Know Your Natives – Yarrow

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) of the Sunflower, Aster or Composite (Asteraceae) family has distinctive, highly dissected, frilly leaves. The species, the only Arkansas member of the genus Achillea, is native to North America, Asia, and Europe––one of the widest worldwide ranges among the flowering plants. It occurs across almost the entire U.S., including throughout all of Arkansas. The genus name originates from “Achilles,” the mythological Greek hero of the Trojan Wars, who is said to have discovered the plant’s healing powers. The specific epithet, from Latin, means “thousand-leaved.” Other vernacular names include milfoil (based on the French word for “thousand-leaved”), soldier’s woundwort, woolly yarrow, and thousand-leaf. Preferred habitat is well drained soils in full sun in prairies, grasslands, and roadsides, and occasionally, in partial sun of open woodlands.

This herbaceous perennial may occur as individual clumps, larger communities of intertwined clones, or as thick “weedy” stands. It has shallow, skinny, horizontal rhizomes that give rise to long thread-like roots. New rosettes of basal leaves, growing from rhizome tips, are present in mid-winter. Erect stems, beginning development in late winter, eventually mature at 2-3 feet tall. Stems are unbranched to the inflorescence and typically covered with short woolly pubescence. Flowering occurs from May to June. After seeds mature in August, dead stems recline and persist into winter. Crushed plants have a strong scent that is comparable to chrysanthemums.

Photo 1: Rosettes of basal leaves grow during winter months. Photo – late March.

Compound basal and cauline leaves are bipinnately divided and dissected, with closely spaced, finely cut leaflets throughout. Basal leaves grow to 8 inches long and ½ inch wide, their largest leaflets occurring near mid-leaf. Leaflets terminate in sharp, yet flexible mucronate points. Leaflets and sub-leaflets are lightly twisted in various planes so that a leaf appears frilly and soft. Alternate, well-spaced cauline leaves are sessile to sub-sessile and cyclically arranged. Leaf pubescence varies from hairy to nearly glabrous.

Photo 2: Basal leaves, showing upper side (above) and lower side (below). Complexity of sub-leaflets decreases toward leaf base and apex. Photo – mid-January.


Photo 3: Cauline leaves are alternate and cyclic about the stems. Stems are erect, but easily damaged by wind and rain. Photo – late April.
Photo 4: Cauline leaves have the same appearance as basal leaves (see Photo 2). Note pubescence of stems. Photo – late April.

Yarrow produces a terminal inflorescence in April and May. Branches are cyclically arranged below the stem apex, with the longest branches lower on the stem. The ascending sturdy branches divide into peduncles (stalks of multiple flower heads) and, ultimately, into pedicels (stalks of individual flower heads). Each branch produces a corymbose inflorescence which, merging with other branches, forms a compound corymb with a flat to slightly domed top 2 to 4 inches broad. Compound corymbs may consist of 150 to 200+ small flower heads (¼ inch long and across) that are tightly spaced to partially overlapping. Branches, peduncles, and pedicels are a pale green with short pilose pubescence.

Photo 5: This compound corymb is composed of several smaller corymbs, each on a separate branch. Nectar and pollen attract a wide variety of insects. Photo – early June.

Each composite flower head comprises 4-6 pistillate ray florets which surround 8-20 perfect disk florets. Corollas of the ray florets, white to occasionally pink, bear a broadly rounded, shallowly 3-lobed, white ligule atop a slender hidden tube that attaches to the apex of an inferior ovary. The cream-colored tubular disk florets have five recurved, short, triangular corolla lobes. A ring of 5 yellow disk floret anthers emerges from the disk corolla, after which the style, acting as a kind of plunger, is exserted through the anther ring and presents the pollen, making it available to pollinating insects. After pollen is disbursed, the styles (of both ray and disk florets) split and recurve as their stigmas become receptive.

Florets are tightly contained by an elongate involucre composed of imbricated, appressed, oblong-lanceolate, hairy phyllaries (bracts). Phyllaries have yellow apices, a narrow pale-green lanceolate midrib, and wide light-colored scarious (thin and dry) borders. 

Photo 6: Display shows lower and upper side of a portion of a compound corymb. Phyllaries have a green midrib and scarious borders. Yellow elongate anthers of several disk florets that are approaching anthesis can be seen. Photo – mid-May.
Photo 7: The composite flower heads have 4 to 6 pistillate ray florets surrounding 8 to 20 perfect disk florets. As shown, anthers of most disk florets have already dispersed pollen and exserted styles are bifurcated. Photo- mid-May.

With fertilization, ray and disk florets produce light tan, oblong, flattened, 1-seeded achenes. No pappus is present. The flat apical edge of the achenes bears a central raised scar which results from attachment of the corolla tube. The light-weight seeds are dispersed short distances by wind.

In well-drained soil, yarrow is both a widely cultivated ornamental as well as a lovely addition to a native plant garden or natural area, appreciated for its winter foliage, its distinctive finely textured leaves year round, and its (usually) bright white inflorescence. The slender stems are subject to wind and rain damage and decline soon after seeds mature. Plants can spread aggressively by rhizomes and self-seeding. Removal of spent stems after bloom restricts plant-spread by self-seeding and keeps plants tidy in late summer. Nectar and pollen attract a wide variety of insects. Yarrow is drought-resistant and is not preferred by deer or rabbits. It has a rich history of medicinal and herbal use.

Characteristics of yarrow’s leaves are sufficiently distinct so that it is readily distinguished from any other native (or non-native) species occurring in the state.

Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

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Know Your Natives – Buttonbush

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) of the Madder or Coffee (Rubiaceae) family is a deciduous wetland shrub with many small radiating flowers packed into tight spherical heads. It occurs across a large area of the eastern U.S. from the Big Bend area of Texas, northeastward into southeastern Minnesota, and east to the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. There are also disjunct populations in portions of Arizona and California. In Arkansas, it occurs statewide. The genus name is from Greek words for “head” and “flower.” The specific epithet, from Latin, translates to “of the West.” Other common names include button-willow and honey-bells. Preferred habitat is sunny to shaded wetlands that may be subject to periodic and even extended flooding, such as swamp and pond margins, marshes, swales, floodplains, and drainages.

Buttonbush is an upright to spreading woody shrub––the only woody member of the Coffee family in Arkansas––with a typical height of 3 to 8 feet, but may attain small-tree size especially in heavy shade. New branches are smooth and green with white lenticels. In subsequent years, branches darken to brown or reddish brown and lenticels become corky. Ultimately, trunks and branches become gray and fissured. 

Photo 1: Buttonbush growing in a small wetland site, this old shrub has an open structure and fissured bark.

