Sunday, July 21, 2013

Plant Explorations – Anywhere and Everywhere

I can’t help it. Every time I go on vacation I have to look. What’s growing here? What’s native, what’s not? On walks, on bikes and in the car … my eyes are scanning the foliage that goes by.

Live oak (Quercus virginiana) found in a nearby residential area

Is that a flower? Out comes the camera. I’ve learned to love the note app on my smart phone – what a great way to remember what I saw and what I thought about it. Looking, looking, I'm always looking. Please, tell me you do it too ....

Now, let me tell you what I found! This year’s trip was to Hilton Head Island, SC which is a Coastal Plain maritime location that I’ve visited many times. Yet each year is different because I bring new knowledge with me. For example, I was more aware of the differences in palm trees this year because of an article that a friend wrote for our newsletter.

Sabal palmetto with flowers

Speaking of palms, I was convinced that I was seeing two different species of Sabal because of the trunk appearance, but a little research found that both are normal. Sometimes the trunks are free of the old leaf bases (known as "boots"), sometimes they are not.

Sabal palmetto is the tallest of the palm trees native to the area and is the state tree of South Carolina. Known as the cabbage palm, this species was flowering heavily while we were there, and trees sometimes had multiple bloom spikes of tiny white flowers. Mature height is 50-70 feet.
Sabal palmetto with "boots" intact

Working my way around the non-native palms, I found other natives. Sabal minor was there, looking for all the world like Sabal palmetto trees that would never grow up!  Serenoa repens, the saw palmetto, was often growing in dense thickets of green fans.

Ipomoea imperati
One of the areas that caught my attention this year was the beach itself. My first walk down there brought a beautiful discovery - beach morning glory (Ipomoea imperati). The creamy white blooms were mixed in with the sea oats in the dunes and the populations were healthy and eye-catching. I noticed right away how different the leaves were compared to morning glories that I see near my house.

Uniola paniculata
The population of sea oats (Uniola paniculata) was also very healthy and the swaying seed heads begged to be captured in long lasting photographs. I know that much effort has gone into restoring and maintaining these populations to preserve the health of the dunes.

Oenothera humifusa

An evening walk to the beach produced a new discovery - seabeach evening primrose (Oenothera humifusa) whose flower refused to open until after 8 pm! It was worth waiting for and I risked a few ant bites standing still long enough to get some pictures of these delicate yellow flowers.

Pontederia cordata

Tooling around the island, especially on a bike, allowed me to see more of the special wet places that exist. These are great places to look for alligators (and we did find a baby one!) but also to find some unique plants. Happily blooming at this time was pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata). This handsome plant thrives in standing water.

Cephalanthus occidentalis

Other plants found near the water were sedges (Carex spp.), most waving their spiky fruit structures now. On the banks were soggy-soil tolerant shrubs like buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis).

Phyla nodiflora

Along the moist ditches I discovered (to my delight) a plant that I had only recently heard about: turkey tangle frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora). The native plant society recently had a speaker about supporting pollinators and this plant was listed as one of the good ones (the speaker was from Florida). I'm not expecting to be able to grow this in the Piedmont.

Other common native plants that I found throughout my wanderings – Virginia creeper, peppervine (Ampelopsis arborea), grape vine (several species), trumpet creeper, smilax, wax myrtle, pines, southern magnolia, live oaks and other oaks, beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), bracken fern, sweet gum, and yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria).

Crinum americanum

I enjoyed biking through the residential areas near the beach. In doing so I found one very special plant growing - American crinum (Crinum americanum). I jumped off the bike to get a closer look - it was in full bloom and a magnificent plant. It is native to the area although was certainly planted by humans in that yard. What a marvelous discovery and a wonderful reward for looking, looking, looking!
Crinum americanum


  1. I look too, Ellen, so you're not alone! LOVE me some buttonbush! This is one I won't be able to use in my own yard, but one of the shopping centers in town (!) has some near a stream--yes, they planted it-- bordering one of the parking/access areas. Great catch on that frog fruit!

  2. What a great mix of plants I'm familiar with and ones that are new to me. We can even grow buttonbush out here in the wilds of south central Kansas (it's native here, too). I miss the crinums of the south, and that's a gorgeous Crinum americanum you found. We have several Oenothera - and the flowers look amazingly similar, even if the foliage is different. It's so much fun to sneak a peek at natives others are running across in different areas of the country.

  3. Is this Serenoa Repens are the one that are made into a supplement like this saw palmetto? Or is there another plant or herb that have the same name since I've read the article that made me curios. I have a lot of this in the land if it is true. I can use it for a possible medicinal purpose, right?

  4. There is some information on the Internet about using this plant as an herbal - you should do some research on that. I have no experience with using it.