Know Your Natives – Hairy Blazing Star

Hairy blazing star (Liatris hirsuta*) of the Aster (Asteraceae) family has vibrant violet to lavender flowers, typical of many species in the genus. In the U.S., hairy blazing star is reported from Texas and northward to Nebraska and Iowa, with scattered reports in Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. In Arkansas, it is found throughout much of the state except for lowlands of the Mississippi Alluvial Plain and West Gulf Coastal Plain. The origin of the genus name has been lost. The specific epithet is Latin for “hairy”. Habitats consist of sunny rocky outcrops, glades and prairies with fairly well-drained soils. Other common names include hairy gayfeather (based on flower appearance) and Rydberg’s blazing star (described by Per Axel Rydberg in 1931).

Hairy blazing stars have globose corms with tops covered with short peaks that served as the bases for previous stem growth and a rounded to knobby bottom from which long skinny white roots grow. New growth buds, appearing across the corm’s top in mid-winter, produce only tufts of basal leaves or stems that have same-appearing “basal” leaves. Stems, unbranched and terete with a length of 2 to 4 feet, are light green with slightly raised darker green ribs that extend down from leaf bases. The slender stems, to about ¼ inch in diameter, have a slight taper from base to apex. Stems, not having “extra” girth at point-of-attachment to the corm, typically become reclined unless supported by other stems or other vegetation. Stems and leaves are roughened by straight, spreading hairs.

Hairy Blazing Star - Liatris hirsutaPhoto 1: This corm, with eight stems, is 3 inches in diameter and 2 inches thick. Fibrous roots grow from knobs at the base. Photo early August.

All leaves are linear to linear-lanceolate with the largest (to 8 inches long and 1/8 to 1/3 inch wide) being basal-cauline leaves. Size of cauline leaves gradually decreases up stem, with uppermost leaves being ¾ inch or less long. Pliable spring leaves become stiff, rough and twisted as the growing season progresses. Leaf color is medium to dark green above and below, with the upper and lower midvein being the same light green as the stem. Upper leaf blade to either side of the midrib tends to be up-turned (involute), especially at the entire (smooth), somewhat crinkly margins. Venation, largely obscure, is parallel to leaf margins with the upper midvein slightly expressed while the lower midvein is slightly depressed. Pubescence occurs on upper and lower surfaces of leaves and along leaf margins (ciliate pubescence).

Hairy Blazing Star - Liatris hirsutaPhoto 2: In this sunny, rocky habitat, new stems become apparent above their basal leaves. Previous year’s dead stems are splayed around the new growth. Photo early May.

Cauline leaves, positioned all around the stem, are sessile while lowermost leaves are also clasping. Leaf separation decreases from ½ inch (lower of stem) to ¼ inch (higher on stem). Cauline leaves are slightly narrowed near their bases and have a gentle taper to their acute apexes.

Inflorescence of hairy blazing star, in mid to late summer, consists of composite flower heads. Along with a solitary flower head at stem apex, additional lateral heads grow from upper leaf axils. Generally, wherever the lowermost lateral flower head occurs, almost all higher-up leaf axils also produce flower heads. Depending on age of plant and its habitat, a vigorous stem may have 40+ heads attached to its upper 18 inches. Flower heads mature and reach anthesis from stem apex, downward. Lower flower heads of a vigorous plant may be on short branches with a leaf or two (or even a lateral flower head or two), while higher heads may be on short pedicels attached to the stem or may be attached directly to the stem.

Flower heads of hairy blazing star have disk florets only (discoid head); ray florets are absent. Heads have tightly bound, spindle-shaped involucres that are to about ¾ inch long and ⅜ inch wide. Involucral bracts (phyllaries), in six to eight overlapping (imbricated) series and of unequal size, are oval to oblong, spreading, and with acutely-tipped, recurved apexes. Inner phyllaries are smaller, with shorter recurved tips. Lower portions of phyllaries are firmly pressed together, but can be separated with little effort. Phyllaries, mostly glabrous, have ciliate margins. Involucres, which feel hard and bristly, may be purplish in sunnier sites.

Hairy Blazing Star - Liatris hirsutaPhoto 3: The flower heads do not have ray flowers. In this photo, the terminal flower head has passed anthesis. Pubescence of stem, leaves and involucres can be seen. Photo late July.

Disk florets, 10 to 20+ per head and ⅖ to ⅗ inch long, have corollas that are a vibrant violet to lavender color. At anthesis, the corollas each have five short lobes that flare outward from long tubular bases. Pistils have a bifurcated style that exceeds the length of the tube. The “arms” of the style, joined inside the tube, twist-about in random, rather wispy fashion. Stigmas are not noticeable. Stamens, hidden within the floral tube and attached to the tube’s base, have long slender filaments with equally long and slender brown to purple anthers that split lengthwise to release white pollen. Corollas, set atop elongate inferior ovaries, are surrounded by a ring of long hairs (pappus) that are half the length of the tubes.

Hairy Blazing Star - Liatris hirsutaPhoto 4: Buds of the tubular florets have round-pointed apexes that flare open to expose five lobes. Styles are strongly exserted while stamens are hidden within the tube. Photo late July.

Hairy Blazing Star - Liatris hirsutaPhoto 5: Display of florets from bud to anthesis (right to left). Corollas and pappus attach to top of elongate ovaries. Inset shows ovary with pappus (left), style (right, removed from ovary), and anthers within cut-away corolla tube (center).

After the growing season, plants dry and involucres disintegrate. One-seeded, indehiscent, elongate fruits (cypselae), ¼ inch long, with fluffed-up pappus are dispersed by wind. The ribbed cypselae have flat tops with flared long hairs (pappus) and tapered bases. Fertilized and unfertilized cypselae have the same appearance, but fertilized cypselae are more firm.

Hairy Blazing Star - Liatris hirsutaPhoto 6: With involucre disintegrating, cypselae are set for wind dispersal. Photo mid-December.

For a garden or natural area, blazing stars should be welcome due to their long-lived nature, adaptability to rocky soils, their texture and strong flower color. Blazing stars are also good nectar plants for butterflies. Among the at least ten species and additional varieties native to Arkansas, are several that have a more upright structure and may fit better in a limited space. Of the other Arkansas species, the one most similar to hairy blazing star is scaly blazing star (Liatris squarrosa). The main characteristic that helps identify hairy blazing star is that the involucral bracts are spreading to recurved (instead of ascending to spreading) and outer bracts are shorter than inner bracts.

  • Some authorities classify this species as Liatris squarrosa var. hirsuta.

Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

Terms of Use

Posted in Know Your Natives, Native Plants, Wildflowers | Tagged , , ,

Know Your Natives – Fly poison

Fly poison (Amianthium muscitoxicum*) of the Bunchflower (Melanthiaceae) family, the only species in the genus, bears white flowers that change to green. The genus name originates from Greek words for “pure” and “flower”. The specific epithet is from Latin words for “fly” and “poison”. In the U.S., fly poison occurs from Oklahoma and Missouri across the Southeast and extending north into New York. In Arkansas, it occurs primarily in scattered Interior Highlands counties in roughly the northwestern half of the state. The name “fly poison” relates to early Americans’ use of the plant’s bulbs (crushed with a sweetener) to kill flies. Other common names include crow poison (used by Native Americans to poison crows) and stagger grass (causes grazing cattle to stagger). The plant is generally found in dry to moist open woodlands and prairies. Along with the bulb, other parts of the plant are also poisonous, although to a lesser degree.

Seedlings (monocots) have contractile roots which pull the bulb’s base several inches into the earth so that tops of bulbs are just below the surface. Numerous white fleshy roots, newly grown each year, splay in all directions from the reduced stem at the base of the bulb (basal plate). Mature bulbs, slender with a broader lower section, are to 2 inches long and to 1 to 1¼ inches wide. Tight clumps of bulbs may form as clonal bulbs develop off basal plates. Girth of bulbs increases as new concentric leaf bases (fleshy scales), terminated by a leaf, grow from the interior-center of the basal plate. Old leaf bases thin and dry on the exterior to form a papery tunic. Basal plates typically have one vegetative growth point, but a second point may develop.

