Large communities of Diamorpha smallii (Elf Orpine) are now blooming at the Mitchell Mill S.N.A. and other granitic flatrock and outcrop communities in the Central Piedmont of North Carolina. Pictured below are the typical red stems and white flowers of Diamorpha smallii. Many of the older flowers in this group already have pink centers.
Below is a closer view of a group of flowering stems. The commonest configuration is an open flower at the tip of the stem with two buds below each flower. Flowers can be seen with either 4 or 5 petals.
In a closer view, 8 stamens can be seen radiating out of the center of the flower like the spokes of a wheel. The stamens are the male reproductive organs of the flower, and contain the pollen. The 4 rounded pistils (there are sometimes 5) are sitting at the center of the flower, and the stigma can be seen protruding from the top of the pistil. The pistils are the female reproductive organs (which contain the ovaries), and the stigma is the organ specialized as a pollen receptor.
While the Elf Opine is in peak bloom, the Portulaca smallii (Small’s Purslane) is just getting started in its yearly cycle. Like Elf Orpine, Portulaca smallii is an annual, but germinates in the spring rather than the fall. This year, its earliest spring cotyledons were killed by late March hard freezes. Below is a group of P. smallii cotyledons that were all killed by hard freezes after this photo was taken. The shaft of a pine needle in the upper part of the picture gives proportion to the tiny size of the cotyledons.
Portulaca smallii lives in a fully exposed habitat, in thin soil right at the edge of the granite rock surface. Open to mostly full sun and low to the ground, P. smallii benefits from the microclimate created by the granite rock, as the rock gives off warmth from the energy absorbed from the sun. However, this year the conditions were unfavorable, with few sunny days in March and long periods of overcast skies and rain, followed by hard freezes at night. Consequently, lacking enough warmth from the granite, the plants were killed by the night time hard freezes, and the first germination failed. In early April, tiny cotyledons began to appear again in the thin soil, and this wave of germination has now progressed into the seedling stage, as illustrated by the photos below. These seedlings have the red stems typical of developing P. smallii, and the scrolling patterns on the leaves are just becoming discernible (using a hand lens).
Often the endemic plants can be seen living in close association with each other. Below is a perennial Phemeranthus teretifolius (Quill Fameflower) in the left portion of the photo, with P. smallii seedlings growing in the lower right quadrant, and a pale, budding Diamorpha smallii rising out of the seedlings on the right portion of the photo.
In some favorable areas at Mitchell Mill, the P. smallii seedlings are tightly packed and extensive. Other areas are showing good numbers of Phemeranthus where there had previously been few. If favorable conditions prevail, this summer could see some of the largest numbers of these two species in the last 5 years, in spite of a cold and rainy spring.