Carolina on My Mind

 

In the process of exploring East Texas, I’ve become intrigued by the number of plants in the region that bear ‘Carolina’ in their name. Carolina larkspur; Carolina buckthorn; Carolina elephant’s foot; Carolina crane’s-bill: I’ve seen and photographed them all.

One of the most delightful Carolina namesakes is the Carolina lily (Lilium michauxii), the official state wildflower of North Carolina.  Found in the oak-pine woodlands and forests of deep east Texas, it’s an uncommon Texas native, and uncommonly beautiful.

The plant bears one to six blooms at the top of each stem. Its six tepals (three petals and three sepals) are strongly reflexed, or bent backward; six slender filaments with brown anthers protrude from the center of the flower, as does a long style with a three-lobed stigma. 

While similar to the Turk’s Cap lily (Lilium superbum), there’s quite a difference in size. Carolina lily usually is two to three feet tall, while the Turk’s Cap lily is much taller, and bears more than twice as many flowers.

 

Named by fellow botanist and explorer Jean Louis Marie Poiret (1755-1834) for French botanist Andre Michaux, who traveled widely in the southeastern United States, the lily did some traveling of its own, expanding its range all the way to Texas. Finding it at the Watson Rare Plant Preserve was an unexpected treat.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Too Late for the Bloom, But Not for the Berries

Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) ~ Jason Hollinger

 

Jack-in-the-pulpits thrived among the ferns surrounding my childhood home in Iowa. Whether they were native I can’t say, but the plant is shown as native in several Iowa counties and, next door in Illinois, it grows in every county in the state.

Still, it’s more of an eastern plant than a western, and I’d never expected to find it in Texas. When I discovered a large patch of leaves and ripening fruit last weekend at the Watson Rare Plant Preserve in East Texas, it was a special treat.

The structure that most people call the Jack-in-the-pulpit flower actually is a tall stalk called a spadix (the ‘Jack’) inside a hooded cup known as a spathe (the ‘pulpit’). The true flowers, tiny green or yellow-tinged dots, line the spadix, and the entire structure is surrounded by large, three-lobed leaves that often hide the spathe from view.

Mature corms, the plant’s underground stems that store nutrients used by roots, leaves, and flowers in the next growing season, produce one or two large compound leaves atop stout, fleshy stalks.  Typically, three leaflets emerge, although five sometimes appear. They aren’t hard to spot; the leaflets can be as much as a foot long and eight inches wide.

The flowers bloom for about two weeks, from mid- to late-spring, and are pollinated by fungus gnats. In late summer or fall, the spathe falls off and the flowers transform into clusters of bright red berries. At the Watson Preserve, several stages of the ripening process were tucked away in the woods.

Jack-in-the-pulpit also is known as Indian turnip: a nod to the cooked corms eaten by Native Americans. However, the plant’s foliage, corms, and berries contain calcium oxalate crystals which can irritate the skin. Eating any part of the plant raw can lead to a burning or blistered mouth, as well as irritation of the gastrointestinal tract, and warnings abound.

Even mammals rarely eat the plant, although upland game birds occasionally will feed on the foliage, and berries are consumed by wood thrushes and wild turkeys.

Jack-in-the-pulpit thrives in mesic deciduous woodlands, thickets, and hillside seeps with light shade and humus-rich soil: a nearly perfect description of the spots where I found them at the Watson Preserve. Next year, I’ll know where to look for the flowers.

 

Comments always are welcome.
A helpful discussion of differences among bulbs, tubers, rhizomes, and corms can be found here.

Who’s Got the Button(bush)?

Buttonbush flowers and developing seed head

 

The children’s game called “Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button?” isn’t complicated. One child, carrying a hidden button, appears to transfer it into the waiting hands of every other child standing or sitting in a circle. Then, everyone tries to guess who actually received the button.

The flowers of buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis ) wouldn’t do so well for the game; they’re both too large and too delicate. Still, they’re as attractive as the plant is useful. Commonly found in wet open areas, low woods, thickets, swamps, river bottoms and stream or pond edges, buttonbush can live in up to 2 feet of water. This combination of blooming flowers and developing seed head was perched at the edge of a small lake near the Watson Rare Plant Preserve in east Texas; one of my own feet was planted in the water as I took the photo.

Though tolerant of shade, buttonbush blooms most profusely in full sun. The pincushion-like flowers — actually one-inch round ball-like clusters of white blooms — provide nectar for a variety of bees, butterflies, wasps, moths, and beetles, and an assortment of birds are known to visit. Its seeds are favored by waterfowl, and some mammals feed on its twigs.

Widely distributed across the eastern half of the United States, this easy-to-grow native makes a fine addition to gardens and landscapes where moist to wet conditions prevail, although some have found it capable of adapting to drier areas. Its fruits, deep red and sometimes glossy, will last throughout the fall.

Pond Creek Wildlife Management Area ~ Northwest Arkansas

 

Comments always are welcome.