Allapattah Flats and White Pine Barren Aster

05 Nov

 Yesterday John and George went wildflower-hunting in the Allapattah Flats Management Area in Martin County west of Palm City, and found bugs.  Not just mosquitoes, but also good interesting types.

Web in the morning sun (by JB)

Although not arthropod experts, we can match pictures with the best of them, and our creature identifications come from highly scientific picture-book flipping.  Do not bet excessively on them.  We learned that the Female Golden Silk Orb Weaver Spider makes mighty strong silk (which we experienced), is larger than her puny male, and has only a minor bite (which we did not experience) despite her arachnophobia appearance.

Female Golden Silk Orb Weaver (by JB)

 We learned further that the Salt Marsh Moth Caterpillar may occupy Dogfennel (Eupatorium capillifolium) in abundance.  It reportedly extracts toxic alkaloids from Eupatorium, one of its favorite host genera. (Eupatorium toxins killed Abraham Lincoln’s mother, although she probably did not eat caterpillars, and that topic is for another day.)  The caterpillar wiggles nervously when approached, then drops abruptly from its branch in clear annoyance. How does the caterpillar scatter across a large meadow of Eupatorium?  The species can wind-sail on a silky “parachute” when small, and when older they disperse overland.

Salt Marsh Moth Caterpillar on Eupatorium before dropping (by JB)

The adult Salt Marsh Moth is white with dark spots, having some yellow coloration in the male.  It is not particularly a salt marsh dweller.

Let’s get to a plant.  One of the more striking species at Allapattah this week was White Pinebarren Aster (Oclemena reticulata, aka Aster reticulatus), a species distributed mostly to the north of our haunts, and not found much south of Lake Okeechobee.  A quick look at the flowering dates on herbarium specimens shows most flowering is in the Spring or early Summer, then blossoms seem to wane in Summer, with a second blooming period in the Autumn.

Oclemena, yellow phase (by JB)

Here is a perfect example of a species whose flowers change color, placing it in the company of Mahoe Hibiscus, Rangoon Creeper, other “Aster” species,  and scores of  additional examples in many families.    Flower-color-changers seem typically to go from a light coloration, often yellow, to reddish.

This occurs in Oclemena in the disk flowers, the small flowers packed together at the center of this Composite flower head, that is, the eye changes from yellow to burgundy.   This is not likely to be mere decline with age, but rather a signal to pollinators of a change in floral status.  Many flowers signal reward availability to pollinators with changing color.   That color change accompanies diminished pollen or nectar availability is well demonstrated.  Moreover, presumably innate preference for “reward now” coloration occurs in bees, butterflies, and additional insects.  Even more remarkable, researchers have trained butterflies to alter their behavior based on color in relation to rewards.  Pavlov’s Swallowtails.  Yellow is a pervasive bee-advertising color while reddish tones are not.

The "we're closed" phase (by JB)


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8 responses to “Allapattah Flats and White Pine Barren Aster

  1. mudfish

    November 6, 2011 at 6:45 am

    Man, what a great piece! Thank you, gentlemen, and I’m looking forward to learning more about Lincoln’s mama!

  2. George Rogers

    November 6, 2011 at 7:28 am

    Now that was a nice start to the moring! We must write up Mrs. Lincoln then.

    • leonorealaniz

      November 24, 2016 at 10:15 pm

      Yes, me too: what happened to Mrs Lincoln? Was she diagnosed before or after death?

      In Madagaskar lives a spider species, which yields also strong golden silk. I saw the Fabric in the museum of Natural history in NYC. Here links to the facts:…… has this to offer: …..Peers and Godley used a local species, the golden orb spider (Nephila madagascariensis). They temporarily harnessed each live spinner while some 80 feet of saffron-hued silk was extracted from a spinneret at the end of her abdomen. Yes, her abdomen, since only females build webs. ……

      • George Rogers

        November 25, 2016 at 9:31 pm

        I think her death probably was fairly typical for milk poisoning which was common there and then…however, that milk sickness from Eupatorium/Ageratina was THE cause of death has been disputed, as Brucillosis, also from milk, is possible. THANKS for the spider silk links…remarkable. If ever I get back to the Museum of Natural History (son moving to Manhattan?) will try to see…

      • leonorealaniz

        November 26, 2016 at 10:27 am

        Would you like to see a photos of the cucumber-plant foliage? I printed with it as promised. While the leaves are as small as your wild ones in Florida, the actual fruit looks prehistory; yellow inside with red seeds, like you showed.
        Reg the Spider Cloth: I don’t know whether the Nat. history Museum owns it.

  3. Arthur Goldsmith

    November 20, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    Thanks for this. The available information on Allapattah Flats species is sparse, except for the hunters’ target species.

    I visited the Allapattah Flats for this first time yesterday, and found the Salt Marsh Moth caterpillar on the Dogfennel. I am much more familiar with the biological diversity of my home region (Ottawa Valley). More requent stays down here (in Port St. Lucie until the new year) affords me opportunity to learn about this area.

    I was impressed by both the number of Golden Silk and Spiny Orb Weavers. Thrilling for me was a Loggerhead Shrike.

  4. John Bradford

    November 20, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    Glad you are enjoying your trips to the area.

  5. hope

    March 5, 2018 at 11:15 pm

    Clicked over to this page after reading your Ampelaster carolinianus post (while seeking the “new” nomenclature for my fragrant backyard purple-flowering friend formerly known as “Climbing Aster”).

    I always love and appreciate your inclusion of lore and factoids that burn deeply into our memories to help us later recall salient (and delicious) botanical tidbits of information to dazzle or shock our friends and family.

    Such was the case with your reference to the late Mrs. Lincoln.

    Wow! I Did NOT previously know that dog fennel (and other Eupatorium & former Eupatorium species 🙂 housed a toxin potentially deadly to humans and domestic animals.


    Who hasn’t nibbled dog fennel? (and possibly suggested that others taste test it too?….oh no!)

    I google searched for other species that might have the deadly toxin Tremetone, and found an excerpt from a publication that listed:

    Ageratina, Brickellia, Eupatorium, Grindelia, Haplopappus, Liatris, and Ligularia (Asteracea) spp.
    next to the “Tremetone” field.

    Here’s a link to the page (hopefully):,&source=bl&ots=5TWnwpnQBW&sig=C-X6t9wvM-uek1QNYhh8p0uC1oc&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjGo9WZ4tbZAhVOG6wKHSChBrYQ6AEIJzAA#v=onepage&q=Tennessee%20Williams%20drank%20to%20excess%20Ageratina%2C&f=false

    If you concur with that author’s conclusions (or assumptions)…
    ….I guess you’ll leave some portion of my “comment” for other previously ill-informed trail grazers – or worse yet – the “wild plant foragers” or promoters – to read. Perhaps the information might save the lives of their hoofed friends as well.

    Thank you again for enlightening your eager students….
    ….oh, and potentially saving our lives 🙂


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