Water Pimpernel

Samolus ebracteatus

Water pimpernel

Water pimpernel, photographed at Tigertail Beach County Park, Marcos Island, Collier County, in February 2020.

Water pimpernel, Samolus ebracteatus, comes from a group of plants reputed to have healing powers. But if our guy has them, they're well hidden.

The origin of the genus name, Samolus, is a bit unclear; it's either Latin or Latin influenced by Celtic. Either way, the name refers to the medicinal value of the plants. Mind you, they weren't used to cure humans of disease but rather livestock — cattle and swine. But if water pimpernel was ever used medicinally by anyone for anything, we can't find reference to it.

In any case, water pimpernel is a Florida native found scattered around the state, mostly in coastal counties. Its range forms a kind of horseshoe that begins in Brevard County, wraps around Lake Okeechobee and the Lake Wales Ridge and then continues through the Big Bend to Gulf County on the Gulf Coast. Water pimpernel's native range is oddly disjointed. It includes Nevada, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Louisiana. It's also a native of Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.

From a looks standpoint, water pimpernel is rather ordinary. It's a water-loving plant found in wet meadows, marshes and salt marshes. It grows to about a foot tall, with most of its foliage clustered at the base. The leaves themselves are relatively large, egg- or oval-shaped, simple and mostly opposite each other. Stems are reddish, with few branches.

The flowers are pretty enough, but small, about a half-inch across and with five roundish petals; they can be white, pink or white with a tinge of pink. In Florida, water pimpernel blooms year-round, peaking in the spring; farther north, the season is spring into summer. The fruit is a small, round capsule that is full of seeds.

It is cultivated, but its need for moist to wet soil limits where it can be used. The Institute for Regional Conservation says it's used mainly for natural landscapes and restorations. It grows in full sun and is somewhat salt tolerant.

Water pimpernel is a confusing plant in some ways. At least two other plants in Samolus carry water pimpernel as their common names. Some argue that there as many as five subspecies, or varieties of our water pimpernel. The United States Department of Agriculture's PLANTS database recognizes three, of which only one is native to Florida. Others argue that some of those varieties are actually different species.

Depending on the source (Institute for Regional Conservation, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, USDA PLANTS Database), water pimpernel is a member Primulaceae, the primrose family, (Florida Atlas of Vascular Plants) Samolaceae, a small family made up of only plants in the Samolus genera or (Flora of North America) Theophrastaceae, an offshoot of Primulaceae. For the sake of consistency, we'll go with Primulaceae.

Other common names include limewater brookweed, limerock brookweed, brookweed and gentleman's spit. No, we can't figure out that last one either.

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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.