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 (speakers TBD)

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 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 , , ,

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 , , ,

Know Your Natives – Eastern Bluestar

Eastern bluestar (Amsonia tabernaemontana) of the Dogbane (Apocynaceae) family is an herbaceous, long-living perennial with blue flowers. The genus name honors 18th-century Virginian physician Dr. Charles Amson. The specific epithet honors Jacob Tabernaemontanus, a 16th-century German physician and botanist and author of the New Herb Book. Other common names include blue dogbane, willowleaf amsonia and woodland bluestar. In the U.S., it occurs naturally from eastern Texas to southeastern Kansas to Illinois and thence southward and eastward to the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. In Arkansas, it occurs statewide. Eastern bluestar’s preferred habitat is various rocky to loamy well-drained soils in sunny to partially sunny open woodlands, glades and stream banks, as well as moist soils of prairies.

Eastern bluestar may have one to multiple erect stems in early spring. In the case of older multi-stemmed plants, new stems grow from the perimeter of the root clump. Stems grow quickly, with apical clusters of blue, pointed, tightly wound flower buds being apparent shortly after stems emerge. Flowers open as stems grow to a height of about 2 feet. By that time, the inflorescence is at full-bloom, and secondary stems are growing from several upper leaf axils, just below the main inflorescence. These secondary stems angle out and upward from the main stem and soon overtop it, with final plant height to about 2½ feet. Yellow-green, glabrous stems are terete below and ridged above, buttressing the upper leaves that subtend secondary stems and floral branches. Cut stems exude a white (“milky”) sap, characteristic of many members of the dogbane family. Stems arch outward later in the growing season so that plants, especially when heavily fruited, may become twice as wide as tall.

Eastern bluestar - Amsonia tabernaemontanaPhoto 1: In early spring, stems of older multi-stemmed plants grow from perimeter of root clump. Apical clusters of tightly wound pubescent blue flower buds are quickly apparent.

Broadly lanceolate, alternate leaves have blades to 6 inches long and 2½ inches wide. Petioles, to 1 inch long, are slightly winged at base of leaf blade. Leaves are medium green on their upper surface, with a lighter colored mid-vein, while the lower surface is a lighter green. Margins are entire and slightly revolute. Leaves lack pubescence except for hairs along margins (ciliate). Venation, depressed above and expressed below, is offset pinnate with lateral veins arching toward leaf apex and disappearing before reaching leaf margin. Like the stems, cut leaves exude a milky sap.

Flowering period lasts for a month or more in early to mid-spring. Inflorescences, mostly produced at apexes of main stems, consist of several short floral branches of which one terminates the main stem and several others rise from uppermost leaf axils. These floral branches, which are rebranched, each have about a dozen flowers, so that the inflorescence of a single main stem may have a hundred flowers. Some secondary stems, with or without several leaves, may terminate with a floral “branch”. Floral branches typically form ragged clusters that are rounded both radially and across their convex tops. The entire cluster develops simultaneously. Those secondary stems that do not bear flowers become taller than the main stems.

Eastern bluestar - Amsonia tabernaemontanaPhoto 2: Upper leaves of these main stems subtend floral branches and secondary stems. Note leaf venation and pubescence of tightly wound flower buds.

Flowers, to ¾ inch wide, are pale blue overall, with five oblanceolate lobes that form a star-shaped corolla with a whitish center. Corolla lobes join to form a slender floral tube set into a tiny calyx that has five stubby, triangular teeth. Corolla lobes ascend at about 45 degrees from the corolla tube. Entrance to the corolla throat is small and covered with long, white, in-facing, soft hairs (villous pubescence) that extend into the corolla tube. Lobes and tube have a similar length (about 3/8 inch), while the calyx is about 1/16 inch long. The exterior of the corolla tube is a dark blue with a greenish dilated area below. The exterior of the dilated portion of corolla tube is villous.

