Thursday, September 1, 2022

Tall elephantsfoot, an easy-to-grow Florida wildflower

A Great Purple Hairstreak sipping nectar from tall
elephantsfoot flowers. The larval host for this beautiful
butterfly is mistletoe (Phoradendron leucarpum).

Tall elephantsfoot (Elephantopus elatus) is a perennial Florida native wildflower with leathery leaves that form a rosette around its central growing point at ground level (basal leaves) and it's this leaf arrangement that inspired both its common name and genus name, elephantsfoot and Elephantopus, because they form a dense circle shaped like an elephant's footprint. The plant produces one or more tall, hairy flowering stalks with hardly any leaves. 

It's a member of the daisy family (Asteraceae), but it's unlike many of the family members that have flower heads composed of both disk and ray florets like a sunflower (with the ray florets looking and acting like petals and the smaller disk florets arrayed in the center). The flower head for this species has only disk florets that are subtended by three hairy bracts, which define the shape of the flower head as a triangular. The florets are light lavender to whitish and last only a day. They don't bloom until late morning just when the pollinators are first becoming active. So if you're out early in the morning, all you'll see are the old flowers from the day before.