Know Your Natives – Arkansas Yucca

Arkansas yucca (Yucca arkansana) of the Agave (Agavaceae) family, formerly of the Lily (Liliaceae) family, an evergreen shrub, occurs in Texas, Oklahoma, southeastern Kansas, southern Missouri and Arkansas.  In Arkansas, it occurs throughout much of the Interior Highlands.  The genus name originates from a misapplication by Carl Linnaeus in 1753 of a common name for cassava (Manihot esculenta), “yuca”, to the plants for which he named and described the genus Yucca.  Arkansas yucca, also called soft-leaf yucca and soapweed, is found in well-drained soils in sunny prairies, glades and rocky hillsides as well as along partially sunny edges of woodlands and thickets.

A mature Arkansas yucca has a several-feet-long taproot-like rhizome (round in cross-section) along with near-surface, short lateral side-rhizomes with scattered fibrous roots.  Rhizomes, that may be one or more inches in diameter, have a brown epidermis with a white potato-like interior.  Ends of lateral rhizomes turn toward the surface, where apical buds each produce a single rosette of leaves.  A mature plant may have a half-dozen scattered leaf rosettes so that a single plant appears to be a colony.  Single, stout, woody flower stalks grow from the apical bud within leaf rosettes.  After flowering, those rosettes and their rhizome segment die and decay, leaving a circular scar or nub on the surviving portion of the root.

Arkansas Yucca - Yucca arkansanaPhoto 1:  Rhizome segment at coin is decaying after producing a flower stalk marked with a red asterisk.   Lateral roots grew from either side of dead segment.  Taproot is below coin.

Leathery, flexible, radiating leaves, up to about 2 feet long, are widest at mid-leaf with a width of about ¾ inch.  Reduction of leaf width towards its pointed, pliable tip is very gradual.  White-edged margins are straight and entire with scattered, long, loosely curly white filaments that exfoliate from margins.  Leaves, a dull medium green above and below, become narrow near their bases before finally widening within the rosette base.  Leaves are convex below and concave above, with a thickened stout midrib.  Toward mid-leaf, the blade gradually widens and the midrib becomes less prominent and less stout where leaf may bend down and become twisted.  Parallel venation is not prominent on the upper or lower leaf surfaces.  Bases of previous years’ leaves gradually weaken so that old leaves gradually lower to lie on the ground where they remain for several years, gradually decaying.  Plants are usually stemless (acaulescent), although a short leaning (decumbent) stem, mostly hidden by decaying leaves, may develop.   Leaf rosettes may be 2 feet tall and wide.

Arkansas Yucca - Yucca arkansanaPhoto 2:  Long, radiating leaves are thin and pliable with a flexible point.  Photo taken in late February.

Arkansas Yucca - Yucca arkansanaPhoto 3:  Curly marginal hairs are not twisted as on some other species.  Appreciable stems do not develop as leaf rosettes add new central leaves from year to year.

The inflorescence in early spring consists of a raceme on a tall, stiffly erect, somewhat woody and glabrous stalk (rachis) that grows from the apex of a leaf rosette.  Stalks, usually 2 to 3 feet tall (but may reach 6 feet), have narrow, triangular and purplish bracts that are erect, both below and within the raceme.  As erect flower buds on the upper portion of the stalk enlarge behind bracts, those bracts wither and the pedicels bend down at the base of flowers so that, at anthesis, flowers droop and face the ground.  Individual flowers are on short pedicels (attached directly to the stalk) or in a group of several flowers (small panicles) on short pedicels growing from a short peduncle (which, in turn, is attached to the stalk).   Individual plants typically do not bloom every year.

Arkansas Yucca - Yucca arkansanaPhoto 4:  In this early May photo, purplish bracts on elongating flower stalk subtend and cover developing flower buds.  Bracts are relatively short, as compared to other species.

Arkansas Yucca - Yucca arkansanaPhoto 5:  Flowers, on short pedicels and peduncles, occur in a raceme-type inflorescence.  Bracts on the lower portion of the stalk do not dry while flowers are in bloom.  Site shown is mostly shady with loam soil.

The bell-shaped (campanulate) flowers, up to 2½ inch long and 2 inches wide, have six greenish-white, thickened tepals (three sepals and three petals) that have narrow bases, gentle tips and broadened mid-sections.  The whitish green superior ovary is topped by a pale green lobed style that terminates in a three-lobed stigma with a recessed central orifice.  Six round, white, post-like filaments, attached to flower receptacle below the ovary, bear pollinia (packets of pollen) at their rounded apices.  Yucca moths are the only insects that can successfully pollinate yucca flowers and developing yucca fruit is the only larval food source for yucca moths.*

Arkansas Yucca - Yucca arkansanaPhoto 6:  Heavy flowers cause pedicels to bend down.  As seed capsules develop, strengthened pedicels bend upward.

Arkansas Yucca - Yucca arkansanaPhoto 7:  The lobed green style sits above a large ovary that is surrounded by post-like filaments and thick tepals.  Honey ants can be seen feeding on flower bud resin.

As flowers pass anthesis, pedicels twist upward so that developing green, tough, seed capsules are upright.  Capsules, about 2½ inches long and 1 inch wide on woody pedicels and stalks, are composed of three elongate carpels that are divided into two locules, each with a stack of seeds.  A capsule, with an exterior that is rounded along each elongate carpel, contains 100+ seeds.  When capsules dry in late fall, they become papery and split from the top between carpels.  As capsules open, hundreds of flattened, rounded papery black seeds are shaken out on windy days and become scattered.   Dead stalks and racemes are somewhat woody and may persist for several years.

For a partially shady to sunny garden or natural area, Arkansas yucca can provide a dominant accent.  It has year-round presence, but its occasional flowering would be the highlight of a year.  Its large flowers dramatize its flower parts and its mutulistic relationship with yucca moths can be easily viewed.  In addition to the yucca moth, yucca plants are host plants for caterpillars of giant-skipper butterflies, including Megathymus yuccae, which is rare in Arkansas.

Identification of yucca species and their varieties has found disagreement among various authorities.  In Arkansas, four additional species are recognized: Yucca filamentosa (common names: Adam’s-needle, Spanish-bayonet or yucca), a Southeastern U.S. native introduced to Arkansas;  Yucca flaccida (same common names: Adam’s-needle, Spanish-bayonet or yucca), also a Southeastern U.S. native introduced to Arkansas; Yucca louisianensis (common names: Louisianna yucca, Gulf Coast yucca or sandhill yucca), a native to south Arkansas; and Yucca freemanii (common name: Freeman’s yucca), a native species discovered new to Arkansas in Miller County in 2014.  Characteristics that can help distinguish Yucca arkansana from these other species:  1) leaf rosettes of a plant are separated by a short distance, instead of bunched-up, 2) there are relatively few leaves per rosette and these are thin and pliable with weak pointed tips, 3) curly marginal leaf hairs are not twisted, 4) flowering stalks are generally less than 4 feet, 5) inflorescence is a raceme, instead of a panicle, and 6) color of style is a contrasting green within a whitish green flower.

*   Yuccas and yucca moths, totally dependent on each other for natural reproduction, represent an example of mutualism.  The moth species that pollinates Arkansas yucca (as well as some other yuccas) is Tegeticula yuccasella.   Female moths pack pollinia into a ball that they carry in their coiled palps to another plant.  Moths use their egg-laying abdominal appendage (ovipositor) to insert an egg into a chamber (locule) of the ovary.  The transported pollinium ball is then forced into the recessed orifice of the stigma to effect pollination.  The moth caterpillar, as it grows, ties a dozen or so ovules together as they are eaten, leaving hundreds of viable seed.  Mature caterpillars drop to the ground to pupate in the soil until the next year’s flowers are available.

Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

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Know Your Natives – Marginal Wood Fern

Marginal wood fern (Dryopteris marginalis) of the Wood Fern (Dryopteridaceae) family, an evergreen, twice-cut fern, occurs throughout much of the eastern U.S. from Texas and Minnesota to the Atlantic Coast, but is mostly absent from the Gulf Coastal Plain and unknown from Louisiana and Florida.  In Arkansas, it has been documented to occur in the northwestern half of the state in the Interior Highlands.  The genus name is based on the Greek words for “oak” and “fern” which relates to occurrence of wood ferns among oak forests.  The specific epithet relates to the location of sori (spore clusters) near the margins of the leaf divisions.  Other common names include marginal shield fern, evergreen wood fern and leather-leaf wood fern.  This fern favors areas with damp to dry soils found in partially to fully shaded, rocky ravines, stream banks and north-facing slopes.

This medium-large fern has an elongate, reclined and compact rootstock, with dense, shallow and branching fibrous roots that grow directly from the rootstock.  New fronds grow from the center of the rootstock in late winter as tightly curled fiddleheads (or croziers).  Fiddleheads are densely covered with light-brown, soft scales and filaments, especially near their bases.  Scales and filaments, mostly absent along the leaf rachis (the midrib of the compound leaf), remain on the stipe (leaf stalk) of mature leaves.  The stipe and rachis, yellowish-green overall, with the stipe having a reddish base, have a central upper groove along the flattened upper side and a convex lower side.  The plant has a vase-like overall shape with an airy appearance.  Old fronds (an alternative term for fern leaves) wither around the rootstock, with the old stipes persisting for several years.

photo-1-january-11Photo 1:  Rootstock, as seen in this mid-January photo, bears green fronds which will decline when new fronds appear in late winter .  Previous year’s stipes remain.  Fibrous roots have been removed.

photo-2-april-6Photo 2:  In early April, fiddleheads grow from center of rootstock.  Previous year’s and older stipes can be seen.

Stipes are one-fourth to one-third as long as the fronds: fronds are up to 18 inches long and 6 inches wide, with stipes being about 8 inches long.  Plants, with fronds ascending and arching, may have a height and width each of about 2 feet.  Fronds are a bluish-green above and a lighter yellowish-green below.  Fronds have linear-lanceolate, quickly tapering pinnae (leaflets) that are mostly opposite lower on the rachis, changing to alternate higher toward the apex.  The leathery, glabrous pinnae, with tips arching toward frond apex, are longest mid-frond and slightly shorter toward the frond base (a semi-tapered fern).  Separation of pinnae, greatest at frond base, decreases toward frond tip as pinna length quickly shortens to form an acuminate frond tip.  Pinnae approaching frond tip are lobe-like.  Lower pinnae have very short petiolules (stalks) that are perpendicular to the rachis, with upper, short pinnae becoming sessile without overlap.  Pinnae are divided (a twice-divided fern) into oblong pinnules (sub-leaflets or secondary leaflets) which have rounded tips and margins that vary from slightly crenulate to well lobed near the base of the rachis.  Fronds may have 15 or so easily distinguishable pairs of pinnae before the pinnae become indistinct at the frond apex.  Similarly, pinnae may have 15 or so easily distinguishable pairs of pinnules before they become indistinct at the pinna tip. Main and secondary veins of pinnules, purplish on the underside, are of about equal size, nearly straight and forked.   Main veins of pinnules extend onto pinna midribs.

photo-3-january-11Photo 3:  In early January, fronds remain green.  All fronds of a plant grow from center of rootstock without any off-sets.

Fertile and sterile fronds are both photosynthetic and have the same appearance when viewed from above.  However, fertile fronds bear fruit-dots or sori* (singular, sorus) on the undersides of their upper (or distal) pinnae. Each sorus is a cluster of spore-producing sporangia.  From one to five sori are located along the margins of pinnules, except on those pinnules near the frond apex that are more lobe-like. Single sori are located at sinuses between the lobes.  Sori, which develop in late spring, are at first green, but then become dark brown.  They are covered by umbrella-like shields called indusia (singular, indusium).  Indusia are attached to the pinnule at the sori’s depressed center, loosely extending over many sporangia.  Each sporangium or spore case produces 50+ spores.  The depressed center of a sorus along with a depressed side cause the round sorus to appear reniform (kidney-shaped).  As the spore cases grow, they push the indusium aside.  When air moisture is low, spore cases pop open and dust-like spores are dispersed into the air.**

photo-4-marginal-fmid-right-1Photo 4:  Upper surfaces of an infertile frond (left) and a fertile frond (right) appear the same.  Lower side of a fertile frond, which has already dispersed its spores, is shown in the middle.  As shown, pinnae may be opposite or alternate.  Photo taken in mid-July.

photo-5-marginal-yPhoto 5:  Sori are located at margins of pinnules or singly at sinuses between lobe-like pinnules, as shown.  Note venation and slightly crenulate margins.  Photo taken in mid-July.

In a garden or natural areas, this evergreen, medium-large fern with its nice form and good texture can serve as an accent plant that provides interest throughout the year.  The plant does not colonize or spread by rootstock.  Dead fronds, spread around the rootstock, quickly disintegrate and tougher stipes, which disintegrate in two years, are not especially noticeable.  Marginal wood fern does well in partial to full shade.  It is not a preferred food choice of deer or rabbits.  Once established, it can survive dry periods.

photo-6-may-15Photo 6:  Marginal wood fern is an excellent accent plant for a shady garden.

In Arkansas, 12 taxa in the wood fern family (Dryopteridaceae) have been documented outside of cultivation, of which nine (including several of hybrid origin) are native.  Of the natives, only two species are widespread evergreen ferns, namely the subject species marginal wood fern (Dryopteris marginalis) and Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides).  Christmas fern is a distinctive, once-cut fern with darker green and more leathery pinnae.

*   Sori – Greek for “heaps”.
**  With dispersal of spores, the above-ground “diploid sporophyte phase” of a fern’s life cycle (referred to as “alternation of generations”) concludes.  In the soil, spores germinate to produce a prothallus as the “haploid gametophyte phase”.  The prothallus produces mobile sperm gametes and attached egg gametes.  With fertilization of the egg, a diploid zygote may develop into a new diploid sporophyte plant.

Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

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Know Your Natives – Patridgeberry

Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) of the Madder (Rubiaceae) family is an evergreen perennial with a trailing growth habit. It occurs in the U.S. from Texas to Oklahoma to Missouri to Minnesota thence to the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. It occurs throughout most of Arkansas except for portions of the Mississippi Alluvial Plain and calcareous areas of the Ozarks. Mitchella repens is one of only two species of the genus that have been identified worldwide*. The genus name honors John Mitchell, an 18th century Virginia native, who worked with Carl Linnaeus regarding the flora of the New World. The specific epithet is Latin for “creeping”. Other common names include twinberry and twin-flower. Its preferred habitat is moist, well-drained, acidic and sandy, rocky or loamy soils in partially shaded woodlands where leaf litter is thin, including mossy areas.

Partridgeberry’s ground-hugging stems intertwine to form mats. Stems have short pubescence when young. Stems occasionally produce single lateral stems as well as pairs of stems at stem tips. New stem segments, mostly green to reddish or with purple coloration, grow straight in open areas. New seasonal growth, which may be up to 10 inches long, grows from apical buds in telescoping fashion, with stem diameter and leaf size decreasing toward the apex. Older stem segments lose their leaves and become brown as they become covered by subsequent plant growth and leaf litter. New segments bear root nubs on their lower side near leaf nodes and randomly between nodes, from which roots may grow upon contact with soil. Fibrous, descending branching roots can be 5 or more inches long. Leafless stem segments, becoming a permanent part of a plant, toughen and become slightly gnarly with age, but do not increase in size.