Eastern bluestar - Amsonia tabernaemontanaPhoto 3: Flowers are set in tiny calyxes with greenish dilated corolla tubes, as seen on buds at left. Pale blue flowers have a whitish center with radiating hairs. Secondary stems grow from leaf axils below floral branches.

Flowers have an elaborate yet functional structure: a hidden, elongate style is topped by a knob-like stigma. The anthers of five hidden stamens form an incurved, cap-like ring around the stigma. Anthers and stigma are positioned in the dilated section of the tube just below the throat entrance. Staminal filaments arise from the wall of the tube just below the dilated area. Stamens and style are a pale yellow-green while anthers are a light yellow. The single style is attached to the top of two closely appressed but separate ovaries nested in the calyx.

Eastern bluestar - Amsonia tabernaemontanaPhoto 4: Flowers have tiny calyxes, styles with knob-like stigmas, and anthers on short filaments. Villous pubescence occurs on exterior and interior of floral tube.

With fertilization, the two ovaries of the pistil develop into two fruits, growing into straight to slightly curved, slender, bean-like pods that may be 5 or more inches long. Pods are stiffly erect and tapered to pointed tips. With maturity in early September, each of the brown pods slowly splits from tip to base along a single suture (a fruit technically called a follicle), revealing eight to ten cylindrical, dark brown seeds with slanted ends. The seeds drop to the ground as the pods slowly open. Plants remain leafy and green into fall, when they become a golden-yellow. In winter, persistent stems and papery leaves become light tan to silvery.

Eastern bluestar - Amsonia tabernaemontanaPhoto 5: With fertilization, the two ovaries of the pistil separate and lengthen into bean-like pods that may be 5 or more inches long

Eastern bluestar - Amsonia tabernaemontanaPhoto 6: In this early June photo, seed pods are maturing. Brown seed capsules in background are on American alumroot. Inset shows two pods from one flower (the pods still attached to the flower’s pedicel) and seed in September (each square is ¼ inch).

Eastern bluestar is recognized in American Horticultural Society’s 75 Great American Garden Plants as one of the most carefree native wildflowers. It is an ideal plant for partially sunny native plant gardens and natural areas with well drained mesic soils. It returns year after year in early spring as a leafy plant with reliable clusters of blue flowers and attractive foliage throughout the year. Top-heavy plants may be kept more erect by removal of seed pods and/or securing plants to a central stake.

Eastern bluestar - Amsonia tabernaemontanaPhoto 6: In this mid-November photo, leaves are an attractive golden-yellow.

Other species of the genus in Arkansas are: fringed bluestar (Amsonia ciliata var. tenuifolia), Ouachita or Arkansas bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii), and shining or Ozark bluestar (Amsonia illustris). These three species have flowers similar to those of Amsonia tabernaemontana; however, Amsonia ciliata var. tenuifolia and Amsonia hubrichtii have very narrow, needle-like leaves. Of Arkansas’s bluestars, Amsonia illustris, with its wider leaves, is the most similar to Amsonia tabernaemontana, but Amsonia illustris can be distinguished by its narrower, thicker and shinier leaves, as well as by its drooping seed pods.

Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

Terms of Use

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

Know Your Natives – Violet Wood Sorrel

Violet wood sorrel (Oxalis violacea) of the Wood Sorrel (Oxalidaceae) family is a small bulb-plant that bears shamrock-style leaves. The genus name is based on a Greek word for “acid”, in reference to the plant’s pleasantly sour taste. The specific epithet is Latin for “violet-colored”, referring to the flowers. It is found across the eastern U.S. from Texas to North Dakota to the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, with the exception of Maine and New Hampshire. In Arkansas, the species occurs throughout the state. It grows in a wide variety of sunny to partially sunny sites and in a wide range of well-drained loamy to rocky or sandy soils of open upland deciduous and conifer woodlands, glades and prairies.

