New plant: Climbing aster

After leading my annual Audubon Society of the Everglades birding field trip to Green Cay this November 28, I made my annual stop at Native Choice Nursery. They weren't yet open for the day, but they'd left out exactly what I wanted: Climbing Aster (Aster carolinianus). I paid in the main office (a bargain at $5 each) and put them in the ground in the morning, watered them in, and left for the beach. They're basically a wetland plant in the wild, but one of my books tells me that they're pretty adaptable, so I put them in along a fence (to give them something to climb) next to another climbing vine-type plant, Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), which is another plant that starts to sulk when I neglect to hit it with the hose every few days. Here's a photo from Craig Huegel's excellent blog, (he's also written several recent books on various types of Florida native plants): Here's hoping mine do half as well. The more photogenic of the two I picked up is below:
Climbing Aster (Aster carolinianus). Boca Raton, FL, November 28, 2005.

Climbing Aster (Aster carolinianus). Boca Raton, FL, November 28, 2015.

Neither of the plants I bought had lovely blooms on them. I did this deliberately, because those typically drop off very soon after planting, leaving me disappointed. And the blooming season of these plants is very late, so I'm hoping that by putting it next to the summer-blooming Coral Honeysuckle I'll have blooms even in the dead of "winter" here. Plus, asters are the larval host plant family for the Pearl Crescent, so I'm hoping this planting will take off and provide some food for those lovely little guys.

Butterfly Sage: bees love it, too!

Hmm...Let's see whether there's any nectar in this here Cordia globosa flower.
Birds love it. Bees love it. Maybe even educated fleas love it. But butterflies probably love it the most. What is it? Why, butterfly sage, of course. I've written before about the merits of this plant variously known as butterfly sage, blood berry, bonbon rond, guérit-tout, gout tea, Curaçao bush, and more. All these names, and many more, according to Dan Austin, refer to this Florida-native shrub with the shaggy leaves, white flower heads, and red fruits, Cordia globosa. Mockingbirds are so partial to the abundant red berries and its densely branching habit that pairs will stake them out as nesting places and defend them against all comers. (The berries aren't particularly ornamental, though, because they're so small.)
Cordia globosa. Boca Raton, FL, September 6, 2015.

Cordia globosa. Boca Raton, FL, September 6, 2015.

Honeybees are on the flowers from dawn till dusk. And even though it's not a larval host plant for any butterfly that I know of, it's one of the best butterfly nectar plants around, particularly for the smaller butterflies like the Fiery Skipper and the smaller blues and hairstreaks. In my yard, the following species have been seen on it (hit the links to recent photos for some species; the other species listed are ones for which I'm confident that I had photos before the hard-drive crash of Thanksgiving 2014):
  • Atala Blue (Eumaeus atala)
  • Mallow Scrub-Hairstreak (Strymon istapa)
  • Martial Scrub-Hairstreak (S. martialis)
  • Cassius Blue (Leptotes cassius)
  • Ceraunus Blue (Hemiargus ceraunus)
  • Horace's Duskywing (Erynnis horatius)
  • Fiery Skipper (Hylephila philaeus)
  • Monk Skipper (Asbolis capucinus)
  • Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)
  • Zebra Heliconian (Heliconius charithonia)
  • Monarch (Danaus plexippus)
  • Queen (Danaus gallipus)
  • Great Southern White (Ascia monuste)
In addition to the ones listed above, I'm fairly certain that several other butterflies who frequent the yard also enjoy it, to wit:
  • Little Yellow (Pyrisitia lisa)
  • Barred Yellow (Eurema daira)
  • Dainty Sulphur (Nathalis iole)
  • Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae)
Heck, even dragonflies love it:
Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis). Boca Raton, FL, March 19, 2015.

Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis). Boca Raton, FL, March 19, 2015.

One of the reasons it's such a good butterfly (and bird) plant is that the leaves and branches are stiff enough to support the weight of larger butterflies, but its flower clusters (inflorescences, to be technical) are shallow enough to allow short-tongued species to reach in:
Cassius Blue butterfly with a face full of Cordia globosa flower. Boca Raton, FL, September 3, 2015.

