Helianthus porteri (Porter’s Sunflower) Survives Drought at Rocky Face Mountain

Helianthus porteri, Porter’s Sunflower, is a highly specialized sunflower endemic to the harsh conditions of granitic outcrops.  It is found at only two  sites in North Carolina.  One of these is a low elevation granitic dome called Rocky Face Mountain, in Alexander County.  In mid September, Alexander and  surrounding counties in the Northern Piedmont were in the grip of a serious drought.  Even Helianthus porteri was affected, and the fall bloom subdued.

Rocky Face Mountain, A Low Elevation Granitic Dome

Rocky Face Mountain,
A Low Elevation Granitic Dome

Helianthus porteri was by far the most visible of the endemic plants at Rocky Face Mountain, and its yellow blooms were seen throughout the base, slopes and top of the granite dome, although in reduced numbers this year.  The group pictured below at the base of the dome was blooming well, even while the foliage was withering and drooping.

Helianthus porteri Porter's Sunflower Bloomin

Helianthus porteri
Porter’s Sunflower
Blooming

The H. porteri  on the slopes were not faring as well, especially those at the top of the slopes.  Some clusters of plants had died, but most were still surviving.  The following plants were typical of many seen – badly stressed but capable of complete recovery with a little rain.  In the first photo, the slope behind and the small patch of soil containing the plants can be seen.  The second photo is a closer view of the plants.

Helianthus porteri Porter's Sunflower Badly Stressed

Helianthus porteri
Porter’s Sunflower
Badly Stressed

Helianthus porteri Porter's Sunflower Badly Stressed

Helianthus porteri
Porter’s Sunflower
Badly Stressed

Some of the non-endemic plants, like the American Beautyberries (Callicarpa americana), were in a terminal, dehydrated state, especially those with a full sun exposure.

Callicarpa americana American Beautyberry Dehydrated and Dying

Callicarpa americana
American Beautyberry
Dehydrated and Dying

From the base of the dome, a group of H. porteri could be seen blooming at the top of the cliff.

Helianthus porteri Porter's Sunflower At Cliff's Edge

Helianthus porteri
Porter’s Sunflower
At Cliff’s Edge

A view of the same group from the top of the dome revealed that the plants were rooted in a large, horizontal crack in the granite.  They were also located at the base of an elevated slope, in a perfect position to catch moisture that would run down the slope from  light showers.  These plants looked normal and were well hydrated even though exposed to full sun.

Helianthus porteri Porter's Sunflower View From the Top

Helianthus porteri
Porter’s Sunflower
View From the Top

Another healthy group of H. porteri was seen growing from the convergence of two  cracks, where rain water would run down from two sections of the slope to flow into the cracks.

Helianthus porteri Porter's Sunflower Growing From Cracks in the Granite Dome

Helianthus porteri
Porter’s Sunflower
Growing From Cracks in the Granite Dome

Even without the advantage of a slope to bring moisture, several clusters of H. porteri were growing from cracks in a horizontal surface of the granite.   Whatever amount of soil was present in the granite cracks, it was completely protected from the drying effects of direct sun.  In full sun exposures, the plants growing from cracks in the granite were clearly doing better than those growing in the patches of soil on  the granite surface.

Helianthus porteri Porter's Sunflower Growth From Horizontal Cracks

Helianthus porteri
Porter’s Sunflower
Growth From Horizontal Cracks

Phemeranthus teretifolius, the Quill Fameflower or Appalachian Rock-pink, was another endemic plant that was surviving the drought well.  Its summer green color had turned to an autumn red, but the plants looked well hydrated.   A large group were found growing in an area of hardened gravel at the base of the dome.  Remarkably, it was difficult to scrape up any soil at all in this area, which looked like the surface of a gravel road.