Know Your Natives - Oxalis violaceaPhoto 1: Leaves unfold as peduncles rise. Photo: mid-March.

Violet wood sorrel has scale-covered bulbs* that are up to ½ inch long and ¼ inch wide, just below soil surface. Mature bulbs feel spongy. Scales, growing from a small basal plate within the bulb, loosely surround the central growth point that produces leaves and inflorescences at the bulb’s apex. Outer scales deteriorate into a loose matted layer that covers the inner, lanceolate to triangular scales. The light orange-colored scales have three straight prominent outer veins. The underside of the basal plate produces thin fibrous roots that extend downward along with thin, short, near-surface stolons that bear single bulbils (aka bulblets) at their tips. Bulbils also develop directly from the basal plate. In favorable sites, a single bulb quickly develops multiple offset bulbs and, with quick multiplication, may form a tight clonal group of numerous bulbs of “all” sizes. Within a clonal group, one to several bulbs may grow a vertically positioned, icicle-like rhizome that replaces the bulb. In addition to rapid propagation by cloning, plants readily multiply by seed.

Know Your Natives - Oxalis violaceaPhoto 2: Some bulbs may produce a vertical icicle-like rhizome. Matted layer of right-center bulb removed to expose light orange scales. Photo: mid-March.

Know Your Natives - Oxalis violaceaPhoto 3: Bulbs may be replaced by a vertical icicle-like rhizome. Photo: late April.

Leaves, growing directly from the basal plate, have long, slender, glabrous and weak petioles to 4 inches long. Palmately trifoliate leaves bear three sessile, broad heart-shaped, look-alike leaflets tapering to the petiole (obcordate leaflets). Leaflets, with smooth (entire) margins, are up to ¾ inch long and 1 inch wide and tend to remain somewhat up-folded along mid-vein. The apical leaflet slightly overlaps lateral leaflets. The upper leaflet surface and petioles vary from a dull medium green to purplish green with leaflets of many clonal groups having a reddish to purplish lateral band at about mid-leaflet, with a break at mid-vein. Lower leaf surfaces range from being a lighter green to being completely reddish purple. Petioles may be up to 3 inches long above soil/duff surface, while a very weak underground portion may be up to 1 inch long, as determined by bulb over-cover. Petiole color may be a light green or a light purple. Above-surface petiole length is not self-supportive and below-surface portion is especially weak. With all bulbs and bulbils in a clonal group producing leaves, a larger clonal group is densely leafy. Leaves contain tiny, sharp, calcium oxalate crystals.

Know Your Natives - Oxalis violaceaPhoto 4: Bulbs produce leaves and inflorescences directly from upper side basal plates within the bulb. The two smaller plants grew from exterior of basal plate and additional bubils remain attached to the large plant.

In late winter to early spring, flowers are borne in umbels (all pedicels attached at same point to peduncle) of up to about 10 or more flowers. Larger bulbs may have a half dozen or more smooth, erect, naked peduncles (scapes). One or two flowers on a scape bloom at any one time. As early umbels produce flowers, additional umbels may rise from the duff so that flowering continues for a month or more. Flowers close into a tight cylinder in response to cooler temperatures and darkness and tend to remain closed until temperatures approach 60 degrees. The above ground portions of peduncles, mostly glabrous, are up to 6 inches long, while very weak underground portions may be up to 1 inch long, as determined by bulb over-cover. Peduncles and pedicels of the same size have the same appearance. Plants become dormant in early summer, but some plants produce a second bloom in late summer in response to rain; however, with the fall bloom, leaves are not present.

Know Your Natives - Oxalis violaceaPhoto 5: In late summer, plants may produce a second bloom at which time, leaves are not present. Photo: mid-September.

