The pale meadowbeauty (Rhexia mariana), also called the Maryland meadowbeauty, is found throughout most of the United States east of the Mississippi and north as far as Michigan, New York and Massachusetts. It is a Florida native plant and grows throughout the Panhandle and much of the peninsula. It likes wet to seasonally moist areas, such as sandhills, flatwoods, bogs, marshes and roadside ditches. These plants spread readily by underground stems (rhizomes) and often form extensive colonies.
Pale meadowbeauty is an herbaceous perennial that often dies back to the ground each winter and re-emerges in early spring. Mature plants can grow to a height of two feet. The slender stems are square and hairy. The leaves are lance-shaped and opposite each other. Loosely arranged flowers appear at the top of the stem. These flowers can vary in color from rose-pink to lavender to white and are up to 2 inches wide.
Each flower has four petals that are attached to a cylindrical floral tube topped with four triangular teeth. The petals are quite delicate and drop off easily when disturbed. In the center of the flower are eight stamens with bright yellow anthers, each curved like a sickle. The pollen of each anther is released through a small pore at the end. The stamens surround a single long, slender pistil.
The flowers bloom from early summer to fall. However, in the central and southern parts of the Florida peninsula, they may be found blooming throughout much of the year.
In most flowers, the pollen is loosely attached to the anthers and is easily removed by visiting pollinators, such as bees, butterflies and other insects. However, since the pollen of a meadowbeauty is inside the anther and is only released through a small opening, it’s difficult for most insects to retrieve.
Fortunately, a few pollinators, such as bumblebees, leaf cutter bees and a few green bees, have developed a technique to release the pollen. This technique is called buzz pollination. The bees grasp the anthers with their forelegs or mouthparts and close their wings. They then vibrate their flight muscles, which shakes the small pollen grains through the opening. The pollen grains may cover the abdomen or head of the bees. The bees then brush or press the pollen into their pollen baskets.
After a successful pollination, each flower is eventually replaced by a seed capsule that remains hidden in the floral tube. The floral tube becomes shaped like an urn, which becomes brownish after the petals fall off. Each seed capsule contains numerous tiny brownish seeds.
In Florida, ten different meadowbeauty species have been documented. Three of these species have been observed in Charlotte County: Pale meadowbeauty, Nuttall’s meadowbeauty and West Indies meadowbeauty. Of these, the pale is by far the most common. More information on the meadowbeauty species may be obtained from the Atlas of Florida Plants website (Florida.PlantAtlas.usf.edu).
Be sure to take time to walk through your neighborhood and look for pale meadowbeauties, which are now in bloom. All of the photographs accompanying this column were taken by the author in the Deep Creek neighborhood.