Phemeranthus teretifolius Appalachian Rock-pink

Phemeranthus teretifolius
Appalachian Rock-pink

Helianthus porteri is somewhat unusual in that it is an annual  in a genus that is mostly perennials.  During his Ph.D. work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Abram Mellinger  built an artificial granite flatrock to establish and study a colony of Helianthus porteri.  He soon had a large, flourishing colony which he maintained and studied over a period of years.  In 1968, a prolonged and extreme drought resulted in the deaths of all the plants before they were able to set seed.  The next spring, the colony was completely restored naturally from the seed bank that it had established over the previous  years.

Helianthus porteri is not native to North Carolina, but was brought accidentally from Georgia to Rocky Face Mountain and the flat rocks of Mitchell Mill in Wake County in 1959, as part of an ecological experiment that focused on Diamorpha smallii (Elf Orpine).  For over 50 years, Helianthus porteri has remained and thrived in these two locations.

Herb Amyx

Mellinger, A. C.  1972   Ecological Life Cycle of Viguiera porteri and Factors Responsible for Its Endemism to Granite Outcrops of Georgia and Alabama  Ph.D. Thesis, UNC at Chapel Hill Botany Department

Note that Viguiera porteri was an older designation, which was reclassified to Helianthus porteri.

 

 

 

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Portulaca amilis (Paraguayan Purslane) : A Tropical Immigrant to North Carolina

Portulacas in the Southeast are annuals that have succulent leaves and stems.  They are often prostrate and branched, and have small, bright flowers with a very short blooming period.  The majority of Portulacas are tropical or subtropical in distribution.  There are only seven species in the Southeast, with the greatest concentration occurring in Florida.

The rarest of the Southeast group is Portulaca smallii, an inhabitant of granitic flatrock communities, which was featured in an article here last November on the Mitchell Mill State Natural Area.  In that article, peripheral mention was made of another Portulaca on the flatrocks and roadsides near Mitchell Mill.  Thanks to a reader, Bryan’s, suggestion, the plant has now been correctly  identified as  Portulaca amilis , Paraguayan Purslane, an introduced species from South America.   This summer, Portulaca amilis was confirmed at Mitchell Mill and the surrounding roadsides.  A check of the nearby Rolesville flatrocks and of disturbed areas in eastern Wake County found only P. amilis.  It tends to be found in sandy soil in disturbed areas, roadsides, fields, lawns and gardens.  The photo below shows a typical colony at the Rolesville flatrocks.

Portulaca amilis Paraguayan Purslane

Portulaca amilis
Paraguayan Purslane

In Northhampton County, which borders Virginia, Portulaca amilis is a common lawn weed.  It also appears in large colonies along the walkways north of the Roanoke River, as seen  below.

Portulaca amilis Paraguayan Purslane In a Residential Lawn

Portulaca amilis
Paraguayan Purslane
In a Residential Lawn

Portulaca amilis Paraguayan Purslane Walkway North of Roanoke River

Portulaca amilis
Paraguayan Purslane
Walkway North of Roanoke River

Portulaca amilis Paraguayan Purslane Walkway North of Roanoke River

Portulaca amilis
Paraguayan Purslane
Walkway North of Roanoke River

The flowers of P. amilis are an intense, deep pink, very striking and attractive.  The flowers bloom for only a single day and only for a few hours.  Otherwise, they would be a desirable addition to a garden.  As seen in the close up below, the flowers have many stamens (tipped with yellow pollen) and the  stigmas have multiple branches (seen in the center of the flower).

Portulaca amilis Paraguayan Purslane Flower

Portulaca amilis
Paraguayan Purslane
Flower

 

Below are  seed capsules opened to show the typical black, shiny, round seeds of P. amilis.

 

Portulaca amilis Paraguayan Purslane Seeds

Portulaca amilis
Paraguayan Purslane
Seeds

The native range of Portulaca amilis is widespread in South America, including parts of Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Argentina.  It first arrived in the United States in North Carolina, an unusual occurrence, particularly since the first reports were inland, and not at the coast.  In 1981, Judd and Wunderlin reported that the earliest herbarium collection date they had seen was in 1956 from Harnett County, which is in central North Carolina.  Later, in 1985 , Matthews and Levins reported finding what remains today the earliest collection : 1932 in Robeson County, North Carolina, on the border with South Carolina.   They also hypothesized that P. amilis seeds may have “…hitchhiked from South America following a military exercise…” and become established at Ft. Bragg and other military bases near Fayetteville, North Carolina.   From there it has spread north to Virginia, south to Florida and west to Louisiana.

