Q: Would you be able to identify this wildflower for me? It is growing all over the conservation area behind my house.
A: I found this wildflower in one of our reference books. Blackroot, Pterocaulon pycnostachyum, is native to pine flatwoods and sandhills of Florida and on the coastal plains of the Carolinas and westward to Louisiana. It often grows in moist, shady sites to dry areas in full sun. Blackroot is a member of the aster family and the sole species in Florida in this genus. The only other member of this genus in North America, wand blackroot (P. virgatum), is quite rare and only found in Louisiana and Texas. An unusual characteristic of black root (and where it gets its name) is the tuberous black roots. These roots allow the plant to store large amounts of food and survive prolonged periods of drought. It is similar to the tuberous roots of dahlia, tuberous begonia, and sweet potato. The foliage is distinctive. The stems and undersides of the linear leaves are densely covered by silvery “hairs”, and the stems are conspicuously winged. The upper surface of the leaves is deep green in color and somewhat shiny. Propagation is by seeds. The flowers are attractive to a variety of butterflies such as the Gray Hairstreak, Whirlabout Skipper, and Zebra Swallowtail. The botanical name of the flower spike is spiciform – I added this note for all you botanical nerds like me.