Cassius Blue butterfly with a face full of Cordia globosa flower. Boca Raton, FL, September 3, 2015.

In fact, the flowers are so small and so inviting that they also attract the tiny halictid bees in the genus Lasioglossum chalcid wasps in the family Chalcidae, which seem to enjoy crawling around inside small flowers like Richardia, Lantana, and Cordia. Of course, when butterfly meets wasp, there's sometimes a bit of a standoff. And that's what I found just the other day in the photo sequence below. In this first shot, the butterfly (a Cassius Blue) has just landed on the flower head and hasn't yet probed it. The wasp appears to be playing a game of hide and seek, or perhaps peekaboo:
Hmm...Let's see whether there's any nectar in this here Cordia globes flower.

Butterfly: Hmm... Let's see whether there's any nectar in this here flower. Wasp: Hmm... Let's see whether I can scare the nectar out of that butterfly!

Yup. But I'm not sure I want it now!

Butterfly: Better unfurl that proboscis and find out! Wasp: Better not!

Better unfurl that proboscis and find out!

Butterfly: Yipe! You can keep your nectar! There's plenty of other flowers on this bush! Wasp: You're darn tootin'!

The first shot was taken about two seconds before the second and third ones, which were taken at "the same time" according to my camera's info. If you look closely at the sequence of photos, you can see the butterfly backing away between the second and third shot after almost getting a proboscis full of wasp! I didn't get close enough to verify through the lens, but I'm pretty sure the wasp has a self-satisfied smirk on its face. And, in case you were wondering about the Cole Porter reference that started this post, here's a picture of a pair of Cassius Blues enjoying the convenience of the butterfly sage plant in one of the most fundamental of ways:
Cassius Blue pair enjoying the butterfly sage. Boca Raton, FL, August 30, 2015.

Cassius Blue pair enjoying the butterfly sage. Boca Raton, FL, August 30, 2015.

References Austin, D. 2006. Florida Ethnobotany. Boca Raton, FL: Taylor & Francis. Osorio, R. 2001. A Gardener's Guide to Florida's Native Plants. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.

My baby blolly, after four years: boy or girl?

Blolly (Guapira discolor) in fruit. Boca Raton, FL, August 21, 2015
Four and a half years ago we moved into a new house. This involved a lot of new things: first, and most importantly, of course, a new baby boy. Happy, shiny day. Also, relatively easy to determine the sex (baby humans have dangly bits). Baby plants, though, don't have such obvious markers of sex. For example, right around the time we were moving into our lovely new home with our lovely new baby boy, I was planting a lovely new garden. And I put in a lovely little tree called a Blolly (Guapira discolor). As with most plants, though, unless you're lucky enough to catch it in fruit or in flower, it's hard to tell whether it's a male, female, or both. (Plants that are both male and female are called dioecious; plants that are one or the other are monoecious. Flowers that are both male and female—that is, they bear both male stamens and female pistils—are called "perfect.") And when plants are young, they're not likely to bear either fruit or flower, particularly the slow-growing trees like the blolly. Like humans, the blolly tree is dioecious, which means it has separate male and female plants. (Unlike humans, though, it's usually the female plant that carries the dangly bits.) Unfortunately, I've never been able to find a good picture of either male or female flowers of this plant, so I've never known whether my little tree was a boy or a girl. And it's important to know, because when you have dioecious plants, if you want to ensure that they bear fruit, you need to have both male and female in relatively close proximity so pollination can occur. (Anyone who's read this blog knows that I have a whole host of busy pollinators to make that happen.) Trouble is, blolly flowers are so darn small that even when I see them, I can't see whether they have stamens or pistils. (And I'm such a hands-off naturalist that I don't even try to dissect them myself; perhaps something to consider?) So it would be really helpful to have a picture or a description of male and female flowers, so I could know which blolly to plant next: male, or female? The paucity of flower pictures has a reason. My two native plant guides that discuss this tree (Huegel 2010 and Osorio 2001) give a clue as to why pictures of the flowers are hard to find. They each say something to the effect that "the small greenish flowers are inconspicuous" (Osorio) but that the flowers are followed several months later by "clusters of 1/3-inch bright red fruit. . . that rarely last long as they are eaten quickly by birds" (Huegel). Here are the only flowers I've seen on this plant, captured back in April of this year; I'd have to agree that they are indeed "inconspicuous":
Blolly (Guapira discolor) in bloom. April 13. 2015. Boca Raton, FL.