Thanks again to Bryan for calling attention to  this interesting history in his comments.

Herb Amyx

References:

First Report of Portulaca amilis (Portulacaceae) in the United States, Walter S. Judd and Richard P. Wunderlin, SIDA, Contributions to Botany, Vol 9, No 2 (November 1981), pp. 135-138

The Genus Portulaca in the Southeastern United States.  James F. Matthews and Patricia A. Levins, Castanea, Vol 50, No 2 (June, 1985), pp. 96-104

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Japanese Pagoda Tree and the Giant Resin Bee – Asian Species Reunited in North America

The Japanese Pagoda Tree (Styphnolobium japonicum) is an ornamental tree introduced from Asia, and  best known for its showy bloom in late summer, long after the flowering period for most trees.  A beautiful specimen can be found at Falls Lake, in the Blue Jay Point County Park.  At peak flowering, the tree can be located by following the loud thrumming sounds of the visiting  pollinators.  The masses of flowers attract a variety of bees and bumblebees, which arrive in very high numbers.  Their frantic activity causes a constant rain of flower petal fragments that litter the ground all around the tree like a white skirt.

Styphnolobium japonicum Japanese Pagoda Tree

Styphnolobium japonicum
Japanese Pagoda Tree

Styphnolobium japonicum Japanese Pagoda Tree Clusters of Flowers

Styphnolobium japonicum
Japanese Pagoda Tree
Clusters of Flowers

Styphnolobium japonicum Japanese Pagoda Tree Clusters of Flowers

Styphnolobium japonicum
Japanese Pagoda Tree
Clusters of Flowers

The compound leaves and terminal flower panicles are beautiful and symmetrical when viewed from below.

Styphnolobium japonicum Japanese Pagoda Tree Compoud Leaves and Terminal Flower Panicles

Styphnolobium japonicum
Japanese Pagoda Tree
Compound Leaves and Terminal Flowers

 

Styphnolobium japonicum Japanese Pagoda Tree Compound Leaves

Styphnolobium japonicum
Japanese Pagoda Tree
Compound Leaves

The flowers are typical of the legume family (Fabaceae) and resemble those of the related Black Locust –  Robinia pseudoacacia.

Styphnolobium japonicum Japanese Pagoda Tree Flowers

Styphnolobium japonicum
Japanese Pagoda Tree
Flowers

The Giant Resin Bee (Megachile sculpturalis), present in high numbers on the tree, is by far the most numerous of the pollinators.  They are easy to see and identify due to their large size and cylindrical, elongated bodies.  See below.

Megachile sculpturalis Giant Resin Bee

Megachile sculpturalis
Giant Resin Bee

The massive mandibles present on the females are often easily seen when closely approaching the bee, and serve as an additional identifying characteristic.

Megachile sculpturalis Giant Resin Bee Mandibles

Megachile sculpturalis
Giant Resin Bee
Mandibles

The Giant Resin Bee is a member of the leafcutter bee family (Megachilidae), and the mandibles are mainly used to chew leaves and collect plant resins.

The Giant Resin Bee is an Asian species, introduced into the United States relatively recently.  It was first reported here in North Carolina in 1994 and has since spread widely throughout the Southeast.   It is one of the main pollinators of the Japanese Pagoda Tree in China and Japan, and since its introduction into North Carolina, it reunites with the tree once again on scattered streets and in parks.  On the dark side, it also pollinates the highly invasive Kudzu and Purple Loosestrife in their native home in Asia, and in the United States.  Obviously neither of these species need further help, so the impact on them is probably limited.

Giant Resin Bees visit my backyard every summer, where they completely commandeer a Mason Bee nest block.  In the photo below, the shiny, silvery plant resins can be seen plugging the bottom three holes on the left.  The bees form pollen into balls, place the balls into the holes in the nest, and lay their eggs on the pollen ball.  They then seal the hole with the plant resins.

