An endangered Florida wildflower with delicate stems and flower lobes as stunning as amethysts – the Tampa Mock Vervain (Glandularia tampenis) is by far the most treasured plant in my butterfly gardens.
Also called verbena tampensis, Tampa Mock Vervain is part of the Glandularia species that is native only to 12 coastal counties in Florida. The “true” vervains of the verbena species are found across the Americas, South Asia and Europe. But in terms of a true native Florida wildflower, the Tampa Mock Vervain is the real deal.
Nature never ceases to amaze me, and this morning I was fascinated for an hour by what turned out to be an unwelcome nuisance weed growing side-by-side to my angelic vervain.
I’ve been cultivating my vervain for three years – watching as a winter frost killed it to the ground and waiting as not just one but four new plants came back from seed. After examining and dissecting the foreign weed next to it – with such similar coarsely toothed leaves and pointed leaf tips, I determined the “mock” plant was a Bishop’s weed or goutweed. I noticed how my vervain has a delicate, soft pale green leaf stalk while the weed had a darker green stalk almost as strong as metal!
According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Tampa Mock Vervain is an endangered perennial. I purchased mine from one of the few nurseries in my area that cultivates hard-to-find, endangered native wildflowers – Florida Native Plants, Inc., in Sarasota. For me, it’s a bit of a hike to drive to the nursery, but I can’t find the authentic native plants in home improvement store nurseries.
I did see one vendor carrying Tampa Mock Vervain at a University of South Florida Botanical Gardens Butterfly, Herb and Native Plant Fair a few years ago. It’s worth it to seek out Tampa Vervain because it not only draws a multitude of beautiful butterflies as an excellent nectar source, but it’s gratifying to protect and nurture an endangered wildflower.
Here are 7 tips for locating, planting and caring for Tampa Mock Vervain in your Florida Butterfly garden.
No. 1: Don’t confuse Tampa Mock Vervain with Coastal Vervain or Glandularia Maritima. Coastal vervain has lavender flowers with orange throats. One of the easiest ways to distinguish the two plants is to observe how the Coastal Vervain has noticeable, thick “tubes” below the flower lobes; whereas the Tampa Mock Vervain’s five-lobed lavender flowers emerge from a straight, thin stalk. There is nothing wrong with Coastal Vervain – it’s also state endangered. It’s just not the same plant.
No. 2: Tampa Mock Vervain can supposedly grow in full sun and part shade, but during periods of drought, I’ve found the part shade helps the plants to thrive.
No. 3: Tampa Mock Vervain needs average moisture. During a drought make sure to provide the plant with supplemental watering, following the water restriction guidelines in your area.
No. 4: The evergreen wildflower can’t survive most frosts. If your area experiences a frost, expect the plant to die unless you protect it with frost blankets. Since it reseeds, look for the new plants in the spring.
No. 5: Tampa Mock Vervain is so precious and endangered, I’d recommend protecting the new plants that emerge in the spring even if it means cutting out less valuable plants in your garden.
No 6: It’s important to know Tampa Mock Vervain does not like to be moved, dug up or transplanted. Do it at your own risk, but have a backup plan to replace the dead plant. If it dies after being transplanted it will not reseed since it did not have time to mature.
No. 7: Look for noxious weeds that might try to imitate your Tampa Mock Vervain so it can grow unnoticed. Examine carefully before pulling up the suspect nearby weed.
For the butterfly gardener, plants from the Verbena family draw a number of butterflies in search of nectar food such as the Cloudless Sulphur, Gulf Fritillary, Julia, Polydamas Swallowtail, Zebra Longwing and Cassius Blue. Just make sure to plant host butterfly plants in addition to nectar plants. Even during the season when your Tampa Mock Vervain is blooming but butterflies have yet to make it out of their cocoons, the beautiful Vervain will show you why it has the right to be “vain.”