Simple leaves, developing in late spring, occur as opposite pairs or whorls of three or four, growing from swollen nodes. Blades are ovate to elliptical with entire margins, acuminate tips, and rounded to narrowed bases. Leaves expand to 7 inches long and 4 inches wide, including slender 1½ inch-long petioles. The upper leaf surface is a shiny dark green (less shiny later in growing season), while the lower surface is duller. Ascending petioles are reddish to brownish. Triangular, persistent, reddish stipules, to about ⅛ inch long, occur beside the petioles and leave minute line-scars around the nodes. 

Photo 2: Opposite, simple leaves can be so regular that a short branch appears like a compound leaf. Photo – July 6.
Photo 3: Display of branches (youngest at top). The top branch retains a tiny, bract-like stipule (to left of leaf scar) and an obscure dormant bud (bump directly above leaf scar). Note corky lenticels and splitting bark on older branches. Photo- January 7.

The inflorescence consists of showy, fragrant, spherical flower heads that occur singly at the branch tips and in 2-4 opposite pairs below. Whorls of 3 or 4 may occur and sometimes flower heads and leaves occur in the same whorl. Heads are from ¾ to 1¼ inches in diameter and comprise several hundred small, sessile, tubular, equal-sized flowers. Flowers begin to bloom in early June. All flowers of a head reach anthesis at the same time and, but with up to a dozen heads on a branch blooming successively, the bloom period may extend over a month. After fruits have matured and shed seeds, the peduncles die back to the leaf nodes below.

Photo 4: Secondary leaf veins curve toward the margin and become parallel to the margin. Reddish stipules occur on swollen leaf nodes, beside the petioles. Upper leaf blades have a rugose appearance. Photo – August 2.

The ⅓-inch-long fragrant white flowers are composed of a long slender, tubular corolla and a small shallow pale green four-lobed calyx about ¼ inch long. The corolla has four oval, ascending, flared lobes. Single black dots occur outside the tube, where corolla lobes and tube join. Flowers have four short white filaments with brownish yellow round anthers and a white style topped with a light yellow stigma. While the filaments and anthers are positioned at the mouth of the tube; the long styles protrude well above the corolla so that heads at anthesis have a prickly appearance. Filaments are adnate to the tube in its upper portion. The ovaries are inferior––calyx and corolla are attached at the summit of the ovary, not at the base.

Photo 5: White tubular flowers are set in stubby green calyxes and in tight, spherical heads. (Small leaves below the flower head on this branch are not typical.) Photo – August 2.

After blooming, flowers quickly wilt and drop off to reveal a sphere of empty, sturdy green calyxes. Calyxes gradually shrink to form the squarish indented apex of the fruits. The green heads may become reddish before drying to a light tan and then dark brown. Fruits, ¼ inch long, have straight sides that taper sharply to the base (narrowly conical). The tightly packed head forms a hard, rough sphere with a diameter to about ⅞ inch and may contain more than 250 fruits. With peduncles and immediately adjacent branches dying, dangling fruit heads persist over the winter months. Fruits may contain one or two nutlets, but often ovules do not develop into viable seeds. Fruits are dispersed by birds and water.

Photo 6: Calyxes persist as fruits develop. Fruit head may become reddish before drying to light tan and then dark brown. Photo – September 10.
Photo 7: A head may contain several hundred narrowly conical nutlets that are ¼ inch long. Photo – November 14.

In a native plant garden, butterfly garden, or natural area, buttonbush is well suited for a consistently wet to shallow-water or boggy site. It is adaptable to less wet sites, but will need supplemental watering until well established. With its open growth habit, it has a strong structural appearance in winter months. Flowering is more profuse in sunnier sites. Flower heads are very showy and attract butterflies, bees, and many other insects, as well as hummingbirds. Fruits are eaten by ducks and a variety of other birds. Fruit heads, persisting for six months or more, are attractive and distinctive over winter months. A grouping of shrubs is effective in controlling erosion on pond banks. Plants propagate easily from cuttings. It is not an aggressive self-seeder. Buttonbush is a poisonous plant (contains cephalathin).

Photo 8: Fruit heads persist into winter months. Upper portion of branches, which have borne the flower heads, die after fruits have matured.

Buttonbush is the only species of the genus that occurs in Arkansas. Its preferred habitat  and the appearance if its spherical flower and fruit heads allow it to be readily distinguished from other shrubs and small trees that have simple, opposite, entire leaves. In addition to its wide range in the Lower 48, the species occurs south of the border, in Mexico and Central America, and to the north in southeastern Canada.

Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

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Know Your Natives – Hairy Lipfern

Hairy lipfern (Cheilanthes lanosa)* of the Brake Fern (Pteridaceae) family, formerly of the Polypody (Polypodiaceae) family, is a small to moderate-sized evergreen fern with delicate fronds. It occurs at higher elevations from Oklahoma to Connecticut, principally in the following physiographic provinces: Interior Highlands, Interior Low Plateaus, Valley and Ridge, Blue Ridge and Piedmont. In Arkansas, it occurs in rocky elevated areas of the Interior Highlands which stretch across the northwestern half of the state. The genus name combines Greek words for “margin” and “flower,” from the marginal sori (fruit dots). The specific epithet describes the pubescence. The common name “lipfern” refers to revolute (turned-under) pinna margins. Its preferred habitat is dry soils on sunny rocky ledges and slopes, as well as in open woodlands.

Hairy lipfern has a shallow, creeping rootstock composed of branching and tightly intermingled rhizomes that are supported by a thick mat of fibrous roots. In spring, closely spaced fronds with nodding apexes emerge from rhizome tips. The slow growing plants gradually expand outward to produce a thick mass of fronds. Fronds curl up during a summer drought but, like the epiphytic resurrection fern, unfurl again with renewed moisture. Fronds remain viable through winter and die the following summer. Dead fronds gradually decay over several years.

Fronds (leaves) are evergreen. Initially light green, with long pubescence on the stipe (petiole) and rachis (midrib), they mature to a medium green, the pubescence becoming light brown, shorter and more scattered. Hairs on mature leaves do not hide the dark purple surface of the stipe and rachis.

Photo 1: In this mid-March photo, new leaves are covered with long dense hairs. Previous year’s evergreen leaves can be seen to left and right.
Photo 2: In this mid-June photo, new leaves are maturing as the previous year’s leaves decline.

Mature sterile and fertile fronds, viewed from above, have the same appearance. The ascending, lanceolate, thrice-cut fronds are 6 to 12 inches long and 1 to 1½ inches wide. Blades tend to be two to three times longer than their wiry stipes. Fronds have up to about 20 pairs of pinnae (leaflets). Proximal pinnae are nearly opposite and widely spaced but become sub-opposite to alternate toward the apex. Short pinnae near the apex are in contact with each other and merge together. Longest pinnae tend to be near the middle of the rachis. The symmetrical pinnae are cut into one to ten pairs of opposite to alternate pinnules (secondary leaflets). Pinnae are to ⅝ inch long, with rounded apexes. Margins of pinnae are revolute so that a narrow continuous lip is formed on the abaxial (lower) surface––the adaxial (upper) surface thus appears flexed-up and the abaxial surface sunken. Both surfaces are sparsely hairy. Veins are obscure.