Patridgeberry - Mitchella repensPhoto 1: Roots may grow from near leaf nodes or elsewhere from the underside of stems.

Opposite, orbicular to cordate leaves, borne mostly along current year’s stem segments, have ¼-inch-long petioles. Lower ends of petioles are set at an acute angle toward the stem apex while the upper portion trends upward to allow leaf surface to face sunlight. Largest leaves, at the base of current season’s growth, are ¾ to 1 inch in length and width. Upper and lower leaf surfaces are glabrous, with the upper surface being a shiny dark green as compared to the dull light green lower surface. Leaves appear leathery with a lighter colored main vein on the upper surface and secondary veins that bend toward the leaf apex (arcuate). The leaf blade is mostly flat, but turns down to join the petiole. While plant height on open ground is less than ½ inch, within mats or growing among plant litter, plant height may be elevated several inches.

Patridgeberry - Mitchella repensPhoto 2: Current-year stem growth shown across upper-center of photo. Angle of petioles changes to orient leaves to sunlight. Note pale midribs of leaves.

Patridgeberry - Mitchella repensPhoto 3: With several years of growth, older stems become covered by newer stem growth and leaf litter. Largest leaves are at base of current season’s growth.

The inflorescence develops in early to mid-spring at stem apices and from leaf axils. Two funnel-shaped, half-inch-long upright flowers share a stubby light green calyx that is on a short pedicel. Each calyx-half has four central points that are reduced calyx lobes. In bud, corollas are glabrous on their exterior, narrow at their white bases, and inflated at their light lavender upper ends. With anthesis, four broad lobes with obtuse tips spread wide, exposing a white interior with dense, long white hairs. Four stamens are sited between the lobes, adnate (fused) to the corolla tube just below lobes. Elongate anthers are aligned with the floral tube. A single style is topped with four long, down-turned stigmas. Stamens and pistil are typically white, although filaments may be tinged with purple. The nectary is positioned above the inferior ovary.

Partridgeberry has dimorphic flowers–they appear in two forms or morphs. One morph has a long style with its stigmas well exserted  beyond the corolla and stamens that remain within the corolla tube (referred to as the “pin” morph). The second morph has a short style so that stigmas remain well within the corolla tube, while stamens are exserted well beyond the corolla (referred to as the “thrum” morph). An individual plant bears flowers that are either pin or thrum, but not both. This intriguing adaptation that increases the chance of outcrossing, rather than self-pollination, is called heterostyly.

Patridgeberry - Mitchella repensPhoto 4: In this early May photo, flower buds are shown at the top of photo and several flower pairs and calyx pairs are shown lower in photo.

Patridgeberry - Mitchella repensPhoto 5: In this mid-May photo, flower buds are seen along with an open corolla that shows the pin morph of dimorphisim. Note arcuate leaf venation and calyx bearing two corollas.

After corollas fall off, the upper portion of the inferior ovary has two adjoining, flattened scars that are remnants of the perianth (calyx + corollas). With successful pollination, the two fused ovaries beneath the scars enlarge to form a single fruit (a berry-like drupe). The mature and very distinctive fruit becomes bright red and bears toward the tip its two now-prominent perianth scars, like two craters, no longer adjoining but now well separated due to the fruit’s enlargement. Fruits, about 1/3 inch across, are often persistent into spring. The thin red exocarp (skin) surrounds a white, mealy interior with about four embedded stones. The fruit is edible, but rather tasteless.

Patridgeberry - Mitchella repensPhoto 6: In this early December photo, this partridgeberry was growing among moss and lichens near pine trees. Perianth scars remain evident along with calyx remnants, especially in the upper fruit. Inset shows fruit’s interior and stones.

For a shade garden with acidic soil, partridgeberry is an excellent plant which is especially noticeable and decorative in winter. Low-growing stems bear year-round, fresh-looking leaves accented with small white flowers in mid-spring and strikingly red fruit from fall into spring. This shallow-rooted plant can be ideal as a ground cover or as understory to shrubs.

*The second species in the genus is Mitchella undulata which occurs in eastern Asia.  Appearance of this Asian species is similar to Mitchella repens.

Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl


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Know Your Natives – Dittany

Dittany (Cunila origanoides) of the Mint (Lamiaceae) family is a small, herbaceous perennial that produces “frost flowers”.  Dittany, the only species of the Cunila genus in the U.S. (the rest are in Central and South America), occurs from northeast Texas to extreme southeast Kansas to New York, thence south to Louisiana, northern Mississippi, northern Alabama, northern Georgia and South Carolina.  It is absent from Florida and much of the Gulf Coastal Plain.  In Arkansas, it occurs throughout much of state, but is absent from lowland portions of the Mississippi Alluvial Plain and West Gulf Coastal Plain.  Its preferred habitat is dry, well-drained soils found in sunny to partially sunny, rocky or sandy open woodlands on slopes and ridges where competition from other species is limited.  The genus name is based on an ancient Latin name for a fragrant plant, possibly a mint, that was transferred to this group of New World mints.  The specific epithet means “resembling oregano”, of the Old World genus Origanum, some species of which it both looks and smells like.  The common name “dittany” may also originate with a member of that genus, specifically dittany of Crete (Origanum dictamnus) or from its namesake, Dictamnus albus in the rue or citrus (Rutaceae) family.  Other common names for Cunila origanoides include common or American dittany, stone mint, false or wild oregano and frost mint.

Dittany has numerous widely spreading, shallow roots from a caudex.  In late fall, short rhizomes grow from the caudex that produce the following year’s herbaceous growth.  Spring-time stems, lower sides of leaves and leaf margins are pubescent, but these become glabrous by mid-summer.  Plants may consist of several stems that form an open, lanky plant or many stems that form a dense rounded plant.  Dittany has four-sided, rounded, wiry and erect stems that are purple in the spring, fade to reddish when at bloom and become brown and seemingly woody in fall.  Stems bear opposite leaves, with successive leaf pairs rotated from one to the next to varying degrees.  Leaf pairs tend to produce “matched sets” of branches or inflorescences.  Stems typically grow to about 8 inches tall, but may reach 1½ feet.  Branches may be 6 inches or more long, with length decreasing from lowermost to uppermost branches.  Shorter sub-branches may be present.  Frozen stems, which are persistent, retain dried inflorescences and scattered leaves into the winter.

During spring growth, dittany has heart-shaped (cordate) leaves that are dark green above with purple shading while the lower surface is mostly purple, but with green increasing with time.  With maturity, leaf shape becomes acuminate (tapering to a long tip) with a base varying from rounded to wedge-shaped.  Mature leaves have medium green upper and lower surfaces.    Leaves lowermost on stems are up to 1½ inches long and ¾ inch wide with leaf size decreasing at a uniform rate toward ends of branches.  Higher on stems, leaf size may be ¼ inch long and 1/16 inch wide and even smaller in the inflorescence.  Leaves have margins with shallow teeth that point toward the tip (serrate) and very short petioles.  Irregularly spaced secondary veins gradually curve off the mid-vein to align with leaf margin.  Leaves are punctate (with tiny spots on surface).  Fresh crushed leaves have a strong but pleasant minty aroma.

Dittany - Cunila origanoidesPhoto 1:  This dittany plant, shown in late March, bears heart-shaped leaves and has pubescent stems, lower leaf surfaces and leaf margins.

Dittany’s inflorescence in late summer consists of clusters of small cymes that grow directly from paired leaf axils along upper portions and ends of branches.  The inflorescence from an individual leaf axil consists of a single short “branch” that divides into several stalks bearing three to five flowers on very short pedicels.  At ends of branches, cymes are crowded together.

