(Piloblephis = eye-lash hair. Ridida means rigid, describing perhaps the leaves? )
Lamiaceae (Mint Family)
Rain prevented today’s usual Friday fieldtrip. Unable to abide a botany-deprived day, optimistically between rainshowers I scooted to a nearby patch of False-Pennyroyal to savor a fuzzy stinky mint of open sandy places, such as the pine flatwoods savanna near my home. Got there and it poured.
Mints smell like mints, right? When this species is putting out, walking through its habitat you sniff it before you spot it. There’s an aroma of things that end in -ol, such as pine-sol, menth-ol, and eucalypt-ol. (For sticklers, I’d say it smells like monoterpenoids, common aromatic oils in mints and many additional aromatic plants.) The nice essences are probably protection from herbivory, although additional functions are conceivable, perhaps light-protection or suppressing surrounding vegetation. And the security is not absolute, as today’s furry friend hosts at least one species of mealybug. There are some old uses for the False-Pennyroyal fragrance such as guarding pooches from fleas and as tea and flavoring. I just like to pick it for a whiff.
How many plant genera are limited to Florida? Piloblephis almost is. Interestingly, it turned up also in the Bahamas in the 80s. Native there or not, who knows? People have shuttled between Florida and the Bahamas for a heckofa long time, and the plant is easy and pleasing to cultivate (and allegedly improves disgusting turtle stew). Birds could carry it to offshore islands. Not to mention hurricanes. Even maybe floating. The “seeds” are well designed to get around.
Like a normal mint, the fruit divides into four “nutlets.” These separate into what look like four tiny blackish “seeds” small enough to stick in the mud on a bird, on a shoe, on a floating log, or on a pineapple crate. The nutlets come packaged in a fuzzy “bag” made from the flower sepals. The bag could fly on the wind, resembling the parachute-fruits from many members of the Aster Family.
The polka-dot flowers peek out of leafy spikes resembling soft conifer cones. The bracts covering the cones can turn bright pink mixed with green at fruiting time. Is the raspberry sherbet pigment a sunscreen guarding the embryos within?
Or…and this is an irresponsible baseless speculation …wouldn’t it be fun if that eye-grabbing pink helps draw birds or other wildlife to peck, nibble, and disperse the nutlets?
The drought-resistant leaves look like conifer needles covered with the hairs responsible for the plant’s eyelash name. The furry fuzz gives the plants a grayish sheen, probably reflecting away excess Florida sun. The hairs come in varied lengths. Most end in a point, and some end in a globe, looking like a tootsie roll pop. The pops seem to be the (or a) source of the oily essence.
The multi-length pointy hairs probably enforce a “don’t eat me” policy, and also might cut down on sun and wind.
Ammophila procera, if my wasp-Googling is correct. Same species as last week on Hyptis.
There’s no single OMG! thing about False-Pennyroyal, yet it is overall an intriguing and assertive eccentric, spreading into round patches several feet in diameter, having flowers in cone wasp perches, bearing needle-shaped leaves having silver-gray coloration, emitting an aroma like kitchen bug spray, producing fruitlets in fringed bags behind bright pink bracts, and skipping to the Bahamas.
Some of the coolest species are right under our noses, and our nose knows.