Flowering Now in Central North Carolina: Verbesina occidentalis (Crownbeard) and Its Relatives

Verbesina occidentalis (Crownbeard) is arguably one of the most visible flowering plants in North Carolina.  The tall stems and yellow blooms of this native perennial are hard to miss due to the sheer numbers of plants blooming.  Crownbeard seems to be everywhere: in urban lots, suburban parks, and rural fields, ditches and roadsides.

Crownbeard is a tall plant, often over 6 feet, and has a very distinct, disheveled, almost ragged bloom.  The bright ray flowers are sparse and are not uniformly placed around the disk, making the bloom look uneven and out of balance.  Crownbeard has a distinctively winged stem and opposite leaves.  See the photographs below of the flowers and the opposite leaves and winged stem.

Verbesina occidentalis Crownbeard Flowers

Verbesina occidentalis
Crownbeard
Flowers

Verbesina occidentalis Crownbeard Leaf

Verbesina occidentalis
Crownbeard
Leaf

Verbesina occidentalis Crownbeard Opposite Leaves and Winged Stem

Verbesina occidentalis
Crownbeard
Opposite Leaves and Winged Stem

Verbesina alternifolia (Wingstem) is a close relative of Crownbeard and also has a distinctive winged stem, but its leaves are alternate.  It too is found in large numbers in central North Carolina, but it prefers wetter soils and tends to occur near rivers and streams.  However, Crownbeard and Wingstem sometimes appear together in powerlines and ditches.  From a distance, they look very much alike – tall stems and bright, yellow flowers.   But they are relatively easy to tell apart.  In addition to having alternate leaves, Wingstem also has a distinctive flower that looks a lot like the Green Headed Coneflower – Rudbeckia laciniata.   The center of Wingstem’s flower becomes prominent, while the ray petals gradually droop, giving it a coneflower-like appearance.  See below.

Verbesina alternifolia Wingstem Flowers

Verbesina alternifolia
Wingstem
Flowers

The disk flowers have fascinating curled, bifurcated stigmas, as shown below.

Verbesina alternifolia Wingstem Bifurcated, Curled Stigmas

Verbesina alternifolia
Wingstem
Bifurcated, Curled Stigmas

In older flowers, the rays droop even more and gradually hang straight down.

Verbesina alternifolia Wingstem Drooping Flower Rays

Verbesina alternifolia
Wingstem
Drooping Flower Rays

The alternate leaves and winged stems are shown below.

Verbesina alternifolia Wingstem Alternate Leaves and Winged Stem

Verbesina alternifolia
Wingstem
Alternate Leaves and Winged Stem

 

Verbesina alternifolia Wingstem Winged Stem

Verbesina alternifolia
Wingstem
Winged Stem

A third close relative, Verbesina virginica (Frostweed), is very similar to Wingstem, as both have a winged stem and alternate leaves.  It is  much less common than Wingstem and Crownbeard  in central North Carolina.  Frostweed is easiest to differentiate when it blooms, since its flowers are white rather than yellow.

Verbesina virginica Frostweed Flowers

Verbesina virginica
Frostweed
Flowers

Verbesina virginica Frostweed Closer View of Flowers

Verbesina virginica
Frostweed
Closer View of Flowers

Pictured below are the alternate leaves and the winged stem of Frostweed.  The wings of all three plants are formed by the continuation of the leaf petioles down the stem.  Petioles are the stalks that attach the leaf blade to the stem.  The petioles can be seen forming the wings in the photo below.

Verbesina virginica Frostweed Alternate Leaves and Winged Stem

Verbesina virginica
Frostweed
Alternate Leaves and Winged Stem

Frostweed has another fascinating property, one that is very rare.  In winter, under the right conditions of an overnight freeze, the protruding stems of Frostweed form ice sculptures as freezing water is extruded through the fibers of the stem.  This phenomenon has been popularly called crystallofolia.   These natural ice sculptures are amazingly beautiful and can be seen in the links below.

http://w3.biosci.utexas.edu/prc/VEVI3/crystallofolia.html

http://www.kuriositas.com/2012/12/frost-flowers-natures-exquisite-ice.html

Herb Amyx

 

 

 

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One Response to Flowering Now in Central North Carolina: Verbesina occidentalis (Crownbeard) and Its Relatives

  1. Helen Holt says:

    So glad to read about crownbeard, Herb. It is all over the meadows at Joyner Park and is so dense, that some areas are almost solid yellow. Plus, there’s a very rich, autumn smell that emanates from the dense patches.

    I did not know about wingstem or frostweed, but I will be on the lookout for both, especially the former.

    FYI: about a month ago, while walking on the Falls Lake Trail between Rolling View and NC 98 (maybe .5 miles from the road), I came across a single, unfamiliar plant that I knew was some kind of orchid, based on its thick, shiny leaves. I didn’t take a picture (no camera), but upon my return home, I pored through my Bell and Justice *Wildflowers of NC* book and believe what I saw was a *Lily Leaved Twayblade*. This picture, googled from the Internet, seems to mirror what I saw.

    While I was thrilled to see something “new,” I was disturbed that I saw no other plants like it…just that one, right beside the trail. No nearby colony that I could see. How does this solitary existence happen?

    I enjoy your posts so much. Please keep sending them! Helen Holt

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