Know Your Natives  -  American Alumroot

American alumroot (Heuchera americana) of the Saxifragaceae (Saxifrage) Family occurs from northeastern Texas to eastern Nebraska and eastward to the Atlantic.  In Arkansas, it occurs in the northwestern half of the state and several counties in the southwest.  This perennial, herbaceous plant in its natural habitat grows in crevices of rocky cliffs and outcrops in sun to partial shade as well as in dry, well-drained rocky or sandy soils.  It is also called rock geranium because of leaf resemblances.  (The family name, from Latin, translates to “rock breaker”.)

The low-growing basal leaves have long petioles and the tall leafless flowering stalks rise from fleshy branching rhizomes.  Leaves are somewhat evergreen, with old leaves still green when new leaves appear in winter.  Leaves are rounded to palmate with only slight indentions of edges showing the palmate shape.  Leaves are a medium green with the planar surface being somewhat undulating and soft to touch.  Leaf edges are irregularly saw-tooth/notched.  Dense, spiny-looking soft hairs are obvious on petioles (on var. hirsuticaulis…var. americana has glabrous to nearly glabrous petioles), extending onto vein ribs on the underside, and stems.  Reddish winter leaves and petioles are less hairy or hairless.  In their natural habitat, a plant typically has few leaves and flowering stems as a result of its tight living quarters.  Leaves reach 8 to 10 inches in length while flowering stems reach two feet.

Flower stems appear in April and May with flowers on the upper third of sticky stems.  Greenish, bell-shaped, drooping flowers (¼ inch long) occur in loose, slender, branching clusters (panicles); usually 4-5 flowers on each branch.  Pistils and stamens extend noticeably outside the petals and are greenish and pinkish.  Tiny seed, produced in capsules, mature in summer.  Spent flowering stems lay on the ground into the next year.

American alumroot works well in shady to partially sunny gardens that have well drained sandy or rocky soil.  In a garden, plants are durable, being adaptable to cold temperatures and dry conditions.  With more room to grow, garden plants form a thick and attractive (foot-or-more-wide and tall) mound of leaves and can work well as individual plants or in groups.   Garden plants may produce many flowering stems, up to 3 feet tall, that create a lacy form above mounded leaves.   The almost evergreen nature of the plants are an attribute over stark winter months.  Dead flowering stems can be easily removed, if desired.  (Various Heuchera species hybridize readily and many cultivars are on the market.)

Photo 1 – In natural habitat in winter; reddish new leaves with old leaves and stems remaining.

American alumroot in winter, growing in natural habitat; reddish new leaves with old leaves and stems remaining.


Photo 2 – In natural habitat in summer while in bloom.

American alumroot in bloom in late spring, growing in the wild.


Photo 3 – In garden habitat in spring; a significantly larger plant with many stems.

American alumroot growing in a home native plant garden in mid-spring; a significantly larger plant with many flowering stems.


Photo 4 – Seed capsules.

American alumroot seed capsules.

Several other alumroots are also found in Arkansas.  A variety of hairy alumroot (Heuchera villosa), called Arkansas alumroot (var. arkansana), is reported to occur only in Arkansas.  It is generally found on moist, shady bluff areas of the Ozarks on shale and sandstone substrates.  It has large leaves with more jagged, pointed margins, and it blooms in the fall with flowers clustered tightly on shorter stems.

Photo 5 – Arkansas alumroot, blooming in fall, has tight flower clusters on short stems.

Arkansas alumroot, blooming in fall, has tight flower clusters on short stems.

Small-flower alumroot (Heuchera parviflora var. puberula), grows primarily in the north-central part of the state.  It also blooms in the fall, but has smaller, rounded leaves and a more diffuse inflorescence.  It grows primarily on moist, calcareous bluffs.

Article and photos by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

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Know Your Natives – False Solomon’s seal

False Solomon’s seal (with a comparison to Solomon’s seal)

False Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum) of the traditional Liliaceae (Lily Family) grows in all states of the U.S. except Hawaii, as well as throughout most of Canada and in northern Mexico, with an eastern and a western subspecies recognized.  In Arkansas, false Solomon’s seal is found primarily in the highlands of the northwestern half of the state as well as in scattered nearby counties and on Crowley’s Ridge.  Its natural habitat is shaded woodlands and forests with slightly moist soil.  The plant has branched rhizomes, so that clumps often form over time.  Other common names include Solomon’s plume and false spikenard.

Unbranched, medium-green, arching stems from 2-3 feet have similarly colored, alternate, oval to elliptic leaves (Photo 1). Leaves, generally horizontal to the main stem, have very short petioles and fewer parallel major veins (as compared to Solomon’s seal), but sometimes with many secondary veins.  The stem bends at upper leaf nodes so that the upper portion is slightly zigzag.  The smooth stalk becomes ridged between upper leaves and into the inflorescence.

False Solomon’s seal blooms in mid-spring and the inflorescence, a terminal panicle (flowers on pedicels attached on secondary racemes), consists of small, creamy-white flowers (Photo 2).  The star-shaped flowers are dominated by large anthers.  Round berries are green at first and change to a complex pattern of pink/red and then to ruby red (Photo 3).

