Florida Toadflax

Nuttallanthus floridanus

Florida toadflax

Florida toadflax, photographed at Pawpaw Natural Area, Palm Beach Gardens, Palm Beach County, in March 2014.

Its flowers certainly have a delicate look to them, but Florida toadflax, Nuttallanthus floridanus, is one tough little guy. Has to be. It grows in some of Florida's toughest habitats. Let's talk about the basics.

Florida toadflax is a small plant, wire thin and easy to miss even if you're looking for it and know it's there. Without the blooms, it's most likely missed altogether. But Florida toadflax's soft blues, violets and whites have a way of eventually capturing your attention. It might go eight inches tall, with most of its few, sparse leaves growing lower on the stem. The leaves are simple, almost needle-like and arranged in alternate fashion. Blooming season begins in early spring — we've seen it flowering in early January in South Florida — and lasts into May. The flowers can vary in color from soft light blue to violet to almost pink, with a white center. There are five petals, the top two fused together . They appear in loose clusters called an inflorescence at the top of the plant.

Florida toadflax is an annual, but it self-seeds the next season's batch of plants. It's also partly cleistogamous, meaning it has flowers that self-pollinate without opening up the way most flowers do. It also has chasmogamous flowers, which open up and are pollinated with the help of hungry bugs. As we said, it's a tough plant, thriving in some of Florida's toughest habitats, including scrubs, sandhills and dunes, all hot, dry places with minimal soil nutrients.

Florida toadflax is considered rare within the region, largely because the places where it grows are rare, but it's not listed by any government agency as threatened or endangered, and it's not believed to be at risk for extinction.

It is a Florida native, which you might expect given its name (although it has a cousin named Canadian toadflax that isn't a Canadian native). It's found scattered throughout the state — in the western counties of the Panhandle, in Central Florida and along the Atlantic Coast from Brevard to Broward counties. Florida toadflax is also found in one county in Georgia and several in both coastal Alabama and Mississippi.

Florida toadflax has few ethnobotanical uses, but one suggestion we did see is truly different: Planting it as part of a "green roof." It's toughness makes it ideal; it also adds a pop of color to the roof at a time when most plants aren't in bloom and the fact that it reseeds itself makes it easy to maintain. The same source said toadflax has been used medicinally to treat jaundice and other liver problems and edema. It's also both a strong diuretic and laxative. It is a host plant for the common buckeye butterfly.

We've seen two theories as to how the name toadflax came about. One is that the mouth of their flowers resembles the mouth of a toad. The other is that toads tend to take shelter under their leaves. We don't see either applying to our guy, but then there is no shortage of plants that are considered toadflaxes, including snapdragons, and some might fit the bill in one way or the other.

One quick taxonomic note before we go: Florida toadflax has a bit of an identity problem. Apparently, some years ago, scientists created a new genus called Nuttallanthus and reclassified Florida toadflax (and three of its cousins) as a member of it. Its former name: Linaria floridana, which many authoritative sources still use, including the Institute for Regional Conservation and the Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants. Both include Florida toadflax as a member of Plantaginaceae, the plantain family, as does Flora of North America and ITIS, the federal group formerly known as the Inter-agency Taxonomic Information System, while others, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture's PLANTS database, put it in Scrophulariaceae, the figwort family.

Florida toadflax as is known by another common name — Apalachicola toadflax.

Click on photo for larger image

U.S. Department of Agriculture Distribution Maps

Published by Wild South Florida, PO Box 7241, Delray Beach, FL 33482.

Photographs by David Sedore. Photographs are property of the publishers and may not be used without permission.