Blolly (Guapira discolor) in bloom. April 13. 2015. Boca Raton, FL.

From that photo, can anyone tell me whether they're male or female? Knowing what I know now, I can: they're female. How do I know? Well, here's what they turned into:
Blolly (<em>Guapira discolor</em>) in fruit. Boca Raton, FL, August 21, 2015

Blolly (Guapira discolor) in fruit. Boca Raton, FL, August 21, 2015

Showy red fruits indeed! And those dangly red bits would seem to indicate that I have a female blolly. Here's a picture of a seed:
Blolly (<em>Guapira discolor</em>)  seed. August 27, 2015.

Blolly (Guapira discolor) seed. August 27, 2015.

However, here's the hard part—I still don't know whether my blolly is male or female! Why not? Because the blolly, I'm told by my nursery lady, can actually change from being dioecious to monoecious when its counterpart isn't available. Intriguing, no? Given that bit of information, I just had to find out more. I have to warn you: If you're looking around on the web and trying to find out more about how plants change sex, good luck. There's a lot of noise and not much signal. All of my search engine results are cluttered with people asking how to change their marijuana plants from male to female. I did find this summary of an article in Oecologia from 1980 that seemed like it might at least present evidence that such changes are not uncommon, although it doesn't sound like it goes into specifics on how the change occurs. So I emailed Rufino Osorio, the man who seems to know everything about Florida native plants, and here is what he told me:
If a label must be placed on your plant, here are two such labels that you can use: If your plant is female, and it produced a few male flowers that pollinated a few female flowers leading to fruit production, then your plant is subgynoecious (having female flowers with a few male or perfect flowers). If your plant is male, and it produced a few female flowers that got pollinated by the male flowers, then your plant is subandroecious (having male flowers with a few female or perfect flowers). Note that these labels do not apply to blolly as a species. They apply only to your plant. As a species, blolly is dioecious. And blolly, as a species, does not stop being dioecious simply because a few individuals might occasionally deviate from strict dioecy. It's just like people—human beings, as a species, are not described as albino simply because an occasional human being is born with the complete absence of melanin.
In order to test the "basic" sexuality of my plant, I'll have to wait until I see more flowers, find out whether they're mostly male, mostly female, or all male or all female, and proceed from there. Yay, homework! References Huegel, C. 2010. Native Plant Landscaping for Florida Wildlife. Gainesville: U of Florida P.   Osorio, R. 2001. A Gardener’s Guide to Florida Native Plants. Gainesville: U of Florida P.

Senna and sulphurs

Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae) caterpillar on host plant, Senna mexicana.
This spring I overhauled the front part of the front yard, getting rid of some scraggly dune sunflower and replacing it with some more long-lived plants. (Not that dune sunflower is bad or short-lived, but I have it in many other areas of the yard as well, and it needs frequent cutting back to keep it looking nice.) I put in some of the usual suspects with lovely little flowers: beach creeper (Ernodia littoralis), blue porterweed (Stachytarpheta jamaicensis), and a few actual wildflowers (a wild petunia, among others). I also put in three (count 'em, three!) little plants on which I pinned some rather high hopes: Bahama senna (Senna mexicana var. chapmanii).
Chapman's or Bahama Senna (Senna mexicana). Boca Raton, FL, April 8, 2015

Chapman's or Bahama Senna (Senna mexicana). Boca Raton, FL, April 8, 2015.

