Consider the Lowly Hedgehyssop, Gratiola viscidula

Gratiola viscidula (Short’s Hedgehyssop) is common and widespread in North Carolina, often found along pond and lake margins, and wetlands.   Despite its widespread distribution, it is easily overlooked due partly to its small size (rarely reaching 12 inches in height), and to its habitat.   It has a fondness for very wet, even partially submerged areas , and so is often found where walking is difficult.  It has become popular as an aquarium plant, and can remain submerged for long periods of time.

A cluster of small plants is illustrated below.

Gratiola neglecta Mud-hyssop Clustered Plants

Gratiola viscidula
Short’s Hedgehyssop
Clustered Plants

Important characteristics that separate Gratiola viscidula from other members of its genus are the clasping leaves, the long flower petioles, the dense, glandular puberulence of the stem, and the three to five teeth along each leaf margin.  Initially this plant was thought to be Gratiola neglecta, as the two are very similar.  The factor that helps most to separate them is the shape of the base of the leaf.  G. neglecta has a base that tapers to the stem attachment, while G. viscidula has a clasping base.

The plant form is  pictured below.

Gratiola neglecta Mud-hyssop Plant Form

Gratiola viscidula
Short’s Hedgehyssop
Plant Form

The next photo is a closer look at the heavy glandular puberulence of the stem, the flower stems, and the flower bracts.  Another common name for Gratiola viscidula is Viscid Hedgehyssop since the glandular puberulence gives the plant a clammy or sticky feel when touched.  This characteristic is shared by several other closely related members of the genus, especially Gratiola neglecta, the Clammy Hedgehyssop.

Gratiola neglecta Mud-hyssop Glandular Pubescence

Gratiola viscidula
Short’s Hedgehyssop
Glandular Puberulence

The flowers open mid to late morning.  The petals are white and the centers yellow.

Gratiola neglecta Mud-hyssop Flowers

Gratiola viscidula
Short’s Hedgehyssop
Flowers

Closer views of the flowers.

Gratiola neglecta Mud-hyssop Flower

Gratiola viscidula
Short’s Hedgehyssop
Flower

The flowers of Gratiola viscidula have five petals but two are often fused together.

Gratiola neglecta Mud-hyssop Flower

Gratiola viscidula, Short’s Hedgehyssop
Flower

Plants in the Gratiola genus are conventionally called hedgehyssops, a colorful name said to originate in England, the land of hedges.

Lindernia dubia, the False Pimpernel, is a small wildflower that is sometimes confused with Gratiola viscidula and neglecta.  It often appears in similar clustered colonies, has small flowers on very long petioles, and has a very similar habitat and distribution.  It also has  a penchant for mud and disturbed soil.  A colony of False Pimpernel is shown below.

Lindernia dubia False Pimpernel Colony

Lindernia dubia
False Pimpernel
Colony

There are a number of ways to distinguish the two wildflowers in the field.  Lindernia dubia has  only a single pale lilac flower at each leaf axil, while Gratiola viscidula has two white flowers at each axil.  G. viscidula  has a round, densely puberulent stem, while L. dubia has a smooth, square stem.  They both bloom at the same time.  Below is a closer view of Lindernia dubia.

Lindernia dubia False Pimpernel Plant Form

Lindernia dubia
False Pimpernel
Plant Form

In spite of their similar appearance, they are not closely related.   Gratiola viscidula is in the Plantain family, the Plantaginaceae, while Lindernia dubia is in the Linderniaceae, a family so new that it has no common name yet.

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Eastern Sampson’s Snakeroot, Orbexilum psoralioides, Gets a Helping Hand

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.

Orbexilum psoralioides Eastern Sampson's Snakeroot

Orbexilum psoralioides
Eastern Sampson’s Snakeroot

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.

Orbexilum psoralioides Eastern Sampson's Snakeroot Flower

Orbexilum psoralioides
Eastern Sampson’s Snakeroot
Flower

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.

Orbexilum psoralioides Eastern Sampson's Snakeroot Close View of Flowers

Orbexilum psoralioides
Eastern Sampson’s Snakeroot
Close View of Flowers

Another important identifying characteristic of Sampson’s Snakeroot is its very narrow, trifoliate leaves.

Orbexilum psoralioides Eastern Sampson's Snakeroot Narrow, Trifoliate Leaves, Another View

Orbexilum psoralioides
Eastern Sampson’s Snakeroot
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.

