UF/IFAS Okeechobee County Extension Service

458 Highway 98 North

Okeechobee, FL 34972-2578

Phone: (863) 763-6469

E- mail:  dfculbert@ifas.ufl.edu

May 4,  2005

Feature Article - for release the week of May 8, 2005

Dan Culbert - Extension Horticulture Agent  

 White Wildflowers Spring from Roadsides .

In many of our Florida Yards and along our local roadsides, spring has sprung into a white blanket of wildflowers.  Recent callers and visitors to our office have asked about these wayside wonders.  Our Master Gardeners feel it’s a good topic for this week’s column, and have been busy this week identifying these plants.

There are many white colored wildflowers in bloom right now.  These colorful creations may be weeds in the garden or landscape, but in other areas they can provide beauty to the eye. Take a careful look and get to know these blooming beauties.

Clumps of Star Rush appear in wet spots throughout most of the southeastern US. This plant is one of the most common beakrushes found in Florida.  Photo by Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS

The flower clusters of Rhynchospora colorata have long white colored bracts and give it the appearance of a star.  Photo by Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS

One of the plants popping up in area wet spots is called Star Rush or White top sedge.  This plant is one of the 2 dozen beak rushes found growing in Florida.  It forms patches along roads, ditches, and poorly drained areas.  A native of practically all areas of Florida, its can also be seen in wet areas from Tennessee and west to Texas.  

While the plant itself looks much like a grass, it is actually a sedge, a kind of plant that is more commonly found in moist or wet soils.  Common sedges found in lawns are often called nutgrasses.  These plants are challenging to control with weed killers unless lawn watering is also reduced.

Star Rush (Rhynchospora colorata) has 3 to 10 pointed white and green "leaves" at the top. The "leaves" are actually large bracts that surround the less conspicuous flower head, much like the familiar red bracts of the Christmas poinsettia.  The white bracts attract insect pollinators, a rare habit among sedges, which are normally wind pollinated.

This wildflower species can grow to be 2 to 3 feet tall in either full sun or partial shade.  Another similar species, the Sand-swamp White-top, is a bit shorter, but it has 7-10 white bracts at the top of this grass-like plant.  The real leaves arise from the base of the plant.  In roadside settings, they are often much shorter because of mowing.

Because of its attractive characteristics, Star Rush can be used in water gardening, and it has moved into areas as far west as California.  There are even a few specialty nurseries that offer this plant for sale.   

Left: Clumps of Fleabane appear on local roadsides.  

Right: Early Whitetop Fleabane (Erigeron vernus) has skips in its circle of petals, and sometimes has a touch of pink color. 

Photos by Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS


Left: Oakleaf Fleabane (Erigeron quercifolius) has a fuller corolla (circle of petals).

Right: The leaves have a lobed oak-leaf appearance.


Photos courtesy Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants, USF 

Another kind of white wildflower found popping up in patches has small round daisy-like flowers that are less than ½ inch in diameter.  These plants have very small fibrous white to pinkish petals with a yellow center.  They are commonly known as Fleabane.

While there are seven species of Fleabane found in Florida, only two fleabanes are found in our area.  Look closely at the small flower of the Southern or Oakleaf Fleabane (Erigeron quercifolius), and notice that it has a full circle of the slender white petals.  Early Whitetop Fleabane (E. vernus) has a similar sized flower head, but they have missing petals in the circle of petals surrounding the yellow disc.

Some species of fleabane are known as hosts for thrips, and photos of this plant often show it covered with aphids.  Fleabanes growing near vegetable crops can harbor these insects and create the potential to help spread some plant viruses carried by these pests.  

Common Beggar's tick is a common weed in crops and pastures. Photo by Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS Beggar's Tick produces lots of white flowers that attract bees and butterflies. Photos courtesy Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants, USF Bidens flowers give rise to sticker-heads of 2 pronged seed. Photo by Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS

Probably one of the most common white wildflowers in spring is another daisy family member. While there are seven species of the Beggar’s ticks found in Florida, most of these have yellow colored petals and very limited ranges. 

However, the Common Beggar's-tick (Bidens alba) is in full force in our area.  It normally has seven broad white petals with a medium yellow center.  The diameter of the flower measures ½ to ¾ of an inch in diameter.  The plant is an annual or short-lived perennial with a tap root. 

The genus name, Bidens, means two teeth, and refers to the two horned seed that looks like a “beggar’s tick”.   These projections can cling to passing animals and the seed are found on clothing after a walk through the pasture or flower patch.  The seeds germinate easily, and can spread quickly - plants produce an average of 1,205 seeds per plant.

Common Beggar's-tick is a very common agricultural weed in Florida and worldwide, but is normally controlled by the use of selective herbicides in row crops.  The flowers are a very attractive nectar source for many butterflies.  In the spring, migrating clouds of white butterflies, the adult of the cabbageworm caterpillars, are often seen along with Common Beggar tick flowers.

I’ve placed more information on our Okeechobee web page, http://okeechobee.ifas.ufl.edu.  If you need additional information on wildflowers, please email us at okeechobee@ifas.ufl.edu or call us at 863-763-6469.  Local residents can stop by our office at 458 Hwy 98 North in Okeechobee, and visit our Okeechobee County Master Gardeners on Tuesday afternoons from 1 to 5 PM on Tuesday afternoons.  HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!

Trade names, where used, are given for the purpose of providing specific information. They do not constitute an endorsement or guarantee of products named, nor does it imply criticism of products not named. The Florida Cooperative Extension Service - Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer authorized to provide research, educational information, and other services to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap, or national origin.  Florida Cooperative Extension Service / IFAS / University of Florida.  Larry A.  Arrington, Dean Last update: 05/05/2005 .  This page is maintained by Dan Culbert  Hit Counter

For More information:

Capinera, J. L.  Imported Cabbageworm, Pieris rapae EENY-126.   Gainesville: Florida Cooperative Extension Service, March 2000  http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/IN283 or  http://creatures.ifas.ufl.edu/veg/leaf/imported_cabbageworm.htm .

Duever, Linda Conway   Bidens alba. Tallahassee: Floridata, Inc.,  updated 11/21/03.  http://www.floridata.com/ref/B/bide_alb.cfm

Hall,  David W. and. Vandiver,   Vernon V.   Common Beggar's-tick (Hairy Beggar's-tick) FW- 5.   In: Florida Weeds SP-37.  Gainesville: Florida Cooperative Extension Service, April 2003.  http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/FW005.

Whitinger, Dave.  Detailed information on Star Grass, Star Rush, White Topped Sedge (Dichromena colorata).  San Antonio: Dave's Garden website, 2005.

Wunderlin, R. P.   Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants. Tampa: University of South Florida, 2003. http://www.plantatlas.usf.edu