Tough Bullies and Bungee-Jumping Worms

15 Feb


Chrysopsis scabrella


Willow-Bustic on Hobe Mountain.  All photos today by John Bradford.

Willow-Bustic on Hobe Mountain. All photos today by John Bradford.

Yesterday John and George continued a multiweek appreciation of Jonathan Dickinson State Park, exploring this episode mostly the scrub area around Hobe “Mountain” (big coastal dune).  The alpine vistas are postcard pretty, and the montane flora is joyous too.  Understand, this massive pile of white sand looks like something out of Arizona, complete with cacti, big agaves, and no doubt rattlesnakes.  Especially eye-catching yesterday in bud/early flowering were two different species of “Bullies”:  Tough Bully (Sideroxylon tenax) and Willow-Bustic (S. salicifolium).

The Willow-Bustic, alternatively encountered as a hammock species in our experience, stood out as one of the dominant woody species on the fulsome dune, and the Tough Bully made its impression as an old, weather-worn, lichen-covered individual in the middle of historical Camp Murphy.  CLICK   The kinky tree could pass for a small live oak, and looked old enough to have been around in the WWII heyday of Camp Murphy, and gnarled and sand-blasted enough to be straight out of Lawrence of Arabia.

Tough Bully on N base of Hobe Mountain
Tough Bully on N base of Hobe Mountain
Tough Bully flowers yesterday (2/14)

Tough Bully flowers yesterday (2/14)

At that site, and throughout scrubs and dry pinewoods, is a vibrant yellow presence right now, Coastalplain Golden-Aster, Chysopsis scabrella, a sand-loving, sun-drenched, indestructible yellow-flowered ray of sunshine in Florida and nearby Southeastern States.  The ability of this species to thrive baking on sugar sand is remarkable.  It flourishes blooming on bare open windswept sand where it almost  seems little else can survive.

Golden-Asters on the sand

Golden-Asters on Hobe Mountain

Not very exciting or photogenic, the root is a massive brush infiltrating the sand below.  The above-ground growth presents more to describe and photograph.   The early growth is a fuzzy gray-green rosette, leading some botanists to dub the plant a biennial, although the life cycle seems more complex than that.  A stem rises, oh let’s say, 2 feet from the rosette, and something curious happens, the leaves in the lower part of the stem wither, as though the plant in its extreme habitat sheds foliage it does not absolutely need, taking a little inspiration from cacti and other leafless or minimal-foliage desert plants.



Another Florida member of the Composite Family that likes to accumulate fragrant dead leaves along the stem is “Rabbit Tobacco.” SMOKE THIS   Every time I see the dry Golden Aster leaves I experience, but resist, an urge to try smoking them. (That would be beyond stupid, but stupidity does not always stop me.)   Interestingly, also, the soft pith in the center of the stem seems to fizzle out…again, the plant shedding all but necessary tissue?

The fruits

The fruits

Around here the Golden Aster lives up to its name with a stunning late-winter canary floral display although flowering is not confined to this season.  In late winter, now, a new rosette (basal  leaf cluster) forms as a side-branch at the old plant’s base.  In a garden setting you might say it makes “offsets,” or “pups,”  not an uncommon behavior in desert species, for example agaves.

Plant with pup

Plant with pup

So perhaps the Golden-Aster is an improved biennial…yes, it goes from rosette to flowering stem, maybe even in two years in the fashion of a biennial, but then remakes a new rosette based on the existing hard-earned and precious root system, and thus is sort of an immortal “biennial.”  How many years one root system generates  annual resurrections would be fun to know.

As John and I were photographing, and sniffing the fragrant foliage, and savoring the Golden Asters we noticed an entomological curiosity.  At the bases of the flower heads (the units that look like single yellow flowers) often a little whitish larva maybe ¼ inch long nestles in a little cup with its frass.  When disturbed, the wee stowaway bungee jumps on a silk thread.  (It probably leaps when the flower head disintegrates, rockin’ its dreamboat.)  We do not know what the hidden hobbit is.  John posted photos on, yielding opinions of moth, although which species is not clear.  We’d love to know.

Stowaway emerging from opened flower head.  He's PO'ed.

Annoyed stowaway emerging from opened flower head.

We’d love to know so much we placed occupied flower heads in containers hoping maybe we can “rear one out” for definitive ID.  In the meantime, there’s a mystery trespasser in the Golden Aster flower heads.

You never know!

You never know!


Posted by on February 15, 2014 in Golden-Asters


Tags: , , ,

24 responses to “Tough Bullies and Bungee-Jumping Worms

  1. Jen Foglia

    February 17, 2014 at 8:12 pm

    I loved reading about the Rabbit Tobacco and its many uses, hopefully in one of the classes you can show us what the entire plant looks like! This is such a great site, so much useful information here!

  2. George Rogers

    February 17, 2014 at 9:07 pm

    We’ll see Yellow-Asters for sure. Rabbit tobacco—well, I’ll try, but we won’t smoke it.

  3. theshrubqueen

    February 19, 2014 at 2:24 pm

    I have seen the Bully at Hawk’s Bluff in Jensen Beach..have you been there? I think you would enjoy it. My older brother used to smoke the Rabbit Tobacco on my parent’s roof..not a good plan. He said it was similar to inhaling fire.