Herb Amyx

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Our Central Carolina Milkvines: Gonolobus suberosus, Matelea carolinensis, and Matelea decipiens

Milkvines, as their name implies, are members of the milkweed family, the Apocynaceae, known for their white, milky sap.  They are herbaceous, twining vines with broad, opposite, ovate (often heart-shaped) leaves.  In Central North Carolina these native perennials are often found in power lines, at the edge of woodlands, and climbing fences along roadways.

The least known and recognized of the group is Gonolobus suberosus var. suberosus, whose common names are Eastern Anglepod or Angularfruit Milkvine .    Although the vines can be several meters long, the flowers are not showy and do not occur in large clusters, but are scattered  in small groups, often covered by the leaves.  To a passing observer, they just look like nondescript vines.  The photo below shows the typical appearance of a Gonolobus flower, which has a dark blue center with green on the perimeter of the petals.

Gonolobus suberosus var. suberosus Eastern Anglepod Flower

Gonolobus suberosus var. suberosus
Eastern Anglepod
Flower

An unusual color variant is sometimes seen, with the green of the flower replaced by yellow.  Just the small addition of a brighter color makes the vine much easier to spot and identify.  See below.

Gonolobus suberosus var. suberosus Eastern Anglepod Vine

Gonolobus suberosus var. suberosus
Eastern Anglepod
Vine

Gonolobus suberosus var. suberosus Eastern Anglepod Flower Color Variant

Gonolobus suberosus var. suberosus
Eastern Anglepod
Flower Color Variant

Matelea carolinensis, Carolina Spinypod or Maroon Carolina Milkvine, is common and widespread in North Carolina.  The foliage is much more open in this species, and the dark maroon, clustered flowers call attention to the vine.  The flowers of Matelea carolinensis have wide, reflexed petals.

Matelea carolinensis Carolina Spinypod Flower

Matelea carolinensis
Carolina Spinypod
Flower

There are several, unusual color variants in Matelea carolinensis also, and these are seen much less often than the yellow Gonolobus.  Pictured below are flowers that are a yellow- tinted light maroon color.

Matelea carolinensis Carolina Spinypod Light Maroon/yellow Flower

Matelea carolinensis
Carolina Spinypod
Light Maroon/yellow Flower

Another color variation is a creamy yellow.  This plant was near the one featured above.

Matelea carolinensis Carolina Spinypod Creamy Yellow Flower

Matelea carolinensis
Carolina Spinypod
Creamy Yellow Flower

Matelea decipiens, Deceptive Spinypod or Oldfield Milkvine, is the third member of this group, far more uncommon in North Carolina than the other two, although it is frequently seen in Durham and Wake Counties over mafic rock.  Mafic rock is rich in magnesium and iron.  The primary way that it can be distinguished from M. carolinensis is by the form of the flowers.  In Matelea decipiens, the flowers have ascending, somewhat ribbon-like petals that are narrower at the base than those of M. carolinensis.

Matelea decipiens Deceptive Spinypod Flowers

Matelea decipiens
Deceptive Spinypod
Flowers

Matelea decipiens Deceptive Spinypod Flowers

Matelea decipiens
Deceptive Spinypod
Flowers

Although distinguishing the three milkvines is primarily dependent on their flowers, it is possible to differentiate Gonolobus from the  two Mateleas by differences in their leaves.  Below are the typical heart-shaped leaves of  Matelea carolinensis.  The leaves have a light green color and the surface is soft and fuzzy.

Matelea carolinensis Carolina Spinypod Leaves

Matelea carolinensis
Carolina Spinypod
Leaves

Gonolobus leaves are a darker green and the  surface is  irregular and crinkled.  The leaf is elongated into a spade shape rather than a heart shape.  The largest leaves have pronounced basal lobes that sometimes overlap.

Gonolobus suberosus Eastern Anglepod Leaves

Gonolobus suberosus var. suberosus
Eastern Anglepod
Leaves

The leaves below are placed side by side for better comparison, Matelea carolinensis on the left and Gonolobus on the right.

Gonolobus suberosus var. suberosus Eastern Anglepod Leaves

Matelea carolinensis and Gonolobus suberosus var. suberosus
Carolina Spinypod and Eastern Anglepod
Leaves

Matelea carolinensis and Matelea decipiens can not be distinguished from each other by leaf shape.  In fact, at times the flower structures themselves can be difficult and ambiguous.  In mixed populations, intermediate forms can be seen, and changes in flower morphology can be seen among flowers on the same vine depending on whether they are on the lower or upper parts of the vine.  There is a possibility that taxonomists will soon be taking another look at their classification.

