Flatrock Pimpernel – Lindernia monticola – in North Carolina

Lindernia monticola, Flatrock Pimpernel, is a small native perennial primarily associated with granitic flatrock and outcrop plant communities in North Carolina.  It is listed by the Natural Heritage Program as a Watchlist 1 plant with a rank of S2 – (Imperiled).  Watchlist 1 plants are rare, but are considered relatively secure and do not require specific site monitoring.  Lindernia monticola is one of only two species of Lindernia in North Carolina, L. dubia being the other.  Both are members of the Linderniaceae family, sometimes known as the false pimpernels.  Another common name for L. monticola is Piedmont False Pimpernel.  Below is a photo of a small population seen at a granitic flatrock in early May, in Wake County, NC.

Lindernia monticola
Flatrock Pimpernel
Population

As seen below, the leaves are short and elliptical, and are found almost entirely in a basal rosette.

Lindernia monticola
Flatrock Pimpernel
Basal Leaves

As the stems shoot upward, the leaves become greatly diminished until they are barely visible.  As the two photos below illustrate, even at the margins of the flatrocks, there remains enough soil depth to support competitive grasses and sedges.

Lindernia monticola
Flatrock Pimpernel
Stems and Flowers

Lindernia monticola
Flatrock Pimpernel
Stems and Flowers

The flowers are illustrated in the two exposures below.  The two lobes of the upper lip of the flower, as well as the three lobes of the bottom lip can be easily seen.  The basal leaves are said to be glandular and punctate.  The flower in the second photo appears to show similar characteristics.

Lindernia monticola
Flatrock Pimpernel
Flower

Lindernia monticola
Flatrock Pimpernel
Flower

The genus Lindernia was named for Franz Balthazar von Linden (1682-1755), a German botanist, artist and physician.*

There are various definitions of pimpernel.  The one that fits this purpose best is a plant belonging to the primrose family, especially the scarlet pimpernel – Lysimachia arvensis, which is a non-native.  It would be logical that a false pimpernel would be a plant that looks like a pimpernel but is something else.  However, the Lindernias and the primroses have entirely different flower forms, and it would be quite a stretch to mistake one for the other.   It would be interesting to know how the false pimpernel got its name.

Herb Amyx

*The Eponym Dictionary of Southern African Plants, 2006-2016, M. Charters, Sierra Madre, CA.   http://www.calflora.net/southafrica/plantnames.html

 

 

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Showy Orchis (Galearis spectabilis) Blooms at Rockcliff Farm

In early April, nearly one hundred Galearis spectabilis, the Showy Orchis, began to bud and bloom on a steep gorge within seventy five yards of the Wells house at Rockcliff Farm.  The most remarkable part of this orchid irruption is that a blooming Galearis spectabilis had not been seen in recent years.  It was not found during an extensive vegetation survey of Rockcliff Farm done in 2005, and had not been reported from the many wildflower walks conducted there over the past 10 years.  Below is a blooming Showy Orchis from this group.

Galearis spectabilis
Showy Orchis

So what were the circumstances that made this  sudden bloom possible?

One clue comes from observations made last year.  In early April 2016, a group of plants with two round, wide leaves were seen on the rich hardwood slopes of a steep-walled valley located about a mile from Rockcliff Farm.  One of these, with a developing bud, is pictured below.  In the photo, there appear to be three leaves because the plants are often right next to or on top of each other.  So there are actually two plants in the photo.

Galearis spectabilis
Showy Orchis
Basal Leaves and Bud

The plants were visited five days later to observe the bloom, but unfortunately deer had eaten the entire group of plants.  The same plant pictured above is shown below.

Galearis spectabilis
Showy Orchis
Plant Eaten by Deer

This year in early March, about 30 orchids were found in the same area.  They were covered with plastic deer screen to protect them from browsing.   In April they began to bud and bloom into typical Showy Orchis.

But what about the orchids at Rockcliff Farm, that were not protected against deer browsing because the orchids were not known to be there?  One possible explanation is the serious wildfire that occurred at the B. W. Wells S.R.A. in early March, just adjacent to Rockcliff Farm.  The fire started in the main power line due to a tree falling across electrical wires.  The fire burned down to the edge of the lake from both sides of the power lines along the road, and was hot enough to kill trees and destroy all shrubbery and ground cover.  Thus the hypothesis is that this fire destroyed most of the deer browse in this area, and the deer moved on to greener pastures, leaving the orchids unharmed.