In late winter, a bulb produces eight to a dozen new leaves as an upright rosette, surrounded by limp dead leaves and maybe a dead stem from the previous growing season. Leaves may reach a length of 2 feet at maturity. Leaves, a bright medium green, are broadly arched with the tips touching the ground. Leaf width, ½ to ¾ inches, is fairly uniform except for a widened base and a short-tapered cupped tip. In cross section, leaves are v-shaped with a channeled upper midrib and a sharply keeled lower midrib. Leaf margins are entire. Closely spaced veins parallel the straight, entire (undivided) margins. Leaves begin to fade in early August as fruit develop.

Fly Poison - Amianthium muscitoxicumPhoto 1: Leaf rosettes appear in late winter. Tips of leaves are cupped. Photo March 18.

Fly Poison - Amianthium muscitoxicumPhoto 2: This clonal group produced several rosettes of arching leaves. Upper mid-veins are channeled.

In early May, flowering stems, same color as leaves, rise above leaves from the center of leaf rosettes. A few bulbs of a colony each produce single, unbranched, erect stems. Glabrous stems grow to 3 feet tall and about ¼ inch wide, with three smoothly rounded sides. Stems have three or so widely spaced and clasping leaves on the lower half that transition into a half dozen or more closely spaced bracts on the upper half. Cauline leaves are helically (spirally) alternate. Lowermost cauline leaves may be 16 inches long and ¾ inch wide, while uppermost cauline bracts may be ⅛ inch long and 1/16 inch wide. These small cauline bracts extend to the base of a terminal raceme. The stem within the raceme (rachis), pedicels and flowers are white. The slender, straight pedicels are ½ to ¼ inch long, radiating outward slightly above horizontal. Racemes, changing from pyramidal to cylindric and bearing up to 100 flowers, are up to 3+ inches long and up to 1¾ inches wide. Flowers bloom from bottom to top of the raceme in sequential tiers. Racemes narrow slightly from base to apex due to higher flowers being slightly smaller and pedicels being shorter.

Fly Poison - Amianthium muscitoxicumPhoto 3: Flower buds are covered by cupped bracts that quickly shrink away from buds and become brown. Long, clasping cauline leaves can be seen on the taller stem. Photo May 6.

Fly Poison - Amianthium muscitoxicumPhoto 4: Racemes are pyramidal at first, but become cylindrical as upper flowers mature. Narrow stems hold flowers well above the leaves. Photo May 20.

Flower buds are subtended and covered by cupped floral bracts which quickly shrink and become brown as flowers approach anthesis. Flowers are about ⅜ inch wide. A flower has 6 cupped tepals (3 sepals and 3 petals), 6 stamens and a short pistil with three flared and pointed styles above a prominent, free-standing, 3-chambered ovary. Each chamber is round with a sharp tip, with the chambers joined along a central axis. Sepals and petals, are reflexed and have a similar appearance; however, sepals are slightly shorter and broader. Tepals, with little lateral overlap, have rounded apexes and broad bases. Stamens are widely flaring and spiky, with knobby pale yellow anthers. Viewed from the front, anthers are centered over the cupped tepals. The shrunken brown floral bracts still persist as fruits mature. The entire raceme, except for discarded anthers and floral bracts, becomes green as the blooming sequence moves upward. The entire now-green raceme persists, including tepals and spiky filaments and stigmas, until fruit reach maturity; however, racemes become brown as fruit matures in August.

Fly Poison - Amianthium muscitoxicumPhoto 5: The white stem, pedicels and flowers change to green immediately after flowers pass anthesis. Brown remnants of subtending cupped floral bracts are persistent. Photo May 20.

Flowers have 1-2 ovules in each chamber of their 3-chambered ovaries. With fertilization, the ovaries swell to produce a deeply 3-lobed, horned capsule, ⅜ inch long and wide. Typically only a small proportion of flowers produce seeds, and all the ovules of a flower seldom mature to seeds. Mature seeds have a thin, fleshy, shiny orange outer seed coat. An enlarged mature seed causes a split of its chamber from the tip to the inside-center. The seeds, measuring about 3/16 inch long, are rounded-oblong with a narrowed apex. The seed within the outer coat is stubby and rounded, white and smooth.

Fly Poison - Amianthium muscitoxicumPhoto 6: After flowers bloom in May, the green raceme persists into August when fruits mature. Inset shows a sterile flower (bottom), a flower with seeds removed from fruit (center) and a flower with seeds retained within fruit (upper).

In a partially shady, moist garden or natural area, fly poison would provide interest from late winter into late summer. It has attractive basal leaves and a prominent long-lived white to green raceme that later shows its colorful fruit. It is not aggressive and is avoided by deer. Care must be taken so that its parts, including the onion-like bulb, are not consumed by humans or animals.

Fly poison, prior to its fruiting stage, may be confused with death camas (Toxicoscordion nuttallii).

  • The specific epithet may be spelled “muscaetoxicum”. Amianthium muscitoxicum was previously classified as Zigadenus muscitoxicus and Chrosperma muscitoxicum. Previously assigned to the Lily (Liliaceae) family.

Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

Terms of Use

Posted in Know Your Natives, Native Plants, Wildflowers | Tagged , , , ,

Know Your Natives – Green Milkweed

Green milkweed (Asclepias viridiflora) of the Dogbane (Apocynaceae) family, formerly of the Milkweed (Asclepiadaceae) family, is one of 14 Asclepias species found in Arkansas. It occurs across the U.S. except for six western states and five northeastern states. In Arkansas, it occurs throughout much of the state, except for lowlands of the Mississippi Alluvial Plain and the West Gulf Coastal Plain. The genus name is based on the Greek god of medicine (Asklepios, a.k.a. Asclepius). The specific epithet is from Latin for “green flowered”. Other common names include green comet milkweed, green-flowered milkweed, and short green milkweed (in comparison with “tall green milkweed”, Asclepias hirtella). Habitat preference is mostly sunny, mesic to dry conditions found in upland rocky glades and hilly prairies where it is not overshadowed by competition.

Green milkweed, typically found as isolated occurrences, is an herbaceous perennial with a straight taproot and one or two typically unbranched stems that reach a height of 2 or 3 feet. Stems, mostly erect, are a light to medium green, but may have purple shading. They are round in cross-section and densely covered with short, matted pubescence (tomentose). With sufficient moisture, apical stem growth continues well into mid-summer and short lateral branching may occur. Plants produce a sticky white sap like many (but not all) of the other milkweeds.

Leaves in lower portion of plants occur in opposite, decussate pairs, while upper leaves may be paired or alternate. Leaf spacing is fairly uniform along the entire stem, with separation being 1 to 2 inches. Leaves are short pubescent on upper and lower surfaces, 4 to 5 inches long and ¾ to 1½ inches wide (often larger leaves in wetter sites), and lanceolate to broadly lanceolate with tapering bases and apexes. The blade tends to be bowed-up on the edges and the entire margins irregularly wavy to undulating. Leaf blades, on short petioles (⅛ inch), extend horizontally at maturity. The margins have the same pubescence as the blade surface. Upper midribs are depressed; lower, light green midribs are expressed. Venation is off-set pinnate with secondary veins extending from midrib to near leaf margins where they connect into a single vein that follows the margin. With summer heat, venation becomes less distinct and leaves feel rough and leathery.

Green milkweed - Asclepias viridifloraPhoto 1: Lower leaves are in decussate pairs while later leaves may be in pairs or alternate. Photo May 30.

Inflorescence, in June into July, consists of umbels slightly below and between leaf pairs or opposite a single leaf (one umbel per leaf pair or per leaf). Depending on site conditions and weather, several to a dozen umbels may occur. Umbels have short, stubby peduncles that divide into many short, slender pedicels. Pubescence of stems extends onto pedicels. Umbels, with a convex “front” side, a flattened base and a round circumference (when viewed from the front), are down-bent (pendulous) and immobile. Umbels, with 20 to 80 tightly spaced flowers, are 1 to 2 inches wide. Pedicels are subtended by a pair of lanceolate bracts to ⅜ inch long.