Herb Amyx

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Round-lobed Hepatica and Hooked Buttercup – Contrasts in Form and Color

Anemone americana, the Round-lobed Hepatica, is one of the best known and most popular early wildflowers in the Central Piedmont of North Carolina.  While appreciated for its blue flowers, it is also known for its colorful evergreen foliage.  The wide leaves have three rounded lobes with smooth margins.  Old leaves wither and die in the early spring, generally after the bloom, as new leaves appear.    The shape never changes throughout the year, and no new leaves are added after the early spring.  Leaf colors do change, as will be illustrated in the following pictures.

Below is a typical Round-lobed Hepatica in bloom.  The leaves are a deep green with many  showing various degrees of purple coloration, characteristic of older leaves.

Anemone Americana Round-lobed Hepatica Plant in Bloom

Anemone americana
Round-lobed Hepatica
Plant in Bloom

The photo below illustrates the reaction of a Round-lobed Hepatica to a late winter prescribed burn, which destroyed the older leaves and burned most of the litter around the plant.  In this case, flowers and leaves are unfurling simultaneously.  Note the dense hairs on the flower and leaf stems, and on the flower bracts.  The prescribed burn took place two weeks before this photo was taken.

Anemone americana Round-lobed Hepatica After a Prescribed Burn

Anemone americana
Round-lobed Hepatica
After a Prescribed Burn

New leaves are a bright, vivid green, matching the color of many of the surrounding herbaceous plants.

Anemone americana Round-lobed Hepatica New Leaves

Anemone americana
Round-lobed Hepatica
New Leaves

Below, in a late winter photo, leaves have darkened and purple colors can be seen starting on one leaf.

Anemone americana Round-lobed Hepatica Older, Darkened Leaves

Anemone americana
Round-lobed Hepatica
Older, Darkened Leaves

Some leaves turn almost completely purple in late winter.

Anemone americana Round-lobed Hepatica Purple Leaves

Anemone americana
Round-lobed Hepatica
Purple Leaves

Adjacent to the plant in the preceding photo, were several unusual Round-lobed Hepaticas that were purple with only very faint variegation.

Anemone americana Round-lobed Hepatica Purple, Non-variegated Leaves

Anemone americana
Round-lobed Hepatica
Purple, Non-variegated Leaves

Another common name for Anemone americana is Liverleaf.  The leaf below illustrates the color, variegation patterns, and shape that reminded the early naturalists of liver, which also has three lobes.

Anemone americana Round-lobed Hepatica Leaves Resembling Liver

Anemone americana
Round-lobed Hepatica
Leaves Resembling Liver

Ranunculus recurvatus, the Hooked Buttercup, is a relative of the Hepaticas in the Buttercup family, the Ranunculaceae.  Contrary to the Round-lobed Hepatica, the Hooked Buttercup changes leaf shape throughout its development, but does not change color.  The two generally bear no resemblance to each other, but they do cross paths when the Hooked Buttercup goes through the three-lobed leaf stage during its development.

Recently, an unusual population of R. recurvatus was found along a stream bank.  These plants had a darker green color than normal, and heavy variegation.  At a distance, these plants could have been mistaken for Hepaticas, but a closer look revealed that they were R. recurvatus.   See below.

Ranunculus recurvatus Hooked Buttercup Variegated Leaves

Ranunculus recurvatus
Hooked Buttercup
Variegated Leaves

Ranunculus recurvatus Hooked Buttercup Variegated Leaf

Ranunculus recurvatus
Hooked Buttercup
Variegated Leaf

The Hooked Buttercup begins its development as a small, nondescript leaf or group of leaves, that resemble many seedling plants.

Ranunculus recurvatus Hooked Buttercup First Leaves

Ranunculus recurvatus
Hooked Buttercup
First Leaves

The next group of leaves to develop have the typical color and show a three-lobed division, with the cleft between the lobes becoming deeper as leaves continue to be added.

Ranunculus recurvatus Hooked Buttercup Three-lobed Leaves

Ranunculus recurvatus
Hooked Buttercup
Three-lobed Leaves

Ranunculus recurvatus Hooked Buttercup Three-lobed Leaves

Ranunculus recurvatus
Hooked Buttercup
Three-lobed Leaves

Small, yellow flowers appear on the mature plants.  As leaves continue to be added, the lobes become longer and thinner.  A number of small, developing plants can be seen at the bottom of the photo below.

Ranunculus recurvatus Hooked Buttercup Mature Plant

Ranunculus recurvatus
Hooked Buttercup
Mature Plant

The Hooked Buttercup gets its name from the tiny hooks that appear on the fruits as they are formed.

