Know Your Natives – Starry Campion

Starry campion (Silene stellata) of the Caryophyllaceae (Pink or Carnation) Family is found throughout the eastern United States from North Dakota and Texas, eastward to the Atlantic Coast.  In Arkansas, starry campion is found throughout the Interior Highlands (Ozark Mountains, Arkansas Valley and Ouachita Mountains), as well as on Crowley’s Ridge.  It occurs in light shade or partial sun in both upland and lowland woods, savannas, prairies and on stream banks, in soils ranging from moist (mesic) to dry (xeric) loam and clay-loam with or without rocks.

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White, fringed petals and star-shaped calyx of starry campion.

Starry campion, aka widow’s frill, is an herbaceous, loosely-branched perennial plant that grows one to three feet tall.  Plants consist of one or multiple stems arising from the crown of a thick, branched root-stock.  The stems are branched only within the inflorescence. Lower portions of the stems are purplish, becoming less purplish above, though retaining the purplish color at leaf nodes.  Elsewhere, the round stems are pale green and hairless to short, soft hairy.  Stems with inflorescences often tend to lean, unless supported.

Leaves are opposite near the ground and in whorls of four higher up the stem and into the inflorescence.  They are sessile (no petiole), acuminate (taper to a point), lance-shaped to elliptic, and entire (smooth margins).  The leaves, up to four inches long and one and a half inches wide, have an upper surface that is medium green and glabrous (hairless) while the lower surface is paler and glabrous to finely pubescent (with soft hairs).

The inflorescence of starry campion, a terminal pyramidal panicle, consists of a main stem and a number of irregularly spaced branches carrying one to six or more flowers per branch.  Branches arise first from above whorled leaves near the top of the plant, then above paired leaves higher up and then, at the very top, flowers occur individually.  Flowers open across the entire inflorescence simultaneously (rather than strictly from top to bottom or vice versa), with some buds delayed for an extended bloom.  Flowers (up to ¾” wide) open in the evening and close with bright sun.  They have five white petals; three white, wispy, hair-like styles; ten white, hair-like stamens; and a light green bell-shaped calyx (formed by fused sepals) with five broad, often flaring, triangular points around the rim (giving a star-like appearance).  Petals, deeply fringed in the flared upper portions, remain flared into the calyx, where they quickly taper to stalk-like bases.  Calyxes are light green and hairless to finely pubescent on the outside and are marked with 10 darker green lines.  They conceal a round, stalked ovary.  Petals and stamens are attached below the stalked ovary (ovary in superior position).  Smooth, green, rounded but flattened capsules (about twice the size of a BB) develop within the loosely enveloping calyxes.  Capsules, maturing in late summer, contain up to about 20 small kidney-shaped seeds attached to a central placenta.

Starry campion is a good candidate for a native plant garden.  It adapts well to a partly sunny site with good drainage and can survive dry periods. Early spring growth and white flowers in early summer are eye-catching.  Its whorled leaves, fringed white petals, notable calyx, and considerable height provide interesting structure.  In a small space it may need support.  Starry campion propagates by seed only and is not invasive.

Note:  Three other species somewhat similar to starry campion and found in northern Arkansas are white campion (Silene latifolia), bladder campion (Silene vulgaris) and ovate-leaf catchfly (Silene ovata).  All three lack whorled leaves.  White campion and bladder campion are introduced species and do not have fringed petals.  Ovate-leaf catchfly is native, has narrower fringed petals and broad, opposite leaves.

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 Photo 1:  Early spring.  Erect stems of starry campion with near-ground opposite leaves and whorled leaves higher up.

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Photo 2:  Early summer.  Clasping leaves located just below swollen nodes.  Stem and nodes purple, but change to green higher up stem.

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Photo 3:  Flowers of each stem are in a loose terminal panicle.

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Photo 4:  Buds and flowers of starry campion at various stages of development on same branches.

Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

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Know Your Natives – Wild Yam

Wild Yam (Dioscorea villosa) of the  Dioscoreaceae  (Yam Family), occurs from Texas to Nebraska to Minnesota and states eastward to the Atlantic Coast.  In Arkansas, wild yam occurs statewide.   The plant, a monocot (one seed leaf), is a twining vine which prefers a moist habitat, but will also grow in drier areas.  Wild yam grows in a wide variety of habitats, ranging from borders of swamps, marshes, and lakes; to river and stream terraces; to open woodlands and savannas; moist, rocky, forested slopes; fencerows; and cleared easements.  Preferring light sun to partial sun, it can survive in heavier shade, but it is less likely to flower.  This deciduous, non-woody perennial grows from a thick rhizome which has been used for medicinal purposes.

A mature wild yam plant in the spring can stand freely (three or more feet) until it reaches support to twine around.  Multiple stems typically emerge from a single rhizome; some stems occasionally branch.  Spring growth matures to slender stems without tendrils or stem rootlets.  Wild yam climbs upward and outward seeking sufficient sunlight to spread out its leaves and to flower.  Height of plants tends to be seven feet or less as determined by age and availability of sunlight; however, length may sometimes reach 15 or more feet.   Stems are hairless (glabrous), varying from reddish with spring growth, then to green and yellow in fall.  Young, vigorously growing spring growth tends to be angular or narrowly ridged in cross-section, becoming round as stems mature.

Leaves of wild yam are fairly uniform, but leaf arrangement varies on a plant and from plant to plant.  Generally, whorls of five to six leaves are found near the base of the stem, with whorls of decreasing number of leaves extending up the stem, to the point that leaves sometimes become opposite but then eventually alternate toward the end of the vine.   Leaves are narrowly cordate (heart-shaped) to more broadly cordate with smooth margins and palmate veins (radiating from central point).  Veins (7-11 veins per leaf) extend from petiole attachment toward leaf margins and apex in an arcuate manner.  The upper leaf surface is medium green and glabrous, while the lower surface is pale green and may be covered with sparse or dense short hairs (the epithet “villosa” meaning “hairy”).  Slender petioles, which may be as long as the leaf blades, hold leaf blades upright for maximum sun exposure.

Wild yam is dioecious (male and female flowers occur on separate plants).  Flowers develop in early summer from leaf axils.  Male flowers, occurring in panicles four to twelve inches long, are arranged in small clusters of two to three flowers along branches.  A male flower, about 1/8″ across, consists of six whitish to yellowish-green sepals and stamens.  Five to 15 female flowers are widely and individually spaced along dangling racemes that may be three to nine inches long.  Female flowers, about 1/8″ across and 1/3″ long, consist of six whitish to yellowish-green sepals and a large inferior ovary with infertile stamens.

Female flowers are replaced by three-celled, strongly angled (or winged), ovoid capsules that usually contain two seeds or one seed per cell.   The capsules become golden-green and then brown with maturity and may remain on the plant into the following spring.  Flattened seed have broad wings suitable for wind dispersal.

Notes:  Wild yam (Dioscorea villosa) is the only native yam currently recognized in Arkansas.  However, some authorities have recognized whorled wild yam (Dioscorea quaternata) as distinct from the aforementioned species based on variations in leaf arrangement, cross-section of stems, and appearance of rhizomes.  Also found in Arkansas is cinnamon vine or Chinese yam (Dioscorea polystachya), a non-native invasive plant now especially common on stream and river terraces throughout the upland areas of the state.  Cinnamon vine grows from a tuber and has cordate to fiddle-shaped leaves which are usually alternate (sometimes opposite and very infrequently whorled).  The majority of cinnamon vines naturalized in North America are male, thus sexual reproduction is rare.  However, cinnamon vine spreads vegetatively via small, aerial bulbils (tubers) produced in the leaf axils, which are readily distributed by water.

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Photo 1:  Early spring growth of wild yam.  Note whorled leaves and smooth stems lower on plant and reddish stem at top of photo (see in Photo 2).

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Photo 2:   Upper stems of a female wild yam plant.  Note that upper portions are ridged, but becoming round as stem matures.  Flowers developing in leaf axils.

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Photo 3:    Flowering male wild yam supported by black gum and poison ivy.

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Photo 4:   Flowering female wild yam supported by sassafras.  Note characteristic leaf shape and venation.

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Photo 5:  Female wild yam with developing seed capsules.

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Photo 6:   Immature wild yam plant showing only basal leaves.  NOTE: At this stage, may be confused with species in the Smilax genus, such as carrion flower (Smilax lasioneura) .

Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

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Know Your Natives – Texas Dutchman’s-Pipe and Virginia Snakeroot

Texas Dutchman’s-pipe (Aristolochia reticulata) and Virginia snakeroot (Aristolochia serpentaria) are non-woody woodland perennials of the Aristolochiaceae (Birthwort) Family.  Mature plants can consist of a bundle of a few to numerous stems to 18 inches tall and bearing alternate leaves.  Stems are fairly uniform in size from top to bottom, but swollen at leaf junctions and becoming zigzag from leaf to leaf toward the top.  Leaf size is generally greatest mid-stem, tapering smaller toward the stem base and tip .  Plants are seen from early spring into late fall, but disappear above ground in winter.  Plants tend to occur singly and in limited numbers.

Short, weak flowering stems, which grow from the base of plants in mid-spring, are partially hidden by leaf litter.  Flowers are purplish to reddish with a tubular S-shaped calyx (corollas are absent), a shape characteristic of the genus.  Pollinator flies are trapped in the base of flowers by the constricted neck and inward-pointing nectar-bearing hairs until stamens mature (stigmas mature before stamens).  When stamens have matured, hairs wilt and flies leave carrying pollen to fertilize other plants.

Seeds form in round capsules that split into six segments at maturity in early summer.  Seeds have no means of self-transport and thus are released at the plant’s base.  Seeds are rounded and somewhat flattened, with tiny papillae (bumps or wrinkles) on the outside surface.  Seed dispersal is by birds and small mammals.

Texas Dutchman’s-pipe and Virginia snakeweed are important host plants for pipevine swallowtail butterflies.  By ingesting aristolochic acids in the plants, caterpillars and butterflies become unpalatable to predators.  (Adults of several other butterfly species mimic the appearance of pipevine swallowtails for their own defense.)

Texas Dutchman’s-pipe

Texas Dutchman’s-pipe is found in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana.  In Arkansas, it is found in scattered counties in the northwest, southwest and central portions of the state.  Plants grow in well-drained, rocky or sandy woodlands in partially shady to mostly sunny areas.  The entire plant is covered with short hairs.  Elongated, ovate to heart-shaped, thick leaves are deeply veined on top and deeply ribbed below.  The leaf surface between veins is flexed, giving the surface a rough-textured appearance.  The leaves appear to be perfoliate, but are actually on short petioles with lobes of the leaf bases wrapping around the stem.  The edges of leaves are entire and the apex is obtuse to rounded.  Each flowering stem has several flowers with each flower on a separate branch.

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Photo 1:  Texas Dutchman’s-pipe in mid-spring.

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Photo 2:  Caterpillars of pipevine swallowtail on Texas Dutchman’s-pipe.

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Photo 3:  Flowers of Texas Dutchman’s-pipe.

Virginia Snakeroot

Virginia snakeroot, once used to treat snake bites, occurs from Texas to Iowa and eastward to the Atlantic.  In Arkansas, it occurs statewide.  Plants grow in moist, well-drained woodlands in shady to lightly sunny areas.  The non-hairy stems may be branched near the base.  The stems of Virginia snakeroot are thinner and weaker than Texas Dutchman’s-pipe and may recline on the ground (decumbent).  The thin, slightly shiny, elongated to linear, heart-shaped, non-hairy leaves are on long petioles.  The lobes at the base of the leaves are flared toward the stem.  The edges of leaves are entire and the apex tapers gradually to a long, pointed tip.  Each flowering stem has one flower.

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Photo 4:    Virginia snakeroot in mid-spring.

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Photo 5:  Flowers of Virginia snakeroot.

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Photo 6:  Drying seed capsules of Virginia snakeroot.

Articles and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

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