Tubular lavender flowers appear from late summer into early fall and are up to 1/3 inch long.  Floral tubes have four flared, rounded lobes comprising two identical lateral lobes and two longer lobes with an upper lobe that is slightly notched.  Lobes may have light to dark purple splotches.  The exterior of the floral tube is covered with tiny lavender hairs.  Two slender lavender stamens and a pistil with a split (bifurcate) stigma are exserted from the tube about half the length of the tube.  Purplish anthers, set knob-like at ends of filaments, become brown.  Floral tubes are set in tubular greenish or purplish calyxes that are less than half as long as the exposed portion of the floral tubes.  Calyxes, also punctate, have five short, equally-sized triangular lobes with ten prominent veins.  The interior of a calyx is lined with shaggy, white (villous) hairs that are pushed aside as the floral tube emerges.  The white hairs, retained after the floral tubes have fallen off, noticeably project out of the calyxes.

Dittany - Cunila origanoidesPhoto 2:  A lanky plant in bloom in a sunny rocky site.  Photo taken in late September.

Dittany - Cunila origanoidesPhoto 3:  Flowers have four rounded lobes, strongly exserted stamens and pistils and exterior pubescence.

Dittany - Cunila origanoidesPhoto 4:  In late November, floral tubes having fallen off and calyxes are accented by white hairs.

A fertilized flower produces a dry schizocarp fruit that splits into two to four tiny, chocolate-brown, slightly flattened and hard 1-seeded nutlets with rounded sides.  Nutlets have a short nipple at one end.

Dittany - Cunila origanoidesPhoto 5:  Display shows a cluster of cymes along with a separated 1/8-inch-long calyx and nutlets.  Note villous hairs extending out of calyxes.

Dittany is one of few native forbs that produces frost flowers.  Two other species that produce frost flowers consistently are frostweed (Verbesina virginica) and camphorweed (Pluchea camphorata).  Dittany tends to first produce frost flowers at colder temperatures than frostweed or camphorweed.  For information regarding frost flowers see “Know Your Natives” articles posted November 26, 2013  and December 16, 2014.

Dittany - Cunila origanoidesPhoto 6:   A dittany plant with frost flowers in late December.  Frost flowers may be “regrown” from an individual stem on successive cold nights.

Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

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Know Your Natives – Possumhaw

Possumhaw (Ilex decidua) is a deciduous shrub or small tree in the holly (Aquifoliaceae) family that bears showy winter fruit.  In the U.S., it is found throughout the Southeast from central Texas to southeastern Kansas, to southern Illinois, east to Maryland, and thence to the coasts.  The species occurs statewide in Arkansas.  The genus name comes from the classical Latin name and later the specific epithet of holm or holly oak (Quercus ilex) which has evergreen holly-like leaves.  Other common names for possumhaw* include winterberry*, deciduous holly and swamp holly.  Possumhaw, frequently seen in fencerows and in the home landscape, may be found in nature in various moist to dry soils of upland glades, lowlands, and margins of wet areas.  Plants are drought and flood tolerant.

Possumhaw is a multi-stemmed plant reaching 15 or more feet tall.  It continues to add new stems from its root to form tight clumps of stems so that the plant’s base may eventually be 2 to 3 feet across.  Sucker plants may appear a short distance from the original plant.  Possumhaw exhibits “weak apical dominance”; that is, its greatest growth does not arise from tips of branches.  Stems, at first somewhat vertical become arched with age and new stems (adventitious stems) arise from the top of the arch.  These adventitious stems may grow two to six feet in a single growing season and, in future growing seasons, become arched as the growth cycle continues.  Internally and at the perimeter of the plant, the many horizontal to descending branches are relatively fast growing with apical growth of these branches continuing from year to year.  Branches bear slower growing twigs to about eight inches long and very slow growing “spur shoots” up to two inches long.

In earlier years of growth, possumhaw tends to be fast-growing and mostly erect and slender while, with maturity, it develops a broad rounded shape that is widest at its middle, with branches not usually arching completely to the ground, so that its multi-stemmed base is often clearly visible.  Mature stems and branches have thin, smooth, gray bark with splotches of white, along with prominent lenticels (pores).  Twigs have thin gray bark, but spur shoots are roughened by closely spaced leaf and flower scars from previous years’ growth.  With heavy shading, internal branches, twigs, spurs, and even stems die out.

Possumhaw - Ilex deciduaPhoto 1:  From year to year, stems multiply and become crowded.  Note lenticels (prominent white corky dots).  Green stems on right are a greenbrier (Smilax sp.).  

Small, pointed leaf buds produce twigs with simple leaves that are up to 3 inches long and ¾ inch wide with a blunt tip.  Leaves are cuneate (narrowly wedge-shaped) at base and wider in the upper half.  Where sufficiently spaced, leaves are alternate, but those at ends of spur branches are so close together that they appear to be fascicled.  Leaves, glossy green above and a paler green below, have finely crenate margins.  The upper half of a leaf is down-turned.  Veins are pinnate with lateral veins from the mid-vein being off-set.  Leaves are glabrous except for short dense hairs on the principal abaxial veins.  Leaves, falling gradually from fall into winter, do not produce appreciable fall color but are often yellowish.

The inflorescence, developing in early spring, consists of small, solitary flowers or (usually) clusters of two to five or more.  Flowers develop along branches, at the base of branches, along twigs and at tips of spurs.  Typically, each flower grows from a leaf axil, but flowers may also appear without a subtending leaf.  A plant with sufficient sunlight has flowers uniformly spread throughout the plant.

Possumhaw - Ilex deciduaPhoto 2:  This mid-April photo shows twigs bearing female (left; note also fruit still remaining from previous season) and male (right) flowers.  These male flowers have five petals, which is not typical (usually there are four).  Spur shoots lengthen a minute amount each year as flowers and leaves grow from the tips.  Note midrib pubescence of leaves on left.

Flowers, ¼-inch in diameter, are on slender pedicels (no peduncles).  Flowers, with tiny cup-like, green calyxes, generally have four (sometimes five) white, rounded petals.  Possumhaw is considered to be dioecious (male and female flowers on different plants), but female flowers may have stamens with infertile anthers.  Round, superior ovaries of the pistillate flowers have round, stubby, flattened stigmas without a noticeable style.  Pedicels, calyxes and ovaries are a smooth light green while the stigma is a yellowish green.  Stamens, anthers and pollen are whitish.

Possumhaw - Ilex deciduaPhoto 3:  This third-year twig is developing greyish bark and spur shoots.  Flowers have pedicels which grow directly from spur tips.  Pistillate flowers may have infertile stamens, as shown (see arrows).  Fruit sometimes remains on plant into following growing season.

Fertilized flowers produce round, green berries that become 1/3-inch-diameter orange-red to bright red in mid-fall.  Mature berries, persisting from fall into spring (unless eaten by wildlife), are firm with a fairly thick skin that encloses yellow, juicy bitter pulp and four or five light tan, 1-seeded stones that are less than ¼-inch long.  Seeds have the shape of an orange segment with several ridges along its three sides.  Stones are widely dispersed by birds and small mammals.

Possumhaw - Ilex deciduaPhoto 4:  With sufficient sunlight on individual branches, fast growing current-year twigs may bear fruit on their lower portion.  Photo taken in the mid-July.

photo-5-october-21-revisedPhoto 5:  In this mid-October photo, fruit are becoming red.  Note texture of very slow growing spurs roughened by leaf and pedicel scars.  Inset shows ridged, 1-seeded stones..

In a garden or natural area, possumhaw exhibits interesting structure along with reliable production of brightly colored berries (female plants only).  It is especially striking as a stand-alone specimen in partial to full sun.  Sunnier sites produce fuller plants and heavier fruit crop.  Other than possibly removing some basal stems as they sprout, additional trimming would negatively affect its natural structure.  The berry-like drupes and leaves are not messy.