Plant Resins on a Mason Bee Nest Block

Plant Resins on a Mason Bee Nest Block

Giant Resin Bees are solitary, but  sometimes  interact when they are building  a nest.  They often pay little attention to each other, but they sometimes quarrel over a particular hole.  In the sequence below, a female can be seen starting to pull another female out of a hole.

Megachile scupturalis Giant Resin Bee

Megachile scupturalis
Giant Resin Bee

Below, she finally succeeds in dragging the other female out of the hole.

Megachile scupturalis Giant Resin Bee

Megachile scupturalis
Giant Resin Bee

They face off and clash for awhile, but don’t do any real harm to each other. This sequence was repeated several times before the aggressor finally tired of the game and selected her own hole.

Megachile scupturalis Giant Resin Bee

Megachile scupturalis
Giant Resin Bee

Giant Resin Bees are known to utilize the wooden tunnels vacated by Carpenter Bees.  Recently it has been reported that the Giant Resin Bee actively displaces Carpenter Bees in some areas.  One wonders if they evict Carpenter Bees in the same way as illustrated above.  Entomologists consider the recent introduction of Giant Resin Bees to have had a minimal impact on the environment, but time will tell.

The Japanese Pagoda Tree pictured in this article has shown no signs of spreading from its present location, and the species in general has had minimal invasive impact in the South.  However, it has become naturalized in spotty locations in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions.

Herb Amyx

 

 

 

 

 

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Common Water-primrose (Ludwigia grandiflora ssp. hexapetala) Engulfs Parts of Falls Lake, N.C.

Below is an inlet of Falls Lake located in Eastern Durham County.  Viewed from a car driving along a  quiet country road, the inlet looks like a lush pasture with a small pond at the end.  But the “crop” being grown here is a massive population of the invasive Common Water-primrose – Ludwigia grandiflora ssp. hexapetala, which has choked the entire inlet.  The “pond” at the end is one of only two spots of open water in the entire area.

Ludwigia grandiflora ssp. hexapetala Common Water-primrose Choking a Falls Lake Inlet

Ludwigia grandiflora ssp. hexapetala
Common Water-primrose
Choking a Falls Lake Inlet

A closer look at the vegetative  mass, the beautiful individual flowers, and the deep green foliage.

Ludwigia grandiflora ssp. hexapetala Common Water-primrose

Ludwigia grandiflora ssp. hexapetala
Common Water-primrose

 

Ludwigia grandiflora ssp. hexapetala Common Water-primrose

Ludwigia grandiflora ssp. hexapetala
Common Water-primrose

Common Water-primrose spreads rapidly by sending out runners into any unoccupied spaces.  The growth and spreading process always starts with plants along the shore, but as the population grows farther out into the lake, runners can also be sent out from any part of the rooted or floating mass.

Ludwigia grandiflora ssp. hexapetala
Common Water-primrose – Runners

Even peninsulas of land that extend into the open water become completely covered with the Water-primrose.  The plants root at the nodes so anywhere the runners contact soil, roots are established, and vegetative growth can continue at a rapid pace.      Within the area covered by the Water-primrose,  it is difficult to find any other plant life except for trees.

Ludwigia grandiflora ssp. hexapetala Common Water-primrose Peninsula

Ludwigia grandiflora ssp. hexapetala
Common Water-primrose
Peninsula

Below is a photo of this inlet taken in October, 2012, after the blooming period is over.  The population then was not as extensive, allowing a view of the lake water.  This is followed by a photo of the same area as it is this July.  Note the large pole on the left in each picture.

Ludwigia grandiflora ssp. hexapetala Common Water-primrose October, 2012

Ludwigia grandiflora ssp. hexapetala
Common Water-primrose
October, 2012

Ludwigia grandiflora ssp. hexapetala Common Water-primrose

Ludwigia grandiflora ssp. hexapetala
Common Water-primrose

Another Falls Lake inlet, located in Northwestern Wake County, shows an earlier invasive stage, where the Water-primrose has not yet completely covered the water.  Note the large vegetative mounds along the shoreline.