Ranunculus recurvatus Hooked Buttercup Hooked Fruits

Ranunculus recurvatus
Hooked Buttercup
Hooked Fruits

Ranunculus recurvatus Hooked Buttercup Hooked Fruit

Ranunculus recurvatus
Hooked Buttercup
Hooked Fruit

Both Anemone americana and Ranunculus recurvatus are native plants, and both prefer moist hardwood forests.  R. recurvatus especially likes streamsides and riversides, while A. americana prefers a more upland location.    Although its flowers are individually very small, when large populations of  R. recurvatus occur along streams, the collective yellow flowers are easily visible.

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Common Water-starwort (Callitriche heterophylla) at the Mitchell Mill S.N.A.

Contrary to most of the aquatic weeds at the Mitchell Mill State Natural Area, Common Water-starwort, Callitriche heterophylla, is a native plant and is not considered invasive.  It is a small and relatively fragile plant that inhabits the quiet pools of the higher granitic flat rocks, away from the scouring floods of the Little River.  In his 1932 classic The Natural Gardens of North Carolina, B. W. Wells recommended this aquatic plant for ponds in his chapter on Native Wildflowers for the Garden.

The following photo illustrates a large flat rock pool with a population of Common Water-starwort.  The main colony is seen primarily on the left side of the pool.

Callitriche heterophylla Common Water-starwort Granitic Flat Rock Pool

Callitriche heterophylla
Common Water-starwort
Granitic Flat Rock Pool

In the Common Water-starwort, floating and submersed leaves have very different forms.  The underwater leaves are linear while the floating leaves are much wider and shorter, oval or spatulate (spoon shaped).  In the picture below, taken in December 2015, most of the plants show the linear, submersed form with only a few of the floating, wider leaved forms present.  The plants are annuals, and just developing over the winter.  Small plants that have recently germinated can be seen at the periphery of the main colony.

Callitriche heterophylla Common Water-starwort Linear Leaves

Callitriche heterophylla
Common Water-starwort
Linear Leaves

A closer view of a small plant illustrates the difference in leaf shape.  A recently germinated plant can be seen at the bottom right.

Callitriche heterophylla Common Water-starwort Both Leaf Forms

Callitriche heterophylla
Common Water-starwort
Both Leaf Forms

As the plants grow and spread in the spring, they begin to mass together, as seen below.

Callitriche heterophylla Common Water Star-wort Massed Plants

Callitriche heterophylla
Common Water Star-wort
Massed Plants

Callitriche heterophylla Common Water-starwort Massed Plants

Callitriche heterophylla
Common Water-starwort
Massed Plants

A closer view of fully mature plants shows the typical rounded rosettes of the surface leaves.

Callitriche heterophylla Common Water-starwort Closer View of Surface Leaves

Callitriche heterophylla
Common Water-starwort
Closer View of Surface Leaves

Flowers of the Common Water-starwort are located in the leaf axils.  They are small and lack petals and sepals.  But the plants are remarkably effective at dispersing pollen – by wind when the flowers are above the water, and by water when they are submersed.

Callitriche heterophylla does have a European relative that looks very similar but is not such a good citizen.  The European Water-starwort, Callitriche stagnalis, is both alien and invasive in the U.S.  Fortunately, it is not found in North Carolina.

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A Trio of Lilliputian Spring Bloomers: Field Speedwell, European Corn Salad, and Small-flowered Forget-Me-Not

In April, when there are so many spectacular dogwoods, azaleas, and other large plants blooming, why would anyone be looking for spring blossoms skimming the surface of the ground?  No wonder the three tiny plants mentioned in the title go virtually unnoticed due to their small size and miniature blossoms.  Recently, all three were seen blooming together by the thousands over large portions of the Wake Forest Reservoir Dam in Wake Forest, North Carolina.

Veronica arvensis – known as Field Speedwell or Corn Speedwell, is by far the most common of the three.  It ranges throughout all the geographic areas of North Carolina.  A member of the Plantain family (Plantaginaceae), it is one of North Carolina’s most numerous non-native winter annuals.  The blue and white, four-petaled flowers are only a few millimeters across, less than an eighth of an inch.

Veronica arvensis Field Speedwell Flower

Veronica arvensis
Field Speedwell
Flower

Valerianella locusta – European Corn Salad, is an introduced annual, a member of the Honeysuckle family (Caprifoliaceae).  It is much smaller and not as well known as its close relative Valerianella radiata , Corn Salad, which is a common and easily identified weed of open fields.  V. locusta is found in the Central Piedmont, but absent from the Coastal Plain and spotty in the Mountains.  In Europe it is often called Miniature Corn Salad.  As the name implies, it is edible and used in salads.  A group of blooming plants are pictured below.