Green milkweed - Asclepias viridifloraPhoto 2: Umbels attach to the stem between a pair of leaves or, with alternate leaves, opposite the leaf. Inset shows a plant with reddish umbels. Photo Jun 19.

Flowers of green milkweed at anthesis, ½ inch long and ¼ inch wide, are typically light green to light yellowish green, but may be reddish. Flowers each have five, ⅛-inch, narrowly triangular and strongly reflexed calyx lobes and five, ¼-inch, lanceolate, cupped and strongly reflexed corolla lobes that surround an upright corona. The corona surrounds a central flat-topped column that bears both 5 stigmatic surfaces and 10 pollinia (pollen packets). Pollinia occur in divergent pairs at the ends of threadlike “translator arms” joined to a “clip” that is positioned above each of 5 slits in the central column. The column is surrounded by 5 nectar-bearing, oblong hoods attached at its base. Access to each slit is located between each pair of hoods. When a bee collects nectar, its leg can slip through a slit to the clip which then snags onto the leg. As two pollinia are attached to each clip, upon visiting other flowers, the bee’s leg may insert a pollinium into a slit, where it comes into contact with a receptive stigmatic surface, breaks away from its translator arm, and effects pollination. Flowers have two prong-like, greenish white pistils, the tips of which fuse to the anthers to form the central column. Unlike most milkweed species, green milkweed corona hoods do not have horns.

Green milkweed - Asclepias viridifloraPhoto 3: A divided flower showing two bracts (long ones on left side), five calyx lobes (scattered), five petals (two upper and three lower in display), two pistils attached to pubescent pedicel, and a corona/column that has been cut for an interior and exterior view (upper right). Exterior view shows a clip (the tiny dark structure) above a minute line, the slit.

Green milkweed - Asclepias viridifloraPhoto 4: Umbels are stoutly peduncled, immobile and down-bent. Reflexed petals hide sepals while exterior bracts remain visible. Several pollinia are attached to the tips of the bee’s legs.

Green milkweed produces smooth, round (in cross-section) pods that are constricted and round-pointed at both ends and covered with short pubescence. Pods are 3 to 5 inches long with a width of ½ to ¾ inch. Numerous flat, round, brown seeds are attached shingle-style, in the lower portion of the pod, to a central rib-like placenta. Seeds bear long white hairs tightly pressed together in the upper portion of the pod. When pods become brown and dry, they split along one side (follicles) and hairs fluff-up in the breezes and individual seeds are pulled free, each with a buoyant tuft of long hair.

Green milkweed - Asclepias viridifloraPhoto 5: While pods are ascending, the pod’s stem remains down-bent. A monarch caterpillar hides below an upper leaf. Upper leaves of this plant are alternate. Photo August 27.

Green milkweed may be mostly unnoticed in a well-drained, sunny garden setting. However, this non-aggressive species would add interest when mixed with other more visible milkweed species and is a host plant for monarch butterflies and a nectar plant for bumblebees.

Green milkweed - Asclepias viridifloraPhoto 6: Green milkweed (Asclepias viridiflora) alongside butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa subsp. interior) in a garden setting .

Thirteen other species of the genus occur in Arkansas. Of these, six species can have greenish flowers (though some of these may be whitish, yellowish, or pinkish instead or in addition to greenish), namely green milkweed or spider milkweed (Asclepias viridis), tall green milkweed or prairie milkweed (Asclepias hirtella), curly milkweed or blunt-leaf milkweed (Asclepias amplexicaulis), whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillata), savanna milkweed (Asclepias obovata), and narrow-leaf milkweed (Asclepias stenophylla). Green milkweed (Asclepias viridiflora) can be distinguished from all other Arkansas milkweeds except A. hirtella by its multiple lateral umbels and corona hoods without horns.

Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

Terms of Use


Posted in Know Your Natives, Native Plants, Wildflowers | Tagged , , , ,

Know Your Natives – Clammy groundcherry

Clammy groundcherry (Physalis heterophylla) of the Nightshade (Solanaceae) family is one of eleven species (with one having two varieties) of the genus occurring in Arkansas, with a twelfth species currently being described new to science. It occurs naturally throughout much of the continental U.S., except for the far West. In Arkansas, this species occurs pretty much statewide (current gaps in distribution may be due more to specimen collection gaps than true distribution gaps). The genus name derives from a Greek word for “bladder” in reference to an enlarged calyx at fruiting. The specific epithet, from Latin, means “variably leaved”. Clammy groundcherry occurs in habitats ranging from open woodlands to prairies to disturbed areas in soils that may be poor to rich and dry to moist. “Clammy” relates to the feel of stems and leaves, more or less covered with glandular hairs.

Clammy groundcherries have a “parent” plant with a deep, slender, ropy taproot along with lateral roots 2 to 4 inches below surface that may be 4 feet or more long. In a selected specimen, the taproot was 3/8 inch in diameter while lateral roots were half that size. Lateral roots produce widely scattered stems (up to several feet apart) along their upper surface, as root-tip continues to grow. Stems growing from lateral roots remain attached to parent plant and do not develop taproots. The light tan taproots and lateral roots have a few relatively short, light-colored, fibrous roots.

Clammy groundcherry - Physalis heterophyllaPhoto 1: “Parent” plant on right has a ropy taproot from which lateral roots extend outward to produce a series of secondary stems (inset) without taproots.

New growth of this perennial originates from the tops of taproots (several inches below surface) and directly from horizontal roots (also several inches below surface). Plants grow to a height of 2+ feet, branching freely. The entire plant (except for flowers) is dull light green with stems and branches being a light yellowish green. Growth pattern consists of alternate leaves along straight stems near base of plant and, higher up, two leaves and a stem or two stems (or even three) and a leaf growing from a common point. Flowers grow from the center of the “groups-of-three”. For a relatively small plant, it has strong “architectural character” due to its open growth pattern, prominent branching and large upper leaves. Plants are structurally weak and become decumbent while new branches are ascending. Heavily pubescent stems are mostly round in cross-section, but lower portions of stems may become slightly ridged as they harden. Stem pubescence consists of intermixed long and short straight hairs, the latter gland tipped and producing the clammy texture. Branches of dead stems quickly disintegrate over winter, but lowermost portions of dead stems persists into spring.

Clammy groundcherry - Physalis heterophyllaPhoto 2: Stems have points where leaves and branches in groups-of-three originate. Heavy pubescence covers most of the plant. Previous year’s dead stems can be seen behind the green plant.

Leaves of clammy groundcherry are generally broadly heart shape (cordate) although some leaves, especially the lowermost, may be ovate. Margins vary from entire to undulate to broadly serrate with teeth angled toward the pointed leaf apex. Larger leaves, located along lower portions of branches, have lengths of about 5 inches (including 1-inch petioles) and widths of about 2½ inches. Leaves are slightly up-folded, especially nearer petiole. Veins are offset pinnate, with those of upper surface depressed and those of lower surface–a light yellow green–expressed. Leaf blades are densely and softly pubescent, the upper surface with longer hairs. Petioles, u-shaped in cross-section, are pubescent on the lower rounded portion, while the flat upper portion is mostly glabrous. Leaves become less pubescent with age.

Clammy groundcherry - Physalis heterophyllaPhoto 3: Leaves are mostly cordate with variable margins. Upper surface of leaves is shown except for two leaves on right.