Photo 1 - Mature plants in bloom

Photo 1 – Mature false Solomon’s seal in bloom

Photo 2 - Terminal panicle

Photo 2 – Terminal panicle of false Solomon’s seal

Photo 3 – Ripening berries

Photo 3 – Ripening berries of false Solomon’s seal

Solomon’s seal (compared to false Solomon’s seal)

True Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum), also of the traditional Liliaceae (Lily Family), occurs in similar habitats to false Solomon’s seal but is absent from most of the western states.  Occurrence in Arkansas by county is similar to false Solomon’s seal, but this species, which may be twice as tall as false Solomon’s seal, grows in moister soils of woods as well as along streams and in sunnier valleys.  The common name is based on the appearance of stem scars on the branching rhizomes (Photo 4).  Leaves, with many major and secondary parallel veins, are sessile and arch upward from the stem.  Solomon’s seal also blooms in mid-spring.  Two or more greenish-white, elongate, bell-shaped flowers dangle from long, thin stalks growing from the axil of each leaf along the length of the stem (Photo 5).  Round, green berries change to a dark blue with a whitish film at maturity (Photo 6).

Prior to blooming, the stem and leaf shape of both species are similar, but they can usually be determined by noting plant size, number and spacing of leaf veins, as well as attachment and angle of leaves to stem.

For gardens, both species are attractive and add variety with their interesting growth habits and texture from spring into fall.  Solomon’s seal spreads readily by rhizomes, though, and may be too aggressive for some gardens.

Photo 4 – Branched rhizome showing stem scars

Photo 4 – Branched rhizome of Solomon’s seal showing stem scars

Photo 5 – Bell-Shaped flowers hang loosely

Photo 5 – Bell-shaped flowers of Solomon’s seal

Photo 6 – Mature berries and fall foliage

Photo 6 – Mature berries and fall foliage of Solomon’s seal

(Note:  Some non-flowering bellwort (Uvularia spp.) plants are similar in appearance to non-flowering false Solomon’s seal and Solomon’s seal, possibly causing confusion.)

Photo 7 – Branched stem of a mature large-flowered bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora) in bloom.

Photo 7 – Branched stem of a mature large-flowered bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora) in bloom.

Article and pictures by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

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Know Your Natives – Pussytoes

Pussytoes (Antennaria parlinii) of the Asteraceae (Aster) Family, occurs throughout most of Arkansas, especially in northwestern and central portions of the state.  It also occurs from Texas to the Dakotas and eastward to the Atlantic.

Flowering stems among old basal leaves.  Stems initially recumbent, then upright.

Emerging flowering stems among old basal leaves of pussytoes. Stems initially recumbent, then upright.

These perennial, low-growing plants are usually found in sunny to shady, dry sites including rocky slopes, open oak, hickory and pine woodlands and prairies.

Nectar source for an over-wintering mourning cloak.

Pussytoes as a nectar source for an over-wintering mourning cloak.

Pussytoes form colonies growing from stolons (horiztonal stems above ground that root at nodes…as opposed to rhizomes which are horizontal, root-like stems underground, which can be found on some species of pussytoes outside of Arkansas).  New basal leaves appear in a rosette after flowering has started and while old leaves are still present (unless unusually cold winter).   Basal leaves are spoon-shaped with long petioles and three to five prominent veins from petiole to tip. 

Basal leaf with American lady butterfly.

Basal leaf of pussytoes with caterpillar of American lady butterfly.

The pale green leaves have long white, tangled hairs on the upper surface and dense white, short tangled hairs on the lower surface.  Leaves are about three inches long and two inches wide.

Flower stems are generally less than 12 inches tall, sparsely leafy and woolly.  Stem (cauline) leaves are sparse and alternate with a linear shape and a point at the tip.  Upper and lower surfaces of stem leaves are woolly.

Pussytoes bloom in early spring with small whitish flowers crowded into a tight, terminal fuzzy cluster (corymb), less than ½ inch wide, of four to twelve flower heads giving the appearance of a cat’s paw, hence the common name.

Achenes poised to disperse. Also looks like a cat’s paw?

Achenes (seeds) of pussytoes poised to disperse.

Flower heads are composed of 20 to 100 tubular florets supported in a receptacle of small leaf-like bracts (involucre).  Male and female flowers grow on separate plants (dioecious).  Male flowers are on shorter stems than female flowers and male flower clusters are rounded.  Female flowers are on taller stems and clusters are more elongated with pink to red styles extended above the florets.  Seeds (achenes) are equipped with hairs for wind dispersal.  Seeds disperse quickly and the stems wither by early summer.

Pussytoes colony after seed dispersal.

Pussytoes colony after seed dispersal.

Pussytoes are an excellent choice for native plant gardens with partial sun and well drained sandy/rocky soil.  Plants provide an attractive ground cover by adding texture and color.  It’s also a host plant for American lady butterflies (Vanessa virginiensis) and a nectar plant for various other butterflies and moths.  (Photos taken in a garden setting.)

Nectar source for juniper hairstreak and grapevine epimenis.

Pussytoes flowers are a nectar source for various butterflies and moths, such as juniper hairstreak and grapevine epimenis.

Two other species of pussytoes grow in Arkansas.  Antennaria plantaginifolia, also generally just called ‘pussytoes’, looks nearly identical to A. parlinii and is dificult to distinguish.  It differs primarily in chromosome numbers and flower size (on the order of a few milimeters).  Antennaria neglecta (field pussytoes) has leaves with a single vein and is rare in Arkansas, restricted to tallgrass prairies in the northwestern part of the state but also known from one historic record from the Grand Prairie of eastern Arkansas.

Article and photos by Sid Vogelpohl, ANPS member

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