Photo 3: Display shows two sterile fronds on left and two fertile fronds on right. Adaxial (upper) surfaces are shown on far left and far right, abaxial (lower) surfaces at center. Photo – July 31.

Fertile fronds, on the abaxial surface, bear clusters of tiny ball-like sori (each sorus a cluster of sporangia) aligned with pinnule margins and mostly concentrated at the lobes. Sori are mostly exposed outside the marginal lip. Sori change from light green to dark brown before becoming golden yellow with spore dispersal in summer. Sori are naked (without covering structures called indusia).

Photo 4: Display shows abaxial sides of a sterile frond (left) and fertile frond (right). Sori are clustered along revolute margins, especially within the lobes of the pinnules. Upper pinnae become shorter and closer together. Photo – July 25.

With spores dispersed, the reproductive activity of the “sporophyte” phase of the fern’s life cycle concludes. In the soil, spores germinate to produce a prothallus, the “gametophyte” phase. The tiny prothallus produces sperm and egg. Sperm swim through ground moisture to fertilize eggs that have remained attached to the prothallus. Fertilization produces a zygote that, in turn, develops into a new sporophyte plant.

Photo 5: This pinna has about 10 sub-opposite to alternate pinnules. In this mid-July photo, sori have dried and spores are being dispersed.

In a garden environment, hairy lipfern would be a compact plant that would add texture and character throughout the year. It is one of few ferns that grows well in sunny, dry, rocky sites. In a garden, it is not noted for spreading by spores. This fern, once established, survives drought well. It is not favored by deer or rabbits.

Four other lipferns occur in Arkansas: Alabama lipfern (Cheilanthes alabamensis), Eaton’s lipfern (Cheilanthes eatonii), slender lipfern (Cheilanthes feei), and woolly lipfern (Cheilanthes tomentosa). Of these species, the appearance of hairy lipfern is most similar to woolly lipfern. (To make matters more confusing, hairy lip fern’s species epithet means woolly and woolly lip fern’s epithet means hairy.) Hairy lipfern is significantly smaller than woolly lipfern, and has hirsute pubescence rather than woolly pubescence.

Photo 6: This mid-June photo, shows hairy lipfern (right) and woolly lipfern (left). Hairy lipfern is smaller and has green leaves as compared to the larger bluish gray of woolly lipfern.

Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

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Know Your Natives – Sensitive Fern

Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) of the Sensitive Fern (Onocleaceae) family, formerly of the Polypody Fern (Polypodiaceae) family, is a widespread fern with dimorphic fronds (leaves): deciduous, sterile, photosynthetic (green) fronds and persistent, non-green, fertile fronds. The genus name is from the Greek for “closed cup,” from the rolled pinnules (divisions of pinnae) that conceal the sori (fruit dots). The specific epithet is Latin for “sensitive.” This monotypic fern (only species in the genus) occurs across the eastern half of the U.S. and Canada, as well as in eastern Asia. In Arkansas, it occurs statewide. Natural habitat is shaded to sunny areas that are consistently damp to wet, such as swamps, marshes, seeps, ditches, bottomland forests, and margins of streams and lakes. The sterile fronds are “sensitive” to cold temperatures, dying with the first light frost. It is also called “bead fern” from the bead-like pinnules of fertile fronds.

The rootstock consists of shallow dark brown to black creeping rhizomes with occasional branches. With the rhizomes overlapping, thick colonies develop in favorable sites. New fronds grow from these rhizomes. The thickened bases of fronds parallel the rhizome, but stipes (leaf stalks) quickly turn to exit the soil vertically. Dead infertile fronds decay quickly, while their bases remain attached to the rhizomes for several years. Fertile fronds persist for over a year, with their bases persisting for several additional years. 

Photo 1: As shown, actively growing rhizome tips are growing toward the viewer; previous years’ pinnae bases extending away. A segment of a dead rhizomes (⅜ inch in diameter) is positioned at left. Photo – November 27.

Sensitive fern bears once-divided fronds of two distinct forms. Sterile fronds appear in early spring as reddish fiddleheads (also called crosiers), while fertile fronds appear in fall. Green sterile fronds are killed by light frost; fertile fronds remain viable overwinter and release spores the following spring.

Photo 2: In late March, sterile fiddleheads unfurl in this wetland. The beaded fertile fronds (from the previous year) have not yet released spores. Older fertile fronds decline on left.

The yellowish to pale green sterile fronds, 2-3 feet long and 1 foot wide on slender stipes to 1½ feet long, are broad and somewhat triangular in outline, with 6 to 12 opposite to nearly opposite pairs of pinnae (leaflets). Pinnae are lance-elliptic, to 8 inches long and 1½ inches wide, becoming more closely spaced and joined toward frond apex to form blunt lobes. Pinnae margins of smaller plants may be entire or wavy while those of larger plants vary from broadly serrate proximally to more entire distally. Fronds are generally hairless except for short hairs on the veins beneath and a few brown scales along the stipe. Wings appear along the lower rachis and become continuous toward the rounded tip. 

Photo 3: Infertile fronds, with winged rachises, have wavy to broadly serrate margins. A fertile frond, spores still retained, is shown at lower center. Photo – April 24.

Photo 4: Pinnae and wings have a similar appearance. Upper tertiary veins can be seen near lower left corner.

Fertile fronds have few similarities to sterile fronds. A fertile frond may be up to 29 inches tall, including a 19 inch stipe. The strong stipes have a furrowed to flattened upper side and a rounded lower side. Fertile fronds have sharply ascending, narrow pinnae to 2 inches long that bear a dozen or so opposite to near-opposite pairs of green pinnules. The pinnules, on short stalks, have five inrolled, tightly overlapping lobes which enclose firm bead-like clusters of sporangia. Fertile fronds are green in the fall, but stipes become tan in winter as the fertile portions the frond become dark brown. In spring, lobes of pinnules unfold as sporangia release spores. (Occasionally, plants may have pinnae with an appearance that is intermediate between sterile and fertile leaves, forma obtusilobata.)

Photo 5: Pinnae margins of sterile fronds may be entire, wavy, crenulated or broadly serrated. In this mid-October photo, fertile pinnae are recently emerged.

With spores dispersed, the reproductive activity of the “sporophyte phase” of the fern’s life cycle concludes. In the soil, spores germinate to produce a prothallus, the “gametophyte phase.” The tiny prothallus produces sperm and egg. Sperm swim through ground moisture to fertilize eggs that have remained attached to their prothallus. Fertilization produces a zygote that, in turn, develops into a new sporophyte plant.

Photo 6: In this mid-October photo, the new fertile frond on top has pinnules with overlapping lobes that form bead-like clusters. The year-old frond on bottom has open pinnules.