These are also called dwarf senna, so I suppose I shouldn't count on them to grow very large, but the pictures I've seen of them in my plant guides show some tremendously flowering plants, with big yellow flowers dominating the scene. That one lonely bloom in the picture above was supposed to be just the first of many. Hasn't worked out that way; once the blooms that were on the plants when I brought them home from the nursery were gone, there were no more. Rufino Osorio's guide mentions that they flower most profusely in autumn and spring, so perhaps a long period of summer dormancy isn't anything to worry about. But they also never seemed to grow. Whenever I went out to look at them, I saw snapped-off new growth, as if the plants were just too brittle for our breezy locale. I checked for insect damage but could never find a culprit, even though I know that several lovely yellow butterflies use these as their larval host plants (which was one of the reasons I'd brought them into the garden, after all.) Recently, however, as I was out pulling weeds after several months of heat-induced procrastination, I noticed what I'd probably just been overlooking for the past few months: a big, bright green and yellow caterpillar munching contentedly on the leaves, practically denuding the branches it was on:
Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae) caterpillar on host plant, Senna mexicana.

Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae) caterpillar on host plant, Senna mexicana.

The bright blue outlines around the black spots, combined with the yellow racing stripe on a green body are distinguishing characteristics of the lovely Cloudless Sulphur butterfly, an insect whose devotion to its larval host plant is reflected in its taxonomic name: Phoebis sennae. This caterpillar, despite its bright colors, just blends right into the leaves and stems of the host plant. It's the same kind of camouflage enjoyed by some parakeets. Take a look at them out of their natural setting (on a telephone wire, for example) and you'd wonder just how in the heck they could ever conceal their bright green colors. Why haven't they all been eaten by predators? But then you watch an entire flock of them just completely disappear into the green-leaved canopy of a large tree and it hits you: their camouflage is just perfect for where they evolved. At least, that's what I'm telling myself after months of apparent obliviousness to these quite large caterpillars trimming my bushes so effectively. Here's what this lovely young rascal will eventually turn into:
Cloudless Sulphur butterfly (Phoebis sennae). Boca Raton, FL, October 5, 2014.

Cloudless Sulphur butterfly (Phoebis sennae). Boca Raton, FL, October 5, 2014.

Here's another shot of a different larva, from the top (I just love the symmetry of the spots and the "wings" of the senna leaves):
Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae) caterpillar on host plant, Senna mexicana. Top view.

Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae) caterpillar on host plant, Senna mexicana

And a different adult:
Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae). Boca Raton, FL, August 12, 2015

Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae). Boca Raton, FL, August 12, 2015.

We have lots of butterflies here in south Florida. And if we plant pretty little plants that they enjoy, we can enjoy even more of them!

New backyard plant: Portulaca pilosa

I didn't plant this pretty little weed, known variously as pink purslane, kiss-me-quick, or pigweed, but I'm glad to see it volunteering in my yard. Pink Purslane, known to horticulturists as Portulaca pilosa, is a low-growing plant with succulent leaves (succulent in both the technical and culinary senses) and pretty little pink flowers (although if you plan to eat it, I understand it's better to do so before the plant puts out its flowers).
Pink Purslane (Portulaca pilosa. Boca Raton, FL, May 14, 2015.

Pink Purslane (Portulaca pilosa. Boca Raton, FL, May 14, 2015.

Etymology: According to my Brown (1927), the common name, purslane, comes to us from the Old French porcelaine, which is from the Latin porcilaca, a corruption of portulaca. Lewis and Short's Latin Dictionary (1879) and the OED both give the spelling purslain, while the latter goes on to explain that portulaca was taken as a generic name by Tournefort in 1700. Apparently it translates literally as "little gate" (porte, right?), describing the lid on the fruit capsule. Pilosa means pilose, hairy. I don't know much about culinary or nonculinary edibles, but there's a good account of this plant over at My Herbal Notebook that you might want to read sometime. For some reason, Dan Austin didn't include this widespread native plant in his Florida Ethnobotany; perhaps there aren't any records or traditions of its use here or in the wider Caribbean.

