It’s no secret that fall, October specifically, is the best month for wildflower watching in the Panhandle. From the abundant vibrant yellow-gold display of various Sunflowers, Asters, and Goldenrods to the cosmopolitan bright pinks and purples of Mistflower, Blazing Star, and False Foxglove, local native landscapes light up each year around this time. However, if you’re lucky and know where to look, you can also spot two species, Azure Blue Sage (Salvia azurea) and Forked Bluecurls (Trichostema dichotomum) that sport that rarest of wildflower hues – vivid blue.
Forked Bluecurls begins its flower show in late summer, picking up steam in fall, and reaching its peak now as nights get cool and the days grow short. The species’ flowers are easily among the most unique around. Each flower has two distinct “lips” – the lower lip is white and dotted with blue specks, while the top is distinctly pure blue – with characteristically curled blue stamens rising to preside over the rest of the flower below. Though individual flowers are very small and only bloom in the morning, they appear by the hundreds and are very striking taken together. Various pollinators, especially bees, also find Forked Bluecurls flowers to their liking and frequent them on cool fall mornings. Though the flowers are obviously the highlight, the rest of the plant is attractive as well, growing to 3’ in height and possessing small, light-green fuzzy leaves. Forked Bluecurls, while not exceedingly common, can be found in sunny, sandy natural areas throughout the Panhandle, including well-drained flatwoods, sandhills, and open, disturbed areas.
The second blue bloomer, Azure Blue Sage, is possibly even more striking in flower than Forked Bluecurls. Aptly named and blooming around the same time as Forked Blue Curls, Azure Blue Sage is a much larger plant (often 4-6’ in height) and holds its abundant sky-blue flowers high above the surrounding landscape. Because of their height and their propensity to occur in bunches, Azure Blue Sage’s brilliant tubular flowers are immediately noticeable to passersby and the myriad bee and butterfly pollinators that visit. Beyond its flowers, Azure Blue Sage is a very unusual looking perennial plant, tall and spindly with dark green, narrow leaves held tightly to square stems, a giveaway of its lineage in the Mint family. The species can be found in similar areas to Forked Bluecurls – natural areas in the Panhandle that possess abundant sunshine and sandy, well-drained soil.
Both species would make excellent additions to mixed perennial landscapes where the soil and sun conditions were right, as they are exceedingly low-maintenance and have the propensity to reseed themselves from year to year. Unfortunately, they are rarer in the nursery trade than they are in the wild and can only be found occasionally at nurseries specializing in Florida native plants. (Visit PlantRealFlorida.org to find native nurseries in your area!) However, even if you are unable to source a plant for your home, both these somewhat rare, blue-blooming fall beauties, Forked Bluecurls and Azure Blue Sage, are worth searching out in the many State Parks and public natural areas across the Panhandle! For more information about Forked Bluecurls and Azure Blue sage or any other natural resource, horticultural, or agricultural topic, contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension Office. Happy fall wildflower watching!
As you drive along the highway look out the window at the blooming roadside wildflowers. Fall is the season of yellow and purple, with splashes of red.
St. John’s Wort (Hypericum spp.), many different “daisies” (Aster spp.), tall and short Goldenrod (Solidago spp.), and “sunflowers” (Helianthus spp.) brighten up the landscape with the many shades of yellow. Spikes of Blazing Star (Liatris spp.), clumps of False Rosemary (Conradina canescens), and carpets of Moss Verbena (Verbena tenuisecta) add the purple hues. Here and there clusters of Red Basil (Calamintha coccinea) grab your attention with their fiery color.
Scarlet calamint, also called Red Basil, with its brilliant red flowers, offer a dramatic contract against the backdrop of scrub, sandhill and coastal dunes where the plant naturally occurs in Florida. They bloom sporadically throughout the year, peaking in the fall with as many as 100 flowers on a single plant. It is the only Florida native Calamintha species with red flowers, and its flowers are the largest.
When the Spanish Explorer Juan Ponce de Leon landed on the eastern shores in 1513 he immediately noticed the vast wealth of wildflowers and promptly name his new discovery the “Land of Flowers”, which is the translation for Florida. Habitats throughout the state vary greatly. Changes in elevation by only a few inches can change the soil and impact the types of plants growing there. Associated birds, butterflies, and other pollinators change as the wildflower species vary. Florida has one of the highest biodiversity in the United States.
Learning to identify the roadside wildflowers is the topic of the next Okaloosa County Master Gardener Lecture Series. Join Dave Gordon on Monday, October 23 at the Okaloosa County Extension 3098 Airport Rd. Crestview, FL 32539 from 10 -11 am CDT to learn about what is blooming along the road right of way and how they may be utilized in the landscape. For more information go to:
In spite of this record-breaking hot summer, it might be surprising to realize that we are just a month away from the onset of fall. As the sun-soaked dog days gradually relinquish their hold to the inviting coolness of autumn, the allure of the new season comes into view.
If your thoughts are already conjuring images of vibrant leaves and the anticipation of robust greens and earthy root vegetables in your garden, we extend an invitation to explore our newly revamped edition of the North Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide.
