Polygonum hydropiperoides thru Rhodomyrtus tomentosa
Species Name Common Name Polygonum hydropiperoides Polypremum procumbens Pontederia cordata Portulaca pilosa Psychotria nervosa Psychotria sulzneri Ptilimnium capillaceum Quercus geminata Quercus laurifolia Quercus myrtifolia Quercus virginiana Rhodomyrtus tomentosa
Mild Water-Pepper / Swamp Smartweed
Polygonum hydropiperoides is a native, perennial member of Family Polygonaceae (The Buckwheat Family). It grows upright to one meter and lives in freshwater wetlands. In the Smith Preserve, swamp smartweed grows along the edges of the filter marsh.
The plant has alternate, bristly, narrow, lance-shaped leaves that grow to 10 cm. As seen in the photograph above, the stems have tubelike sheaths above the leaf bases that make the stems look like they have many thickened joints. The genus name Polygonum is derived from the Greek words polys, which means"many," and gonu, which means "knee or joint." The stems are branching and the roots are fibrous.
As seen below, flowers are in spikelike inflorescences. Each individual flower is small, white to pinkish and has 4 to 6 petal-like sepals. Each flower is 3 mm wide.
Rustweed / Juniperleaf
Polypremum procumbens is a native, perennial trailing plant that lives on open sandy ground. Botanists disagree as to its correct family. Some place it into Family Tetrachondraceae, some into Family Buddlejaceae (Butterfly Bush Family), and some into Family Loganiaceae.
As shown in the photograph at left, rustweed stems have many branches and are ribbed. The leaves are sessile, opposite, green or rust colored. As shown below, each leaf is narrow and linear and resembles a needle with its tip tapering gradually to a sharp point.
Flowers are white, 2 mm across, and four-lobed.
Pontederia cordata is a native, aquatic, perennial member of Family Pontederiaceae. Plants emerge from standing water and grow to .9 m in height. In the Smith Preserve, pickerelweed grows along the shallow edges of the filter marsh. As shown in the first two photographs above, the leaves are heart-shaped to lance-shaped and are arranged as loose clumps of basal leaves. Plants reproduce asexually from branching rhizomes.
A pickerelweed plant blooms from spring to early fall and a colony of plants can bloom for several months. However, an individual flower blooms only one or two days. Shown in the third photograph above, the flower spike is erect, about 15 cm tall, and covered with small blue/purple flowers. Flowers bloom in succession from the bottom up. A large spike can have 100 or more flowers. As shown below, each flower is 1.3 cm across and has a short blue-violet corolla with six slender lobes that spread outward from the flower throat. The uppermost lobe has one or two patches of yellow that act as nectar guides for insects.
The mature fruit of each flower has three cells, but only one of them develops a seed. The seeds are large and eaten like nuts; the young leaf-stalks can be cooked as greens.
In addition to pickerweed being a source of human food, other animals eat it too. Ducks eat the seeds. Deer and other mammals browse on the foliage. Nectar and pollen attract a variety of different types of bees, butterflies, and moths. The larvae of some borer moths feed within the stalks and leaf petioles, and pickerelweed is the preferred host plant of the leaf beetle, Donacia rugosa.
Pickerelweed also provides cover for fish and other aquatic wildlife. The common name "pickerelweed" refers to pickerel fish that occupy the same habitat as the plant.
Pink Purslane / Kiss-Me-Quick
Portulaca pilosa is a native, annual or short-lived perennial member of Family Portulacaceae (The Purslane Family). As shown in the second photograph, it has succulent stems with long white hairs in the leaf axils. The species name "pilosa" means "long soft hairs." Plants that grow in dry environments tend to have more hairs than those that grow in moist environments. The plant in these photographs was growing in a dry sandy area of the Smith Preserve.
Pink purslane grows flat along the ground with stems reaching 2.5 to 15.2 cm in height. Leaves are sessile, narrow, linear, 5 to 13 mm long, and less than 3 mm wide. Immature plants have wider, longer and flatter leaves than mature plants. Roots are fibrous.
Flowers are clustered at the branch tips and surrounded by hairs. Photograph three shows these hairs next to two dry flowerheads. Each flower is about 10 mm wide and has five purplish-pink petals. Plants bloom year round in south Florida.
Shinyleaf Wild Coffee
Psychotria nervosa is a native, woody, evergreen shrub member of Family Rubiaceae (The Madder Family). It grows in shaded hammocks to a height of 1.8 m. Leaves are simple, opposite, glossy, narrowly obovate, puckered, and 5 to 15 cm long. The underside of a leaf is a pale, dull green color, when compared to the vibrant color of the top of the leaf. The species name nervosa refers to its prominent leaf veins, as shown in the second photograph above.
The stems and twigs have raised nodes. As shown in the third photograph above, the flowers are greenish-white, have 5 lobes, and are clustered on leaf axils or at the terminal ends of the stems. Each flower is 3 mm wide. Shinyleaf wild coffee blooms year round.