Sensitive fern would be a nice addition to a garden or natural area which has shaded moist areas or sunny wet to mucky sites. In a wetter site, the plant may need a barrier so that it does not spread too aggressively. This medium-sized fern, with plentiful light green sterile fronds during the growing season and prominent winter-time fertile fronds, has a strong structural character. Green or dried fertile fronds work well in floral arrangements.

The characteristics of sensitive fern are unique enough so that it should not be confused with any other native Arkansas ferns. A possible exception is netted chain fern (Woodwardia areolata) which also has separate sterile and fertile fronds and may grow in similar habitats. Sterile fronds are similar, however, alternate pinnae of netted chain fern have minutely serrated margins and acute apexes. Fertile fronds are distinct: sporangium clusters of netted chain fern are oblong and sited along narrow pinnae.

Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

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Know Your Natives – Scarlet Rose Mallow

Scarlet rose mallow or swamp hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus) of the Mallow or Cotton (Malvaceae) family is a tall herbaceous perennial with large, spectacular, scarlet (rarely white) flowers. The genus name is an old Greek name for “mallow”. The specific epithet is Latin for “scarlet”. The species occurs in scattered areas of the Coastal Plain from Texas to Virginia. In Arkansas it is a plant of conservation concern, occurring presumably naturally only in Lafayette County, but known escaped in several others. Natural habitat consists of sunny to lightly shaded areas of fresh-water swamps, marshes and drainages.

Scarlet rose mallow has a few to multiple erect, terete, smooth and glaucous stems 3 to 6 feet tall, occasionally taller.  Although they die back to the root-crown in winter, they are tough enough to persist among the new growth for several years. Larger plants may have slender, axillary branches which may be several feet long. Branches and petioles (leaf stalks) are also glabrous and glaucous. Stems, branches and petioles are a pastel light green, with reddish shading on the sunny side.

Typical leaves, 5 to 6 inches wide on 2 to 6 inch-long petioles, have a hemp-like, palmate blade composed of five wide-spread, linear-lanceolate, toothed lobes that unite at the petiole or higher in the leaf blade. Leaves are alternate, glabrous, light to medium green above and somewhat lighter beneath. Margins may be highlighted in thin lines of red.

Photo 1: Typical leaves have five linear-lanceolate lobes that attach to the petiole; however, as shown at upper center of photo, less dominant leaves may have three lobes. Sunny sides of stems, branches and petioles have a reddish shading.

Although flowering of scarlet rose mallow may extend for a month or more in mid to late summer, the solitary flowers remain in bloom for only one day each. The large flowers (diameters of 4 to 6 inches!) grow from the axils of the uppermost several to dozen leaves of the stems and branches. Flower buds have a glabrous calyx of five triangular sepals aligned margin-to-margin and united in their lower portion. Subtending the calyx, a raised ring bears 10 to 15 free-standing, ascending, glabrous, linear bracts, the so-called epicalyx, typical of many genera of Malvaceae. The yellowish green sepals may be 2 inches long, the medium green bracts from 1 to 1½ inches long. The persistent calyx and bracts are set on pedicels to 4 inches long.

Photo 2: Flower buds are axillary from uppermost leaves. Leaf margins have irregular serrations. Leaf margins and upper midveins tend to have a reddish line.
Photo 3: Sepals, subtended by linear bracts, loosely protect developing flower buds. Flowers open and close during the daylight hours of a single day.

Large, showy corollas are comprised of five well-separated, spreading, ovate petals, narrowed at the base and flaring to a broadly rounded tip. Petals, inside and out, are red with the throat being deep vibrant red.

Photo 4: Single flowers grow from axils of upper leaves. Position of petals is off-set (alternate) from position of sepals. Linear bracts cradle the calyx. Photo – August 4.

Stamens are fused into a central tubular column (another distinctive character of the Mallow family) to 2½ inches long, through which emerge the 5 styles of the pistil. The styles terminate in disk-shaped stigmas. Along the upper third of the stamen column, slender-stalked anthers emerge. The round purplish anthers split and recurve to expose white pollen. Flowers do not have nectaries. After pollen has been disbursed, stigmas shift from being erect and clustered to recurved.

Photo 5: A central column consists of five styles that are enclosed in a staminal tube bearing stalked anthers. At this point during anthesis, the disk-shaped stigmas are still erect and projecting outward.

Photo 6: At the time of this mid-afternoon photo, petals are beginning to fade, pollen has been disbursed, and disk-shaped stigmas have recurved.

Following anthesis, corolla and stamen column quickly drop-off and the ovary is exposed. Fertilized ovaries, with five chambers, develop into large, glabrous, ovoid capsules. Viewed from the side, capsules have five rounded-triangular “panels” and a rounded apex.  Beginning at the apex, capsules split open into the chambers to release the numerous seeds. Dark brown reniform seeds, roughened by short hairs, are aligned in single rows on axile placentas. Seed dispersal is mainly by gravity and water movement.

Photo 7: Five-chambered ovaries develop into ovoid capsules. Sepals become almost leaf like and persist as capsules dry. The circular joint, at the upper portion of pedicel, can be seen below the capsule at left.
Photo 8: Dry hardened capsules split into the chambers. Dark brown seeds, attached to central placentas, have a roughened surface. An open space occurs at the center of the capsule between the five placentas. Photo – September 13.

Scarlet rose mallow may be appropriate for a garden or natural area with sunny wet areas, such as near ponds and boggy areas. It is a striking plant due to its size, distinctive leaves, and showy flowers. It is excellent as a specimen plant. With its height, stems may need staking. Plants may be lost due to dry soils and extreme cold. Plants, which readily reproduce by seed, can bloom in their second or third year.

Three other native, perennial, white- to pink-flowered species of the genus Hibiscus occur in Arkansas: halberd-leaf rose mallow (H. laevis), woolly rose mallow (H. lasiocarpos), and rose mallow (H. moscheutos). Additionally, two non-native species occur as escaped in the state: rose-of-Sharon (H. syriacus), a shrub, and flower-of-the-hour (H. trionum), an annual. Scarlet rose mallow is easily distinguished by its leaf shape and enormous scarlet flowers.

Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

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Know Your Natives – White Crownbeard

White crownbeard or white wingstem (Verbesina virginica) of the Aster, Sunflower, or Composite (Asteraceae) family has tall winged stems with domed clusters of white flower heads. In the U.S., it is found primarily from central Texas up through southeast Kansas, across to Maryland and thence to the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. In Arkansas, the species occurs statewide. The genus name is based on resemblance of the leaves to those of species of verbena. The specific epithet refers to the original description of the species from Virginia. Preferred habitat is partial sunlight found in open, low-lying woodlands and thickets in well-drained mesic soils.