Half-inch wide flowers have a corolla composed of five violet to lavender (occasionally white) petals that are loosely interconnected at their lower margins. Petals, broadly rounded and slightly overlapping in spin-wheel fashion, have parallel main veins that are a darker color distally, and become dark green into the flower’s throat. The green coloration in the throat has white shading to both sides. The undersides of petals have similar coloration, although colors may be lighter. Corollas are set into narrow campanulate (bell-shaped) green calyxes of five free, elongate-triangular, green sepals, each with a callous orange tip (calcium oxalate crystals). Sepals are entire and glabrous.

Know Your Natives - Oxalis violaceaPhoto 6: As seen in this early March photo, a clonal group may produce many umbels. A couple of flowers in an umbel bloom at any one time, as additional umbels rise from the bulbs.

Flowers of violet wood sorrel have five longer stamens in an inner whorl that are surrounded by five shorter stamens in an outer whorl, along with a single pistil of five carpels. Nectaries are located at base of outer stamens only. The species is heterostylous, specifically distylous–the flowers are dimorphic. One morph has styles that are longer than the stamens (the “pin” morph) while the other morph has styles that are shorter than the stamens (the “thrum” morph). Flowers of any one plant or clonal group have the same morph. Pollen from a flower of one morph cannot easily fertilize another flower of the same morph, thus encouraging out-crossing. In sunny sites, flowers are oriented toward the sun in the day and remain in that position overnight. Glabrous seed capsules, round in cross-section with a gradually tapering upper portion terminating with a flattened tip, split into five vertical sections from which small, wrinkled, light brown seed are ejected.

Know Your Natives - Oxalis violaceaPhoto 7: A “pin” morph flower is shown on left (styles longer than stamens) and a “thrum” morph flower is shown on right (styles shorter than stamens). In the inset, shorter pistils can be seen below stamens (thrum morph).

This small attractive species would be ideal for a naturalized garden area where its inclination (in a sunny preferred habitat) to freely multiply would be welcomed. Violet wood sorrel, an early food source for small bees, is avoided by deer and rabbits. Humans may eat the leaves, but intake should be of limited quantity, due to presence of tiny sharp calcium oxalate crystals.

In addition to violet wood sorrel (Oxalis violacea), as many as four yellow-flowering native species of the genus occur in Arkansas: three “yellow wood sorrels” (Oxalis dilleniiOxalis florida, and Oxalis stricta) and “Texas wood sorrel” (Oxalis texana). Non-native rose or pink wood sorrel (Oxalis rubra or articulata) is also reported in the state. Flower color and the tendency towards purplish accents on the leaves readily separate Oxalis violacea from the four yellow species. The non-native rose or pink wood sorrel can be distinguished from Oxalis violacea by its horizontal rhizomatous roots, flowers that are a solid dark pink, and leaves that do not exhibit any purplish coloration.

  • Plants of the Oxalis genus are the only dicotyledons (two seed leaves) that have true bulbs. All other true-bulb plants being monocotyledons (one seed leaf).

Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

Terms of Use

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

Know Your Natives – Wild Ginger

Wild ginger (Asarum canadense*) of the Dutchman’s-pipe (Aristolochiaceae) family is a low-growing woodland spring ephemeral. It occurs throughout the eastern U.S. from Louisiana and Oklahoma to North Dakota thence eastward to the Atlantic Coast, except Florida. In Arkansas, it occurs throughout the Interior Highlands (Ozarks, Arkansas Valley, and Ouachitas) as well as on Crowley’s Ridge. The genus name originates from an ancient Greek name, asaron, of uncertain derivation. The specific epithet refers to the plant’s occurrence in Canada. Other common names include Canada wild ginger and southern snakeroot. Preferred habitat is shady deciduous woodlands with rich, mesic soils found in uplands, floodplains and rocky slopes.

Plants have shallow, branching, slow-growing underground stems (rhizomes) that are round in cross-section and smooth except for widely spaced nodes. Long, slender and down-trending roots, with attached fibrous rootlets, randomly grow from underside of rhizomes. Although rhizomes are slow-growing, thick colonies may form. Rhizomes of wild ginger have the taste and smell of culinary ginger (Zingiber officinale), thus the common names, but is otherwise unrelated to this Old World tropical plant.