As shown at left, Psychotria nervosa fruit (called drupe) is ellipsoidal and red.
Several organisms depend on shinyleaf wild coffee. The leaf-roller moth caterpillar, Demia ploralis ties leaves together with silk and pupates inside. The ogre-faced spider spins its web around the flowers and catches insects at night. Many butterfly species are attracted to the nectar and birds eat the drupe.
Although roasted seeds of Psychotria nervosa have been used as a coffee substitute and teas from its leaves have been used to remedy colds and stomach ailments, this plant is not recommended for human consumption.
Shortleaf Wild Coffee / Dull-Leaf Wild Coffee
Psychotria sulzneri is a native, medium-sized shrub member of Family Rubiaceae (The Madder Family). It grows in slightly shaded areas in moist forests and swamps. The plant shown here is growing in one of the hammock areas within the Smith Preserve. This particular bush is quite small, but if conditions permit, it can grow to a height of .9 to 1.2 m, with the same width.
As shown in the photographs below, Dull-Leaf Wild Coffee can be distinguished from Psychotria nervosa by its leaves. A leaf of P. sulzneri is not as shiny and the veins are not as well defined as a leaf of P. nervosa.
Dull-Leaf Wild Coffee produces green flowers that are a nectar source for bees and butterflies.
Fruits are red, orange, or yellow berries that provide food for birds and other animals.
P. sulzneri has been used in medical treatments for fevers, colds, asthma, stomach problems, swelling, tumors, and dermatological problems.
Ptilimnium capillaceum is a native, annual member of Family Apiaceae (The Carrot Family). Mock Bishopweed thrives in wet habitats that receive full sun. At the Smith Preserve, it lives along the southwestern edge of the filter marsh. It grows 15 to 46 cm in height, and like other members of the carrot family, has a very deep taproot.
The foliage is fragrant, the leaves are compound, and the leaflets are threadlike. Flower heads arise from the ends of tall stems. The flower heads are leafy umbels of tiny, white flowers. As shown in the first photograph below, the inflorescence resembles that of a tiny Daucus carota (Queen Anne's Lace). Mock Bishopweed produces a large number of seeds.
Ptilimnium capillaceum nectar attracts a variety of butterfly species and the plant is the larval host for Papilio polyxenes (Eastern Black Swallowtail).
Sand Live Oak
Quercus geminata is a native, perennial, evergreen, scrub/tree member of Family Fagaceae (The Beech Family). As shown in the first photograph, it is usually a small to medium sized thicket-forming scrubby tree, less than 15 m in height. The tree bark is dark brown, thick, deeply furrowed, and rough to the touch. Because up to 80% of the biomass of a sand live oak may be underground, it will likely survive a fire that kills the above-ground parts of the tree.
Its leaves are distinctive. As shown in the third photograph, each leaf is simple, dark green on top, glossy, thick, leathery, and coarsely veined. The leaf veins on the upper surface of a leaf are deeply sunken. The fourth photograph shows a leaf bottom. It has an extremely curled margin, which gives it the appearance of being a shallow bowl. The bottom of the leaf is covered with pale gray, matted hairs.
The first two photographs immediately below show male flowers. They are green, cylindrical and clustered. These flowers produce large amounts of pollen, making them highly to extremely allergenic.
Quercus geminata acorns are small, 1–2.5 cm, oblong-ellipsoid or ovoid, and usually in pairs. Quercus geminata acorns are an important food source for wildlife and the dense crown of the tree provides nesting sites for birds.
The photographs below show galls. Tree tissue has formed around the eggs of the leafy oak gall wasp Andricus quercusfoliatus to create these structures. Leafy oak galls are common on sand live oak trees in the Smith Preserve. They do not appear to cause permanent damage to the trees.
Quercus laurifolia is a native, fast-growing, medium-sized, deciduous or semi-evergreen member of Family Fagaceae (The Beech Family). It grows 20 to 25 m tall, and rarely to 40 m. It has a dense, oval canopy, and droopy branches. Laurel oak can live 50 to 70 years.
The leaves are alternate, simple, broad and lance-shaped (3-12 cm long and 1.5-4.5 cm wide). They are usually unlobed with an entire margin and a rounded tip. Leaf venation is pinnate. The top and bottom surfaces of a leaf are shown below.
Laurel oak is monoecious, with stamens and pistils in separate flowers on the same tree. As shown at left, the fruit (acorns) are nearly spherical (9-12 mm) and green. As they mature, they turn blackish-brown.
Acorns are eaten by deer, squirrels, raccoons, rodents, and birds and are often infested with curculio weevils. Other insects are also known to attack Quercus laurifolia. Mites cause leaf yellowing. Many types of galls form on the leaves or twigs as the tree's response to attack by a variety of parasites. Aphids cause distorted growth and deposit honeydew on lower leaves. Boring insects attack stressed trees and tent caterpillars form nests in trees and then devoir the foliage. The last photograph shows a round gall at the terminal end of a branch and several galls along the branches.
