SOME OF THE MORE COMMON PLANTS SEEN ALONG THE RIVERS AND SPRING RUNS OF NORTH-CENTRAL FLORIDA
(In Progress, pardon the spacing problems until done)
Water Hyacinth – (Eichhornia crassipes)
is a floating plant that has clusters of shiny, dark green leaves with stalks growing from a base of dark purple feathery roots. Linked plants form dense rafts in the water and mud. The flowers are a showy lavender with navy blue and yellow on the central petal. The flowers can be up to 6 inches in length so they are hard to miss. The growth rate of water-hyacinth is among the highest of any known plant. In Florida, water-hyacinth populations can double their size in as little as 2 weeks. They not only clog the waterways but deplete the oxygen level in the water which effects animal life and provide an ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes.
Here’s a crazy story about the Water Hyacinth. Originally from the Amazon basin, they were introduced in the United States at the 1884 New Orleans World’s Fair where the Japanese exhibit was giving them away. (Why were the Japanese giving away South American plants, anyway?) They quickly found their way into the St Johns and Kissimmee rivers and within 15 years had brought navigation to a halt. By 1910 hyacinths were such a problem that a Louisiana Congressman named Robert Broussard proposed a bill in the US Congress to import hippos from Africa for release in the swamps to eat the invasive weeds. Be grateful that Congress voted the bill down (by 1 vote) or we kayakers would be facing greater problems than shy alligators on the streams of Florida.
Water Primrose – (Ludwigia hexapetala)
is another beautiful invasive from South America. They have yellow flowers about 3 inches across with 4 to 5 sepals and petals and bloom in the summer. You will usually see the flowers on short stalks off of long stems along river banks, but the underwater root mass is the problem and may cover an area dozens of times greater than it does above water. The leaves are pointed, glossy green in spring and summer, turning brown in the winter.
Sagittaria – Arrowhead
This genus of aquatic plants contains about 30 species of which about a dozen can be found in Florida. The Common Arrowhead (latifolia) and Strap-leaf (kurziana) are probably the ones you see most frequently in our paddling area. They grow on 2-4 foot stalks from a tuber and have pretty white flowers in the summer and fall.
Common Arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia) can be found in rivers and spring runs throughout Florida, sometimes creating large, dense mats on top of the water. It blooms from spring to fall. The white, three-petaled flowers are 2-3 inches across and grow on a long stalk. The flowers have 3 round, white petals that grow in a whorl around the stalk. The large female flowers are usually found on the lower part of the plant and have a green dome in the center while the tiny male flowers are usually on the upper part of the plant and feature yellow stamens. Native Americans used to harvest, dry and eat the tubers resulting in one common name for the plant – Duck Potato.
Strap-leaf Arrowhead (Sagittaria kurziana) is a Florida native submersed plant, unlike most other Sagittaria. It can be found in springs and spring runs from the central panhandle east and south to Hernando County. It blooms from spring to fall. Strap-leaf sagittaria has dark-green, ribbon-like leaves about 3/4 inch wide and two to three feet long. The leaves have sharp, pointed tips, and three to five prominent parallel ridges that run the entire length of the leaf. The small, white, three-petaled flowers grow on branched stalks, usually floating just under the surface.
Wild Blackberry (Rubus spp) Several blackberry species are native to Florida and you will find them growing along sandy stream banks in areas that get lots of sun. The pretty white flowers have five smooth petals while the leaves are narrow, shiny and have jagged edges. The wild blackberries also have thorns, so be careful. Blackberries in Florida flower in the spring and bear fruit in May and June. Blackberries have one of the highest levels of antioxidants for humans as well as being a good food source for deer, bear, rabbits and lots of birds. Their bramble thickets provide shelter and nesting areas for many small animals as well as pollen for bees.
White-Topped Sedge (Rhynchospora colorata)
is sometimes also called Star Rush. Growing in grassy clumps up to 3 feet tall, this can be mistaken for small (1-2 inch) white flowers from a distance, but they are sedges. The 3 to 10 pointed “leaves” are actually long bracts around the flower head. These “leaves” are green to the outside and white around the actual flower. Most sedge species are wind pollinated, but the bright white bracts of this species imitate a flower and attract insects.
Wild Rice (Zizania aquatica)
is a native grass that has very tall stems up to 9 feet in height. It has a group of flowers at the stem top that produces edible grains. It blooms in the fall and occurs almost always under natural conditions in wetlands. It’s not really a rice, but a grass and grows from Central Florida north up the Atlantic coast to Maine. The 2-inch wide leaves are up to four feet long and two inches wide and smooth. On the flowering stem, the lower branchlets (male) droop while the upper branchlets (female) stand upright.