Springtime flowers: Gumbo Limbo

You know it's spring in south Florida when your Gumbo Limbo sticks—er, trees—start to flower:
Gumbo Limbo (Bursera simaruba) flowers. Boca Raton, FL, April 11, 2015.

Gumbo Limbo (Bursera simaruba) flowers. Boca Raton, FL, April 11, 2015.

You see, Gumbo Limbos are briefly deciduous—at the end of the cool part of the dry season, they drop their leaves, and for a brief while their branches are bare:
Bare branches of Gumbo Limbo during leaf exchange. Boca Raton, FL, April 8, 2015.

Bare branches of Gumbo Limbo during leaf exchange. Boca Raton, FL, April 8, 2015.

Nursery people call this "leaf exchange," and some trees do it very quickly (my neighbor's huge Pongam tree dropped two tons of leaves on my lawn in the space of three days, and three days later it had already leafed out again), while others do it more slowly. My Gumbo Limbo does it fairly slowly, all the more so since the scale insects seem to adore it so. If you click on the photo of the flower above to look at the larger version, you can see there are some tiny little scaly jerks sucking the life out of this tender new growth. I've removed as many as I can with my big clumsy fingers, but getting them all is beyond my abilities. I'm just hoping to reduce the population enough that the tree's new growth can establish itself quickly enough to be able to withstand the onslaught until the various scale predators can help me out. I've already seen several lacewing eggs on the tree, strategically located close to the emerging new growth; with luck these voracious larvae, which feed on scale, will help me stem the tide:
Green lacewing eggs on Gumbo Limbo. Boca Raton, FL, April 11, 2015.

Green lacewing eggs on Gumbo Limbo. Boca Raton, FL, April 11, 2015.

Green lacewings are interesting little beasts. As their name implies, they are delicate, lacelike creatures that do nothing but good in the garden: The adults are usually predators of other insects, but a few species feed only on pollen. The larvae, on the other hand, are excellent predators on all kinds of small soft-bodied garden pests (aphids, scale, and the like), which is why lacewings are one of the more frequently used biological pest control species. Here's a picture of the "trashbug" from a few years ago: If you're interested in reading more about green lacewings, here is an excellent blog post by Carol Leffler over in Polk County, writing for the Florida-Friendly Landscaping program. Some highlights:
  • Newly emerged lacewing adults undertake miles-long nighttime dispersal flights even when there's suitable habitat where they were born. (Adaptation for species/habitat diversity)
  • A single lacewing larva can consume up to 200 aphids or eggs per week. (No wonder these insects are sold as pest control despite their habit of dispersal upon reaching adulthood)
  • Lacewings are relatively long-lived insects (they can live for several months, rather than the weeks or days of butterflies, flies, and other flying insects).
You go, little guys!

New backyard plant: Willow Bustic

On the first day of spring 2015 (that was March 20 for those of you who still aren't keeping track of the seasons and astronomical events) I planted a new tree in the side yard out front: a Willow Bustic, Sideroxylon salicifolium. (Although take that taxonomic name with a grain of salt; apparently the tree is a taxonomic nightmare, with a list of synonyms, or former classifications, a mile long.) Its slender growth habit and fragrant flowers make it the perfect tree for that difficult area in the small area between the driveway and the neighbor's ficus (sigh) hedge. No pictures yet, because it's a new planting and will take a while to develop. This entry is "for the record." It flowers all year, and according to the Institute for Regional Conservation it is a nectar plant for various Florida butterflies, including the Florida duskywing (Ephyriades brunneus) and red-banded hairstreak (Calycopis cecrops), neither of which have yet been recorded in my yard. The duskywings are tough to ID, though, so maybe if  I comb through my photo logs and look at all the "Horace's Duskywing" shots one will turn up... Craig Huegel calls it a good food plant, with "small white flowers" that bloom for a several-week period between February and May, followed by many 1/4-inch purple black fruit in the summer. So it's both a nectar source for butterflies and other pollinating insects in the early part of spring when nectar is scarce, and a food source for birds in the summer. Here you can see the flower buds getting ready to do their thing. The tree was planted in March with the flower buds already on it, so it's not like this photo proves that the tree loves my yard or anything, but it's still kinda nice:
Willow Bustic (Sideroxylon salicifolium) flower buds. Boca Raton, FL, April 2, 2015.

