1. A protective structure consisting of a ring of bracts arising below the inflorescence in angiosperms with condensed inflorescences (e.g. the capitulum and umbel). 2. A sheathlike outgrowth of tissue in bryophytes protecting the archegonia or antheridia in certain liverworts. 3. A tubular extension of the thallus of hornworts that rises up and surrounds the base of the sporophyte.Huh? Well, since we're not talking about liverworts or hornworts, we can safely ignore definitions two and three. Let's concentrate on definition number one. "A ring of bracts." I know what a ring is, but what is a ring of bracts? Bracts, as you may or may not know, are modified leaves. They're not actually flowers, but in many ornamental plants, like the Bougainvillea that grows on my neighbor's side of the fence but only sends its thorny branches on our side, they put on a very showy display of "flowers," while the true flowers are rather inconspicuous: That little white thing on the pink stalk? That's the flower (technically it's the pistil, the pollen-receiving part, while the stalk connects the pistil to the base of the flower where the anthers are located). You can see that there are two other stalks in this group, waiting their turns to flower. "Arising below the inflorescence" So a bract can subtend or, as my botanical dictionary definition has it, "aris[e] below the inflorescence" of a flowering plant ("angiosperm"), as it does in the Bougainvillea pictured above. But what's the difference between an inflorescence and a flower? An inflorescence is just a group of flowers that share a common stalk. The typical example of an inflorescence that most people call a flower is a sunflower: As you can see, it has a bunch of bright yellow ray-like "flowers" or "petals" surrounding a darker purple bunch of, um, things. Those things are the actual flowers. The yellow things are variously called sterile florets, ray flowers, ray florets, or even bracts. After all, they're modified leaves. Taken together, this arrangement is an inflorescence: a collection of small flowers arising from the same stalk. Which brings us back to the lantana, whose specific name, involucrata, refers to the arrangement of its flowers into inflorescences with protective bracts arising beneath them: So that's where Button Sage, Lantana involucrata, got its name: the flexible plant with clustered flowers protected by bracts. Got it? Don't lose it. References Bailey, J., ed. 2003. The Facts on File Dictionary of Botany. New York: Facts on File. Capon, B. 2005. Botany for Gardeners, revised edition. Portland, OR: Timber Press.
My last post was about a nice little Florida native plant that I'm trying out (again) in the yard: Lantana involucrata. Now "lantana," you'll recall, in addition to being the name of a town not far from where I live, comes from the Latin for "flexible," whatever that may mean when applied to these rather woody shrubs. But in that recent post about this little flowering shrub, I never did get around to the definition or derivation of the specific name, "involucrata." To do that requires a bit of background, so sit tight, hold on, and learn with me. When I looked the plant up on the FNPS blog, Laurie Sheldon's recent article on the different lantanas available told me that this species has white flowers "borne in flat-topped, sometimes involucrate heads." Now flat-topped, that I understand, but "involucrate"? That has me scratching my head. Sure, you can look it up in a botanical dictionary, as I did, but it might not be a big help. According to my Facts on File Dictionary of Botany, involucre has the following meanings:
Grasses don't get a lot of love. People walk on them, dogs do their business on them. If they get noticed at all it's only for the time it takes the gardener to sigh or curse, depending on temperament, at how tall the grass has gotten before heading off to fire up the lawnmower. Even native gardeners like me often don't bother to know the various species they might have in their yards, except for the showy ornamentals like muhly grass or purple lovegrass. They're so overlooked that people forget that they truly are angiosperms, flowering plants. I was reminded of this the other day when I was out chasing bugs for the camera and I noticed the exquisite flowers on a spikelet of grass in the back yard. The species is the ubiquitous St. Augustinegrass, which is supposed to require a lot of care (read, fertilizing, weedkilling, pesticide applications, frequent mowing) if you want to use it as turf here in South Florida, as many homeowners do. My experience was completely different, however: all I had to do to get this grass to invite itself into my yard was mulch the back yard completely and then let it grow in. It came on its own, with no encouragement from me, and has been spreading in competition with two or three other species of grass and a few nongrassy flowering ground covers like Mexican Clover (Richardia grandiflora). But it's doing quite well, having conquered about half of the nonplanted area in my back yard, and it's making good inroads into the clover-dominated terrain. All this while I've been doing absolutely nothing that your typical lawn-happy homeowner does. Zip, zero, zilch, nada. Of course, without all the fertilizer and weedkiller and other chemicals that I refuse to introduce into my local environment (my children play in this yard!), it's not a beautiful monoculture turf, but