Clematis baldwinii (Clema- comes from Greek for a plant shoot,  William Baldwin was an American Botanist active in the 1800s.)

Ranunculaceae (Buttercup Family)

With nature study, go looking for one thing, find something else.  That’s a good thing.  Working on John’s and my guide booklet to local woody plants had me seeking Persimmons to photograph in swampy pine woods.  Well lookee there, Pine-Hyacinth, a fancy spring-blooming floral friend you don’t see every day.   Not remotely related to true Hyacinths, P-H is in the Buttercup family, the only native Ranunculaceae in Palm Beach County.  It is limited to Florida.

Nodding beauties by John Bradford

The flowers hang down from a J-shaped stem.  Nodding flowers are a pretty curiosity scattered through the plant world among unrelated plants.  Most botanists who have commented on dangling flowers agree they are umbrellas protecting pollen from sun, rain, and related perils, and/or protecting nectar from rain dilution. 

Flower color varies

More interesting, if speculative, are additional possible advantages for nodding.   Suggestions by other observers include:

1. Favoring floral visits by bumblebees who can navigate inversion, excluding floral pests who can’t handle upside down. The big curled “petal” (actually sepal) tips may be bee handles.

2. Temperature control.  Maybe the bells capture warm air rising from the ground, although not a likely “concern” in Florida in April?

3. Maybe the hook on the stem can push upward through forest floor debris protectively preceding the delicate flower. It “elbows” the competitors.

The fruits are fuzzy spider legs, by JB. Look closely—the formerly hooked stem has straightened out.

Nobody I can find on Google has studied the reproductive biology of this species.   Based on similar related Clematis species, the flowers are probably female-before male, and there may be an overlap period where self pollination can occur at the end of the female phase for assured seed set.   What is certain, the plant has an unusual way to clone:  late in the flowering phase the stem flops to sprawl as sort of a “rhizome,” allowing the Pine-Hyacinth to spread by creeping.

Sprawling. Flower is on the left.


Posted by on April 30, 2023 in Uncategorized


Staggerbush Galls Look Like GMO Ears


Staggerbush (Lyonia) leaf galls

Exobasidium sp.

Today’s topic comes from Chase Robertson, correspondent from Jonathan Dickinson State Park scrublands.   Take a walk there or in other scrub, especially after fire maybe,  and marvel at big reddish fleshy flowery-looking things on the Staggerbushes. 

Photo by John Bradford

They remind me of that infamous mouse with a “human ear.” Maybe we could start engineering crops with human body parts. Ha ha.

The third ear is molded, not actually GMO

The Staggerbush galls are the funny business of a fungus Exobasidium (probably E. ferrugineae). There are about 50 Exobasidium species altogether, and they have a special preference for members of the Blueberry Family, including Lyonia.   

Photo by John Bradford

They also are pests on Tea.

The fungus is in the same fungal kingdom as mushrooms in which the mushroom cap serves to drop spores onto the wind.   Exobasidiums don’t have a cap, instead they transform the host leaf into one. Fungal strands grow out through the leaf stomates and release spores all over the surface of the leaf.  Look at the following photo showing the threadlike fungal strands spreading across the deformed leaf, and spores beginning to appear.


Speaking of revealing photos, look at the one below by Chase Robertson, showing a fly on the gall.   Let us now speculate.  Flies pollinate flesh-colored flowers as well as some flesh-colored fungi, including at least one other species of Exobasidium.   The Exobasidium galls on Staggerbush have that carrion color attractive to flies.  Do the flies then disperse the spores around the habitat to other plants?  Don’t know…but my bet is on yes. 

Leave a comment

Posted by on March 25, 2023 in Uncategorized


Oakleaf Fleabane (is also a Mitebane)

Erigeron quercifolius

(Erigeron is Latin for early woolly old man, probably in reference to the white parachute on the seedlike fruit. Quercifolius means oak leaf.)

Asteraceae, the Daisy Family

Erigeron is a large genus, having around 170 species in North America,  11 in Florida.   Chromosomal abnormalities and cloning tend to make species definitions difficult.   A glance at museum specimens often shows individual specimens to have been identified differently by different botanists, true of today’s species.  So then I’m going to refer to Fleabanes in a general sense without much concern with individual species.

