Blue Violets and Horse Sugar

Les Harrison is the UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Director

Spring is a time of renewal–its gentle warmth encouraging bursts of color in the most unexpected places. Even the tiniest plants are doing their best to compete with the larger, more impressive, blooms.

The thick, brown, blanket of leaves is parting for these petite eye-catchers to make their way through to the surface, where we can enjoy them. Many of these little flowers are responsible for the abundance of sweet smells wafting through the air this time of year.
Wakulla County’s natural areas have numerous color and texture options coming to life now. The monochromatic browns and grays are yielding to a bright palette of hues and shades which change on a daily basis.

Under pine trees, the common blue violets are currently blooming. Viola sororia, the scientific name for this native plant, provides a stark color contrast to the leaf litter and pine needles it thrives in. This delicate herbaceous plant is an early spring bloomer with inch wide blooms which are commonly bluish-purple. These violets are self-pollinating perennials which flourish in the filtered light beneath tree canopies.

The heavy mulch layer in the forest provides the consistently moist soil and ample organic matter for successful growth. Seed heads form in the late summer and early autumn, and are scatted by birds, animals, and weather events.

Carolina Jessamine are adding color to the forest floor also. This perennial vine is known for its aggressive climbing and prolific colonization of trees, fences and any other stationary structure it can ascend. Clusters of golden-yellow blooms are swaying in the March breezes and perfuming the air.

Native and exotic pollinators are enticed to the attractive offering, but some do not benefit. The nectar is toxic to European honeybees, but may benefit native bumblebees. It is thought the alkaloid toxin aides bumblebees with parasite control. As the blooms mature and fall off the thin vines, they land in bunched under the trees which support this evergreen native. The blooms maintain their shape and color for several days after dropping off, enough time for creating a carpet of gold sprinkles.

The Roundleaf Bluet (Houstonia procumbens) or as it is sometimes called “Innocence” is peering through dead grass and pine needles. This tiny white flower is about the size of a dime and appears in clusters. The blooms have four evenly spaced pedals and prefer the filtered light and heavy mulch, like the violet. This perennial is native to the lower southeastern U.S. and gradually fades away as the days become warmer.

A multi-color bloomer with the descriptive common name Horse Sugar (Symplocos tinctoria) is currently in flower. The identification originated because horses were attracted to the sweet tasting leaves. This woody native prefers woods, thickets and borders of streams. A shrub or small deciduous tree, it is also known as sweet leaf. Its strong, sweet smelling blooms make it worthwhile to look up from the forest floor.

To learn more about wildflowers in Wakulla County, contact your UF/IFAS Wakulla Extension Office at 850-926-3931 or http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/wakullaco/

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