Many native purple, lilac and blue wildflowers bloom in the fall in Florida.
Muhly Grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris, is an attractive native, perennial bunchgrass with thin, meter-tall stems called culms. When planted in full sun, this drought tolerant grass is covered in a haze of delicate-looking purplish-pink flowers from mid-October through November. Muhly grows throughout Florida in sandy soils. It is often used as a garden feature, in commercial mass plantings and along roadsides and interchanges. The fruit or seed is a tiny grain called a caryopsis which birds and small wildlife eat. Carefully rake out old dead grasses in winter before new culms sprout in spring.
Paintbrush, Carpheperous corymbosis, has large clusters of purple flowers atop a single tall stem in fall between September and November. Carphephorus thrives in full sun to dappled part shade in dry, sandy, well-drained soils without supplemental irrigation. It has a basal rosette of bright green leaves that can be transplanted in winter or spring before new growth begins. Small, younger plants relocate better than larger, older clusters.
Garberia, Garberia heterophylla, is a woody perennial, mostly evergreen shrub endemic to pine and oak scrubs in peninsular Central and North Florida in Zones 8 and 9. It can only grow in deep, well-drained sandy soils and does not tolerate irrigation. It has attractive flowerheads of lavender to pinkish, tubular, ray-less flowers in the fall. Oval alternate, simple leaves are a pale gray-green color. Garberia flowers when small or old. The bush can grow to 6 feet tall and 5 feet in diameter.
Liatris or Blazing star is one of the most spectacular native fall flowers. Liatris ranges from North Carolina to South Florida and west to Texas in deep, dry, sandy soils in full sun to high dappled part shade. There are about 15 Liatris species in Florida. All are perennial, with narrow leaves clustered at the base, looking like a tuft of grass or a juvenile Longleaf Pine. Below ground is a solid corm — a bulb-like storage structure that is replaced annually. The flower spike is often a single, 2- to 4-foot-tall spike, but there can be several inflorescences from a large corm. There are narrow leaves on the stalk; the upper ones are smaller than the lower leaves.
Avoid non-native, dried and dormant Liatris corms sold in bags. By December, tiny Liatris seeds, called achene, drift in the breeze and land near and far from the parent plant. The leaves die after seeds disperse, but the dry stalk, called a scape, marks the corm location. The mature corms can be dug up and relocated as wanted. Liatris does not tolerate irrigation, wet soils or humus-rich soils — it needs dry, sandy, well-drained soil or the corm will rot. Many native nurseries, including mine, sell native Liatris corms in season.
Blue Curls, Trichostema dichlotomum, have half-inch deep purple-blue two-lipped flowers from summer to fall. The upper lip has two lobes, the lower lip has three lobes, with the lowest drooping with a purple tip and purple dots on its white base. The stamens are long and curled, giving the pretty plant its common name. Native Blue Curls self-sow their seeds. Seedlings sprout readily in dry sandy soil without supplemental irrigation. It forms a short-lived annual (or even biennial in Florida) little bush a couple of feet tall, and usually dies after flowering. It ranges throughout Eastern North America in the right habitat.
A valuable resource is Craig N. Huegle, Ph.D., at Hawthorn Hill Native Wildflower and Rare Plant Nursery in Pasco County. Check his blog for free at https://hawthornhillwildflowers.blogspot.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 727-422-6583.
Dr Huegel’s books include Native Plant Landscaping for Florida Wildlife (2010); Native Wildflowers and Other Ground Covers for Florida Landscapes (2012); Native Florida Plants for Shady Landscapes (2015) and The Nature of Plants: An Introduction to How Plants Work (2019).
Observant gardeners and homeowners will see a succession of purple-blue-lavender flowers growing wild throughout Florida. Many species are available from native plant nurseries. Check growers at Florida Association of Native Nurseries (FANN) at www.afnn.org. Call a member to schedule a visit, determine availability, and where and when to plant.
Jane Weber is a professional gardener and consultant. Semi-retired, she grows thousands of native plants. Contact her at email@example.com or phone 352-249-6899.