Oakleaf Fleabane by John Bradford

The heck with plant manuals and research projects, what I really really like is standing in a meadow with a fragrant breeze and watching the flowers sway and the butterflies flutter.    Not much better meadow flower than Oakleaf Fleabane with its sunny-side-up flowers.   It beautifies the gritty places like roadsides.

Working on this blog yesterday, I read how it decorates the stone walls of the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, described by one observer as having, “blooms like a thousand small lights in the afternoon, highlighting the earth tone colors of the fort’s stone walls.”  Only trouble is, the roots penetrate the castle walls better than enemy gunfire, making it necessary for the castle-keepers to extinguish those delightful lights with herbicides.


That’s the basic trouble with being a Fleabane…pretty but durable enough to be pesky.  The pesky part in other places has led to a lot of herbicide application to a lot of  Fleabanes, until guess what, some have become a poster child of herbicide resistance.  Ya just can’t keep a good daisy down.

So why the name “Fleabane”?   These plants naturally have more insecticides than the Orkin Man.  Folks historically stuffed pillows with Erigerons to suppress fleas.  It is always interesting when different cultures in different regions jointly discover the same uses for plants.  Even better:  different species jointly discovering the same uses.   Humans drive fleas from their nests, and starlings drive mites from their nests.  In a 1988 study ecologists Larry Clark and J.R. Mason found starlings to use Wild Carrot and Fleabane preferentially in nest building.  Turned out parasitic mites cause anemia in the nestlings, except when the two preferred plant species suppress the bloodthirsty little varmints.


Posted by on March 19, 2023 in Uncategorized


Southern Sneezeweed

Helenium pinnatifidum

Asteraceae, the Aster Family

The depression ponds of South Florida are among the most fascinating habitats hereabouts, with their feast and famine seasonal water extremes, patchiness, biodiversity, beauty, and enduring mysteries.   Botanically heavenly!  This week in wetfootland the seasonal inundation is giving way to dry soil exposure.  St. Johnsworts are blossoming like champs. Gratiolas are transitioning from their surf to turf.  Lovevine seems so happy on freshly invigorated hostplantss.    It all smells nice.  And today’s featured flowers are boldly yellow.

Sneezeweed with basal rosette. All “outdoor” pictures except the last today by John Bradford.

Southern Sneezeweed is dignified with its symmetrical yellow heads on stalks with perfect posture.    Look closely at the yellow head, the outer ruffles are decorative sexless flowers having no stamens, no ovaries, and no fruits.  The central business region is packed with a cluster of fertile flowers that open sequentially from the outermost to the innermost over an extended period, giving that single head a lot of bang for its buck despite the absence of branching.

Why the name “Sneezeweed”?  The plant produces a bitter repellent containing an irritant called “pinnatifidin.”  There are two non-mutually-exclusive explanations for how that became the basis for the name.  One idea is that the sniffly resin is in tiny particles on the plant parts.  If a person handles a drying specimen (such as in a museum), the tiny poison pills come free and tickle the botanist’s schnoz.  The other explanation is that indigenous peoples employed the sneeziness as snuff.  I ain’t dippin’ no Sneezeweed thank you very much.

Plants in seasonally wet-dry habitats are fun because they compete under both sets of circumstances.  Somebody should write a book about that!  Chapter 1 could be Helenium pinnatifidum, although nobody has ever really studied it.   It grows in seasonally (or sometimes perpetually?) wet suffocating soil,  even under intermittent shallow water. The plants are perennial living through the seasonal cycles year to year.  Almost all the leaves are in a basal rosette, which if the going gets too rough (such as submerged in wet times, or burned when dry) can die back and recover in better times from the roots.  In fact, gardeners sometimes buy heleniums as bare root perennials.   

With age they can develop a strong durable rootstock.

You get a lot of rosette plants in places where it pays to “keep your head down,” such as heavy grazing or weather extremes.   The safety of “duck and cover” is probably true in the present harsh marsh setting where several rosette species remain on the down low— Butterworts, Eriocaulons, Sundews, Syngonanthus, Violets, and  Xyris.    There may be a secondary advantage in this habitat to the rosette lifestyle.   During the winter the dominant grassy-sedgy layer turns brown, which would allow increased light to the green rosettes who may have their main photosynthetic season while the grassy competition is thin and lifeless.  

