Photographed by Bette Jackson
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Hi, I'm Dr. Jerry Jackson, out with the wild things. Roadsides of disturbed areas in South Florida are usually quickly invaded by Spanish needles, a one to four foot tall weed that produces one inch diameter daisy-like flowers year-around. Take a close look at those flowers: like daisies and sunflowers, this plant is a composite, meaning that what appears to be a single flower is really a tight cluster of mini flowers working together to produce seeds. There are two kinds of flowers in each cluster: ray flowers that each have a single petal and that ring the cluster, giving it the appearance of a single flower, and tube flowers in the center that lack petals. The white petal of each Spanish needle ray flower has a squared but slightly ragged tip. The number of ray flowers varies from flower cluster to flower cluster and most appear lopsided, seeming to be missing one or more petals. Working together, the white ray flowers and yellow tube flowers attract the insects that pollinate the plant, but even at their best, the composite flowers of Spanish needles aren't especially showy. The tall lanky stems and flowers that look a bit unkempt seem fitting for a vagabond.
'With the Wild Things' is produced at the Whitaker Center in the College of Arts and Sciences at Florida Gulf Coast University. For 'The Wild Things', I'm Dr. Jerry Jackson.