that's not really what I'm looking for in my native-planted back yard. And since I prefer the meadow to the golf course, I've let the grass grow up tall around the edges, where it grows the most beautiful little flowers, if you take the time to look closely enough. See? botanical term used of plants when similar parts are directed to one side only, as flowers on an axis. (Lat. secundus, "following"). It's not entirely obvious from my shot of the flowering St. Augustinegrass, but the flowers truly are on only one side of the "stem." I had a hard time finding one of these in flower in the right light; most of them were on the shady side of the stem. References Bradford, J, G. Rogers, and J. Wilkinson. Grasses of Palm Beach and Martin Counties. floridagrasses.org. Taylor, W. K. (2009). A Guide to Florida Grasses. Gainesville: U of Florida P.Grass Terminology I still haven't mastered my graminology, so I have to have my references next to me when I write about it, but according to the dean of Florida botanists, and the first graminologist I'd ever heard of, Walter Kingsley Taylor, the flowering part of the grass you see pictured above is usually called the culm, and depending on species may be "single (simple) or branched (multiple)...creeping, ascending, spreading, erect, abruptly bent (geniculate), or prostrate (decumbent)." For this species, they are "branching, creeping, compressed, terminal and axillary." (I think the comma after "compressed" is a typo.) From just looking at the picture above, I can tell you in my own words (and then in translation to graminological terms) that I love the purple spikelets (stigmas), the gold whatzits (technically called anthers, familiar to those who know wildflowers), and the little white trailing whoozits (filaments). They sure are purty, ain't they? Many grasses propagate vegetatively. That means they spread by growing sideways, rather than needing to grow from seed. They spread vegetatively by two means: stolons, or aboveground runners, and rhizomes, or belowground runners. St. Augustinegrass sends out long aboveground runners, so it uses stolons. Etymology This genus' name is derived fro the Greek words stenos, narrow, and taphros, trench. Again according to Taylor, this refers to the shallow cavities or depressions of the rachis. What's a rachis? Well, according to our local graminologist, George Rogers up at Palm Beach State College (Palm Beach Gardens campus), this is: The species name is Latin and has been adopted by botanists into the English word secund (not a typo): a
It's late October, and in South Florida that means it's going to be either windy, or hot, or both. Today we've got a bit of both: a steady 7–8 mph east wind, with gusts up to 14 mph, and a temperature of 83°F. Mercifully, the humidity is relatively low (under 60%), so the heat index isn't really an issue, but it sure feels hot after the traditional pre-Halloween cool spell we had last weekend. (And for some reason, the weather is never nice on Halloween day.) When the weather's this hot and the breeze is blowing, it gets harder and harder to get outside looking for things to take pictures of (nothing makes for blurry pictures like an unanticipated gust of wind through the field!). But I went outside anyway, because I had a few things I wanted to investigate. One of these is in the back yard, where we have one spindly stalk of milkweed (Asclepia curassavica) growing up near one of our beauty berries (Callicarpa americana). For weeks now I've been seeing milkweed butterflies, mostly Queens (Danaus gillipus) visiting that plant and nectaring and hovering as if considering laying eggs. But I've never seen an egg on it. Today, though, I decided to investigate yet again, and I'm glad I did. I may have missed the egg, but I did find a relatively early instar queen larva up in the flower head:
I've mentioned this plant a few times, but I don't think I've ever really written up this interesting little shrub, Cordia globosa; the common name is bloodberry. It has many virtues to recommend it: it's easy to grow, easy to maintain, and attractive to a wide variety of nectaring insects and berry-hungry birds. The flowers aren't particularly showy, but they are abundant, and when the plant fruits, the little red berries make a nice display. I have one growing in my front "courtyard"; here's a picture of the tiny little flower: Cassius Blue or the Mallow Scrub-Hairstreak, which are tiny little guys that can't extend their proboscis into the deeper flowers. And the berries are so abundant that the giant plant at my old house provoked several families of mockingbirds into weeks'-long squabbles over possession of it. Here's a little shot of that large old plant (and less than a year in the ground at that; it eventually grew to about twice this size): IRCS website notes that it is listed as endangered by the state of Florida, and imperiled in the Florida Keys. It's readily available in the native plant trade, though. I'm hoping to get numerous seedling of this baby and plant them as a hedge in the front yard. I've got several firebushes and cocoplums in the propagation station, but nothing looks super vigorous, and I know firsthand how fast this bloodberry plant can grow. The name is a bit of a puzzler: cordialis in Latin is hearty, cordial, but that doesn't help us at all. In fact, cordia is actually an eponym. The genus was named after the 16th-century German botanist Valerius Cordus. Globosa