Baccharis (Baccharis halimifolia)
is a flowering shrub that grows up to 12 feet high. It is the only native eastern species of the aster family that reaches to tree size. It can grow anywhere there is water, including brackish and salt water, such as roadside ditches and along beaches and shorelines. It has been planted a windbreak. It flowers in late summer to fall producing abundant nectar that attracts various bees and butterflies, including the Monarch. The dense shrub also provides wildlife cover and nesting habitat for bird. In the late fall and early winter, the seeds become airborne in slight breeze and can give the effect of “snowing” in Florida. Also known as the groundseltree or sea myrtle, it ismost widely just referred to by its genus name Baccharis.
Alligator Lily (Hymenocallis palmeri)
is a marsh plant with fragrant, white (sometimes pale pink) flowers that attract butterflies and other nectar-foraging bugs. They have six petals that are connected by a membrane. In fact, the genus name hymenocallis, which means “beautiful membrane”. They bloom from early spring to late summer. They usually only have one flower per plant measuring 5-10 inches across with a greenish spot in the middle and 6 yellow stamens. It is also commonly called spider lily, but spider lily can be used as a generic name for many different species in the amaryllis family.
Swamp Lily (Crinum americanum)
is also called String Lily from the appearance of its long slender petals. The swamp lily is a herbaceous perennial native to the southeastern U.S. The linear, leathery leaves are bright green and reach a length of 1 to 4 feet. White or pink-striped flowers sit atop a flower stalk that is 1 to 3 feet tall. The 6-inch flower tube has six petals and sepals, and purplish stamens that are tipped with yellow emerge from the throat. They bloom from spring through fall and have a nice fragrance. They are not really a lily, but an Amaryllis.
Largeleaf Grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia grandifolia)
is found in only 4 counties in Florida and has just been upgraded by the state from an endangered to a threatened species. Sighting are rare, but if you see one in bloom you will know it, because there is nothing else that looks quite like it. It has 5 brilliant white petals streaked with a fine pattern of 5-9 bright olive green veins and a green ovary in the center. It grows in small clumps with a single flower perched on top of a 3-foot tall stalk and blooms in October and November. A similar species, the Carolina Grass-of-Parnassus is found in Florida only around the Apalachicola River. The flowers of P. caroliniana have 9-18 green, brown, or yellow veins on each of its five white petals and and a white ovary in the center, so that it appears more faded in coloring next to the brilliant P. grandifolia.
American White Waterlily (Nymphaea odorata)
can be found in shallow lakes, ponds, and slow moving waters throughout North America. Since the floating leaves are easily torn by water and waves, they are round with a waxy coating that is water-repellent. The flowers also float. They are symmetric with prominent yellow stamens and many white petals. Straight, flexible stalks attach leaves and flowers to thick, submerged rhizomes. The flowers, which bloom through summer and fall, open each day and close again each night and are very fragrant. Once the flowers are pollinated, the developing fruit is pulled back under water to mature. The leaves and roots are eaten by beavers, muskrats,and deer, the seeds are eaten by waterfowl.
Spatterdock (Nuphar polysepala)
Spatterdock is a perennial waterlily-like plant that can form extensive stands in the shallow waters of lakes and ponds. When mature, spatterdock has large (elephant-ear-shaped leaves and yellow flowers. Unlike the showy, many-petaled fragrant waterlily flowers, spatterdock blossoms are simple yellow globes that partially open to reveal reddish poppy-like centers. The leaves and flowers float on, or stand above the water, on thick, fleshy stalks. Large green, heart-shaped leaves can grow up to 17 inches long and 11 inches wide and have a leathery surface. They float on the surface of the water. The green “stems” are actually leaf and flower stalks. Waxy, yellow globes (2-4 in across) open to form bright yellow cup-shaped flowers. The 9 (3-7 in) yellow “petals” are actually sepals. The stamens inside the globe are reddish. The flowers bloom from May to August. Its large leaves provide shade, cover from predators, and a home for many tiny invertebrates which fish use for food. The seeds are eaten by ducks and other birds, and muskrat, beaver, and nutria will eat the roots. Deer have also been known to browse the flowers and leaves.