This perennial herb has a woody misshapen root-crown with tough ropy roots. The crown slowly enlarges by forming knobby side-growths from which arise new stems. The core of the crown dies, but persists. Older plants in sunnier sites may produce a half-dozen or more stems.

Photo 1: This 4-inch wide root-crown shows six to eight years of knobby growth. This particular crown supported two green stems; one off-photo to right and one that broke off the partially dead root growth at far left.

Erect, stout, 6-7 ft stems are straight and unbranched except for floral branches near the apex. From ground-level to near the floral branches, stems have prominent fleshy longitudinal wings (see below) and dense short (tomentose) pubescence. With freezing temperatures, “frost flowers” form along green stems and, later, from the base of previously frozen stems––an alternate common name is “frost weed”. Frozen stems often persist into the following year.

Photo 2: Characteristic large leaves and winged stems in spring. Photo – April 12.
Photo 3: Straight, stout stems are not branched except for upper floral branches. Photo – September 6.

White crownbeard has large, widely spaced, alternate cauline leaves. Larger leaves are oval to lanceolate-elliptic while the much smaller leaves on floral branches and within the inflorescence are lanceolate. Largest leaves, at mid-stem, may be 7-10 inches long and 2-4½ inches wide, including a 2-inch petiole. Leaves are short-hirsute (sandpapery) above and downy-puberulent beneath. Blade margins may be entire or have widely spaced small teeth. Lower leaves tend to drop-off late in the growing season.

The leaf margins narrow to winged petioles, the wings extending down the stem in an intriguing mathematical pattern. With the alternate leaves being cyclic, the left petiole wing (at stem side view) extends as a cauline wing to the next-third-leaf below while the right petiole wing of the same leaf extends to the next-fifth-leaf. In cross-section, the wing-bearing portion of stems has five wings. Venation of the cauline wings is perpendicular to the stem (as are veins of petiole wings). Petiole and cauline wings are about ⅛-inch wide.

Photo 4: Petioles are winged by the decurrent leaf blade their entire length. Petiole wings extend straight down stems where they terminate just above a lower petiole. Note venation of leaves and wings. Photo – May 20.

The inflorescence, from August to October, produces round-topped, terminal clusters of 2-4 flower heads 1-1½ inches across. Heads are subtended by pale green, elongate involucres comprising a dozen or so elongate phyllaries (sepal-like bracts) in one or two series. Flower heads have 1-5 pistillate (no stamens) ray florets and 7-15 perfect (pistil and stamens) disk florets. All parts of the inflorescence are densely puberulent.

In bud, the whitish green flower heads (involucres) have an inverted bell shape with ribbed sides and a flat top. Glabrous white disk florets, ¼ inch long and 1/16 inch wide, are tubular with five short acutely triangular, spreading lobes. Disk florets have five stamens topped with dark purple elongate anthers, fused into a ring. After the white pollen is exposed by the white style rising through the anther ring, the style splits and recurves to expose elongate stigmatic surfaces.

The smaller glabrous white ray florets have widely spreading, oval to broadly oblong corollas (ligules) with rounded, notched tips and cupped margins. The white styles of the ray florets also become exserted, split and recurve.

In Composite family florets, the ovaries are said to be “inferior”––the corollas attach not to the stem tip below the ovary (as in, say, a tomato flower) but to the top of the ovary itself (as in an apple flower). In white crownbeard, each corolla bears beside it a pappus of two spiky hairs (awns) also attached to the ovary tip. Morphologically, the pappus represents a highly modified calyx and often aids in seed dispersal.

Photo 5: Pubescent involucres are spread open as florets approach anthesis. White pollen tips the anthers at upper-center. Several florets at photo-center have exserted styles. Photo – September 9.
Photo 6: Except for the corollas and sexual parts, all surfaces within the floral clusters have dense puberulence. Ray florets of a flower head open before disk florets. Note structure of involucres. Photo – October 1.

Fertilized disk florets produce flattened, 1-seeded achenes with a notched apex. The slightly ribbed, gray to black fruit has tan marginal wings from pointed base to flat-topped apex and a pappus of 2 awns. Seed dispersal is by wind, animal or flowing water.

Photo 7: Flattened fruits have winged margins and two awns. Photo – October 13.

In a garden, this stout erect plant with its large leaves would add a dramatic flair, and frost flowers would provide interest into the winter months. However, it may aggressively self-seed so that a natural setting may be more appropriate. In a garden, plant numbers can be restrained by removal of fruit before maturity. Flowers are attractive to butterflies and other insects. It is not favored by deer.

Photo 8: Freezing temperatures rupture the epidermis resulting in slowly leaking sap which freezes upon exposure. With subsequent freezing, frost flowers grow from base of stems. Leafy plant to left is Boott’s Goldenrod. Photo – November 24.

White crownbeard is one of five species in the genus that occur in Arkansas. Two other winged species with yellow flowers are yellow wingstem (V. alternifolia) and yellow crownbeard (V. helianthoides). Rayless crownbeard (V. walteri), a winged species of conservation concern, has white composite flowers composed of disk florets only. Cowpen daisy (V. encelioides) has yellow composite flowers, opposite lower leaves and wingless stems. White crownbeard can be identified by its tall, stout stems bearing large leaves along with its white composite flowers that have few ray florets.

Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

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Know Your Natives – White Snakeroot

White snakeroot (Ageratina altissima*), formerly Eupatorium rugosum, of the Aster, Sunflower, or Composite (Asteraceae ) family has a multitude of small white flowerheads late in the growing season. It occurs from Texas to eastern North Dakota, across all states to the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, but of limited occurrence in Florida and Georgia. In Arkansas, white snakeroot, the only species of Ageratina in the state, occurs statewide. The genus name (originating from “ageratum”) is based on Greek words for “unaging”, in reference to the long-lasting color of the inflorescence. The specific epithet means “tallest”, in comparison with other species of the genus. The common name relates to use of the roots by Native Americans for treating snake bites. Habitat preference is mesic, fertile soils in riparian to upland deciduous woodlands and woodland edges and thickets. Plants are poisonous.**

White snakeroot, a perennial herbaceous plant, may have a single, foot-tall stem or several stems to 3+ feet tall. Plants are mostly glabrous (hairless), with minute pubescence near the inflorescence. Stems have well-spaced, opposite, decussate leaves with slender petioles with widened bases. Between the widened petiole bases of paired opposite leaves, an “edge” connects the bases resulting in prominent nodes along larger stems. The root system consists of small basal caudices with a mass of long-radiating, near-surface, wiry roots.

Photo 1: New spring growth arising from the caudex. Photo – March 22.
Photo 2: A small plant in a deciduous woodland setting. Leaves and branches are opposite and decussate. Photo – August 10.