Ludwigia grandiflora ssp. hexapetala Common Water-primrose

Ludwigia grandiflora ssp. hexapetala
Common Water-primrose

In this area, runners have formed floating islands, and additional runners can be seen extending out from the these islands.

Ludwigia grandiflora ssp. hexapetala Common Water-primrose Floating Islands

Ludwigia grandiflora ssp. hexapetala
Common Water-primrose
Floating Islands

The Water-primrose has colonized a large beaver lodge at the edge of the lake, shown in the two  photos below.  Beavers use mud to build the lodge and hold the structural poles and sticks together.  The Water-primrose’s runners take advantage of the mud, rooting as they go, climbing all the way to the top of the lodge.

Ludwigia grandiflora ssp. hexapetala Common Water-primrose Beaver Lodge

Ludwigia grandiflora ssp. hexapetala
Common Water-primrose
Beaver Lodge

Ludwigia grandiflora ssp. hexapetala Common Water-primrose beaver lodge

Ludwigia grandiflora ssp. hexapetala
Common Water-primrose
beaver lodge

Common Water-primrose has been a problem plant for years at Falls Lake, and has a huge impact on vegetative diversity.  In addition to physically clogging waterways and lowering oxygen content, Water-primroses are also allelopathic plants, in this case secreting substances that inhibit or harm other plants nearby.  The shallow inlets of Falls Lake appear to be a nearly perfect environment for the spread of this invasive plant.

Herb Amyx

Invasive Common Water-primrose was mentioned in a previous article on the Mitchell Mill State Natural Area.    https://bwwellsassociation.wordpress.com/2015/07/10/an-early-july-glimpse-of-the-mitchell-mill-state-natural-area/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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An Early July Glimpse of the Mitchell Mill State Natural Area

At the Mitchell Mill State Natural Area, heavy summer thunderstorms in early July have caused the Little River to overrun its banks, creating rivulets which coalesce to completely cover much of the surface of the granite flat rock with shallow, flowing water.

A View of the Mitchell Mill State Natural Area

A View of the Mitchell Mill State Natural Area

Outside the main channel, the water runs gently and quietly  across the surface.  The frequent rains have created an optimal environment for rapidly growing vegetation.  Several invasive species are thriving under these conditions.  Two are pictured below, in large masses.  In the foreground is Common Water-primrose (Ludwigia grandiflora ssp. hexapetala), with the yellow flowers, and behind it is a huge mass of Marsh Dayflower (Murdannia keisak), which is not yet in bloom.  They completely fill huge areas of the flat rock pools, crowding out the native species that normally live there.

Masses of Common Water-primrose and Marsh Dayflower

Masses of Common Water-primrose and Marsh Dayflower

Common Water-primrose, in spite of its invasive predilections, can be a beautiful plant, with dark green, symmetrical  foliage and showy yellow flowers.

Common Water-primrose Ludwigia grandiflora ssp. hexapetala

Common Water-primrose
Ludwigia grandiflora ssp. hexapetala

Common Water-primrose  Ludwigia grandiflora ssp. hexapetala

Common Water-primrose
Ludwigia grandiflora ssp. hexapetala

The flowers have 5 petals, 5 sepals, 10 stamens, and a single, central style and stigma.  They bloom on upright stems, unlike some close relatives that bloom directly from creeping or decumbent stems.

Ludwigia grandiflora ssp. hexapetala Common Water-primrose

Ludwigia grandiflora ssp. hexapetala
Common Water-primrose

Most references treat Common Water-primrose as an introduced species from South America.  However, there is evidence that populations were present in the Southeast prior to foreign introductions.   Weakley’s Flora (May, 2015) classifies it as a native.

There are a number of closely related species of Ludwigia that look very much alike, requiring a combination of field characteristics to separate them.  One simple characteristic is the relative length of the floral tube to the stem of the flower (Petiole).  In Ludwigia grandiflora ssp. hexapetala, the floral tube (FT) is much shorter than the Petiole (P).  See below.

