Giant Whitetop

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A meadow of white rises from the green wet ground swaying in the breeze.

The rainy season is here much to the joy of the plants and trees of Florida’s fragile environmental habitats. Wild flowers, in particular are doing quite well. One species, the Starrush Whitetop, Rhynchospora colorata, a small sedge, is growing prolifically along Lee County’s roadsides and swales. Seen from a speeding auto, Colorata look’s like little white windmills. Colorata is tiny but, it has a big brother. The Giant Whitetop, R. latifolia, a member of the Cyperaceae, (Sedge family).

A perennial herb, latifolia, likes the moist soils of bogs, marshes, and wet flatwoods. A single erect stem grows from a buried rhizome to a height of about four feet. A few long dark green linear leaves grow up alongside the stem to a height of 24 inches. Leaves are slightly triangular and have sharp margins. There is a saying: Sedges have edges, rushes are round, grasses have nodes clear to the ground.

 
A few tiny inconspicuous flowers with no petals are gathered in small disk at the tip of the stem. Surrounding the disk are two whorls of white modified leaves called bracts. The first whorl has 3 to 5 small all white bracts on the edge of the disk. The second whorl has five longer and wider white bracts with green tips. The white color invites ultra violet vision pollinators hunting for nectar to land on the bract. Overall, the flower disk and bracts can be more that 6 inches in diameter. It’s a big one.

 
The specimen in the picture was found in a wet prairie alongside Daniels Blvd.

 

Dorothy Rodwell