is, well, globular (spherical, really), as in globular cluster. The plant is usually written up as Cordia globosa (Jacq.) Kunth HBK., which might lead one to believe that this is another of the plants described by the short-lived French botanist, Victor Jacquemont. Another one is the vine in my back yard, Jacquemontia pentanthos. However, this is not the case, because Victor Jacquemont was born in 1801, and no matter how precocious he was, I don't think he was getting published before birth. No, this plant was described in 1760 as Varronia globosa by Nicolas Josef Freiherr von Jacquin in his ponderously titled, pre-Linnaean botanical prodromus, Enumeratio Systematica Plantarum, quas In Insules Caraibes vicinaque Americes continente detexit novas, aut jam cognitas emendavit). Here are the two pages where it is mentioned by Jacquin; first the "genus" page:
Flowering trees add visual interest to your home landscape, sure. Some of them, like this Tabebuia tree (Tabebuia chrysotricha), that's about all they do:
One of the cornerstone plantings in my new backyard is a Wild Lime tree, Zanthoxylum fagara. It didn't come from the native plant auction, but from one of my friends in the Audubon Society who is also an FNPS member and who graciously allowed me to come take many many plants to get my back yard started. Wild lime is a great one, because it's useful in many ways: as a larval host plant for Giant Swallowtail butterflies, as a cover plant for small birds (it has thorns to deter predators, although because it's a tree, it's not as good as a thickety shrub would be), and, because of its aromatic leaves, as a nice accent tree in the native garden. Neither Craig Huegel ("The seeds have only very minor value to most wildlife") nor Rufino Osorio ("It does not have any outstanding horticultural attributes...") seem to like it too much, although they note that it is popular with butterfly gardeners. I'm just glad that it's coming in, as I had my doubts when I first planted it. It seemed to be taking forever to send up new growth. But some tender leaflets are appearing at last:
Our old house in Boca was just starting to enjoy some great trees and shrubs after our native plant makeover of several years back, but it was a little light on wildflowers. Sure, we had tropical sage (Salvia coccinea), but that was really about it. We had planted lizard's tail, scorpion tail, and a few other perennials, but they all sort of got tired of living there, I guess, because they all sort of disappeared. Even my pickerelweed and blue flag iris sort of petered out after a while, although they're both still around over there, and I didn't really know what to do to cultivate/renew/rejuvenate them. Now that I'm in a new place, and am a card-carrying member of FNPS, though (not literally; if they issue membership cards, I didn't get one in my packet) I intend to lean heavily on the wisdom and experience of the membership of that organization to keep my new plantings, wildflowers included, ship-shape. One tiny little plant (two, actually) taking pride of place right now in the new plantings is Heliotropium polyphyllum, Pineland Heliotrope. It's sort of accidental that it's taking pride of place: there were two containers of H. polyphullum in the auction lot, whereas all the other plant species I came home with that night were singletons. According to Craig Huegel, Pineland heliotrope comes in two different forms, one of which grows up to 12 inches high, while the other is a recumbent species not getting much above 3 inches off the ground. Apparently the difference in growth form is also accompanied by a difference in flower color: the yellow variety grows tall, while the white variety stays small. Here are a couple of shots of my scraggly little guys, about as high right now as the white variety will ever get, but these are yellow:
There's a tiny little street in Paris, in the 17th arrondissement, not too far from the Parc Monceau, called Rue Jacquemont. It's named after the French botanical explorer Victor Jacquemont, who traveled briefly to the United States before moving on to India for the remainder of his too-short life (b. 1801, d. 1832). But he is immortalized in the taxonomic name of several lovely New World vines, two of which I know from Florida: Jacquemontia reclinata (Beach Jacquemontia) and J. pentanthos, Skyblue clustervine. The latter vine is one that I obtained at the recent auction benefitting the Palm Beach County chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society; I've planted it along the back fence near another lovely vine that I wrote about last week, Passiflora suberosa. According to one online guide for South Florida gardeners, J. pentanthos is "infrequently cultivated and unsightly when out of flower," but it does go on to mention that "the compelling blue flowers make this species splendid when it is in flower." For a more thorough review of the species, this article from the Naples News cites Rufino Osorio and Roger Hammer, with plenty of photos. The vine doesn't look like much right now: USDA's species account agrees with Osorio, that's the spelling I've followed as well. It's been a few days since I planted this vine, and it seems to be doing really well, sending out runners and tendrils groping for the fence and the surrounding area; I suspect it will be a rather vigorous grower. I can only hope that its neighboring passionvine will turn on the growth as well...
