Eastern Sampson’s Snakeroot, Orbexilum psoralioides, is a native, Southeastern wildflower that blooms in mid to late summer. It is considered uncommon in the Piedmont of North Carolina, but common in the Coastal Plain. Its clusters of flowers, called racemes, are carried high by a very long flower stalk called a peduncle. The long peduncle plays an important role in identifying this species. So much so that it was incorporated into the previous scientific name, which was Orbexilum pedunculatum var. psoralioides. As seen in the photo below, the peduncles raise the flowers above the lower undergrowth, making them much more visible.
Stages of the bloom can be seen on each individual raceme. The youngest flowers are at the top, with budding flowers gradually opening into full bloom in the middle. The spent flowers that are starting to develop fruit are toward the bottom of the stalk.
A closer view of the budding and blooming flowers shows a typical appearance common to members of the Fabaceae, the Pea family. Each flower has 5 petals. The easiest to see in the photo below are the banner, which looks like the brim of a hat, and the two lateral wings perpendicular to the banner. These are best seen on a single flower at the lower center of the picture. The keel petals are hidden behind the wings and can’t be seen.
Another important identifying characteristic of Sampson’s Snakeroot is its very narrow, trifoliate leaves.
The Helping Hand:
Eastern Sampson’s Snakeroot is a fire adapted species, once found associated primarily with Longleaf Pine forests in the Southeast and with open spaces, like prairies. It benefits now, along with many common species, from the clearing and prescribed burns used to restore Piedmont prairie and savannah habitats in North Carolina’s Durham and Granville Counties. While the habitat management is aimed at preserving and protecting rare plants, all native flora and fauna benefit.