Flowering may occur over several months, as new growth continues at tips of branches. Single flowers grow from the center of “groups-of-three” (see above) in upper portion of the plant. In bud, corollas are enclosed in a densely pubescent tear-drop-shaped calyx that is rounded at the pedicel and pointed at the tip. At bud stage, the calyx is closed by five narrowly triangular lobes that merge below to form the calyx tube. Buds, on a non-supportive pedicel, face downward. As flowers approach anthesis, the closed corolla pushes out of calyx and unfurls. The tubular corolla, to about ¾ inch wide and circular, comprises five flared, shallow lobes that narrow to a tube within the calyx (funnelform shape). The outer margin of corolla is sinuous with slight peaks at center of petals. Corollas are medium yellow with a prominent purple pattern radiating from the center toward the margins. Flowers have five stamens with stumpy, purple filaments from which large yellow anthers with reticulated ridges become exserted. As anthers disintegrate, ridges of anthers persist for a short time as filigree threads about the stigma. Larger plants may have two dozen flowers.

Clammy groundcherry - Physalis heterophyllaPhoto 4: Corollas are tubular, composed of five fused petals. Yellow anthers, with a reticulated surface, surround a green stigma. Corolla margin and deeply lobed calyx can be seen in inset.

After flowering, calyxes enlarge and inflate into papery, puffy, balloon-like husks with a bright green, globose developing fruit within. Husks are ten-ribbed “Chinese lanterns” tipped by the calyx lobes pressing together. At maturity, the dangling, inflated calyxes are about 1½ inches long and wide, on pedicels 1½ to 2 inches long. After fruits mature, husks become light brown and may become tissue-thin so that only the reticulated veins seem to remain.

Clammy groundcherry - Physalis heterophyllaPhoto 5: Calyxes enlarge and inflate into puffy husks that change from green to light brown and may become tissue-thin with fruit maturity.

The fruit of clammy groundcherry is a smooth, round, ¼-inch berry that becomes a dull yellow at maturity. Berries are filled with closely packed, flat, round seeds. Entire berries may be consumed by caterpillars without any seeds surviving.

Clammy groundcherry - Physalis heterophyllaPhoto 6: Fruit, including seeds, may be eaten by caterpillars of the straw moth (Chloridea subflexa).

For a partially to fully sunny garden with mesic to somewhat dry soil, clammy groundcherry would add nice textural variety. Husks are notable and decorative. Ripe fruit is edible. (The tomatillo of commerce is the fruiting structure of another species of PhysalisP. philadelphica.) Plants do not seem to be aggressive self-seeders. If a colony should become a problem, herbicide may be needed due to the root system.

Characteristics of clammy groundcherry that help separate it from the other other previously described groundcherry species in the state are: 1) cordate pubescent leaves, 2) clammy stems and leaves, and 3) indented circular base on inflated fruiting husks.

Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

Terms of Use

Posted in Know Your Natives, Native Plants, Wildflowers | Tagged , , ,

Know Your Natives – Heart-leaf Skullcap

Heart-leaf skullcap (Scutellaria ovata*) of the Mint (Lamiaceae) family is one of 11 skullcaps** found in Arkansas that have blue to purple, two-lipped tubular flowers. Heart-leaf skullcap occurs from Texas and Minnesota east to the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts, as far north as Pennsylvania. In Arkansas, it occurs throughout much of the state except lowlands of the Mississippi Alluvial Plain and West Gulf Coastal Plain. The genus name is from Latin for “small dish,” alluding to the depression of the fruiting calyx. The specific epithet is Latin for “oval” in reference to shape of the floral bracts. “Skullcap” refers to the shape of the upper portion of the calyx, which drops off with fruit maturity. Preferred habitat is open woodlands with dry to mesic, rocky soils as well in more sunny disturbed places such as rights-of-way and logged areas.

This species is a non-woody perennial. Plants have fibrous white roots along with more conspicuous long, shallow, white, thread-like runners (underground stems) that have widely spaced, opposite pairs of tiny white bracts. Runners may extend a foot or more from the parent plant. Runners, which may be branched, produce white rhizomes at their ends with rhizomes in alignment with the runners. Rhizomes, to an inch or more long and ¼ inch or more in diameter, have the appearance of a series of connected knobs. Old rhizomes decay after the new year’s plants mature.

Heartleaf Skullcap - Scutellaria ovataPhoto 1: New stems grow from rhizomes that formed the previous year. Photo mid-April.

Perennial plants grow from previous year’s rhizomes, with each rhizome producing one to several square stems, typically 1 to 2½ feet tall. Plants early in the growing season tend to be erect while those with flowers and fruit become ascending to leaning. Stems generally are not branched below the terminal inflorescence. Stems, along with the entire plant other than the flowers, are medium green. New plants, developing rhizomes their first year, are produced from seeds.

Heartleaf Skullcap - Scutellaria ovataPhoto 2: Plants grow from tips of rhizomes which decay as plants mature. New roots grow from base of new stems.

Leaves occur in pairs (opposite), with each pair rotated 90 degrees (decussate) from the next pair. Leaf shape conforms with the common name in that they are heart-shaped (cordate), although lowermost leaves may be oval and leaves within the inflorescence subtending racemes (spikes) may be spade-shaped (as in a deck of cards). Larger leaves, along middle of stems, may have a blade that is three inches long and two inches wide on 1½-inch, slender, four-sided petioles. Leaf size decreases toward the inflorescence and size decreases further within the inflorescence. The leaf blade may be indented at its junction with the petiole or the indention may be absent, with the blade extending a short distance onto the petiole. The leaf blade is generally flat, but blades without the basal indention tend to be “drawn down” at the petiole. Leaves are a medium green above and a lighter medium green below. Margins have prominent, narrow to broad, triangular, ascending teeth (dentate margins). Teeth extend from near the petiole to a single large pointed “tooth” at the leaf apex. Leaves do not have a minty scent when crushed.

The primary vein (midrib), secondary and lesser veins are notably depressed above and expressed below. Most secondary veins, joining midrib at an acute angle, are offset pinnate, however the lowermost pair of secondary veins are opposite. Overall, venation produces a reticulated pattern that causes leaves to appear rough (rugose).

With few exceptions, plants are covered by dense, short, colorless, soft pubescence. Upper and lower leaf surfaces feel soft, the upper surface softer due to longer hairs. Pubescence also extends uniformly across the upper and lower surface of four-sided petioles, while the petioles’ lateral surfaces are mostly glabrous. Pubescence on exterior of flowers, floral rachises, bracts and calyxes is glandular.

Flowering, in late spring, is characterized by long, narrow, terminal and lateral racemes along uppermost portions of stems. Axillary racemes typically occur as matched pairs subtended by opposite leaves. Racemes, 4 to 6+ inches long, consist of up to 40+ flowers on short pedicels arranged in closely spaced decussate pairs, along with a single terminal flower. Each flower is subtended by a small, dish-shaped, sessile bract. Flowers of a raceme reach anthesis sequentially from base to apex. All racemes of a plant tend to develop simultaneously.

Heartleaf Skullcap - Scutellaria ovataPhoto 3: Opposite pairs of decussate leaves grow from square stems. Opposite pairs of flowers are arranged in terminal and axillary racemes.

Lavender to purple corollas, to about 1 inch long, have a slender tubular lower portion that smoothly transitions to an expanded flared upper portion comprising a hooded upper lip and a broad, down-flared and ruffled lower lip. The face of the corolla is set at a right angle to the tubular lower portion. The tip of the upper lip has two small projecting lobes. The lower lip, larger than the upper, has an upper surface that is broadly rounded laterally and bowed up in its central ribbed portion. The lower lip has a white central zone with splotches of lavender or purple. It has an indented margin at its tip and toward the back in its side margin. As seen from the front, flowers have two orifices, namely, a small upper one formed by the upper lip and a larger lower one formed by both lips.

Heartleaf Skullcap - Scutellaria ovataPhoto 4: Opposite decussate pairs of flowers arch upward. Lower corolla lip has a central zone of white with blotches of lavender. Note glandular pubescence within the inflorescence. Photo late May.