    • George Rogers

      February 19, 2014 at 4:00 pm

      Interesting on the rabbit tobacco. My Dad grew up in FL and smoked it as a kid. In his “senior” years he picked some nostalgically and lit up in his pipe. I tried it. An experience. (Probably not a wise experience.) I have been to Hawk’s Bluff, which is very near where my partner in crime John lives. Yes, I know what you mean about the bully there, a good bit of it, and variable.

      • theshrubqueen

        February 19, 2014 at 4:40 pm

        I am from Georgia, my brother is the only person I have ever heard of smoking rabbit tobacco until today. There is plenty of rabbit tobacco over here in my vegetable beds. It is a smart weed… goes for the good soil..

  4. George Rogers

    February 19, 2014 at 4:51 pm

    I think the rabbit tobacco thing has to do with age. My Dad grew up in N FL in the 20s in a fairly rural environment, and I think (think) smoking it wasn’t rare there and then. He liked it—he said, “crumble up the dry leaves and see how nice it smells.” Been quite a while since I’ve seen any growing…but have not been watching for it. Maybe the problem here is no good soil.

    • keith Rossin

      March 13, 2014 at 11:46 am

      Tough bully is from the family s
      Sideroxylon with a name like that you wonder what plants it bullied growing up. There are over 70 species of bullies, I wonder why those 70 got the name tough bully. Maybe because of there spikes?

      • George Rogers

        March 13, 2014 at 12:41 pm

        I would think so, and it sort of looks like a tough guy—just the way it stands there looking menacing. And you can’t hurt it.

  5. theshrubqueen

    February 19, 2014 at 5:03 pm

    I have a suspicion the tobacco came with the soil I added to grow the veg. I am on Sugar Sand. My parents were born in the 20’s, mother from a peach farm in South Georgia, father from New England, but he was a pretty dedicated smoker. No idea how my brother came up with the idea of smoking that stuff. It would not have occurred to me!
    Question for you, natives guru, I have a small pink Portulaca like weed that comes up in my, um, lawn, (I use the word very loosely) Do you know if this is a native?

  6. George Rogers

    February 19, 2014 at 5:11 pm

    Well, your brother is just an inspired native plant enthusiast. We’re going to lobby to legalize medical rabbit tobacco. I wonder if the pinkie is “Kiss Me Quick” (what a dumb name), Portulaca pilosa. (Another pink portulaca possibility is P. amilis.) There are photos of both on the Atlas of FL Vascular Plants. if you go to the site, you can search on Portulaca and see’em

    • theshrubqueen

      February 19, 2014 at 5:41 pm

      It is “Kiss Me Quick”, gotta love that.. thanks for the website. It comes and goes in the back forty..

      I think my brother was an uninformed tobacco enthusiast.

      One more question: I have read of Cabbage Palm Forests, this intrigues me. Do you know of any in Martin County?

  7. George Rogers

    February 19, 2014 at 5:48 pm

    I’m afraid I don’t know—but I do not live up that way. Maybe somebody will spot the query and chime in…

    • theshrubqueen

      February 19, 2014 at 5:53 pm

      Great, Thanks, I would love to see this. It flies in the face of my concept of forest. Love the ferns on the blog wallpaper. Are they Southern Shield??

  8. George Rogers

    February 19, 2014 at 6:02 pm

    My photo-creative colleague John made the wallpaper. Yes, I believe you are correct, Southern Shield, Thelypteris kunthii.

  9. prautenkranz

    February 20, 2014 at 8:45 am

    I am looking forward to seeing the bullies at JD state park. They look like they have been around for quite some time. The shiny/waxy leaves have a look that I have seen on other coastal salt tolerant plants.The flowers are new to me, I hope they are still blooming when we get there!

    • George Rogers

      February 20, 2014 at 9:37 am

      I hate to say it, even though they will be in flower, thinking where we actually go in class, I can’t recall passing by any on the trail. But I can tell you how to go see the “magnificent one” as a side-trip while in the park.

  10. Suellen Granberry-Hager

    February 20, 2014 at 8:57 am

    If the larvae mature to adults, I know a couple of entomologists who might be willing to identify them. I don’t know if they can identify them from the larval form.

  11. George Rogers

    February 20, 2014 at 9:33 am

    If we manage to rear or catch a grown-up, we’ll definitely take you up on that.

  12. Mike Nalywajko

    February 20, 2014 at 1:05 pm

    You might be afraid to smoke it, but drinking it seems to have plenty of benefits. Reducing viruses, lowering temperatures, and curing sickness such as the flu. But then again, smoking something that has an herbal equivalent to Immodium, I’ll pass too.

    • George Rogers

      February 20, 2014 at 1:57 pm

      The day may come when a little immodium is just the ticket.

  13. Jonathan Thomas

    February 20, 2014 at 1:50 pm

    I wonder if Tough-bully flowers blossom year round or certain times of the year. great web-site for information on Florida natives flowers.

    • George Rogers

      February 20, 2014 at 1:54 pm

      It is seasonal.

  14. theshrubqueen

    February 20, 2014 at 5:59 pm

    So, George, are you making tincture of Rabbit Tobacco cocktails??

  15. George Rogers

    March 13, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    Now that’s an idea to try.


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