Possumhaw - Ilex deciduaPhoto 6:  Possumhaw’s fruit is further enhanced by snow and ice.  Fruit-bearing shrub at base is corral berry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus)

In Arkansas, six additional native or naturalized Ilex species have been documented:  Carolina holly (Ilex ambigua), scattered throughout much of the state but not especially common; the non-native Chinese holly (Ilex cornuta); Georgia holly (Ilex longipes), known from the state only in the Ouachita Mountains and considered a species of conservation concern by the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission; American holly (Ilex opaca), known throughout much of southern, central, and eastern Arkansas; winterberry (Ilex verticillata), known from only a handful of sites in the state and also considered a species of conservation concern; and yaupon (Ilex vomitoria), native in the state originally to the Ouachita Mountains and perhaps the adjacent Coastal Plain, otherwise occasionally escapes from cultivation elsewhere.  Of these, Ilex ambigua, Ilex longipes and Ilex verticillata are deciduous, as is possumhaw.  Ilex ambigua can be distinguished by its dark brown to black, smooth bark (with flaking on old stems), toothed leaves, and elliptical, 1-seeded fruits (drupes).  Ilex longipes looks most similar to possumhaw, and has even been treated as a variety of Ilex decidua in the past.  It has flowers on longer pedicels, leaves lacking the dense hairs on the undersurface veins, and more consistently grows in drier, upland sites.  Ilex verticillata is smaller than possumhaw, typically grows in wet areas, has larger serrated and elliptic leaves that are rugose on the top, and its four or five stones are smaller and not ridged.

  • The common names “possumhaw” and “winterberry” are also used for other species; namely Viburnum nudum is also called possumhaw and Ilex verticillata is also called winterberry.

Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

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Know Your Natives – Evening Rain-Lily

Evening rain-lily (Cooperia drummondii, also known variously by some athorities as Cooperia chlorosolen or Zephyranthes chlorosolen) of the Amaryllis (Amaryllidaceae) family, formerly of the Lily (Liliaceae) family, occurs in the south-central United States from New Mexico to Kansas to Alabama and then thence south to the Gulf Coast and into Mexico.  In Arkansas, it is recorded from five counties scattered in the western portion of the state and is considered of “conservation concern” by the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission.  It is currently the only species of the Cooperia genus known from the state.  The specific epithet recognizes Thomas Drummond, an 18th century Scottish naturalist that first discovered this species.  Other common names are “cebolleta” (a Spanish word alluding to the plant’s vegetative resemblence to onions [cebollas]) and Drummond’s rain-lily.  This species is found in prairies, glades, savannahs and woodland margins in a wide variety of dry to moist soils and in varying sunlight situations.  Evening rain-lilies are perennial, herbaceous, bulbous plants that germinate with a single seed leaf or cotyledon (placing them in the class of flowering plants familiarly called monocots).  The species has “true bulbs” which have a basal plate (caudex) that produces new roots annually, leaves, flower stems and lateral bublets.*  Its life cycle during the temperate months is responsive to rainfall patterns; especially in late summer, hence the common name “rain-lily.”

Leaves continually grow within the bulb at the center of the basal plate with the most immature leaves at the center of a “leaf core.”  Leaves appear at the surface, somewhat erratically, in response to air temperature and soil moisture.  Leaves are most numerous in spring (without any associated flower stems), absent during hot dry summer months and may appear intermittently during the summer and fall (after flower stems appear in response to rain).  Leaves have long, smooth, narrow, grey-green blades that may be 12 or more inches long and ¼ inch wide, with rounded tips.  Leaves are in-folded along their entire length (more so near their bases) as a result of having been tightly pressed against other leaves during development within the bulb.  Leaves tend to be somewhat twisted and lax, almost floppy.

Each leaf consists of an above-ground blade and an underground conical white base for water and nutrient storage that is concentric around the leaf core of the bulb.  Bases are tightly overlapped and are pushed away from the center of the bulb as new leaves develop.  With leaf bases being thicker at their mid-section, bulbs become rounded in lateral as well as vertical cross-section.  Outermost leaf bases become thinner to a brown, tissue-like tunic before eventually disintegrating.

Evening Rain Lily - Cooperia drummondiiPhoto 1:  The twisted and somewhat floppy leaves of evening rain-lily seen in this early April photo grow in clusters from tips of bulbs and bulblets.  Each leaf has a thick white base that encircles the bulb’s core of immature leaves.

Flowering occurs sporadically in summer into fall months several days after significant rainfall.  A bulb produces one flower stem at a time.  Flower stems originate from the basal plate between two leaf bases close to the leaf core.  The stems follow the curvature of these two confining leaf bases to emerge at the top of bulbs, slightly off-center (leaves being at the center).  Flower stems are pinkish at first, but become mostly green with the approach of anthesis.  Upon emergence, the upper portion of the stem is covered by a bluntly pointed spathe that is the same color as the overall stem.  The lower end of the spathe joins the stem immediately below the ovary, which is located up to 7 inches below the perianth (corolla + calyx) that emerges from within the spathe.  Stems are slender, round to flattened, and hollow.  Stems, which may be 12 or more inches long and weakly erect, are smooth and mostly equidimensional their entire length.  The spathe peels back to below the ovary and quickly dries.

When a larger bulb is cut laterally at mid-bulb, along with prominently displayed concentric leaf bases, small flattened ellipses squeezed between leaf bases can be seen.  These ellipses, lined up along an axis across the bulb, are either stems that have already produced seed (these are flattened brown ellipses) or would have produced stems at a later flowering episode (these are light colored ellipses).  With a bulb producing one flower at a time, the sequence alternates from one side of the leaf core to the other.

Evening Rain Lily - Cooperia drummondiiPhoto 2:  Bulb-section at center of photo is lower half of a bulb while upper half of same bulb is arranged radially from ‘A’ through ‘O.’  ‘A’ is the leaf core composed of a half-dozen variably immature leaves at the bulb’s center (corresponding to the portion indicated with the arrow on the cross-section).  Numbers ‘1’ through ‘5’ indicate stem sites with ‘2’ corresponding to ‘D’ (a wilting flower stem).  ‘O’ represents the outer tunic.

Evening Rain Lily - Cooperia drummondiiPhoto 3:  In this mid-August photo, stems emerge after significant rainfall.  Spathes recede as flowers continue to grow.  Arrows point to ovaries.

Flowers gradually open in the evening several days after rainfall and remain open a day or two.  Flowers, about 2 inches wide, have three mostly white sepals and three almost identical petals (together referred to as tepals) with a somewhat elongated ruffled oval shape.  Tepals are of equal size and shape with a white upper surface along with lighter longitudinal veins.  Sepals have pinkish beaks (remnants from when in bud) at their apices with that pinkish color extending partially down their lower sides.  Flowers have six stamens with elongate, equal-sized anthers on short, down-bent filaments that position anthers close together and vertically so that the lower ends of the anthers are within the flower’s throat.  Filaments are attached (adnate) to the tepals’ base just above the lower ends of the anthers.  Pistils, up to 7 inches long, are free-standing from the inferior ovary, up the exceeding long tubular perianth (envelope surrounding sexual organs) with the stigma hidden immediately below the lower ends of anthers.

Evening Rain Lily - Cooperia drummondiiPhoto 4:  At full bloom, stems remain pinkish near their bases and above the ovaries (arrow).  Note new leaves emerging at base of stems.

Evening Rain Lily - Cooperia drummondiiPhoto 5:  Elongate, upright anthers surround and hide the stigma.  Three petals are positioned between three sepals.  Note beaked sepals of flower and buds.