Flowers have four stamens attached (adnate) to the lower portion of the corolla throat. The pistil comprises a deeply four-lobed ovary with a single style arising between the lobes. Lavender staminal filaments are tipped with two-lobed anthers that produce light yellow pollen. The style is white, with a small tapered stigma. Anthers and stigma are tightly positioned together just inside the small opening formed by the constricted upper lip.

Corollas emerge from short (1/8-inch-long), oddly shaped calyxes. These have a distinct saddle-like or helmet-like projection on the upper side of the tube. The lower side is more or less rounded. Calyxes, on 1/16-inch-long pedicels, are subtended by small, dish-shaped bracts of about the same length. Exterior calyx surfaces are mostly covered by short, dense, glandular pubescence.

Heartleaf Skullcap - Scutellaria ovataPhoto 5: Floral bract, corolla exterior and most of calyx are densely covered with glandular pubescence. Note lobes of upper and lower lips, including the two small lobes at tip of upper lip.

Ovaries have four round lobes (each with a single ovule), readily seen within the calyx after the corolla has fallen. With fertilization, lobes mature into 1/16-inch-wide, hard, rounded, one-seeded nutlets, each with two flattened sides and an “exterior” rounded surface. Nutlets are a dark purplish color, with tiny knobs covering the flattened sides. As nutlets mature, the calyx becomes light brown, its upper portion (the skullcap) drops off, and the nutlets fall from the saucer-like lower portion.

Heartleaf Skullcap - Scutellaria ovataPhoto 6: Display of a separated flower parts showing stamens, style, 4-lobed ovary, and calyx (side profile). Gaping calyx, as shown, closes after corolla is shed.

For gardening purposes, heart-leaf skullcap’s rugose and cordate leaves, fairly short stature and showy blue flowers are attractive in native woodland gardens and natural areas. Although the plant reproduces from rhizomes as well as seeds, excess plants can be easily removed in early spring to control numbers. This species does well in shady rocky sites. It is not a preferred deer food.

  • Characteristics of heart-leaf skullcap, such as degree and type of pubescence and size and shape of floral bracts, are variable across the species range. USDA recognizes nine subspecies.

** Characteristics of heart-leaf skullcap that distinguish it from the other 10 skullcaps in the state: 1) cordate planar leaves, 2) white runners that produce white rhizomes, 3) lower lip mostly white with lavender to purple splotches, and 4) oval floral bracts that are about same length as calyxes.

Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

Terms of Use

Posted in Know Your Natives, Native Plants, Wildflowers | Tagged , , , ,

2018 ANPS Fall Meeting Information

ANPS Fall Meeting 2018
October 12-14
Fort Smith, Arkansas


Everybody is welcome to attend! Meeting registration is only $10 with no pre-registration required. Registration will begin at 5:00 PM on Friday, October 12.

River Valley Nature Center
8300 Wells Lake Rd
Fort Smith, AR 72916

Holiday Inn Express Fort Smith Executive Park
6813 Phoenix Ave
Fort Smith, AR 72903
(479) 452-7500

We have reserved 25 rooms (12 two queen rooms and 13 king rooms) at the reduced rate of $89.99 plus tax per night. Reservations must be received by August 31, 2018 to guarantee the reduced rate. Be sure to mention that you are with the Arkansas Native Plant Society when making your reservation. Individuals are responsible for their own room and tax.

We will have a potluck meal Friday and Saturday evenings at the Nature Center. Bring a dish or just come and eat! There are also several dining options in the Fort Smith area near the hotel.

EVENING PROGRAMS – at the River Valley Nature Center

7:00 p.m. – Our Annual NATIVE PLANT AUCTION! Bring your native plants, books, homemade jelly, jewelry, or plant art for the auction. Proceeds from the auction support ANPS scholarships, research grants, and small grants programs.

6:00 p.m. – Membership Meeting

7:00 p.m. – Evening Program:

7:00-7:30 p.m. – Logan Estes, Graduate Student at the University of Arkansas and 2017 ANPS Delzie Demaree Grant Recipient, will speak on the topic “Where are all of Arkansas’ chinquapins? – An ecological assessment of Castanea throughout the state.”

7:30-8:00 p.m. – Dr. Dwayne Estes, Professor of Biology at Austin Peay State University and Executive Director of the Southeastern Grasslands Initiative (, will present the topic “The Southeastern Grasslands Initiative: Charting A New Course for Conservation in the 21st Century.” The Southeastern Grasslands Initiative (SGI) is a collaboration of leaders in international biodiversity conservation led by the Austin Peay State University Center of Excellence for Field Biology, in partnership with the Botanical Research Institute of Texas, North Carolina Botanical Garden, and Roundstone Native Seed. The SGI seeks to integrate research, consultation, and education, along with the administration of grants, to create innovative solutions to address the multitude of complex issues facing Southeastern grasslands, the most imperiled ecosystems in eastern North America.

8:00-9:00 p.m. – John Manion, Kaul Wildflower Garden Curator at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens (, will speak on the topic “Conversion Therapy…to the Wonder of Native Plants.” Until as recently as a few decades ago, native plants were the purview of people who wore tied-dyed shirts and burned lots of incense; In other words, a counter-culture. Since that time, there has been a sea change in attitudes towards the importance of our native flora and its habitats. How do we continue this conversion to a deeper understanding that it’s about much more than pretty plants? John will illustrate how he and Birmingham Gardens work to archive this understanding.

Several field trips to local areas of top botanical interest are scheduled for Saturday 8:30 am – 5:00 pm and Sunday 8:30 am – 12:00 pm. Saturday and Sunday morning field trips will leave from the hotel at 8:30. Saturday afternoon field trips will meet at the trip locations at 2:00 p.m. You must sign up for field trips on Friday evening to allow for adequate logistical planning. We advise bringing sunscreen, water, and bug spray for ticks, chiggers, and mosquitoes!

We are currently working on field trip locations and organizing trip leaders, so stay tuned to this page for full details!

Please contact Jennifer Ogle at or Donna Hanke at

Posted in Know Your Natives

Know Your Natives – Sensitive Brier

Sensitive brier (or briar) (Mimosa quadrivalvis var. nuttallii*) of the Bean (Fabaceae) family is a sprawling perennial legume that is covered with prickles. The genus name is from a Greek word for “mime” or “mimic,” in reference to leaves in some species that fold when stimulated, suggestive of mimicking conscious life. The specific epithet is from Latin, meaning “with four valves,” in possible reference to seed shape. The varietal name honors Englishman Thomas Nuttall who, beginning early in the 19th century, published books on U.S. plants. This variety, sometimes treated at the species level as Mimosa nuttallii, occurs in the central U.S. from Texas and Louisiana to North Dakota and Wisconsin, with a couple scattered reports also from Michigan and Pennsylvania. It is found in sunny areas of prairies, roadsides and woodland margins where soils are sandy to rocky. In Arkansas, it occurs across much of the state except for lowlands within the Mississippi Alluvial Plain. Other common names include cat’s claw brier, bashful brier, and Nuttall’s sensitive brier.

Sensitive brier is a low-growing sprawling plant that develops a long, woody taproot an inch or more in diameter. New stems grow primarily from bases of previous year’s dead stems so that, over the years, short “caudex-branches” form, resulting in a splayed caudex, an inch or so below the surface. Taproots, an inch or more in diameter, have a garlic scent when freshly cut.

Sensitive Briar - Mimosa quadrivalvis var. nuttalliiPhoto 1: New stems grow from base of previous year’s stems. Inset: splayed caudex and taproot.

A mature plant may have a dozen or more floppy stems that radiate from the caudex. Stems become tightly intertwined with other stems and surrounding vegetation. Stems, to 4+ feet long and unbranched, are terete with six slight longitudinal ribs. The plant hugs the ground in absence of other vegetation; stem ends may rise about a foot. Stems mostly disintegrate over winter, other than the lowermost portions which remain viable.