We’ve transformed the guide from a static PDF into a user-friendly website, making it easier than ever for you to tap into its wealth of gardening insights. Crafted by the adept hands of the UF/IFAS Leon County Extension, this guide serves as an invaluable resource catering to both seasoned horticulturists and aspiring gardeners.
Dive into an array of articles, planting schedules, images, and informative UF/IFAS EDIS publications – all thoughtfully designed to address your gardening questions. From the basics of getting started to the finer points of site selection, pest management, fostering biodiversity, soil testing, composting, harnessing cover crops, and mastering irrigation techniques – the North Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide website has it all covered.
For those who prefer a tactile experience, physical copies are available upon request at the UF/IFAS Leon County Extension Office, located at 615 Paul Russell Rd., Tallahassee, FL 32301. A quick call ahead will help you ensure availability.
We’re also excited to announce our upcoming Fall 2023 Backyard Gardening Series, set for September 6 and 13, from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. on both evenings at the Leon County Extension Office (615 Paul Russell Road).
If you’re eager to explore the art of fall gardening in depth, this series will cover topics like site selection, soil enrichment, effective fall planting techniques, and more, including a hands-on planting activity.
Individual tickets are available for $10 per person if pre-paid online or $15 in cash or check at the door. For families of three to four, pre-paid online family tickets are $20 per family or $30 in cash or check at the door. This registration fee includes both evenings on September 6 and 13 and light refreshments will be provided.
For any further inquiries, please contact Molly Jameson at firstname.lastname@example.org or via phone at 850-606-5200.
Bright color is sometimes hard to come by in landscapes, especially in those areas where not much likes to grow. In particularly sandy areas along our coastlines, it can be a challenge to find plants that can both tolerate extremely dry conditions with heavy salt spray and provide an aesthetic boost. Luckily, there is at least one flower out there that goes above and beyond when it comes to beauty.
Gaillardia pulchella, or blanket flower, Indian blanket flower, firewheel, or sundance is a relatively low growing (up to 1.5 feet tall) plant that favors conditions that would make most plants wither. It grows as an annual or short-lived perennial and though it goes dormant in the winter, during warm weather, it’s bright and colorful! It is native to the United States, but probably never spread farther east than Texas until assisted by humans. It grows well throughout Florida, and can often be seen along roadsides.
Spreading to around two feet wide, each individual plant may not blanket the ground, but it readily produces seed which is easy to germinate. Flowers are produced throughout the growing season. Varieties are available with different appearances, though all tend to be some combination of bright yellow and dusky red. The blossoms can be used as cut flowers, or left in the landscape to attract pollinators.
Blanket flower prefers well-drained soil, even growing out into beach dunes. As stated previously, it may be propagated easily by seed; either let dried seed heads remain on the plant long enough to drop seeds or harvest them to plant elsewhere. Sow seeds in the spring and enjoy low-maintenance color for months after!
Need an excuse to not mow your lawn this month? UF/IFAS Extension agents in the Florida Panhandle are asking residents to skip their soon-to-be-weekly outdoor chore until the calendar flips to April.
The idea for “No Mow March” is borrowed from “No Mow May,” a concept begun in the United Kingdom that has now spread to northern parts of the United States.
“Obviously, our lawns are growing way too quickly by the time May rolls around,” said Beth Bolles, UF/IFAS Escambia County horticulture agent who is leading the pilot effort this year. “Here in North Florida, March is our transition period, when grass is exiting dormancy. But it’s also when pollinators are starting to become more active, so it’s the perfect time to celebrate them and promote their health and habitat.”
Bolles is quick to point out, though, that the month is about more than just turf.
“We recognize that some communities have rules to follow regarding their lawns,” she said. “There are other things you can do to encourage pollinators to visit, whether it’s container plants or adding new shrubs or pollinator houses. We encourage everyone to find their own way to participate.”
The first step in participating is to sign the pledge at go.ufl.edu/NoMowMarch. Visitors can also use the website to find virtual or in-person events geared to the topic, learn tips for adhering to homeowners association guidelines while still promoting pollinators, and record observations to a No Mow group on iNaturalist.
Have you ever visited a public garden or a park and wondered what type of plant you were looking at? Or found the name on a sign but wondered – can I grow that at my house? How big will it get? Does it have flowers, berries, keep its leaves in the winter? We feel your pain, fellow plant lovers!
Gardens are ever evolving and providing up to date printed information on all the plants can become difficult to manage and involve a lot of wasted resources. In Bay County, we have several gardens at the Extension Office, and we try to keep everything labeled, but space on signs is limited to plant name and we want to teach gardeners how to grow not just identify plants. To expand outreach of Florida-Friendly plants, we have created a website with all the plants in our demonstration gardens.
The site is organized by garden area, common name, and botanical name to ease navigation. Each plant profile has photos at different stages, basic cultural information, and links to additional research-based information.
Whether you are visiting our gardens in person or just want information on plants that perform well in the Florida Panhandle, we hope you will check out our new site and let us know if you found it useful and how we can improve.