Axillary branching occurs in the upper portion of plants. While shorter plants with few branches remain erect without support, larger plants that have numerous branches in their upper portion tend to lean or recline when lacking support. Stems and branches, mostly in opposite pairs, are ascending and rigid with branches rising from stems at about 45 degrees. Branches may be 16 inches long with sub-branches at their upper portion that may be 8 inches long. Overall, stems and branches are yellowish green, with lower stems and branches transitioning to reddish brown and becoming hardened. Larger stems have pith-filled centers. With heavy seed production, thick stands may develop in preferred habitats. 

Photo 3: This plant (seen from above), has characteristic opposite leaves and axillary branches growing from nodes. Photo – September 23.

Leaves are ovate-lanceolate, to 6 inches long, becoming lanceolate and decreasing in length above. Blade margins are sharply serrate. 

Photo 4: Petiolate leaves vary from ovate-lanceolate lower leaves to lanceolate upper leaves. Venation and marginal serrations are prominent. Adaxial side shown on left and abaxial side on right.

White snakeroot blooms in mid-fall. A large plant may have stems that divide into a dozen or more branches, each with sub-branches. The inflorescence consists of “large cymes” (3 to 4 inches across) of composite flower heads. Flowerheads are uniformly distributed across the cymes, creating a rounded inflorescence. Flowering sequence gradually shifts from central cymes to outer cymes.

A colony of white snakeroot in early bloom with its masses of flowers of the purest white is one of the most beautiful sights in the deciduous forest. The flowerheads are composed of 1/4-inch-long, white disk florets set into 1/8-inch-long, elongate, pale green involucres. Involucres comprise a single series of clasping, linear, appressed phyllaries (bracts) with acute apexes. Each flowerhead, to ⅛ inch across, bears 12 to 30 tubular florets with white corollas surrounded by pappus bristles. At anthesis, corollas have 5 flared, acutely triangular lobes. Stamens, a slightly off-white color, form an elongate central anther ring. The style, exerted through the anther ring, presents the pollen, after which its apex divides to expose two long stigmatic surfaces. The stigmatic surfaces are thin and twisty, so that cymes, with all flowerheads facing the sunlight, have a delicate appearance.

Photo 5: This single large cyme is composed of a half dozen smaller cymes, each with 10 to 25 flowerheads. Photo – October 14.
Photo 6: Involucres are formed by a single series of linear, appressed phyllaries. Pedicels and peduncles are puberulent.

Fertilized florets produce narrowly oblong, black achenes (“cypselae” in the Aster family) topped with the radiating bristles of the pappus (morphologically, highly modified sepals). Achenes are ribbed and glabrous. Seed dispersal is by wind.

Photo 7: As elongate black achenes mature, the pappus flares to provide support for wind dispersal. Photo – October 14.

White snakeroot, retaining a fresh appearance into fall, produces masses of white flowers for a month or more. It can be quite showy in partial to full shade gardens, especially striking if other fall bloomers (goldenrods, asters) are nearby. In a garden setting, plant spreading may need to be controlled by select plant removal and deadheading to prevent aggressive self-seeding. Also, it is a nice plant for naturalized areas. A variety of insects feed on the leaves, nectar and pollen. It is not eaten by deer.

Photo 8: In natural woodlands, white snakeroot may form dense stands. Photo take on Mt. Magazine, September 26.

* Two varieties have been classified: A. altissima var. altissima (white snakeroot) and A. altissima var. roanensis (Appalachian snakeroot). Varieties are identified by slight variation in the length and shape of the phyllaries. In Arkansas, A. altissima var. altissima is the only recognized variety.

** The entire plant, containing tremetol, is poisonous. When pioneers moved west into the unsettled eastern forest, cattle were often left to graze in open woodlands, ideal habitat for white snakeroot, and people developed “milk sickness” from tainted milk and meat. Thousands died before white snakeroot was identified as the source of the toxin. With current herd and milk production practices, milk sickness is now uncommon. 

Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

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Know Your Natives – Boott’s Goldenrod

Boott’s goldenrod (Solidago arguta subsp. caroliniana var. boottii*) of the Aster or Sunflower (Asteraceae) family is a medium-size goldenrod with large ovate-lanceolate basal leaves. The genus name is from Latin for “to make whole” or “to heal” in reference to purported health benefits derived from some species of the genus. The varietal name honors Francis Boott, 19th-century American physician and botanist. Boott’s goldenrod, with limited U.S. occurrence, ranges primarily across the western two-thirds of Arkansas, extending into nearby portions of Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma and Missouri. Preferred habitat is mesic to dry sandy soils in partially shaded woodland openings and borders. It is one of 28 species of goldenrod that occur in Arkansas.

Photo 1: This 3-inch-long caudex bears both 3½ foot tall stems of the current season and short, leafy fall growth. The white shape extending from the base of the right stem is a new rhizome that will terminate with a subsidiary caudex. Photo – mid October.

One to a half-dozen 3 to 4-foot stems with base-diameter of ⅛ to ¼ inch arise from a stout, branched caudex. They are erect to ascending, longitudinally ribbed, and hard and tough with age, with multiple branches, to 2-3 ft long, above. The sunny side of the light green stems and branches becomes reddish brown. Stems are usually glabrous below, becoming appressed pubescent into the inflorescence.

Leaves are borne predominantly toward the base of the plant and are usually present at flowering. Larger leaves below have ovate-elliptic blades to 5½ inches long and 3 inches wide on winged petioles to 5¼ inches long. Leaf margins are sharply toothed. Leaf pubescence is somewhat variable, but upper leaf surface tends to be glabrous while lower surface has short, erect hairs, especially along veins.

Photo 2: This early April photo shows leaves with ovate-elliptic blades and long petioles. Petioles are winged to their base by narrow bands of decurrent blade tissue.
Photo 3: Upper (above) and lower surfaces of larger leaves have irregular pinnate venation.

Median and upper stem leaves gradually become smaller and lanceolate, marginal serrations become less prominent, and petiole length decreases. Leaves near the branch tips are less than ¼ inch long and ⅛ inch wide, sessile, and with entire margins. 

The inflorescence, in September and October, occurs mostly as a panicle with long recurved branches and heads oriented upward. The inflorescence is usually broad and open, less often elongate and narrow. Flowering sequence along the branches is from tip to base.

Photo 4: Flowerheads are secund, i.e., oriented upwards. Racemes and individual flowerheads are subtended by a leafy bract. Note strigose pubescence and small elliptic leaves with entire margins. Photo – early September.

Flowerheads, about ⅜ inch long, are set in elongate, cup-like involucres comprising 3-4 series of spirally arranged, overlapping bracts or “phyllaries”. Inner phyllaries are longer than the outer and transition to bracts along the pedicels. Involucres are nearly glabrous; pedicels and rachises are covered with short strigose pubescence.

Photo 5: The main raceme (left to right across photo) bears short, secondary racemes composed of two flowerheads each, along with a single flowerhead at far right. Phyllaries of the involucres transition to bracts along the pedicels. Photo – early September.

