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Uncommon Plants of the Ecosystem

The diversity of tree species in the longleaf ecosystems is very low.  Besides the longleaf pine itself, there are another half dozen or so tree species which are somewhat fire resistant; almost all others are unable to survive the frequent fires in the healthy examples of these ecosystems.  The true diversity is found in the understory of shrubs and herbaceous ground cover.  There many species that are common and widespread across the southeast, such as several species of wiregrass.  But there are also some species which are more restricted and found only in isolated pockets or where specific requirements are met.  Here are some of those.

Species marked with an asterisk (*) are pictured in the Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants.

Pine Flatwoods

White-top Pitcherplant (Saracenia leucophylla)*--one of a half dozen pitcherplants found in low pine flatwoods where the soil is at least seasonally wet, all of which are well adapted to moderate fires which remove competing vegetation but do not harm the rhizomes; fire occurring when the soil has thoroughly dried out will destroy the plants. This species is found in the panhandle of Florida and into adjacent states.  All of the pitcherplants are known for their ability to entrap insects which are then digested by the plant to provide nutrients.  The bright white top with a network of red veins of this plant is conspicuous and may be especially attractive to flower-seeking insects.

Bartram’s Ixia (Calydorea caelestina)*-- an iris with deep lavender flowers, endangered and endemic to the following Florida counties: Bradford, Union, Baker, Duval, Clay, St. Johns, and Putnam.  It was discovered in the spring of 1766 by the pioneer naturalist and explorer, William Bartram.  In the few places where they remain undisturbed, in early spring after a fire has removed the ground cover, these plants send up shoots from the underground bulbs and produce a showy display of hundreds of plants where it appeared there were none.  Then in subsequent years the number of blooms dwindles until the next fire.

Chapman’s Crownbeard (Verbesina chapmanii)*-- named in honor of Alvin Wentworth Chapman (1809-1899), an Apalachicola doctor and author of Flora of the Southern United States, this species is endemic to the lower floodplain of the Apalachicola River.  It is a composite in the daisy family, but does not have ray flowers; the disk florets are tubular and yellow-orange in color, on rough stems about two feet in height.

Chapman’s Rhododendron (Rhododendron minus)*--this widespread native azalea of the southeastern mountains and piedmont is represented in Florida by a rare endemic variety, chapmanii, also named after Dr. Chapman.  It is found in the flatwoods of northern Florida where the frilly pink flowers are borne in showy clusters in spring.

White Birds-in-a-Nest (Macbridea alba)*--the name of this perennial mint refers to the flower heads which produce a succession of conspicuous white flowers.  It is another species restricted to the basin of the lower Apalachicola River and was named in honor of another doctor, James McBride.

Mock Pennyroyal (Hedeoma graveolens)*--also a mint, but somewhat shrubby with older stems becoming woody.  It is endemic to a few Florida panhandle counties where it occurs in the flatwoods on sandy margins of bay swamps.

Florida Beargrass (Nolina atopocarpa)*--two species of beargrass, related to the century plant, are endemic to Florida and both are endangered.  Florida beargrass is likely found now only in the Apalachicola National Forest in low periodically wet flatwoods.  The other species, Britton’s beargrass, occurs in scrub in central Florida.

Uplands and High Pine

Netted Paw-paw (Asimina reticulata)*--there are at least eight species of paw-paws in the southeast, ranging in size from small shrub to tree; some are limited to dry scrub, while other prefer wet hammocks.  This species is endemic to peninsular Florida where it can be found in both sandhills and flatwoods.  The flowers bloom early, before the leaves appear.  The flowers help distinguish this species from the similar but more wide-spread Woolly paw-paw (Asimina incana) which also has early flowers; those of netted paw-paw are deep purple at the base, while the base of the woolly paw-paw flowers are yellow.

Florida Wild Indigo (Baptisia calycosa)--legumes are common in longleaf pine ecosystems and several species of wild indigo are found in sandhills and flatwoods.  Florida wild indigo is known from two isolated and rare endemic varieties.  One is found in Clay and St. Johns Counties.  The other, variety villosa, occurs in some panhandle counties.  The latter, formerly considered as a separate species (Baptisia hirsuta), has hairy stems and produces small yellow flowers which mature into small seedpods.

Wiregrass Gentian (Gentiana pennelliana)*--as the name indicates, this species often grows in association with wiregrass.  It is unusual in that it blooms in mid-winter when the white or greenish-purple flowers on widely scattered plants peep through the wiregrass.  Endemic to the central panhandle of Florida.

Clasping warea (Warea amplexifolia)*--named in honor of a nineteenth century plant collector, Nathaniel P. Ware, this species is endemic to central Florida.  A member of the mustard family, its showy white flowers turn rose purple with age.  The elongated curved seedpods reach three inches in length.

For further reading: Walter Kingsley Taylor, Florida Wildflowers in Their Natural Communities, 1998


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