Willow Bustic (Sideroxylon salicifolium) flower buds. Boca Raton, FL, April 2, 2015.

Huegel says that it's also a larval host plant for another sphinx moth, the Ello sphinx, which is nice. Of this large moth family (that is, the moths are large AND the family, Sphingidae, is rather species-rich as well) I've seen Xylophanes pluto, Enyo lugubris, and Manduca sexta in the yard already, and I'm looking forward to another chance at Erinnyis ello, which I found feeding on the buttonwoods I had to take out earlier this spring. Etymology The  genus name, according to Austin, comes from the Greek sidero, iron, and xylum, wood. So Willow Bustic belongs to the genus of "ironwoods" (not to be confused with another Florida native, Black Ironwood, Krugiodendron ferreum, whose specific epithet is Latin, not Greek, for "ironlike"; the genus name honors a botanist named Krug plus the Greek word dendron, "tree." So the Black Ironwood is "Krug's tree"). The specific epithet (salicifolium) means "willow-leaved." As you might guess from that derivation, the wood of this tree is rather strong and heavy, making damage from windstorms "unlikely" (Haehle and Brookwell). In case you're interested, here's the list of taxonomic names that this tree has gone by in the past:
Synonyms of Sideroxylon salicifolium from

Synonyms of Sideroxylon salicifolium from

References Austin, D. 2006. Florida Ethnobotany. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press. Haehle, R. G. and Brookwell, J. 2004. Native Florida Plants: Low-Maintenance Landscaping and Gardening. Lanham, Md.: Taylor Trade. Huegel, C. 2010. Native Plant Landscaping for Florida Wildlife. Gainesville: U of Florida P.

New backyard plant: Beach Creeper

My front yard is a problem. It faces south, and it's very hot and dry. The soil is sandy, and because much of the front yard is reclaimed from a time when the street was wider, there's a lot of crushed limestone under that sand layer, making for tough digging: those loosely compacted rocks are just a few inches below the sand in most areas. Most of the plants I put out there shrivel up and die because I'm not going to get out there and hand water them year-round. That's just not something I'm going to do. Sure, I'll water plants in (2-3 months of daily at first then every other day hand watering), but after that, they're on their own. So I need plants that are used to hard times, hot weather, and dry conditions. You can bet that the following description of Beach Creeper (Ernodea littoralis) in Rufino Osorio's Gardener's Guide to Florida's Native Plants made me sit up and take notice:
Beach creeper is a tough, indestructible groundcovering shrub restricted to coastal sites in sandy or rocky areas.… When happily situated, it may cover fairly sizable areas, and it is being recommended as a groundcover for hot, dry, difficult areas.
I mean, how much more perfect can you get? So when my landscaping consultant came down for her biannual maintenance over at mom's (the old house), I asked her to swing by my place and make some recommendations for the site. She allowed as to how Ernodea might do really well here, and I was not slow to take up the suggestion. I immediately began hoeing away, clearing the weedy patch of dirt of its remnant mix of turf, mexican clover, Virginia pepper, and wireweed (to mention only the most dominant species). After that it was just a matter of deciding how much of what to plant where, getting the plants, mulching the beds, watering them in, weeding every day, and constantly trying to see what needed to be done next. No problem, right? As it happens, I decided to put in seven little creepers out there, and now I'm waiting for them to start creeping around. Until then, there are only a few flowers and a few small golden fruits to enjoy:
Beach Creeper (Ernodea littoralis) flowers. Boca Raton, FL, March 28, 2015.

Beach Creeper (Ernodea littoralis) flowers. Boca Raton, FL, March 28, 2015.