WIld Ginger - Asarum canadensePhoto 1: Near-surface rhizomes are smooth and heavily rooted. New growth originates at terminal and lateral buds.

New vegetative growth originates from ascending buds at tips of main rhizomes and shorter lateral rhizomes that originate at nodes. Each vegetative bud produces a short underground ascending stem, bearing two alternate bracts, and terminating with one or two leaves. When two leaves are present, a single flower may occur between petiole bases. Additional growth of the rhizomes also originates at rhizome tips from separate buds.

Leaves are orbicular, broader than long, deeply and openly cordate, with two large half-circular lobes. Leaves, to more than 4 inches long and 6 inches wide, have an upper surface that is medium to dark shiny green while lower surface is a lighter green. Upper and lower surfaces have very short hirsute pubescence with hairs of lower surface being mainly along veins. Leaf margins are entire with short dense pubescence (ciliate). Leaf tips are obtuse to rounded. Principal venation of upper surface, consisting of a straight midvein and three lateral veins to either side, is depressed. Midvein extends from petiole to blade tip while the laterals extend from corners of the sinus toward leaf margins, in dendritic fashion. Blade surface, including the large basal lobes, is mostly planar with central area becoming sunken toward the petiole. Leaves are thin, but appear leathery, due to blade surface between veins being raised. The petioles, slender and grooved, are up to 11 inches long and are covered with long, fine, twisty to woolly pubescence.

WIld Ginger - Asarum canadensePhoto 2: Leaves, occurring singly or in pairs, are orbicular with deep, broadly-open sinuses at the bases.

Flowers, appearing in early spring, are on short (to 1 inch) peduncles and are ascending to resting on the ground. Flowers, to 1 inch long, have a thick-skinned, six-sided, bell-shaped (campanulate) calyx bearing three spreading to reflexed, triangular to long-acuminate, petal-like lobes. (A true corolla is absent.) When lobes are triangular, apexes typically terminate with abrupt, short, oblong points. Flower color is variable, but generally the exterior of the calyx cup is a light yellowish brown below, becoming a light to dark reddish brown above and across outside and inside of lobes. Reproductive organs are exposed when calyx lobes recurve to yield an inch-wide flower. Interior color of calyx varies from being entirely white to a yellowish green. A yellowish green calyx may have purple, geometric, six-sided markings that encircle the lower portion of the cup. Peduncles are densely covered with long, woolly, white to purplish pubescence that extends over calyx and exterior of lobes.

WIld Ginger - Asarum canadensePhoto 3: Single flowers grow from between pairs of leaves. Note pubescence on leaf blades, petioles and calyx. Leaf in upper right corner is a violet. Photo taken April 7th.

Flowers have 12 sturdy stamens that encircle a stout central column of six upright styles. Stamens and styles are reddish to purplish. Stamens are attached to top of the inferior ovary. Straight, narrow filaments bear anthers with tiny, pointed, sterile extensions, like clawed tips, between the pollen sacs. The upper portions of stamens are initially bent outward, but with anthesis, stamens become upright and the outer sides of anthers split open to release yellow pollen. At anthesis, clawed tips are pressed back toward flower center and down onto style column. Flowers have a scent similar to rotting fruit.

WIld Ginger - Asarum canadensePhoto 4: The twelve stamens have released their yellow pollen, some of which can be seen on the six stigmas. Six of the now-barren stamens are positioned between pistils (see star pattern) while other six stamens are positioned across stigmas.

WIld Ginger - Asarum canadensePhoto 5: After anthesis, stamens and styles shrink and colors fade. Photo taken April 20th.