In fact, over-abundant deer populations have been blamed for orchid declines, and reductions in deer density have been associated with surges in orchid populations.  (See Knapp, W. and Wiegand, R. 2014. Orchid (Orchidaceae) decline in the Catoctin Mountains, Frederick County, Maryland as documented by a long-term dataset. Biodiversity Conservation. Volume 23, Issue 8, pp. 1965-1976.)

Below, buds can be seen developing in two intertwined Showy Orchis.

Galearis spectabilis
Showy Orchis
Flower Buds

 

Galearis spectabilis
Showy Orchis
Flower Buds

The upper hood of the flower is formed by lateral petals and sepals.  The lower petal is large and white (a good landing place for bumblebees) and forms a spur at the rear.

Galearis spectabilis
Showy Orchis
Flowers

At the rear of the white lip is a hole that leads to a small nectar chamber (nectar reward).  Bumblebees can extend their tongues through the hole to reach the drop of nectar.  In the photo below, a small fly appears to have found the nectar.

Galearis spectabilis
Showy Orchis
Nectar Reward With Fly

Although Showy Orchis is very widespread, extending all the way from Canada to Georgia and into the Midwest, it is considered uncommon to rare in most of its range.

Herb Amyx

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Bird’s-Foot Violets (Viola pedata) on the Road to Rockcliff Farm

A sunny, roadside ditch is not the place you would normally expect to find colorful, showy violets, but that is exactly the environment that Viola pedata, the Bird’s-Foot Violet, prefers.  Patches of this violet were seen recently during a roadside trash pickup on both sides of the main road leading into Rockcliff Farm.   See below.

Viola pedata
Bird’s-Foot Violet
Flowers and Plant Form

The leaves of Bird’s-Foot Violet are deeply divided into narrow lobes, reminiscent of the toes of a bird.  Another common name sometimes used is Crow Foot Violet.

Viola pedata
Bird’s-Foot Violet
Leaves

Viola pedata , the Bird’s-Foot Violet, differs from other violets in a number of ways:

  1.  The plants prefer dry, sunny locations versus the moist, partially sunny to shady spots that most other violets need.
  2. The flowers are larger than other violets.
  3. Unlike other violets, they do not produce cleistogamous flowers.  This is especially unusual since the largest genus of cleistogamous plants is Viola.  Cleistogamous flowers are those that self pollinate, and propagate by producing specialized flowers that never open.
  4. They do not have the specialized hairs near the throat of the flower that other violet species have.
  5. They thrive in nutrient poor, relatively dry soils, while most violets prefer nutrient rich, moist soils, typical of rich hardwood forests.

Viola pedata has several natural color variations in the wild.   Adapted varieties  are  popular in horticulture, especially in rock gardens.

Herb Amyx

 

 

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Heritage Day is April 8th at Rock Cliff Farm

The B. W. Wells Association will host Heritage Day at  Rock Cliff Farm, B. W. Wells State Recreation Area, 1630 Bent Road, Wake Forest, North Carolina, on Saturday, April 8, 2017, from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, Rain or Shine.  There are no admission fees.  Heritage Day features history and nature walks, an hourly plant raffle, and children’s games and activities.

Dr.Wells and his wife Maude were loved and respected by the neighboring families in the rural community where they spent their retirement years at Rock Cliff Farm.  He taught the children how to make baseballs, how to paint with homemade pine needle brushes, and how to make and fly kites.  These crafts, and others, are part of the children’s activities on Heritage Day.

**************

Bertram Whittier Wells was a pioneer ecologist and botanist.  He was a historically important figure as a proponent of studying plants as part of a natural community rather than as isolated individuals.  His book, The Natural Gardens of North Carolina, published in 1932, is a classic work on the natural history of North Carolina.

The following anecdote is taken from Nature’s Champion: B. W. Wells, Tar Heel Ecologist by James Troyer:

Dr. Wells tried to make botany understandable and interesting to the average person.  He invented common names that differed from those in contemporary botanical manuals.  He wanted the common name to help the observer remember the flower or plant.  Most of his names have been lost to time, but the one that remains and is still in use in botanical manuals is Green and Gold, Dr. Wells’, name for Chrysogonum viginianum.  It is pictured below.

