Thursday, April 15, 2010

Coral honeysuckle

The long trumpet-shaped red flowers of coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) really pop out at you! Both hummingbirds and butterflies visit the flowers for nectar and in so doing pollinate the flowers.

Loosely scattered in the eastern United States, this native twining vine is not aggressive and weedy like the introduced Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica).

Fun to see out in the wild, it also makes a wonderful garden plant as it flowers prolifically in full sun, has a long blooming season, and tolerates dry soils.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica)

This low growing perennial is a classic example of a spring ephemeral as it emerges in late winter, grows vegetatively, flowers, and produces seeds all within just a few weeks. The remaining weeks (about 48) each year it persists underground as a dormant plant.

By emerging in late winter, spring beauty (Claytonia virginica) is able to take advantage of the high light levels reaching the forest floor. Once the trees leaf out the forest becomes shaded, after which its ability to photosynthesize and grow is diminished, causing spring beauty to go dormant.

Other spring ephemerals include trout lily (Erythronium species) and Dutchman's britches (Dicentra cucullaria).

The conspicuous pink veins on spring beauty's flowers guide small bees and flies to the nectar at the base of each petal, increasing the likelihood of successful pollination.

Enjoy this plant when you come upon it because next time you visit it's likely to be gone, at least until next year.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Yellow buckeye

Yellow buckeye (Aesculus flava) is beginning to bloom, at least at lower elevations in the southern Appalachians. In rich cove forests and northern hardwood forests at higher elevations, flowering is probably a couple of weeks or more away.

This medium to large tree has palmately compound leaves and yellow tubular flowers that are actively visited by bumblebees and occasionally by hummingbirds, both of which function as pollinators.

While the flower clusters (inflorescences) typically have numerous flowers, relatively few mature fruit. Two main factors limit fruit set -- the unusually large fruits are energetically expensive to produce and most flowers within an inflorescence are staminate (only produce pollen).

Buckeyes make attractive landscape plants. Once established they can tolerate relatively dry conditions due to a deep taproot.

The unusually large seeds are considered a good luck charm.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Carolina jessamine (Yellow jessamine)

Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) is a twining vine with dense clusters of yellow tubular flowers with shiny evergreen leaves.

Currently in bloom in many parts of the Southeastern United States, the fragrant flowers depend on various bees (bumblebees, carpenter bees, and blueberry bees) for cross-pollination in order for fruits and seeds to mature.

Look for it along forest edges, roadsides margins, and on rock outcrops.

It's also a popular landscape plant due to its colorful long-lasting flowers, shiny evergreen leaves, and its ability to tolerate drought.

Carolina jessamine is the state flower of South Carolina.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Bloodroot in bloom

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) in bloom is one of the early signs of spring, a wildflower that plant enthusiasts seek out and cherish. Each solitary flower has 8-24 large white petals with numerous golden anthers.

Bees and flies visit the nectarless flowers for pollen and in the process often pollinate the flowers. On cloudy days and at night the flowers close up tight (perhaps because pollinators aren't active then).

At the base of each flower stalk is an upright blue-green leaf with a deeply lobed margin. As the growing season progresses the leaf gets larger and usually takes on a horizontal orientation.

Why the name bloodroot? Its thick rhizome oozes an orange-red juice when cut. Native Americans used this juice as body paint and as a dye for clothing.