Flowering stems emerge, flower, and then produce seed over about an 8-day period.  With fertilization, the perianth quickly wilts and dries, but may remain on the ovary until seed capsules mature.  Ovaries enlarge to form a prominently three-chambered (trilocular) stubby capsule.  With bulging chambers, capsule width equals the length.  As the capsule dries, the top shrinks back to expose thin, shiny black, papery seeds in loosely layered stacks.  Seeds readily fall from the opened chambers with slight movement of the capsule.  The plant is a reliable vigorous seed producer due, perhaps, to the close contact of anthers and stigma along with the services of pollen-eating insects.

Evening Rain Lily - Cooperia drummondiiPhoto 6:  Seed capsules are composed of three bulging chambers.  Flat papery seeds are loosely stacked within each chamber.  Note dried perianth remaining attached to green capsule on left.

For a sunny moist to dry garden or natural area, evening rain-lily can surprise a person with the sudden appearance of flowers.  The flowers are eye-catching as are the seed capsules.  Along with multiplying via offset bulblets, many additional seedling plants should be expected.  Seedlings can be controlled by removing capsules prior to maturing.

*  Plants that store water and nutrients in fleshy underground structures to survive cold or dry conditions in a dormant state are called “geophytes.”  In addition to bulbs, other geophytic structures are corms, tubers, tuberous roots and rhizomes.

Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

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Know Your Natives – Sweet Everlasting

Sweet everlasting, Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium (formerly Gnaphalium obtusifolium), of the Aster (Asteraceae) family is an herbaceous annual.  In the U.S., it occurs from Texas to Nebraska to Minnesota and thence east and south to the coasts, including most of Arkansas.  Natural habitats are mesic to dry sandy areas in prairies, glades, open woods and open disturbed sites.  The common name “sweet everlasting” relates to a light pleasant scent and the durability of fresh dried cuttings.  Another common name is “rabbit tobacco” (this name is also applied to other species in the genus) based on the plant having been used as tobacco by Native Americans and early American settlers.

Sweet everlasting has a rambling, rough, woody tap root along with smaller, variably-sized, near-horizontal roots from the tap root and caudex.  Seeds germinate in late fall and plants overwinter as low basal rosettes of broadly linear leaves, maturing the following year.  Leaves are widest above mid-blade with an extended taper to a blunt (spatulate) apex.  From mid-leaf to leaf base, margins have a gentler taper.  Basal leaves are tomentose (with dense matted woolly hairs) on both adaxial (upper) and abaxial (lower) surfaces.  Leaves are a muted whitish light green color, due to their tomentose nature, and are smooth as velvet.

Sweet everlasting - Pseudognaphalium obtusifoliumPhoto 1:  Basal rosettes of sweet everlasting grow overwinter.  In this early March photo, tomentose leaves are evident.

A mature plant in mid- to late-summer may have one to a half-dozen erect stems that may reach 2½ feet tall.  The terete (round), somewhat hardened stems are not branched except along their upper portion where many secondary, ascending branches occur.  These branches, in turn, have tertiary branches toward their tips.  Stems and branches, too, are tomentose, thus stems are light green to white.

Sweet everlasting - Pseudognaphalium obtusifoliumPhoto 2:  In late May, stems remain unbranched and adaxial leaf surfaces are glabrous.

Stem leaves are entire, linear, sessile and clasping.  Largest leaves may be 3 inches long and 1/3 inch wide with a slightly pointed tip.   Leaf size gradually decreases up main stems and along branches.  Stem leaves are jade green on the adaxial side which is glabrous, or nearly so, while the abaxial side is uniformly tomentose so that they have a whitish cast.  Leaf arrangement is varied from closely spaced and whorled around the stem as well as alternate or opposite.  Leaves fold inward along the midrib and margins are somewhat undulated.  Venation, although pinnate, is indistinct except for the midvein which is slightly recessed adaxially and expressed abaxially.  With anthesis (flowers open and functioning), and especially with drying soils, stem leaves dry from the ground up, but remain on the stem and become twisted.  With killing frost, dry leaves throughout the plant become brown above and silvery below and remain into winter months.

Inflorescences develop from late summer into early fall.  Inflorescences occur at the ends of branches with a number of branched peduncles, each terminating with up to five closely spaced flower heads on separate pedicels.  Although flower heads of common peduncles are arranged in a corymb (lower heads have longer pedicels), with branches growing from different levels of main stems, the overall inflorescence at the apex of a stem is domed.

Flower head buds have elongated cone shapes with a pointed apex and rounded base.  The exterior of buds is formed by thin, oblong-lanceolate phyllaries (bracts) that are covered with dense, matted hairs (the longest hairs on the plant).  The dense hairs mask details of the phyllaries which are appressed and overlapped in five or so series.

The composite flower heads are composed of only disk flowers which stay well hidden within the tight involucres (phyllaries, collectively).  At anthesis, only the tips of corollas and stamens are seen as a flat yellow surface, with individual florets being indistinct.

Sweet everlasting - Pseudognaphalium obtusifoliumPhoto 3:  In late August, yellow-topped flower heads are at anthesis (this inflorescence covered in morning dew).

Sweet everlasting - Pseudognaphalium obtusifoliumPhoto 4:  In late September, some flower heads remain in bud while others have developed seed.

Florets mature to produce achenes (1-seeded nutlets) with long whitish to straw-colored pappus (tufts of hairs at the top of the achenes).  At seed maturity, the involucres spread wide and the achenes tend to disengage from the receptacle in clusters.  The tiny, elongate, narrow achenes are then dispersed by wind via the pappus.  With the seeds gone and the loss of tomentose hairs, the structure of the involucre is more obvious and four or five series of phyllaries are easily seen.  Phyllaries, almost translucent at this time, have a light green lower central stripe.  Phyllaries in the lower series are shorter and broader than the lanceolate ones in the upper series.

Sweet everlasting - Pseudognaphalium obtusifoliumPhoto 5:  In early October, with dry summer months, many lower stem leaves have dried.

Sweet everlasting - Pseudognaphalium obtusifoliumPhoto 6:  Display of maturing corymbs in mid-October, when achenes are dispersing.  Note achene with pappus in left corymb (arrow) and empty flared involucres and exposed receptacles in right corymb.

At least two other species of the same genus as sweet everlasting are found in Arkansas; namely, red-tip rabbit tobacco (Pseudognaphalium luteoalbum) which is found in over a half dozen scattered counties in south Arkansas and rabbit tobacco (Pseudognaphalium helleri) which is found throughout the southern half of the state.  The non-native red-tip rabbit tobacco (P. luteoalbum) has 1) tap or fibrous roots, 2) similarly tomentose stems and leaves, 3) stem leaves that are more narrow and elongate with decurrent margins (extending down stem below point of leaf attachment), 4) flower heads on very short peduncles/pedicels that are closely grouped at the apex of main branches, and 5) red-tipped corollas.  The native rabbit tobacco (P. helleri) has an overall structure very similar to sweet everlasting, but P. helleri has 1) fibrous roots, 2) stems and leaves that are green with glandular-stipitate hairs at maturity instead of tomentose, and 3) medium green lanceolate leaves.

Other plants that have a very similar appearance during late winter and can occur in the same habitats as sweet everlasting are the related cudweeds (genus Gamochaeta, also formerly of the genus Gnaphalium), of which there are at least seven species (some native and some non-native) in Arkansas (including Gamochaeta purpurea, G. argyrinea, etc.).  Cudweeds have fibrous roots, leaves that are generally shorter and more broadly spathulate, and leaf pubescence that feels smooth rather than velvety.  Upon growth of stems and inflorescences, they are more easy to distinguish from sweet everlasting.  Flower heads of cudweed are sessile to very short-stalked and occur in tight clusters or spikes of clusters.

Sweet everlasting - Pseudognaphalium obtusifoliumPhoto 7:  Plants at left and upper positions are sweet everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium). Lower right plant is a cudweed (Gamochaeta sp.).

Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

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Know Your Natives – White Oldfield Aster

White oldfield aster (Symphyotrichum pilosum), formerly Aster pilosus, a herbaceous perennial of the Aster (Asteraceae) family, occurs from Texas to South Dakota and Minnesota thence to the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts.  In Arkansas, this aster occurs statewide and is one of 22 species of aster (Symphyotrichum) konwn to occur in the state.   Habitats for this aster include old fields, open woodlands and roadways with a wide variety of dry to mesic soils.  The genus name is from Greek for “junction” and “hair”, apparently based on a European cultivar.  The specific epithet is from Latin for “hairy”.  Other common names include white heath aster, hairy aster, frost (based on dense hairs) aster, and awl (based on shape of phyllaries) aster.

In late fall, after flowering, basal leaf rosettes appear and that persist over winter.  Basal leaves are oval to elliptic with a narrowed base that may be glabrous or have scattered hairs on upper leaf surface as well as short marginal (ciliate) hairs.  These leaves, which may be 3 inches long and an inch wide, have entire margins or a few widely spaced shallow serrations.  The adaxial (upper) leaf surface is medium green, while the abaxial (lower) surface is a slightly lighter green.  Each basal rosette produces a stem.

White oldfield aster - Symphyotrichum pilosumPhoto 1:  In November, stems are frozen and overwintering basal rosettes appear.  Old stems retain pubescence.  Ciliate (marginal) hairs can be seen on new leaves.

White oldfield aster grows in clumps (cespitose) from a caudex and has both fibrous roots and rhizomes.  Young stems are a medium green, but as the terete stems mature the color changes to brown or reddish brown and stems become hardened.  Mature plants have tall lanky stems that may reach 5 feet.  The largest stems may have splits in their epidermal layer due to lateral growth pressure.  Pubescence of short hairs typically covers the entire stem.  The stout, straight stems tend to lean in various directions from the caudex.  Dead stems persist well into the next year, still exhibiting pubescence.

Stem leaves are alternate, simple and spaced 1½ to 4 inches apart.  Clusters of leaves (fascicles) arises from the leaf axils.  Leaves in these fascicles become alternate leaves along growing branches.  Lower, down-stem, branches may be an inch or two long, while higher, up-stem, branches may reach 12 or even 16 inches.  The longer branches also produce fascicles that become secondary branches.

White oldfield aster - Symphyotrichum pilosumPhoto 2:  In mid-May, new stems may be 3 feet tall.  Note pubescent stems, ciliate leaf margins, winged bases of stem leaves, and fascicles of leaves from leaf axils that will grow into branches.

Leaves along stems (cauline leaves) and branches differ in size and shape from the basal leaves.  The largest leaves, cauline leaves and those lower on branches, may be 4 inches long and ½ inch wide at mid-leaf and have a very gentle taper to leaf tips (acuminate).  Leaf width from mid-leaf to leaf base reduces down to narrow wings that continue to the sessile and clasping leaf base.  Leaves have entire margins or small widely spaced serrations.  Slight up-folding occurs along midrib which is especially prominent along the winged base.  Along with short ciliate hairs at leaf margins, similar scattered hairs occur on adaxial leaf surface while abaxial surface is more hairy with concentrations along primary veins and the leaf base.  Leaves are thin and feel slightly rough.  The color on both sides of leaves is a similar medium green.  As plants mature in fall, especially with drying soils, lower leaves wither and drop off.

White oldfield aster - Symphyotrichum pilosumPhoto 3:  In mid-October, pubescent stems are hard and brown.  Lower along stem, axillary branches that bear flowers are shorter, as shown.

Leaves on branches that bear the inflorescence become smaller upwards, first becoming broadly acicular (needle-shaped), to acicular, then to bract-like.  These leaves and bracts, also sessile, have the same color and pubescence as the larger leaves, though without winged bases.  The acicular leaves, which may be ½ inch long and 1/16 inch wide, further decrease in size to tiny acicular bracts.  Bracts are especially numerous at the ends of the longest branches and secondary branches.

The inflorescence, a series of composite flower heads along branches, occurs along and toward the ends of widely spreading and ascending, short to long branches.  The longest flowering branches tend to occur about mid-upper-stem with shorter braches below and above.  Branches have alternate leaves or bracts that are separated from each other by about ½ to 1/8 inch or less.  Leaf/bract size and separation decreases toward the ends of branches.  Leaves or bracts within the inflorescence subtend a single flower head or a fascicle that may produce a secondary flowering branch.  Flower heads at the ends of branches or secondary branches bloom first, with development continuing down-branch over a month or two if conditions remain favorable.  When stems lean to a great degree, flower heads bend to the sunny side, becoming secund (oriented to one side).  Bracts just below flower heads have acute tips that grade into the similarly sized and shaped phyllaries.

White oldfield aster - Symphyotrichum pilosumPhoto 4:  In mid-October, plants may be 5 feet tall with many branches and secondary branches.  Fragrant or aromatic aster (S. oblongifolium) is shown at lower right.

Flower heads, to about ¾ inch wide, have 20+ pistillate ray flowers and 25+ perfect yellow disk flowers.  Ray flowers have widely spreading strap-like ligules, normally white, about ¼ inch long and 1/16 inch wide.  Tubular disk flowers, with yellow 5-lobed corollas and yellow stamens, become reddish with age.  Flower heads are set in an elongated urn-shaped involucre composed of closely spaced, sharply pointed, 1/8 inch, awl-shaped, overlapping, stiff bracts (phyllaries) in 4 to 6 irregular layers (series).  Phyllaries are appressed on their lower portion and upward-flared on upper portion.  Involucres are the same medium green as leaves, but with lighter green bases due to bract growth.  Pedicels, subtended by acicular bracts, are not more than ¼ inch long.  The elongate inferior ovaries of the ray and disk flowers have bristly structures (pappus) at their upper ends.   The white styles of ray flowers and yellow styles of disk flowers have bifurcated stigmas.

White oldfield aster - Symphyotrichum pilosumPhoto 5:  Ends of branches and secondary branches bear acicular leaves and bracts that transition directly to the acicular phyllaries.  Note the pubescent branches and ¾-inch daisy-like flower heads.

White oldfield aster - Symphyotrichum pilosumPhoto 6:  The disk flowers changes from yellow to reddish with age.  Note the many acicular leaves and bracts below flower heads

With fertilization, ray and disk flowers produce 1-seeded achenes topped by tufts of white hairs (pappus).  Achenes, about 1/16-inch long and dispersed by wind, are slightly flattened and lightly ribbed.

White oldfield aster - Symphyotrichum pilosumPhoto 7:   Composite flower heads have pistillate ray flowers and perfect disk flowers.  Ovaries indicated by “x’s”.  Stigmas of ray flowers indicated by red arrows while those of disk flowers indicated by yellow arrows.  Stamens indicated by blue arrows.  Pappus indicated by white arrows.

Asters are important nectar and pollen sources for many insects in the fall.  White oldfield aster may not be suitable for small gardens due to large size and tendency to readily spread by seed.  Removal and disposal of seeds before maturity lessens degree of spreading.

Several other native Arkansas asters have white flower heads and may get confused with white oldfield aster.  Wreath aster (S. ericoides), typically found in tallgrass and blackland prairies of western Arkansas, tends to be about 2 feet tall and bushy with smaller more closely spaced leaves; in addition, flower heads have fewer ray flowers.  White woodland aster (S. lateriflorum), known from throughout the state, has narrowly lanceolate leaves, prefers shadier and usually moister woodlands, has smaller flower heads with fewer ray flowers, and the pubescence tends to be limited to stems (although the mid-vein on the underside of leaves may be hairy, as well).  Bottomland aster (S. ontarionis) has abaxial side of leaves uniformly soft pubescent, upper leaves and bracts that are broader and more leaf-like, and is strongly rhizomatous; it occurs in lowlands of eastern Arkansas.  Tall white aster (S. lanceolatum), found scattered throughout much of the state in moist woodlands and disturbed areas, has mature leaves that are glabrous with wedge-shaped bases and stem hairs in lines, and it lacks the numerous small leaves and bracts found on upper branches of white oldfield aster.

