Throwback Thursday: Sebastian Inlet State Park 2010 Visit

Butterfly larval plant, Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory, Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area

Pictured above is a large & happy group that visited Sebastian Inlet State Park on January 16, 2010. Our tour was led by long-time Park Ranger Terry O’Toole and volunteer Jay Barnhart, a retired Miami-Dade forensic pathologist and amateur mycologist …

We saw many of the hammock plants that are common at the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area (ORCA), and some plants that do not occur at ORCA. Due to the warming influences of the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian River Lagoon, Sebastian Inlet State Park is home to some more tropical, cold sensitive plants. One of those plants is the endangered low peperomia (Peperomia humilis) shown below looking a bit chlorotic (yellow) due to cool winter temperatures. Around it grows poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans).

Its species name, humilis, means low-growing. Low peperomia sometimes will grow as an epiphyte but is most frequently is found growing in deep hammock shade in rich leaf litter. This plant always is short in stature.

Its genus name Peperomia references its resemblance to pepper plants and its inclusion in the Piperacae (pepper) family. Cord-like terminal spikes distinguish peperomias, and the many exotic peperomias are common houseplants (hence the rubric radiator plants) …

Another tropical hammock plant that we saw at Sebastian Inlet State Park was Juba’s bush (Iresine diffusa), a short-lived perennial plant that is the principal larval host plant for Hayhurst’s scallopwing (Staphylus hayhurstii) butterflies.

This plant grows to be 2 to 3′ tall and usually is taller than broad. Its species name, diffusa, means loosely spreading, referring to its growth habit. Its genus name, Iresine, is thought to be derived the Greek eiros (wool) and to reference the appearance of its tiny white flowers when viewed from a distance.

We visited the beach dunes in addition to the hammock, where we saw mangrove spiderlily (Hymenocallis latifolia) growing in its most typical habitat …

Also known as perfumed spiderlily due to the lemony fragrance of its flowers, this tropical member of the Amaryllis family (Amaryllidaceae) grows, as you would expect, from bulbs. According to the Florida Native Plant Society, this plant grows in a variety of habitats: “Shell mound, maritime hammock, coastal strand, beach dune, mangrove swamp (edges), estuarine (brackish) swamp”. In Indian River County, it is most frequently seen growing on the front of beach dunes, displaying significant salt- and drought-tolerance.

13 of the 16 spiderlilies native to the U.S. grow in Florida, and their taxonomy and habitat preferences are sometimes confused. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Division of Plant Industry Botany Circular #39 provides a comprehensive review of the 13 different species found in Florida. The genus name, Hymenocallis, means pretty membrane, and refers to the staminal cup (the delicate roundish structure between the petals).

The University of Florida Environmental Horticulture Department characterizes mangrove spiderlily as having a high drought tolerance. Plants that grow on the beach dune, as well as the edges of mangrove swamps and marshes, need to be able to tolerate both occasional inundation and droughty conditions.

Mangrove spiderlily is planted in a dry area to the east of the Administrative Office Building at the Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory where it routinely flowers throughout the year …

It has the broadest leaves of all the spiderlilies that are native to Florida, may have 9 – 15 flowers per scape (stalk), and has distinctive orange pollen …

A related endemic spiderlily, Florida spiderlily (Hymenocallis tridentata) does grow at ORCA in the moist upland hammock in the midst of ferns …

Note the narrow leaves, 2 (or sometimes 3) flowers per scape (stalk), and yellow pollen, as well as the habitat, to distinguish it from mangrove spiderlily. According to long-time native plant grower Carl Terwilliger of Meadow Beauty Nursery, “For moist or wet inland soils, this is a great choice to mix with other wetland species. The more commonly used spiderlily, Hymenocallis latifolia, is native to the dunes of South and Central Florida and likes dry soil conditions”.

In south Florida, you will see mangrove spiderlily used as a landscape plant in curbed beds in a sea as asphalt. For sun & sometimes dry conditions, mangrove spiderlily is wise choice. For wetter locations, the endemic spiderlily is a better choice.