Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sandpaper, Beauties, and Coffee

DSCN1984 On the western side of the Flatwoods Trail there is a little patch of one of the varieties of wild coffee, Psychotria sulzneri, commonly known as shortleaf wild coffee. Plans were to plant some more of another variety commonly known as just “wild coffee”, Psychotria nervosa, just up the trail a bit next to a wild coffee id sign we installed. Before we got to it, another herbaceous plant with opposite leaves sprung up in the clearing. In the early stages of its growth the plant appeared very similar to what the line drawing of the coffee on the sign looked like to anyone not familiar with the wild coffee. We were even fooled into thinking it may have been seedlings of American beautyberry, Callicarpa americana, which also has a similar toothed opposite leaf.

DSCN1993 Once the plant developed flowers we were able to quickly id our newcomer as sandpaper or harsh vervain, Verbena scabra, of the vervain family (Verbenaceae). Really quite lovely, this plant has delicate spikes of tiny pink to lavender flowers. The stems are square and ridged. The leaves as the name might imply are rough like sandpaper on the surface, coarsely toothed, and arranged opposite of each other. It is commonly found in wet pine lands or disturbed sites.


As for the potential look a likes, also in the Verbenaceae family the American beautyberry also has opposite leaves with coarse teeth but the stems are rounded and the flowers are borne in a cluster in the axils of the leaves, see how similar the foliage is to the Verbena.

DSCN1994 In the Rubiaceae family (buttonbush is also in this family), the shortleaf wild coffee also has opposite leaves. Their clusters of flowers typically develop at the end of the stems. The shortleaf wild coffee is easily distinguished from its relative wild coffee.  The leaves of shortleaf wild coffee are not really shorter but velvety and matte in comparison with wild coffee who’s leaves are shiny and often puckered or pleated in appearance from deeply inset veins on the leaf surface. More on wild coffee and its history of use in the future.

Noting opposite leaf arrangement on a plant is often a helpful way to identify species or rule out  look a likes.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Gopher Apple


Truly one of our very favorite plants in the sandhill is the gopher apple (Licania michauxii.) This diminutive shrub (above ground stems typically no more than a foot tall) spreads by underground stems to form small colonies. The alternate leaves are smooth on the surface and often fuzzy beneath. The plant overall looks very similar to oak seedlings. The gopher apple is happy in deep sands found in Florida sandhill, scrub, and coastal dune systems. As you might suspect from the places it is found; it very salt tolerant and also tolerant of and recovers quickly from fire. In the spring and early summer they are covered in tiny greenish yellow flowers soon to be followed by their namesake fruit. The fruit is egg shaped and white to purple in color and highly favored by gopher tortoises as well as most other wildlife (including yours truly.) You will find a real nice patch of gopher apple on the sandhill trail just north of the big tortoise burrow. And although the fruit is edible, we ask you leave them for the gopher tortoise! :-) Thanks!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Trumpet Creeper


This otherwise ubiquitous vine has so far only been found along the shell trail near the trail to the swamp tupelo overlook. The lovely trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans) is show stopper from now until early fall. Beautiful  vivid orange red tubular flowers are said to vacuum in the humming birds and we note they are pretty darn popular with the ant set as well. This vigorous aggressive vine, although native, can sometimes  be considered invasive. Aerial roots that anchor thick woody stems can carry leaves and flowers over thirty feet into tree canopies or even up walls. Glossy toothed pinnate leaves oppositely arranged easily identify this plant before the flowers make their show. Because hawkmoths of any kind are our favorites in the Back Woods, this plant finds our favor as the larval food of the Plebeian sphinx moth (common or not, we think they are pretty cute!) Keep your eye out for blazes of red in the canopy through out the summer, it will most likely be trumpet creeper.