Ludwigia grandiflora ssp. hexapetala Common Water-primrose

Ludwigia grandiflora ssp. hexapetala
Common Water-primrose

The Marsh Dayflower (Murdannia keisak) is a rapacious invasive plant, one of the worst wetland invasives we face today.  Ironically , the area that it now occupies was the site of a large colony of Parrot Feather (Myriophyllum aquaticum) just three years ago.  Parrot Feather is itself an invasive plant, introduced from South America.   The Marsh Dayflower, introduced from Asia and pictured below, appears to have won the battle of the alien invasives.  Whether it will begin to displace the Water-primrose remains to be seen.  It looks like a stand-off for now.

A Large Mass of Murdannia keisak Marsh Dayflower

A Large Mass of Murdannia keisak
Marsh Dayflower

 

Murdannia keisak Marsh Dayflower

Murdannia keisak
Marsh Dayflower

On a happier note, a huge shrub of the rare but native Swamp Titi (Cyrilla racemiflora) is now in full bloom.  Although it is common in the Coastal Plain, Mitchell Mill is one of the few places it can be seen in the Piedmont.  It has large, glossy leaves and flowers in long racemes.

Cyrilla racemiflora Swamp Titi

Cyrilla racemiflora
Swamp Titi

A raceme is a cluster of flowers arrayed along the length of a common stem.  On the flowering raceme seen below, the oldest flowers, now turning to fruit, are found near the base, the open flowers in the middle, and the unopened buds at the end.

Cyrilla racemiflora Swamp Titi Flowering Raceme

Cyrilla racemiflora
Swamp Titi
Flowering Raceme

On the day these photographs were taken, the flowers were attracting large numbers of small to mid-size bees, bumblebees, and the Ailanthus Webworm Moth below.

Cyrilla racemiflora Swamp Titi with an Ailanthus Webworm Moth

Cyrilla racemiflora
Swamp Titi with an Ailanthus Webworm Moth

Herb Amyx

For those interested, a new version (May 2015) of Flora of the Southern and Mid-Atlantic States by Alan S. Weakley is now available for download from the UNC Herbarium website.  Here is the link:     http://www.herbarium.unc.edu/flora.htm

 

 

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Tephrosia spicata – A Tough Plant for Tough Conditions

Tephrosia spicata, the Spiked Hoarypea, is a small, native perennial that is found in scattered communities throughout North Carolina.  In the Falls Lake area,  it is usually found in open areas along roadsides and power lines, in ditches, and in open fields.  It matures in the heat of the summer and blooms June through August, seemingly immune to high temperatures and drought.  The compound leaves of T. spicata can be hard to see when in thick vegetation, so the summer pink or red blooms draw attention to the plant.  In the photo below, the pink flower is in the center, surrounded by its compound leaves, indicated by small, yellow arrows.

Tephrosia spicata Spiked Hoarypea

Tephrosia spicata
Spiked Hoarypea

The small plant below is growing in the open dirt at the edge of a roadway, allowing a better look at the sparse leaves and the sprawling growth habit.  A flowering spike can be seen forming at one of the leaf axils.  It is indicated by a red pointer.  The long, thin flowering stalk is the origin of the “Spiked” part of the common name.  In older references, the plant was once called “Spike-flowered Tephrosia”.

Tephrosia spicata Spiked Hoarypea Early Flower Spike

Tephrosia spicata
Spiked Hoarypea
Early Flower Spike

The leaves are covered by coarse brown, rusty hairs, and the tips of the leaflets end in a sharp point.  The coarse, rusty hairs explain the “hoary” part of the common name.

Tephrosia spicata Spiked Hoarypea Rusty Hairs and Pointed Leaflet Tips

Tephrosia spicata
Spiked Hoarypea
Rusty Hairs and Pointed Leaflet Tips

Below are photos of the flowers as they typically appear.  Although red flowers usually predominate, most have white flowers as well.  The flowers tend to be closed most of the time, but sometimes open in the morning after a hard rain at night.   They usually open in the mid to late afternoon, but they rarely open completely.