Chrysogonum virginianum
Green and Gold

Herb Amyx

 

 

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Recognition of Winter Annuals – Part 2

The purpose of Part 2 is to provide additional information about the plants introduced in Part 1, and in most cases, to  illustrate their mature form.  Some of the plants change form completely while others change very little from their winter appearance

Galium sherardia (Blue Field Madder)

Blue Field Madder is not a native species, but was introduced from Eurasia.  Often better known as Sherardia arvensis, the previous scientific name, it is a member of the Bedstraw family (the Rubiaceae), and like most of its close relatives, is not particularly invasive.  It is hard to find isolated individuals like those shown below; it is usually tangled with other vegetation, and can form large mats, like those pictured in the second photograph.

Galium sherardia
Blue Field Madder
Winter Appearance

 

Galium sherardia
Blue Field Madder
Multiple Plants

Blue Field Madder is easy to distinguish from the other bedstraws by its blue flowers and sharply pointed leaves.  The tiny flowers, shown below, resemble those of the early spring Bluets, which are close relatives.

Galium sherardia
Blue Field Madder
Flowers

Nuttallanthus canadensis – Blue Toadflax

 Blue Toadflax is a true native wildflower, and one of the most prolific in the Southeast.  It can be seen blooming in early to mid spring by the thousands in fields and roadsides.  In winter it resembles a tiny portulaca , but as spring approaches, the plant form changes.  Tall, stringy stems are produced, followed by small, blue flowers at the tips.  The sequential changes are summarized in the photos below.

Nuttallanthus canadensis
Blue Toadflax
Winter Appearance

 

Nuttallanthus canadensis
Blue Toadflax
Early Spring

 

Nuttallanthus canadensis
Blue Toadflax
Maturing Plant

 

Nuttallanthus canadensis
Blue Toadflax
Flowers

Scleranthus annuus – Knawel

Knawel is an introduced species from Eurasia that has become a major weed of lawns, grassy parks, and roadsides.  The leaves are linear and needle-like, with stiff points, somewhat resembling the leaves of a creeping phlox.  Knawel is actually related to carnations in the Caryophyllaceae family.

Scleranthus annuus
Knawel
Winter Plant Form

The flower, pictured below, has no petals, but has 5 green sepals, which give the appearance of petals.

Scleranthus annuus
Knawel
Flower

Soliva sessilis – Burweed

Burweed is another non-native plant, introduced from South America.  Like Knawel, it is a troublesome weed of lawns and roadsides.  In fact the two plants are very often found together.    Burweed is hard on bare feet as it produces seeds in the leaf axils that have durable, vertical, spine tips that remain upright.  It is a very unpopular lawn weed.

Soliva sessilis
Burweed
Plant Form

Erigeron annuus – Annual Fleabane

Annual Fleabane is a native, and one of the commonest and best known late spring wildflowers.  It is found along roadsides, greenways, in open fields and disturbed areas.  It is often referred to as the spring daisy, and Daisy Fleabane is a common name given to this plant along with other closely related fleabanes.  The leaves along the flowering stem are very similar to the basal leaves shown below.

Erigeron annuus
Annual Fleabane
Basal Leaves

Annual Fleabane can be distinguished from the asters due to its earlier flowering and its higher number of narrow petals.

Erigeron annuus
Annual Fleabane
Flowers

Lobelia inflata – Indian Tobacco

Lobelia inflata is a summer annual with a long bloom time, extending from the summer into late fall.  The odd common name comes from the historic use of this plant by Native Americans for a variety of purposes.  It has a scent reminiscent of tobacco, hence the origin of the name.  Lobelia inflata is a prolific seeder.  When leaf litter is low, and a good amount of soil is exposed, a single plant can produce 50 or more seedling rosettes similar to the one pictured below.

Lobelia inflata
Indian Tobacco
Basal Leaves

The flowers are small but have the typical appearance of Lobelia flowers, with two petals up and three petals down.  The species name “inflata” comes from the balloon-like appearance of the seed pods.  One can be seen in the photograph below, under the bloom and out of focus.

