Q: I found this pretty, lilac wildflower growing near a ditch in my neighborhood. Can you tell me what it is and can I dig it up and plant it in my yard.
A: I consulted the University of Florida Herbarium to be sure my guess was correct and they agree the wildflower is probably a false dragonhead in the genus, Physostegia. Physostegiais from Greek physa “bladder” and stege “covering”, in reference to the somewhat inflated a calyx. A calyx is the green leaf-like sepals which enclose the petals and forms a protective layer around a flower in bud. Some species in this genus go by the name obedient-plant because the flowers remain temporarily in place when pushed to one side. False Dragonhead is best planted in rich, moist soil in full sun or light shade. False Dragonhead has 1 inch tubular flowers tightly clustered in long spikes at the top of stems and grows wild in moist ground in prairies, edges of glades and along streams. The leaves are opposite with toothed edges, up to 5 inches long, becoming smaller in size as the flower head develops. The stem is four-sided (roughly square in cross section,) as is typical of members of the mint family. False dragonhead is sometimes used as an ornamental and the “Obedient Plant” name really doesn’t apply to the plant in cultivated gardens as these plants can be aggressive colonizers. Regarding picking or removing wildflowers illegally from wildlife areas here is the USDA Forest service comment: “Almost all wildflowers are fragile and many wilt and perish soon after being picked. Over the years, the repercussions of wildflower picking by unthinking people go far beyond the loss of the flowers themselves. A critical chain of events is triggered for years to come once wildflowers are lost. We don’t often realize it, but wildflowers support entire ecosystems for pollinators, birds, and small animals on a micro scale. Butterflies and other insects, small birds, and animals depend on seeds, nectar, and pollen for their food supply and life support system. In addition, some pollinators are not very mobile or have very small home ranges or depend on just one species of plant and die once their habitat has been destroyed.” The complete article, “Wildflower Ethics and Native Plants”: http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/ethics/