Quercus myrtifolia is a native, large shrub/small tree member of Family Fagaceae (The Beech Family). It has a twisted trunk and a broad round-topped crown. In South Florida, it typically grows to no more than 4.6 to 9.1 m in height and 10 to 20 cm in diameter. It often forms thickets. Its habitat includes pinelands, scrub, and dry hammocks with deep sandy soils.
Myrtle oak bark is dark gray to brown and smooth. Terminal buds are reddish to purplish brown. Its leaves are simple, alternate, small ( 2.5 to 5 cm), smooth, and shiny. As shown at left, the top of a leaf is leathery and dark green; the bottom is a pale green or yellow to rust color. The leaf blades are elliptical, egg-shaped, or spatula-shaped. The edges are entire and usually rolled under. The apex has a spiny tip, as shown in the close-up photograph below. Leaf petioles are very short and somewhat winged.
Flowers are green and the acorn is brown and edible. Acorns, as shown in the last photograph below, form every two years. The cup is saucer-shaped to shallowly goblet-shaped and covers 1/4 to 1/3 of the nut. The nut is egg-shaped to spherical.
Myrtle oak provides important food and cover for wildlife. It is the larval host plant for Erynnis horatius (Horace's Duskywing), Calycopis cecrops (Red-banded Hairstreak) and Parrhasius m album (White-M Hairstreak) butterflies. The acorns are food for squirrels and the threatened Florida scrub jay.
Virginia Live Oak / Southern Live Oak
Quercus virginiana is a native, perennial, large, sprawling, long-lived (200 + years) tree member of Family Fagaceae (The Beech Family). It usually has one trunk and its bark is dark, thick, and vertically furrowed. It can reach a height of 12 to 18 m with an 18 to 30 m spread. The branches curve and droop and are frequently covered with ball moss, Spanish moss, and resurrection fern. Since the tree crown is very dense, it provides shade and nesting sites for a variety of species. The tree is also the larval host plant for several hairstreak butterfly species and Anisota stigma (Spiny Oakworm moth).
Virginia live oak leaves are alternate, simple, stiff, leathery, oval, entire or rarely toothed, and flat. As seen at left, the top of the leaf is shiny and dark green; the bottom is pale with matted hairs. Leaves are typically 2 to 15 cm long and 1 to 5 cm wide with pinnate venation. Unlike most other oaks, the live oak does not drop its leaves until after the following year's leaves begin growing. This habit results in an "evergreen" tree and gives it its common name "live oak." Virginia live oak can be distinguished from sand live oak because the edges of Virginia live oak leaves are not as curved under and the veins on top of the leaf are not sunken.
Male flowers are green, drooping catkins with lengths of 7.5 –10 cm.
The acorns are 2.5 cm, elongated to oval, shiny, and tan-brown to almost black (often with black tips). Acorns occur alone, or in clusters. Live oak acorns are an important food source for a variety of birds, black bear, squirrels, and white-tailed deer. (Note: To date, black bears and white-tailed deer have not been seen in the Smith Preserve.)
Historically, Virginia live oaks have been a valuable resource. Native Americans used every part of a Virginia live oak: acorn extractions for cooking oil, plant parts for medicines, leaves for rug-making, and bark for dyes. In colonial times, these oaks were the preferred wood source for the framework timbers of ships. The frame of the USS Constitution was constructed from Virginia live oak. The dense wood was able to survive cannon fire and resulted in the ship being called "Old Ironsides".
Downy Rose Myrtle
Rhodomyrtus tomentosa is a non-native, woody, evergreen shrub in Family Myrtaceae (Myrtle Family). The plant was introduced to Florida circa 1920 and is spreading throughout the state, forming thickets in the understory of native pinelands. It grows to two meters, occasionally to four meters. Downy Rose Myrtle is considered to be a noxious weed. These photographs were taken in the Smith Preserve prior to periodic scheduled removal of invasives from the property.
Stems are covered with soft hairs. Leaves are opposite, oval, leathery, and 5 to 7 cm long and 2 to 3.5 cm wide. The top of a leaf is glossy green, the bottom is gray and hairy. As shown in these photographs, the leaf margin is entire and there are three main leaf veins. One vein is in the middle of the leaf and the other two are parallel to the leaf margins.
Flowers are showy and either solitary or in clusters of two or three. Each flower has a five-lobed calyx and five rosy pink petals. A typical flower is 2.5 to 3 cm in diameter.
The fruit is a bluish-purple spherical berry about 13 mm in diameter. It is similar in appearance to a blueberry, but is more elongated. Fruit is used in making pies and jellies. Rhodomyrtus tomentosa is spread from seeds dispersed by birds and mammals that eat the fruit.
© Photographs and text by Susan Leach Snyder (Conservancy of Southwest Florida Volunteer), unless otherwise credited above.
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