Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blazing Star




Family: Asteraceae

Genus: Liatris

Species: tenuifolia Nutt.

Common: blazing star, gayfeather


Like lavender rockets erupting from the white sands of the sandhill, the lovely blazing star (Liatris tenuifolia) are putting on a serious show this fall. There are many species of Liatris in Florida that are found in many ecosystems from sandhill to wetland.  For now we have decided that our most common Liatris sp. in the Back Woods, those that are in the sandhill, are Liatris tenuifolia. This species reach heights of 3 feet or more with vivid pink to purple spikes with many flower heads made up of four or more florets (note the clusters of florets in the picture above). Bees, moths, and butterflies delight in the nectar and pollen of these flowers. You will often see blazing star nodding on breezeless days as hefty pollen laden bumble bees bend the slender spikes toward the ground as they nectar from flower to flower. Of little other wildlife value, the blazing star is a very popular wildflower with the evolved primate crowd and is easily sown from seed.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Narrowleaf Silkgrass


Family: Asteraceae

Genus: Pityopsis

Species: graminifolia (Michx.) Nutt.

Synonym: Heterotheca graminifolia

Common: narrowleaf silkgrass, grassleaf golden aster

Lovely narrowleaf silkgrass (Pityopsis graminifolia) are adorned in dazzling yellow flowers this time of year for their part of the sandhill fall show. Those lovely yellow flowers about the size of a dime are visible from mid to late summer through late fall. Through out the rest of the year it often appears similar to a clump of grass but, the narrowleaf silkgrass is easily recognized by the silvery sometimes densely haired foliage for which it is named. Growing between one and three feet tall, this native Florida sandhill perennial prefers sunny open dry sites. They are often found in colonies spreading out by rhizomes and also propagate by seed. Some text note the narrowleaf silkgrass as an important food for gopher tortoise.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Song of the Cicada


The cast nymphal skeleton of a cicada clasped tightly to a branch of silkgrass (Pityopsis graminifolia). After four years underground and four molts, this was the last nymphal instar of the cicada. From this molt they emerge the winged adults that fill the summer nights with song.

If you are originally from up ‘north a ways’ you may remember the cicadas of your childhood summers varying from year to year. Northeastern populations of some cicada species are periodical and may appear in mass numbers in 13 to 17 year cycles. In Florida, populations of adults are produced every year.

Cicadas nymphs and adults both feed on plant fluids but neither is considered a serious pest in Florida. On the the other hand, adult cicada are considered good eating by numerous wildlife and are considered a notable survival food for humans as well. Hmmmm.

A nice time lapse video of a cicada molting from last instar to adult

Friday, October 9, 2009

Coastalplain Palafox


The sandhill is putting on its annual fall show. Puffs of pale pink coastalplain palafox (Palafoxia integrifolia) dot the white sands in between lavender spires of blazing star (Liatris sp.). The palafox has a sweet fragrance and beetles of all kinds just seem to love it. Somewhat non descript much of the year, this pastel beauty is common in dry pinelands throughout Florida and most obvious during the fall bloom.

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