Beach Creeper (Ernodea littoralis fruit. Boca Raton, FL, April 8, 2015.

Beach Creeper (Ernodea littoralis) fruit. Boca Raton, FL, April 8, 2015.

I've planted them in a group out near the mailbox where there's absolutely no shade anywhere, so I'm really hoping they live up to their reputation as tough, drought resistant, "indestructible." One of the common names of this plant in the Bahamas is "cough bush"; according to Austin in the Turks and Caicos and Out Islands, people boil the leafy branch tips into a tea to treat cough. (According to the Leon Levy preserve website, though, this plant is "not used in the Bahamas medicinally," so I'll let you decide whom to believe.) The staff at Leon Levy and Roger Hammer (in his new book) both agree, though, that this plant is an excellent butterfly and hummingbird attractor. Hammer recommends using it in a hanging basket, though, if you're trying to attract hummingbirds; it's too low to the ground for them otherwise. Behind these tough plants that may or may not work if you have a cough, and that you should hang in a basket if you're trying to attract hummingbirds, I've put in some more new plants, trying to turn that old gumbo limbo I put there last year into something of a focal point. So in addition to the Beach Creeper out by the street, I also have a pair of Button Sage (Lantana involucrata) and a lone Blue Porterweed (Stachytarpheta jamaicensis). Those guys are supposed to like things a bit moister than the Beach Creeper, so I may continue "watering them in" longer than I will the Ernodea. Which means daily sessions with the hose until the rains kick in sometime in late May. I try to do those early enough in the morning that the heat hasn't kicked in yet; we're in the hot but dry portion of our dry season, waiting several more long weeks (7 or so by my count) for the rains to arrive. That new group of plants in its mulch bed looked so nice, I couldn't stop there. I now had to try to reclaim that whole strip of yard that had grown somewhat weedy since the Royal "Pain"ciana came down. So there's another new planting bed that I put in for the new focal tree of the landscape: the Jacaranda caerulea that I wrote about earlier this month. In this bed I've planted three Bahama Sennas, two more Blue Porterweeds, and a lone Wild Petunia that my nursery man threw in for "free." Here's a picture of what the new planting beds look like (mouse over the image to see the labels):

New plantings, April 2015 (mouse over the image to see the labels, or if you can't do that, click here for the labeled version. Boca Raton, FL, April 8, 2015.

You can see that, even though the remnant turf is dried and unsightly, the new planting beds give the landscape a nice, defined look, making all that hoeing, mulching, watering, and weeding worthwhile. And in a few weeks, once the rains kick in, I'll be able to give up the daily waterings. (Stopping those sessions might actually lead to problems, though, since it's during the watering sessions that I notice the incipient weeds sprouting up. If I'm not out there every day in the cool of the morning, I might have a much bigger battle with the weeds than I'd like!) Etymology Ernodea seems to derive from the Greek ernos, "sprout," "shoot"; makes sense given the growth habit ("stems widely spreading, with a tendency to arch to the ground"). Littoralis means "of the shore," again sensible for this coastal plant. References Austin, D. 2006. Florida Ethnobotany. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press. Hammer, R. 2015. Attracting Hummingbirds and Butterflies in Tropical Florida: A Companion for Gardeners. Gainesville: U of Florida P. Osorio, R. 2001. A Gardener’s Guide to Florida Native Plants. Gainesville: U of Florida P.

What’s in a name? The “involucrate” of Lantana involucrata

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:
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:

Bougainvillea flower (mouse over image to see labels, or if you can't do that, click here for the labeled version). Boca Raton, FL, March 31, 2015

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:

Dune sunflower (mouse over image to see labels, or if you can't do that, click here for the labeled version). Boca Raton, FL, May 30, 2012

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:

"Flower" (actually inflorescence) of Button sage (Lantana involucrata). Mouse over image to see labels, or if you can't do that, click here for the labeled version.

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.