Sensitive brier is heavily armed with prickles (outgrowths of epidermis). The short, slender, recurved prickles are irregularly spaced along the ribs that extend along stems and onto petioles (leaf stalks), leaf midribs, petiolules (stalks of leaflets), and pedicels (flower stalks). Prickles hold the floppy stems in place against the ground or other vegetation. Prickles cause any plant part touched by a passerby (human or animal) to latch on. The entire plant is hairless (glabrous).

The 4- to 5-inch-long compound, alternate leaves are even-bipinnate, having four to eight opposite, even-pinnate lateral leaflets which are divided into 10 to 14 even-pinnate pinnules. Leaves, 4 to 5 inches long and spaced 1 to 3 inches apart, attach to stems between the ribs. A pair of weak linear stipules is located at the leaf base. The petiole is about one-third as long as the rachis (leaf axis that bears leaflets). Secondary leaflets or pinnules, about 3/16 inch long with tiny tips, have elliptical blades. Pinnules, medium green above and a lighter green below, have obscure venation except for midribs. Pinnule blades are more narrow on the up-rachis or distal side of midribs. Short pulvini (swollen sections subject to changes of turgor) at the bases of pinnules allow pinnules to fold along the leaflet midrib when touched, as well as overnight, on cloudy days and when plant is shaken.

Sensitive Briar - Mimosa quadrivalvis var. nuttalliiPhoto 2: Left, upper leaflet surfaces obscured by folding of leaflets; lower leaflet surfaces shown on right. A stem segment (leaves removed) also shown. Note that the recurved prickles grow from ribs.

Sensitive Briar - Mimosa quadrivalvis var. nuttalliiPhoto 3: Upper leaves subtend single, ball-shaped flower heads, as seen on this actively growing stem. Linear stipules can be seen at bases of petioles.

In mid-spring, new leaves along upper portions of stems subtend long, slender peduncles topped with ball-shaped flower heads. With anthesis, all 80 or so buds of a head open simultaneously. Each flower has 12 or more strongly exserted, straight, half-inch-long, thread-like stamens. With stamens radiating in all directions, the ball-shaped heads are about 1 inch in diameter. Individual flowers are not discernable. Rose to pink filaments are tipped, during the first day of bloom, with globular two-lobed anthers that produce light yellow pollen. Stamens encircle a small, elongate, green ovary topped by a style that has the same pink color and shape as filaments. Flowers each have a tiny calyx and five triangular petals that unite to form a one-eighth-inch long, bell-shaped corolla. Calyx is a light green, the corolla a light green to tan. After a single day of bloom, flower heads quickly fade as additional heads “open” up-stem. All non-flower parts of the plant are at first a light green that changes to medium green through the growing season.

Sensitive Briar - Mimosa quadrivalvis var. nuttalliiPhoto 4: Flower heads reach anthesis sequentially from lower to upper stem. Note the ridged stems and numerous prickles.

Sensitive Briar - Mimosa quadrivalvis var. nuttalliiPhoto 5: With peduncle removed, calyx and corolla of individual flowers can be seen. Inset: flower with 12 stamens. Note, below right, green ovary topped by a style with appearance similar to that of stamens.

In midsummer, sensitive brier produces slender pods with large prickles along ribs that extend the length of the pods. Each flower head produces a limited number of pods. Mature pods, to 3+ inches long, can be oddly shaped: seeds bulge such that pods are intermittently slim between them. As pods dry, they split into two valves. Seeds are smooth, dark brown, somewhat oval and with flattened sides, and about 1/8 inch long by 1/16 inch wide.

Sensitive Briar - Mimosa quadrivalvis var. nuttalliiPhoto 6: Flower heads produce prickly pods that enclose isolated seeds. Inset (¼ inch per square): shiny dark-brown seed are smooth with flattened faces.

Sensitive brier is suitable in a sunny, dry natural garden where the plant can grow without disturbance. Plants have attractive twice-compound leaves, showy flowers and an amazing display of prickles. They do not spread aggressively, either by seed or runners. They are difficult to grow from seed but can be started from cuttings. Seeds are a purgative.

Another Arkansas species with similar appearance is powderpuff or shameface (Mimosa strigillosa). Powderpuff, the only other Arkansas Mimosa, is found across the West Gulf Coastal Plain and southern portion of the Mississippi Alluvial Plain. It does not have prickles, and it spreads aggressively by runners. Another similar-looking plant is yellow puff (Neptunia lutea), but this species also does not have prickles and has yellow, more elongate flower heads.

  • Other scientific names that have been associated with sensitive brier: Mimosa nuttallii, Mimosa quadrivalvis var. angustata, Mimosa microphylla, Schrankia uncinata, Schrankia nuttallii, Schrankia angustata, Schrankia microphylla, Leptoglottis angustisiliqua, Leptoglottis chapmanii, Leptoglottis microphylla, Morongia angustata, Morongia microphylla, Morongia uncinata.

Note: Non-native invasive mimosa, a.k.a. silktree, (Albizia julibrissin) is not in the Mimosa genus.

Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

Terms of Use


Posted in Know Your Natives, Native Plants, Wildflowers | Tagged , , , ,

Know Your Natives – Foxglove Beardtongue

Foxglove beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis) of the Plantain (Plantaginaceae) family, formerly of the Figwort (Scrophulariaceae) family, is the largest of five white-flowered beardtongues in Arkansas. It is found throughout much of the eastern U.S. The genus name is from Greek words translating to “five stamens.” The specific epithet refers to the foxglove-like flowers of the genus Digitalis. Another common name is smooth white penstemon. The common name of the genus, “beardtongue,” describes the sterile, typically hairy (bearded) fifth stamen (a staminode) that is characteristic of all Penstemon species. Preferred habitats are well-drained, mesic, loamy soils in sunny prairies, sunny road drainages and partially sunny woodlands.

Plants have a thick clump of light colored fibrous roots and a woody caudex that may produce adjacent off-set plants. Ground-hugging basal leaves may survive winter and be present when spring growth appears. Mature caudices have multiple growth points that produce multiple stems 1 to 3 inches long bearing basal leaves only as well as one to several slender flowering stems from 3 to 4 feet tall. The unbranched flowering stems, becoming erect with maturity, are sturdy and very smooth (glabrous). The only pubescence on the plant occurs in the inflorescence.

Foxglove beardtongue - Penstemon digitalisPhoto 1: In mid-March, along with over-wintering basal leaves, several rosettes of new leaves have appeared. New leaves are on stems that will either remain short with leaves only while other new leaves are of stems that will become tall and produce flowers.

Photo 2 Apr 14Photo 2: In this mid-April photo, rapidly growing flowering stems are not erect but will become erect with further growth.

Basal leaves occur as closely spaced, decussate (rotated 90 degrees) and opposite pairs on the short stems. Leaves, with smooth margins, are a shiny medium green on the upper surfaces and a lighter green below. Basal leaves, with a total length to 11 inches, have a lanceolate blade to 5 inches long and a tapering winged petiole to 6 inches long. Young basal leaves and over-wintering leaves may have purplish shading, especially along petioles and lower blade surfaces. Leaf midribs are sunken above and sharply raised below. Widely spaced secondary pinnate veins curve gently toward leaf apex, but fade away without reaching leaf margin. Tertiary veins are obscure. Veins are the same color as leaf blade except lower-surface veins are a light yellowish green. Basal leaves persist after the flowering/fruiting stems have dried; a few that are ground-hugging persist into spring.

Leaves on flowering stems (cauline leaves) are in widely spaced (to 6 inches apart) opposite decussate pairs. These leaves, sessile to clasping, are lanceolate to oblanceolate, becoming small and elongate-triangular below the inflorescence. Generally, leaves have a rounded base and a long-tapering acute apex. Lowermost leaves may have wings that widen toward the base. Leaf length ranges from 8 inches, along lower portion of stem, to 2 inches and less, just below the inflorescence. Margins tend to be finely dentate, with teeth of lower leaves widely spaced and those of upper leaves more closely spaced. Leaf coloration is about the same as that of basal leaves. Venation is also about the same, but secondary veins are more closely spaced.