The bright yellow flowerheads have 2-8 pistillate ray florets (with pistils only) which surround up to about a dozen perfect disk florets (with pistils and stamens). Ray florets have strap-shaped corollas with rounded, notched tips and slightly exserted styles with bifurcated stigmas. Disk florets are tubular with 5-lobed corollas and 5 stamens with thin filaments topped with elongate anthers. Anthers are fused into a ring that surrounds the style, which elongates through the anther ring, carrying the pollen above the corolla where it is available to pollinating insects. Once fully exserted, the pair of linear stigmatic surfaces divides and becomes receptive to pollen. Corollas are surrounded by hair-like modified sepals (pappus) which attach to the tip of flat-topped, elongate ovaries.

Photo 6: Flowerheads here have 3-4 strap-shaped ray florets and up to a dozen or so tubular disk florets. The linear stigmatic surfaces of both ray and disk florets are divided. Pistils of disk florets are significantly larger than those of ray florets.

Fertilized florets produce flattened, 1/16 inch long, minutely pubescent, elongate achenes topped by bristly hairs (pappus). The hairs allow achenes to be dispersed widely by wind.

Photo 7: In this late November photo, the gradual decrease of leaf size up-stem into the branches can be seen. Achenes are ready for dispersal on next windy day.

For a garden or natural area, Boott’s goldenrod can add height and bright yellow fall color. This species has a smoother appearance than many of the other Arkansas goldenrods. It is not especially aggressive by seed or caudexes. It is not favored by deer. Flowerheads and leaves are an insect magnet.

Boott’s goldenrod has several general characteristics which help separate it (with difficulty) from the 26 other Solidago species that have yellow flowerheads: 1) one to several tall stems with widely separated leaves, 2) large ovate-elliptic basally disposed leaves, 3) an inflorescence with widely separated straight to recurved branches and sub-branches, 4) secund flowerheads, and 5) overall smooth appearance of the plant.

*Boott’s goldenrod has been identified by Arkansas authorities as Solidago arguta subsp. caroliniana var. boottii. Other authorities have identified it as Solidago arguta var. boottii or Solidago arguta subsp. bootii.

Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

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Know Your Natives – Carolina Elephant’s-Foot

Carolina elephant’s foot (Elephantopus carolinianus), of the Sunflower or Aster or Composite (Asteraceae) family, is a herbaceous perennial with leafy stems and small lavender flowers. In the U.S., the species occurs from eastern Texas to southeastern Kansas, east to Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and southward to the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. In Arkansas, it occurs statewide. The genus name and common name refer to the large, flat, prostrate basal leaves of some species of the genus (though not this species). The specific epithet and common name refer to the plant’s original recognition and description from the Carolinas. Preferred habitat is well drained yet moist soils of partially sunny lowlands or open woods and along woodland edges and streams. The plant has a small knobby root crown with long, descending, tough and ropy fibrous roots.

Photo 1: Root crowns are relatively small in comparison to the ropy roots. Stubs of previous years’ stems are at center of this crown. Rings on stems result from clasping petioles of dropped leaves. Diameter of upper stem is 3/8 inch. Photo – September 16.

Plants generally have a single stem 1 to 2 feet tall, but may reach a height of 4 feet. Stem leaves at the base are closely spaced, to ¼ inch apart, becoming widely separated (and clearly alternate) above. From lower to mid-stem, clasping leaves form a sheath around the stem. Stems are densely hirsute below, with hairs becoming sparser and somewhat more appressed in the inflorescence.

Photo 2: Clasping lower leaves and densely pubescent lower stem. Photo – July 5.
Photo 3: Leaves are widely spaced along terete stems. Branches diverge from stems at leaf bases. Photo – August 16.

Leaves, to 8 inches long and 3½ inches wide, are dark green above and medium green beneath. Below the inflorescence, they are clasping, with margins coarsely serrate to scalloped; within the inflorescence, smaller leaves are sessile and subentire. Upper and lower surfaces are sparsely hirsute, with longer and more dense pubescence along the veins beneath.

Photo 4: Stems continue and branches originate from sheathed bases of petioles. Large leaf on upper left is 6¼ inches long and 2½ inches wide.

In most composites, the so-called flower is actually a head, an inflorescence comprising a group of tightly clustered, small flowers that mimic a single flower. In the genus Elephantopis, these primary heads are further clustered into secondary heads. In E. carolinianus, 3-20 such heads are grouped together, at the tip of 1-4 inch peduncles, into secondary heads about ⅜ inch high and ⅝ inch broad, subtended by 3 leaflike bracts. Each primary head is itself surrounded by an involucre of about 8 phyllaries (bracts), with the 4 inner phyllaries longer than the outer. These thin, lanceolate to linear phyllaries are whitish proximally and green distally. Each involucre surrounds 4 flowers.

Photo 5: The 1 inch peduncle (as shown) was separated from three floral bracts and about a dozen primary heads with involucres. All flowers are past anthesis. Developing fruit can be seen at top of photo. Photo – September 22.

Blooming occurs over a month in September-October with individual flowers lasting for one day. Flowers are ¼ inch long, with lavender (sometimes white), 5-lobed corollas. The lobes are positioned to one side of the flower, creating bilaterally (rather than radially) symmetrical corollas. All 4 flowers within a single involucre bloom on the same day. And because they are positioned radially around the involucre’s center, each primary head of 4 corollas appears to form a single 4-petaled, 20-lobed flower! With only a few involucres blooming at one time, a plant may continue to produce “flowers” for a month or more.

Lobes of the corolla join abruptly to form a slender tube twice as long as the lobes. The corolla tube arises from the summit of a bullet-shaped ovary, each ovary bearing, just outside the corolla tube, 5 awnlike scales that taper to bristle-like tips. These awns, which are modified sepals, constitute the so-called pappus, a structure in the Composite family typically involved in dispersing the 1-seeded fruits.

Photo 6: Leafy bracts subtend a cluster of involucres. As shown, flowers of one involucre are in bloom. Photo – September 23.

Flowers have 5 stamens and 1 pistil. White stamens have thread-like filaments bearing relatively large elongate anthers. The anthers are fused to each other to form a tube through which the style passes at anthesis. As the style extends like a plunger through the anther tube, clingy white pollen is pushed above the corolla and becomes available to pollinating insects. Thereafter, the style bifurcates to expose the elongate stigmatic surfaces to pollen, typically from the flowers of other heads.

Photo 7: This single involucre was separated to show four flowers with ovaries, styles with pollen-covered, bifurcated stigmas, and modified sepals (the pappus of seed-dispersing awns).

With fertilization, ovaries mature into elongate, flattened, 1-seeded, brown achenes. Achenes are ribbed and have very short hispid pubescence. They are tipped with 5 awns slightly longer than the achenes. With drying, awns become straight and stiff, so that, together with the pubescence, dispersal may be effected by passing mammals.

