Butterflies Love Brickellia

Some of Brickellia cordifolia’s (pron. brick ELL ee ah core deh FOHL ee ah) common names are Brickellia, brickelbush and Flyr’s Nemesis. It prefers full to part sun and is usually found growing in sandy soil. However, Eleanor Dietrich, Florida Wildflower Foundation Liaison to DOT, has a great patch growing in her slightly shady back garden in rich, moist woodland soil. According to Lilly here at the nursery, it is doing REALLY well there. Brickellia blooms in late summer to fall. Lilly (who’s had it in her yard for going on two years) says deadheading increases the blooming period. This native, perennial wildflower can grow up to 5 feet in height, but 3 to 4 feet is more common. Unlike most members of the aster family, it does not have ray flowers, only disc. It produces a great many of them in small clusters at the end of each stem. They have extremely long styles, giving each flower head a wispy, spidery appearance. They range in color from almost white to pinkish purple and are very attractive to butterflies.

 Brickellia cordifolia along Hwy 98 in Wakulla County, FL

Brickellia cordifolia along Hwy 98 in Wakulla County, FL

Despite the fact that Brickellia is easy to grow and propagate (by seed, division or cutting), there is very little of it around. There are some small, surviving populations in Wakulla, Jefferson and Alachua Counties in Florida and a little in Alabama and Georgia. It is on the state endangered list here in Florida and listed globally as a G2/G3 species (imperiled globally because of rarity or very vulnerable to extinction throughout its range because of other factors).

The following is from the Facebook Page of Scott Davis, St. Marks Ranger:

“One of the more amazing floristic encounters of my life occurred today! I was privileged to walk along an astounding roadside, literally blanketed with Brickellia cordifolia, the Flyr’s Nemesis. This endangered species maintains a stronghold for itself here in Wakulla county in (literally) just a handful of roadside localities. Without the cooperation of FDOT and private property owners, long-term conservation for this species would not be possible. To see such rare beauty in such large numbers is not something that happens very often.”

After learning of the rarity of this plant from Scott, the property owner, another Scott (Arnold), and the Magnolia Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society (FNPS) successfully petitioned DOT for decreased mowing.

The following is a Facebook comment by Gail Fishman (Ranger US Fish and Wildlife Service and president of the Magnolia Chapter (FNPS) :

“The common name for this beautiful plant, Flyr’s Nemesis, causes many to believe that Dr. Lowell David Flyr committed suicide over this plant. That is not true. Dr. Flyr was a Texas botanist who worked on Brickellia species in Texas and Mexico. As far as I can ascertain he never described this species. It is true that he died by his own hand because he was probably manic depressive for most of his life according to personal communication with David’s brother, Lewis Flyr. David was a fine botanist who died much too soon.”

Most sources I found simply said the origin for the name was a mystery. The story according to the Alabama Plant Atlas (although it’s described more as a rumor) is that Flyr was a graduate student working on the Brickellia genus out west. Before his committee would let him graduate, they insisted that he personally visit populations of this rare eastern member of the genus. While searching for the plant in southwest Georgia, he was killed in an automobile accident.

Either way it’s a sad story that adds one more layer of interest to the story of this beautiful plant. I admit that till now I’ve paid little attention to Brickellia. We’ve stocked it in our wildflower section for a while, and I had noticed its very pretty and unusual flower. Beyond that however there just isn’t time to study every plant we sell as extensively as we’d sometimes like to (unless you’re one of the plant buyers and I’m not). Having taken that time now for this blog—well, all of a sudden I just have to have a Brickellia for my yard. In fact I just came inside from planting it, and I can’t wait to see what it’ll do.

At Native Nurseries, we typically stock Brickellia in 1-gallon and 4" pots. Currently we have both. As always, give us a call to check availability before making a special trip (although we’re always happy to see you). Sorry . . . we do not ship plants.

Some information for this blog post came from the following sources –

http://florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/Plant.aspx?id=2609

http://hawthornhillwildflowers.blogspot.com/2010/08/flyrs-nemesis-brickellia-cordifolia.html

The Alabama Plant Atlas Facebook page