Flowers above the grass.

As the competing grassy layer greens up and becomes dense and competitive, the rosette plants seem to shift their priority to producing seeds while the soil is exposed.   So they raise a flower or flower-head on a cheap temporary stalk (the scape) above the grass-sedge layer.  Like a submarine safely down below raising a periscope. 

Leave a comment

Posted by on February 25, 2023 in Uncategorized


Smilax and the smelly green sticky flowers, with no nectar

Cat Briar

Smilax auriculata and additional species


In South Florida, you could arguably say “springtime” is in the air:  or at least pollen (lots of it),  and new flowers popping into bloom.   Among those starting to flower is Cat Briar, Smilax.  We have a few species around here.  They are similar, so let’s not sort them out.  What’s more interesting are those green flowers.  They have some curious characteristics.

Smilax fruits by John Bradford.

The vines are dioecious, that is, with separate pollen-making males and fruit-making females.   That requires pollen transfer from the males to females.  No problem, right?  That is what the birds and bees are for.   Only problem is, these flowers make no nectar to feed their bugs.

Male flower with 6 stamens, by JB.

But they do have some assets. The presence of pollen on the male flowers is a reward, even if that leaves the female flowers with nothing edible to offer.  They do, however, a strong fragrance.  Some folks call Smilax  “carrion” flowers, although I find them to smell much better then decaying roadkill, to my nose. more like a scented detergent.  Although perhaps  false advertising,  the powerful scent seems to help draw pollen-bearing insect visitors.  Some observers suggest the big ostentatious stigmas on the female flower to add fake promises by looking like pollen-bearing anthers.  I don’t see it, but I’m not a beetle.

Females, by JB. I guess those stigmas on top look like the stamens on the male flower. Maybe to a fly!

Turning back to the male flowers, there are a couple of additional odd features.  As is true of some other plants, the pollen is mixed with stretchy stringy, sticky material call viscin (vis-EEN) threads.

Look very closely for two delicate viscin threads, dangling like bungee cords from falling pollen.

Botanists interpret these as preventing the pollen from being blown away by winds and rain, and/or helping to snag the pollen onto the visiting insect, and/or to help with bulk pollen delivery.  Sometimes viscin threads extend from the anther to an adjacent part of the flower, seeming positioned to snag on a bug. (Mite webs can occur in flowers too but are not likely to extend out of pollen masses.)   CLICK here to see pollen stuck to viscin threads vibrated out of flowers.

Also, the petals (tepals) are a little sticky, like flypaper.   Pollen falls out of the anthers and sticks to the petals, probably being a secondary source of pollen presentation, sticking pollen onto pollinators from the petal surface.

Pollen sticking to the petals


Posted by on February 19, 2023 in Uncategorized


Funny Honey!

You ever notice the range of colors in honey? From light and clear to deep brown depending on the flower species visited.  Producers pride themselves on regional variants:   sourwood honey, orange blossom honey,  clover honey, tupelo honey, and so forth.  Hundreds of honeys!   The variation is fun, like wines.  In fact,  some wineries offer their own honeys hand in hand with vintages. CLICK    

Honey for everybody! Well, until the honey get a little funky.  Let’s start with red honey in Tampa….odd but for a nice reason.   The Monin Syrup Company there manufactures sweet syrups for cordials and cocktails,  and the factory feeds the “factory seconds” to bees, which come and get it from miles around.   If the discarded syrup is a red variety, so is the honey. 

Beekeepers around Brooklyn NY experienced red honey too , again tied to cordials and cocktails, but it did not taste so great.  Enviro-detectives found “red dye #40”  in the jars. How can that bee?  Turned out the Dell’s maraschino cherry factory was illegally dumping maraschino runoff into NY Harbor.  A consequent investigation into the syrup pollution revealed the crimes to extend beyond cherry juice to massive pot cultivation in a hidden portion of the facility.