Photo 8: The bullet-shaped, brown, ribbed achenes have stiff awns and hispid pubescence. Squares equal ¼ inch. Photo – November 17.

Carolina elephant’s foot has an interesting open structure and flower heads that are unusual for the Aster family. Plants would be an interesting addition in a garden setting, but due to aggressive self-seeding, this species is perhaps better suited for a natural area. It does well in light shade and can survive temporary dry periods. It is nibbled by deer.

In addition to Carolina elephant’s foot, two other species of Elephantopis occur in Arkansas: smooth elephant’s foot (E. nudatus) and hairy elephant’s foot or devil’s grandmother (E. tomentosus). Carolina elephant’s foot can be distinguished from the other two by its large, well-developed stem leaves. Smooth elephant’s foot and hairy elephant’s foot have leaves that are primarily basal––they lie flat on the ground, like feet.

Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

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Know Your Natives – Jumpseed

Jumpseed (Persicaria virginiana), formerly Polygonum virginianum, of the Buckwheat (Polygonaceae) family has slender knobby terminal stems that bear long racemes of tiny white flowers. In the U.S., it occurs throughout the East, from eastern Texas north into eastern Nebraska and southern Minnesota, and east to the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. In Arkansas, it occurs statewide. The genus name originates from Greek words for “arrow-shaped,” a description of the leaf-shape of many Persicaria species. The specific epithet refers to the species’ original discovery in Virginia. Another common name is painter’s palette, based on a splash of color across some of the larger leaves. The name “jumpseed” describes the kinetic dispersal of the seeds. Preferred habitats are areas of rich, relatively moist, woodland soils in shade to partial shade.

Photo 1: Jumpseed has large lower leaves that may have a splash of darker color at mid-leaf. Other plants shown: lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina), spotted jewel weed (Impatiens capensis), and aniseroot (Osmorhiza longistylis).

Jumpseed is an herbaceous perennial with shallow reddish, branching rhizomes and long fibrous roots. Current year’s stems grow from tips of dominant rhizomes, and new rhizomes extend from near the same tips. Older portions of the rhizomes remain viable.

Plants may be 3 to 5 feet long, but plant height is shorter due to the somewhat reclining stems. The sturdy terete stems are divided by several prominent, hairy, widely spaced, leaf-bearing nodes. Main stems of mature plants are mostly glabrous below and pubescent in the inflorescence with short ascending hairs. Stems are a light green early in the growing season, but become darker green with reddish shading. In open conditions, plants can bear axillary branches up to 2 ft long from the upper nodes.

Photo 2: Two stems from the same rhizome display widely spaced main-stem nodes and axillary branching. Photo – September 6.

Nodes along the main stem, especially earlier in the growing season, bear tubular sheaths to ¾ inch long that are heavily covered with glassy hairs. Such sheaths, termed ocreae (singular ocrea), are modified stipules attached like a collar at the petiole base and characteristic of several genera in the buckwheat family. Jumpseed ocreae are truncate at the apex. Early in the growing season, they are the same color as the stems, but become dry and brown by the time of flowering. 

Jumpseed has simple, alternate leaves. Lowermost stem leaves (no basal leaves), to 7½ inches long and 4 inches wide, are ovate-elliptical, becoming smaller and more elliptical along the upper portion of the main stem and lower portion of some axillary stems. Larger leaves tend to have ascending auricles (ear-shaped projections) where the blade joins the pedicel. Leaf color is medium green above and a silvery lighter green beneath; larger leaves often have a dark chevron-shaped overlay at midleaf, oriented toward the leaf apex. Leaf margins are entire. Venation is pinnate, with secondary veins that arch toward the leaf apex. Petiole length is about 1 inch long, becoming shorter above. Petiole bases clasp the stem. Short, hooked, hispid pubescence covers upper and lower leaf surfaces, with the upper surface bearing longer hairs and feeling rougher than the lower. Short, hispid pubescence may also be scattered along the petioles and upper stems.

Photo 3: Hairy truncated sheaths or ocreae extend from nodes. At right, several sheaths are in contact before becoming separated as the stem elongates. Note clasping petioles. Photo – April 20.

Photo 4: The lower ovate-elliptical leaves often have a dark chevron-shaped overlay. Venation is pinnate. Midveins of upper (left) and lower (right) leaf surfaces are expressed. Leaf on left has auricles. Photo – April 20.

Racemes, from 3 inches to 2 feet long, bear well spaced, easily discernable clusters of one to three flowers. Nodes, sheaths and rachis of racemes are clothed with scattered, straight, stiff, ascending hairs. Lengths of terminal and axillary racemes may equal or exceed length of the main stem.

Photo 5: Upper portion of main stems is arching, while axillary branches and their inflorescences tend to spread downward. These upper leaves are elliptical. Along racemes, spacing of sheaths is regular. Photo – August 21.

In mid-summer, tiny, dangling flowers, about 1/8 inch long, bloom from the base of the racemes upward. Short pedicels are hidden within the sheaths. At fruiting, they are seen to be about half as long as the flower.

Flowers have four greenish white to white (occasionally pinkish), acute, flaring sepals (petals are absent), four or five stamens, and a pistil with a deeply divided style. Stamens have slender, white filaments topped with ball-like white anthers. They project slightly above the perianth, while the styles extend slightly past the stamens.

Photo 6: Flowers have five stamens and one divided style. At bloom stage, pedicels are hidden within protective sheaths. Sepals and styles persist as seeds mature.

With fertilization, pedicels reach their maximum length, about 1/4 inch, and sepals close around the developing fruits. Mature, spindle-shaped, pointy, 1-seeded fruits (achenes) are bent downward on reflexed pedicels. When touched, for example, by a passing animal, tension stored in the pedicels causes achenes to be forcefully thrown (“jumpseed”) to several feet. Seeds can also be dispersed when the hooked styles latch onto a passing animal.

Photo 7: Ovoid 1-seeded achenes, covered by dried sepals, are ¼ inch long from base to tip of styles. Tension in the pedicels, now exposed, causes achenes to jump from the raceme when touched. Lower side of a leaf is shown in background. Photo – October 18.

Jumpseed may be appropriate as an accent plant in a partially shady, low-wind garden with rich mesic soil. Its rhizomes seem to extend slowly. For a larger natural area, it may be effective as a groundcover (new plants can be established from root division, and plants self-seed readily). Plants provide coarse texture and their oddly proportioned leaves and inflorescences add interest. They are not bothered by deer or rabbits.

In addition to Persicaria virginiana, 13 other species of the genus occur in Arkansas, of which three are not native. All 14 species have sheathed (ocrea-bearing) stems and small flowers in racemes. Persicaria virginiana can be distinguished by its woodland habitat; large, more ovate leaves; exceptionally long and slender spike-like racemes; well-separated flower clusters; and exserted styles.

Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

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