A Walk Through the Forest, April 2024

Ah, springtime flowers are starting to appear all through the forest and yard here in North Central Florida. I decided to take a walk this morning to see what exactly is growing and blooming, and I was excited to find many of my favorites, like clematis and lavender-tinted oakleaf fleabane. These photos are nice, but you’ll want to watch the video on my YouTube channel, too!


Prickly Pear Pad Cactus

Showy bright pink blossoms on the green oblong pads

Prickly pear cactus (a subgroup of Opuntia) grow randomly around the forest, and we’ve been planting pads here and there around the house for a few years now. One of our dear friends passed away in 2021, and her daughter welcomed us to take out her mother’s prized cactus. It was massive, and we had to break it up into pieces to transplant it. Now here at our house, it’s starting to grow again. This month, amazing neon pink blossoms have sprout from the pads. They’re gorgeous!


Globe Sedge Grass

Grass with soft, pointy seed pods

The pine forest here is dry and sandy, and every spring we get a nice bunch of globe sedge (Cyperus globulosus). While most horticulturists classify sedge as a weed, we see it as a grass, because weeds are noxious and globe sedge is not. The goats nibble it, which means it’s free food, which means it’s a good plant to have growing. 


Wild Virgin’s Bower Clematis

Downward Pointing Bell-Shaped Flowers

Every other year or so I come across wild clematis vines that grow along the driveway. The vines cling to other plants and oak saplings, the same shade of green as the other leafy plants, and they’re only noticeable when they start producing bell-shaped flowers and (later) whirly seedheads. 

So, the BBC gardening show once had a feature on clematis, and the expert said something about there being hundreds and hundreds of clematis varieties. I don’t know for sure this is virgin’s bower, but the whirly seedpods look like the ones in photos on the Florida native plant websites.


Multicolored Wild Lantana

Invasive but beautiful 

Come April and the lantana plants are usually six feet tall and six feet around. Lantana (Verbenaceae) is considered invasive, but it is a wonderful pollinator plant. Flowers have been blooming for a few months now, and many of the clusters of pink, yellow, and orange are now bouquets of green seed balls. Soon, the seeds will turn black and then fall off.


Oakleaf Fleabane

Tiny, Delicate daisy-like wildflower

These tiny flowers appear in spring and dance in the breeze, and they make me smile. Oakleaf fleabane (Erigeron quercifolius) find the moist areas of the sandy pine forest, and they do well under the shade of the Spanish needle. I love these so much that I actually walked bare-legged through stinging nettle to get closer. The blossoms are maybe a centimeter in diameter, with slender lavenderish-white florets around a yellow disk. 


Blackroot Cones

Wildflower with hard white flowering pods

The blackroots (Pterocaulon pycnostachyum) have grown to about two feet tall, and the moderately stiff cones have formed. If you look at the base on the mature cones, you can see that the bottom rows are already started to blossom. From each pod comes white and yellow spikes that attract flying pollinators, and then the pollinated flowers will fluff up with seeds. Even though the cones create a gazillion seeds, we only see a couple plants in the forest. 


Purple Lily-like Meadow Flower

Vibrant purple flowers in the moist meadow

Every year I look up the name of these clustering purple flowers, and every year I forget. The flowers were in full bloom a week or two ago, but they’re fading away now. The flowers are a vibrant purple, and I like squeezing the buds to release the violet ink inside. (See the video…) They thrive in the meadow, where the sun shines all day long and the soil is moist and well-draining. While most of the wildflowers have soft stems, this plant’s stem is stiff and the flowers stand tall.


Dog Fennel

Macho ferns that I love to hate

You either love dog fennel (Eupatorium capillifolium), or you hate it. I brought a few plants over from my in-laws’ meadow, and while planting them, a friend staying with us asked why I was planting that “f’ing weed.” Dog fennel are definitely a weed, and they’re part of the Asteraceae (daisy) family. The leaves on the clumping stems are aromatic, and later in the summer white wispy flowers form and the plant looks like it’s covered in snow. Dog fennel grows six or even seven feet tall, and the they sway softly in the summer breeze. After summer, the stems dry out to brow sticks that mark the plant’s place in the yard. 

Right now, new shoots are growing. I’m not sure if this clump is going to stay where it is, but I have time to think about it. The plant is relatively easy to pull up, with its shallow root system.

Watch the video!

You’ll want to watch the video, too, to see cats Yoda and Sylvester and goat Rhonda, along with a butterfly visitor, aphids on the milkweeds, and lubber grasshoppers. Another spring is here, and the wonderful Florida weather has brought many visitors. Find the video on YouTube, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUXBQWaFB8I

Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to check out my latest video on YouTube