White oldfield aster can be distinguished by a combination of characteristics: It 1) prefers drier and often more disturbed habitats, 2) has new basal growth of oval to elliptic leaves, 3) has evenly pubescent stems, and 4) has leafy fascicles during mid-summer growth.

Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

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Know Your Natives – Beautyberry

Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) of the Mint (Lamiaceae) family, formerly of the Vervain (Verbenaceae) family, is a large deciduous shrub that occurs throughout the Southeastern U.S. from Texas and Oklahoma to southern Missouri and southwestern Kentucky, to Maryland, thence south and east to the coasts.  In Arkansas, it is recorded from across the state but is more sparse in the northernmost Ozark counties.  The genus name comes from Greek meaning “beautiful fruit”.  The specific epithet means “of the Americas”.  It is also called American beautyberry, beautybush and French-mulberry.

This plant, with multiple stems growing from the root stock, does well in a wide variety of soils in full sun or partial shade.  Branches, growing from previous year’s stems and older branches, are irregularly spaced and unbranched in current year’s growth.  Most branch growth occurs from side buds rather than terminal buds.  New, rapidly growing basal stems may arise from among older stems of mature plants.  In favorable sites, new stems and fruit-producing branches may grow up to three or more feet per year.  Plants have a relatively dense habit in sunnier sites, while in shady sites plants have fewer stems with a more open habit.  Rapid growth rate of new branches and weight of fruit along ends of branches cause branches to permanently arch downward to the extent that mature shrubs have a cascading appearance.  Overall plant height may be 7 feet or more with greater widths.  Plants may live for 15 or more years.

New growth of stems and branches appear woolly due to being densely covered with short, branched hairs.  Dense hairs extend onto petioles and peduncles, and along the veins of lower sides of leaf blades, along with shorter hairs throughout upper and lower surfaces of leaf blades.  Hairs on stems wear away throughout the growing season, the stems becoming smooth and tan with variously-sized, thin, elongate lenticels (pores).  On old growth, lenticels become rounded to irregularly shaped and corky.

Beautyberry - Callicarpa americanaPhoto 1:  A first-year seedling exhibits characteristic widely spaced opposite leaves and rapid growth.

Beautyberry - Callicarpa americanaPhoto 2:  Trunk of a 12-year or older plant showing “old growth” stems alongside one- and two-year old stems.  Note lenticels on old and young stems.

Large, elliptic-obovate, mostly opposite leaves occur along new stems and current year’s branches.  Leaves may reach 9 inches long (including the 1½ inch flat-topped petioles) and about half as wide.  Leaves, which are generally widely spaced and opposite, tend to be closer together and significantly smaller toward the branch apex.  However, at branch apices, leaves may occur singly or as a group of several leaves.  Leaves, with a consistent shape throughout the plant, are dark green above and light yellowish green below with yellow veins.  Leaf blades are flat, soft and flexible with tips and bases that are similarly tapered.  Margins, except at the tip and near the base, are dentate with triangular teeth.  Venation is impressed above and raised below, with primary veins that are pinnate but offset across the midrib.  Secondary veins connect primary veins to one another (cross-venulate).  Leaf blade, on upper side, is up-flexed between veins.  In fall, leaves exhibit a nice yellow-green coloration.  On new branches, axils of leaves approaching branch apices develop two buds, one above the other.  Lower buds may develop into branches the next growing year while upper buds may develop into inflorescences during the current year.

In early summer, clusters of flowers grow from the upper axillary buds.  Clusters above paired opposite leaves are of equal size (referred to herein as “double cluster”).  Peduncles of clusters are thrice bifurcated so that eight small umbels grow from a single leaf axil with up to ten or more flowers per umbel.  All flowers in a double cluster bloom and fade simultaneously.  Double clusters bloom sequentially toward branch apices with only one double cluster reaching anthesis at one time.

Flowers bear light pink or white, stubby and funnel shaped corollas, approximately one-eighth-inch in diameter, with four rounded lobes and prominently exserted stamens and styles.  Filaments, with knobby divided yellow anthers, and styles, with a flattened split stigma, have a coloration similar to the corolla lobes.  Flowers are set in a light green one-piece, cup-like calyx.

Beautyberry - Callicarpa americanaPhoto 3:  In early July, branches and petioles are woolly.  Note succession of buds to flowers to fruit.

In late summer, flowers reliably produce fruit (berries) with luminous magenta or white skin.  As they grow, the double clusters of fruit form a dense flattened to rounded mass up to about 1½ inches wide with a depth of about ¾ inch.  Fruit masses, enveloping leaf bases, are aligned along slender branches in shish-kabob fashion.  As leaf spacing decreases near branch tips, fruit clusters may join together to form a longer continuous cluster.  Also, when “extra” leaves (typical opposite leaves plus one or two more) are present, each leaf produces its own flower/fruit cluster resulting in larger fruit clusters.

Beautyberry - Callicarpa americanaPhoto 4:  Shrubs in full sun, as shown, have a more dense habit than those in partial sun.

Beautyberry - Callicarpa americanaPhoto 5:  In this mid-September photo, note that the pinnate primary veins are offset across the midrib.  Also, note dentate margins.

A fully developed fruit has four cupped, somewhat elongate, thin light tan seeds.  Seeds are small in relation to fruit size, with each seed set separately in light-colored mealy fluid, the cupped side with a fruit core of the same fluid.  Fruit, unless eaten by wildlife, remains after leaves have fallen.

Beautyberry - Callicarpa americanaPhoto 6:  Double clusters of beautyberry fruit are shown (common magenta [left] and less common white [right]) with a double cluster (fruit removed [center]) in which thrice divided peduncles (see yellow arrows) and pedicels can be seen along with calyces.  Stem is removed (see red arrow).  Seeds are also shown.

For a larger garden or natural area this plant provides good color and structure as well as an excellent wildlife food source.  Its large open arching structure and large leaves attract attention even before fruit develops.  When fruit ripens to a magenta color (the complimentary color of green) or pure white* and leaves assume their fall color, this plant is a “show stopper”.   Fruit can persist into winter, but may be devoured by birds, small mammals and deer well before winter.  Although drought tolerant, leaves tend to wilt when soil dries, but rebound with renewed moisture.  Cold winters may kill stems, but not the plant.  Beautyberry is a prolific seeder and can form colonies from seed.

Beautyberry - Callicarpa americanaPhoto 7:  In mid-October, fall leaf color accents magenta fruit.

A second species in the same genus has been identified as escaped in Arkansas, namely, non-native Chinese beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma), which is documented from Saline County.  This winter-hardy plant also bears magenta fruit, but on a smaller shrub than American beautyberry.   Chinese beautyberry, although not now classified as invasive, is potentially invasive.

  • White fruited beautyberry is a form of Callicarpa americana.  This white form has been referred to as Callicarpa americana var. lactea.  The flowers are also white.

Note:  Raw fruit should not be eaten.  However, fruit has been used for jelly as noted in Florida’s Incredible Edibles by Richard Deuerling and Peggy Lantz.  This same book also provides a recipe for using beautyberry as insect repellant.

Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

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Arkansas Center for Biodiversity Collections – 1st Annual Bioblitz


There is an amazing opportunity for some citizen science up in the Jonesboro/Cherry Valley area of northeast Arkansas later in October.

The event is October 20 and 21.

See the flyer below for more details and contact Kari Harris, for more details and to sign up!


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