red “flowers” with 5 sepals. The actual flowers are not as showy. The burs are covered with dense white hairs, but can still create a painful experience for humans or animals. This woody plant produces stalks up to two feet tall. Bees collect oils from Prairie Bur to feed their larvae. It can be found growing all over the Southeastern US, in partial shade in almost any soil conditions except very moist, deeply shaded areas.
Manyflower Beardtongue (Penstemon multiflorus)
Not many wildflowers are given such descriptive common names. Multiflorus, or the Manyflower part of the Latin and common names, refer to the plethora of white flowers which can be found on the reddish stalks. A long hairy filament protrudes from the corolla, and that is where “beardtongue” comes from. This plant does well in gardens and seeds can be found at the Florida Wildflower Cooperative or native nurseries. It likes full sun but will withstand minimal shade. In the wild, this short-lived perennial attracts hummingbirds and the Baltimore Checkerspot butterfly.
Feature: Rose Pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides)
We have stumbled upon a native orchid on our walk on the wildside! Rose only refers to the pink color of this boggy beauty. It is also called a snake mouth orchid, Rose Pogonia has better public relations value. Pogon means “beard” in Greek, and this dainty little orchid has a beard shaped labellum. Although it doesn’t produce nectar, bees love to pollinate this wetland delight. It can grow all through Florida but is considered endangered. This is a true wild child of swampy areas, preferring acidic bog soil, and doesn’t do well in tamed landscapes. Plants like this are part of the reason conservation lands are critically important.
Have you enjoyed our series so far? Let us know by emailing Lilly Browning at [email protected]