Photo 3-4Photo 3: Two basal leaves (11 inches long) are displayed at bottom of photo with other leaves being cauline leaves. Upper leaf surfaces shown on left and lower surfaces shown on right.

In mid- to late-spring, the terminal inflorescence occurs as opposite pairs of branched ascending clusters (cymes), beginning about 6 inches above last leaf pair. Three to five opposite pairs of primary cymes tend to compose an inflorescence with spacing between pairs decreasing upwards to a cluster of flowers. Cymes are generally branched into secondary cymes. Primary and secondary cymes are subtended by decreasingly small linear bracts that have broadened, clasping bases. Each division of a cyme tends to have one to three flowers per branch. A terminal inflorescence has a length to 8+ inches and a width of up to 3 inches.

Photo 4 May 13Photo 4: The terminal inflorescence is an elongate cluster of cymes. Photo taken in mid-May.

Foxglove beardtongue’s cream colored flower buds have a bulbous appearance before opening as white (sometimes with purplish shades) swollen corollas to 1½ inches long. Corolla tube abruptly enlarges to become strongly two-lipped (bilabiate), the lower lip with three larger lobes, the upper with two slightly smaller lobes. All five lobes, broadly rounded at their distal ends, have a similar appearance and similar length. Corollas, more broad than high, with a nearly flat lower inner surface, may have a few longitudinal purple veins (insect guides) along lower portion of the tube. Flowers are perfect (both male and female parts) with four fertile stamens and a pistil along with a prominent staminode. Two pairs of stamens, attached to the corolla tube, arise from the flower’s center so that their anthers are positioned at the top of the enlarged portion of tube. Anthers are held in see-saw fashion at tips of filaments. Style, straight with the small stigma, is centered between and in close proximity to the two anther pairs. The staminode, centrally positioned at the bottom of tube, has scattered long spiky hairs near its distal end. Spiky hairs are also scattered along lower surface of throat. Corollas are set in a small bell-shaped, medium-green calyx edged with five narrowly-triangular ascending to flaring lobes. Exterior of corolla, calyx and pedicels are densely covered with short, sticky, glandular hairs. Filaments, staminode and style are white, as are the glandular hairs. Anthers produce white pollen.

Photo 5 May 3Photo 5: Large corollas are set in relatively short calyxes rimmed with five narrowly-triangular lobes. Glandular hairs cover exterior of corolla and calyx. A staminode can be seen in flower near photo-center.

Photo 6-4Photo 6: Display shows a bud, an open complete flower and a flower with most of corolla removed. Note shape of flower, small calyx, glandular hairs, two-part anthers and straight hairs at distal end of staminode.

With fertilization, ovaries enlarge to form raindrop-shaped capsules that taper to the apex tipped by the drying style. Capsules enlarge to about three times longer than calyx, turning light brown at maturity and splitting from tip to base to release numerous tiny, angular, irregularly ridged, brown seeds.

In a garden or natural area, foxglove beardtongue would stand out due to its height, large widely spaced stem leaves and its showy foxglove-type flowers. Flowers may be present for a month in mid-spring. Timely removal of seed capsules can prevent any undesired self-seeding. Foxglove beardtongue has been listed by the Missouri Prairie Foundation as a “Grow Native!” plant (recommended for home landscapes).

Four other white-blooming beadtongues occur in Arkansas: Arkansas beardtongue (Penstemon arkansanus), nodding beardtongue (Penstemon laxiflorus), pale beardtongue (Penstemon pallidus), and white wand beardtongue (Penstemon tubaeflorus). Foxglove beardtongue can be distinguished by its 1) large size (plant and flowers), 2) glabrous nature, except for its glandular hairs on and near flowers, 3) foxglove-like corollas with lobes that are similarly flared and with similar length, and 4) a staminode that has scattered long straight hairs near its distal end.

Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

Terms of Use

Posted in Know Your Natives, Native Plants, Wildflowers | Tagged , , , ,

Know Your Natives – Death Camas

Death Camas (Toxicoscordion nuttallii) of the Bunchflower (Melanthiaceae) family* is a white-flowered, poisonous spring ephemeral. The genus name is from Greek for “poisonous garlic”.

The specific epithet honors Englishman Thomas Nuttall who, beginning early in the 19th century, published books on U.S. plants after exploring several areas of the country (including Arkansas). Death camas occurs in Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, and Louisiana, with reports also from Mississippi and Tennessee. The only species in the genus reported from Arkansas, it is recorded from scattered Interior Highland counties between the northeastern and southwestern corners of the state. Habitats include mostly sunny, well-drained glades and prairies, rocky hillsides and woodlands. Other common names include Nuttall’s death camas, poison camas and white camas**.

Death camas is a perennial monocot that develops bulbs. Bulbs are composed of fleshy concentric scales (leaf bases) that surround a reduced stem (basal plate) which produces fibrous roots below and vegetative growth above. The rounded-elongate bulbs, about 1 inch wide and 1½ inches long, have a thin dark brown to black exterior tunic layer that is composed of dried scales. Bulbs become dormant in late spring.

Toxicoscordion nuttalliiPhoto 1: As plants become dormant, leaves and stem dry and shrink away, leaving only the bulb to persist underground. Photo – early June.

Leaves appear in late February as an upright pale green rosette surrounded by short white protective sheaths. Mature bulbs produce six to ten basal leaves, to 15+ inches long and about ¾ inch wide, which surround a single central flowering stem. The erect, unbranched, terete flowering stem grows 2 to 3 feet tall, with half its height attained during and after bloom as the stem continues to lengthen. Basal leaves are ascending and arching and, especially for lowermost leaves, recurve downward and back toward plant center. Medium green, low-sheen leaves are stout, thick and smooth (glabrous), widest at their base, with an equal blade-width most of their length, and a rounded apex. Leaves are firmly folded upward along the midrib, u-shaped in cross-section. Venation is parallel and leaf margins are entire.

Toxicoscordion nuttalliiPhoto 2: Death camas first appears as an erect rosette of leaves. Photo – late February.

Basal leaves transition up the stem into a half dozen or so helically-alternate cauline leaves. Appearance and size of lowermost cauline leaves are similar to basal leaves, but those higher up-stem generally reduce in length, becoming straight and lance-like near the inflorescence. Lowermost cauline leaf bases have closed sheaths, fully enveloping the stem for an inch or more. Higher cauline leaves gradually lose these sheaths and become clasping, before transitioning to linear leaves with exaggerated lengths up to 12 inches. Uppermost cauline leaves transition into short floral bracts that subtend pedicels (flower stalks).

Toxicoscordion nuttalliiPhoto 3: Thick smooth basal leaves, u-shaped in cross-section, are erect to recurved. Cauline leaves have a similar appearance, but have a basal sheath or are clasping. Note exaggerated length of leaves (bracts) just below the inforescence. Photo – late April.

The inflorescence of death camas, a raceme or panicle, initially appears as a somewhat elongate cluster of densely spaced buds. As blooming commences from the base, the inflorescence becomes conical to pyramidal as pedicels and rachis lengthen. With fruiting, the cylindrical cluster may become 12 inches long and 3 inches wide at its base and 2 inches at its distal end. In some situations, the single flower of a lower pedicel may be replaced by a small cluster of flowers. Pedicels, horizontal to slightly ascending, are light green, terete and glabrous, as is the rachis of the inflorescence, which can bear slight short ridges extending below floral bracts.

Toxicoscordion nuttalliiPhoto 4: Lowermost flowers are past anthesis while uppermost flowers remain in bud. Pedicels and rachis continue to grow as flowers bloom so that clusters become cylindrical. Photo – early May.