With fertilization, the fruit capsule enlarges and then splits at the top across its six chambers while remnants of calyx lobes, stamens and styles remain. Stacked, dark brown, smooth, rounded seeds, with dark brown spongy-looking elaiosomes attached at one side, become dislodged as the fruit capsule dries. These elaiosomes, a food source for ants, are carried, with seeds attached, into ant colonies. After removal of elaiosomes, seeds are discarded by the ants. Thus, ants obtain food and the wild ginger has its seeds dispersed (an example of myrmecochory).

WIld Ginger - Asarum canadensePhoto 6: Fruit capsule has split to discharge mature, smooth, brown seeds with attached elaiosomes. Photo taken May 19th.

In a shady woodland garden, wild ginger with its attractive leaves, would be an easily maintained ground cover for borders or an infill between larger plants. This species is not aggressive, does not need tending, and is not eaten by herbivores. Leaves are known to cause skin irritation for some people. Rhizomes should not be used for culinary purposes, as they have been found to contain carcinogenic compounds.

  • Several varieties of wild ginger have been named by various authorities based on shape and length of calyx lobes. Some authorities, however, consider the variations too numerous and geographically intermixed for formal recognition.

Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

Terms of Use

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

Arkansas Native Plant Month 2018

April is Arkansas Native Plant Month! To celebrate, we have teamed up with our partners at the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, Audubon Arkansas, Botanical Garden of the Ozarks, Hobbs State Park, Northwest Arkansas Land Trust, Northwest Arkansas Master Naturalists, and the U.S. Forest Service to bring you a month of nature walks, educational events and talks, and native plant sales throughout the state. We hope to see you at one of these events in April!

April 1, 9:30 am – Warren Prairie Natural Area

Join Eric Hunt to tour one of the largest prairie preserves in Arkansas. Warren Prairie Natural Area, located in the Coastal Plain, consists of a mosaic of salt slicks, saline barrens, Delta post oak flatwoods, mound woodlands, pine flatwoods and woodlands, and bottomland hardwood forest communities. Soils at the site containing naturally high amounts of sodium and magnesium salts account for the sparse and irregular distribution of trees and the resultant dominance of grasses and other herbaceous vegetation in the barrens and associated woodlands. Stands of dwarf palmetto are distributed irregularly and lend a tropical aspect to the area. The natural area provides critical habitat for the state’s largest population of the federally threatened plant, geocarpon (Geocarpon minimum).

Directions: From Warren, take U.S. Highway 278 East approximately 4.5 miles, across the Saline River, to the junction of State Highway 172. Turn right (south) and proceed 2.0 miles to parking lot and sign on left (east). We will follow a 2.2-mile loop trail. Waterproof boots are strongly recommended, as this is a seasonally wet prairie. Bring insect repellant, snacks, lunch and water. For questions and to reserve a spot, contact Eric Hunt at 415-225-6561 or

April 4, 6:00 pm: Wednesdays on the Greenway with Bob Morgan

Meet at Gordon Long Park, located at 2800 N Gregg Ave, Fayetteville. Wednesdays on the Greenway provide an opportunity to view native plants in the urban setting. This year we are utilizing auxiliary trails that connect to the Greenway. Walks start at 6:00 pm and last till we get tired of looking. RSVP is not required, but you can contact Bob at or 479-422-5594 with questions.

April 7: Visit our Farmers Market Tables!

Visit us at the market! We’ll have printed information available about native plants, invasive plants, native plant gardening, and a list of native plant nurseries. We’ll also be selling t-shirts and hats that support ANPS programs. Come see us at these locations:

  • Hot Springs Downtown Farmers Market, 9-12
  • Hillcrest Farmers Market, Little Rock, 8-12

April 13-15: ANPS Spring Meeting, Russellville

A weekend of wildflower walks, presentations and good company with fellow native plant enthusiasts! Everybody is welcome to attend! Meeting registration is only $10 with no pre-registration required. Registration will begin at 5:00 pm on Friday, April 13. Full information is available here.

