Wednesday, January 12, 2011

How Sweet It Is

Cooler winter weather allows Floridians to welcome a variety of annuals to their yards that just can't take the heat of summer. One of our favorites is Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima), also sometimes called Sweet Allison. It's low-growing with tiny flowers that are attractive to bees and butterflies, not that we've seen too many of the latter lately.

Sweet Alyssum is not native to Florida, but it's pretty easy to find at most nurseries.You'll generally find Sweet Alyssum available in white, but other colors are available. The MOSI Butterfly Garden recently planted a border of purple alyssum along the front walk, and Park Seed offers a variety called Pastel Carpet, which is a mix of pinks and yellows.

In yet another example of why it's best to be familiar with botanical names, Sweet Alyssum is strangely enough not actually a member of the genus Alyssum, although it once was. Neither is another plant commonly known as Alyssum 'Compacta' and even sold on Park Seed's website by this name. This yellow version is actually correctly called Aurinia saxatilis, and is popular for rock gardens. Both Aurinia and Lobularia are closely related to Alyssum and used to be included in it, but that's no longer the case. The lesson? If you're looking for a specific plant, check botanical names to be sure you're actually getting the plant you were hoping for.

At any rate, Sweet Alyssum is great for Florida winters, and should last all the way until the strong heat of summer arrives. When the butterflies return, they'll find these delicate little flowers waiting for them. Until then, we'll enjoy the honey-sweet scent ourselves!

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