Lobelia inflata
Indian Tobacco
Flower and Seed Pod

 

Herb Amyx

 

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Recognition of Winter Annuals – Part 1

Winter annuals have been appearing in gardens, lawns and landscapes for the past several months. These plants can be recognized through their characteristic shapes, and peculiarities, with a special focus on leaves since many will not bloom until spring.  The human brain has an incredible capacity for visual pattern recognition.  With practice and repetition, most of us can identify the common winter annuals from their earliest stages.  This is very helpful to gardeners and conservation managers, who want to eliminate undesirable weeds before they mature and multiply.

Occasionally, mistaken identities result in humorous plantings in public or private gardens.  In the municipal garden shown below, a small specimen of Senna obtusifolia – Sicklepod – was raised unknowingly as an ornamental shrub.  Watered and carefully tended by the garden staff, it reached huge proportions before someone explained the mistake.  The staff now fights large crops of young sicklepods that come up every spring all over that garden.

Senna obtusifolia Sicklepod Shrub

Senna obtusifolia
Sicklepod
Shrub

Here is a brief display of a few interesting  visual patterns seen in five winter annuals, and  one summer annual.   All of the plants are very common in the North Carolina Piedmont.  See if you recognize some of them.  The names are listed at the end.

Plant #1

img_1165-young-sherardia

Plant #2 (Perhaps the most difficult of the group)

img_1168-toadflax

img_1170-nuttallanthus-canadensis

Plant #3 (Actually blooming in the 2nd photo)

img_1806a-scleranthus-annuus

img_1812-scleranthus-annuus

Plant #4

img_1797-erigeron-annuus

Plant #5

img_1808-erodium-cicutarium

img_1810-erodium-cicutarium

Plant #6 (The summer annual)

img_1802-lobelia-inflata

The identities of the plants are:

Plant #1 is Galium sherardia  –  Blue Field Madder

Plant #2 is Nuttallanthus canadensis  –  Blue Toadflax

Plant #3 is Scleranthus annuus – Knawel

Plant #4 is Erigeron annuus – Annual Fleabane

Plant #5 is Soliva sessilis – Burweed

Plant #6 is Lobelia inflata – Indian Tobacco

The Blue Toadflax plants seem more like young succulents and are often among the most difficult to identify.  More details about each plant will follow in the next article.

Herb Amyx

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Mulberry Weed (Fatoua villosa) – an Unwelcome Intruder

Mulberry Weed, Fatoua villosa, is an oddity – the only member of the Mulberry family (the Moraceae) in the Southeast that is a herbaceous plant rather than a shrub or a tree.  Originally from East Asia, it is a relatively new arrival in North America (early 1960s),and  is now spreading rapidly.  The common name is derived from the plant’s close resemblance to small, seedling Mulberry trees.

Mulberry Weed is a summer annual with an upright plant form and large, alternate leaves.  It is found primarily in disturbed areas, gardens and landscapes.  Below is an example of the plant form.

Fatoua villosa Mulberry Weed Plant Form

Fatoua villosa
Mulberry Weed
Plant Form

The leaves are triangular or sometimes slightly heart-shaped, with toothed margins and prominent veins.  The flowers are found in small clusters at the leaf axils, and have no petals.  Leaves and flowers are pictured below.

Fatoua villosa Mulberry Weed Leaf

Fatoua villosa
Mulberry Weed
Leaf

 

Fatoua villosa Mulberry Weed Leaves

Fatoua villosa
Mulberry Weed
Leaves

Young plants can also closely resemble False Nettle (Boehmeria cylindrica), and both can be  found in similar, shady habitats.  The leaves of False Nettle, pictured below, are opposite, rather than alternate – the best distinguishing feature.

Boehmeria cylindrical False Nettle Leaves

Boehmeria cylindrica
False Nettle
Leaves

Mulberry Weed is a heavy seed producer, and the plants flower when only a few inches tall.  The seeds mature quickly, and the plants are known to produce 2 to 5 generations in a single year.  Thus the invasive potential is very high, and control is difficult once the plants are established.

For information on management and control, see this excellent bulletin from the NC State Extension Service:  https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/mulberryweed-fatoua-villosa

 

Herb Amyx

 

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