Smooth Bur-marigold (Bidens laevis)
is an annual late fall to early winter blooming flower found along edges of lakes and ponds, and wetlands. It is frequently seen in large clumps making a spectacular gold display. The leaves are like lances with serrated edges while the 7-9 petaled bright yellow ray flowers surrounds a dark yellow to brown disk. They are valuable for pollinating insects like bees and butterflies and the seeds have little bristles that stick to fur and clothing, giving rise to another of its common names – the Beggertick. The seeds are also an important food source for some songbirds.
Swamp Rose (Rosa palustris)
is a perennial shrub native to Florida that can grow up to 8 feet tall. The flowers vary from almost white to dark pink with yellow stamens. The flowers are 1-2 inches across and appear singly or a few in a cluster. The leaves alternate on the stem, are divided into 7 leaflets and have serrated edges. There are small, slightly curved thorns on the stems. It is very fragrant and blooms from late spring through summer. The fall fruit (the rose hip) is red and is eaten by birds. It occurs along stream banks and in swamps where it can be found growing on cypress knees and downed logs.
Swamp Scarlet Hibiscus – (Hibiscus coccineus) is also called Swamp Hibiscus. Like cultivated hibiscus plants it has a large, showy flower. The large (6-8 inches across) 5-petaled, bright crimson red flower can be seen on many Florida rivers in the summer on stalks that can reach up to 7 feet high. They die back in the winter then re-sprout in the spring. Each flower lasts only a day but new ones continue to open all summer and fall.
Swamp Pink Hibiscus – (Hibiscus grandiflorus) is also called the Swamp rose-mallow and the blooms are pink shading into red in the very center around the stamens. The flowers are 5-petaled, 4-6 inches long and the stalks that can grow 6 feet high or more. Honey bees and butterflies love the blooms. Both the Swamp Pink and the Swamp Scarlet Hibiscus occur in much of the same location – sunny areas of brackish and freshwater wetlands.
Cardinal Flower – (Lobelia cardinalis)is a perennial plant that grows up to 4 ft tall. The flowers are usually vibrant red, deeply five-lobed, and up to about and inch across. They are produced in a tall stalk up to 30 inches high summer to fall. Each stalk contains many separate little flowers that each have the distinctive lip of the lobelia. It is primarily pollinated by the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, but Sulphur and Swallowtail butterflies can also frequently be seen surrounding the blossoms.
Blue Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum)
is a blue into purple flower that attracts many pollinators, especially bees, butterflies and skippers, throughout its blooming period form mid-summer through fall. It likes lots of sun and can frequently be seen along edges – of streams, meadows, woodlands and ponds. It can reach a height of about 3 feet. The leaves are almost triangular in shape and appear opposite each other on the stem and look ruffled. At the top of the stem there are clusters of fuzzy-looking flower heads about 1/4 inch long. It has been used for habitat restoration in wet soils.
Violets (Viola spp)
There seems to be wide disagreement among experts of the taxonomy of violets, but here are two native violets that are fairly common to north Florida. The Blue Violet is also sometimes called the Common Blue Violet, Common Violet, Wood Violet and Florida Violet and may actually be several closely related species. It is a common violet in woodlands. It has heart-shaped leaves and 5 petals. The pale blue to purple flowers appear on long stems in the early spring and measure 1/2 inch to 2 inches across. The Early Blue Violet (Viola palmata) likes pine flatwoods, deciduous hammocks, and moist prairies. It has 5 deeply lobed petals without the really prominent veins of some other violets. Wild violets in Florida bloom from winter to early spring.
Spotted Bee Balm (Monarda punctata L.)
Spotted Bee Balm (also called Dotted Horsemint) is the only Monarda native to Florida. It is perennial found statewide. It is a true mint with square stems and a clean, fresh scent. It can grown up to 6 feet tall. It blooms in late summer and the blooms can extend into mid-fall. Like other bee balms, the flowers are actually small and arranged in a whorl around the stem; repeated a great many times up the stalk. Each whorl is subtended by showy bracts – modified leaves that look like flower petals – variegated green and lavender. The flowers themselves are white with lavender spots. The flowers bring in a huge assortment of pollinating insects – butterflies, bees, humming birds and pollinating wasps.
Blue-eye Grass (Sisrinchium angustifolium)
Though their leaves are grass-like, the blue-eyed grasses belong to the iris family not the grass family. It is noted for its blue to violet flowers and branched flowering stems. It is native to Florida where it occurs in damp open woods, slopes and along stream banks throughout much of the state.