In France, no red honey but blue and green.  Turned out they manufacture M&Ms nearby in Germany.  Waste from the candy plant shipped in open containers to an incinerator in France. Sacre blue!…bees found the candy waste, and the rest is honey history.

Closer to home, North Carolina purple honey remains mysterious despite being a novelty in demand for many years.  Potential explanations include:  aluminum reacting with acid in the bees’ tummies, originating from kudzu (with grape-colored flowers), nectars from sourwood trees  turning blue from chemical reactions.  Some think the purple comes from blue or purple fruits such as blueberries, or toxic pokeberries.  Although bees do not bite fruits directly, they feed on juices from fruits with damaged skins or when broken or squished on the ground.  Vineyards like bees as pollinators, but the bees sometimes become pesky feeding on damaged grapes.   

You know, if I sold purple honey, I’d prefer a perpetual flowery mystery to an answer of, ” it is acidified aluminum.”   And you know what else, if I share purple honey with my foodie friends, I pray no creative producer added value by stirring in a little grape juice.


Posted by on February 11, 2023 in Uncategorized


Young Pond Apples Behave Like a Cactus

Annona glabra


Pond Apples are trees naturally of swamps, shallow wetlands, and seasonally flooded shores.   Wetland trees attract much attention with respect to the mysteries of surviving with their roots submerged seasonally, or permanently.   This would be true of Pond Apples.

Photo by John Bradford

But I wonder also the opposite: how a tree happily flooded when large survives Florida dry months in seasonally flooded depression marshes before developing a root system sufficiently effective to access year-round deeper wetter soil.  Pond Apples often begin life in seasonal marshes where the soil dries at least on the surface for months at a time.

by JB

 In places they are the only species or nearly so to sprout on the marsh bottom to become eventually large single-trunked trees.  This is a situation where it might come in handy to “bank” water from the wet season to use in the dry months.   You know, like a cactus.   Not that the ability to store water in thickened stems is rare in the world at large, but you don’t see it often conspicuously among native Florida woody plants.  Seems more “Madagascar” on the Discovery Channel to me.

Young Pond Apples can have upside-down cone-shaped trunks thickened from the ground up to the lowest branches.  Not a good thing to cut up tree trunks in natural areas for blog photography, so take my word that the cone is not solid wood, but rather squishy, wet, fibrous, porous, and white.  You can squeeze it like a sponge between your fingers.  Not that anybody has ever done the research, but I bet the spongy cone helps moisten and protect the deeper tissues during the dry months, and that it aerates the submerged roots during the flooded season. By the way, that research would not be easy.

Pond Apples, upon becoming large, can have swollen buttressed bases, but they become hard wood, not spongy.  The largest individuals can develop arched roots reminiscent of Bald Cypress “knees.”

Buttressed base, by JB

Pond Apple “knees” (arched roots), by JB


Posted by on February 2, 2023 in Uncategorized


Corkwood Bugged by Cottony Cushion Scale

Generally it would be nice to think that native species in their natural habitats are mostly free from invasive pests, but it happens.    One such happening seems widespread, sometimes severe, and unreported.   I try to avoid plant ailments in the blog, but the present case seems noteworthy.   In recent years I’ve spent a lot of time working in depression marshes, and have developed a special fondness for the two main woody species there:  Peelbark St. Johnswort (Hypericum fasciculatum) and Corkwood (Stillingia aquatica).   That’s very nice, but there’s a fly in the ointment.  Corkwood often is infested with Cottony Cushion Scale.   Cottony Cushion Scale is most easily recognized by its female with striking white fluted egg masses.   It has been an exotic pest in Florida for at least a century, most famous as a Citrus scourge, also happy to parasitize many additional species.  

Stillingia by John Bradford

The number of insects on a Stillingia can range from one to many.  That they can kill the plant is obvious from many observations of dead and dying Stillingias peppered with the pests and their decaying remains.  A skeptic might mumble, “maybe the Stillingias were otherwise ill, and the insects are taking advantage of their weakness.”  Possible, but my gut doesn’t agree, and even if my gut is wrong, the poofy pests are not helping.

