As I looked at the small groundcover from a distance, it appeared to be alive. In reality it was being hit upon by more small butterflies than I had ever seen at one time. I was looking at a large patch of native frog fruit.
I know what you are thinking. Frog fruit sounds like something Kermit might have for a snack or perhaps something that would grace the top of a salad. But frog fruit, known botanically as Phyla nodiflora and called turkey tangle fogfruit by the USDA, is a most incredible groundcover.
It is in the verbena family and produces small white verbena-like flowers nonstop for about six months. It does spread vigorously, which is kind of what you want in a groundcover.
We are growing it at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens, where it is bringing out the little butterflies, like Crescents, Checkerspots and Skippers. And as if there were some flashing sign that said tiny pollinators welcome, small bees and wasps have appeared.
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While it is a nectar source for all, it is a host plant as well. This is the larval food of the small but colorful Phaon Crescent and the larger extraordinary beautiful White Peacock butterfly.
Frog fruit is not a staple of the garden center. In fact, you will most likely only find it at progressive garden centers specializing in native plants.
Frog fruit blooms best in sun, but it does quite well given some shade during the day. Anticipate each plant will spread at least three feet. Like all plants they will need moisture to get established, but once acclimated they are among the toughest in the landscape.
Wherever you need groundcover for a tough area, this may be your best choice. If you are creating a backyard pollinator habitat, then this will be a great addition. The frog fruit will also excel as a spiller plant in baskets and mixed containers.
Norman Winter is director of the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farm, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, and author of “Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South.”