New backyard plant: Button Sage

This spring I decided to revamp my yard a little bit, removing some poorly performing plants (firebush, believe it or not) and replacing them with species that might be more suited to the growing conditions here. And in my front yard, that means hot and sunny. Lantana involucrata, commonly known by its taxonomic name but also called button sage or wild sage, fills the bill perfectly. Variously described as occurring naturally "in pinewoods and other dry areas" (Haehle & Brookwell) or "dunes, coastal hammocks, and edges of thickets and coastal scrubs" (Nelson), this plant is reputed to be very attractive to butterflies. I'd tried to grow one earlier in the back yard, but I planted it too close to a baby Wild Lime which quickly overshadowed everything else in that corner of the yard, and the lantana lasted less than a year. Now I've got two new ones out front, bracketing the Gumbo Limbo tree that my landscaping consultant urges me to be patient with (years, it's been here, and barely growing or moving, but she has faith). She also tells me to give the tree some extra water, which should help the new neighbors (the lantana twins), as according to IRC, their soil requirements are "moist, well-drained limestone or sandy soils, with or without humusy top layer." Well, I've got well drained, I've got limestone AND sand, and with the mulch, there's a bit of a humusy top layer. So as long as I water it in, it should be fine. I should even be able to return to my lazy nonwatering ways after it's well underway: according to the same source, its drought tolerance is "high; does not require supplemental water once established." Another thing I had to keep in mind was that last fall I had the place certified by the North American Butterfly Association as a butterfly garden. That means that I wanted to make sure any new plants were at least as welcoming to the butterflies as the ones I had to take out. And I think I'm doing an OK job: I'm up to 37 species of nectar sources or larval host plant on the property. Of the 18 plants on NABA's Palm Beach County recommended plant list, I have 10: the three most highly recommended (Cordia globosa, Hamelia patens, and now the third, Lantana involucrata), the two next most highly recommended (Stachytarpheta jamaicensis and Psychotria nervosa), and five others that are farther down the list but are not native to Florida (some of the more highly recommended ones are exotic species that I prefer not to have in the yard). The lantanas should grow to 3 or 4 feet tall (if I keep them pruned), with white or yellow flowers borne in clusters. The flowers are supposed to be very attractive to butterflies.
Flower clusters of Button Sage (Lantana involucrata). Boca Raton, FL, March 29, 2015.

Flower clusters of Button Sage (Lantana involucrata). Boca Raton, FL, March 29, 2015.

The fruit is a small blue berry that should attract plenty of mockingbirds, cardinals, and catbirds:
Fruit of Button Sage (Lantana involucrata). Boca Raton, FL, March 29, 2015.

Fruit of Button Sage (Lantana involucrata). Boca Raton, FL, March 29, 2015.

Etymology According to Austin, the genus name, Lantana, is from the Latin lenta, flexible. Not sure why a plant genus would be called "flexible," but whatever... Whatever its etymology, its use in the landscape is what matters to me. And that is as a butterfly plant that flowers year-round in a dry environment.   My kind of plant! Again according to the IRC, we have nearly all the butterflies for which it's been recorded as a nectar plant (I've seen several Horace's Duskywings, and I hope to see both Florida duskywing and red-banded hairstreak at some point soon). Here's the list from IRC as of March 2015:
Common Name Scientific Name Plant Uses
Cassius Blue Leptotes cassius Nectar source.
Florida Duskywing Ephyriades brunneus Nectar source.
Florida White Appias drusilla Nectar host[?].
Giant Swallowtail Papilio cresphontes Nectar source.
Great Southern White Ascia monuste Nectar source.
Gulf Fritillary Agraulis vanillae Nectar source.
Julia Heliconian Dryas iulia Nectar source.
Red-banded Hairstreak Calycopis cecrops Nectar source.
References Austin, D. 2006. Florida Ethnobotany. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press. Haehle, R. G. and Brookwell, J. 2004. Native Florida Plants: Low-Maintenance Landscaping and Gardening. Lanham, Md.: Taylor Trade. Nelson, G. 2003. Florida's Best Native Landscape Plants: 200 Readily Available Species for Homeowners and Professionals. Gainesville: U of Florida P.
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