Valerianella locusta European Corn Salad Group of Plants

Valerianella locusta
European Corn Salad
Group of Plants

The tiny individual flowers of V. locusta are a light blue in color (seen in the closer views below) in contrast to the white flowers of V. radiata.

Valerianella locusta European Corn Salad Flowers

Valerianella locusta
European Corn Salad
Flowers

Valerianella locusta European Corn Salad Closer View of Flowers

Valerianella locusta
European Corn Salad
Closer View of Flowers

Myosotis stricta – Small-flowered Forget-Me-Not, is an introduced annual from Eurasia, a member of the Borage family (Boraginaceae).  Unlike the previous two plants, M. stricta is primarily a Northeastern species with a very limited distribution in North Carolina, where it is listed in only five counties.  It is not listed as occurring in Wake County, where these photographs were taken.

Most of the plants have a stiff, upright plant form, which led to the species name “stricta”, meaning stiff.

Myosotis stricta Small-flowered Forget-Me-Not Upright Plant Form

Myosotis stricta
Small-flowered Forget-Me-Not
Upright Plant Form

As the plants begin to flower, some display a graceful, arching form at the top, similar to some other members of the Borage family.

Myosotis stricta Small-flowered Forget-Me-Not Arched Plant Form

Myosotis stricta
Small-flowered Forget-Me-Not
Arched Plant Form

The tiny blue flowers are only a few millimeters across and appear as a small blue dot when seen from five or six feet away.  The plants are very pilose (hairy), as can be seen in  the photo below.

Myosotis stricta Small-flowered Forget-Me-Not Closer View of Flower

Myosotis stricta
Small-flowered Forget-Me-Not
Closer View of Flower

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Spring Flowers of the Sweet Gum Tree – Liquidambar styraciflua

Sweet Gums (Liquidambar styraciflua) are among the commonest trees in the South, and are found in huge numbers throughout the Piedmont and Coastal Plain of North Carolina.  Although the spring flowers are fairly large, they are held high in the tree and are difficult to see.  An occasional low-hanging branch reveals an active cluster of early leaves and specialized flowers.  Sweet Gums are monecious (having both male and female flowers), but unlike Elms, both sexes are not found within a single flower – each sex has its own separate flower.  In the photo below, the leaves of the Sweet Gum are unfurling while the male flowers (staminate flowers) are clustered above the leaves and the female flowers (pistillate flowers) are suspended below the leaves.

Liquidambar styraciflua Sweet Gum Flowers and Unfurling Leaves

Liquidambar styraciflua
Sweet Gum
Flowers and Unfurling Leaves

A closer look at the male flowers shows large numbers of very small flowers gathered in clusters on a thick stalk above the branch.  Sweet Gums are wind pollinated, and these flowers produce huge quantities of pollen.  Fortunately the pollen is only mildly allergenic and not a major cause of spring hypersensitivities.

Liquidambar styraciflua Sweet Gum Male Flowers

Liquidambar styraciflua
Sweet Gum
Male Flowers

While most people will never see the colorful male flowers on the tree, they certainly see them underfoot, on sidewalks, patios, decks, driveways, and lawns, where they appear by the thousands, perhaps by the millions, every spring.

Liquidambar styraciflua Sweet Gum Male Flowers

Liquidambar styraciflua
Sweet Gum
Male Flowers

The female flowers remain on the tree, suspended as a single, spherical structure with masses of tiny flowers.  The curled, tubular structures covering the surface are the stigmas of the flower, whose surface is sticky to catch the pollen.

Liquidambar styraciflua Sweet Gum Female Flowers

Liquidambar styraciflua
Sweet Gum
Female Flowers

During the summer , this soft and delicate structure is transformed into a hard, prickly, and complex fruit made up of seed capsules.  The “gum balls” are highly unpopular with homeowners trying to maintain their lawns and keep their sidewalks clear.  They are tough on bare feet and gather in such numbers as to make walking unstable.

Liquidambar styraciflua Sweet Gum Seed Capsule

Liquidambar styraciflua
Sweet Gum
Seed Capsule

There is a seedless, sterile cultivar called “Rotundiloba”, that has been grown and propagated (vegetatively of course) for commercial sale.  Its leaf lobes are rounded rather than pointed, giving it an odd, unnaturally smooth look to many eyes.  Interestingly, the original tree was a native found in North Carolina in the 1920s.

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