Tephrosia spicata Spiked Hoarypea Flowers

Tephrosia spicata
Spiked Hoarypea
Flowers

Tephrosia spicata Spiked Hoarypea Flower

Tephrosia spicata
Spiked Hoarypea
Flower

Tephrosia spicata Spiked Hoarypea Open Flower

Tephrosia spicata
Spiked Hoarypea
Open Flower

In the side view of this flower, the long, green, stalked structure extending from the flower is the style.  The stamens can also  be seen – smaller, white, and above the style.

Tephrosia spicata Spiked Hoarypea Open Flower

Tephrosia spicata
Spiked Hoarypea
Open Flower

 

The picture of the white flower below shows the green style protruding up from the flower, with the white stamens below it, mostly to the left.  The stigma can be seen at the tip of the style.  Note that even the style is covered with tiny hairs.

Tephrosia spicata Spiked Hoarypea Open Flower

Tephrosia spicata
Spiked Hoarypea
Open Flower

Tephrosia spicata is a member of the pea family, the Fabaceae.  After the bloom, a typical legume or pod is formed.  In the next two photos, the individual seeds can be seen forming along the top of the pod.

Tephrosia spicata Spiked Hoarypea Legume

Tephrosia spicata
Spiked Hoarypea
Legume

Tephrosia spicata Spiked Hoarpea Legume

Tephrosia spicata
Spiked Hoarypea
Legume

When not in flower, Tephrosia spicata can be confused with vetch (Vicia  sp.), which also has compound leaves and similar habitat.   The easiest way to differentiate the two in the field is to examine the terminal part of the leaf.  The leaf of T. spicata terminates in a leaflet not a tendril; the plant drapes across foliage but does not climb. See below.

Tephrosia spicata Spiked Hoarypea Leaf

Tephrosia spicata
Spiked Hoarypea
Leaf

The leaf of a vetch terminates in a tendril that helps support the plant and allows it to climb.

Vicia sp. Vetch Tendrils

Vicia sp.
Vetch
Tendrils

Herb Amyx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Green Adder’s Mouth Orchid (Malaxis unifolia) – Blooming Now in Central North Carolina

Malaxis unifolia, the Green Adder’s Mouth Orchid, is among the smallest of our native orchids, averaging about 4 to 10 inches in height.  Its small size, tiny green flowers and  single leaf make it difficult to see against the typical woodland undergrowth.

Malaxis unifolia Green Adder's Mouth Orchid Plant Form

Malaxis unifolia
Green Adder’s Mouth Orchid
Plant Form

Malaxis unifolia has an extremely wide distribution from Labrador and Newfoundland in the north to Mexico in the south.  It is an example of those peculiar cases where a plant can have an extensive distribution but be uncommon in most of its range.  Its small size and uniform green color certainly make it difficult to find.  In North Carolina it is considered uncommon to rare.

The tiny green flowers are among the smallest in the orchid family, the Orchidaceae.  The flowers are said to resemble the forked tongue of an adder, leading to the common name of Adder’s Mouth.

Malaxis unifolia  Green Adder's Tongue Orchid Flower

Malaxis unifolia
Green Adder’s Tongue Orchid
Flower

The single broad, oval leaf  clasps the stem about midway up its length.  The parallel veins typical of orchids can be seen on the glossy specimen below.  The genus name “Malaxis” is related to the smoothness of the leaf.

Malaxis unifolia Green Adder's Mouth Orchid Leaf

Malaxis unifolia
Green Adder’s Mouth Orchid
Leaf

Malaxis unifolia was described in the original 1932 edition of B.W.Wells’ The Natural Gardens of North Carolina, and the name has escaped the subsequent taxonomic revisions that many of the plants described in that volume have undergone.

The plant pictured above and one other were encountered along the Wake Forest Reservoir Trail in the town of Wake Forest, North Carolina.

Herb Amyx

 

 

 

 

 

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