April 14, 10:00 am: Botanical Garden of the Ozarks, Fayetteville

Tour the native plant gardens with Lissa Morrison who will talk about using native species successfully in the residential landscape. The cut-off number is 20. If you are not a member of the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks, there is a $7 charge for this trip. If you have volunteered with Master Naturalists or OCANPS in past events for BGO, you will not be required to pay. RSVP to to hold your spot.

April 17, 1:00 – 5:00 pm: BIOBLITZ – Little Rock’s Fourche Creek Bottoms at Interstate Park

Join Eric Hunt and Eric Sundell for a leisurely walk and exciting bioblitz, co-sponsored by Audubon Arkansas and ANPS, to Fourche Creek bottoms in Little Rock.

Directions: We’ll leave from the pavilion at Interstate Park (entrance on Arch Street, about 3/4 mile south of Roosevelt Road and just north of I-30), pass through the fields to a riparian forest leading down to a lovely cypress swamp at the creek. For better directions, call Eric Sundell at 870-723-1089.

April 18, 6:00 pm: Wednesdays on the Greenway with Bob Morgan

Tour the Town Branch Trail at Razorback Road with Bob Morgan. Wednesdays on the Greenway provide an opportunity to view native plants in the urban setting. This year we are utilizing auxiliary trails that connect to the Greenway. Hikes start at 6:00 pm and last till we get tired of looking.

Directions: From W. 15th Street, turn south onto S. Razorback Trail which the trail crosses at the bridge, where we can park. RSVP is not required, but you can contact Bob at or 479-422-5594  with questions.

April 21, 9:00 am – 4:00 pm: 2018 Native Plant Market at the Little Rock Audubon Center                                   

Buy locally-grown plants from Arkansas’ best native plant nurseries, and then plant a pollinator garden at your local school or neighborhood park!  ANPS will have a table with information and merchandise at this event. Full information is available here.

April 21, 10:00 am: Native Plant and Wildflower Walk at Hobbs State Park near Rogers

Join Master Naturalist Joan Reynolds as she leads a native plant and wildflower walk on two short trails at Van Winkle Hollow. Both trails have many interesting plants. We will start out on the Sinking Stream Trail at Van Winkle, a ½ mile unpaved loop trail along Little Clifty Stream full of wildflowers and other native plants. Then we will walk the Historic Trail at Van Winkle which is a ½ mile paved/gravel trail with its own interesting flora. Both trails are mostly level with some slopes so it will be a leisurely walk.

Directions: From Rogers, take Hwy 12 east approximately 12 miles to the Van Winkle Historic Trailhead parking area. We will meet in the parking area at 10:00 am. Van Winkle Hollow is about 1.5 miles West of Hobbs State Park Visitor Center. RSVP is not required, but you can contact the Hobbs State Park Visitor Center at 479-789-5000 if you have questions or need directions.

April 21, 12:00 pm: Wildflower and Insect Walk on Kessler Mountain, Fayetteville

UPDATE: Due to the high chance of rain that is forecast in Fayetteville on April 21, this hike has been canceled.

Join entomologist Sim Barrow of the Northwest Arkansas Land Trust and Jennifer Ogle of ANPS at the Kessler Mountain Outdoor Classroom and Nature Center, located at 1725 Smokehouse Trail in Fayetteville, to discover the plants and insects that live in the nature center’s gardens and surrounding forest. We will tour the gardens to learn some of the Ozark native plants that may grow well at your own home and learn how to support important native insects such as solitary bees and monarch butterflies! See firsthand the transformation of the woods around the Smokehouse now that invasive bush honeysuckle plants have been removed from the forest understory!

Directions: From I-49 in Fayetteville, take M.L.K. Jr. Blvd west approximately 1.5 miles to Smoke House Trail/Rupple Road and turn left. Park in the Old Smokehouse parking lot on the north side of the building. Contact Jennifer Ogle at with questions. RSVP is not required.

April 22, 10:00 am: Rich Mountain/Queen Wilhelmina State Park

Join Eric Hunt for an exploration of Rich Mountain in the Ouachitas of western Arkansas. One of the highest east-west ridges in the Ouachita Mountains, it contains a diverse flora. Due to the elevation, the bloom time here is a few weeks later than at lower elevations, so we hope to see the last of the spring ephemerals. Meet at the parking area of Spring Trail. As time permits we will explore the Spring Trail, the Ouachita National Trail starting at the Pioneer Cemetery. Wear sturdy shoes, bring insect repellant, snacks, lunch and water.

Directions: from Mena, take Arkansas 88 north for approximately 12.5 miles. The Spring Trail Parking area is on your right directly off AR 88. For questions and to reserve a spot, contact Eric Hunt at 415-225-6561 or

April 27-28: Northwest Arkansas Master Naturalists Native Plant Sale at Botanical Garden of the Ozarks, Fayetteville                       

Support the Northwest Arkansas Master Naturalists native plant program by purchasing native trees, shrubs, and perennials they have grown from seed and seedlings. The event is open to BGO members only on Friday, April 27, 5:00-8:00 pm, and to the public on Saturday, April 28, 8:00 am-12:00 pm. Full information is available here.

April 28, 9:30 am: Arkansas Valley Prairie Tour – Cherokee Prairie and H.E. Flanagan Prairie

Join ANHC botanist Brent Baker to explore a couple of natural areas in the Arkansas Valley Ecoregion. We’ll start off with a tour at Cherokee Prairie Natural Area and then caravan over to the nearby H.E. Flanagan Prairie Natural Area. These natural areas preserve some of the largest tracts (nearly 600 and 350 acres, respectively) of remnant tallgrass prairie habitat once abundant (covering about 135,000 acres) in the western Arkansas Valley Ecoregion. The soils in these prairies are derived from weathered shale, differing from prairies elsewhere in Arkansas. We’ll see a number of spring wildflowers and we’ll try to find the rare Oklahoma grass-pink orchid (Calopogon oklahomensis), a high-quality tallgrass prairie obligate, which may be starting to flower around that time. Wear sturdy shoes, and bring insect repellant and sunscreen, snacks, lunch and water.

Directions: from AR Hwy 22 in Charleston, take AR Hwy 217 north approximately 2.6 miles to junction with AR Hwy 60. Turn left onto AR Hwy 60 and travel about 0.5 mile to pull-off parking areas on both north and south side of highway (you can also pull off to the side of the highway if parking areas are full but be sure to get far enough off the road to not hinder traffic). For questions and to sign up (so you can be contacted in case of cancellation), contact Brent Baker at or 479-970-9143.

April 28, 9:30 am: Grand Prairie Tour – Railroad Prairie, Downs Prairie, Konecny Prairie

Join Eric Hunt to explore several natural areas in the Grand Prairie of Arkansas. Railroad Prairie Natural Area occupies portions of the abandoned right-of-way of the former Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific railroad along U.S. Highway 70 between Carlisle and DeValls Bluff. See prairie, herbaceous wetland, oak woodland and forest. A large portion of Railroad Prairie consists of tallgrass prairie, a habitat that was once much more common across the Grand Prairie of eastern Arkansas (Mississippi Alluvial Plain). Today, less than 1 percent of the prairies that occurred across this region remain. Explore the eastern end of Railroad Prairie and adjacent Downs Prairie as well as Konecny Prairie, just north of Stuttgart. We hope to see Oklahoma grass-pink orchid (Calopogon oklahomensis) at Downs Prairie. Wear sturdy shoes, bring insect repellant, snacks, lunch and water.

Directions: from Hazen, take US 70 east approximately 5 miles to Lawman Road/CR 24. Turn left onto Lawman road and park along the dirt road that curves to the right. For questions and to reserve a spot, contact Eric Hunt at 415-225-6561 or


Posted in Know Your Natives