Death camas may produce 50+ flowers in an inflorescence. The perfect (bisexual) flowers are up to ¾ inch across. Flowers have a perianth of 6 whitish to cream colored, thin ¼–inch-long, flared tepals with green bases. Tepals are oval to round with obtuse apexes and generally clawed (narrowed) bases. Tepals, flattened or cupped at distal ends, are in two whorls of 3; an outer whorl of sepals that are broader than the petals of the inner whorl. Six free-standing stamens, centered on the tepals, have slender straight filaments tipped with oblong anthers that produce bright yellow pollen. Filaments extend well above the perianth. A prominent, elongate, free-standing ovary is composed of three broadly-ridged cylindrical chambers, joined along a central axis. The apex of each chamber tapers to a long style that ends with a small flat-tipped stigma. In bud, styles are wound together, but with anthesis they curve outward and over the three outer tepals.

Toxicoscordion nuttalliiPhoto 5: The three outer tepals (sepals) are wider and cupped as compared to the three inner tepals (petals). Flowers have three styles that flare outward as flowers mature.

With fertilization, the ovary produces a lobed, three-chambered capsule, ½ inch long and ¼ inch wide. Sepals and filaments are persistent on the dry tannish capsules as chambers split (dehisce) lengthwise to disperse seeds. Each chamber has about a dozen seeds in two stacks. The dark brown to black seeds are irregularly shaped with rounded faces and flat sides.

Toxicoscordion nuttalliiPhoto 6: In late June, plant has become dormant and seed capsules have dried.

In a native plant garden, death camas can be a low maintenance ephemeral that fits nicely in a bit of empty space. With its early graceful foliage and inflorescence, the plant can be eye-catching before a garden is dominated by taller more leafy plants. The plant is highly toxic so it must not be planted where edible bulbs (such as onion or garlic) might be harvested for food.

  • Previously classified as Zigadenus nuttallii of the Lily (Liliaceae) family, this plant was reclassified based on the family’s evolutionary history.

** Common names that include “camas” relate to species in the genus Camassia such as great white camas (C. leichtlinii), a native species of far-western states. Arkansas Camassia are called wild hyacinth (C. scilloides) and prairie wild hyacinth (C. angusta), both with blue flowers.


Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

Terms of Use

Posted in Know Your Natives, Native Plants, Wildflowers | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Know Your Natives – Wild Comfrey

Wild comfrey (Cynoglossum virginianum) of the Borage (Boraginaceae) family is a short perennial with large leaves and pale blue flowers. In the US, it occurs from Texas to Illinois to New York to the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. In Arkansas, it occurs statewide except for some areas of the Mississippi Alluvial Plain and lower elevations of the West Gulf Coastal Plain. The genus name, from Greek, translates to “hound’s tongue” in reference to leaf shape. The specific epithet references the State of Virginia from which it was originally described. It is also known as giant forget-me-not and hound’s tongue. Preferred habitat is open woodlands of ridges, slopes and bottomlands with rich moist soil where competition is low.

Wild comfrey - Cynoglossum virginianumPhoto 1: In its preferred habitat, a seeded colony stands out.

Wild comfrey has a ropy taproot from which new growth emerges from one or two buds in early spring. It may have a basal rosette of leaves only or, on more vigorous plants, a leafy flowering stem as well. Stems, to 2 or more feet tall, are erect, with the upper portion tending to be fistulose (hollow). Stems terminate with two divergent arching floral branches, often with an additional one or two widely separated branches below. Floral branches are initially coiled with flowers along the upper side in two ranks, alternating from side to side (a scorpioid cyme). A single flower may occur between the two apical floral branches. Each floral branch has up to 10 or more flowers. With large erect to ascending leaves, flowers seem to float just above the bulky plant.

Wild comfrey - Cynoglossum virginianumPhoto 2: In early spring, the first leaves are rising from the duff.

On a flowering plant, lower leaves are closely spaced along the stem while upper leaves are widely spaced. Large lower leaves, which may be ten or more in number, are elliptic with a gently tapering base and an acute apex. Largest of the lower leaves may be 14 inches long, including 4-inch petioles, and 4 inches wide. Lower stem leaves have wings that extend a short distance down the petiole. Above mid-stem, leaves become smaller and widely spaced with longer and wider wings so that leaves are sessile. These mid-stem leaves also become clasping and one or two leaves have ear-shaped appendages (auriculate) at their base. The uppermost several leaves are broadly lanceolate and clasping. Floral branches are leafless.

Wild comfrey - Cynoglossum virginianumPhoto 3: Mature plants produce a stem that terminates with the inflorescence. Upper stem leaves, with a broadened base, are sessile and clasping.

All leaves of wild comfrey are alternate with entire margins. Leaves are a medium green above and a light green below with yellowish petioles and main veins. Leaves have a sunken upper midrib and a prominently expressed lower midrib. Widely spaced pinnate secondary veins gently arch toward leaf apex while tertiary veins are reticulated and obscure.

Wild comfrey is heavily pubescent with fine, spiky hairs uniformly spread along the stem and both sides of leaves, along with ciliate leaf margins. Pubescence extends into floral branches and onto pedicels (flower stalks) where hairs are shorter and appressed. Pubescence is not present on the concave upper side of the sharply edged petiole or along the upper midvein. Pubescence of lower leaf surface is shorter than that of the upper surface. Stems and petioles feel hirsute while both leaf surfaces feel soft.

Flowers open about mid-May as the coiled cymes straighten. All of the two to five cymes on a stem develop at the same time with flowering proceeding from proximal to distal end. By the time the distal flowers are in bloom, fruits of the lower flowers are already well formed. Flowers are present for about a month.

Wild comfrey - Cynoglossum virginianumPhoto 4: This early stem, with inflorescences still crowded, terminates with two divergent scorpioid cymes with a separate lower cyme.

Flower buds are whitish with pink overtones, with corollas set in a medium green to purplish, densely pubescent calyx. Calyx lobes are twice as long as the calyx tube. With anthesis, corollas become pale blue. Flowers, up to half-inch wide, have a short tubular corolla with five lobes.. Lobes have whitish, raised appendages at their bases that form an elevated ring around a gaping throat. Lobes are oval and weakly flared with crinkly margins. A pistil and five stamens do not exsert from the corolla tube. Stamens, with short filaments adnate to the corolla tube immediately below the gaping center, have elongate lumpy anthers. The greenish stubby and erect style, positioned below the anthers, attaches to a round ovary.

Wild comfrey - Cynoglossum virginianumPhoto 5: Whitish buds become pale blue as flowers reach anthesis. Note elevated ring around throat and dense appressed pubescence on pedicles and calyx.

With fertilization, flowers immediately begin fruit development. The round ovary divides into four ovoid segments, each of which may produce a mature nutlet. Mature nutlets are grayish brown with a spiky clinging surface. Nutlets are dispersed by gravity, water flow, or various mammals to which the nutlets cling.

Wild comfrey - Cynoglossum virginianumPhoto 6: Whitish flower buds are nearer distal end of coiled cymes than blue flowers. Ovaries split into four spiky nutlets while style is still present.

For a shaded moist garden or natural area with minimal competition, wild comfrey should be a favored selection. With or without a flowering stem, the leafy plant is showy, especially in spring when it quickly reaches its maximum height. The pale blue flowers provide a subtle show. Wild comfrey is not noted for aggressive self-seeding; however, seeded cymes may be easily removed. It is not favored by deer.

In addition to wild comfrey (Cynoglossum virginianum), other species in the genus that have been recorded in Arkansas include three non-natives: 1) hound’s tongue or garden comfrey (Cynoglossum officinale) (in several northern counties), 2) Ceylon hound’s tongue (Cynoglossum zeylanicum a.k.a. Cynoglossum furcatum) (in several southwestern and central counties) and 3) blue hound’s tongue (Cynoglossum creticum). These species can be readily distinguished from Cynoglossum virginianumCynoglossum officinale has downy stems, small leaves and purple to reddish flowers. Cynoglossum zeylanicum, with blue flowers, is a tall multi-stemmed species with small lanceolate leaves and more numerous and longer floral branches. Cynoglossum creticum has smaller, narrower and stiff leaves, with many leaves up stems.  These introduced species are often found in disturbed areas.

Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

Terms of Use

Posted in Know Your Natives, Native Plants, Wildflowers | Tagged , , ,