One of the plants I scored at the native plant auction earlier this week is a real workhorse in the garden: Passiflora suberosa, Corkystem passionvine. It's one of our two native passionvines. Not as showy as its cousin, P. incarnata (the "maypop" vine), it is nonetheless also a larval food plant for three species of butterfly in Florida: Gulf fritillary, Julia heliconian, and Zebra heliconian. I've had several generations of Gulf fritillaries on the maypop at the old house; I'm hoping for many more to come on the corkystem here at the new digs... Here's what the maypop looked like at my house in 2009: Quite a difference, eh? And here is what it looks like in my yard at the moment:
Birds are fond of these fruits and are the main dispersers of the seeds, "planting" them in their droppings. Another animal relationship is with the zebra butterfly. This local representative of the tropical family Heliconidae lays its eggs only on passionflowers, the caterpillars feeding on them specifically. The plant has developed defenses against this onslaught, including poisons in the foliage and even the growing of "fake eggs" on the stem. If a female butterfly sees these, she will move on without laying her own eggs.Quite a story, eh? I've not seen any fake eggs on mine (that I'm aware of), but I'll keep looking! I got another vine as well, a Jacquemontia, about which more later...
For anyone interested in creating a backyard habitat for wildlife, it makes sense to learn everything you can about your own backyard and what kind of plants will thrive there. So this year I joined the Florida Native Plant Society, Palm Beach County chapter. And this week they held their native plant auction, which I attended with the desire to acquire both knowledge and some appropriate plants for my yard. And I came away with both desires satisfied. The auction had groups of plants arranged into themes: butterfly garden plants, grasses, "staples" (i.e. plants for beginners to grow), orchids, etc. I had hoped to get some grasses, but the bidding was too intense for me, so I had to settle for picking up the starter group, which actually contained many plants that I was looking for, and some that I'd never planned to use but am quite happy to have. (I still need a bunch of "normal" native plants, like cocoplum, wild coffee, firebush, etc., that I have in abundance at the old house, but I'm not ready to try my hand at propagating; at least not yet.) There was also a silent auction for some plants that didn't go into the themes, and a few leftovers from their sale table at an event the previous weekend, and I picked up several from each category as well. Over the next few days, I'll tell you about them. The first plant I want to talk about is the first one I put into the ground: Florida-privet, Forestiera segregata. It's a shrub that is perfect for hedging, with tons of tiny little flowers that aren't particularly showy but that are quite attractive to many insect species. And when it fruits, it's rather attractive to birds as well. I'd been trying (quite lazily) to get this plant for some time, so I was quite pleased when a decent-sized one fell into my lap last night. I've got it planted in a nice sunny corner of the yard, and can't wait for it to get established so I can see what it will really look like. After all, it's hard to tell what it will be like from its appearance right now:
Both the regular and small-leaved forms make excellent, tough, pest-resistant garden plants. As a result of their stiff, densely leafy branches, Florida-privets make excellent hedge plants that may be trimmed to any desired height or shape. [...] Although the flowers are small and inconspicuous and lack petals, they are sweetly fragrant and provide abundant nectar for an assortment of insects.Gil Nelson, in Florida's Best Native Landscape Plants, agrees:
The dainty and tidy habit; thick, dense, evergreen foliage; drought and salt tolerance; and edible fruit, which are a superb source for songbirds, make Florida privet an excellent landscape plant. Tolerates pruning and shaping.About all he can find to complain about is that it is "subject to a few insect pests, but not seriously so." My newest reference, Craig Huegel's Native Plant Landscaping for Florida Wildlife has the best advice, and something I hadn't remembered to check, and will need to address as soon as I find out whether I have a male or female:
[O]nly the females produce the large and dependable crops of 1/4-inch purple fruit that make this such a valuable wildlife plant. [...] Because it is dioecious, it needs to be planted in groups.My little specimen won't tell me whether it's male or female for some time, so I'll have to leave room in the yard for more of this guy to come in at a later date. Elizabeth Smith, over in Southwest Florida and an excellent blogger whom I just discovered, had a similar experience, as you can see from this beautiful page of one of her gardening journals (click on the image to go to her blog post about it, and explore her site for yourself; it's worth it!): I can't recommend her blog highly enough; I wish I had the talent and energy to sketch as she does. Something to aspire to!