During your walks in October and November, you may see some bright pinkish flowers that are about 3 feet high and have flower heads several inches in diameter. Most likely, these are the Florida paintbrush, so named because they seem to paint the landscape brighter. They are one of Florida’s showiest wildflowers.
The Florida Paintbrush (Carphephorus corymbosus), also known as coastal plain chaffhead, is a native plant found on the southeastern coastal plain in the states of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. In Florida, it is found mainly on the peninsula and one or two counties in the Panhandle. It grows in well-drained sandy areas such as pine flatwoods and sandhills, and also on disturbed sites.
This plant is a perennial that dies back each winter after its seeds are dispersed. It reappears in early spring as a flat rosette of basal leaves that are linear to spatulate in shape. These leaves may eventually become 4 to 6 inches long. New plants that grow from the roots of an existing plant or from seeds also form a small rosette of basal leaves.
The rosette remains this way until mid-summer when a leafy hairy stalk begins to grow. It grows to a height of 2 to 4 feet. The leaves on the stalk are sessile; i.e., without stalks, and are attached alternately along the stem. They are smaller than the basal leaves.
Several small branches develop near the top of the stem. Each branch terminates in large flat-topped corymbs, or clusters, of flowers. A well-developed flower head may be 3 to 5 inches in diameter and contain many small buds. Each blooming bud is comprised of many bright pink to lavender tubular disk florets and no ray florets. Two long pistils protrude from each tiny floret. The flowers bloom from late summer into fall.
After pollination, each floret produces a small achene that contains a single seed. When fully mature, the seeds are distributed by wind, passing animals and small songbirds.
The flower nectar, pollen and fragrance attract bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects as well as predators that eat these insects. The flowers are especially attractive to butterflies.
There are several other Carphephorus species found in Florida, including pineland chaffhead (C. carnosus), vanillaleaf (C. odoratissimus), hairy chaffhead (C. paniculatus), bristleleaf chaffhead (C. pseudoliatus) and pineland purple (C. subtropicanus). All of these species are tall single-stemmed plants. However, the Florida paintbrush is probably the most common and the showiest. All of these plants belong to the family Asteraceae, which includes asters and sunflowers. More information on these species, including photos, can be found on the Atlas of Florida Plants website at Florida.PlantAtlas.usf.edu.