Cottony Cushion Scale on Stillingia

Although Cotton Cushion Scale has broad range of hosts, it seems to have a special taste for Corkwood. How widespread is the problem?  I don’t know. On inaturalist you can sometimes spot the Cottony Cushion Scale on photos of Stillingia  far beyond Martin and Palm Beach counties, such as near Punta Gorda and near Naples.


Posted by on January 27, 2023 in Uncategorized


John’s Goldmine of Local Plant Resources

Been working on projects lately that have me dipping deeply into on-line resources.  That got me thinking it might be fun and useful to gather the wealth of local plant information and imagery created by John Bradford, who is working with me now on a tree and shrub photo guidebook.   There’s something for every native plant enthusiast below:  photos, online class, grasses and sedges, on-demand wildflower guidebook, and huge set of photo guides to local natural areas, by far the best listing anywhere (IMHO).

1. Plant images arranged by plant families:

2. Online native plants class, always available:

3. High-resolution interactive images, fun!:

4. Grasses, sedges, rushes:

5. Print on demand wildflower identification book:

6. Photo guides to natural areas:

(These are listed by habitat types at under places to visit.)

Apoxee Park:

Barley Barber Swamp:

Bert Winter Park:

Blowing Rocks Preserve:

Bob Graham Beach:

Cypress Creek:

Delaware Scrub:

Delray Oaks:

DuPuis Natural Area:

Frenchman’s Forest:

Grassy Waters:

Gumbo Limbo Nature Center:

Halpatioke Regional Park in Stuart:

Haney Creek Trail:

Hawks Bluff:

Hungryland Slough:

Hypoluxo Scrub:

Juno Dunes:

Jupiter Inlet:

Jupiter Ridge:

Jupiter Wetland (at Hungryland):

Kiplinger Preserve  in Stuart:

Limestone Creek:

Loggerhead Park:

Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge:

MacArthur State Park:

Maggys Hammock:

Peck Lake Park:

Pine Glades:

Prosperity Oaks:

Riverbend Park:

Rosemary Scrub:

Savannas State Park:

Seabranch State Park near Hobe Sound:

Seacrest Scrub:

Solid Waste Authority Greenway Trail:

Sweetbay Natural Area:

Winding Waters:

Yamato Scrub:

1 Comment

Posted by on January 20, 2023 in Uncategorized


Kunth’s Marsh Fern prefers the slopes

Thelypteris kunthii


Something that bugged the Native Plants class I taught for 20 years is the observation that in our immediate area Kunth’s Marsh Fern, one of the most common and prettiest ferns hereabouts,  thrives best on 45-degree slopes, in other words on the banks of streams, ditches, and ponds.

Photo by John Bradford

What’s bothersome is that ferns generally get around by wind-blown spores, but this particular fern is mostly on wet banks.   Okay, sure, the spores blow all over the land, and a certain percentage land in a suitable habitat, stream bank or wherever, with the vast majority going to waste landing elsewhere.  Duh.  As true as that has to be,  and obviously is for many plants (such as bromeliads on tree branches),  there remains a gut feeling of , “smart ferns on streambanks should use water dispersal.”  I’ve long wondered if the spores have some specialization for water-dispersal.  Perhaps, but if so, never documented to my knowledge.  Then today, Eureka!,  stumbled upon a 2013 article by Dutch botanist J. Sarneel featuring wetland species dispersal in the Netherlands.    The info there just plain “feels” right for the problem at hand.

Thelypteris kunthii, so far as I know, does not grow in Europe but the very (very!) similar related Thelypteris palustris does, and guess how it gets around? 

Dr. Sarneel and associates set up giant sieves to capture water-borne seeds and other dispersal-organs in a stream flowing out of a swampy area.  (Palustris means “lives in swamps.”)  They captured the diverse floating dispersal-units of many aquatic species, and gathered data on their suitability for water dispersal.   Out of 252 units from 10 species recovered were 20 rhizome growth tips from Thelypteris palustris, which apparently sheds the tips as the banks erode or as the rhizomes extend into an exposed position.   The rhizome tips took several days to sink fully, and over 57% of them resprouted when tested.

That’s gotta be how our Kunth’s Marsh Fern manages to own so many stream and ditch banks.  Maybe.

Leave a comment

Posted by on January 13, 2023 in Uncategorized

%d bloggers like this: