Know Your Natives – Alder

Alder (Alnus serrulata) of the Birch (Betulaceae) family is a deciduous shrub found in the U.S. from Texas to Kansas to Maine and thence east and south to the borders.  This shrub, the only species in the Alnus genus in Arkansas, is found throughout most of the state except for portions of the Mississippi Alluvial Plain.  It grows in a wide variety of moist to wet soils in light shade to partial sun along banks of streams and ponds and bordering sloughs and wetlands.  The genus name is the Latin name for the alder.  The specific epithet refers to the toothed leaf margins (serrulate).  Our Arkansas species is also known as river alder, smooth alder, common alder and tag alder.

Alder is a multi-stemmed, suckering plant that may reach 15 feet tall, with stems up to 5 inches in diameter.  The suckering characteristic of the plant stabilizes stream banks from floods, and plants can be totally immersed during flooding without being uprooted.  Branching of lower stems and trunks is limited whereas upper branches and twigs are numerous.  Mature twigs and branches are terete (round), glabrous, waxy-smooth and brownish gray.  Main trunks of a mature plant have thin bark, but may become knobby and slightly roughened.  A symbiotic relationship exists between the alder and a bacterium, whereby (in root nodules) the shrub provides food and the bacterium provides nitrogen.  Alder is consumed by many insects and birds as well as deer and beaver.

Alder - Alnus serrulataPhoto 1:  Stems, trunks and green leaves of alder in flood zone of a perennial stream.  Trunk seen on right was taken by beaver.

Buds, appearing in late summer on short stalks (stipes) along current year’s growth, become the twigs of the next year.  These twig buds, covered by reddish valvate (without overlap) scales, have a match-head shape with a rounded to pointed tip.  In spring, light green pubescent slender twigs grow from these twig buds to produce simple leaves and, at ends of twigs, peduncles with catkins to bloom the next spring.  The peduncles grow from leaf axils protected by a leafy green stipule.  Twigs and peduncles become gray, with raised light gray lenticels (pores).

Alder has alternate, elliptic to obovate leaves with an upper surface that is medium green and glabrous and a lower surface that is slightly lighter green with light pubescence, especially along main veins.  Leaves, on pubescent 1-inch long petioles, have flat blades that are 2 to 4 inches long and 1 to 3 inches wide.  Margins of the simple leaves are crowded with small teeth, especially on the upper half, that are angled toward the tip (serrulate).  Leaf outline may be jagged to wavy, but still with teeth.  Side margins of leaves taper equally to base and apex with the base  being rounded to cuneate (wedge-shape) while the apex is rounded to obtuse and may terminate with a point.  Pinnate veins are prominent, with parallel lateral veins that are widely spaced and offset across main vein.  Veins of upper (adaxial) surface are sunken while on lower (abaxial) surface, veins are raised.  Blades are rugose (slightly elevated between veins) and appear somewhat leathery (coriaceous).  Leaves gradually drop from the plant into winter, with leaves on younger stems persisting longer.

Alder - Alnus serrulataPhoto 2:  Serrulate simple leaves with distinctive veins.  In late fall, male catkins (yellow arrow), female catkins (red arrow) and stalked buds (white arrow) for next year’s twigs are present.

Alder is monoecious (separate male and female flowers on same plant).  The developing inflorescences first begin to appear in late summer as dense spikes (catkins) composed of many inconspicuous flowers covered by floral scales.  Both sexes grow side-by-side in panicles of two to five catkins on separate peduncles at ends of twigs.  From fall into winter, male catkins are about 1 inch long while female catkins are about one-eighth inch long.  Male catkins are slender cylinders while female catkins are stubby erect cylinders which may appear similar to twig buds.  From fall into winter, the greenish male catkins are reddish on the sun-side while female catkins are reddish overall.

Actual blooming occurs in late winter to early spring before twig buds open.  With bloom, male catkins dangle, elongating to 4 inches, as floral scales that cover flowers loosen and catkins become yellow with pollen.  Female catkins expand to ½ inch long as flowers reach anthesis and reddish styles become exserted, causing the catkin to look prickly.  Pollination is by wind (anemophily).

Alder - Alnus serrulataPhoto 3:   In late winter, elongate dangling male catkins release pollen.  Erect female catkins can be seen at top of photo above the male catkins.  Stalked twig buds, still tightly closed, can be seen lower on stem.

After blooming, male catkins are shed while female catkins enlarge to form compound fruits (infructescences).  As seeds develop, female catkins become hard, shiny, green, ovoid, short-stemmed, cone-like structures with densely overlapping spiraling bracts along a central stem and a bumpy surface as scales thicken.

Alder - Alnus serrulataPhoto 4:  Upright female catkins in mid-fall.  Appearance dominated by floral scales protecting a spike of immature seeds.  Seeds occur above each scale.

Alder - Alnus serrulataPhoto 5:  Dangling male catkins in mid-fall.  Floral scales protect a spike of immature flowers.   Dangling position retained throughout bloom.

In late summer, the female “cones” become dark brown and woody, resembling small pine cones.  Bracts of the cones spread open and seeds (actually tiny 1-seeded fruits called achenes) are dispersed.  Empty cones remain on the plant into the following spring.  Achenes are flattened and obovate, with narrow wings around the edge with an indented base.  Achenes are dispersed by wind and flowing water.

Alder - Alnus serrulataPhoto 6:  In mid-February, the previous year’s empty dark brown seed cones remain while the current year’s dangling male catkins, stubby female catkins with exserted styles (red arrow), and stalked twig buds (white arrow) can be seen.

In summer, alder may be confused with Ozark witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) which has somewhat similar structure, height, bark and leaves, and grows in similar habitat in the Interior Highlands.  Read more about Ozark witch hazel here.

Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

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Know Your Natives – White avens

White avens (Geum canadense) of the Rose (Rosaceae) family occurs in the U.S. from Texas to Nebraska to Montana thence to the eastern and southern borders with the exception of Florida. In Arkansas, it is found throughout the state. Habitats include lightly shaded to partially sunny, moist deciduous woodlands, woodland borders, thickets and fence rows. Favorable sites have sandy to loamy, well-drained soils. The plant, an herbaceous perennial, consists of a thick mat of near-surface fibrous roots with a small caudex from which leaves and stems grow. Plants in bloom are 2 to 2 ½ feet tall.

Leaf appearance of white avens is variable. Basal leaves appear in early winter as a dense, ground-hugging rosette with the rosette expanding throughout winter as leaves grow and more leaves are added. Basal leaves are a blended combination of white, purple and green with lighter colors along veins. Basal leaves are pinnately compound with long peitoles and three or more leaflets. For early winter leaves, terminal leaflets are rounded and significantly larger than lateral leaflets which are of variable shape and size. Compound basal leaves of mid-winter have terminal leaflets that are more triangular with lateral leaflets becoming larger and more uniform. Leaf margins of the entire plant vary from coarsely serrate to shallowly to deeply cut. Leaf surface may be hairless to slightly hairy.

White Avens - Geum canadensePhoto 1: Basal leaves grow throughout the winter to reach their maximum size by late winter.

In spring, multiple leafy stems emerge from the dense basal rosette. Cauline (stem) petioled leaves are light green with lower leaves being alternate and trifoliate. Upper cauline leaves, on short petioles, become smaller and eventually simple and sessile toward the apex of the stem. A pair of toothed stipules, up to ½ inch long, occurs at the base of petioles of cauline leaves.

White Avens - Geum canadensePhoto 2: In early spring, multiple stems emerge with cauline leaves that differ significantly from basal leaves.

White Avens - Geum canadensePhoto 3: Shape of leaves transitions from complex winter leaves (far left) to more simple cauline leaves (left to right). Stipules are persistent.

Forming the inflorescence, stems divide into a small number of widely spaced peduncles about 3 inches long which further divide into shorter pedicels terminating with single flowers so that loose cymes are formed. Individual flowers may also develop from axils of cauline leaves. White avens flowers, maturing in mid-spring into summer, have triangular sepals that form a pointed bud with an enlarged base. Flowers open in a scattered sequence over a month or two. The half-inch wide flowers have five white, rounded petals interspersed with green, pointed sepals. Petals and sepals are about the same length. A clustered ring of many stamens with nodding whitish anthers surrounds a center composed of thirty to sixty pistils with elongated jointed styles. Sepals reflex as the flower matures. Stems are hairy, with hairs decreasing in length from bottom to top of stems. Basal leaves are usually gone by the time the plant is in flower.

White Avens - Geum canadensePhoto 4: With bloom, white avens is an open, leafy plant with long peduncles terminating in loose cymes.

White Avens - Geum canadensePhoto 5: Pointed buds with enlarged bases become flowers with rounded white petals, prominent triangular sepals and many stamens and pistils.

Late in the growing season, a half-inch round seed cluster develops from the many styles/stigmas.  At first green, the cluster and stems become brown and can persist on the plant for several months. The thin, dry, flattened 1-seeded fruits (achenes) have hooked tips allowing them to latch onto fur of passing animals (or socks of humans) for dispersal. Colonies may form from seed about a parent plant.

White Avens - Geum canadensePhoto 6: The number of seed clusters on a plant is relatively small, but each cluster consists of numerous seeds.

In a garden setting, this prolific self-seeder may become too numerous unless seeds are removed before maturity. However, it is an attractive plant year-long. Flowers are used by various bees, wasps, flies and aphids.

Two other species traditionally treated within the genus are found in Arkansas; namely, spring avens (Geum vernum) and cream avens (Geum virginanum), although barren-strawberry (Walsteinia fragaroides), a rare plant in Arkansas known only from a few north-central sites, has recently been transferred to Geum by some authorities. Spring and cream avens are both limited mostly to the Ozarks, with a few upland occurrences in the Arkansas Valley. Principal characteristics of both plants are similar to white avens; however, petals of spring avens are yellow and the cream to yellowish petals of cream avens are significantly smaller than its sepals.  Additionally, the seed clusters of spring avens are held above the calyx atop an extra stalk, while cream avens is generally a larger and more robust plant with significantly larger stipules.

Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

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Know Your Natives – Christmas Fern

Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) of the Wood Fern (Dryopteridaceae) family prefers shady areas of deciduous woodlands and embankments with well drained, moist sandy to rocky soils. Christmas fern is found throughout much of the eastern half of the U.S., westward to Texas, Kansas and Minnesota. In Arkansas, it occurs statewide. Ferns in this family have round sori (singular: sorus, the technical term for a “fruit-dot” or cluster of spore-producing sporangia) occurring in rows, thus, the genus name which means “many rows.” This medium size “coarser” fern has large glossy green fronds (leaves) throughout the year making it ideal for Christmas decorations, including wreaths.

Christmas fern in a natural setting is found as individual plants in loose colonies or widely spaced individual plants. Plants have an upright central rootstock from which fronds grow in fountain fashion. Clumps of this long-lived fern increase in size over time, but the plant retains an overall circular shape. These large, easily noticed plants represent the sporophyte phase of the fern life cycle, during which spores are released to germinate into the tiny (about thumb-nail sized) gametophyte phase, during which gametes (sperm and egg) are produced. The gametes fuse at fertilization to form a new sporophyte plant. (A remarkable characteristic of this phase of the fern life cycle is that the sperm actually swim–in rainwater or a film of dew–to find and fertilize the egg.)

The rootstock of the sporophyte has one to several growth points with a group of fronds from each position. New fronds in early spring appear as tightly curled, silvery spirals referred to as fiddleheads* which uncurl to produce pinnate fronds. Fronds, up to two feet long and four inches wide, are robust, having 40 to 60 leathery, glabrous pinnae (leaflets) per frond. Overall shape of fronds is lanceolate with greatest width at mid-frond. Pinnae, with very short off-centered petiolules (stalks) that are perpendicular to the lighter green colored rachis (main axis of frond), are mostly alternate, but may appear to be opposite or actually be opposite. The upper pinnae surface is dark green while the lower surface is a lighter green similar to the rachis. Pinnae, up to 2 inches long, are undivided (as compared to once-, twice-, and even thrice-divided pinnae of other ferns) with serrated to entire margins. Each pinna has a characteristic single auricle (ear-like lobe) on the up-rachis side. From mid-rachis, spacing between pinnae gradually increases toward the petiole and decreases toward frond apex. Pinnae near the acuminate apex overlap. The lowest pair of pinnae is bent downward. Fronds have rachises (midribs) with a central shallow groove. Petioles and rachises are covered with dense, persistent light brown scales and filaments, much more so near the rootstock. Sterile and fertile fronds are erect to arching in spring, but by winter and during dry periods, fronds lie closer to the ground, often totally prostrate. With new fronds having grown, old fronds quickly become dry and soon lost in the duff (leaf litter).

Christmas Fern - Polystichum acrostichoidesPhoto 1: Tightly curled fiddleheads of Christmas fern in mid-March are well protected from the elements by scales and hairs.

Christmas Fern - Polystichum acrostichoidesPhoto 2: Fiddleheads in late March uncurling in response to warming temperatures.

Christmas Fern - Polystichum acrostichoidesPhoto 3: In early April, new fronds are mostly uncurled and erect while older, reclined fronds remain green for a short time.

Fronds are either fertile or sterile. Fertile fronds, surrounded by sterile fronds, stand more erect and are longer. Sori, also called fruit-dots, occur in two rows on the underside of pinnae on the upper third of fertile fronds. These spore-bearing pinnae are significantly smaller than other pinnae on the plant. This abrupt change of pinna size on fertile fronds is characteristic of Christmas fern. The upper portion of fertile fronds slowly withers after the indusium (protective cover over sporangia) dries and dust-like spores have been released.

Christmas Fern - Polystichum acrostichoidesPhoto 4: Upper surface of a sterile frond (left) and a fertile frond (right). Note the auricles, off-centered petiolules and smaller sporangium-bearing pinnae.

Christmas Fern - Polystichum acrostichoidesPhoto 5: Lower surface of same sterile and fertile fronds as in Photo 4. In this mid-November photo, the spores have already been released from the sporangia in the two rows of sori.

Christmas fern is ideal in a shady garden, in the shade of a wall or for shady naturalized areas where well drained, moist soils are found. Other than providing shelter for wildlife, the fern is not noted for providing significant other benefits to wildlife. However, its year-round strong character and long-term dependability as a clumping-fern makes it an ideal accent plant. Additionally, with arching leaves and retained old leaves, the plant can provide erosion control on slopes. Christmas fern is deer resistant. Fronds may be used in flower arrangements at Christmas or any other time of the year.

* Unfurled fronds referred to as “fiddleheads” based on appearance being similar to ornamentation on violins. Also referred to as “croziers” based on appearance being similar to shepherd’s staff.

Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

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Know Your Natives – Spicebush

Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) of the Laurel (Lauraceae) family occurs in the U.S. from Texas to Nebraska to Michigan thence east and south. In Arkansas, the species occurs statewide. The genus name recognizes 18th century Swedish botanist, Johann Linder. The specific epithet derives from the Arabic for “aromatic gum.” Other common names include northern spicebush and wild allspice.

This deciduous understory shrub, 6 to 10 feet tall and equally wide, with multiple spreading slender stems, forms a dense clump. It prefers full to partial shade in moist to wet, fertile, loamy soils found in wooded bottomlands, floodplains, seeps and on rich slopes. New-season branches are light green, transitioning to tan the second year, then to a shiny brown with small raised white spots that allow aeration (lenticels). Older main stems become dark brown and bumpy. In dry summers, some or all stems may dieback to the roots; however, with improved soil moisture, regrowth occurs. Stems, leaves and fruit are strongly and pleasantly fragrant. This dioecious shrub (separate male and female plants) blooms in early spring before the leaves expand.

Alternate, entire (smooth edged) and rather thick leaves are a medium green on upper surface and lighter on lower surface. Leaves, up to 5 inches long and 2½ inches wide, are oblong-elliptical and broadest just above mid-leaf. Smaller leaves tend to be more oval. Leaves are tapered at both ends with the base being more gently tapered. Petioles are up to a half-inch long. Leaves become yellow in fall.

Spicebush - Lindera benzoinPhoto 1: In mid-November, leaves may still be showy. Round brown buds (red arrows) produce a cluster of flowers the following spring.

Round flower buds on current year’s growth become apparent in late fall at most leaf axils. The brown exterior scales on buds falls off as flower clusters develop in early spring. Up to six flowers per cluster, on short smooth pedicels, grow from a common point. Male flowers, less than one-fourth inch wide, have nine stamens while female flowers have up to 18 staminodes (sterile stamens) surrounding the pistil. Stamens and staminodes are exserted (projected beyond the petals). Color of pedicels, sepals and flower parts have slight variations of light yellow.

Spicebush - Lindera benzoinPhoto 2: By mid-March, the large open shrubs produce numerous flower clusters on previous year’s growth.

Spicebush - Lindera benzoinPhoto 3: Flowers open while new leaves are mostly absent. Lenticels are scattered along stems.

Flowers of female plants produce an elongated ovoid drupe (fleshy mesocarp with one stone, like a peach), less than half-inch long, that changes from a shiny green to bright shiny red in late summer into fall. The red drupes are especially noticeable as leaves change to yellow and fall off. The fruit is relished by wildlife.

Spicebush - Lindera benzoinPhoto 4: In early September, fruit becomes red. Note a more heavily fruited stem in shadow at upper left.

Spicebush - Lindera benzoinPhoto 5: In mid-November, all leaves have dropped. Note lenticels on these smaller branches, as compared to larger branch in Photo 3.

For a shaded or partially sunny large garden or natural area with moist soil, spicebush should be welcomed. In late winter, the wispy-looking inflorescence seen at a distance is a valid sign of spring. Spicebush may become lost among summer’s greenery, but with late summer into fall, the yellow leaves and red fruit are striking. Spicebush is a significant host plant for Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus) and occasional host plant for Promethean Silkmoth (Callosamia promethea).

A second species in the genus found in Arkansas is pondberry (Lindera melissifolia). This endangered species is one of five in the state that are listed as “endangered” or “threatened” by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act. It is a smaller and clonal shrub of wetter habitats (bottomland hardwood forests and sand ponds).  Pondberry leaves are more elongated and tapered at the tip and the fruits are slightly larger.  Pondberry is also found in Missouri and Mississippi, historically in Louisiana, and from Alabama to North Carolina. In Arkansas, it is limited to the far northeastern portion of the state and a small area in the southeast. Other common names for pondberry include southern spicebush and hairy spicebush.

Pondyberry - Lindera melissifoliaPhoto 6: ANPS Members, including Eric Sundell and Brent Baker, examine pondberry, a close relative of spicebush, during an ANPS field trip on May 6, 2012. Eric and Brent are botanists who serve as editors of Know Your Natives.

Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl, except for Photo 6 by member Jeanette Vogelpohl

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Know Your Natives – Strawberry Bush

Strawberry bush (Euonymus americanus) of the Bittersweet (Celastraceae) family is also known as hearts-a-bursting-with-love, bursting-heart and brook euonymus.  It is found in the eastern U.S. from Texas to Illinois to New York and south to the borders, including throughout most of Arkansas.  Its natural habitat has moderately moist soil and partial shade, such as along streams and rivers and in open woods.  The genus name relates to the spindle tree of Europe which is noted for its useful wood, but is also poisonous; thus, named for mother of the Furies (Euonyme) of Greek mythology.  The common names are descriptive of the fruit or habitat.

Strawberry bush is a deciduous, upright shrub with open structure and dark green stems that can grow 6 to 8 feet tall.  The plant has a compact shape with straight new and old growth while internal branches are arched.  New stems are 4-sided and twist almost 90 degrees from one pair of leaves to the next.  The twisted 4-sided stems become straight and round during the next year’s growth.  Opposite branches and twigs are smooth and dark green while older main trunks become marbled with brown as trunks enlarge.  New plants are naturally established by rooting of low branches in duff,  rooting of unbranched near-ground off-shoots, and from seed.  Thickets may form.

Opposite, lanceolate to ovate leaves vary from entire to serrate.  Serrations are crinkled.  Leaves, on short petioles, are slightly leathery to papery and are up to 3 inches long and 1 inch wide.  Adaxial (upper) leaf surface is a dark green, same as stems, while abaxial (lower) surface is lighter green.  In fall, leaves change to light green and then to white.

Inflorescences, in mid-May, grow from leaf axils of current year’s growth.  Thin, weak peduncles, growing to about one inch long, support one to three round, somewhat convex flowers which lie directly on subtending leaves.  Flowers, in pale shades of white, green and pink, are about 1/3 inch in diameter.  Flowers have a conspicuous domed center surrounded by five ovate petals.  Five stamens around the edge of the dome and a pistil at the center protrude a short distance above the domed center.  Five short. broadly rounded, joined sepals are mostly hidden behind petals.  With fertilization, petals fall and the ovary enlarges to protrude above what was the domed center as the center retracts behind the ovary to form a small circular, indented space about the pedicel.

Strawberry bush - Euonymus americanusPhoto 1:  In mid-May, axillary flower clusters of strawberry bush are in bloom.  Peduncles bear one to three flowers.

Strawberry bush - Euonymus americanusPhoto 2:  Coloration of flowers is subtle.  Note protruding stamens (red arrow) and pistils (green centers).  Lighter colored area immediately around pistils outlines the ovaries.

Immature seeds (ovules) develop within a green, rounded, and muricated (covered with short, sharp points) fruit that matures as a red, half-inch-diameter capsule by mid fall.  Capsules typically have five chambers.  With full maturity, the red capsules split at each mid-chamber and open wide so that enclosed seeds with smooth, bright orange-red coverings (arils) are left dangling from short fibers.  With age, open capsules become brown, while seeds remain dangling and brightly colored.  By the time capsules become black, most seeds have been removed or dropped off.  Each seed is up to ¼ inch long and bean-shaped.

Strawberry bush - Euonymus americanusPhoto 3:  In mid-June, green muricated capsules are present.  Remnants of domed center (red arrow) can be seen below one capsule.

Strawberry bush - Euonymus americanusPhoto 4:  First-year twigs are four-sided and twisted (white arrow).  Remnants of domed center of flower form an indented space at base of capsule (yellow arrow).  Characteristics of leaves, stem, fruit and seed are shown.

For deer-free gardens or natural areas with dependable soil moisture and partial shade, strawberry bush is a great ornamental, shade-loving shrub.  Noted for its fall color (dark green branches, red fruit and seeds, and whitish leaves), it also has nice presence year-round.  Plants can be started from seed or by transplanting rooted branches or off-shoots.  The plant is a favorite forage species for deer.  Seeds are considered poisonous to humans.

Strawberry bush - Euonymus americanusPhoto 5:  Strawberry bush is showy in fall with great color and textural variety.

Two other native species of the genus occur in Arkansas, namely wahoo or burning bush (Euonymus atropurpureus) and running strawberry bush (Euonymus obovatus).  In comparison to strawberry bush, wahoo has larger leaves, larger stature, longer peduncles with more flowers that are purple and four-petaled, and smooth pinkish-purple capsules.  Also in comparison to strawberry bush, running strawberry bush differs in that it has trailing stems and leaves that are broadest above the middle (obovate).  Two non-native, invasive species known to escape in Arkansas are winged euonymus or burning bush (Euonymus alatus), with its distinctive squared and usually winged stems; and winter creeper (Euonymus fortunei), a tree-climbing vine.

Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

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Know Your Natives – Yellow wingstem

Yellow wingstem or yellow ironweed (Verbesina alternifolia) of the aster (Asteraceae ) family is found in the U.S. from Texas to Nebraska to Wisconsin and thence east and south.  In Arkansas, the species is found throughout much of the state, though is less frequent in the Mississippi Alluvial and West Gulf Coastal Plains.  The genus name perhaps alludes to a Verbena-like appearance, although the exact etymology is unknown, while the specific epithet refers to the plant’s mostly alternate leaves (note, though, that some plants may have a few or primarily opposite leaves).  The common name “yellow wingstem” may be confused with other species in the genus (see end of article for a short discussion on the other species).

Yellow wingstem is an herbaceous, erect, clump-forming but sometimes rhizhomatous perennial that reaches heights of 4 to 8 feet.  It occurs in fertile, sandy to rocky mesic soils of floodplains, woodlands, thickets, ditches and prairies. Its scabrous (rough-hairy) stems may be winged, partially winged or without wings. Stems are light to medium green with purplish coloration at leaf nodes or along entire stems. Stems are branched in the inflorescence only.  Upon flowering, stems can become less erect.

Lanceolate to narrowly ovate leaves, about 10 inches long and 2½ inches across, taper from mid-leaf to both an acute to acuminate point and a narrowly winged petiole.  Lower leaves may be opposite while upper leaves and those in flowering branches are usually alternate.  Leaf margins are smooth below mid-leaf and slightly serrated above mid-leaf.  The upper surface is dull medium-green and scabrous while the lower surface is light green and less rough with white hairs along major veins.  When stems are winged, narrow bands of leaf blade tissue extend down the stem (decurrent) to the leaf directly below.  If stems are not winged, leaf blade tissue stops at the stem (sessile leaf) or a petiole may be present.

Yellow wingstem - Verbesina alternifoliaPhoto 1:  This yellow wingstem plant, which does not have wings, has a scabrous stem with purple nodes and upper stem.  Also on this plant, lower leaves are opposite.

Yellow wingstem - Verbesina alternifoliaPhoto 2:  This winged plant is nearly hairless.  Purple coloration between green wings extends along leaf rib.

In late summer to early fall, stems have a loose panicle of composite flowers on branches near the top of the plant.  A few to a half-dozen or so flower heads on scabrous peduncles occur on each branch.  Flower heads are 1 to 2 inches across, each with up to 10 reflexed, yellow ray florets (ligules) and several to 30 fertile disk florets.  Rays, rather haphazardly arranged, have a notch at the end.  Disk florets consist of five-lobed, tubular extended yellow corollas that have sharply reduced green bases.  Disk florets, with five stamens with white filaments and purple anthers, are tightly compressed so that they appear to be one.  Stamens initially totally enclose the pistil so that, when stamens emerge from the corolla, the pistil is not evident.  As a flower further matures, stamens wilt back into the corolla tube, the pistil emerges from the corolla, and the stigma becomes bifurcated (divided).  Corolla tubes of matured flowers, with enclosed wilted stamens, quickly drop off the inferior ovary to expose developing green fruits.  Each flower head is surrounded by a calyx-like involucre composed of several rows of loosely arranged, elongated, acuminate phyllaries (bracts).  Flower heads, excluding the rays, have a spherical shape.

Yellow wingstem - Verbesina alternifoliaPhoto 3:  Long, widely spreading branches of the inflorescence and extended disk florets on spherical flower heads are characteristic of the plant.

Yellow wingstem - Verbesina alternifoliaPhoto 4:  Flower head on left displays haphazard ray floret  arrangement, tubular disk florets, compressed stamens and forked stigmas.  Flower head on right (upside down) shows phyllaries of involucre and developing one-seeded fruit (red arrow) just after corolla tubes dropped off.

A single indehiscent (not splitting), one-seeded fruit (achene) is produced by each disk floret.  Achenes have a flattened ovate shape with tapered ends, side wings and two short awns (bristles) at the tip.  Mature achenes can be easily removed by brushing against the awns.  Loosened achenes may be dispersed by strong wind or carried by birds and other animals.

Yellow wingstem - Verbesina alternifoliaPhoto 5:  Spherical nature of flower head remains as achenes mature.  Drying achenes easily brushed off head are at upper center of photo.

For a garden, this plant can be easily grown from seed.  Considering the plant’s height and its tendency to sway over with flowering, yellow wingstem is probably best suited as a background planting in a larger natural garden.  It does best in moist soils, but can survive some dry periods.  It is a good food source for insects and birds.  It is not favored by deer.


Five species in the genus Verbesina are found in Arkansas, several having common names that may cause confusion.  The three common species are:

  1. Yellow Wingstem or Yellow Ironweed (Verbesina alternifolia) which may or may not have wings and blooms in late summer.
  2. Yellow Crownbeard or Yellow Wingstem (Verbesina helianthoides) which is always winged and blooms in early summer.
  3. Frostweed or White Crownbeard (Verbesina virginica) which is always winged and has white flowers.

Two other species are rarely encountered:

  1. Rayless Crownbeard or Walter’s Crownbeard (Verbesina walteri) is a rare native found on Rich and Black Fork Mountains in Polk County; it resembles Verbesina alternifolia but has white flower heads and lacks ray petals.
  2. Cowpen Daisy or Golden Crownbeard (Verbesina encelioides) is a western species believed to be introduced to Arkansas at a few widely scattered locations; it is a yellow-flowered, short-stature annual with auricles on the leaf bases and lacking stem wings.

Leaves of Verbesina alternifolia and Verbesina helianthoides have a similar appearance.

Yellow wingstem - Verbesina alternifoliaPhoto 6:  Upper and lower leaf surfaces: #1 – Verbesina alternifolia, #2 – Verbesina helianthoides and #3 – Verbesina virginica.

Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

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Know Your Natives – Forked Blue-curls

Forked blue-curls (Trichostema dichotomum) of the Mint (Lamiaceae) Family is an herbaceous annual.  It occurs throughout much of the eastern U.S. from Texas to Iowa and Michigan, to Maine and thence eastward and southward.  In Arkansas, it is found throughout much of the state except for the bulk of the Mississippi Alluvial Plain.  The genus name refers to the “hairlike stamens,” and the specific epithet refers to the forked stigma.  The common name also alludes to the forked stigma as well as the blue flowers and bent (curled) stamens.

This plant, germinating in early summer, resembles a garden petunia before axillary branching occurs.  Forked blue-curls, reaching a height of 2 feet or more, have slightly square stems and branches.  Opposite branches and leaves are densely covered with short downy hairs (pubescent) and are slightly sticky.  Plants, other than flowers, are an overall light green color.  Their preferred habitat is well-drained soils of open woods, glades, prairies, and disturbed sites, often on sandy substrates.

Forked Blue Curls - Trichostema dichotomumPhoto 1:  Forked blue-curls plants have uniform color and overall pubescence during the growing season.  Photo taken mid-July.

Leaves are oblong to elliptic, thin and entire (no teeth) with largest leaves being up to 2½ inches long and half as wide.  Blades of leaves are somewhat undulated.  Leaves are widest at lower mid-leaf with a gentle taper to both the tip and petiole.  Pinnate veins of upper (adaxial) side of leaf blades are deeply depressed along mid-rib, creating a slight crease, and slightly depressed elsewhere, while veins on lower (abaxial) side are raised.  Crushed leaves have a lemony odor.

Forked Blue Curls - Trichostema dichotomumPhoto 2:  Leaf blade is entire and slightly creased along mid-rib.

Blooming in mid to late summer, the inflorescence consists of a panicle of cymes, with several flowers at the tips of the branches.  Each cyme, as well as individual flowers, is subtended by a pair of opposite leaves.  A cyme has a single flower growing from between a pair of leaves, then two additional branches grow from that same axil to produce flowers in the same plane.  The size of flowers decreases up the length of the cyme with those at the end not fully formed.  With three to seven flowers in a cyme and hundreds of cymes on a healthy plant, many seeds may be produced.

Forked Blue Curls - Trichostema dichotomumPhoto 3:  Flowering occurs at ends of opposite branches.  Cymes and individual flowers are each subtended by a pair of leaves.

Flowers, opening in early morning, drop petals and stamens by mid-day.  Flowers, on short pedicels, are ½ to ¾ inch long and half as wide, with five petals.  The lower petal is tongue-like and cupped while four upper petals are shorter, broadly rounded, and slightly pointed.  Upper petals are a uniform blue while the lower petal often has white shading with prominent dark spots, or occasionally the lower petal may be the same color as the other petals.  Four stamens, similarly colored as the petals, exsert (extend) dramatically from the corolla in a long curling group.  The pistil, with forked stigma and the same color as the stamens, is hidden within the stamen group.

Forked Blue Curls - Trichostema dichotomumPhoto 4:  Plant with spotted lower petals.  Some plants may not have spots.  Note developing nutlets inside calyx at arrow.

The calyx is composed of five unequally sized lobes, each with a prominent central vein and acuminate (gradually tapering) tip.  When in bud, three larger lobes are positioned over the bud as if to protect it.  As the flower reaches anthesis (fully open), the pedicel has bent noticeably upward so that the flower is positioned skyward for easier access by insects.  The repositioned calyx remains fixed while seeds mature.

Forked Blue Curls - Trichostema dichotomumPhoto 5:  Petals and stamens of flower on right have been removed to expose forked stigma.  Note that calyx is positioned over buds, but is rotated upward by the pedicel when flower is open (see Photo 4 also).

The lobed ovary produces four oblong to rounded nutlets (mericarps).  As soon as floral parts fall off, four green nutlets are clearly exposed.  Mature nutlets, 1/16 to 1/8 inch long and dark brown, have a pocked exterior surface and smooth interior surface.  After flowering is complete, all calyxes are uniformly up-turned and cuplike, having rotated 180 degrees from flower-bud stage.

Forked Blue Curls - Trichostema dichotomumPhoto 6:  Top of a forked blue-curls plant (central stem at red X).   A flower is typically located at the first divide of a branch (red arrow) from which point two sub-branches (yellow arrows) continue with additional flowers along those straight sub-branches.

In a garden setting, forked blue curls would be an interesting plant that is worth considering for an informal setting.  However, plants are late to appear in the growing season and flowers only bloom for a half-day.  Additionally, being an annual, plants can come up in various places in the garden from year to year.  Seedlings may also be prolific in a garden setting and may need thinning each year.

Another species of the genus is found in Arkansas, namely, false pennyroyal or fluxweed (Trichostema brachiatum), but it is restricted primarily to the Interior Highlands.  Overall plant structure of this annual is similar to forked blue-curls, but false pennyroyal has five blue petals of the same shape and size, calyx lobes of the same size, and shorter stamens that are not exserted.

Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

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Neat Plant Alert – Downy Gentian

Most people think of brilliantly colored foliage and perhaps fresh shelled local pecans when they think of fall in Arkansas. There’s more going on! Our native wildflowers are also putting on a final show. One of the showiest in the fall is Downy Gentian – Gentiana puberulenta.

Downy Gentian - Gentiana puberulenta
Downy Gentian prefers high quality prairies and glades and is found in scattered counties in the northern third of the state and a few counties in the central part of the state. It has a tolerance for dry soils that is uncommon for most gentians. Downy Gentian is considered rare in Arkansas and is tracked by the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission.

Downy Gentian - Gentiana puberulenta
The flowers are an intense sky blue with some variation in a local population. Some are deeper blue than others.

Downy Gentian - Gentiana puberulenta
These photos were taken October 11, 2015 at Baker Prairie Natural Area in Boone County

Article and photographs by ANPS member Eric Hunt

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Know Your Natives – Cardinal Flower

Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) of the Bellflower (Campanulaceae) family is a showy herbaceous perennial.  In the U.S., it occurs from California, Nebraska and Minnesota, southward and eastward.  In Arkansas, it occurs statewide.  Cardinal flower is found in year-round moist to wet soils along streams and lakes, prairie swales, springs, swamps, ditches and in low lying wooded areas.  It typically occurs in partially shaded areas, but is also found in sunnier areas near or in shallow water.  The genus name recognizes Matthaeus Lobelius, a Flemish 16th-century physician and botanist who is credited with being the first to attempt to classify plants by attributes other than their medicinal uses.  The specific epithet and common name likely associate the bright red color of the flower to red vestments of Roman Catholic Cardinals.

Cardinal flower, which forms clumps, has mounds of basal leaves in spring from which multiple, erect stems typically up to 5 feet tall grow.  Stems are not normally branched, but when a stem is broken off or eaten, several smaller axillary stems may develop.  Stems, terminating with racemes of flowers, are light green, round (terete) in cross-section and glabrous (no hairs).  Growing stems and leaves have white sap.  New basal leaves, appearing while the plant is in bloom, persist over winter and may be reddish in color in spring.

Cardinal flower - Lobelia cardinalisPhoto 1:  In February, basal leaves grow on this cardinal flower plant in a wetland.  Old stems can be seen at center of clump.

Lanceolate alternate leaves, up to about 7 inches long and 1½ inches wide, are dark green above and light green below and mostly glabrous.  Leaf blades gradually taper toward their bases with very narrow blade tissue continuing to the stem.  Leaf blades also gradually taper toward the tip (acuminate).  Margins are somewhat sinuous and have short, irregularly coarse teeth (serrulate) that are angled toward the leaf tip.   Leaf veins are slightly suppressed above and strongly raised below.  The smooth upper leaf blade surface has a textured appearance due to upward flexing of the surface between veins.  Leaves are positioned somewhat horizontally, but can droop toward the tips.

Cardinal flower - Lobelia cardinalisPhoto 2:  Upper and lower sides of mid-stem leaves and smaller upper stem leaves are shown.  Note leaf margins, venation and single bracts subtending flowers.

Inflorescences of cardinal flower occur in late summer as erect, terminal racemes, from one-fourth to one-third the height of the plant.  Racemes have showy brilliant red flowers (rarely white or pink) that may be sparsely spaced or densely packed.  Flowers, on short pedicels, are each subtended by a small linear bract.  Flowers mature successively from the base of the raceme to the top, with flowering extending over a month or two, depending on site moisture.

Cardinal flower - Lobelia cardinalisPhoto 3:  Cardinal flower plants in this wooded wetland are from 1½ to 6+ feet tall.  Ditch stonecrop (Penthorum sedoides), at lower right, has an appearance much like cardinal flower in early spring.

Flowers, positioned at about 45 degrees off the stem, are about 1½ inches long, with the front of the flower being about ¾ inch wide.  Flower corolla consists of two slender upper lobes (flared and not connected to each other beyond the tube) and three lower broader lobes (connected at the bases beyond the tube and projecting out and slightly downward) together forming a fluted tube in the lower portion.  The front surfaces of the corolla are a vibrant red (rarely white or pink) while the back surfaces, the tube and the filaments are often a lighter red.  Two hazy dark lines can be seen at the juncture of the three lower corolla lobes.  Five stamens have fused filaments that form a tube topped with greyish, down-turned and united anthers.  This stamen tube tightly surrounds the pistil, which has a two-lobed stigma extending slightly from the stamen tube as the flower matures.  A green, bell-like (campanulate) ribbed calyx has a raised rim and five projecting linear lobes.  The corolla attaches immediately inside the calyx rim.

Cardinal flower - Lobelia cardinalisPhoto 4:  Two upper corolla lobes are not joined above tube (see arrow).  Flower on right separated to show pistil, stamen tube with united anthers, and corolla.

As a flower fades, the calyx enlarges.  The calyx then serves as lower portion of the seed capsule (fruit) while the upper portion is a smooth, rounded and slightly pointed cap.  The fruiting capsule is divided into two sections (locales), within which a dense seed layer develops, such that each capsule contains hundreds of tiny, dust-like seeds.  When seed capsules dry, only the top opens to release seeds.  Capsules also deteriorate over time and seeds are released for transport by wind and water.

Cardinal flower - Lobelia cardinalisPhoto 5:  1:  Capsule with dry flower and calyx lobes attached.  2:  Calyx lobes removed with pistil remaining.  3:  Capsule viewed from top, without style and stigma.  4:  Capsule split to expose immature seeds attached to central placenta.  5:  Central placenta with immature seeds removed to show its two sections.

Cardinal flower - Lobelia cardinalisPhoto 6:  In October, stems and capsules become dry.  An open capsule can be seen at arrow.

As a garden plant, cardinal flower is an upright perennial of modest size that bears very showy red flowers and lush foliage.  It is excellent for water gardens, moist garden beds and slow-flowing streams, but must have near-constant moisture.  Cardinal flower is a favorite of ruby-throated hummingbirds, which serve as pollinators, as well as butterflies.  Deer may browse plants, but plants may recover by producing axillary flowering stems.  Plants can be propagated from seed, stem cuttings in mid-summer or by separating new basal growth in fall.

Five other species of Lobelia grow in Arkansas, a few of which can be found in similar habitats and can have foliage resembling that of cardinal flower, especially early in the season–but none have red flowers.  Their flowers can range in color from white or lavender to blue or purple.

Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

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Field Trip Report – Poison Springs State Forest & Preserve

Meredith York, field trip leader, and Mike Weatherford, ANPS member, showed up at the E-Z Mart in Chidester, Arkansas, on September 19, 2015, for what some might call a lightly-attended event.

We know that on this warm, sunny Saturday morning there were many ANPS members forced to attend football games or sit in boring boats on picturesque lakes. We just know they were wanting to be with us to visit one of the tracts included in the Poison Springs State Forest Sand Barren & Oak-Pine Forest Preserve.

Jointweed - Polygonella americanaPhoto 1: The barrens were white with jointweed (Polygonella americana) in full bloom.

This natural area, managed by the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, includes more than 400 acres of sandhill barrens and adjacent woodlands. Knowing that botanical riches were abundant in this preserve, Meredith and I pressed ahead and observed many interesting plants. We found the barrens white with jointweed (Polygonella americana) and cottonweed (Froelichia floridana) in full bloom. Other plants were also blooming, including scratch daisy (Croptilon divaricatum), elegant gayfeather (Liatris elegans), Louisiana goldenrod (Solidago ludoviciana), purple false foxglove (Agalinis tenuifolia), smooth yellow false foxglove (Aureolaria flava), forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum), and many-flowered buckwheat (Eriogonum multiflorum) to name a few. See a more complete plant list below.

Jointweed - Polygonella americana - and pollinatorPhoto 2: Bees and other pollinators were busy on the tiny white or pale-pink flowers of the jointweed.

After the hike we were thirsty and drank deeply from the poison spring. There were no after-effects from drinking the spring water. However, I have noticed that a third eye has appeared in the center of my forehead. It sees infrared and operates independently of my other eyes, constantly scanning my surroundings. Very cool. I am sure its appearance is just a coincidence.

Cottonweed - Floelichia floridanaPhoto 3: Each cottonweed (Froelichia floridana) flower spike is densely packed with white woolly flowers that are arranged in 5 spirals. When mature, the flower heads take on a cottony appearance.

Meredith, a long-time ANPS member, deserves much credit for faithfully monitoring and photographing native plants in the Poison Spring area for many years. Speaking on behalf of the field trip attendees, I thank him for leading this interesting field trip.

False Foxglove - Agalinis spPhoto 4: Purple false foxglove (Agalinis tenuifolia) plants, with their small but eye-catching rose-purple blooms, were scattered throughout the area.

Here is a partial list of the plants we found:

  1. Smooth Yellow False Foxglove – Aureolaria flava
  2. Louisiana Goldenrod – Solidago ludoviciana
  3. Golden Aster – Bradburia pilosa
  4. Elegant Gayfeather – Liatris elegans
  5. Southern Blazing Star – Liatris squarrulosa
  6. Rabbit Tobacco – Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium
  7. Cottonweed – Froelichia floridana
  8. Jointweed – Polygonella americana
  9. Forked Blue Curls – Trichostema dichotomum
  10. Scratch-Daisy – Croptilon divaricatum
  11. Partridge Berry – Mitchella repens
  12. Carolina Elephant’s Foot – Elephantopus carolinianus
  13. Hairy Elephant’s Foot – Elephantopus tomentosus
  14. Pale-Spike Lobelia – Lobelia spicata
  15. Pink Wild Bean – Strophostyles umbellata
  16. White Four O’clock – Mirabilis albida
  17. Heartleaf Spurge – Euphorbia cordifolia
  18. Purple False foxglove – Agalinis tenuifolia

Pink Wild Bean - Strophostyles umbellataPhoto 5: A single bloom of the pink wild bean (Strophostyles umbellata) stood out against the parched sandy soil of the barrens.

Pink Wild Bean - Strophostyles umbellataPhoto 6: Easy to overlook, we found ground-hugging heartleaf spurge (Euphorbia cordifolia), with its tiny flowers and red stems, growing beside the trail.

Article and photographs by ANPS member Michael Weatherford

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